Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Year in Review: Terry's Top 10 Films of 2014

I have a rule that I have developed over the last couple years.  I will not publish my top ten films of the year until I have at least seen all of the Oscar Best Picture nominees.  With the busy schedule I keep, this usually means I don't catch all of them until they are all out to rent or buy.  This week I finally saw the last of 2014's eight nominees (and I am glad I did as that last film made my top ten, but more on that later).  I am just happy I am able to put this list out before we reach the midpoint of 2015 ... barely.

Of the 37 movies I have seen from 2014, I gave seven 4 star ratings.  That is my lowest total of 4 stars since 2006.  There were not many great films, but I will say there were a whole lot of good films.  I may have only given seven 4 star ratings, but I also only gave seven ratings under 3 stars.  That is partially because, with a busy schedule, I am very selective in what films I see.  However, I also think there was a lot of quality.  Maybe not high quality, but quality nonetheless.  Anyways, here is the list.

Honorable Mention
Life Itself


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A Most Violent Year

10.  Edge of Tomorrow
(dir. by Doug Liman)
I don't know how, but it feels like recently the phrase "Tom Cruise Movie" has become synonymous with mediocrity.  I honestly don't know how.  Outside of a couple duds (which, let's face it, everyone has), Cruise has been a steady and bankable action star especially recently with films like Jack Reacher, Oblivion, and the Mission Impossible franchise.  Edge of Tomorrow might be the best of the group.  It truly feels like a throwback action film that is just fun from start to finish.  Cruise and Emily Blunt are great as the two heroes out to save the world.  This is a strange action mix of Groundhog Day and Source Code as Cruise continually relives the same day that he always dies at the end of.  With each new reliving of that same day, he learns a little more about what he has to do to save the world, as he goes from clueless desk jockey to ultimate action hero.  My only two complaints with the film are the title and the timing.  The original title of Live. Die. Repeat. was such a better title for this film.  The timing was another issue I had.  Tom Cruise was just a little too old for this role.  If this had been made about 10 years ago (or with a different lead), it would have potentially been even better.  I can't complain too much about Tom Cruise though.  I would just love to see him throw in a few more critically acclaimed roles that could get him in awards talk again, but I don't see that happening in the near future.  As long as the quality stays up, I don't mind.

9.  Begin Again
(dir. by John Carney)
Possibly my favorite film of the last decade was Once, a small, simple love story with music at the center.  So when I heard director John Carney would be exploring a similar story with Begin Again, it quickly became one of my most anticipated films of the year.  I knew it would be different with big names like Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Mos Def, and Catherine Keener (a far cry from Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) being involved.  It definitely wasn't on the same level of Once, but it was very good in its own way.  Although the characters and details of the story are different, the basic stories of the two films are the same.  Two people develop an incredible bond with the help of music that forces each of them to reevaluate and reassess their lives.  The performances are great, the music is great, the film is great.

8.  Birdman
(dir. by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
I hate putting this film on my list, and it has nothing to do with the film itself.  It had no business winning Best Picture!  However, with that said, Birdman is very good in its own way.  It is such a strange and bizarre film to get the attention it got.  A movie star haunted (quite literally) by his career-defining role tries to reinvent himself through the theater.  It's a simple premise, but nothing about the execution is simple and conventional which is what makes this film endlessly interesting and engaging.  There are two things I love about this movie and one thing I hate.  First, I love the way it is shot.  Sure, there are several camera tricks involved, but it appears to be one continuous shot from start to finish of this movie.  We marvel at the brilliance of one continuous shot that will last 5 minutes or so in other films.  This is one continuous shot for a whole film!  Second, many of the actors seem to be playing slightly slanted (or dare I say ... almost sideways?) versions of themselves.  Michael Keaton plays a washed-out actor known for playing a superhero that is trying to resurrect his career.  Michael Keaton IS a washed-out actor known for playing a superhero that is trying to resurrect his career.  Edward Norton plays a neurotic method actor that everyone loves on stage but hates off stage.  Edward Norton IS a neurotic method actor that everyone loves on stage but hates off stage!!!  Add to that performances by Emma Stone and Naomi Watts that also don't stray too far from reality, and you have a cast playing with their own lives.  This could have been a lot higher on this list if it weren't for the ending.  I hated the ending.  The movie goes about 5 minutes too long.  Chop off that ending, and I would be a little more okay with this film winning Best Picture.  Never mind ... I will never be okay with this winning Best Picture.

7.  The Imitation Game
(dir. by Morten Tyldum)
This biopic is a story I feel has been told before.  In fact, there were two biopics (The Theory of Everything being the other) nominated for Best Picture this year that basically tell the same story.  This one just tells it a lot better.  The obvious comparison for these films about genius minds tortured from within is 2001's A Beautiful Mind, which is an all-time favorite of mine (RIP John and Alicia Nash).  Although The Imitation Game is nowhere near A Beautiful Mind, it is its own type of brilliance as the story plays out quite differently from its doppelganger.  Alan Turing is a genius mind obsessed with puzzles that is given the task of breaking the Nazi coding system during World War II.  With the help of his companions, played by the likes of Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, he creates the first computer to do it.  All the time, he is haunted by the fact that he is homosexual, something that was illegal in England at the time.  I love watching brilliant minds solve puzzles.  It is one of the things that makes A Beautiful Mind so great.  However, what makes this film unique and special in its own way is Turing's "demon."  It is so different than any of the other similar films because of society's view of homosexuality then, society's view of homosexuality now, and ultimately, how the story is shaped by these perspectives.  It is a fascinating story that, much like John Nash, is one that needed to be told.

