Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Best of 2014: The 11 Best Films of the Year

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Best of 2014: The 11 Best Films of the Year

by Tony Dayoub

My apologies to anyone still interested in reading my musings on cinema after my long absence from this site. I started a new job in November. I'm deep in its busy season (which began right after my busy season as a film critic and continues on through mid-April). But I feel like I can't really take any kind of temporary sabbatical without first posting my list of last year's best films (and definitely before the Oscars air).

For your consideration, my top films of 2014, followed by the winners of the respective polls I voted in.

1. Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson - Review here. After its world premiere at the New York Film Festival, I wrote that Joaquin's Phoenix "Doc falls in that sweet spot somewhere between Jeff Bridges' Dude in The Big Lebowski and Elliot Gould's Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye." True enough, but subsequent viewings of Inherent Vice have touched me in a very different way, evoking a longing for the era of my childhood, the time depicted slightly askew in the movie. So dripping with this familiarity is Anderson's film that every time I watch it I feel like I'm wrapping myself in a warm blanket of comforting nostalgia. Am I biased? Maybe. But it's my list and I'll top it with any movie I want to.

2. The Immigrant, dir. James Gray - Review here. The year prior I saw Phoenix in an equally impressive character turn as the twisted pimp Bruno in Gray's epic. Unfortunately, not many others saw this lush turn-of-the-century epic (now on Netflix) because the Weinsteins refused to promote or distribute it properly, payback for the director's refusal to compromise his vision by cutting the film's running time. The Immigrant is a fantastic gender-reversal on the story depicted in the flashback timeline of The Godfather Part II and a wonderful showcase for its star, Marion Cotillard.

3. Snowpiercer, dir. Bong Joon Ho - Review here. The Weinsteins pulled the same thing here. But they also decided to use this film as a sort of test case for VOD distribution to surprisingly great success. So Snowpiercer is quickly becoming a cult favorite. One of the most surprising reasons why is because Captain America's Chris Evans gets to show some range as the darkest protagonist he's yet played. His revelatory monologue near the end of the film proves why he and Snowpiercer are worth taking a second look at.

4. Ida, dir. Pawel Pawlikowski - Review here. A powerful film that contemplates the effect World War II had on Poland through the film's title character, a nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) whose repression masks a gorgeously wild streak of non-conformity.

5. The Homesman, dir. Tommy Lee Jones - Eloquent, spare, and haunting, The Homesman is a fine showcase for the underappreciated Hilary Swank. Aside from the Glendon Swarthout novel on which the film is based, Jones is obviously inspired by the darker westerns of Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy, authors who find it easy to merge horror with the ever present disquiet and solitude rarely spoken of in movies about the Old West. Rodrigo Prieto frames every shot as if it were an epic tableaux, a sharp contrast to the disturbing dissonance of Marco Beltrami's beautiful score. Surprises abound, an unexpected treat in a genre long considered moribund.

6. Selma, dir. Ava DuVernay - Review here. Controversial for the way it revises history to exclude the contributions of LBJ to progress in the Civil Rights movement, it's all really a non-issue. Duvernay strives for poetry in place of prose, and that's no reason to punish a film for eliding past some historical data points.

7. Listen Up, Philip, dir. Alex Ross Perry - Review here. Simply a pitch-perfect depiction of a certain egotist writer (played here by Jason Schwartzman) specifically endemic to New York City. I know this guy.

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel, dir. Wes Anderson - Review here. Ralph Fiennes gives his best performance in years, and it's a comic one. The rest of the huge all-star cast is also in top form. But the most surprising thing is the elegiac perspective the film offers on an Eastern Europe that was not allowed to mature past the turn of the twentieth century.

9. Kids for Cash, dir. Robert May - Review here. The outrage engendered by a for-profit prison system is brought into sharper focus once we see its effect on troubled children.

10. Only Lovers Left Alive, dir. Jim Jarmusch - Review here. Like every Jarmusch venture, it's a hangout movie. However Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston's vampires make an undead eternity together seem more attractive than their lamentations might imply.

