List: Top 30 Films of 2014

Usually I separate my year-end list into two posts and write about each film represented. However, I’ve run out of time this year, so I’m sadly going to unceremoniously plop the whole thing right here, right now. There’s a lot I still haven’t seen (Selma being the most glaring absence, and unfortunately car trouble has prevented me from getting to it anytime in the next week plus).

Even though I’ve got my Top Ten By Year project, for current years in film, I’ve never taken to the idea of a top ten. It’s the scale to which everything is strapped to (I cannot tell you how many times in December I have to see/hear someone say “I liked it a lot, it just won’t make my Top Ten” or, the worst, when someone sees something missing from a Top Ten and says “you didn’t like this?”). Because with Top Tens as the standard, it’s like nothing exists outside of them. And I hate that. So I like to spotlight an eclectic group of 30. It gives me room to have fun, and it’s a number I still find myself struggling to whittle down to despite giving myself such room to work with.

Other Year-End posts for 2014 films:
What I’ll Remember About the FIlms of 2014
Top Fives of 2014

Some Blind Spots: Selma, Love is Strange, Goodbye to Language, American Sniper, Dear White People, Norte the End of History, Closed Curtain, The Strange Little Cat, Mr. Turner, The Rover, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Beyond the Lights, Wild, Still Alice, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Leviathan, A Most Violent Year, Laggies, A Letter to Momo, Top Five, Begin Again, etc)

# of 2014 Films Seen: 99

30.Birdman (US, Iñárritu)

29. Night Moves (Reichardt, US)

28. Cheap Thrills (Katz, US)
A sledgehammer of a black comedy chamber piece; blunt, lean, and mean. Two friends (Pat Healy and Ethan Embry) in separately desperate monetary circumstances; dire straits are busy aligning with long-time-no-see when a wealthy couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) who get off on having the working class under their thumb gradually ushers them into a night of dares in exchange for increasingly large sums of money to whoever performs the assigned task first. Craig’s all-in decision, which mirrors Pat Healy’s performance, ignites a power play between the two friends, as Vince’s (Embry) initial enthusiasm wanes and escalating frustration sets in. There is a ton of class warfare here, not just between the two pairs, but between Craig and Vince. To the characters in the film (save one), human worth is equated with economic and educational standing. That callous reasoning comes shockingly natural to the players involved. David Koechner’s buddy-buddy exterior masks a sinister edge, and his improv abilities make Colin’s suggestions seem on-the-fly even though they aren’t. I love Sara Paxton (her performance in The Innkeepers is one of my all-time favorites, the most underappreciated performance in years), so I wish she had more to do here, but it was enough to see her and Healy together again.
(Originally posted here)

27. Vampire Academy (Waters, US)
Basically, fuck everyone. Why? Because lo and behold there’s a lot that works about Vampire Academy, and despite its box-office flop status and universal pans, I believe the film will slowly but surely find some kind of audience.

Its main detractor is that it suffers from the kind of Adaptation Inflammation that tends to plague adaptations of world-building heavy YA films. This one even has the nerve to throw terminology as onscreen text, like a trippy test review session. The harder the  world-building efforts (also taking into account its low budget), the more everything feels inconsequential as opposed to realized. So there’s an unfortunate dwarfing effect from the get-go. As if the exposition weren’t enough, Vampire Academy makes the mistake of acting like the start of a movie franchise so are endless extraneous elements and characters that have no bearing on the story at hand, and are there to assuredly set up  future installments that will only exist in the books. So there is no shortage of dead, and undead, weight.

World-building skeletons with a side helping of complicated etymology exists in all self-serious YA franchises. But Vampire Academy blends (to inconsistent results) that skeleton with the playfully bitchy high school lampoon act its makers (Mark Waters of Mean Girls and Daniel Waters of Heathers) are known for. But instead of the latter subverting the former, they end up feeding off each other til there’s not much left.

But on second thought, I’d say there’s quite a bit left. Yes it’s a mess, but damn if it isn’t an entertaining and sardonic mess. Zoey Deutch alone is a real find, heavily recalling both Ellen Page and a young Lauren Graham, with constantly varying and left-field comic sensibility. She can be annoying and a bit much, but I found her Rose Hathaway badass and lovable, an antidote to the furrowed brows and self-sacrificing heroines of dystopian and supernatural worlds. It would be a travesty, yes a travesty, if we don’t see a lot more of her in the future. Lucy Fry as Lissa is quite memorable too, regal and fluttery; good enough to make us forgive weak screenwriting that flat-out says NO to the transition and logic of character motivation.

For all the bland-boy romance (and let’s be honest, so many female-led films suffer from Bland Boy Syndrome), the friendship between Rose and Lissa (Fry) comes first. It is never lost for a second that they have the most important bond, in sync and connected forever. They are soulmates. Lissa even gives a speech at the end where she’s all ‘I wish you all could have your own Rose Hathaway, I’m the luckiest gal in town’. And Lissa, and the film, even make room for welcome and timely commentary on slut-shaming.

