As we bid a fond farewell to 2014, it is obviously natural to reflect on the year behind us. And as common as it is, I’ve never been much into making year-end lists. It always seems like a good idea, and I might even plan to do it, but at the end of the day, I have a really hard time sitting down and deciding the top 10, top 20, top whatever things in exact, precise order in which I liked them. It’s a great idea, but it is just not in my DNA.
Guardians of the Galaxy – If 2014 brought us nothing else, remember that this was the year that saw James Gunn, the guy who wrote Troma films and made Slither, RULE the summer with the impossible-sounding story of a group of outcasts (that included a tree and a talking raccoon) take on untold evils and save the galaxy. One of my very favorite Marvel films to date, Guardians upended everyone’s expectations and delivered a fantastically fun movie. Great characters, hilarious writing, and some really great moments. James Gunn forever!
The Babadook – One of the most genuinely frightening horror films that I have seen in a long time, The Babadook definitely holds the title for Most Frightening of 2014. And with good reason. It earns its scares through character development and and emotionally driven plot, and expertly builds tension over the course of the story. I love horror that centers on an emotional core, and the relationship between Amelia and Sam is a perfect focal point around which to craft this story. Jennifer Lynch delivered something that is not only scary, but deeply compelling. She is a welcome addition to the horror scene, and I am certainly looking forward to seeing more from her.
Cheap Thrills – This flick blew my mind in a very “What the Fuck” kind of way. It’s crazy dark, over the top and heart wrenching, and all in the span of about 90 minutes. The story of just how far would you go for money has never been told like this before, and the result is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Insane, surreal, highly inappropriate, hilariously dark – Cheap Thrills is so wrong in all of the right ways.
Chef – This film was a welcome surprise. For a story with relatively little conflict, it really manages to convey a lot about creation, art and the satisfaction that comes from doing what you love. Jon Favreau got back to a very personal place on this one, with the story of a chef who decides to burn it all down and start again, finally getting back to the root of why he came to love his art in the first place. John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale turn in some great supporting performances
Under the Skin – This film was a perfect marriage of sci-fi and art film. Telling a familiar story in a very unique way, this film is one that stayed with me long after I left the theater, and impacted me tremendously while I was watching it. The stunning visuals, the hypnotic use of sound came together to enhance the story and make it come alive in a unique, stylish and mesmerizing way. Utterly beautiful.
Boyhood – If I were a numbering person, rest assured that Boyhood would be in the top spot (but I’m not, so it’s kind of in the middle, for no good reason). I can’t make a damn decision about the rest of the list, but this was, by far, my favorite film experience of the entire year. Boyhood was a marvel. A cinematic wonder. Not just for the way it came together over the course of twelve years, but for the way it quietly and elegantly contemplated life. The events we go through that will shape our lives and who we will grow into, regardless of whether or not we understand their significance at the time. Boyhood reflects so quietly on a great many things – memory, parenting, growth and development, the modern family unit – and it does so in a very timeless way. We watch this film and remember what we were like when we were Mason’s age, but we also reflect on where we were in our own lives when this story was taking place. Music cues and world events cast the story in a specific and relatable light. And moving forward, future viewers will still be able to connect with the enduring legacy of just what it means to grow up and become that adult version of yourself. Few films have ever captured the human condition quite like this one.
Obvious Child – This film was a welcome addition – to 2014, to romcoms, to the face of women in cinema. Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate took the shattered pieces of many stories that have come before this one and crafted something completely different. Something honest, something real, and something much needed. The beauty of Obvious Child is the fact that it allows the abortion issue to exist free of the issue itself. It is distilled down to its real essence, which is simply a woman making a choice. And this film allows that woman and that choice a place in the cinematic landscape. It doesn’t have an agenda, it has no interest in trying to tell anyone what to do or to preach its point. Instead, it elegantly and gracefully allows this character to exist, and simply to be. And this perspective is something that has been really lacking in cinema, so to have it included to eloquently is a welcome change.
The Raid 2 – I didn’t think it was possible for a film to come close to kicking as much ass as
The Raid, but Gareth Evans proved me wrong. The Raid 2 was a worthy successor in almost every regard. It in no way eclipsed the first film, but brilliantly expanded upon it, taking a simple premise and unfolding it into a monumental crime epic. With a ton of ass kicking, stabbings, broken bones, etc. The film was incredibly stylish, character driven, action-packed, and so much fun.
Delivery: The Beast Within – Though not the scariest film I saw all year, Delivery packed in some great moments and a phenomenal ending. But more than that, it found a way to take found footage – a concept that is on the brink of running its course – and use it innovatively to tell a story in an engaging and realistic manner. Against all odds, it is easy to fall in to this story and to connect with its characters. The cast is great, and the filmmakers took extra pains to make the found footage approach a well-integrated part of the storytelling mechanism, rather than just a gimmick wedged in. Highly recommended for horror fans.
Whiplash – J.K. Simmons deserves all of the praise being heaped upon him for playing the teacher from hell. It is a brilliant performance in a stellar film. The final scene is worth the price of admission alone – fast-paced, well constructed, brilliantly edited.
Jodorowsky’s Dune – Sad, inspiring, unbelievable, creative, mind-blowing – Jodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary on a film that never happened, yet a film that has lived in the minds and hearts of its creators and fans everywhere for years. A failed adaptation that came so close to being, only to slip away in the final stages. For decades, fans of Dune, of Jodorowsky, of sci-fi have wondered just what that film would have looked like, had it actually come to fruition. This documentary is as close as we will get to seeing that piece of magic, but its existence and its story is magic in and of itself. Hearing Jodorowsky discuss his plans and share his vision and seeing his excitement grow as he discusses his ideas is inspirational and magic.
We are the Best! – A tiny film from Sweden about a group of teenage girls who decide to start a punk band from scratch resonated with me in amazing ways. I loved these girls. I wanted to be these girls. I wish I had figured out all the stuff I figured out later when I was their age. They possessed an awareness and bravery that was absent from my adolescence, but that made them heroes in my eyes today. For every moment where you felt wrong and lost, We are the Best! reminds you just who you want to be.