Favorite Films of 2014

2014 was an interesting year for the cinema. Ticket sales were the lowest they’ve been in years, so as usual folks are again predicting the death of cinema. Yet, at the same time, Warner Bros and Universal had fantastic years so take it all with a grain of salt. My hunch is we’ll see a ticket sales resurge in 2015 solely because of Avengers 2 and a the holiday timed release of a new Star Wars.

So, to continue my tradition from last year, here’s my favorite flicks of 2014:

Birdman

I was smiling pretty much the entire time I watched this movie. Manages to do the seemingly impossible, transmitted both the experiences only possible in film, while also conveying the power and energy of live theater. Top tier acting all around, and an incredible production that strung together countless long takes so there’s only one real “cut” in the movie. Form and Function relentlessly support each other in this film, from casting, to the production style, to the music, etc. Didn’t love the ending, but enjoyed the ride along the way.

Under the Skin

The film I’m most excited to see again, definitely the most distinct experience I had in the cinema this year, and the one that most strongly put me in a state that stuck with me long after leaving the theater. Abstract, weird, and challenging, I love how much this film earned it’s last scenes from my point of view. A brilliant example of how a film’s structure, shooting style, and editing can all combine to transmit the state experience of the main character.

Boyhood

Linklater is one of my favorite directors, and the one most directly that has learned to use time itself as a character in his films. I’d been reading about this for years and it was probably my most anticipated movie of the year. A remarkable achievement that was filmed over 12 years. Some parts of it work better than others, but overall I found it remarkably affecting and incredibly restrained. Linklater keeps the story simple, and doesn’t stretch his characters beyond what’s developmentally appropriate for them at the time. A perfect prequel to the Before Series, you can roughly go straight from this right into Before Sunrise and just pretend Jesse is Mason a few years later. Love it.

Edge of Tomorrow

A terrible title that didn’t exactly do gangbusters at the box office, but one of the only summer movies that wasn’t purely a sequel. While adapted from a book, it was the closest thing to an original summer movie we had this year. Tom Cruise gets a lot of hate, and he may be a little wacky, but he sure shows up for his roles. Possibly the first movie about video games (though not adapted from a video game) that doesn’t suck, it’s the action version of Groundhog Day and I found it tremendously fun. If all summer movies were this great, we’d be in good shape. Absolutely genius editing, never lingering on a sequence too long and brilliantly cutting forward in “time” at all the right moments. A wonderful lesson in how “genius” is often just lots of practice.

Gone Girl

Didn’t read the book, but loved the movie. Finger is a great director working at the absolute top of his game. A wonderfully constructed, shot, performed, and directed movie. It’s easy to overlook how brilliantly the film manages to change our “sympathies” for various characters as the movie progresses. Another great merging of form and function, the film’s critique of how malleable public opinion can easily be controlled by mass media, the film itself does a brilliant job of manipulating our sympathies as an audience the same way. Great soundtrack by Trent Reznor too.

Honorable Mentions:

Life Itself

Heartbreaking documentary covering the last days of Roger Ebert’s life, and one that strongly conveys how deeply passionate about cinema and culture in general he was.

Interstellar

Wanted it to be my favorite movie of the year, but ended up just being too clunky. Loved what it was about, but not how it was about it. Some truly painful dialogue, and far too much theme being spoken aloud. However, when it worked, it was big bold filmmaking at it’s finest. The docking sequence alone is a thing of beauty to behold in IMAX, a perfect example of when the film was working and the action of the film was representative of theme: the fate of all life coming down to one simple connection / act of procreation. However, despite a few other really strong moments like that overall it felt simply too “clinical” for me.

La Dolce Vita

Old movie, but saw it on the big screen for the first time and was definitely one of my favorite cinema experiences of the year.

Nightcrawler

Not a movie I’m likely to ever watch again, and certainly not a movie that was super realistic, but no matter. This was a film so certain of it’s tone and authorship that I found it to just sizzle and sparkle on screen. Intense, dark, and fun.

Guardians of the Galaxy

As fresh a “comic book” movie as we’re likely to get for a while, I it was a nice light romp that blended star wars and Indiana Jones in just the right ways. Light popcorn fare about the ‘fate’ of the galaxy for sure, but I had a lot of fun watching it and appreciated it’s “earth jokes” a bunch.

Stuff I didn’t get to see that may placed…

Whiplash, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, American Sniper, Inherent Vice

Biggest Disappointments

Transcendence

A movie about the singularity and uploading human consciousness? Count me in! Except it didn’t work at all for me. Didn’t care about the characters, nothing made sense in the plot, and it looked like it was shot in New Mexico for tax credits. Bummer.

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