All in all, I wanted to stay in this world. I even want to pick up the second book and give it a try. Mark Waters and Daniel Waters drown a bit in the fold of YA, but with the help of Zoey Deutch they manage to come up for air quite often. The results allow teenage girls to have all kinds of non-judgmental sexual yearnings in a PG-13 world, with snarky growing pains winning out over the arduous and usually meaningless weight others of the same cloth so often bore us to tears with.
(Originally posted here)

26. Inherent Vice (Anderson, US)

25. The Wind Rises (Miyazaki, Japan)
Hayao Miyazaki goes out on a majestic grace note, giving us something he’s never done before while remaining identifiably him; aeronautical fixations, concerns over the impact of human intent (albeit too tiptoeing here), languid pacing. There is no filmmaker I love more than Hayao Miyazaki, and so it was very emotional once this film reached its end. The realization that I’d seen all there is to see of his work for the first time hit hard. That this was it.

More than any other films, animated or live-action, I just want to step into the worlds, fantastical or reality-based, Studio Ghibli’s animation team creates. They are skies to ground corporeal within their own creation. They are complete and inspiring. This is no different. The Wind Rises might be his most visually appetizing film (then I re-watched Princess Mononoke three days later and realize that statement is more a suggestion). From the sheen of the planes to the chug-chug of the trains to the crackle and fire of the earthquakes and those inimitable color spectrum spanning skies. The wind brings all of it together, used as a common denominator.

Miyazaki takes on the standard biopic, replacing the bullet points with poetic airs. Sure, things happen, but they aren’t used to strum forward. In fact, the film halts later on and turns into a weepie melodrama, a move I fell in love with (although Naoko abandons her current residency one too many times and is more of a prop than I’d like). Not something from Jiro’s actual life, the fatalistic romance sets up the sacrifices Jiro makes in order to innovate and create beautiful things. And I think that compromise can in a gentle way represent all of the real life compromises that make up a great deal of the film’s post-release controversy.

I will say that while I don’t think that some of the naysayers are completely off the mark here, I don’t quite see how it is Miyazaki’s responsibility to address these issues. He has a very clear and distinct focus here. The film swirls around Horikoshi’s quote “All I wanted to do was make something beautiful”. Miyazaki is a bit too forgiving of Jiro because on a basic level, he connects with him.

Miyazaki uses film to concentrate on what hope he can see in the world and what soulfulness he can find in his characters despite being a pessimist at heart. Obviously the downplaying of certain key issues isn’t in his purview, although the essay he released, and his well-known pacifist status, when the film came out in Japan speaks to where he stands politically (where he always has). So he’s catching it from all possible sides here. It would have been very easy for Miyazaki to concentrate on the bigger issues, and he isn’t this wistful man who ignores them, but it’s simply not his MO here. Nor should it have to be. People who want it to be are looking for a completely different film than the one they got. I see the downplaying as speaking to a bigger problem, one that is far more evident in where Miyazaki places the Germans in relation to the Japanese within the story.

That said, it was frustrating to see Miyazaki walk up to the issue of beautiful innovations used for unspeakable atrocities at the very end without actually doing anything. I would have liked a bit more at the end, a conversation that felt thought-provoking and irreconcilable perhaps rather than tossed off the way it is.

But I really loved this. A big step up from Ponyo; a mature and understated swan song that sums up everything I love about this man whose work I’m going to miss so so so much.
(Originally posted here)

24. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, US)

23. The Boxtrolls (US, Annable/Stacchi)

22. Like Father, Like Son (Koreeda, Japan)

21. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night  (Amirpour, US)

20. Edge of Tomorrow (Liman, US)

19. Life Itself (James, US)

18. Palo Alto (Coppola, US)

17. John Wick (Stahelski/Leitch, US)

16. “Olive Kitteridge” (Cholodenko, US)

15. Belle (UK, Asante)
Belle is much more than the following sentiment, but all the same; Amma Asante’s gratifying yet subversive period piece makes my heart go pitter-patter. Some may scoff at the love story (indeed a few reviews I’ve read knock it down a peg for just that) but what about how sweetly investing it is? The adorable abolitionist with unshakable moral footing (Sam Reid) is so steadfast that he amusingly dips into caricature at times. It becomes part of his charm, as does Reid’s slight woodenness. More importantly, Amma Asante gives a mixed race character the otherwise non-existent pleasure of participating in British aristocratic romance with all the heart-racing and letdowns of love and its foibles.”
(Full review here)

14. The Immigrant (Gray, US)
“Some stories are familiar for a reason. James Gray posits this with regularity. Unfashionably leaning on lush (but not, critically, romanticized or glossy) classicism that seems to either envelop the viewer or leave them cold (depending on your predilections), Gray focuses on the precise juxtaposition of operatic scope against intimate human struggles (or more precisely, the latter cradling within the former), largely of the criminal and familial. His films are about what goes on in the confined living spaces of down-and-out working class New York. Again, I can only speak to the three Gray films I’ve seen but there are so many similarities between them in both structure and focus. All three begin with an arrival and end with a departure. The protagonist makes it through, but everyone else is fair game. Joaquin Phoenix’s simmering penchant for producing hidden layers of agonized and doomed empathy are capitalized, casting him in roles that position him as a dubious obstacle, revealed as someone riddled with complexity on top of complexity. Accidental deaths abound. Familial connections increase the tautness. Critically, each James Gray film is near-obsessed with the act of choice.

