Saturday, December 5, 2015

THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2014! (Frustrated sigh) I know, I know, how late I am, even for me, let's just get this over with! And also, NO TOP TEN WORST LIST, yet....

(Deep breath, grunt, cracking typing fingers)

I've been holding back on this. I haven't been doing it that damn well obviously, but I've been holding back. Look, this has not been a great year for me personally, as anybody who's followed just how erratic my blog has been and it's still not particularly good. My computer is on the fritz and once again, I'm typing in a library on the clock at a time when that is literally the last thing and place I need in my life and if that was the only thing going on, I wouldn't even on it so much, but this has just been a nightmare of a year, 2015 for me. So, as I struggled just to even watch many/most of the films from 2014, as my Netflix account's still on hold for months and my Roku and internet services are only partially serviceable at best, it wouldn't been really nice, to escape my personal issues for a couple hours and become fully engrossed in some amazing pieces of cinema for a couple hours. I truly believe this is why entertainment even exists and why it's more important than even people really, the ability to have us forget our problems for awhile is such a powerful stimulus to me. People who claim they don't like television or movie or any art form and can live without it, they don't exist to me. We are the art we digest whatever that is, and it's what can inspire us, can influence us; this film medium in particular, is so powerful. Stalin called it the art of the masses, and of course, that's why he immediately began trying to propagandize it, but still, it's all-inclusive. Instead of going to a place where everybody knows my name to get away from my troubles, I go to the movies, or at least to my nearest DVD player. Or television, or whatever piece of moving pictures I can find. Hell, Youtube is quickly becoming a religion to me. So, I went through, 220 (so far) 2014 films, before finally getting around to making this list and I spent most of 2015 watching films from this year, and I've come to a conclusion. (Clears throat) Ahem.

THIS YEAR SUCKED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yeah, yeah, listen, I realize that I'm about to become the biggest hypocrite of all over the course of this introduction, but let me explain. I am not one of those people who believe making any kind of statement about a year in art, is at all valid. In fact, I think overall that's just stupid. For one thing, when somebody says that, "This year was so good" or "This year was terrible," or whatever, they're not actually looking over an entire year's worth of films, there's usually talking about, the supposed "Good films" of that year, not the actual amounts of all the theatrical released film in that year, and anybody tells you otherwise, including myself, they're completely bullshitting you. Yeah, any year looks good if you just look at the top films, and every year looks like absolute garbage if you look at the bottom. "Gus" came out in 1976, so that must be a bad year for film, right? Yeah, I'm sure if I go through all of 1939's American releases, I'll find that it wasn't all "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz" either. There's always, ALWAYS, just as much crap as there is GREAT, ALWAYS!

That said, however....

This is the year, that I might've changed my mind about looking at films that way, 'cause I gotta tell you, this was a frustrating filmgoing year for me. For one thing, while I am going to go over the best films of the year, and there are a lot of good films, there weren't as many great ones as I think we all wish there were. There was a lot of Very Good and Good, not as many Great. I've often seriously thought about as many as 50 films for the Top Ten in some years, but this year, this was the first time I seriously wondered if I even had a Top Ten. Like, I know, logically, I have to have a Top Ten, but, still, I wasn't completely sure I wanted to do ten this year. And the worst films... Well, normally I do a Top Ten Worst List as well, but I usually shove it onto the bottom of this blogpost and not spend more than a minute on it, 'cause why should I, but this year, I have some frustrations to get out this year, so yes, for the first time ever, I am doing a separate blog for the Worst Films of a Year. Congratulation, 2014, you did it. This year, was so bad, that I have to devote a whole blog about how horrible the bad films were.

But I don't want to focus on that right now. Right now, we're focusing on the Best Films of 2014 and yes, there were some good and even great films, but not as many, and I don't think I'm alone in this. I don't know if you guys have ever done the math regarding the Academy's Best Picture category rules, but if you have like I have, you'll know that the way they count, plus the tendencies of the Academy make it almost impossible for them to nominated anything other than nine films for Best Picture. It's been that way ever since they adopted this stupid 5-10 films things. (Seriously, they should just go back to five) This year, they had eight. Now some of you may be asking, "Well, why was that this year?" Well, basically, what happened was that, there were so few truly great films that, they pretty much showed up on everybody's ballot. Like, normally, you'll get a bit more variety of opinion and therefore you'll see a confused Academy coming up with different choices for the best, and oftentimes, there's enough films out there to justify putting on the ballot, but no, not this year. There were basically a couple movies everybody agreed, and SPOILERS, we'll get to those two main ones, but after that, nobody could agree and figure out how to fill out the rest of the ballot. This should've been a big clue to me at the time, but yeah, only eight nominations, including one film that only got in for Best Picture and Best Song, of all the categories?  This is how bizarre the year was folks, it wasn't that everybody was split, it was that everybody agreed, and it wasn't because there was so many great films but one or two that were so above and beyond great that they dominated it. No, there were a few great ones and everybody else did what I did and struggled to fill out their ballots.

