The Feedback Society’s Top Ten Movies of 2014
Writing a “Top Ten” list every year is fun yet trivial, and also intimidating due to the increasingly large numbers of noteworthy titles that get unloaded in limited release during the last few weeks of the year. This causes two scenarios to unfold: the first is the hasty race to squeeze in every potential viewing of any title that has been whispered by Oscar prognosticators*, and the second is the overdue viewings of overlooked quality that occur months later and would drastically reshape any given list. For example, I stand by my choice of placing The Perks of Being a Wallflower atop my 2012 list, but the Top Ten as a whole would need to be reworked once I managed to view Amour and Holy Motors after publishing my original list.
* I caught The Theory of Everything the other day, as I knew it would be a large part of the year-end awards discussion, but was left feeling cold despite the bucket loads of tears the first half of the film managed to work out of me.
And then there’s the matter of the formidable flicks that just couldn’t angle their shoulder into the crowd of superstars lined up at the top: The Babadook was the horror surprise of the year for me, and it stood out with some genuine scares and a strong emotional center. Whiplash was as tense as any thriller aimed to be last year, and could make your palms sweat with nothing but an angry bald man and a bloodied pair of drumsticks. Indie band The National got the spotlight but a burgeoning young filmmaker started to find his own spot in life with the documentary Mistaken for Strangers. It was a pretty good year for comic book movies, with X-Men: Days of Future Past and Captain America: The Winter Soldier hitting creative highs for their respective Marvel series. And Jake Gyllenhaal ramped the intensity and the creep factor up to 11 with Dan Gilroy’s electric Nightcrawler.
Finally, as it stands for now, here are my picks for the Top Ten Movies of 2014:
10. UNDER THE SKIN
Director Jonathan Glazer painted a starkly beautiful picture of the Scottish countryside, with the mesmerizing Scarlett Johansson casually strolling on the prowl for unsuspecting prey. It features some absolutely gorgeous cinematography, and it’s terrifying in its own minimalistic way.
- THE RAID 2
2011’s original The Raid was brutal in its filmmaking economy and remarkable with its intense fight sequences. Taking place a mere two hours after the end of the first film, The Raid 2 brought an equal amount of fight to the game but backed it up with an engrossing gangster story. As far as action films go, it’s unbeatable.
- THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Perhaps the most charming movie of the year, its whimsical yet realistic spirit and technical bravado holds up extremely well on multiple viewings. Anchored by Ralph Fiennes at his most free-spirited, The Grand Budapest Hotel is equal parts glee, melancholy, and madcap fun.
Mounting a twelve-year long project is almost unprecedented in the world of narrative filmmaking, and director Richard Linklater made a movie that lives past its potentially gimmicky concept and hits a storytelling homerun. We see Mason – and his portrayer, Ellar Coltrane – grow from ages 5 to 18 before what feels like the blink of an eye. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, as Mason’s divorced parents, give the performances of their careers.
- LIFE ITSELF
The highs, lows, struggles, and joys of film critic Roger Ebert’s life are presented with love and honesty in director Steve James’ (Hoop Dreams) documentary about the life and times of the man behind the thumbs. Roger’s career as a celebrity movie reviewer is followed from its inception at the Chicago Sun-Times to the man’s digital life on the Internet. At the heart of it all, though, is the unbending love between a man and his wife.
- GONE GIRL
David Fincher’s high-wire act of a domestic disturbance thriller glides through you like a smooth and sinfully delicious martini; it bites, but the pain isn’t all that bad. Rosamund Pike breaks out in a big way as the titular missing woman, but Ben Affleck holds his own as the flawed husband left picking up the pieces. It’s mainstream entertainment for consenting adults at its best.
- THE LEGO MOVIE
The first time I saw this animated spectacle from directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller (of big-screen 21 Jump Street and small-screen Clone High fame), I was dazzled like a baby watching television for the first time. The second time I watched it, I was socked by an emotional gut punch that left me devoid of any remaining tears and filled me with inspiration. In your face, blatant product promotion shouldn’t be this insightful or enjoyable.
Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh reteamed with his The Guard star, Brendan Gleeson, for this darkly comic drama about an innocent priest’s weeklong march to the gallows. The dialogue cracks like a whip, and the supporting cast – including Chris O’Dowd and Kelly Reilly – is uniformly excellent. At the end of the day, its outlook on life may be a bit bleak, but it stands with its steadfast head held high.
Some may find the emotional distance the film keeps you at to be too cold to fully embrace, but director Bennett Miller’s third narrative feature held me intoxicated in its tractor beam of icy stillness. The trio of performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo are physically and emotionally transformative. The actors all hit career highs as the men at the center of Foxcatcher’s heart of darkness.
- BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)
The most astonishing and memorable cinematic experience of the year for me was seeing director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman. The second best movie-going experience I had this year was a follow-up viewing some weeks later. Michael Keaton deserves all of the awards and kudos you can give an actor for his bold, funny, and heartbreaking performance as a fallen man grasping at one last chance for relevancy and public adoration. Shot and edited to appear as if the film was captured in a single long take, the cinematography by Emanuel Lubezki scales even greater heights than the man found last year by going to space with Iñárritu’s friend and colleague, Alfonso Cuarón. Edward Norton and Emma Stone turn in remarkably heartfelt work as a pair of slightly wounded doves circling Keaton’s Hollywood has-been on his dramatic quest/potential suicide mission. The film is a remarkable example of the boundless potential of filmmaking at its most unrestrained.