Monday, December 22, 2014

Top 10 Films of 2014

2014 was a big year for the future of movies...

And now the year is coming to a close. So, as dictated by the UN Sponsored Secret Socialist Constitution of the United States of America (Thanks, Obama), I have dutifully compiled my Top Ten Best Films of the Year List. It's what I do. But you see, here's the thing... when it comes to most of the stuff that went on over these past 12 months, 2015 can't come too soon. I'm sure you'd agree, in general, it's been a kind of shitty year. Shitty, that is, but for one notable exception. When it comes to films, at least, I think 2014 was a pretty good year. Now, relax out there, before you get all riled up, I'm not saying it was the best year ever for film or anything, just that it was pretty good. Going over the year's sheet, I realized there were actually quite a few good films released, and as a result, winnowing my Best of List down to the arbitrarily determined ten wasn't too easy.

But I persevered, and here we are.

Read on...

As previously chronicled here, here, here, here, and here, what follows will be a list of my top ten favorite films of the year. The same rules apply now as they did then. The films on this list might not be the best films in the most traditional sense, or who knows, maybe they are. The films on this list might not win any awards either, but shit... maybe they will. Either way, that's not what this list is about. This list is about my favorite films of the year, the ones I really enjoyed, the ones I saw multiple times, and perhaps most importantly, they are the ones I intend to revisit.

It's just that simple.

I used to do a companion list each year, like the ones here, here, here, and here, but those Worst of Lists are just one of the many sad results that came with the loss of Filmzilla.

Alas... Right?

Of course, depending on how you look at it, there might be a silver lining in there--an admittedly faint one, of course--but silver nonetheless, because I no longer end up sitting through a majority of the really unbelievably crappy films anymore. Not that I didn't know most of those films were going to be bad or anything, it's just that... when they're free? Fuck it. Why not, right?

But having that pipeline cut off means I would now have to pay in order to see these "films." Ones like Michael Bay's twin cinematic poops Transformers 4 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles... Or the aggressively unfunny A Million Ways to Die in the West... Or the films I just don't understand why they even bothered, like Pompeii or Sin City: A Dame to Kill for... Or the sad and ugly, slowly dying elephants like Transcendence with Johnny Depp, or Blended with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, or the Nicholas Cage version of Left Behind... Or the seemingly endless fount of seemingly mentally disabled Christian films like Son of God, or it's somehow even more stupid cousin God's Not Dead... Or, the racist throwbacks like Exodus: Gods and Kings... Well, there's just no fucking way I'm handing over money to those films. That's not happening. I mean, would you step in dog poop on purpose? Who would? Seriously, who goes to these awful films? I wonder if they're shocked when the films turn out to be terrible, or--gasp!--do they actually like them? I can't even imagine. Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I did see the Amazing Spider-man 2. I knew it would be bad, how could it not be? The first was one of the worst, most inept films I've ever seen, but wow... I wasn't prepared. Part two was complete and total garbage, just shamefully bad.

But I digress.

In a nutshell... no Filmzilla, no free crappy films, so no more Worst of Lists. C'est la vie...

Let's do this shit...

My Top Ten Favorite Films of 2014

10. Snowpiercer
There's a lot of reasons to love this film. The action is fantastic. It looks great. Chris Evans shows his easy charm is not limited to just Marvel movies, and Tilda Swinton is incredible. My favorite thing about this film is that it's allegory sci-fi. It's been a long time since we've seen one of those, and like the titular setting, this film just barrels on with it. The willingness to wear that allegory on it's sleeve, to make the film about that message, reminded me of the sci-fi of the 70s. And I especially love the end of it all, the idea that sometimes you have no option but to blow it all to hell and start over. Brilliant. Yes, the train doesn't quite make sense, but honestly, that's not a valid complaint, the film is allegory, it's not meant as a plausible reality. If that's all you have to say about it, then you weren't paying attention. This is a daring film wrapped in Director Boon Joon-ho's slick style and kick-ass action. It is dark and imaginative and interesting and fun. It also sets a tone for the rest of the list, you're going to see a lot of overlap of actors, styles, and intents... just fyi...

9. We Are The Best
I love this film. We Are The Best is about three young girls in 1982 Sweden who start a punk band. It's mostly about the girls trying to figure themselves out, but it culminates is such a moment of screaming punk catharsis that you can't help but cheer. Otherwise, like I said, it's mostly a quiet film, showcasing an incredibly familiar point in life, the friendship of a small knot of 12 to 13 year olds. It's fantastic, the girls especially. They carry the film so easily. You can find this on Itunes easily. Track it down and watch it, it's completely worth your time.