Anyway, after sloughing through all/most of 2014's major film, I've finally compiled the list of what is truly the Ten Best Films of the year. I know, we're heading into Christmas of next year, but as with everything else, the previous year doesn't actually end, until I have the last word. So, enough stalling, let's get to it. We're counting down....

THE TEN BEST FILMS OF 2014!

10. A Most Violent Year



There's a few films I kept arguing about with myself for the bottom of this list, not too many, but overall I decided to pick the one that most impressed me with it's directorial skill, and while J.C. Chandor's three feature films to date have all been impressive, "Margin Call" made my Ten Best the year it came out and "All is Lost" came very close to making it last year, "A Most Violent Year" is the film, that at least from a directorial point of view, I'm most impressed with him yet. This cold movie takes place in 1981 in a cold New York winter and Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) owns a heat oil company once owned by his father-in-law. He's made a down payment on a major port property that would be perfect for his company's continued growth, but he needs to cobble the money together quickly, all the while, his trucks are constantly getting robbed and ambushed, presumably by at least one of his competitors either major or an upstart, plus, he's being investigated by the D.A. for business irregularities. He's definitely connected with the underworld, mostly through his wife (Jessica Chastain) and business dealings, but he is actually trying to be an honest businessman with the company. The movie replicates the feel of an older film, one that Coppola or Sidney Lumet would've made back in the late '70s or '80s, and the fact that it so successfully achieves this is why I rank it on the list. J.C. Chandor's never done a period piece before, although I've appreciated his filmwork before, he's always kept himself in an enclosed space, whether that be the top floors of a Wall Street institution or even, on a boat/raft in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Here, he's completely expanded his skillset to the fullest. I don't know if I'd call my personal favorite of his, but it's definitely his best directing work, proving he's more than a good writer who knows how to work within his means. There's a lot going on, and the story that's told is Shakespearean, Scorsesian and classically American. Chandor pulls from everyone in this film and with a great cast led by performances from Isaac and Chastain, as well as supporting work from David Oyelowo, and Albert Brooks among other, Chandor in a mere three films has solidified his spot as one of the great young filmmakers in the country. "A Most Violent Year" is a great classic tale of a guy trying to do good, in a world where everybody else isn't.


9. Wild



I wasn't particularly enthralled with Jean-Marc Vallee's previous film "Dallas Buyers Club" as much as others did; I thought the performances were strong but I thought it was mostly a by-the-books biopic that wasn't nearly as precise that I think other's thought it was. So I wasn't looking forward to "Wild" his follow-up, but this was a much better more fascinating personal journey of a great character. Reese Witherspoon received an Oscar nomination for this, her best performance, ever as Cheryl Strayed, a reckless drug and alcohol addict who ruins her marriage and after her mother dies, decides to, without training and only a modicum of preparation, hikes the Pacific Crest Trail an 1,100 miles trail from Mexico to Canada, shortly after the passing of her mother (Oscar-nominee Laura Dern). The movie begins with one of the best opening scenes I've scene in a movie for a while. Unlike "DBC",  the biopic, you didn't know exactly where it was going, not-storywise, you can pretty much know that she's gonna eventually complete the trek, but in terms of the movie, it was really good at figuring out how and when to bounce around the personal flashbacks and memories that she's coming to grips with, whether it's her past in college with her mother, her failed marriage to her husband Paul (Thomas Sadoski), which she basically sabotage to the point where she tortured herself by changing her name to "Strayed", and then with the struggles and journeys on the trail itself, and some of the characters she meets during the trail and that's probably the strength of the film, it's really about the journey itself and the strange, surreal or just plain memorable characters she encounters along the way. It's as unpredictable as the journey itself, going from unbearable desert heat to snow-covered mountains and back. I didn't get a chance to review either this, or the previous film on the list, "A Most Violent Year", and it's hard to completely explain how engaging the film is, from moment one to the end. I credit this to writer Nick Hornby, the great novelist who's work was the inspiration for films like "About a Boy" and "High Fidelity" as well as the screenplay for one of the most underrated films of this decade "An Education", and he figures out the right way to structure this story, that could've just been a fairly traditional narrative and actually make us feel like we've tackled this 1,100 mile trek ourselves with her. It's one of the best performances of the year that carries it as well, but Hornby knows how to truly create compelling and fascinating female characters, and yeah, he had a pretty good source material to begin with, considering where this film could've been, the fact that we got this, bumps this film up a bit.


8. Mommy 



I'm gonna have quite a few foreign language films on this list, more than normal for me, I'm not quite sure why, but four made my Top Ten List, and I easily could've had about three or four more on here, I never consciously do that, I don' think, but this was a year where I was finding more ideas and inspiration from films and filmmakers outside the U.S., and arguably nobody has more ideas right now that the former Canadian child actor-turned arthouse wunderkind Xavier Dolan, and "Mommy" is probably the fourth or fifth film he's already made, just about his mother issues already, but it's definitely his best so far.