The Immigrant is a constant balancing act. Shots often walk right up to the tip of overtness. The final image, for example, is on the fence of that line; obvious but packing a majestic wallop of visually splintered destinies — parting, but forever connected. Darius Khondji reconstructs the rich haze of period films, but steps back from gloss. The feeling that someone can slip through the cracks and fog is easily within reach, the lower class a world all its own. The aforementioned familiarity plumbs the depths of clarity and oft depicted material, but is also used to narratively veer ever-so-left or right. Characters we think we’ve got pegged (‘hey I recognize that type; the wayward prostitute, the pimp with a temper, the knight in shining armor’), we don’t, but not in acts of narrative subversion. The familiarity of ‘types’ merely allows Gray to pull back the layers, reveal them as human beings stuck in a system. Against each other, yet mutually dependent in their low placement on the totem pole.”
(Full review here)

13. White Bird in a Blizzard (Araki, US)

12. Gone Girl (Fincher, US)

11. Whiplash (Chazelle, US)

10. The Babadook (Kent, Australia)
“It is altogether rare when a horror film works as equal parts psychological character excavation and a genuinely scary piece of cinema (to be fair, not all horror aspires to both). In Jennifer Kent’s debut film The Babadook, the two are bone-chillingly inextricable by making a grief-ridden mother-son relationship the nucleus from which a storybook monster’s infiltration is born. Statements like this are not usually in my deck of words, but after seeing this heartbreaking and deeply disquieting tale of woe, it is hard to deny The Babadook‘s status as the best horror film of the decade so far.”
(Full review here)

9. Force Majeure (Östlund, Sweden)

8. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Takahata, Japan)

7. Coherence (Byrkit, US)

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, US)
“Wes Anderson’s most densely plotted film by more than a considerable margin, complete with a Matryoska doll structure that heightens our awareness of storytelling and how the passage of time imprints the past through the act of looking back. The director’s detail-oriented aesthetic and centered formalism continues to turn what was once stylistic affectation into his own purified visual language. He almost exclusively speaks in push-ins, right angles, three aspect ratios, horizontal and whip pans, presentational framing, miniatures, hand-stitched props, matte backdrops, etc. And this time around, he quite literally creates his own nation, a 1930’s Eastern European pastiche, with historical parallels of the time that purposely recall the ways in which Old Hollywood often depicted the ‘foreignness’ of Europe as an unspecified blanket of antiquated charm. Outside of Hollywood influences, such as the particular brand of dizzying energy, Powell/Pressburger looms heavy over all.”
(Originally posted here:)

5. Snowpiercer (South Korea, Bong)
“Bong Joon-ho, and only Bong Joon-ho, would have a film that features its protagonist tripping on a fish, in slow-motion no less, during an axes-out action scene. Bong, and only Bong, would make a film that allows the wildly divergent performances of grim revolutionary Chris Evans and villain-out-of-a-Roald Dahl book Tilda Swinton to successfully play off each other in the same space. And how many filmmakers would make a blockbuster that has the audaciousness to suggest, especially since the film itself thrives off a directly parallel narrative structure of rigidity, that structural disbandment isn’t enough; that wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch may be the best solution to humanity’s suffering?”
Full review here:

4. Starred Up (UK, Mackenzie)

3. Listen Up Philip (Perry, US)

2. We Are the Best! (Moodysson, Sweden)

1. Under the Skin (Glazer, UK/US/Switzerland)
Image-centric storytelling, with roots in experimental cinema, that distances itself from mankind. Birth to death, human as alien, alien as human. Firmly divided into two parts, routine and the failing quest for basic human pleasures, with the key transitional scene being Laura’s (nobody has any names, including Laura, but she’s billed as such so it’s just easier for me to follow suit) (Scarlett Johansson) encounter with a man with neurofibromatosis. Before that, she goes about her business, luring and leading men into an abstract and oily black digestive space. There’s no connection between her and her body, her victims, or feelings. But gradually the loneliness starts to sink in, and with it the isolation that humans may experience. She begins to seek out basic human pleasures like eating, sex, and companionship, inquisitive and nervous like a child. She knows she needs something, but is unsure how to go about it.

