30 December 2014

2014 in Review: NMW's Top Ten

You have been so patient, people. I appreciate it. Here we are, with two days left to go in 2014 and it's finally time to really get into the movies that landed this year. I went back and forth on this list a ton and I'm sure that in a few years I'll look back and go "What the hell was I thinking?!" I like the idea of Best Of lists being dynamic rather than static. So, fuck it - let's revise 2013 first!

Wait, I ranked 19 movies last year? What a cop out. Here's 2013's Updated Top Ten, in order:

#10: Nebraska
#9: You're Next
#8: Frozen
#7: This is The End
#6: 12 Years a Slave
#5: Pain & Gain
#4: Spring Breakers
#3: Inside Llewyn Davis
#2: The World's End
#1: The Wolf of Wall Street

Now that that's out of the way, let's dig into 2014. I am actually now more curious about how I will feel about this list in 2015. For some reason I feel like at least The Double will drop out. Anywho, let's get in that ass:

#10: Guardians of the Galaxy

I like the summation here: "Guardians of the Galaxy is better than four out of six Star Wars movies." It's absolutely true! There's a hundred things to love about this movie - its sense of unadulterated fun that's become absent from major studio blockbusters, the deft character work, the inherent humour, or even Marvel's competent cosmic world-building that dips its toes into very nerdy water without lingering too long to make our eyes glaze over. What I love most though, is how Star-Lord finally kicks Ronan's ass through sheer irreverence; a giant post-modern fuck you to the stodgy self-serious soliloquies of blockbusters long past. The movie did all this while turning a half dozen throwaway joke characters into 2014's most significant pop culture force. And the best Soundtrack of the year.

#9: Under the Skin

Okay, I actually have a lot of trouble with Under the Skin. I'm pretty sure it's either the greatest cinematic experience of the year or the most frustrating. It's full-fledged reliance on visual storytelling requires a keen eye to decipher everything that's going on, and the abstract nature of its presentation can be maddening. In some sense it fails because it flat out refuses to divulge all of its secrets in visually coherent ways - but then again isn't a movie that allows you to form an opinion of the narrative, taking as much or as little from it as you want or can, a pretty sublime experience? For what it's worth, Under the Skin made me think more than any other film this year and will probably be on this list for a long time as I keep trying to figure it out, which in itself proves its greatness.

#8: The Double

I didn't totally mean to shit on The Double earlier, but I just feel like it's something I really like right now that may not stay with me. It's hard to say that it's better than the other surrealist doppelganger drama that came out this year, Enemy, but I certainly enjoyed Richard Ayoade's flick a bit more. There's a dry Visioneers (2008)-vibe to the bureaucratic world-building with characters that react very humanly to these impossible situations. Jesse Eisenberg is a revelation here in his dual roles, completely selling two different sides of visually identical duplicates with mere cock-eyed grins, slumped shoulders, or walking pace. Mia Wasikowska balances the equation beautifully, and when I tried to think of who the third lead was I remembered that it was Eisenberg again. He sells that dual role that well.

#7: Top Five

Top Five is the most recent film I've seen, which is unfortunate, because I'm so jonesing off it that it gets #7. Yes, Top Five is the black film I'm choosing for this list over Selma. I feel like this film was years in the making, because Chris Rock has never really been a true movie star. He's always really famous, but that act has never done well translated to an on-screen persona for some reason. He creates a film that's at once a spoof of culture, Hollywood, personal demons, societal expectations, and a chance to riff on everything from Obama to Ho Sleep. The cast hits all the right notes and the ending is perfect.

#6: Snowpiercer

You have to go with the premise, which immediately makes no sense at all. The entire world's population is confined a train which runs infinite loops around the world, where the rich live in the front and the poor live in the back. Where do all the rich people sleep? How do they have cows for steaks and shit? Who knows. Who cares. This movie rules. The action is mind-boggling but so is the confined sandbox world-building, international mix of cast and characters, and even the humour. This is a movie where you never have any idea of what's going to happen next, and when you do, your expectations are subverted and something else totally bonkers happens. In a movie that features a pitch black axe battle over an ice bridge the more insane moments happen in the pre-school car a few minutes later. What's up with that?

#5: The Grand Budapest Hotel

How does Wes Anderson keep out-Wes Anderson-ing himself? I thought that Moonrise Kingdom (2012) was the most Wes Anderson movie ever, but The Grand Budapest Hotel by far takes that trophy. Impressive as it is to have an adjective named after him, Wes Anderson-ing up a film like this somehow works perfectly. The set design gorgeously gels with the story and becomes a character unto itself. Ralph Fiennes gobbles up a juicy role with delight and plays straight the doofiest aspects and plays doofy the straight aspects. It's bewildering and awesome. Then there's the parade of Anderson regulars, from Adrian Brody to Willem Dafoe to Tilda Swinton who show up briefly for wacky side parts that are still so based in consistent character motivations. The whole package works beautifully, which is an astoundingly hard thing to do.