From my original review:
I've given one negative review after another to Xavier Dolan's films, but it was always with the understanding that I was grading him on a curve, 'cause I knew eventually, this insanely young talented kid, was at some point gonna come up with something that was really special. Sure, he's still obviously sorting out his mommy issues, quite literally in this film, but dammit, it's a near emotional masterpiece. The "Mommy" is Diane (Anne Dorval) a single mother, in, for some reason a fictitious Canada, and no, I'm not saying that, that's the warning in the film's beginning, and she's not quite capable of being a mother, in general, and she's definitely not capable of controlling her ADHD son Steve (Antione Olivier-Pilon), who's in and out of Juvenile Hall,... They're both tumultuous creatures, both uneducated, both not really sure how to relate to each other and the outside world... They soon befriend a shy neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clement) a former teacher who's on sabbatical because of a sudden stutter she can't get rid of. She begins to help out and soon things get a little better. Not much, but a little. Dolan does something interesting with the frame, by putting enclosing bars on the widescreen, almost to a square screen size that's often smaller than a traditional television screen, and it represents a closing in, claustrophobic quality to Diane and Steve's lives. Sometimes, the screen is widened when things starts to seem good, something Steve even pushes the screen wide, a sense of freedom, happiness? It's an interesting device to use the widescreen this way, but it forces you to watch what are sometimes very troubling characters and behaviors. Both Steve and Diane are calmed, if not energize by the presence of Kyla, giving both of them reason and inspiration to get ahead, the inspiration, but not necessarily the capability, even with the tools. "Mommy" is a tough film to watch, but an engrossing film. Dorval, Olivier-Pilon and Clement each give some amazing performances and the movie itself, shows an assured young filmmaker, finally maturing into his talents, while still keeping his most distinctive voice. He's finally placing himself, not just as one of the best young filmmakers around, but one of the best filmmakers around, period.

I didn't have time during the year to write full reviews for "A Most Violent Year" and "Wild" but I saw "Mommy" at around the same time and clearly I did find the time, somehow to write a review for this and it's the first film on this list that, will be a trend, 'cause most of the really best films on this list, ended up being films that were really trying to challenge the medium of the genre from a storytelling and a filmmaking perspective. In a world where there just wasn't a lot of great, like I said, the interesting and different really stood out. Xavier Dolan's film, and it's true, I did pan all his previous films, but if you go back and read those review, they are some of the most positive negative reviews ever, 'cause this kid, is 26, 27 maybe now, and he's five or six feature films into a career behind the scenes now, his talent was there, he only needed time to evolve. With "Mommy", he finally took a lot of these ideas he'd been brewing with, story and visually and it exploded on the screen. It's a heartbreaking film about two characters, one who's barely able to take care of herself and she has to try to take care of her somebody who's so clearly not able to take care of himself. It's a great emotional story and film. And, yes, Dolan still has better films in him, and that's just scary, 'cause for anybody else, this is their best and he's only now coming into his own.


7. Moebius



Speaking of experimental foreign filmmakers, Kim Ki-Duk's "Moebius" is, eh..., well,...- this was a tough film to review. I've always admired Kim Ki-Duk's he arguably the best and most consistently interesting South Korean filmmaker going, He makes, sometimes two or three films a year, and they don't always make their way to America but when they do, they are a treat. And it seems like, other than his sparse use of dialogue in most of his films, including this one, which I don't think even has dialogue, they're all pretty unique. "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring", might objectively be his best, although "3-Iron" is one of the strangest and most insanely beautiful love stories I've seen in film. But, "Moebius" is a beast unto itself. You're either gonna love it or hate it, there's no in-between on this one, and you'll know pretty quickly either way.

From my original review:
Oh, the perils of being a film critic. In order to, even try to explain Kim Ki-Duk's latest film, "Moebius", I would basically be giving away plotpoints so major, that you're gonna basically know too much of the movie, after I finish this review, that arguably you would have probably made up your minds over whether or not you should see or would like it. However, if I don't explain at least, some of what happens in the movie, and just tell you guys to go and watch it, then, I'm gonna get some complaints, from people who are going to look at me going, "What the hell did you just make me watch?" Somehow, I'm gonna have to thread this needle, so here it goes; first thing you need to know is that "Moebius" is a great film, possibly a masterpiece, a great combination of the best of the Asia Extreme movement style that takes the elements of horror, and thrusts them into an pure art and singular-visioned idea of filmmaking. Kim Ki-Duk has experimented in the past with the use of very limited sound,... and with "Moebius", which is titled after the notion of a moebius strip, here's a film, that's completely without dialogue, only the actions most of four characters are used to tell a disturbing circular and revolving story about a family. The Mother (Eun-woo Lee) and Father (Jae-hyeon Jo) are having some sort of personal problems with each other, although whatever it is, isn't revealed to their Son, (Young-ju Seo) Later, we find out, that he's been having an affair; his Mistress (Also played by Eun-woo Lee, in a very peculiar double-role casting) runs a small supermarket, and both the Son and the Mother catch him one night. (IF YOU WANT TO GO INTO THIS FILM BLIND, STOP READING NOW, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED) The Mother, then takes a knife, and attempts to castrate her husband in his sleep, but he wakes up in time. While he's fought her off, she then attempts plan B, and ends up castrating her son instead, determined to punished her husband, if not him, then his bloodline.... This is only the beginning btw, and the actions and the emotional, both personal and sexual involved between these four characters, and three actors, get so intertwined in uncomfortable ways that Oedipus and Madea's family would start to wonder if they both got off easy. I've read some who think that this was a dark comedy, and it's comedic moments in it but I don't think that was the primary goal, but it's blatantly metaphoric that it might as well be. It's one of those films where you just keep watching as you're afraid of what's gonna happen next, but you can't make yourself turn away and not watch. It's utterly compelling, you can't turn away no mater how over-the-top "Moebius" becomes. Even if you guess how it turns out, you want to see how it gets there. This is real artistic accomplishment in film, this from an established great artist already, but still, this might be among his best.