When Under the Skin ended, I felt like I’d been scooped out from the inside. It’s one of the saddest and loneliest films I’ve ever seen. Scarlett Johansson is mainly a presence for the first half, removed and captivating. And then in the second half she is heartbreaking; confused, yearning and unfulfilled. The final minutes, in which she is pursued by a man in the musky never-ending forest, is so palpable; you can feel her fear. Predator to prey. The second she desires the human instinct she loses so much agency. She becomes vulnerable and susceptible, her lair further and further away, unable to reconcile that yearning. We sense the irreparable loss of that center, her time dwindling. My boyfriend found something peaceful about the one-with-the-snow ending, but I didn’t. I just can’t; it’s not in my nature.

The formalism contributes to a new withdrawn perspective of ourselves, as something Other and incomprehensible. The thick Scottish accents further that distance, as does Mica Levy’s slinky and exotic high-pitched string score, and the sound design where much is compressed and blanketed over. Take for instance, as an example of said withdrawn perspective, the way Glazer shoots the scene on the beach, in which attempted rescue causes a chain reaction of familial death, a wailing abandoned baby as sole survivor. Laura, and thus we, take all of it in at once and for what it is (death) with unfeeling coldness. The discrepancy between what is happening, and how we see it, is very disturbing. And then Laura murders a man with a rock, and it’s the opposite of how murder is usually depicted in film. There is no close-up, no sound effect, and no clear view because Laura is crouching with her back to us. The impact of the scene is that there is no impact, and that lack of impact in turn translates to its own unique impact for the audience.

The film does not pass judgment on Laura. As she observes us, we observe her, and ourselves through her. Another layer to this is gradually added when Laura begins to observe herself, in a successive set of mirror scenes as she considers her new form. This observation becomes out-of-body in the end. No mirror is needed in her last moments. There’s certainly an angle on femininity, female sexual power, what it means to be a woman, and examining the male gaze, but I can’t parse through what I take from that with one viewing.

Generally, I think more filmmakers and producers (and let’s be honest, audiences perhaps most of all) need to put their trust in the communicative power of the image (and in viewers), especially since it’s what the medium inherently is to begin with. Under the Skin hypnotically uses impressionistic imagery and Scarlett Johannson’s face as narrative (there is very little dialogue overall) for a final product about existential isolation and irreconcilable cognizance that I haven’t been able to shake all year.
(Originally posted here)

What I’ll Remember About the Films of 2014: A Love Letter

I started my What I’ll Remember posts in 2012 and have since expanded to include one for each year in my Top Ten By Year project. The idea is that while everyone simply posts a Top Ten to cap off the past 12 months, I want to remember and pay tribute to the little things, those indelible moments within (and outside of) the myriad of films any given year has to offer. Because no matter what anyone else says, every year is a great year for film; you just need to know where to look. So without further ado, below are some of the meaningful smatterings and takeaways from 2014 films I hope to take with me moving forward:

Previous What I’ll Remember posts: 1943, 1958, 1965, 1992, 2012, 2013

I forgot to post my favorite posters of the year in my Top Fives post, so this post will be interspersed with the poster designs that stuck out the most to me along with credit to the designers/illustrators.

Some Blind Spots: Love is Strange, Selma, Goodbye to Language, Dear White People, Norte the End of History, Closed Curtain, The Strange Little Cat, Mr. Turner, The Rover, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Beyond the Lights, Wild, Still Alice, Why Don’t You Play in Hell, Leviathan, A Most Violent Year, Laggies, Top Five, Begin Again, etc)

Philip Seymour Hoffman
2014 will always be first the foremost The Year We Lost Philip

2014 will always be, second, the year I got to see and hear Joanna Newsom on the silver screen (Inherent Vice)

Under the Skin, my favorite film so far this decade. This whole list could just be specifics from this, so I’m just giving it a uniform shoutout. Changes the way you see the world around you, and yourself. Challenges what narrative filmmaking is/can be capable of.

A banner year (comparatively of course) for female directors (Selma, Unbroken, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, CitizenFour, Obvious Child, Honeymoon, It Felt Like Love, Night Moves, Beyond the Lights, Belle, Palo Alto, Olive Kitteridge, The Babadook, Hellion, 20,000 Days on Earth, Thou Was Mild and Lovely, See No Evil 2, Abuse of Weakness, Endless Love, Step Up All In, Laggies, Fed Up, Last Days in Vietnam, Awake, Fort Bliss, etc)

Gutsy narrative decisions in mainstream children’s fare (Maleficent, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The LEGO Movie)

Jim Jarmusch, always distinguishing and foregrounding his own experience/sense of location, this time with Detroit and Tangier (Only Lovers Left Alive)

Angelina Jolie and (and her subtly digitally enhanced beauty) in Maleficent, showing us the potential and gravitas of true star power. Film itself aside, she did not get enough credit for her work here

Satirizing and/or communicating through media (Gone Girl, Nightcrawler, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1)

Meta ruminations on the relevance of aging actors playing versions of themselves (The Congress, Birdman)

Designed by Jay Shaw
Designed by Jay Shaw

“Hate the sport! Hate the sport! Hate hate hate hate hate the sport!” (We Are the Best!)

