As a practically lifelong, self-described “raging film buff”, I find it’s important at the end of each year to look back on what cinematic treasures the year had to offer us. Now, I will argue as vehemently as anyone that Hollywood has run flat out of ideas, but that fortunately doesn’t mean that there are no longer any good films out there. So, I’d like to talk about what I feel are the best films of 2014 as it draws to a close.
Before I begin, lemme just awkwardly wedge a little disclaimer in here: in favor of a big-name clothing store, my local cinema was gutted and reduced to only six screens. This means that I didn’t get to see a lot of the films from this year that I wanted to, as a lot of them had a very limited release that didn’t reach the hollow shell that calls itself my cinema. So, instead of doing a Top 10 like I would have liked, I’m instead going to do a Top 5 films of the year and a Top 5 Films to look out for; 2014 films that, based on what we know, are probably going to turn out worthy of checking out. Do keep in mind that this is just one man’s opinion- my picks for the first half of this list are just that and my picks for the second half are films I haven’t even seen- so I could be very wrong.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson is, in the humble opinion of this critic, quite easily the most talented filmmaker working today. I may be a bit biased on this one, as each and every one of his films (including this one) sit somewhere atop my own personal Top 250 favourite films of all time, which, if I may humbly interject, is a tough list to crack.
Anderson’s films are all, without exception, very visually beautiful. Rich in color and symmetry, Anderson knows how to paint a picture. In this painting in particular, we are told the story of the titular Grand Budapest Hotel and its concierge, Gustave H. (portrayed with great humour and warmth by Ralph Fiennes) as he forms a powerful friendship with lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revelori/F. Murray Abraham). Complemented by a star-studded cast of exceptional performers and Anderson’s screenplay, chock-full of his trademark dry wit and profoundly deep humanity, Grand Budapest is beyond all description and I urge you to see it before I continue to gush.
- Interstellar (dir. Christopher Nolan)
Christopher Nolan, on the other hand, is a very hit-or-miss director as far as I’m concerned. The Dark Knight was fantastic, its sequel incredibly mediocre, Inception wasn’t half bad, Insomnia was brilliant. This, however, I believe is his finest film. I will avoid spoilers to the best of my ability, but the films revolves upon Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an astronaut leading a mission to travel through a wormhole in deep space to find a new planet to ensure humanity’s survival as the Earth decays. I cannot tell you any more lest I risk spoilers, but this film is truly a cornerstone of what the Internet is calling the “McConaissance”; McConaughey’s recent trend of not being a terrible actor. In fact, his performance here is absolutely stunning. In a particularly heartbreaking scene that I won’t go into detail upon, McConaughey moved me to tears. The leading male from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has now won an Academy Award and moved me to tears with the strength of a performance. What a world.
I’m a huge advocate for true humanity in the films that I watch. They are, after all, supposed to maintain an air of realism, no? I find this especially hard to come by in science fiction, where the majority of filmmakers will rely on the eye-dropping visual effects to tell the story, as opposed to the actors or the script. Luckily, Interstellar is one of the most visually beautiful and profoundly human films I have ever seen. In fact, this film compelled me to revisit Gravity, last year’s Oscar-sweeper that I absolutely adored. The whole time through, I found myself underwhelmed. It’s just so…NOT Interstellar.
- Gone Girl (dir. David Fincher)
Since it was announced, I had been greatly anticipating this film. Fincher, in my opinion, is an absolutely brilliant filmmaker that weaves mysteries on par with those of Hitchcock (yes, I said it. And I love Hitchcock). I’ve always also maintained that Ben Affleck gets more flak than he deserves. While I certainly like him as an actor, I think he’s better suited as a director, but I was excited to see the performance Fincher could coax out of him. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. Through airtight editing and pacing, a constantly twisting but always believable screenplay and the absolutely flooring performance of Rosamund Pike (seriously, I’m lobbying for her taking home Best Actress), Fincher & company weave the story of Nick Dunne (Affleck), the subject of a massive media circus surrounding the disappearance of his wife, Amy (Pike). As with any good mystery film, Gone Girl completely engrosses you in an entire new world and atmosphere. It’s an absolute experience that should not be ruined for you by a nerd on his laptop, so I’ll move on here.
- The Lego Movie (dir. Phil Lord & Christopher Miller)
Yes, seriously. Any truly good family film should be enjoyable for all audiences and the Lego Movie succeeds admirably, with different and equally powerful lessons for the children and the parents to take home, all with refreshingly clean and effective humour. I like toilet humour just as much as the next guy, but it can be nice sometimes to see a screenplay rich in genuine comedy and touching moments without all that junk. Since it was announced, it was essentially a no-brainer that The Lego Movie would have made a gigantic amount of money, and thus the filmmakers could easily have thoughtlessly slapped the film together and sat back to watch the money roll in. But it’s clear to me here that the directors put a lot of care into their story, bringing us a genuinely sweet and genuinely funny family film with moments of absolute beauty in the visual effects. I was born in 1994, so when I think of a film from my youth that carries especially warm memories for me and other people of my generation, I think of Toy Story. I can quite easily see this film becoming the next Toy Story. Parent or no, I encourage you to see this film.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn)
Yes. Seriously. As I said, I was born in 1994. I’m a part of the generation of superheroes, brought up on Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films and Nolan’s Batman films. While very few superhero films contain true artistic depth, they can be fun to watch. Pure, simple, explosion-filled entertainment. Having never even heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy, I was a bit skeptical. It appeared as though Marvel took their absolute most obscure comic creation and slapped it onto a camera, hoping for the money that comes with Marvel attached to the name of any film.