8. Raid 2
Oh man... You want to see something bad ass? Watch this right here. An Indonesian crime story, it starts mere moments after the last film: The Raid. I don't think you really need to watch the first film (although you should, because it's a blast), but the basic story is that Rama is a cop. His unit raided on a Crime Lord's headquarters--a large apartment building filled with criminals--and he was one of the few survivors. His superiors use this to fake his death and send him undercover among Jakarta's crime families, and well, shit hits the fan. You've heard that song Kung Fu Fighting, right? It's like that, but crazier. With knives. And hammers. And bats. Sometimes while flying down the highway at 90 miles an hour. I kid, but it's seriously some of the craziest action scenes you've ever seen, with some amazing performers and athletes, and the added bonus of an actually good crime story plot.

7. Locke
This film is nothing but Tom Hardy in a car talking to people on a speaker-phone. Seriously. The whole movie. Sounds terrible, right? It's not. He's incredible. The story goes like this: He's a supervisor on a construction site in Birmingham, England who is prepping for the biggest concrete pour in history, when word reaches him that the woman he had an affair with is about to give birth in a London hospital. He wants to do the right thing, so he drives through the night to London. The whole film is just him, driving and trying to make arrangements over the phone for the next day's pour, while explaining things to his wife, son, boss, the hospital, and the woman he had an affair with. It's completely engrossing, and so intense. Really. I swear. Hardy is an incredible talent and he sells the whole thing. I know what it sounds like, but yes, you should definitely watch this film.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy
I fully admit that I have a soft spot for the Marvel films. Duh. I want you to understand that I know this. I would also like to point out that when it comes to these lists and the Marvel films, I also usually place them in the lower positions, like around 9 or 10, and always with the caveat that I totally love these films and that your own mileage may well vary. I tell you this so that you will understand that by placing this film (and another one coming) in a higher position, what I'm trying to impress upon you is that this is an actual good film. And not just good, it's a fun film too. Guardians of the Galaxy reminded me of why I love the Space Opera, a feeling George Lucas has been trying to throttle to death for decades. It also reminded me of films like Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was exciting and thrilling and all that, actiony, but it didn't skimp on the heart or the humor either. Seriously. It looks great. It's actually funny. It's a damn good time. What else could you ask for?

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I can feel your doubt from here, okay? I get it. Two Marvel films in a row? Right in the middle of the list and bracketed by "arty" films? I know what you're thinking. You're thinking this film is in the number 5 spot for no other reason than my undying love for Captain America, aren't you? Well... you're partly right. But understand, that love is bolstered by an undeniable sense of smug validation because this film is what I'm talking about, y'hear? This film is why Captain America is awesome. Bristling with timely touchstones about government over-reach, drone warfare, and the moral quandaries of continual surveillance and preemptive strikes, not to mention the fall-out from a zealot-like war on terror and the price of an Ends Justifies the Means attitude on our country's soul, it's also a complete blast from start to finish. It's loaded with great action set pieces and some insane fight choreography, all while excelling at character. There's hidden threats and haunted pasts and deadly secrets. It's about Captain America taking a stand in a new world. Also, it sets up huge stories for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I heart that so much. Plus, the Falcon and the Black Widow are great. It's just so great. I love this movie. Also... not only do we have another sci-fi film with some allegory appearing on this list, but it's also Chris Evans second appearance.

4. Only Lovers Left Alive
Speaking of love... Jim Jarmusch, man. You understand, right? Everyone should have at least one Jarmusch film on their list of all-time favorite films. Ghost Dog, Night on Earth, whatever's your pleasure, my friend. Deadman is mine. However, this film here? Only Lovers Left Alive? This film is now a very, very close second. It's the story of a pair of very old vampires just kind of quietly hanging out, and it is a hands-down fantastic watch. I loved it. Tilda Swinton (her second appearance on this list) and Tom Hiddleston are so amazing, so effortlessly cool and seemingly ancient and other-worldly. They're the ultimate hipster rockstar gods, bored and eternally haunting the scene, silent and judging and too cool at the good table in the back. They're blood addicts who have found a ritualized existence on the fringes of humanity. The vampire mythos works so perfectly. It's 100% a Jarmusch film, and 100% wonderful, but that also means it's very sedate. It's definitely not a horror film, or all that narratively propelled either, but I didn't mind at all.