11. Boyhood, dir. Richard Linklater - Less unique from a storytelling aspect and more of a technical, experimental achievement, Boyhood is an epic in miniature. Linklater spent more than a decade capturing the ever evolving performance of Ellar Coltrane as Mason who literally matures from about six years old to 18 onscreen. It was a gamble that this cute, fascinating little boy might remain as intriguing as he got into his awkward, clumsier adolescence, but Linklater's gamble pays off big.

Better yet, Boyhood doesn't restrict itself to simply depicting the boy's coming of age. It also traces the evolution of his divorced parents (played superbly by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke), from failure to success and back again. Arquette goes from single, uneducated mom to successful college professor with much alacrity, but is constantly bogged down by her poor choice in men. Hawke plays the one loser she did let go, early enough apparently to scare him straight. He slowly leaves his dreams of being a musician behind and embraces a boring but stable lifestyle as an insurance agent with a new wife and child. Through it all, we get to experience how the interfamily dynamics affect Mason and form him into the young man he becomes. A very sweet movie.

Honorable Mention: American Sniper, Belle, Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), The Book of Life, Calvary, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cold in July, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, (Live Die Repeat:) Edge of Tomorrow, Fed Up, Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Jodorowsky's Dune, Joe, Land Ho!, The Lego Movie, Love is Strange, A Most Wanted Man, Mr. Turner, Nymphomaniac Volumes I and II, Nightcrawler, Rob the Mob, The Rover, Sabotage, The Skeleton Twins, Whiplash, Wild, X-Men: Days of Future Past

Most Overrated: Under the Skin

Most Underrated: Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Sabotage, A Walk Among the Tombstones

Best Unreleased Films of 2014: Clouds of Sils Maria, Pasolini, Tales of the Grim Sleeper

Breakthrough Actor of the Year: Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lego Movie)

Breakthrough Actress of the Year: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, Hector and the Search for Happiness, A Long Way Down, What We Did on Our Holiday)


Winners are in red where my own vote coincides.

Georgia Film Critics Association

Best Picture:
Best Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Best Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Best Actress: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Best Supporting Actress: Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer)
Best Original Screenplay:
Nightcrawler - Dan Gilroy
Best Adapted Screenplay: Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
Best Cinematography:
Birdman - Emmanuel Lubezki
Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel - Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock
Best Original Score:
Interstellar - Hans Zimmer
Best Original Song: "Glory" - John Stephens, Lonnie Lynn, Che Smith (Selma)
Best Ensemble: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Foreign Film: Ida
Breakthrough Award:
David Oyelowo (Default, Interstellar, A Most Violent Year, Nightingale, Selma)
Best Animated Film: The Lego Movie
Best Documentary:
Life Itself
Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema: Selma

The Online Film Critics Society:

Best Picture: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Animated Feature: The Lego Movie
Best Film Not in the English Language: Two Days, One Night
Best Documentary: Life Itself
Best Director: Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Best Actor: Michael Keaton - Birdman
Best Actress: Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton - Birdman
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Best Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Adapted Screenplay: Gone Girl
Best Editing: Birdman
Best Cinematography: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Southeastern Film Critics Association:
Top 10
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

2. Boyhood
3. Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
4. Whiplash
5. The Imitation Game
6. Gone Girl
7. Snowpiercer
8. Nightcrawler
9. Foxcatcher
10. The Theory of Everything

Best Actor
1. Michael Keaton, Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

2. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Best Actress
1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice
2. Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Best Supporting Actor
1. J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

2. Edward Norton, Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Best Supporting Actress
1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2. Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

Best Ensemble
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

2. Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Best Director
1. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Original Screenplay
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness

2. Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn

2. Wild: Nick Hornby

Best Documentary
1. Life Itself
2. CitizenFour

Best Foreign Language Film
1. Force Majeure
2. Ida

Best Animated Film
1. The Lego Movie

2. Big Hero 6

Best Cinematography
1. Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Emmanuel Lubezki
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Robert Yeoman

The Gene Wyatt Award for the Film that Best Evokes the Spirit of the South
1. Selma
2. Cold in July

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