It’s New Year’s Eve and time for my annual best and worst films of the year lists. People love to tell cinema lovers like me that they won’t get to consume as many movies as they like once they embark on parenthood. Perhaps this is true, but one thing 2014 helped me realize as I became a first time mother, was my passion for film could only grow with a new perspective on life. This year was a great one for fully realized, character led stories about people who are forced to confront their inner demons, who are torn between what they should do and what they want to do, or who just need to thrive in a world they feel may be too small for them. Some of these characters populate my following 2014 Top Ten Best Films of the Year list, which also contains some gems that are vibrant and alive, and remind me why I love the movies.
On a side note, for the third year in a row, the #1 Cinema chain in the UK, Cineworld, published my best films of the year list! This year, they posted a two parter—my picks for 10-6 and a second post of my top 5 favorite films of the year. To see both Cineworld posts, go here: http://www.cineworld.co.uk/blog?tag=becky+d%27anna
Top Ten Best Films of the Year List
The streets of Los Angeles, beautifully photographed by cinematographer, Robert Elswit, provide the nocturnal backdrop to this stunning pyschological thriller about the rise of freelance cameraman, Louis Bloom, who recklessly races around LA to be the first at a crime scene so he can record the mayhem and sell the footage to local news stations. Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely mesmerizing as he fully immerses himself in Bloom’s intelligent, creepy, and unsettling persona. Bloom is a morally bankrupt soul, yet we root for him and revel in observing him masterfully manipulate his business associates with his litany of methodical speeches, and his blink free stare. The climactic scene of Nightcrawler was so nerve wracking that my hands were literally shaking in disbelief. There was no more thrilling cinematic experience or more riveting character on screen for me in 2014. Thank you, Dan Gilroy for crafting this modern masterpiece.
- THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Once again, another film in Wes Anderson’s filmography will go down as an instant classic. He’s one of the rare contemporary filmmakers who has such a distinct voice and creative eye, that you can identify one of his films from just a few frames. As always, some of the most refreshing and imaginative touches to his films are the little things going on in the background. This latest fable takes place in an European hotel run by Monsieur Gustave, and follows his budding friendship with new bellhop, Zero. These two characters are wonderful together, and their adventure hiding a priceless painting is sweet, hilarious and unbelievably charming. Ralph Fiennes shines as Monsieur Gustave, especially in the third act when he on a few occasions breaks his usual calm, polite demeanor and shouts out obscenities in frustration. Every single supporting role in The Grand Budapest Hotel, from the inmates at a local prison, to Gustave’s fellow concierges at sister hotels, to the adorable girl who spends her days making pastries, helps elevate this already enchanting film to new heights of brilliance.
A fascinating chronicle of a three month span in which Dr. Martin Luther King led an equal voting rights movement in the streets of Selma, Alabama, which ultimately led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Sound like an American history lesson? Director, Ava DuVerney delivers so much more than that. Not one true life figure in this movie feels like a caricature, they are all vital, three dimensional characters from George Wallace to President Lyndon B. Johnson to Dr. King himself. As the moviegoer, you feel as if you are eavesdropping on closed doors meetings and private discussions, getting to know these character’s motivations, their flaws and their inner turmoil. DuVerney takes us straight into the heart of south, showing the beauty of the landscapes and its people, but also doesn’t shy away from the horrors. Selma is an engrossing and significant film, which I didn’t realize had such an impact on me until the closing credits when there were tears spilling down my face.
- FORCE MAJEURE
This clever, introspective Swedish film starts off following a family of four as they begin their week long ski vacation in the French Alps. They appear to be the perfect, loving clan, brushing their teeth together in their cozy hotel bathroom and holding mundane conversations about what looks delicious to eat at the hotel restaurant. But then a defining event which puts them all in peril occurs, and quickly we watch this family unravel at the seams. I would recommend not watching the trailer for this film before seeing it as it spoils some of the most delicious plot points and character arguments. Not knowing the incident they are faced with and the truths they are forced to confront about one other make it all the more rewarding. Force Majeure challenges you to think what you or your loved ones would do in a similar situation. It’s a bleak yet humorous film at the same time, and that alone makes it essential viewing.
- THE BABADOOK
In this wildly original Australian tale, a troubled young boy, Samuel, pleads to his widowed mom that he is being haunted by a creature. It’s easy for his mother to shrug off his fears to his imagination, especially since he is so eccentric, and she is still grappling with the loss of her husband. When Samuel asks her one night to read a hand-made pop up storybook called “Mister Babadook” that he found on his bookshelf, she is horrified by the content of it. And what comes next is the stuff of nightmares. The most terrifying element of this film is the way first-time director, Jennifer Kent uses images, lighting and motion to conjure up feelings of dread and paranoia. In one particular sequence, when Babadook pops up in a George Méliès film playing on the TV, I had such a visceral reaction that I physically wanted to hide (I did so for a moment under a blanket!). What’s most astonishing about The Babadook is that it feels timeless. It could take place in any era which means it will always be relevant and will no doubt frighten moviegoers for many years to come.