3. Noah
I was not expecting to love this film, but I totally did. I had zero interest when I first started hearing about it. Aronofsky is not my favorite Director. And Aronofsky doing the Bible just sounded like more pretension than a mortal human can withstand. But I was wrong. Now some people might get hung up on the debate of "biblical accuracy" and all I can say is: This debate is a worthless waste of time. If you're the type to get all twisted up about this kind of nonsense, then you should not watch this film. If you don't care, then I would advise never engaging with the slobbering lunatics who do. Just don't worry about it. This is basically the story of Noah as you've probably heard it, and yet, it's also completely new. It's a powerful and imaginative movie and a lot more exciting than you'd expect. I saw this one twice in the theatre, if you skipped it, I highly recommend checking it out.

2. Nightcrawler
This film (and the next one) was a film that came out of nowhere for me. I had no idea it was being made and I saw zero trailers, and then I started hearing festival buzz, and that word of mouth never died down, so I was intrigued, but I've never been a big Jake Gyllenhaal fan. I mean, I liked Donnie Darko just like everyone else. And I loved Zodiac, but not because of him. Other than that...? I got nothing. I guess I've otherwise always thought of him as just one of those people who are always famous, just forever, and no one really questions it. But then... Nightcrawler. Amazing. That's not hyperbole, people. It was amazing. Gyllenhaal is incredible as Lou Bloom, a sociopath who finds his niche as a freelancer news stringer, spending his nights prowling the streets of L.A., looking for crime scenes and car accidents and fires, and filming them for the morning news. And he's willing to do anything for an exclusive. Let me tell you, shit gets out of hand. It's fantastic. Really funny. Really tense. It's the type of adult drama/thriller they don't seem to make anymore. Much like Snowpiercer above, it seems like a refugee from 1970s American Cinema. So good. Gyllenhaal deserves accolades for his performance.

1. Blue Ruin
Like Nightcrawler, this is a film that I had no idea existed before I suddenly started hearing all of this praise. Well deserved praise, as it turns out. Blue Ruin is a fantastic film about a man whose life was shattered by a terrible crime, and then when the perpetrator is released from prison, he sets off on a path of vengeance that spirals horribly out of control. It's a hard-edged, strangely sweet and kind of sad and also suddenly violent, but still very funny thriller. It has the same kind of gritty power and violence and dark comedy of the early Coen brothers' work, And also much like Nightcrawler, it's the type of adult drama they don't seem to make anymore. I was riveted. I've watched this one a couple of times now. It's easily my favorite film of the year. Easily. You can find it on Itunes. You should definitely watch it.

Films that didn't make the list, but are still really good

Frank - I'm not a big fan of Jon Ronson's stuff. He strikes me as a "reporter" who tries to make it all so fucking quirky. Luckily, I didn't know this film was based off one of his articles before I watched it. It's a blast. Michael Fassbender is brilliant.

Under the Skin - This is a weird, super arty sci-fi film about a Presence that uses... hmmm... extensions of itself (I guess) to trap victims and devour them. Scarlet Johansson is one such extension--a role that gets her completely naked often--luring men to their deaths, only to end up discovering her own humanity and sense of self as a result.

Edge of Tomorrow - Tom Cruise is great in this film about a cowardly officer who, while fighting an alien threat that is quickly defeating humanity, gains a super power allowing him to re-live the same day every time he dies. Now all he needs to do is win the war. It's so good, inventive and fun, and Emily Blunt is super kick ass. The only thing that kept this film off my list was the ending.

Jodorowsky's Dune - Every film lover should see this film. It's a Hollywood story about the most amazing film that almost was, but then wasn't. It's about a failed Hollywood project and how what it tried to create ended up inspiring generations of films. Seriously good. 

The Purge: Anarchy - The first Purge film is a colossal waste of time. It's a film that belongs on Worst of Lists. But the second film--it's not a sequel--is a complete blast. It reminded me of classics like The Warriors and Escape from New York. So awesome. Frank Grillo is fantastic. 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - If you loved the last one, you'll love this one. The story continues and it's great. Apes, man... it's good stuff. This film was so close to making my list. I hemmed and hawed for quite awhile over it. I love how this new series is developing. Plus, it reminds me how much I love the original series too.

Films I haven't seen, but might have made the list if I had...




And that's it, kids. That's movies in 2014 for me.



Marc McFly said...

now I really have to see Blue Ruin somewhere! great list!

Unknown said...

Great list Jonathan! Blue Ruin in streaming on Netflix, so I will give it a go this week.

Jon said...

Thanks! Yes, definitely check out Blue Ruin.

mrblonde432 said...

I saw Blue Ruin in Sept of 2013 at Fantastic Fest. I've been begging people to watch this movie since. Macon Blair is a revelation. Glad to see so many people getting on board. Great list.

Jon said...

Seriously. He was fantastic. I'm totally buying this film.

Anonymous said...

Great list! Thanks.