You know, when you watch and study as many films as I do and as often, you do get bored more quickly than maybe other viewers would, 'cause things and themes start getting repeated and reused and eventually they start blurring together and even more eventually, no matter how well-crafted a film can be, you're usually too many steps ahead of it anyway. "Moebius", say whatever else you want about it, and this is the most controversial film on this list btw, this film keeps you interested, if for no other reason than it's gonna make you keep saying "Holy Fuck!" while watching it. They go there, it's a great three-person play really, there's only three major actors, four roles, this very incentuous loop and it does everything imaginable you can basically do with this premise. You won't forget it, whether you like it or not, I don't know, but you won't forget it.


6. Still Alice



Yeah, I didn't plan on putting this film on here say a few months back when I saw it, but the more I thought about it, this was the film that probably had the greatest emotional impact on me. I'm actually kinda surprised that too many people have sorta dismissed this film as basically another disease-of-the-week movie, which happens to have this great performance by Julianne Moore that finally earned her her long-delayed Oscar. I've watched one film after another depicting Alzheimer's Disease, in one form or another, this is the first one I've ever seen that actually is about Alzheimer's from the perspective of the person going through the disease and from I what I can tell doing it accurately. This is unbelievably difficult because, well, Alzheimer's is a disease where you're constantly losing your mind and yourself, and it's almost impossible to show that, in a visual medium, and no it's not perfectly a single perspective, but this is the first movie where I actually felt like I was watching somebody, an intelligent person, having to go through the disease. Moore is a linguistics professor who, in the seeming prime of her adult life, begin slurring and missing words as she soon gets diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's. When she's still capable enough to do so, she sets up numerous little daily blocks to help her prevent it, or document, albeit unwantedly her inevitable decline. To be sure, the movie does showcase the family's struggles, and the rest of the cast is just brilliant. Alec Baldwin gives one of his best and most subtle performances in film in a while, Kristen Stewart gives another amazing performance, Kate Bosworth is quite good here, this is a great cast. The movie was directed by the husband and husband team, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, Glatzer was suffering from Alzheimer's in his later years, he passed away earlier and while "Still Alice" was based on a novel by Lisa Genova, but you can tell this was by far the most personal film they've done. I had previously seen the very good film "Quinceanera", which was made before Glatzer's illness took over, and after Glatzer's illness, he asked that he wanted to spend the rest of his life making movies. "Still Alice" on top of the great performances, is carefully made, and surprisingly well-written. I'd probably argue this as the most underrated film of the year, and it's certainly the saddest and most touching. I've seen a lot of supposed Alzheimer's films, this is the only one that I think they've ever gotten it right. I know that's not something you can say to promote, but yeah, "Still Alice" is a great film.


5. Under the Skin 



An amazing mix of beautiful futuristic sci-fi imagery mixed with guerrila-style on-the-street filmmaking, Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin", is any other year would probably be the most unique film on this list, but we'll get to that later. It's certainly the greatest cinematic experience of the year, as we observe the curious behaviors and actions of, presumably an alien creature who begins to question her succubus-like goal and actions, while still trying to contemplate the foreign world that surrounds her.