Tyler Perry throwing gummy bears at Ben Affleck’s head (Gone Girl)

Just leave the music in your movies at the door and keep the rest, thanks (Into the Woods, Interstellar)

Michael Keaton isn’t playing himself in Birdman but Edward Norton certainly is

Oh how dearly I’d missed the Neptune crowd (Veronica Mars)

“Boy with Apple” and how long it takes Dmitry to realize its missing (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

The joys of watching actors actually act together in the same high-wire space (Birdman)

Realizing I’m a Gale/Liam Hemsworth apologist (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1)

Painted by Laura Baran, lettering by Theresa Berens
Painted by Laura Baran, lettering by Theresa Berens

Bigfoot and the chocolate banana (Inherent Vice)

Movies that provoked controversy and lively if exhaustive and often reductive discussions: The Wind Rises, Gone Girl, Boyhood

Edge of Tomorrow’s narrative switcharoo, slyly putting Tom Cruise ahead of the audience halfway through. Now we’re playing catch-up. We’re Emily Blunt.

Lots of dog killings this year you guys (John Wick, The Babadook, Cheap Thrills, Cavalry, Joe)

Thinking The Wind Rises was the most beautiful Studio Ghibli film I had seen…and then seeing The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Nicolas Cage’s delivery of “Kristy, call the cops before someone gets kills. Would you do that for me honey?”, quite literally the only thing about Joe I liked

The second time I’ve seen trichotillomania depicted in a film (Starry Eyes)

Spaceship? Spaceship! SPACESHIP! SPACESHIP!!!” (The LEGO Movie)

If anyone can tell me who designed this, I'd appreciate it!
If anyone can tell me who designed this, I’d appreciate it!

Holy shit, Emma Roberts can actually act (Palo Alto)

Acting Winners of 2014: Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin, Lucy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Runners Up: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Into the Woods), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Beyond the Lights), Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant, Two Days, One Night), Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men” S7.1, The One I Love, Listen Up Philip)

That kiss. My God, that kiss. (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Nina Hoss, A Most Wanted Man)

“Nothing in my hands, nothing in my hands” (The Babadook)

Jenny Agutter getting to kick so much ass in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Doppelgangers! (The Double, Enemy, The One I Love, Coherence, Muppets Most Wanted)

Bible Epics! (Noah, Exodus: Gods and Kings)

Sheila Vand, serving up vampiric Winona Ryder and Jane Adams as The Girl (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)

The jarring experience of seeing dubbed versions of The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya in theaters even though they are the most explicitly Japanese/engaged with Japanese history and culture films Studio Ghibli have ever released

Design and illustration by BLT Communications, LLC
Design and illustration by BLT Communications, LLC

Now that’s what horror can do. That’s why horror is the best (The Babadook)

Why oh why is Disney so committed to making everything look so visually ugly and/or flat? The mystery continues (Maleficent, Into the Woods)

The year that Scarlett Johannsson showed new levels of control, naturalism, and range in her craft. I’m convinced Broadway had something to do with it (Under the Skin, Lucy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Angelina Jolie making sure we feel the central violation/rape metaphor in Maleficent

Beginning of the end/end of an era melancholy that creeps up on you in The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inherent Vice

Whiplash throwing me for a loop by not being the competitive jazz drumming film I’d assumed, but a blistering sadomasochistic portrait of mutual destruction in the efforts to attain a futile level of greatness 

Marion Cotillard mastering the acute body language of depression (Two Days, One Night)

Realizing I need to listen to all the James Brown music (Get on Up)

Who would have thought a member of the Naked Brothers Band could unnerve me? (Palo Alto)

Designed by Brandon Schaefer
Designed by Brandon Schaefer

Red streaks in the sky; the descent (Godzilla)

Jake Gyllenhaal looking like Gumby in Nightcrawler, starring the whites of his eyes

“Play with my balls” (Birdman)

One last Philip Seymour Hoffman/Julianne Moore reunion for the road (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1)

Matt Damon making surprise appearances (Interstellar, The Zero Theorem)

Edge of Tomorrow for being the biggest surprise of 2014, an outlier in its comparatively original/non-franchise status

Lucy calls her mother (Lucy)

Rosamund Pike in her skivvies, crawling across the floor like some sort of arachnid in Gone Girl

Designed by Jay Shaw
Designed by Jay Shaw

The more I think about the bizarre sound mixing in Interstellar, the more I’m okay with it. If I can’t hear crucial not-so-great dialogue in favor of Hans Zimmer’s score, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing?