6.  The Lego Movie
(dir. by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller)
This movie was just plain fun.  Whoever came up with this idea is a genius.  From the very beginning, you realize this would be a movie unlike any other you have seen.  At no point does the LEGO-ness feel like a gimmick.  It stays fresh from start to finish in a way few films are able to accomplish.  All this can be said about many films, but what makes this one special is the ending.  The heart comes out at the end in a way changes your perspective on the whole film.  It gives this silly little LEGO movie meaning and purpose that puts it on par with the Toy Story franchise in how it can relate to multiple age groups on multiple levels.  To paraphrase it's Oscar nominated song, everything was awesome.

5.  Whiplash
(dir. by Damien Chazelle)
As a musician and a teacher, this film automatically appealed to me on a different level.  However, I was not fully prepared for the chaotic ride this film takes you on.  Miles Teller plays an ambitious young drummer looking to impress the dictatorial (emphasis on "dic(k)") band director played by J.K. Simmons.  Simmons's character seems to be never satisfied simply for the sake of never being satisfied.  His search for approval drives the young pupil to the brink of insanity.  Watching this train wreck spiral out of control is sad, frustrating, inspiring, exhausting, and absolutely enthralling.  This film also produced my favorite quote of the year.  "The two worst words in the English language are 'good job.'"

4.  American Sniper
(dir. by Clint Eastwood)
This was the last of the Best Picture nominees I needed to see to make this list, and I am so glad I waited for it.  Bradley Cooper plays real life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in American military history.  This film basically becomes a sniper version of 2009's The Hurt Locker, as it tells of the troubled life of a successful military man in the middle of the most recent conflicts in the Middle East.  While Kathryn Bigelow's masterpiece focuses more on the exploits of the deployment, Clint Eastwood's masterpiece focuses much more on the struggle it is to come home.  Being a successful soldier does not necessarily translate to being a successful member of society.  Kyle's wife, played brilliantly by Sienna Miller, learns this fact the hard way as Chris struggles to turn off the instincts that make him such a great soldier.  What makes this so perfect is the subtlety it deals with the subject.  It addresses it without ever really talking about it.  Bradley Cooper gives the best performance of his already impressive career as he is becoming one of the best actors of his generation.

3.  Gone Girl
(dir. by David Fincher)
Some directors just know how to make a certain genre.  With Martin Scorsese, it is mobster drama.  With Quentin Tarantino, it is dialogue driven homage.  With David Fincher, it is crime drama.  From Se7en to The Game to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher has shown time and time again that he is the master of this domain.  Gone Girl is the latest to enter his canon, and it belongs solidly on his list of masterpieces.  Ben Affleck plays a troubled and shady character who is trying not to become a suspect in his wife's disappearance and possible murder.  This really feels like several different films thrown into one, as you are not really sure what is going on until halfway through the film.  Rosamund Pike gives a performance that should finally make her a household name.  Supporting characters played by Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon, and Tyler Perry (yes, that Tyler Perry) round out a truly perfect cast.  This film leaves you guessing from start to finish at what is really going on, and it never seems to be what is expected.  It truly is Fincher at his best.

2.  Selma
(dir. by Ava DuVernay)
What an important story this is to tell, and what an important time to tell it.  Selma tells the inspiring story of Martin Luther King, Jr. leading his peaceful, non-violent march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery.  Led by David Oyelowo as MLK, this film does the very difficult task of blurring the lines between dramatization and reality.  You forget at times that you are not watching this happen live instead of watching a movie made 50 years later.  This film stirred so many emotions for me.  First, the story itself is so inspiring.  To see a group of people mistreated so universally by those around them, and to see a reaction come from such a place of strength and bravery is one of the greatest tales of the human condition I have seen in some time.  However, it also forces me to look at our current culture now and the issues with discrimination that have emerged once again.  People on every side of the current argument could learn from a film like Selma.  It is illogical to hate someone on the basis of something someone can't choose, like skin color.  However, whether any action is spurned by race or not, the other main lesson that can be learned from Selma is the way you fight violence towards minorities is through the strength of non-violence that Dr. King showed on that bridge leaving Selma.  How badly this generation needs their own Martin Luther King, Jr....

1.  Boyhood
(dir. by Richard Linklater)
With the strength of all the films on this list, there was no question what the top film on this list would be.  I cannot remember a movie-going experience quite like seeing Richard Linklater's Boyhood.  That is exactly what seeing this movie is too: an experience.  This film tells the story of growing up over a 12 year period.  The movie was filmed in short episodes with one being shot every year for 12 years.  We truly see the characters grow up.  This could have easily become just a gimmick of the film, but it truly worked and told a story from start to finish.  The best part was the story was very subtle, much like growing up actually is.  This is a film everyone needs to see.  It is a landmark achievement in filmmaking that should go down in history with some of the all-time greats.  It tells the story of a generation because, honestly, it took that long to make it.  It is one of the best films to come out in some time and will set a standard for films moving forward.

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