From my original review:
I almost wonder if revealing anything about "Under the Skin", is in a way, giving away too much, but then again, I can explain point-by-point everything that happens, and you would still not take away enough to fully contemplate what the film is. The story is rather irrelevant frankly. I can tell you that Scarlet Johansson, in a stunning performance, plays the lead role. (No characters in the film are ever given names) She is a stunning creature, who is apparently some kind of foreign being. Where exactly is she from? It's probably just better if you see the imagery and what happens to the men she picks up, and willingly enter this out-of-the-way building, and what exactly happens that's inside to them. Some have wondered if there's some metaphorical level to it; I don't think so; I actually think the scenes are very literal. Stylized, yes, but, the contrast is what's so important, that I'm not sure anything symbolic is essential to them. They seem and feel more prudent to exist as they are actual experiences. Why would those scenes be any less unreal, than the one terrifying scene at a beach, which involves a vicious murder, and that's the least disturbing part of that sequence. There's no explanation for her actions there, there's very little for anything else, but we get enough to understand the story of this striking alien-like creature and the experiences she has..... It was directed Jonathan Glazer, his first feature in a decade, since "Birth", with Nicole Kidman, that I somehow missed; I did see his debut feature "Sexy Beast", which I actually hated, 'cause it didn't go anywhere,..."Under the Skin" apparently took heavy literary licenses with the original novel source material, (I would've probably guessed that had I not been informed) and the movie was actually made, almost secretly. Hidden cameras were often used to try and coax unsuspecting people in Scarlet Johansson's van, who's under what's clearly a black wig to us, but could easily be enough to hide out when people aren't suspecting that she's around.... There's been comparisons to Kubrick, Lynch, Antonioni, Carruth, Roeg, Matt Zoller Seitz's review on rogerebert.com actually has about 13 directors or filmmakers mentioned in it. I could list a few other names as well, but where Glazer's may have looked for inspiration to those names, I think the directing, is all his own. The close-ups on Scarlet's face, and following shots of the motorcycle, the amazing use of sound design and visuals, the drastic contrasts between the city of Glasgow and the surrounding mountain, to the bare, almost Matrix-y world that only Scarlet and maybe the motorcycle guy know the clue for. "Under the Skin" is a hypnotic and engrossing film about how hypnotic and engrossing it is, and that's what makes it really special.

Yeah, there was, almost no understanding or consensus by critics or audiences of just what to make of "Under the Skin" or how exactly we were supposed to take it, I stand by the notion that A. It doesn't matter, and B. It's probably best to take it as nothing more than the literal events that are occurring on the screen. That's what the most intriguing to us, the most fascinating to us anyway, just sit back and enjoy the experience of this film It really is one of those movies that's a bit beyond critical analysis 'cause it's about going through it and it's just fascinating to go through. Also I want to point out Mica "Micachu" Levi's score, which is probably the most essential technical element to any film this year, she's a classical experimentalist musician, most known for Micachu and the Shapes, and it's absolutely brilliant on it's own, but, this is a film where, there basically is very little dialogue and just images on the screen and this really strange and otherworldly music everywhere else. This is most definitely an experience as much as it is an experience.


4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)



The Oscar-winning Best Picture from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)", which I'm fairly certain is the longest-titled movie to win Best Picture, is definitely one of the most unique ones. Just conceptually, it's a dark satire on modern Hollywood and how, yes Hollywood is in fact sick and tired of all these damn superhero movies taking over, it's not just every other sane person in the world, trust me, and cinematically it's one of the more unique cinematic spectacles to win as well. Although, going back to my old review, I found that I more skeptical of it in my initial thoughts.

From my original review:
Okay, I have...- well not a confession really, but I did not watch those early Batman movies with Michael Keaton, not at the time and actually I didn't finally see "Batman" 'til years later... so this whole mythos of Michael Keaton being renowned as a superhero performer, honestly I never thought of him that way; I just always thought of him as an amazing and versatile actor. I was always happy to see him in a movie or a TV show even a bad one like "Jack Frost" or something like a guest role on "30 Rock" or "Frasier" even. I think of him in "Jackie Brown" or the HBO movie "Live from Baghdad", or a great little movie that nobody's seen called "Game 6", which actually, he has a very similar character arc and plot in that film compared to "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)".... I'm surprised actually that nobody's compared "Game 6" to "Birdman..." yet to be honest. I gave that film 5 STARS, so maybe I like "Birdman..." in much the same way, but there's something else here. There's a lot of something else's actually and I think that's partially the point. Yes, there's the gimmick of the long shots being used to similate one take; I'll be honest, I didn't notice. I mean, I did, but- well, I'm glad I didn't notice, I wasn't paying attention to that. I was paying attention to the bizarre drum and cymbals based score, it's one of the strangest and most unique scores I've ever heard for any movie. It's just batting and beating, like fireworks, but not in any pattern or noticeable chord pattern that I recognized. It's jarring, it makes everything off-kilter. And other than the fact that it deals with the depression, sadness and tragedy aspects of the human condition, this film also has nothing in common with anything we've seen from Inarritu before. Well, that, and I guess there's what can be considered multiple narratives. Keaton play Riggan Thomson, who yes, is famous for playing Birdman. He also plays Birdman in the movie, who talks to him in his moments of private, a stinging voice of his devilish instincts. He's opening a play on Broadway that he's written, directed and acted in, adapting Raymond Carver "What People Talk About When They Talk About Love", good choice btw, and it's still a mess in previews. Everyone's expecting it to fail,... eccentric Broadway actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who is overly method on stage and then a disaster offstage. He's dating a fellow co-star in the beginning, Lesley (Naomi Watts) and he manages to screw that up so bad he throws her into the arms of the other female featured role Laura (Andrea Riseborough), while hitting on Riggan's drug-addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who's just out of rehab and is working, reluctantly as his assistant even though they don't get along. Whew, there's Riggan's boss/lawyer/publicist Jake (Zach Galifianakis) who's trying to keep everything calm during the chaos as the production's being sued by the actor with the head injury, as there's no money for anything else, no tickets being sold, no way to fire Mike after tickets start selling when he comes on board, keeping everybody and anybody else in line.... This thing is really crazy when you break it down, it's like "Noises Off" really.... This strangely is a dark comedy after everything. I think on some level I mostly admire "Birdman..." more than I like it though. It's technically amazing, but it's story doesn't feel completely original, sometimes it seems like a mish-mash of other stuff more than anything. I haven't even talked about dreaded critic (Lindsay Duncan) or Riggan's ex wife (Amy Ryan), not to mention all the modern-day references to Hollywood and the entertainment culture at large. It's definitely a good film, amazingly well-made, but I question whether it got the all the loftier goals is seemed to be trying to achieve. The film won four Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Writing and Cinematography, and Keaton, Stone and Norton were subsequently nominated, it's definitely one of the stranger films to pull of Best Picture in a while and that uniqueness alone makes it worth checking out on a technical standpoint at least. Pardon the pun, but "Birdman..." is a bit of a marvel. A curious one though.