The Tom Hooper school of framing; sometimes magical, often off-putting (Ida)

A death scene to end all death scenes (Gone Girl)

Michael C. Hall’s character taking an eventual backseat in his own film (Cold in July)

The pastel streaks on human faces in The Boxtrolls’s and the film’s admirable commitment to filthiness

Being basically the only person who loves Vampire Academy. You’ll all come around eventually

Living in an age of blockbuster spectacles in which the industry has no idea how to instill wonder…except, all its other misgivings aside, Godzilla

Most successful use of exposition: Oculus

Teddy Blanks of CHIPS with artwork by Anna Bak-Kvapil
Teddy Blanks of CHIPS with artwork by Anna Bak-Kvapil

Joaquin Phoenix going full-Brando at the end of The Immigrant

Overreaching doppelganger atmospheres (piss-yellow and wiry Toronto in Enemy, admirable but tiresome Gilliam copy The Double)

A question for the ages; who is scarier – Ben Mendelsohn or J.K Simmons? (Answer? You’re both wrong, it’s Peter Mullan) (Starred Up, Whiplash)

Tom Hardy’s velvety voice in Locke

It’s so nice to see you again!! Sheila Kelley (The Guest), Nicholas Brendan (Coherence), Sherilyn Fenn (Raze), Sheryl Lee (White Bird in a Blizzard), Taylor Nichols (Godzilla)

“Be a shoe” (Snowpiercer)

Having a new favorite Wes Anderson character in Gustave (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Tilda Swinton in lots of makeup (Snowpiercer, The Zero Theorem, The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Reunions! Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line/Inherent Vice), Zoe Bell and Tracie Thoms (Death Proof/Raze), Song Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung (The Host/Snowpiercer), the cast of Veronica Mars. I know there are others, but I’m blanking

Designed by Empire Design
Designed by Empire Design

That long take of Michel (Christophe Paou) coming out of the water as a killerthen he begins to put on his sneakers and puts himself back together as someone we, and Franck, recognize (Stranger by the Lake)

Reminder that Katee Sackhoff should be in everything (Oculus)

Inspired casting goes a long way folks (Gone Girl, Snowpiercer, Inherent Vice)

6 months later and I’m still wishing that Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” had been worked into Dawn of the Planet of the Apes somehow

Crying a lot during movies I’m lukewarm to because I’m a sap (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Interstellar)

And then sobbing at the end of The Wind Rises, knowing I had now seen all the Miyazaki there was to see

The first shot of Karen Gillan and her swinging ponytail in Oculus 

Watching Starred Up and having it gradually transform into the most invested narrative experience I had in 2014

Watching Tom Cruise play around with his persona and die over and over again (Edge of Tomorrow)

Designed by Neil Kellerhouse
Designed by Neil Kellerhouse

Realizing how attracted I am to ‘a mysterious man/woman enters the lives of etc.’ narratives (Borgman, The Guest)

Poor Ian (Only Lovers Left Alive)

Lyle Vincent’s black-and-white digital cinematography in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

The remarkable achievement of Space in Interstellar

The Robert DeNiro party (Neighbors)

Another age-old question: does Lucky McKee have another May in him? My hopes sink ever further (All Cheerleaders Die)

Coherence showing you can make an exceptional genre film with zero budget (and I mean zero budget)

Elisabeth Moss’s Ashley when Philip leaves her apartment, the most striking acting moment of 2014 (Listen Up Philip

Vin Diesel doing good by humankind for basically resurrecting his role in The Iron Giant (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Marion Cotillard’s coral pink tank in Two Days, One Night 

Seeing 20,000 Days on Earth in NYC with Nick Cave Q&A and solo piano performance, directors Q&A

More stuntmen who inherently understand the mechanics of action directing films please (John Wick)

Seeing There Will be Blood on a massive screen with live orchestral accompaniment and Jonny Greenwood was a year highlight for sure and my favorite theatrical experience of 2014

Films Seen in Theaters: 32
2014 Films Seen: 100

2014 Double Features I Had:
Birdman/John Wick
Only Lovers Left Alive/A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Top Fives of 2014 (in which I dole out a boatload of superlatives)

Welcome to the 4th annual Cinema Enthusiast awards! Everyone is done with their 2014 round-ups, Oscar nominations are tomorrow and as per usual I’m just getting started on mine. These will likely evolve a little because there are still films I’d like to see. I try to make these as exhaustive and representative as possible, but keep in mind it’s difficult at the end of the year to remember all one’s favorite nooks and crannies.

