Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Top 25 Films of 2014

I'm almost getting used to the relentless vicissitudes of the 21st century. The degree to which the world is constantly upending itself between the years 2000 & 2014 is exponential compared to the comparatively glacial pace of say 1980 to 2000. This is subjective, of course. But I've by now become accustomed in this century to the unthinkable coming to pass. Like for instance, the mind of a movie studio (specifically its id and ego) made public through a massive hack. 

The cyber attack on Sony is without a doubt the defining event of the year for the movies. Please don't bore me with your studied sang-froid about Hollywood's shadow self. Yes, we all knew they were fueled by petty & casual racism, sexism & unburdened by anything like imagination about their industry. But seeing it in writing, their own writing, was still breathtaking. Striking all the more for the way it gave credence to Chris Rock's essay on how the town functions just days before the most damning emails came to light. 

But let's not be all gloom & doom. This year also had some incredibly positive developments. The year 2014 will most certainly go down as an annus mirabilis for African-Americans in film & culture. Starting with the Oscar wins for 12 Years A Slave and ending with the release of Selma, one has to go back to the early 1990s to find a year in which Black cinema delivered so many gems. And here's the part where even get I uncharacteristically giddy with positivity: the range of films and the strength of the overall quality suggests that true progress has been made. 

One also has to...well, marvel at the success of Marvel Studios. This year they had two massive hits, one of them so improbable that it has silenced all critics of the studio and their ambitious confederacy of franchises. It's easy to get on one's middlebrow high horse about what comic book adaptations are doing to American cinema, but the Marvel films of 2014 both represent the possibility that big budget entertainment needn't be dumb or disconnected from reality, and can even bring us back to the kind of pop mythology that made most of us fall in love with the movies in the first place. 

Much of the analysis of the year revolves on the dearth of good roles for women. Yet when I look back at the films of the year, the great performances were by women almost two to one. 

Couple this with a vigorous independent cinema and the continued Third Golden Age of Television and you find yourself in a pretty exciting time. 

1. Selma - USA - d: Ava DuVernay
2. Boyhood - USA - d: Richard Linklater
3. Under the Skin - UK - d: Jonathan Glazer
4. Only Lovers Left Alive - UK/Germany - d: Jim Jarmusch
5. Citizenfour - USA/Germany - d: Laura Poitras
6. Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger - USA - d: Joe Berlinger
7. Abuse of Weakness - France - d: Catherine Breillat
8. Gloria - Chile - d: Sebastian Lelio
9. Olive Kitteridge - USA - d: Lisa Cholodenko
10. A Most Violent Year - USA - d: J.C. Chandor

11. Rich Hill - USA - d: Andrew Droz Palermo & Tracy Droz Tragos
12. In Bloom - Georgia - d: Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Gross
13. Ida - Poland - d: Pawel Pawlikowski
14. We Are The Best! - Sweden - d: Lukas Moodysson
15. A Most Wanted Man - UK - d: Anton Corbijn
16. Top Five - USA - d: Chris Rock
17. Frank - Ireland/UK - d: Lenny Abrahamson
18. Obvious Child - USA - d: Gillian Robespierre
19. The Grand Budapest Hotel - UK/Germany - d: Wes Anderson
20. Nightcrawler - USA - d: Dan Gilroy

21. Nymphomaniac - Denmark - d: Lars von Trier
22. Dear White People - USA - d: Justin Simien
23. Evolution of a Criminal - USA - d: Darius Clark Monroe
24. Guardians of the Galaxy - USA - d: James Gunn
25. Beyond The Lights - USA - d: Gina Prince Bythewood

Plus 10 Honorable Mentions: Locke, Life Itself, Blue Ruin, The Immigrant, Anita, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Jodorowsky's Dune, Snowpiercer, Belle

The Acting Purple Heart goes to Charlotte Gainsbourg for her bravery, as seen in Nymphomaniac.

Best Performances, In Order
1. Scarlett Johansson - Under the Skin
2. Jessica Chastain - A Most Violent Year
3. Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
4. Gugu Mbatha-Raw - Beyond the Lights and Belle
5. Isabelle Huppert - Abuse of Weakness
6. Jenny Slate - Obvious Child
7. Paulina Garcia - Gloria
8. Frances McDormand - Olive Kitteridge
9. Marion Cotillard - The Immigrant
10. Agata Kulesza - Ida
11. Teyonah Parris - Dear White People
12. Julianne Moore - Map to the Stars
13. Minnie Driver - Beyond the Lights
14. Maggie Gyllenhaal - Frank
15. Rosario Dawson - Top Five
16. Rene Russo - Nightcrawler

1. David Oyelowo - Selma
2. Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
3. Philip Seymour Hoffman - A Most Wanted Man
4. Tom Hardy - Locke
5. Oscar Issac - A Most Violent Year
6. Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler
7. Richard Jenkins - Olive Kitteridge
8. Michael Fassbender - Frank
9. Joaquin Phoenix - Inherent Vice
10. J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
11. Andy Serkis - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The Nestor Almendros Color Cinematography Award: for the second year in a row, Bradford Young. I'm hard pressed to think of another cinematographer that's swept in and changed the game as fast as Bradford Young. The Howard alumnus' work on Selma and A Most Violent Year form an impressive yin-yang (summer-winter, northern-southern, urban-rural). Once again Young has done amazing work  on digital and his work on the Chandor film served as a fitting tribute to the late great Gordon Willis, the "Prince of Darkness" who passed away this year. 
Runner-up: Blue Ruin, photographed by writer/director Jeremy Saulnier. 

The Gianni Di Venanzo Black & White Cinematography Award: Łukasz Żal & Ryszard Lenczewski for their beautiful work on Ida. Their cinematography is as much the star of Ida as the director or the actors and directly responsible for the film being an Oscar contender. 
Runner-up: Lyle Vincent, for A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.

The Howard Hawks Directing Award: James Gunn will win no awards for his deft handling of Marvel's most unlikely hit, but he brought a Hawksian sensibility to the space opera that was ultimately just as much of an homage to westerns as science fiction. Generation X has been waging a war to win back summer from American cinema's Ronan the Accuser (Michael Bay) and this film dealt Bay's hold over summer a fatal blow. 

The William Cameron Menzies Production Design Award: Adam Stockhausen for his work on The Grand Budapest Hotel (he was nominated for an Oscar last year for 12 Years A Slave).
-Sebastian T. Krawinkel for his work on A Most Wanted Man. Best use of yellow outside of a Wes Anderson film. 
-Tomy Dwi Setyanto for The Raid 2.

The Theadora van Runkle Costume Design Award: Kasia Walicka-Maimone for her spot-on period work on A Most Violent Year. 

The Margaret Booth Editing Award: it's easy to dismiss Sandra Adair's kudos for editing Boyhood as an obvious reward for assembling years of footage, but she did delicate work in representing the passage of time.  

The David O. Selznick Producing Award: Kevin Feige for his helming of the Marvel Studios juggernaut. Selznick would've been appalled by the popularity of comic book films but Feige's demonstrated a similar sense of showmanship and a keen understanding of what the audience wants. 

The Grant Tinker Television Award: The Knick 

I am officially retiring the Steel Drum Award and the Big Damn Genius Award. They have served us well but their time has passed. 

I wish you a prosperous 2015!