Yeah, this was a film that kinda made me look me a bit to fully digest how good it is. I admired it much more than I liked it originally, but after thinking over, there is so much in this film worth looking at a second or third time, and it gets better every time. It's funny as hell, there's some great jokes about the modern entertainment industry and characters in it, in real life and through the press, there's great acting, all around, there's not a bad performance in this film, Inarritu's directing, not just the use of the camera, but the production design is great, the costumes are great, everybody's character is fleshed out, it blended surrealism and fantasy, and the falling into insanity that Michael Keaton's character's going through, there's a lot going on, and all of it is done amazingly well. Great film.


3. Force Majeure



Swedish director Ruben Ostland's "Force Majeure" is probably the film I thought the most about while watching it and long after. It's one of those movies that makes you think on a personal, philosophical and sociological level. The movie begins with a normal family vacation, until a lunchtime avalanche gives everybody a fright and how everybody reacted during that time, causes a marriage and relationship to be challenged.

From my original review:
I truly believe that until you're actually in a situation, you really don't know how you're gonna react. I know there's this great sense of assurance that people have about such things, but I've never found that to be true. The timing, the exact moment, the exact situation at play, are you completely sure? The only way to test that is to actually be in it, without any preparation or foreknowledge and then maybe one can be certain of their own instincts, and even then, the next time it happens, it might be different, 'cause now you have the knowledge of having gone through it once before. I know it sounds like I'm speaking in circles right now, but consider the situation in "Force Majeure",.... Tomas and Ebba (Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli) are taking their two kids, Harry and Vera (Vincent Wettergren and Clara Wettergren) to the French Alps for a week-long skiing vacation. At first, everything seems fine. There's photos, there's some skiing, there's the whole family sharing the bed in their matching pajamas. Then, on the second day, in one of many striking scenes, there's an avalanche that descends upon them while having breakfast at the rooftop restaurant of the lodge. It's sudden and unexpected, and while the avalanche scares everybody it blankets them in white smoke. It seems everyone's alright, but at that moment, that flight or fight response kicked in, and one of the parents grabbed for the kids, while the other one bolted and ran off the deck. Worst yet, when confronted with this accusation, he denies it, This isn't a film about perspective btw, we see exactly what happened. Was this a simple difference in the flight-or-fight instinct or there something more going on. When they have a double date later with Mats and Charlotte (Kristopher Hivju and Karin Myrenberg), the story gets retold and the facade they had been putting up for the kids and everybody else is shot down. The other couple snickers as they worry about how they'll need therapy, and they're not necessarily wrong, and they also end up going through their own issues in this psychological debate. The story is through the guise of this troubled couple, but the movie is really about this look between our hopeful desires and our instincts and whether or not we're actually in control of either of them. This isn't the only scenario in the movie, the avalanche is only the catalyst of it..... I won't reveal what happens, but the movie is constantly looking at the ways we react to the differing stimuli and how we react to other's reactions, and each of these change us. Force Majeure is originally French for a superior force, that's usually a reference to an act of God, but I think the movie that sometimes it's the force within us. This is really a great film, makes you think and makes you truly wonder about, other such nightmare scenarios, exactly how would your fight or flight or if you would act correctly or not. It's a thought I have a lot on my own so this is a bit in my wheelhouse but this is really a thoughtful and observant new look at it. 

You know, something that I constantly think about when writing my own screenplays is the differences between what someone says and does and what they're thinking or what they actually mean, and this is something that fascinates me in general, the idea that idea that, we think we'll know or care about the ones we love enough to do this or that in a situation, but it is so much more complicated than that. "Force Majeure" really dives into this concept head-on and we really wonder, not only what these characters are gonna end up doing or what they will do, but also, what exactly we would do to if these things happened to us. Until then though, it's almost, basically astrology passing itself off as philosophy, but this movie really does force you to confront those possibilities and ideas, yet in a subtle and beautifully-done way. Really a great special film.


