Monday, January 26, 2015

2014 Year End Report: An Introduction

It is standard operating procedure to start one’s countdown of the years best films by stating whether it was a good year for movies or a bad one. Many of the ones I have read this year have stated that it has been a weaker year, but I’m with the crowd that thinks this is actually one of the stronger years in recent memory. I always go overboard and rank the top 30 films of the year – even going so far as to exclude animated films and documentaries (unless they are good enough for the top 10 – this year, none were) for their own posts, and I still couldn’t limit the list to 30 (I ended up with 31 – because I saw two films yesterday that I wanted to include, and couldn’t decide what ones to knock out. I could have easily did what Glenn Kenny did and list 40 films – and I still would have left some quality films off the list. But you have to draw the line somewhere.

Having to draw the line somewhere also means I am posting this before I have seen everything that I wanted to from 2014. I already held this list longer than normal so I could have a chance to see more – and still there are some films I wanted to see. Top of that list is Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook – frustratingly available to everyone in America since late November (and seemingly, most other places in the world) – but which won’t come out here in Canada until March 6th. The other big one is J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year – which I may be able to see this coming weekend – but I have no idea how wide it’s going to go this weekend, so I didn’t want to hold on another week, only to see it not come out.

Every year I do a critics survey – where I collect the top 10 lists from 650 critics and then use a point system to determine their order. The Babadook ranked 19th on that survey – and A Most Violent Year ranked 29th – making them the two highest ranking I had not seen. Out of the top 50, there are only two other films that I have not seen - Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs – now available on DVD, but nowhere where I can get it, and Frederick Wiseman’s National Gallery, which didn’t open anywhere in Canada that I am aware of this year. There are another 14 films on the top 100 I haven’t seen – although films like Horse Money (56), The Tribe (63) and Wild Tales (70) strike me more as 2015 films, as they didn’t really get released anywhere in North America outside the festival circuit this year – and a film like Chris Marker’s Level Five (85) is really about 20 years old, but just now received a North American release. The only other film in the top 100 that I had to chance to see  was The Overnighters (60), which played for about a week in Toronto, and I just didn’t get a chance to make it down there in time. The other 13 films – Maidan (65), What Now? Remind Me (74), The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby (76), Actress (77), The Story of My Death (82), Tales of the Grim Sleeper (83), The Dance of Reality (87), Exhibition (91) and Jealousy (93) are not ones I would say I missed – because as far as I know none came to a theater in Toronto this year, and none are available for home viewing (I think a few, like The Dance of Reality, have hit DVD – but I don’t have a video store near me that offered it – and because I have been on paternity leave since July, I haven’t had access to a store like Bay Street Video which undoubtedly stocked it). And then there is a film like Still Alice – which will likely win the Best Actress Oscar this year, and is just now slowly rolling out. I will see the film before the Oscars, but didn’t get a chance to before writing this.

All of this is a fancy way of saying that although I am posting this list now, I am still not done with the films from 2014 – and in fact, I probably never will be. I saw 268 films from 2014 – up from previous years, where I’m usually around 230 – and I still missed quite a few. No one can see everything, so the following is just a snapshot of where I am now – although I put a lot of thought into this.

So why do I think that 2014 was a strong year for movies, when so many others think it was a weaker year. There are several reasons for that I think. The “Oscar Bait” movies (and I hate that term, because I honestly do not believe that anyone sets out to win an Oscar when they make a movie, just to make the best movie they can, but I’ll go with it anyway) was weaker this year. I’ve read comparisons of films like The Imitation Game or The Theory of Everything to the likes of Argo, The Artist or The King’s Speech. But say what you want of those three Oscar winners for best picture – none of them may have represented the pinnacle of cinematic art in their given year, but all three are solid all the way around – with great performances, direction and screenplays, even if they played things a little safe. I quite liked all three. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything basically had me shrugging my shoulders though – I really didn’t see much in either worthy of great praise (which is why neither factors into the following posts). The blockbusters were also a little weaker than in year’s past – only five of my top 30 grossed more than $100 million at the box office, and only one of those ranked in my top 10. Only two of those five are franchise pictures though – the other three were more personal films by directors that happened to make a lot of money (although they were all marketed like blockbusters) – and none of them are about superheroes. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good superhero movie – I don’t want them to stop necessarily. I also don’t think most of them rise to level of the truly great films this year either. Sorry.

My top 10 list has a one film that gross over $100 million – but two that have grossed under $1 million (with a third that didn’t crack $2 million), a fourth that didn’t reach it to $10 million, and a fifth that has just barely cracked that mark. The saddest thing about this, to me, is that I don’t think the films on my top 10 list are overly difficult films – or are films that mainstream audiences would not enjoy (okay, there is one film that comes in at 3 hours and 20 minutes that may be a hard sell, but not the other 9). I wish more audiences would have given these films a chance – and more probably will for home viewing options.

Finally, what I am happy to report is that I think my top 10 list for this year is perhaps the happiest, or at least most optimistic, of any I have done in recent years. Hell, my top 2 both got nominated in the comedy categories at the Golden Globes, and at least a few others could have been. There is still a lot of darkness on this list – I cannot help it, I have always been drawn to darker movies – but this year’s list offers at least a little bit of sunshine in all the darkness.
As always, I welcome any comments about the following lists – although I hope they are more constructive then simply calling me an idiot. The lists represent my opinion – what films I was most passionate about in the last 12 months. If you don’t like my list – make your own.

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