Some Blind Spots: Love is Strange, Selma, Goodbye to Language, Dear White People, Norte the End of History, Closed Curtain, The Strange Little Cat, Mr. Turner, The Rover, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Beyond the Lights, Wild, Still Alice, Why Don’t You Play in Hell, Leviathan, A Most Violent Year, Laggies, Top Five, Begin Again, etc)

Simpsons Don Hertzfeldt

Beginnings and/or Title Card and/or Opening Credit Sequences:
1. Don Hertzfeldt’s couch gag for “The Simpsons” Season 26, Episode 1 (opening credits) (TV isn’t included here but there are a couple of instances where TV broke through)
2. Inherent Vice (You had me at “Vitamin C”) (title card)
3. Under the Skin (beginning)
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (opening credits)
5. “Olive Kitteridge” (credit sequence)


1. Whiplash
3. Force Majeure
4. The Immigrant

5. Cheap Thrills
Honorable Mentions: Night Moves, Stranger by the Lake, Under the Skin


Ensemble Cast:
1. Olive Kitteridge
2. Gone Girl
3. Listen Up Philip
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
5. Inherent Vice
Honorable MentionsBirdman, Snowpiercer


Underappreciated Films:
1. Coherence
2. White Bird in a Blizzard
3. Vampire Academy
4. The Boxtrolls
5. Get on Up


Films That Started Strong But….
1. Boyhood (Come back Lorelai! Ugh, Mason, just stop your babbling)
2. Blue Ruin (lots of skill with nowhere to go)
3. Into the Woods (strong is too strong a word, but the second half undoes all good will of the first)
4. Nightcrawler (as it becomes clearer that the film has nothing new to say after its first half. The final ‘gut-punch’ is so clearly telegraphed from the start thanks to surface level skewering)
5. Birdman (oh, so the movie is only about Riggan now? Goodbye excellent ensemble, good-byyy-eeeee)


1. Foxcatcher
2. Enemy
3. Obvious Child
4. Ida
5. The Double

obvious child

Wait…People Love…This?
1. Obvious Child
2. God Help the Girl
3. Neighbors
4. Locke
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Honorable Mention: Ida


1. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Beyond the Lights)
2. Jack O’Connell (Starred Up, Unbroken)
3. Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up) (I know 42 was last year but this was my first experience with him and it’s a powerhouse performance in every sense of the word)
4. Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice)
5. Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy)
Honorable Mentions: Jack Kilmer (Palo Alto), Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street, Cold in July)


Underappreciated Performances (work I’m not hearing mentioned nearly enough in general and/or year-end discussion):
1. Jamie Bell – Nymphomaniac Volume II
2. Sam Shepard – Cold in July
3. Nelsan Ellis – Get on Up
4. Zoey Deutch – Vampire Academy
5. Jesse Eisenberg – Night Moves
Honorable Mentions: Sarah Gadon – Enemy, Nicholas Brendan – Coherence, Viola Davis – Get on Up, Chadwick Boseman- Get on Up, Emmanuelle Seinger – Venus in Fur


Bit Parts/Smaller Roles:
1. Joanna Newsom – Inherent Vice (obviously)
2. Hong Chau – Inherent Vice
3. Evan Peters – X-Men Days of Future Past
4. Uma Thurman – Nymphomaniac Volume I
5. Missi Pyle – Gone Girl 
Honorable Mentions: Martha Wainwright – Olive Kitteridge, Martin Short – Inherent Vice, Frank Grillo and Jenny AgutterCaptain America: The Winter Soldier


1. Interstellar – Hans Zimmer
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat
3. Under the Skin – Mica Levi
4. Gone Girl – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
5. Can I just put Brian Reitzell for his insane work on “Hannibal”? Because that’s what I’m doing

GHB_9907 20130130.CR2

Favorite Characters:
1. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) – The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Hedvig, Bobo, and Klara (Liv LeMoyne, Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin) – We Are the Best! (Don’t make me choose!!!)
3. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) – Guardians of the Galaxy
4. Amy (Rosamund Pike) – Gone Girl
5. Henri (Patrick D’Assumçao) – Stranger by the Lake
Honorable Mentions: Oliver Baumer (Rupert Friend) – Starred Up, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) – Nightcrawler, Margo (Carrie Coon) – Gone Girl 

The Guest[(040066)17-18-33]

Sexiest Folk of 2014 (a log of who I’m into any particular year)
1. Dan Stevens – The Guest
2 J.K. Simmons in Whiplash (those arms, the yelling; terrifying but oh so sexy)
3. Tilda Swinton – Only Lovers Left Alive
4. Tom Hardy’s voice (and Tom Hardy) – Locke
5. Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow
Honorable Mentions: Jack O’Connell – Starred Up


The ‘Why Are You Even Here’ Award:
1. Everybody  – X-Men: Days of Future Past
2. Johnny Depp – Into the Woods
3. Jena Malone – Mockingjay Part 1
4. Topher Grace – Interstellar
5. Juliette Binoche – Godzilla


This Performance Isn’t Working For Me:
Am I allowed to put Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes as #1 off the trailer alone? No? OK.
1. Jennifer Lawrence – X-Men Days of Future Past (the crux of the entire film, yet she sleepwalks through it. Zero commitment)
2. Christian Slater – Nymphomaniac Parts I and II
3. Johnny Depp – Into the Woods
4. Sharlto Copley – Maleficent
5. Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Honorable Mentions:Daniel Radcliffe – Horns, Max Minghella – Horns, Aaron Taylor Johnson – Godzilla


