Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number One

I’m concerned that placing Richard Linklater’s Boyhood atop my list doesn’t truly convey just how impressive I find it. After all, in a tally such as this there’s no differentiating a close call from a blowout, no column of “Games Back” to illuminate the level of distance between the victor and the runner-up. So let me share a little mental exercise I’ve been performing almost from the moment Boyhood‘s closing credits start to roll. I’ve been trying to figure out the last movie that topped one of my year-end lists that I think might outrank Boyhood if chronology got jumbled … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number One

Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Two

There are a multitude of reasons for the outrage that greeted the omission of Selma from key categories in this year’s Academy Award nominations. While some of the most compelling involve taking issue with the willful and arguably cowardly disregarding of its current political pertinence, my personal fierce disappointment is inspired by a far simpler reason: Ava DuVernay’s depiction of a seminal moment in the Civil Rights movement is one of the great filmmaking achievements of the year, joined in my mind with only a couple other of releases as a pure triumph of directing. DuVernay delves into a portion … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Two

Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Three

Coherence takes place almost entirely within a single house, and yet it truly resides in an incredibly expansive existence. A group of friends gathers for a dinner party. The scene is filled with the sort of easygoing banter that carries with it a complicated shared history, include a few passing hints of resentments and conflicts previously addressed and bypassed but not quite forgiven. In the midst of all this chatter arises curious, largely unworried conversation about news stories about a comet passing through the night sky. Then the power goes out. From there, James Ward Byrkit’s feature directorial debut spins off … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Three

Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Four

Snowpiercer achieves remarkable narrative freedom precisely because director Bong Joon-ho believes in sticking to the rules. Other films that strive for thrill ride status, either in terms of vividly stirred intellect or full-throttled action (Snowpiercer is one of the rare beasts that goes for both), are all too quick to abandon internal logic when it serves the perceived need to set pulses pounding with clockwork regularity. Bong understands the value of setting parameters — maybe your own wonderfully gonzo parameters, but parameters nonetheless — and then honoring them. A movie doesn’t have to be believable to be plausible. It can … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Four

Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Five

One of my favorite modern tropes — or at least one that amuses me a great deal — is the presentation of the male libido’s helpless susceptibility to the overtures of attractive women leading to men constantly strolling right into peril because they believe the sexy women really wants a tryst, when the real end goal is quite different. The apotheosis arrives in Under the Skin, as, say, the sexy spy in a catsuit who clobbers aroused males to swipe government secrets levels up significantly to become an otherworldly seductress able to lure random strangers into an oily pool that … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Five

Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Six

Appropriately enough, Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best blasts forward like a great punk song. It’s spirited and loose and free. It smacks of jubilance and a certain willfully amateurish quality. It is utterly enthralling in its committed belief in self, in the notion that anyone can find their purpose by expressing themselves purely and honestly. And of course it’s lifeblood is kicked into motion by an act of rebellion. A pair of thirteen year old girls (Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin) start their own punk band, largely so they can reserve the rehearsal room at a local rec center, annoying some older … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Six

Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Seven

I’ve come to realize how thoroughly Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook has stuck with me by how often my mind slips back to it while watching other movies, specifically those that show, however briefly, a mother in distress due to a domestic meltdown involving offspring. Whether it’s Jane Hawking enduring a household of shrieking children in The Theory of Everything or the frontier misery of The Homesman, I find myself thinking of the beset matriarch, ‘She shouldn’t have opened that Babadook book.’ That’s not simply a case of the film settling in as some kind of cinematic earworm. It speaks to the … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Seven

Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Eight

The feature debut from writer-director Gillian Robespierre was much more than a single word. Quickly reduced by most of the entertainment press to a work with the primary significance of dealing with the topic of abortion more frankly, more fearlessly, and frankly more honestly than most other films that have cause to incorporate acknowledgement of the fully legal and not especially uncommon medical procedure, Obvious Child was a deeply insightful and beautifully funny creation. As Donna Stern, a low-level stand-up comic and struggling young woman approaching the age when unsettled directionless is no longer charming to herself or others, Jenny Slate works … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Eight

Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Nine

With these pieces tracking through the ten best films of the year, I prefer to focus entirely on the positive. The purpose is celebratory, after all. Why digress into minor flaws in individual films or more regrettable earlier efforts by filmmakers? In the case of Birdman, however, I think it will be helpful to elucidate my previous view on the work of director Alejandro González Iñárritu. To be blunt, I detest most of it. 21 Grams, Babel (which nabbed him an Oscar nomination in the Best Achievement in Directing category), and Biutiful are all manipulative exercises that revel in the easy drama … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Nine

Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Ten

There are so many ways for the film version of Wild to go wrong. Adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir of the same name, Wild is practically designed to lapse into feel-good platitudes cheering the triumph of the human soul over adversity. Following a personal spiral triggered in large part by the death of her beloved mother, Cheryl (played in the film by Reese Witherspoon) set out to hike the thousand-plus miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, despite (or maybe because of) her relative inexperience in such an endeavor. Nick Hornby’s screenplay and Jean-Marc Vallée’s direction admirable cohere to present the monumental … Continue reading Top Ten Movies of 2014 — Number Ten