Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best Films of 2014 and Other Bullshit

The blog has been dormant for a while (yes, I plan on posting more next year; New Year's Resolution, I swear), but I figured I should probably get to posting my favorites from the past year. Here's my top ten:

10. Nightcrawler – From a Criticwire piece: Lou's (Jake Gyllenhaal) cheerful sociopathy is the concept of capitalistic cruelty turned from economic horror (the film is very much a post-recession movie) to human horror, the agent that pushes saner people like Rene Russo’s Nina to stop caring about the "should" of her situation and just push forward into doing it. Again, that's doesn't let her or the media she represents off the hook so much as it indicts the motivational factors as much as the enabling factors, a kind of self-interest ouroboros on both a media level and a basic humanity level. [Stephanie] Zacharek negatively compared "Gone Girl" to "Nightcrawler," but the two have a similar relationship between their central characters in that the sociopaths of both films bring out the best (and worst) in their partners, with "Nightcrawler" arguably going further than "Gone Girl" to suggest that the two deserve each other.

9. Only Lovers Left Alive – Jarmusch focuses on what hundreds of years of life has done for these people, whether they’re adding to their endless knowledge of music, science, and literature, touring Jack White’s house, or taking simple delight in what new technology can bring them (video chats for their long-distance relationship, the possibility of blood popsicles). Jarmusch observes these ancients among modernity with a typical deadpan, yet it’s hard not to sense a greater trace of warmth as Hiddleston and Swinton (both spectacularly ethereal) battle wits during a chess game or dance during Denise LaSalle’s “Trapped By a Thing Called Love.” Only Lovers Left Alive is almost the anti-Dead Man, a film that posits if you’re going to live forever, you’d better find someone great to share it with. 

8. Boyhood – Through it all, Linklater maintains the same unshowy but assured touch, whether he’s giving the kids a limited POV shot during an argument or letting Coltrane and his girlfriend’s relationship play out in carefully-selected two shots and close-ups, drawing them closer to each other, and then, in the film’s final year, framing them in a wide shot far apart from each other after they’ve broken up. With each selection and each observed moment, Boyhood’s modus operandi is one of supreme empathy. It’s not a great movie because it’s relatable (a term that flaunts limited perspective and assumed universality). It’s a great movie because whether it’s seen from the perspective of the boy, the sister, the parents, a teenager, a twentysomething or older, it’s understandable. (Also written about for Criticwire).

7. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – Isao Takahata's latest is a far gentler film than his masterpiece Grave of the Fireflies, but in its own way it's nearly as devastating. Takahata eases viewers in with an impossibly gorgeous hand-drawn watercolor scheme, only to lure them into a story of how society's standards objectify and control women. Few sequences this year were as lush or as beautiful as an impressionistic sequence that sees Kaguya racing away from a palace and from her callous suitors, finding a brief escape. But it's only a dream. Getting away from life's hardships will be far more difficult.

6. Under the Skin – Director Jonathan Glazer’s most daring gambit is taking one of the world’s most glamorous movie stars and defamiliarizing her. In the polar opposite of her performance in Her, in which her body is removed but her warm and lively presence remains, Johansson appears as a living abyss, something that mimics human behavior without understanding it or ever fully achieving it, all for a cruel and deadly purpose. Many praise actors or actresses as brave whenever they appear onscreen nude (as Johansson does here), but the real fearlessness in her performance is the willingness to appear blank and inscrutable, allowing the viewer to project their thoughts and feelings onto her in any attempt to find out what’s going on in her head.

5. Two Days, One Night – With The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night, Marion Cotillard establishes herself as the most emotionally expressive actress of her generation. Fitting in perfectly to the Dardenne brothers' working-class milieu, Cotillard sheds all traces of movie star glamor to play a factory worker who has to convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses for her to keep her job. It's one of the best portraits of depression put on film in years, with Cotillard looking like getting out of bed, let alone trekking all over Belgium to ask for mercy, look like an impossible struggle. But the Dardennes remain among the most compassionate filmmakers alive, making her battles hard-won but resolutely possible and depicting her co-workers as decent, three-dimensional people whether or not they're able to help her. It's one of the year's most emotional movies precisely because it never strains for effect.

4. Listen Up Philip – Comedies don’t come much more acerbic or incisive than Listen Up Philip, the new film by The Color Wheel writer-director Alex Ross Perry. Like Woody Allen, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach before him, Perry looks at neurotics, misanthropes and egotists with an empathetic eye, understanding their difficulty letting people in without downplaying the pain they inflict on those around them. Unlike his predecessors, Perry doesn’t bring them to enlightenment, or even a clearer understanding of their own toxicity. He recognizes that for every person who learns to stop being such an asshole, there’s a dozen who only have their worst habits reinforced to the point of self-isolation. (Also written about for Criticwire).

3. Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson's latest feels like a pot haze, a mixture of half-recollected details and paranoia amidst all the absurdity. Joaquin Phoenix is typically fantastic as hippie private eye Doc Sportello, but Josh Brolin is even better as the essential yin to his yang in Det. Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, a square who's found no peace or satisfaction in domesticity, just as Doc is still missing something in his hippie lifestyle (a mid-film scene with the astonishing Katherine Waterston proves him to be as lost as any of Anderson's lost souls). Inherent Vice is Anderson's funniest movie (nothing made me laugh harder this year than Doc's horrified reactions to Bigfoot fellating a chocolate-covered banana or deciding to, ahem, try his pot), but it's also a companion piece to The Master, a tale of two apparent polar opposites who need each other to exist but can't find a way to bridge the gap between them.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel – The film's sneakiest, most deliberate masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel spends most of its runtime feeling like the year's most formally audacious escapist movie, all meticulous design and exhilarating chase scenes and perfectly-timed comedy (Ralph Fiennes launching into a monologue about the last vestiges of civility in Europe, only to trail off and go, "Oh, fuck it.") But Wes Anderson slowly and quietly builds a tale of how nostalgia and petty problems can obscure far greater looming threats, even using the film's shifting aspect ratios as a bauble to distract us from the terror that's coming. The film's final moments are a gut-punch because it's hard to see it coming even as it's hinted at all along, and because Anderson handles it with such a delicate touch.

1. The Immigrant – The Immigrant is one of the most moving and telling films about America that I’ve ever seen. It takes a small story of love and exploitation and turns it into a tale of a nation’s capability for cruelty and kindness. It makes the American Dream look just as nebulous as it is, and still strangely within reach. It makes a seemingly powerless woman one of the most dignified and empowered female characters in recent memory, and an initially reprehensible man a tragic, pitiable, and strangely loveable figure. We learn the depths of Bruno’s self-loathing and his capacity for goodness. Ewa says at one point, halfway through the film: “I am not nothing,” a thesis for the film that’s repeated, and altered, right up to the final scene. By that time, and by the the film’s breathtaking closing shot, The Immigrant reveals itself to be a film of almost unending humanity. However flawed these characters are, and however polarized their respective futures may be, their lives mattered.

Twenty other films I dug, in order:

12. Interstellar (fuck all y'all haters)
13. Coherence
14. Whiplash
15. We Are the Best!
17. Godzilla
18. Proxy (interview with director Zack Parker)
19. Gone Girl
20. Why Don't You Play In Hell?
21. Venus in Fur
23. Edge of Tomorrow
24. The Missing Picture
25. A Walk Among the Tombstones
26. Jodorowsky's Dune (also, here's an interview with director Frank Pavich)
27. A Most Wanted Man
28. The Strange Little Cat
29. Lucy
30. Mr. Turner

Things that I liked a good deal but didn't go over the moon for: The Babadook, Ida, Snowpiercer, Birdman, Frank, John Wick, Joe, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Starred Up, The Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy

Things I liked well enough but don't get the hosannahs over: Goodbye to Language (yes, it's formally astonishing, but no, I don't get much pleasure from Godard's Aphorism A-Go-Go, as I am a philistine), The Guest, Blue Ruin, Night Moves, Finding Vivian Maier, 22 Jump Street

The films I most respected without liking (my "eventually revisit" list): Stranger by the Lake, Actress, Foxcatcher, The Double, Maleficent, Jersey Boys, Obvious Child

Overrated: Dear White People, A Field in England, Locke, The Rover, The Theory of Everything, They Came Together

Underrated: Grand Piano, Adult World, The Skeleton Twins

Worst Films of the Year (That I Actually Bothered Seeing): The Internet and Women are Out to Get Us (aka Men, Women & Children), Annie, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Winter's Tale, The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Worst Performances: Cameron Diaz/Bobby Cannavale (Annie), Russell Crowe (Winter's Tale), Jamie Foxx/Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Sharlto Copley (Maleficent), Kevin Durand (The Captive/Devil's Knot; seriously he needs to not work with Atom Egoyan ever again), Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again), Joe Swanberg (Proxy)

Best Performances in Bad Movies: Eva Green (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), Dean Norris/Adam Sandler/Judy Greer (Men, Women & Children), Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), Christoph Waltz (The Zero Theorem), Amy Seimetz (The Sacrament)

Best Actor:

1. Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
2. Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
3. Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice)
4. Joaquin Phoenix (The Immigrant)
5. Jason Schwartzman (Listen Up Philip)
6. Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man)
7. Dan Stevens (The Guest)
8. Miles Teller (Whiplash)
9. Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner)
10. Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Honorable Mentions: Jude Law (Dom Hemingway), Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Noah Wiseman (The Babadook, and yes goddamnit this is a lead, not supporting), Matthew McConaughey (Interstellar), Ben Affleck (Gone Girl), Jack O'Connell (Starred Up), Nicolas Cage (Joe), Tom Hiddleston (Only Lovers Left Alive), Tom Cruise (Edge of Tomorrow), Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood), Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Tye Sheridan (Joe), Russell Crowe (Noah), Zac Efron (Neighbors), Keanu Reeves (John Wick)

Best Actress:

1. Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant)
2. Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin)
3. Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
4. Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
5. Essie Davis (The Babadook)
6. Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive)
7. Mira Barkhammer (We Are the Best!)
8. Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
9. Scarlett Johansson (Lucy)
10. Shailene Woodley (White Bird in a Blizzard)

Honorable Mentions: Emmanuelle Seigner (Venus in Fur), Emma Roberts (Adult World), Agata Trzebuchkowska (Ida), Angelina Jolie (Maleficent), Dakota Fanning (Night Moves), Kristen Wiig (The Skeleton Twins), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), Brandy Burre (Actress), Karen Gillan (Oculus), Isabelle Huppert (Abuse of Weakness), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Emily Browning (God Help the Girl), Elisabeth Moss (The One I Love), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac), Alexa Havins (Proxy)

Best Supporting Actor:

1. Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice)
2. J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
3. Jonathan Pryce (Listen Up Philip)
4. Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
5. Jeremy Renner (The Immigrant)
6. Tyler Perry (Gone Girl)
7. Edward Norton (Birdman)
8. F. Murray Abraham (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
9. John Cusack (Adult World)
10. Martin Short (Inherent Vice)

Honorable Mentions: Michael Fassbender (Frank), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Christopher Meloni (White Bird in a Blizzard), Gary Poulter (Joe), Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler), Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Evan Peters (X-Men:Days of Future Past), Tyler James Williams (Dear White People), Fabrizio Rongione (Two Days, One Night), Bill Paxton (Nightcrawler), Ben Mendelsohn (Starred Up), Luke Wilson (The Skeleton Twins), Willem Dafoe (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Bill Irwin (Interstellar), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Best Supporting Actress:

1. Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
2. Elisabeth Moss (Listen Up Philip)
3. Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice)
4. Uma Thurman (Nymphomaniac)
5. Emma Stone (Birdman)
6. Mira Grosin (We Are the Best!)
7. Alexia Ramussen (Proxy)
8. Fumi Nikaido (Why Don't You Play in Hell?)
9. Emma Roberts (Palo Alto)
10. Liv LeMoyne (We Are the Best!)

Honorable Mentions: Joanna Newsom (Inherent Vice), Krysten Ritter (Listen Up Philip), Alison Pill (Snowpiercer), Kim Dickens (Gone Girl), Carrie Coon (Gone Girl), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), Tessa Taylor (Dear White People), Mia Kasalo (The Strange Little Cat), Teyonah Parris (Dear White People), Jessica Chastain (Interstellar), Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar), Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer), Loralei Linklater (Boyhood), Rachel Melvin (Dumb and Dumber To), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow)

Best Ensemble:

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Inherent Vice
3. Boyhood
4. Listen Up Philip
5. Two Days, One Night
6. Coherence
7. Birdman
8. Mr. Turner
9. Gone Girl
10. Dear White People

Best Director:  Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin)

Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Editing: Paul Watts (Under the Skin)

Best Cinematography: Robert Yeoman (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Visual Effects: Godzilla

Best Score: Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Song: "I Love You All" (Frank)

Best Use of Preexisting Music: "Funeral Canticle" - John Taverner (The Immigrant)

Best Makeup: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Sound: Under the Skin

Scene of the Year:

1. Church Confession (The Immigrant)
2. The Elephant Man (Under the Skin)
3. Prison Break (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
4. Bigfoot's Veggie Lunch (Inherent Vice)
5. Ashley's Summer (Listen Up Philip)
6. The Princess's Dream (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya)
7. Mansion Tour (Nightcrawler)
8. The Whoring Bed (Nymphomaniac)
9. Bathroom (Proxy)
10. Monster Mash (Godzilla)

Finally, here's a list of the films I most regret not catching up with:

1. Selma
2. Stray Dogs
3. A Most Violent Year
4. Winter Sleep
5. Force Majeure
6. Love Is Strange
7. Bird People
8. Norte, the End of History
9. The Last of the Unjust
10. Beyond the Lights
11. National Gallery
12. What Now? Remind Me
13. Calvary
14. Wetlands (yes, even with my weak stomach for body waste)
15. Leviathan
16. The Dance of Reality
17. The Overnighters
18. Citizenfour
19. A Master Builder (Demme superfan, yo)
20. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
21. Zero Motivation
22. Child's Pose
23. The Congress
24. Closed Curtain
25. American Sniper

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