Welcome again to my week-long countdown of the best films of 2014. Yesterday, I began with films numbered 30-21, which you can find here. In this post, you will find numbers 20 through 16. Read on, my friends. We’ve only just begun!
Turns out a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie is more or less what you’d expect a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie to be, but that doesn’t make the finished product any less wonderful. Essentially, the film follows Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as they hang out as vampires in Detroit and deal with their various vampire problems. (Blood doesn’t get itself, you know!) As you might expect with Jarmusch, the film triumphs in the “mood” department, creating a rambling, utterly cool atmosphere that sucks you in right from the start. It’s all pretty much pitched at the same level, but it’s a universe I could have hung out in for hours more without getting bored.
Agata Trzebuchowska, the star of the Polish-Danish film Ida, may have one of the best faces to appear onscreen this year. Her eyes seem ready to pop out of the screen at any moment, and there is clearly a lot of pain hiding behind her normally blank expression. She proves to be the perfect subject for director Pawel Pawlikowski’s film about post-Holocaust Europe, and how the wounds from that ordeal are not so easily brushed under the rug. Ida also makes great use of stunning black-and-white cinematography, and every frame seems to be filled with an unspoken pain and sorrow. As you might guess from all this, it’s not exactly a cheery experience, but it’s rewarding all the same.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the performances of the year in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, a nasty film about the media and American ambition. (Structurally, many comparisons could be made to The Wolf of Wall Street.) He plays Louis Bloom, an unemployed Los Angeles creep who decides to start taping crime scenes at night and then sell them to the local TV stations. The film’s anger may seem a bit dated, but its raw power is undeniable, and Gyllenhaal is a big reason for that. Cinematographer Robert Elswit does a typically masterful job of shooting Los Angeles, and Gilroy no doubt has a long and prosperous career of directing ahead of him. It’s a movie that burrows into your brain and refuses to leave.
Sometimes a documentary doesn’t need a complex or urgent subject to be completely devastating, and Steve James’ superb Life Itself shows how much emotion can be pulled from the life story of just one man. (Albeit an incredibly famous man.) The film bounces between an exploration of Roger Ebert’s early life and firsthand footage of him in his final days, and not many other films this year so aptly captured the wide-ranging impact just one life can have. Life Itself runs the emotional gambit from hilarity (stories of Ebert’s feuding with fellow At the Movies co-host Gene Siskel) to devastation (all of the ending, pretty much) and everything in between. It’s a reminder that sometimes, a true story can put you through the ringer like no fictional story ever could.
A sequel to the delightful 2011 film The Trip, this film finds our heroes Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing exaggerated versions of themselves once again as they drive through a beautiful country and make stops at various expensive-looking restaurants. Last time it was England, and this time they’ve gone to Italy. All the while, they throw their Michael Caine impressions at each other, engage in various conversations, and privately go through minor existential crises. One would think such an idea would start to grow stale after a while, but these two have such incredible chemistry that I will happily look forward to a potential third film in another few years. Just throw them in another car and let the magic happen.
That’s two down, everybody! Tomorrow, the journey continues.