Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reel Facts & Opinions: The Best & Worst Films of 2014, Part 2

The Year in film 2014 is being often referred to as an “off-year”, thanks to the absence of heavyweights such as Spielberg, Scorsese, O’Russell, Malick, Cuaron, Lee, and the Coens…along with the underperformance of highly anticipated films such as INTERSTELLAR, FURY, and GODZILLA. This “off-year” label is a little unfair, as this was the year of the all-important character-piece. A good character study makes the person’s story the plot of the film, and 2014 did it well in quantity and quality. 

This Blogger screened over 60 films in 2014, with only ten real stinkers and a great number of triumphs. Outside of Reel Speak’s Top 10 Best of 2014, this Blogger highly recommends BOYHOOD, LOCKE, NOAH, KILL THE MESSENGER, NIGHTCRAWLER, FOXCATCHER, BIG EYES, UNDER THE SKIN, A MOST WANTED MAN, GONE GIRL, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. 

Now to business…

The mark of any great science-fiction film is the ability to take a ridiculous concept and not just make it believable but essential to the storytelling, and Bong Joon-ho's SNOWPIERCER handles this task with the efficiency of a well-tuned machine. An original story in which a globe-spanning train houses and divides humanity's last survivors, SNOWPIERCER utilizes its surroundings perfectly as a select few lead a revolt. The film is a statement on social divide and survival, worked on many levels, and was the best original sci-fi film of 2014.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s stoner-detective novel INHERENT VICE was handled with the precision of a master craftsman. Anderson’s ability to hone down a script to the basic primal level is on full display along with pulling great performances out of his cast. His long, un-interrupted takes were a challenge to himself, the actors, and the audience…and viewing the film through the eyes of an altered state made for a unique whirlwind of a ride. 

Sometimes the best way to get to know a character is to drop them in the middle of the desert and see what happens. This was the basis for WILD; in which Reese Witherspoon brought to life the true story of a lone woman hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after her life fell to pieces. Witherspoon’s performance is the most human of the year; making for a believable character without getting overdramatic or too Hollywood. Director Jean-Marc Vallee taps into the human condition perfectly and films a gorgeous and threatening landscape for his character to grow in. 

Making a movie about a well-known person can be tricky for a director and daunting for the actor, but Eddie Redmayne’s performance as renowned physicist Stephen Hawking coupled with director James Marsh’s gentle and elegant direction effectively dug into the souls of humans going up against impossible odds. Redmayne’s co-star and on-screen wife, played by Felicity Jones, made for the best love story of 2014. The movie is composed with complete elegance; making for a beautiful film in style and substance. 

Perhaps the bravest performance of the year came from Michael Keaton in Alejandro Inarritu’s BIRDMAN or (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE). In BIRDMAN, Keaton plays an on-the-nose version of himself; a former action star who made a splash years back playing a superhero, but never kept the level of fame going once he left the role. Working on many levels, BIRDMAN plays with themes of fame, family, today’s Hollywood, exactly what is art and who gets to say if it is, and most of all…takes a literal stance on a man trying to get away from his past; a past which the world won’t let him forget. BIRDMAN is a technical marvel in its presentation (the entire film has the illusion of one continuous take), and strikes a perfect balance of hilarious comedy and touching drama. In our current world of an overabundance of superhero movies, BIRDMAN is one of the most relevant films of 2014. 

Speaking of superheroes, it would be dismissive to consider Marvel Studios’ GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY as such. With tongue firmly in cheek and embracing the sci-fi B-movie much in the spirit of STAR WARS, GUARDIANS escapes the Earthly bounds of traditional comic-book fare and makes a movie that everyone can enjoy. Full of color and drama and adventure and comedy with some the most entertaining group of characters ever assembled, GUARDIANS reminds us of what it is to have fun at the movie theatre…and there wasn’t a movie in 2014 which had more of it. 

In this Blogger’s long movie-watching career, there has only been a few instances where the audience sat in a stunned dead-silence when the movie ended; SCHINDLERS LIST comes to mind, and to a lesser extent SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Now Clint Eastwood’s impactful AMERICAN SNIPER can be added to that short list. From the dangerous battlefields to the comforts of home, Eastwood explores the effect war has on a man and his family with the gentle touch the topic deserves. Bradley Cooper puts in a transformative performance which elevates him to another level of respect, and most importantly, the true story of a dedicated soldier is revealed to the world. 

Wes Anderson’s newest film, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, is packed full with his trademarks; quirky humor, dry dialogue, ensemble casts, symmetrical framing, and heavy use of color…but what makes it different this time around is that BUDAPEST is also a grand love letter to the golden age of cinema. It carries the sad melancholy concerning all fine things which must one day pass from this world, giving it a gravitas that Anderson has not explored very deeply before. Ralph Fiennes and all of the large cast turn in great performances, making BUDAPEST a place you just want to wrap yourself up in. 

Jim Jarmusch’s ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE had the thinnest plot of any good film of 2014; just come over and hang out…only the folk we are hanging out with are vampires. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are two vampire lovers from ages past who are just squeaking out a (ahem) living in modern-day Detroit, and Jarmusch gives his actors a magnificent world thick and heavy with atmosphere. The two lovers together ponder their place in the world today, which makes for a the most unique exploration of characters in 2014. This Blogger's personal favorite of 2014.

The most complete film of 2014 is the one that fleshes out one of the most interesting and important persons in history while never falling into the old cliché traps of the standard Hollywood biopic. Director Morten Tyldum’s THE IMITATION GAME explores the life of Alan Turing, who nearly single-handedly ended WWII without firing a shot and how his own country eventually persecuted him for his lifestyle. THE IMITATION GAME runs with a story in which the stakes are very high for the main character and the entire world, and during this time the character of Turing, played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch, is examined fully through excellent uses of flashbacks. Far from standard fare, the film takes some dramatic twists which brings the flashback back around in full and justifies their place in the story, which makes for a very rounded film. Turing’s life and eventual persecution is a strong hint at goings-on in the world today, making THE IMITATION GAME a very relevant film with many lessons to be learned. Written with care, directed with precision, and acted with deep-digging emotion, THE IMITATION GAME is unmatched in scale and intimacy. Alan Turing, an extraordinary person, gets his proper story told. 

The Best Films of 2014 


No comments:

Post a Comment

A few rules:
1. Personal attacks not tolerated.
2. Haters welcome, if you can justify it.
3. Swearing is goddamn OK.