Josh’s Top Ten of 2014
I’ll try and make this short and sweet, cause we’ve all got places to be, right? I don’t think I’d bother to say whether 2014 was a good or bad year for movies, but it was a year all right, and boy did they make movies in it. Here are ten that I liked, or more accurately, the ten that I like more than the rest that I saw.
10. I Origins
I Origins is the follow up to Mike Cahill’s Another Earth, and it deals with a similar mixture of sci-fi and philosophy. It isn’t the deepest philosophically, but it puts some very sincere thought into the contradictions between science and the supernatural. It gets a little maudlin here and there, but if you’re looking for some melodrama mixed with light philosophy, then this one’s for you.
No one can stop talking about Boyhood, and it might be for the wrong reasons. It’s a crazy and maybe brilliant concept, and that’s why it belongs on end-of-year lists like this one. It’s maligned by some misguided character decisions (and some silly Linklater pseudo-intellectual babble), but he’s doing something that no one’s really done before. Divorced from what we know about its production, we can still appreciate some nice heartfelt moments, and an excellent performance from Patricia Arquette.
8. Inherent Vice
Inherent Vice isn’t P.T. Anderson’s best film, but it does still have his unique stamp on it, and that originality makes it stand out. It’s a jumble of barely connected vignettes, accurately portraying the labyrinth of Pynchon’s source material, but Anderson does still manage to bring a personality to it. Or maybe it’s Joaquin Phoenix just continuing to be the enigmatic actor of our age. Even if the film’s not sure what it’s making you think about, it’s still making you think.
7. Blue Ruin
Blue Ruin is a slow paced study on the revenge thriller that builds tension like a game of Russian Roulette. We can tell from the beginning that Macon Blair’s Dwight is on a road to perdition, but we’re continually intrigued at how far he gets – maybe at how far he’s willing to go. He brings a relatability to the character that makes it hard not to imagine what we would do in his place. The film’s ending naturally makes us question the whole idea of revenge, as any good film in this genre should.
6. Gone Girl
David Fincher’s newest film has a weird effect of simultaneously seeming filthy and squeaky clean. The visuals are so pristine and shiny, but we can’t escape the scum that’s behind the veneer. Like Twin Peaks, it’s a creepy look at what’s behind the seemingly upstanding citizens of suburban America. Rosamund Pike gives a terribly good performance, becoming the center of the film’s constantly shifting narrative.
5. The Trip to Italy
Throughout The Trip to Italy, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon joke about making a sequel as good as The Godfather Part II. While this movie probably isn’t as good as that one, it is similar in its determination to match the quality of its predecessor. This sequel has just as much depth as the original, and an equal commitment to probing the depths of its characters, when it could easily get away with just being a funny movie about food. Perhaps I’m biased because I can’t get enough Italian food (or vistas of the Italian countryside). Either way, it’s a feast for the senses and a profound character study, all wrapped up in a laugh-out-loud funny movie.
Whiplash is a movie that every artist should see, but with caution. Every aspiring artist wants to be the greatest in their field, but few understand what that might take. Whiplash has the brilliant audacity not to say how much one actually should sacrifice. We can write J.K. Simmons off as an asshole for the first few scenes in the movie, but after that we have to give some serious thought as to whether he’s got a point, and more importantly if we’re ok with that. Part of what makes his performance so great is that he’s keenly aware of this question, and he’s doing his damndest to make sure we don’t have an easy answer.
3. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Unquestionably, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is the coolest movie I saw this year. To reiterate, in case you haven’t heard this already – it’s a black and white Iranian vampire western. That should be enough. But filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour goes further, using a highly stylized genre film to raise questions about Iran and its relationship to the West. The kind of vibrant cinema that’s come out of Iran in the last ten years is beginning to show the West what a deep artistic culture can be found there, and Amirpour’s film holds that quest for beauty in contrast with the oppressive leadership in control there. But if you’re not into all that socio-political stuff, it’s still super cool.
2. Under the Skin
Under the Skin has a weird, eerie vision that I’d love to see more of in cinema. Some might not consider it a true horror film, but there’s an eerie, ever-present sense of dread permeating it that makes it more frightening that a barrel full of Final Destinations. It nicely fits the label of “ambient horror,” which could certainly apply to David Lynch’s work, and maybe more recently to that of Ben Wheatley or Nicholas Winding Refn. Visually, Under the Skin is stunning, and the music will stick with me forever. Besides its appeal on a formalist level, it carries a darkly convicting message about sexual crime and victimization. A unique vision used to explore a disturbing problem.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
In a year where so many films are given to cynicism and dread, here’s Wes Anderson, unable to be anything other than his quirky, wistful self. Besides his immediately recognizable world creation, Anderson has always had a knack for creating wonderfully engaging characters, and Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustave is one of the best. Perhaps it’s because this time there’s a hint of the autobiographical in this character – astute fans of Anderson’s work will notice the similarities between Gustave’s walk-and-talk through the hotel lobby and Anderson’s own walk-and-talk through his self-directed American Express commercial. He’s the one who has to take care of everything, who has so many people relying on his talents. Also interestingly, Gustave becomes a champion for art by fighting to keep Boy with Apple away from those who want it solely for profit. While Anderson’s films will always look like they belong within the same world, it is exciting to see him work in new territory, creating an indistinct period piece in a fictional country. It works beautifully as an enchanting fable, as perhaps all of his films do. This feels like his best work in some time.
As always, no matter how many times I’m able to get to the movies, I never get to see everything I want, and I imagine that, had I seen them, I may have very much enjoyed Force Majeure, The Babadook, Ida, Two Days One Night, Selma, A Most Violent Year, and others. Maybe some year I’ll get to see every movie I want to see. Just kidding, that will never happen.