Great Performances in Not-So-Great Films:
1. Emily Blunt – Into the Woods
2. Chris Pine – Into the Woods
3. Tom Hardy – Locke
4. Zac Efron – Neighbors
5. Sarah Gadon – Enemy
Honorable Mentions:Brendan Gleeson – Cavalry, Gaby Hoffman – Obvious Child, Channing Tatum – Foxcatcher


Worst Film:
1. Raze
2. Turks and Caicos (made for TV)
3. See No Evil 2
4. Joe
5. God Help the Girl

Chris Evans Snowpiercer

1. “I know babies taste best” (Snowpiercer)
2. “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘Good Job'” (Whiplash)
3. “There are still faint glimmers of civilization in this barbaric slaughterhouse once known as humanity” (really just pick anything that comes out of Ralph Fiennes’s mouth in The Grand Budapest Hotel)
4. “We are Groot” (Guardians of the Galaxy)
5. “Here’s a piece of paper with some staples in it”(Listen Up Philip, or really anything from this film)


1. Edge of Tomorrow
2. Palo Alto but particularly Emma Roberts in Palo Alto
3. Chris Pine in Into the Woods
4. Whiplash (yes huge Sundance hit, but I honestly did not expect to latch onto this anywhere near the way I did)
5. Lucy

Character Dynamics:
1. Bobo, Klara and Hedvig – We Are the Best!
2. Andrew and Fletcher – Whiplash
3. Cage and Rita – Edge of Tomorrow
James Brown and Bobby Byrd Get on Up
Gustave and Zero – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Honorable Mentions: Doc and Bigfoot – Inherent Vice, Gunther and Irna – A Most Wanted ManHenri and Franck – Stranger by the Lake, Ernest and Celestine – Ernest and Celestine

Gone Girl

1. Bloodbath – Gone Girl
Escaping the palace – Tale of the Princess Kaguya
3. Crushing the male ego – Force Majeure
4. “Agony” – Into the Woods
5. Philip returns – Listen Up Philip
Honorable Mentions: Dave Schultz’s interview – Foxcatcher, The Red Circle – John Wick, Visiting Dr. Blatnoyd – Inherent Vice, Harry Potter book opening – Boyhood, Lucy talks to her mother – Lucy, Times Square – Birdman


1. Belle and John Davinier – Belle
2. Nick and Amy – Gone Girl
3. Adam and Eve – Only Lovers Left Alive
The Girl and Arash – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
5. Olive and Henry – Olive Kitteridge

Song Usage:
1. “Super Bad” – James Brown – Get On Up 
2. “Vitamin C” – Can – Inherent Vice
3. “Death” – White Lies – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
4. “Gloria” – Van Morrison – Two Days, One Night
5. “Trapped by a Thing Called Love” – Denise LaSalle – Only Lovers Left Alive

Music: 2014 Movie (and sort of TV) Mix

Under the Skin OST

I’ve still got a few things to see before posting all my year-end stuff, but for now, I’ve completed my mix celebrating the music of film in 2014. Criteria is that the music has to either come from the score and/or be recent (like, made within the past couple of years). You can listen to the mix on 8tracks.

8tracks link:

Track Listing: 
1. “Lonely Void” – Mica Levi – Under the Skin
2. “Sister Rust” – Damon Albarn – Lucy
3. “Opening Titles” – Carter Burwell – Olive Kitteridge
4. “Mr. Moustafa” – Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel
5. “Serial (Main Theme)” – Bad Dream – Serial podcast
6. “Daylight Express to Lutz” – Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel
7. “Omniverse” – SURVIVE – The Guest
8. “Son of Placenta Previa” – Clint Mansell – “The Knick”
9. “Technically, Missing” – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Gone Girl
10. “Cornfield Chase” – Hans Zimmer – Interstellar
11. “Dust” – Hans Zimmer – Interstellar
12. “I’ll Get You What You Want” – Constantine – Muppets Most Wanted
13. “Agony” – Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen – Into the Woods
14. “Whiplash – Selections from the Soundtrack” – Justin Hurwitz and Tim Simonec – Whiplash
15. “Stay with Me” – Meryl Streep – Into the Woods
16. “Yellow Flicker Beat” – Lorde – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
17. “Think” – Kaleida – John Wick
18. “Spooks” – Jonny Greenwood – Inherent Vice
19. “End Credits Extended Mix” – Waxworks Records – Starry Eyes
20. “Cosmo Black” – Dynatron – Cold in July
21. “Nightcrawler” – James Newton Howard – Nightcrawler
22. “Love” – Mica Levi – Under the Skin
23. “Like Home” – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – Gone Girl
24. “Bloodfest (from Mizumono)” – Brian Reitzell – “Hannibal” (Season 2)