2. Wild Tales



I came pretty close for a moment to putting "Wild Tales" number one, just because this was the most fun and entertaining film of the year, it's definitely the one I probably loved the best. It says presented by Almodovar but it's actually a film by Argentinean director Damian Szifron, and the movie is literally what it says. Six, (Well, 5 1/2) different Wild Tales, put together, in one of the best anthology films I've ever scene.

From my original review:
"Wild Tales" is one of the absolute very best films of the year. I have not said those words much this year, but oh boy, this film absolutely earned it. It's hard to describe "Wild Tales" or why this collection of, what are essentially short stories are so entertaining, but they are. It's fun, kinetic, each story is twisted, only one of the 5 1/2 wild tales in "Wild Tales" I found predictable and even that one, took a different direction getting there that I thought it would. There's a few themes and motifs that get repeated. Paramedics and hospitals, and ergo death and murder, strangely, broken glass for some reason, transportation plays a major role in most of the stories, but the key motif is revenge and that thirst for it that inevitably leads to madness.  The first story, after the surreal opening involving passengers on an airplane who discover they have something in common, "Las Ratas", takes place in a diner, as the waitress at a rundown diner spots a customer from her hometown that her and her family ran away from in the past. The cook suggests poisoning him with rat poison, and things get complicated when his son enters the restaurant later in the evening. The next story, "El Mas Pluenta" is basically a twisted twenty minute remake of Steven Spielberg's "Duel" as two guys battle each other on the road. The third story, "Bombasa" involves a father who's car was towed away, despite not parking in a lane with a yellow strip, to clarify that parking was illegal. he tries to get the DMV to listen to his plea, but they insist that he pay the fines instead of investigating his claim.... The fourth, probably the least fun of the stories, but still entertaining, involves a father who's son has just run over and killed a pregnant woman. He's rich and is trying to buy his son out of jail, first by having the gardener take the fall for the son, as long as the lawyer can get him down to a lesser time in prison, that is until the lawyer and then the investigating officer arrive and also want money for helping the coverup, making the father question exactly whether or not he can actually afford to cover up his son's crime. The last and my favorite story, "Hasta que La Muerte Nos Separe", takes place at what for all intensive purposes seems like a pretty happy wedding, until the wife, realizes that her husband has invited over somebody who she suspects correctly, was his mistress. If you think I've given away a lot, trust me, I have not, in any of these stories (Especially the last one,...)....  It lives up to the title, "Wild Tales" is just a wild random collection of tales. They're not related in any way, there's no connecting of the stories, it's just a bunch of a small tales. There's been movies like this before, most comparably, probably the "I Love You" movies, most famously, "Paris, Je T'Aime", which are also a collection of short films cobbled together with a theme, those films are also made by numerous different directors however. "Wild Tales" was made by one guy, writer/director Damian Szifron, it's the first of his films I've seen, and his first film in almost a decade;...  This film earned a Foreign Language Oscar nomination and it should've won. It's a refreshing, exciting movie that's constantly got you on the edge of your seat and is finding new ways to entertain, and especially in this genre, where even at it's best, these anthology movies, there's usually gonna be one or two stories that aren't as good or entertaining and the rest of the films, not here. All the stories are great and entertaining. This is one of the most exciting and best films of the year. 

This movie is just pure fun, from beginning to end. It's basically a collection of short stories from this director that just got put together into one film, but my God these are just fun weird, great stories, just twisted, surreal, bizarre,... You know, anthology films, in general, there's almost always something fascinating with them, even the worst ones, but rarely are they also this good, because, like any book of short stories, you're gonna usually like some more than you'd like the others, and you get that too here, but every story is good, and it's just fun. This movie, I mean, it's not that similar, but watching this movie it's sorta the same feeling that you get while watching a Quentin Tarantino film. It's high energy, insanity, fun. It's almost always unpredictable and it's always entertaining. Great film, almost the best of the year.


1. Boyhood



Like I said, I thought for a minute about making "Wild Tales" number one, partly 'cause it's the film I probably enjoyed the most, partly because it can use the promotion, but I didn't think about it too long to be honest. When I ran through my Ten Best Films of each year of the decade, only once did I have the #1 film from any of those two years be the directed by the same director, that was the two David Lynch films, "Mulholland Dr." in '01 and "INLAND EMPIRE" in '07, and usually I didn't see any other director come close to making that. So, I'm a bit shocked here that for two years in a row, that the same director has gotten my number one spot. Last year, I picked Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight", this year, the #1 film of the year, and I know it's a cliche choice, but it really is the only one that can possibly be number one, one of the greatest cinematic achievement of all-time, Richard Linklater's "Boyhood".

