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The Top 10 Films of 2014

January 19, 2015

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And now we arrive at the end of the line. I hope that you have enjoyed recalling a bit of 2012, 2013, and 2014 with me over the past week and several blog posts. We end by taking a look at the top 10 films of 2014. I always feel like I miss so many films during the year, particularly awards-worthy films such as ‘A Most Violent Year,’ ‘Selma,’ and ‘Foxcatcher’ that don’t see release in eastern Washington until late January. But again, I want this to be a celebration of the films that brought me joy in 2014, so after the jump are five honorable mentions followed by my top 10 films of 2014. I hope you enjoy reading about these as much as I enjoyed watching and writing about these great pieces of cinema.

A Fantastic Fear of Everything

Simon Pegg is an extremely gifted comedian and he brought a lot of life to this weird little comedy/thriller hybrid about the effect of our fears on our life and interactions. The film was a bit too scattershot to be great, but it was quite a bit of fun.

Inherent Vice

A weird and woozy film noir-style detective story from director Paul Thomas Anderson set in the marijuana filled world of the L.A. beach in the early 1970’s. The plot winds, twists, and overlaps evoking a feeling of being trapped in the head of the main character played by Joaquin Phoenix, but the ending is understated in a way that really hits home the themes of relationships and feeling at home.

The One I Love

A relationship drama told with ‘Twilight Zone’ style framework and aspirations anchored by solid performances from Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, the film is an interesting look into marriage and the complications of the passage of time in relationships.

Snowpiercer

A great sci-fi allegorical film from director Bong Joon Ho. The film wisely allowed its back-story and character histories to be revealed as they moved through the train instead of frontloading all of that in favor of mindless action in the end.

Under the Skin

A very oblique sci-fi film that never holds the audiences hand to explain what is happening or reveal any details about the characters besides what is shown on screen. The power of the film comes in the discovery, the sharp contrasting score, and multi-layered performance from Scarlett Johansson.

  1. Calvary

I didn’t grow up in an extremely small town (250K people in the greater Tri-Cities area), but I do seem to relate more to films about small towns and ‘Calvary’ hit a particular nerve with me as it examined how the many people in an Irish beach town responded to faith and religion in general and Brendan Gleeson’s Catholic priest in specific. The dialogue was cutting and well observed, the characters of faith felt real, and even if I didn’t agree with their decisions, I always appreciated seeing the thought process and the questions that were brought up by the film.

  1. Ida

The story of novice nun named Anna in 1960s who is told she must investigate her family origins before taking her vows. Told very simply in the style of films made in the 1960s (black and white, 4:3, no musical score, etc.), the film’s power comes from not playing Anna’s investigation as a mystery, but as an exploration of family, nationality, faith, and identity. It never pushes the audience for a reaction, but is content to allow the soft-spoken Anna’s actions affect the audience and lead to a state of reverence rather than that of forced emotion.

  1. Godzilla

The best “blockbuster” of the year might have felt like a letdown to some expecting wall-to-wall monster fighting, but has only grown in my affection as I let it sit and think back on it. Director Gareth Edwards builds the film just right so as to ramp up the tension and anticipation for the monsters from the opening credits to the film’s climax. He understood what was needed from the human characters and instead of creating complicated backstories, he stripped down their arcs so as to work as general representatives for the frailty and small scale of humanity in the face of the power of nature. This was a blockbuster with big thrills and non-traditional themes on its mind and for that I knew it had a place on my top 10 for the year.

  1. The Double

I missed director Richard Ayoade’s first feature film ‘Submarine’ when it hit theaters a few years ago, but his second film, ‘The Double,’ has such a strong grasp of cinematic language that it feels like it came from a director who has been working for decades. Jesse Eisenberg stars as a man with no boldness, crippled by a sense of timidity, who walks into work one day to find a man who looks just like him being introduced to his fellow employees, but no one seems to notice the exact resemblance. The film only gets darker from there, but it remains humorous throughout and moves at an extremely quick pace towards its powerful conclusion. The film is set in a weird alternate present that felt a lot like the world of ‘Brazil’ to me and the setting served the film well as the nightmare began to increase around Eisenberg’s Simon James.

  1. Gone Girl

Director David Fincher’s adaptation of the airport mystery fiction style novel “Gone Girl” packed a fascinating portrait of marriage, relationships, and living a scripted life into the trappings of a mystery/procedural/whodunit film. There were a couple of places that the plot traveled which surprised me in how they were small breaks from the traditional cadence of a drama, but actually served to heighten the tension and stakes of the drama instead of subtracting from it. Fincher and DP Jeff Cronenweth film present day suburbia in a way that is gorgeous without being over the top with artistry and it all contributed toward creating the right mood and sense of unease in the film.

  1. The Wind Rises

Technically an animated film selection for 2013, ‘The Wind Rises’ wasn’t released into theaters until March 2014, so it qualifies for my list this year. And I am a little embarrassed to admit that this is the very first Studio Ghibli film that I have seen and it may be the very last from director Hayao Miyazaki if he holds true to his word of retirement. It would be a shame if the world of film were to lose the voice of the director who uses an unconventional style to tell a fairly straightforward biopic story about the man who helped perfect the design for Japanese fighter planes in World War II. The film is so quiet and so serene as it looks at Jiro Horikoshi’s life and explores his love of designing airplanes, the mood in 1940’s Japan, and ultimately the reasons why we create things. My favorite touch in the film is the way the airplane noises are created by human voices, which effectively ties together the human scale of the grand flight and dream sequences.

  1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

An exhilarating piece of cinema on a technical level with its continual motion, unbroken filming effect, and peppy drum-kit score, but it wouldn’t be nearly the film that it is without the performances from Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, and Edward Norton, which made the technical brilliance come alive to tell a raw nerve of a story about identity, perception, art, fame, and ignorance.

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

A sprawling ensemble cast brings to life the tale of a particular hotel in Budapest and through that lens observes many truths about the changing definition of style and interaction over time. Instead of collapsing under the weight of director Wes Anderson’s familiar, twee style, this film was able to thrive and delve deeper into the conceit of how stories are remembered and told. Anderson has been on a tear lately with ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox’ and ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ but ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ might be the best accumulation and use of all of his idiosyncratic tendencies used to tell a goofy caper movie that ended up being about so much more than the sum of its parts.

  1. Boyhood

Another film on my list where the technical accomplishments of how the film was made threaten to steal the praise away from the film itself, but director Richard Linklater never allows things to be too showy and instead beautifully recollects the feeling of being a child and growing up in a changing world with a shifting family. In addition, the film effectively explores the way that we remember life, not necessarily in the big moments, but in the quiet things that can often shake us and shape us into who we will become.

  1. The LEGO Movie

This was the first film of 2014 that I watched during the year and it somehow remained both my favorite film of the year and a film that really defined the year for me. ‘The LEGO Movie’ is incredibly funny in its slapstick visual humor, its skewering of pop culture convention, and its recollection of childhood memories. However, the thrust of the film is about letting go of such nostalgia in order to engage in relationships and also finding balance within community of a healthy expression of individuality alongside that of group identification. Heady stuff for a movie about (almost) everyone’s favorite childhood toy, but the fast paced narrative is never bogged down by stating the themes because it allows the plot and the characters to effortlessly explore them. Yeah, that sounds like the best film of 2014.

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