by Philip Price
For me, 2014 has been something of a transitional year. A year where my tastes have shifted and my ideas of what makes a lasting film have changed. I wouldn't say I'm necessarily more cynical, but obviously the fact I continue to see more and more films and build a larger pool of knowledge makes it tougher for each individual film to impress me more. That being said, I actually found it easier to craft a top 10 list this year than ever before. I've pretty much seen everything I imagine might have a shot at making my list except for maybe “Selma” (which I won't see until January 7th), but at this point the only year-end awards bait films I'd even consider including in a top 15 are the likes of “Foxcatcher” and “American Sniper.” After repeat viewings one of them might even crack the top 10, but as of right now I feel strongly about the films I've selected. What I've done differently this year is to begin to leverage expectations; I thought this might help the films be more impressive if I didn't go in expecting too much, but even with that state of mind many of them simply met expectations or felt more insignificant than substantial. I don't believe this has made me a snob or prude in any sense as I would still boldly place “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” in my top 15 of the year when it is clearly nothing more than a pure popcorn flick and on top of that, one most critics absolutely hated. For me, Marc Webb's super hero sequel was one of the most entertaining experiences I had at the movies this past year and one I can watch at any time without fearing boredom. My final top 10 will likely come off a little more pedigreed given that introduction, but while me liking something such as ‘Spider-Man’ may make you question my taste just know that I went into every film this year really wanting to like it and the ones that follow are the ones that surprised me with their quality or surpassed every expectation I held for it. Enjoy!
“Interstellar” offers an experience that demands to be contemplated, debated and seriously considered before ever giving anything close to a defiant verdict. I will admit to my initial reaction being that of pure awe while somewhat corrupted by the fact there were facets that didn't thrill me as much as others. Ambition is key though and that is the one thing director Christopher Nolan is never short of. Always pushing the limits, not only visually, but within the story and this time backed up by science that places the events of the film within the realm of real possibility. The result is a genuine mix of heart and facts that meld together over the course of three hours leaving you bewildered, haunted, alarmed and mystified to the point you may not be able to swallow everything you just took in, but you will certainly be able to appreciate the intent.
“Boyhood” is an ode to growing up and parenting. It is a trip through nostalgia over the first decade of the new millennium. It is not about the story, but more the fleeting feelings in each moment of our lives. It is about moments in that they are constant, a promotion to inspire the idea that there are always an abundance of memories to be made. It makes one wonder why memories are vital and reasons these are what make up the relevance of our human experience. What it is about “Boyhood” that makes it stand out more than the "gimmick" of creating it over 12 years though is that it highlights the moments in our lives where we don't always strive toward what our ambitions reach for. Just because you don't have what you want doesn't make that time in your life wasted time, but instead a true test of your character where it hopefully does with it something that leads to an even more invigorating experience.
8. “The Rover”
“The Rover” is an unnerving experience in as many ways as it is slow, but never tedious. It isn't a movie necessarily about anything as much as it is an analysis of what might happen were the structure we've always lived within to fall apart. All systems fail eventually, it is inevitable, but usually when something is perceived as failing it is because something better, more efficient has come along-it will have been superseded. This, unfortunately, is not the case for the characters in “The Rover.” The actions that take place feel as random and authentic as the settings and physicality of the characters that the camera captures all adding up to a beautifully depressing conclusion about what this life means to us and what our lives mean to others.
7. “Get On Up”
“Get On Up” is refreshing by drawing its storytelling flair through the categorization of time periods by the stages of James Brown as an entertainer and his given nicknames at those times. There is hardly any trace of formula in director Tate Taylor's biopic and it's even more precise in that it doesn't spend much time on Brown's infamous drug or tax problems, but instead chooses to focus on his extreme work ethic. It is without a doubt Chadwick Boseman's incredible performance that elevates the film from an interesting experiment in editing and performance numbers to something more real and raw. The actor’s seeming insight into Brown allows Boseman to play his perfectionist, tyrannical and paranoid traits in a way that never feel like an imitation, but more second nature to a seasoned pro.
In “Nightcrawler” Jake Gyllenhaal takes everything a little further, he amps everything up a notch higher and delivers a performance that makes every other performance he's given seem like a prelude to this master class of ambition and insanity. It is this film and this performance that will make the actor stand above the rest as exceptional. Gyllenhaal is an actor that knows how to disappear into a role by understanding not only the motivations that drive a character, but the importance of the art that composes them literally and figuratively. As Louis Bloom, a man with drive and passion to spare, Gyllenhaal is a beast of unforgiving endeavors that see him go from a driven young man to a man driven purely by the need to feel he belongs. “Nightcrawler” is a shocker of a ride, but in the scenes that make it all work it is Gyllenhaal doing the heavy lifting.
5. “Gone Girl”
“Gone Girl” is not only the story of a once high profile New York socialite who married a salt of the earth Missouri boy and came to disappear on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, but of how the media reacts to these simple, concrete facts they can play with. It's about how they can twist, manipulate and exploit any one detail they want turning the entire personality of a man or any subject it sets its eyes on into a one note killer. Further, it is the analysis of relationships gone wrong. When the person you thought you married grows to be someone you don't know and don't necessarily like who that person is. It isn't so much a discussion of the white suburbanite household or marriages that slip into boredom because they become routine, but more it is the discussion of how well we know ourselves and the things we truly want, even if we know we'll never have the gall to take them.
“Birdman” is a character study wrapped in social commentary about the current state of cinema as well as a love letter written in blood to the idea of legacy. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is interested in the moments of life that make up a personality and the effect or contribution that personality has on society, but he also wants to make a few other notions clear in the process. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in “Birdman” both on the screen in front of you and as larger analogies, but it is successful because it's capable of conveying this multitude of thoughts and ideas in an entertaining and insightful manner. The key factor is the idea of the difference in love and admiration and how the quest to feel "special" will only leave you empty if you disregard those closest to you for personal gain and have no one to celebrate with when that gain puts you at the top of the mountain.
3. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Wes Anderson's latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is many things, but at its heart it feels like a quiet epic, a love letter to time gone by with a narrative spanning decades that chronicles the exceptionally unexceptional life of one young man who was influenced by another and would have his world forever changed because of him. It is as much about the world one creates around themselves and how it determines the outcome of one’s life as it is about the actual plot of the story which, be not afraid, contains prison break-outs, gun fights, affairs with older women and a fair amount of lies and deception. More than all of this though, it is a film that beautifully demonstrates the thin line that sometimes exists between real life and imagination.
“Whiplash” is a commentary on if there is a line to be drawn in pushing someone for greatness. In what will likely be one of if not "the" defining performance of his career J.K. Simmons as conductor Terence Fletcher tells Miles Teller's Andrew that there are no two words more harmful in the English language than, "good job." Fletcher has a philosophy that genius is not blessed upon an individual or built through congratulations, but rather because it is pushed to a breaking point where the only thing that matters is to never stop striving to be better. True greatness comes from real pain. While one should take the literal actions of the film with a grain of salt and look at the bigger, metaphoric implications it is making to get a clearer message of its ideas across it nonetheless comes together to deliver one of the best and certainly one of my favorite films of the year.
“Cavalry” is decidedly honest in the way it approaches the subject of life and pleasantly unpretentious in the way it deals with the psychology of religion and faith. These aforementioned subjects, these lines of thought and the conversations that spurn from them are always of an interest to me that surpass that of any material subject and McDonagh, working from a script solely of his own doing, plays with these ideas and themes in a way that entices without distancing itself from those who find solace in God. In a way, McDonagh uses the comforts and consolation given by faith and Christ as a cushion for the stories of human nature he chooses to explore.