From my original review:
You know, what's suddenly ironic about Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" and all the acclaim that it's getting, is that, oddly, he has been ignored by most awards until now, and yet he has been making these kind of movies, not just for twelve years, but since he started making films..... What Linklater manages to do,...  able to invoke in us, responses, that almost personal and emotional, in ways that they're almost irrelevant to actual scene that's happening. And that's not just writer's feat, that's a directing accomplishment and it's not easy to direct. It looks good on paper, but it's one thing to write a scene where suddenly a little boy is told by his stepfather, out of the blue, that he's getting a haircut, and then to see his hair cut off, and then, see him trying to fake sick so as not to go to school, because of his new haircut, it's easy to get us, to care about this kid, (Actually that alone is hard) but he goes a step further, he finds a way to make us feel and make think, about other times, as a kid when, something is out of our control suddenly and we don't like how it is. At his very best, he's finding a way to seek out that reaction, that's beyond empathy, it's almost sense memory. In that certain scenes in "Boyhood" will work more than others for some, but that emotional response is what can separate the good filmmakers from the great filmmakers. This is why he goes about movies like this, and seeks out these new inventive ways of telling stories,...  but it's in these moments that distinguishes him as one of the great filmmakers of our time. "Boyhood" was a project he had been working on for years, 12 years in fact. He got the same group of actors and the same crew mostly, together for a couple weeks once-a-year, every year for twelve years, and then shoot a new series of scenes, following the life of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) as he progresses and grows from age 6 to age 18. This alone was a gamble, he could've easily used makeup or multiple actors to play the young characters at certain ages, and it would've been best just in case something happened to one of his stars over time, but that's not the story he's telling; it's not about them growing up, it's about the moments the characters are in now. Moments is the key word there. we gets the glimpses and we see and experience through his eye, but through his eyes, at this moment. His sees his mother (Patricia Arquette, who I just realized was never given a first name in the movie) go from rough divorce, to rough new marriages, to eventually finding her career and passion, only to look back on the path, complete distrought when she realizes at just how quickly and little time she had to experience motherhood, right at the time that Mason's father (Ethan Hawke), who he only sees periodically, struggles to fight his way back into his kids' lives, while also be able to become more responsible as a person, even if that includes, starting his own new family. "Boyhood" is really a special, unique accomplishment, not just as an experimental film, it's a great piece of cinema.

Yeah, I mean, when you consider everything that goes about making this kind of film, it's amazing that this movie got made, and it's-, you know, we talk about the technical all you want, about how incredibly well-made and risky this film was to make, but the ability to invoke such powerful emotions out of a film, from the audience, that's just pure talent that you can't really compare it. It's the greatest cinematic accomplish, but the effect that Linklater creates with this movie, is just incomparable to anything else. Linklater goes beyond empathy into finding ways to impact the audience on so many other levels. This is nostalgia, in the greatest sense of the word, even though it's all taking place in the current, in the movie, for the audience, this is a remembrance of things past. Linklater, one of the greatest directors of our time, and maybe the only one who can truly create these kind of emotions in the audience. Great film, masterpiece.

There you go, the Top Ten of 2014, but there were other good film this year, so here's a couple lists of some other special movies as well as it's directors, in alphabetical order.

LIVE-ACTION AND ANIMATED FEATURES
7 Boxes-Juan carlos Maneglia & Tana Schembori
Abuse of Weakness-Catherine Breillat
The Babadook-Jennifer Kent
Big Eyes-Time Burton
Calvary-John Michael McDonagh
Chef-Jon Favreau
The Cobbler-Tom McCarthy
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-Matt Reeves
The Drop-Michael R. Roskam
Edge of Tomorrow-Doug Liman
Foxcatcher-Bennett Miller
Gone Girl-David Fincher
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Wes Anderson
The Homesman-Tommy Lee Jnes
How to Train Your Dragon 2-Dean Deblois
Ilo Ilo-Anthony Chen
The Immigrant-James Gray
Inherent Vice-Paul Thomas Anderson
It Felt Like Love-Eliza Hittman
The LEGO Movie-Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Leviathan-Andrey Zvyagintsev
Like Father, Like Son-Hirokazu Koreeda
Locke-Steven Knight
Love is Strange-Ira Sachs
Mr. Turner-Mike Leigh
Nightcrawler-Dan Gilroy
Nymphomaniac Vol. 1-Lars von Trier
Obvious Child-Gillian Robespierre
Only Lovers Left Alive-Jim Jarmusch
Selma-Ava DuVernay
The Skeleton Twins-Craig Johnson
Starred Up-David Mckenzie
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya-Isao Takahata
Tangerines-Zaza Urushadze
Timbuktu-Abderrahmane Sissako
The Trip to Italy-Michael Hickenbottom
Trust Me-Clark Gregg
Tusk-Kevin Smith
We Are the Best!-Lukas Moodysson
Whiplash-Damian Chazelle

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
CitizenFour-Laura Poitras
Finding Vivian Maier-John Maloof and Charlies Siskel
God Loves Uganda-Roger Ross Williams
Jodorowsky's Dune-Frank Pavich
Korengal-Sebastian Junger
Life Itself-Steve James
Red Army-Gabe Polsky
The Unknown Known-Errol Morris

And as for the worst films of 2014, (Deep breath) Well, get to them, later....



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