#4: Interstellar

This is probably what a Christopher Nolan Star Wars would feel like. Dripped in humanist realism with big loud epic, humanity-changing moments, this film succeeds in almost every possible facet of blockbuster filmmaking, from its script to the acting, directing, production design, and special effects. It's even a bit more warm than most of Nolan's harshly intellectual flicks (don't worry, there's plenty for your brain to digest), but when the film truly starts soaring into tripped out mind-blowing territory that echoes 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), that's when I knew it'd be sticking with me for a while.

#3: Gone Girl

Dave Fincher's subtle directing here is spot-on, which is a shame in a year full of really flashy directing jobs like Nolan, Anderson, Linklater, and Iñárritu. So he's not likely to be recognized, but his camera work, editing, slow build of tension, and complete mastery of the most brutal twisty mystery of the year is commendable. Likewise to Ben Affleck, who I still think turned in one of the most credible acting performances of the year. Rosamund, who is a ton more showy (and who don't get me wrong, did a ridiculous job of selling every part of Amy's character who swings from affected mania to eerie control on a dime) may rack up the awards, which is some consolidation. You're constantly guessing who the true victim is here and it ends on a truly meaningful and relevant discourse on marriage, gender balance, and media power. It's stunning.

#2: Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of our greatest living directors and it's refreshing to see him get away from the deep brooding There Will Be Blood (2007) territory and into more silly Boogie Nights (1997) territory. While I loved Blood and The Master (2012), Anderson has this great knack for this level of sincere goofiness and Inherent Vice just kills it with its mastery of attitude, tone, and acting prowess from the best cast of the year. There's a lot going on under the surface, too, and characters who don't even understand their own motivations are the most entertaining to watch.

#1: Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

What do you want to call this? An unparalleled directing achievement? A movie that didn't need to go through a black hole to be a mind-bender? A film that sifts through multiple levels of meta-analysis not only about its own industry but the very nature of subjective art and criticism itself? A heady discussion on the needs and merits of acting vs. living the life of an actor? Or maybe just a self-contained hedonistic exercise in a narrow, pretentious industry. No other film grabbed my attention as much as this did and I had no other experience at the movie theater like it. From start to finish (There wasn't a more memorable opening line this year than "smells like balls") this flick just delivered everything you could want from a movie - complete technological and logistical control disguised as artistic minimalism. It's a wonder to experience.

Honourable Mentions:

I love all these flicks, but not enough for them to get a nice write-up. OK, just a sentence each!

The LEGO Movie: Adorable discourse on cultural hegemony disguised as product placement!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: The most heady superhero movie ever!
Bad Words: Jason Bateman's confident and hysterical directing debut!
Obvious Child: Abortion romantic comedies can be hilarious - who knew Jenny "F-Bomb" Slate had it in her?!
Foxcatcher: This cast is a dream in any other genre, but is ridiculous in the dramatic folds here!
Edge of Tomorrow: Oh yeah, I forgot there's a reason why we all love Tom Cruise movies!
The Interview: The silliest comedy of the year is built upon James Franco's expressive face; brings nations and corporations to their knees!
The Babadook: Oh this was scary as hell! But with such a cute name!
Tusk: I really just liked Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp's daughters...
The Imitation Game: All the makings of a classic biopic rendered interesting through the will of Cumberbatch!
Selma: All the makings of a classic biopic rendered incredible through increased contemporary relevancy and an honest portrayal of its subject within the context of the event going on around him!
Whiplash: J. Jonah Jameson, here's your Oscar!
Jodorowsky's Dune: You're an insane man, Alejandro! But you're also nearly responsible for revolutionizing Hollywood!


By the way, I hated both Boyhood and Nightcrawler. On the former I think it's a pretty difficult task that Richard Linklater set out to do, and the conceit is infinitely intriguing and creative, but I just wish it resulted in a better film. Ditto with Nighcrawler - Gyllenhaal is amazing, but I couldn't get passed how much I hated his character. I suppose that means he did a great job. He's had a really underrated year, actually, with Enemy also clocking in as that other doppelganger movie. I just couldn't deal with that one because I'm afraid of spiders, man.

So, where will this list be in 2015? Or even 2020 for that matter? Who knows. I really digged a lot of movies this year, as you can tell, I think I wrote more reviewing this year than any year past. This year gave me a lot of hope for film in the years to come, even if 2015 looks like it's lining up with brainless blockbusters. But hey, we got Guardians out of that attitude, so whatever. As long as we keep taking risks I'm not worried. Hi ho silver! Away!

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