- OUT OF PRINT
I too picked my first apartment based on its close proximity to The New Beverly Cinema, like the Director of Looper, Rian Johnson says he did in this insightful, educational, witty and compelling documentary about the revival cinema house in Los Angeles. It’s also the place I retreated to see a James Cagney film on 9/11 when nowhere else in the world felt safe. In her first directorial effort, Julia Marchese lovingly takes us through the history of the theater, interviewing longtime patrons and filmmakers who were influenced and shaped by its programming. This documentary is a must see for film junkies as it celebrates why we go to the movies, and the importance of why we should treasure and help preserve 35mm film. Out of Print is simply magic, and a movie I know I will revisit time and again for the laughs and just to make me feel close to my favorite movie theater in the world.
One of the things I love most about cinema is how a singular film can affect someone in its own unique way. I have heard many vastly different reactions to Whiplash, a story which follows a talented drummer, played expertly by Miles Teller, who endures intense physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his teacher in a pursuit to be the best jazz drummer in the world. Some are in awe of the drummer’s commitment to his craft; others are horrified by J.K. Simmond’s character’s teaching methods; while others think both men are both unstable. My reaction to this movie was of total heartbreak. This story stayed with me for days, and what I found that resonated with me the most was how the path to greatness often times leads one to sacrifice everything- family, friends, or even that which humanity desires the most: happiness.
Richard Linklater’s moving portrait of a boy as he moves from adolescence to adulthood is truly remarkable. To dream up the bold idea to film a cast over the course of 12 years, in an ongoing and believable narrative, and then to execute it as flawlessy as Linklater does, entitles him to all the accolades and rewards he will no doubt receive. You can’t help but feel nostalgia for all the small moments in your own life as you watch this boy grow into young adulthood, because you know that no matter how unassuming those moments may be, they are what make you who you are. Boyhood is an emotional, subtle and sometimes quiet ride, and one that I believe becomes even more powerful as a parent.
- EDGE OF TOMORROW
A smart, entertaining science fiction movie in which Tom Cruise is flat out great. He’s funny, charismatic, and relatable, and we can’t keep our eyes off him as his character, Major William Cage, dies repeatedly and is forced to live the same moment over and over in an attempt to gain intel to fight an alien race set on destroying Earth’s inhabitants. Emily Blunt (and her badass arms) portray a revered soldier who helps Cage harness his gift of immortality, and her chemistry with Cruise is electrifying. Doug Liman infuses the film with quick doses of adrenaline and eye-popping special effects and keeps it at just the right pace from every feeling boring or clichéd. Edge of Tomorrow helped renew my faith in throughly entertaining summer fare.
- JODOROWSKY’S DUNE
An engaging documentary about director, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to adapt the science fiction novel, Dune in the 1970s. Jodorowsky’s vision is epic in every sense of the word. He persuades the best actors, musicians, artists and special effect wizards in the world to join his project. It’s glaringly obvious that a film that was projected to have a running time of 14 hours and bear the cost of a small country’s GDP would not end up being made, but the ambition and talent behind it cannot be dismissed. Our greatest genre films, like Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Star Wars, may have never come to be were it not for the visual effects teams repurposing some of their best designs from or being influenced by Jodorowky’s vision for Dune.
Honorable Mention: THE IMITATION GAME, NEIGHBORS, LIFE ITSELF, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES, WILD, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, GONE GIRL, LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, FOXCATCHER, OBVIOUS CHILD, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, LOVE IS STRANGE, LOCKE, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, THE DROP, SKELETON TWINS, STILL ALICE
Top 5 Worst Films of the Year
- WINTER’S TALE
This film was batshit crazy. And so literal. There was a ridiculous amount of exposition to explain character motivations and the movie still didn’t make any sense. Unicorns, demon Russell Crowe, weeping Jennifer Connelly, and Will Smith’s WTF cameo as the devil all helped crown The Winter’s Tale as the biggest schlockfest of the year.
Well, hello there, Johnny Depp. Not sure my worst films of the year list would be complete without a film starring you. I wanted to like this movie. It had an interesting premise and I’m a sucker for sci-fi films. But I stopped caring when it felt like the screenwriters were making it up as they went along. Throw in some cheesy special effects, an earnest Johnny Depp, some pseudo-science, and it’s all a recipe for one of the crappiest films of the year.
- COLD IN JULY
You know you don’t like a movie when the littlest of things start to bother you. Like why does the character playing Michael C. Hall’s son wear the same pajamas every night? Couldn’t the costume designer wrangle up another pair? Why am I noticing stuff like this? Because I hated this movie. Everything so neatly gets tied together from one scene to the next. There are coincidences and then there is unoriginal screenwriting. And the latter is the biggest culprit in this waste of time “thriller.”
I think I saw a different movie than all the horror fans who hailed Oculus. I just couldn’t get past Karen Gillan’s whiny, annoying character. When an ax finally hit her in the face in a climactic scene, I couldn’t help but get a little bit of glee out of it. And my adoration for Katee Sackhoff only made me want to save her from this film and put her in something far more deserving of her talents. Bottom line, if you are looking for a scary, intelligent horror film that came out in 2014, see #5 on my top ten list or rent PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES instead. You’re welcome.
- UNDER THE SKIN
I know, I know. So many people thought this film was brooding, mysterious, atmospheric and a masterpiece. Spoiler alert, I wasn’t one of them.