I was pleasantly surprised. Marvel’s film about a ragtag group of humans, aliens and scientifically-enhanced rodents is easily its funniest and most entertaining. I know that the comic book film is not everyone’s cup of tea, but this film presents the absurdity of the comic book universe with enough freshness, comedy, acting chops and just the right amount of not taking itself seriously (its soundtrack of silly pop songs, for instance). Even the friend I saw it with who had not ever read a comic book in her life thoroughly enjoyed it. So, I recommend you give it a shot!
Again, having not seen nearly as many films from this year as I would have liked, I have no honorable mentions. But for the many films that I anticipate will be very good, I’m going to do a second Top 5 from most to least anticipated by yours truly.
- Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)
I always anticipate Linklater’s latest film. His is a catalog of such diversity. The same man gave us the legendary comedy that is Dazed and Confused and the absolutely devastating Waking Life. Boyhood, so I’m told, is his greatest achievement. A simple coming-of-age story about a boy named Mason, Linklater filmed this film every year over the course of 13 years. So as we watch our characters mature, we are actually watching the actors age in real time. With that amount of time, I can only imagine the time and thought that Linklater put into it. I have literally been anticipating this film for six years. I certainly hope it lives up to my expectations.
- Birdman (dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu)
Innaritu, the director behind Amores Perros, 21 Grams and the absolutely breathtaking Babel, spins the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) who mounts a Broadway play in an attempt to make a comeback to his former glory, when he was famous for portraying a superhero. Clearly, there is some truth behind this. Michael Keaton is long overdue for a comeback and Innaritu is a man who certainly knows how to tell a story. I have yet to hear a single word of negativity in reference to this film; in fact, I’ve heard it described as “Synecdoche, New York meets All That Jazz”, two films with which I am profoundly in love. In fact, All That Jazz formerly held the #1 spot on my Top 250 and remains today in the Top 10. I hope it can live up to it.
- Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Despite his reputation for sheer, absolute insanity, I’ve always loved Joaquin Phoenix. I’ve always also loved Paul Thomas Anderson, or PTA as I call him. This is another Anderson with every film he has ever made firmly placed in my Top 250; his third film, Magnolia, once held the #1 spot in my Top 250, remaining today in the Top 10. It makes me weep every time without fail. PTA’s films, as they progress, have gotten more and more mature, though this is not a sleight to his earlier work. His latest film, for instance, The Master, was absolutely Kubrickian in its sublime craft. The Master also starred Phoenix, who gave easily his best performance and arguably one of the best performances I have ever seen in any film. PTA’s latest is a detective comedy set in the 1970’s, with a style of editing and pacing described by PTA himself as “deliberately confusing”, with the intent of making the audience feel like they’re on drugs. To me, this premise sounds like a hell of a good time.
- The Imitation Game (dir. Morten Tyldum)
A biography of Alan Turing, English logician and cryptologist who helped crack Germany’s enigma code in World War II, only to be persecuted by his government for being homosexual. I anticipate this one so heavily because Turing’s is a story whose telling I believe is long overdue and also because he is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Recently growing in popularity, Cumberbatch is, in my opinion, an absolutely brilliant actor (he stars in the BBC show Sherlock, of which I am a huge fan) who deserves the praise and attention he has recently been getting.
- Foxcatcher (dir. Bennett Miller)
This is another film I anticipate primarily because of what I have heard about its performances. Starring Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum, it tells the true story of corruption and lies forming behind the formation of an Olympic wrestling team. Tatum has already proven his talent to me in recent years- 21 Jump Street and its sequel displayed his ability to be very, very funny and Magic Mike demonstrated his dramatic prowess (I find myself constantly defending my appreciation for a film about male strippers, but facts are facts and the fact is that it is a very well-made film). Steve Carrell, however, is definitely funny, but has little experience for especially dramatic or heavy roles. However, according to the buzz surrounding this film, Carrell is likely to win an Oscar for his performance that I’ve heard described as “mind-blowing”. Honestly, I’m interested in seeing The 40 Year-Old Virgin potentially win an Oscar.
The Theory of Everything
Well, that about concludes my take of the past year or so of cinema and its fruits. I can only hope that 2015 will be less dramatic of an onslaught of remakes, reboots, sequels and adaptations. Perhaps my New Year’s resolution will be to actually watch every film from 2015 that I want to see before 2016 rolls around.