Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Top Films of 2014 - The Lofgies

Time for the Lofgies, folks! I know you've been eagerly awaiting this one. :)

Just a few words before we start - I acknowledge that there might be better movies out there, but these are the ones that spoke to me personally, stuck with me over time and got me excited about the art of film. Movies I've seen more recently have a bit of an advantage since they're fresher in my mind, but I try to be as fair as I can.

Alrighty. Ranked alphabetically and not in order of preference…. here we go!


The Boxtrolls

Laika, the production company behind The Boxtrolls, is killing it. Their films are so lovingly crafted, so creative and visually astounding that it's almost impossible not to be entertained. The Boxtrolls is set in the town of Cheesebridge (I know!) where the inventive and skuzzy boxtrolls squeak out an existence underground, away from the humans who hate and fear them. There's a lot more about a cheese-loving mayor, his adventurous daughter, a kidnapped baby, and a Snatcher who steals the movie. The Boxtrolls drips with detail and boasts a handful of genuinely moving moments. Though it might be a bit grotesque for very young children, The Boxtrolls has a level of personality and sophistication that make it an animated film to remember.


Boyhood

Boyhood is quite the accomplishment and I would argue that all the attention and praise it has earned is deserved. Watching the cast grow up before your eyes is strange and moving, but this film earns its accolades in the quiet moments, the snapshots of a childhood filled with awkwardness, love and misunderstandings. Linklater captures the way it feels to spend your childhood fumbling toward genuine connection and understanding. Boyhood is a movie that isn't afraid to ask questions. It understands that growing up only means the questions get bigger and the moments of connection more precious.


Calvary

Calvary captures its viewers from the very first minutes, setting up a scenario rife with tension and unease. It also introduces us to Father James, a priest played masterfully by Brendan Gleeson. In an Scottish town where the Catholic Church is increasingly mistrusted and irrelevant, Father James does everything he can to reach out to his disinterested community. But is his compassion a liability or a gift? Can selflessness undo any of the horror that selfishness visits upon us? Is the act of forgiveness worth the cost? It sounds kinda serious, but this is also a movie that moves quickly and knows how to milk a laugh.


Frank

Surprise entry! Frank is a quirky little film that follows a few of the familiar indie beats. What elevates it for me is the remarkable performance Michael Fassbender gives as Frank, as well as the movie's enthralling portrayal of the creative act. Why do we create? For recognition, or because there's something inside us that must be released? Frank follows an experimental, underground band during the process of creating their album. They're quirky and, viewed through the eyes of outsider Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) they might even be deranged. The tension between Jon, who wants to be famous and Frank, a purer soul, creates dynamics which pay off in spades for the viewer. Oh yeah, and Michael Fassbender wears a big, plastic head for most of the film, so there's that.


The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the most Wes Andersony film you could imagine, with varying screen ratios, loads of miniatures, nesting stories, and plenty of deadpan quips. It's cute and startling and odd. The music works. The caper is suspenseful. Ralph Fiennes steps into his role like he was born for it (how delightful is he when he's having a good time?). Moments of poignancy and nostalgia give The Grand Budapest Hotel a weight that keeps it from getting overwhelmed by its own kitsch. Though there are a ton of details and cares taken, it's the storytelling that stands out.


Only Lovers Left Alive

This is a lush, impassioned, hazy adventure of a film. Labelled a vampire hangout movie by reviewers, Only Lovers Left Alive revisits the vampire mythology in a way that feels fresh and untainted by any of the silliness we've been subjected to in other recent vampire movies. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are electric together and they're so believable as ancient beings both gifted and burdened by immortality. Sure there's some plot stuff that happens, but the characters and the murky midnight world they live in are the real stars of this film.


Snowpiercer

We could stand to have more action movies like Snowpiercer. Sure, the dystopian theme isn't the most original ever, but the conviction and creativity with which this movie treats its plot is inspiring. The action scenes are shocking and breathtaking. The worlds encountered are completely unique. The actors sell the story, with a few supporting characters (like Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill) getting standout moments to shine. It's just a beautiful, brutal and enthralling piece of filmmaking. More like this, please.


Two Days, One Night

Two Days, One Night is about a journey out of depression. In unglamorous fashion, it follows Sandra (Marion Cotillard) as she fights to save her job. Even though she'd rather hide away in bed, she hits the pavement, pitching her story to anyone with the power to help. Two Days, One Night uses repetition to great effect, playing with variations that allow the overall theme to add up to something greater. Marion inhabits her character so fully that you can't help but feel for her, afraid that each new discouragement might be one too many. A powerful portrayal of depression.


Under the Skin

Even though it's about an alien roaming around Scotland, I identified with this movie and found it extremely emotional. Under the Skin is a bizarre experiment, but it's one that works. Scarlett Johansson is mesmerizing in the leading role and watching her character undergo a gradual evolution is an experience that stuck with me. There's a lot to explore here, including the ever-changing relationship between predator and prey, how people relate when they both want something, and the ways we view and commodify female sexuality. It isn't always the easiest film, but it's completely worthwhile.


Whiplash

By now you've heard a lot of conversation about how extraordinary J.K. Simmons is in Whiplash. It's all true. The man is a force of nature, completely believable as a repellent figure you'd sell your soul to impress. However, that doesn't mean you should overlook Miles Teller, who also turns in a stellar and impassioned performance as an ambitious young drummer. From a distance, Whiplash looks an awful lot like your typical "Follow Your Dreams" movie, but to leave it at that is to do it a disservice. Where a lesser film would turn away, Whiplash keeps looking. It understands that the pursuit of genius is never simple and the road to excellence requires sacrifices that aren't glamorous or easy. Whiplash is a film of tremendous insight and intensity.

Because it was a pretty great year for movies, I'll include a few more notable films below. Consider these your honorable mentions:

Coherence: This film's low budget doesn't get in the way of its big ideas. A sci-fi piece that centers around a small group of friends holding a dinner party as a comet streaks overhead. Things get weird. People make choices. Oh, and Xander from Buffy is in it.

Jodorowksy's Dune: This documentary tells the story of the Dune that never was, a film that almost made it to production under the direction of oddball genius Alejandro Jodorowsky, then was scrapped.

The Lego Movie: Ambitious, creative, touching, and fun. The Lego Movie proves that films conceived for the purpose of selling toys and making money can actually turn out pretty awesome in the right hands.

Selma: Selma is beautifully shot and emotionally resonant. It take a historical figure who has become more myth than man and brings new life and perspective to his journey.

Wild: Reese Witherspoon kills it in this story of discovery and redemption. This film features great acting and beautiful shots of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Your turn! What were your favorite films of 2014? Do you have a favorite you're rooting for in the Oscar race?

4 comments:

  1. Hey, thanks! A few here I have seen, and several I have not, but now I have been tempted to check out. Great commentaries and details. :)

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    1. Thanks Pam! Which ones have you seen?

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  2. I agree with Pam, the previous commenter...you did a masterful job with your comments and descriptions!!! Great reading from an awesome writer!!
    And, I also loved the Boxtrolls!!! :)

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    1. The Boxtrolls was super delightful. Thanks for the comment; glad you enjoyed!

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