Monday, January 12, 2015

Top 10 Films of 2014

2014 was an uneven year. There were some great films out there, but they came at unusual times. Even though the summer movie season had its typical run of duds, there were some surprising gems in the hot months as well. 2014 also restored a little bit of faith in the power of creativity, as original films outshines remakes and sequels more prominently than in recent years. From big to small, fun to furious, here are the ten best of 2014, in my humble opinion...

10) Interstellar - Christopher Nolan's space epic has plenty of warts. But where it loses points in its faults, it gains just as many with ambition and awe. A film about the end of the earth and a search for a new one must be big, and Insterstellar carries breadth in spades. Matthew McConaughey continues to dedicate himself fully to his roles, and the moments of breathtaking action and suspense shine brightly.

9) Guardians of The Galaxy - This seemed like a risky proposition for Marvel, throwing a lot of money at a relatively unknown property like Guardians. But everything worked, from top to bottom, and the result was the biggest box-office hit of the year and a rousingly funny and exciting action flick. A perfect end to the summer.

8) Blue Ruin - The smallest and most intimate film on this list is simple at its core, a man seeking revenge. But Blue Ruin is executed with such minimalist focus and tension, it burns itself into your consciousness. Director Jeremy Saulnier and star Macon Blair take familiarity and tighten the screws on the suspense to create a seamless story, full of quiet rage.

7) Wild - Ever since her Oscar win in 2005, Reese Witherspoon has floundered through roles she has admittedly not been that enthused about. But with Wild, Witherspoon delivers her career best. As Cheryl Strayed, a woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail in order to regain control of her life, Witherspoon keeps the story grounded and emotional. Laura Dern also delivers a heartfelt performance as Cheryl's eternally optimistic mother, seen in flashbacks.

6) Gone Girl - The sensational story at the heart of David Fincher's film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's sensational novel feels ripped from the TV tabloids. I expected this story to pop up on 20/20 or 48 Hours. Rosamund Pike deserves an Oscar nomination for her role, and the film remains true to the source material while adding a whole new level of energy. Part media satire, part murder mystery, part gender role reconfiguring, Gone Girl is a salacious sensation.

5) Snowpiercer - Joon-ho Bong's visceral sci-fi action film takes the post-apocalypse and traps it on a speeding train where a caste system keeps the train society separated. The psychological unraveling of the people aboard this train is the most overlooked aspect of the film, an action film with plenty to say about society, and plenty to do in the realm of sensationalism. Action scenes are inventive and fresh, and Chris Evans gives the best performance of his career.

4) Whiplash - I didn't expect much from this film when I walked in, aside from a few memorable performances. What I got was a gut punch. Whiplash is a simple story about a talented young jazz drummer and the sadistic, borderline psychotic band leader at a prestigious New York music school (J.K. Simmons, Supporting Actor frontrunner) who pushed him to the brink. Whiplash is an intense experience, and Miles Teller, who plays the lead, is about to become a star.

3) Birdman - This is a film that grows on you as you watch it. the closeups and claustrophobia of the cinematography takes time, but a few minutes in you are used to it and the film blossoms. Michael Keaton delivers the performance of his career as Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor trying to revive his career and find credibility on broadway. Sharp, funny, and heartfelt, Birdman is an unforgettable experience, a wonderful bit of magic realism in the end.

2) Nightcrawler - Slinking about like a sick coyote, Jake Gyllenhaal channels Travis Bickle in this LA thriller. Nightcrawler is a hypnotizing and unsettling look at the state of media these days, and Gyllenhaal's performance is singular. But what mustn't go overlooked here is the job Rene Russo does, revitalizing her career as Gyllenhaal's has-been boss. This is a quiet masterpiece.

1) Boyhood - What is so magical about Richard Linklater's Boyhood is the way it is so unassuming. The story itself does not force anything upon the viewer, it is observant, it simply watches as Mason (Ellar Coltraine) grows up throughout the 12 years the film was shot. There are no swelling melodramatic moments, no hard moments, just life unfolding. I recently watched it again, and was blown away by its omniscient genius. Boyhood deserves all the awards.