Monday, January 26, 2015

2014 Year End Report: The Best Films of the Year: 20-11

I considered all ten of these films for a spot on the top 10, but sadly, just didn’t have the room.

20. Locke (Steven Knight)
A man gets into his SUV, and heads out onto the road one night. He’s supposed to go home to his wife and kids, but he’s not going there. His boss isn’t very happy with him either – he’s supposed to oversee a large concrete pour the next day, but he’s not dealing with that either. Over the course of the 90 minute movie, his entire life will come crashing down around him, as he drives in the car, and talks to various people on the phone. Brilliantly played by Tom Hardy, who turns what could have been a gimmick movie into something deeper than it could have been, he holds our attention throughout. The screenplay by Steven Knight is excellent – as is his direction, as he finds interesting ways to shoot a single location. The film moves swiftly and confidently towards a climax that is unexpectedly moving. A brilliant little film that does precisely what it sets out to do.

19. Enemy (Denis Villenueve)
Enemy is on the surface a very complex movie – one that paints a disturbing picture of a fractured mind and personality that literally becomes two different characters. Both of these characters are played by Jake Gyllenhaal – in a brilliant dual performance, one as a mild mannered, awkward, stuttering professor, and the other a superficially charming, yet somewhat cruel small time actor. The surface is complex, as it continues to play with the audience and their mind from beginning to end – but the ultimate message is actually simpler than it first appears. It is really about a man who falls back in love with his wife, after growing bored with his girlfriend. And yet, as the brilliant, shocking, ending implies – things will not be smooth sailing. This is the second collaboration between Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve, following last year’s mainstream thriller, Prisoners (in which Gyllenhaal was the best of a strong ensemble). I loved Prisoners – but I think Enemy is an even stronger film, even if it was seen by just a fraction of the people who saw the first film. This is the type of ever strange, every disturbing film we can come to expect from Canadian cinema – and Enemy certainly belongs on the list that includes films by Cronenberg and Egoyan.

18. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of that year’s biggest surprises. After the disaster that was Tim Burton’s remake of the original Planet of the Apes 10 years prior, I know I didn’t expect much from another reboot of the series – and I don’t think anyone else did either. When it turned out to be blockbuster filmmaking at its finest – delivering large scale action directed with skill, with genuine heart and character. The follow-up therefore had larger expectations on it – and surprisingly turned out to be an even better film. Larger in scale than the first film, but never losing sight on its characters (at least its apes ones), the film is the best the series has ever produced. It is intelligent, blockbuster filmmaking, brilliantly staged and executed, and a great portrait of a world on the brink of total collapse. One of the most purely entertaining films of the year.

17. American Sniper (Clint Eastwood)
Clint Eastwood`s American Sniper is a film that continues to haunt me – and grow in my mind the more I think back over it. Like many of Eastwood`s films, American Sniper is about both what he sees as the necessity of violence, and the toll it takes on those who commit it. The film features the best performance of Bradley Cooper`s career so far – an emotionally closed off SEAL sniper, who goes to Iraq and becomes a “legend” – because of how many he kills. The film shows these “kills” in close up, through his gun site, and shows as he grows ever more tightly wound, more damaged, without him ever quite realizing it. The movie does an excellent job of showing the war through the lens of this man – without really sharing it (depiction doesn’t necessarily mean endorsement). American Sniper fits neatly into a filmography that includes films like Unforgiven, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima – morally complex films about violence, and its effects. I do think Eastwood kind of blows the ending – rushing through what could have been the film’s best part had he taken his time – but there is so much here to chew on, that I didn’t mind that too much.

16. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)
I’m not going to argue that Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is a perfect film – but I am going to say that they may well not have been a more ambitious film than this year – and certainly not among the blockbuster films of the year. From the early, brilliant dust bowl scenes, to the stunning space vistas, and different planets they visit, to a boldly sentimental finale, Nolan is reaching for a lot in this film. He doesn’t quite reach it – but it’s thrilling to watch him try. There are also some of the most stunning sequences of the year on display throughout the film. Nolan is one of the few directors in the world right now that can pretty much make whatever the hell he wants to make – and I for one appreciate the fact that he’s willing to go so big and so bold as he does. He has better films – but I’m not sure he has ever made a more personal one – or one that reaches so far. I have a feeling that in time, when the flaws of the film fade from memory, Interstellar will be better remembered than the reviews would indicate.

15. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)
Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner is the most stunningly beautiful of the great directors career – with Dick Pope’s cinematography inspired by the work of the painter being portrayed the film is beautiful to look at from beginning to end, with numerous images worthy of museum hanging in themselves. The story of the movie is equally compelling – portraying the genius painter, warts and all. We see Timothy Spall’s Mr. Turner at his best and his worst during the course of the movie – capable of ugly private behavior, and yet capturing the beauty of the world that surrounds him. Leigh doesn’t ask the audience to do anything simple as separating the artist from the art, but rather asks that we dig even deeper than that – and see the man as capable of the best and worst of humanity. It contains a brilliant performance by Spall, and the underrated ensemble that surrounds him. It may not quite live up to the very best of Leigh’s work – but it comes remarkably close.

14. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is one of the most challenging films of the year. For most of the movie, the films seems almost plotless – with Scarlet Johansson’s brilliant performance as an alien who is here to observe humanity – with her blank, yet inquisitive stare, we are clearly seeing someone trying to figure everything she sees around her out. She also seduces men, and brings them out for sex, only to have them end in a visually, eye popping special effects sequences. There are some of the most unforgettable images of the year in this film – the scene of the child on the beach will haunt me for the rest of my life. The movie gets slightly less interesting as it starts to display its mysteries in the final act – but it remains a challenging, brilliant, divisive film – which represents a leap forward for Glazer, who was out of the game for a decade after his brilliant, underrated Birth and Sexy Beast.

 13. Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund)

Force Majeure is the type of movie you should with your spouse only if you are very, very confident in your relationship – otherwise, it is sure to cause arguments. The film is about a Swedish family on a ski vacation, who have a scary moment – while having lunch, a controlled avalanche comes hurtling towards their restaurant, looking like it could cause some problems. The husband, instead of staying and protecting his wife and kids, grabs his cell phone and takes off, sheepishly returning a few moments later when everything is okay once again. This seemingly simple act reverberates through the rest of the movie – this family seem almost impossibly perfect is thrown for a loop they may not be able to recover from. This probably sounds like heavy stuff – and it is, to an extent – but writer-director Ruben Ostlund finds moments of humor throughout, and he even suggests that the family may be better in the long run – because at least now, they are not living with any delusions. The film plays much like Michael Haneke-light – which is a good thing, because sometimes Haneke can be oppressively serious. One of the best foreign films of the year.

12. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is a visceral, masculine film about a promising jazz drummer, and the teacher who torments him in the hope that pushing him farther will make him great. J.K. Simmons delivers one of the year’s finest performances as that teacher – a man who is terrifying, whether he’s screaming, or just correcting the tempo – again and again. Though it’s clear from the beginning the teacher is an asshole, what grows clearer only as the movie goes along is that Miles Teller’s student is also an asshole – the way he cruelly dumps his girlfriend for holding him back, the way he insults his family for being idiots – he starts out sympathetic, and ends up much less so. The ending of the film is dramatically ridiculous, but utterly thrilling just the same – and ends the film on a moment of hollow triumph. Yes, Teller has proven his greatness – but I don’t think it’s a sign of a great future. The film is entertaining, exhilarating, exciting and expertly paced. Chazelle has a great future ahead of him.

11. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan is his finest film to date – a Book of Job in modern day Russia. The main character is a lower middle class handiman, married to a beautiful, younger woman, has one son – and who is having his land repossessed by the city – at what he feels is a deflated value. The film is about the corruption in modern day Russia – where politicians hide behind their protectors in the Church, and the lower classes cannot get a fair shake (there are two times in the movie where the main character has to listen to a verdict in court, both of which go against him, which are rattled off with such speed it makes you wonder if he was ever taken seriously). The film works on that allegorical level – but it also never loses sight of its characters – who are real, and do some not very smart things throughout. The film is long at two hours and twenty minutes, but never feels overlong – it is dark, but also darkly funny. Zvyagintsev has been a promising director for a while now – and this time, he geets everything just right.

No comments:

Post a Comment