Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. No doubt you’ve spent the last day pacing around your living quarters, waiting for this post to arrive. At last, I can reveal my top five films of 2014. If you want to see 25 more movies I liked last year, be sure to click here, here, here, and then here. Thank you all for reading. Let’s get this over with.
Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi thriller Under the Skin is a masterful example of visual storytelling. It never stops to explain itself, and there’s barely any dialogue at all. Even when the characters do talk, it’s almost never about what is actually going on. All the important information is communicated exclusively through visual means, and the effect is downright haunting. Through all this, a career-best performance from Scarlett Johansson guides us through this eerie, otherworldly scenario. Glazer adds another dimension to this story by frequently having Johansson’s character drive the streets of Scotland and interact with real, unknowing men, and because of that, the film’s exploration of human nature and urges becomes all the more fascinating.
It is rare that David Fincher directs a wholly original movie. Normally, he finds himself working from preexisting material; be it a bestselling novel, a true crime story, or otherwise. The reason this works for him, however, is his uncanny ability to get right at the heart of the matter—to burrow his way inside the heads of his characters and examine what drives them to do the (often horrible) things they do. Gone Girl, adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, is the perfect subject for Fincher, and he turns it into a nasty movie about marital strife taken to the extreme. It doesn’t go down easy, but it’s not supposed to. It attacks its issues (gender roles, the media, etc.) head-on, and it leads to some rather unpleasant places. Some found its point of view ugly, or even misogynistic, but there’s much more going on beneath the surface than they realize.
One of the great embarrassments of awards season has been the way Ava DuVernay’s Selma has been more or less pushed aside in favor of more traditional movies about noble white people. (It got a Best Picture nomination, but that feels more like a participation award at this point.) This is one of the most relevant, powerful films of the year, and DuVernay recounts the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Selma-to-Montgomery marches in a way that cuts out all the theatrics and illustrates how arduous, protracted and brutal the battle for equality can be. Some accusations of historical inaccuracy have been lobbed in its direction, particularly with regards to its depiction of LBJ, but that seems like a particularly egregious case of missing the point. In a year where so many biopics approached their subjects in the most boring, middle-of-the-road treatment possible, only Selma feels like it actually arrives anywhere near the ugly truth.
It’s one thing to film a movie over the course of 12 years, but what Richard Linklater accomplished with Boyhood is even more remarkable when you consider the degree of difficulty. Most filmmakers would have approached this subject by capturing the most important moments in the life of the young protagonist, but Linklater ingeniously films around those moments, and in the process creates an profound picture of normal people moving through time. (Though time may actually be the one in control.) It is certainly unfocused for most of its running time, and gloriously so, but in the stretch run the full majesty of what Linklater has created suddenly comes into focus. We have not just watched Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grow and mature, but also his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette), his sister (Lorelei Linklater) and the world around them. The cumulative impact is staggering, and utterly unique.
I was a Wes Anderson agnostic for much of my movie fan career, but that started to turn around with the release of 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, which I found utterly delightful. I then started to revisit his earlier work, and I came out the other end the admirer I should have been for years. This change of heart coincided nicely with this year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, a perfectly constructed caper that will likely go down as one of the best films in Anderson’s career. (It’s almost certainly my favorite of his right now.) A masterpiece that doubles as an Anderson mission statement, it focuses on hotel concierge Gustave H. (an impeccable Ralph Fiennes) as he finds himself in the middle of a murder plot, and all the while a devastating war looms in the background. In addition to being uproarious and wildly entertaining, Anderson’s usual melancholy saturates The Grand Budapest Hotel, as the organized and delightful chaos of Gustave’s universe slowly gives way to a darker and less innocent world. Anderson is still more than happy to bathe in his own quirks, but never have they felt more purposeful. This is filmmaking of a kind nobody else is even attempting these days—gorgeous, unique, meticulous and efficient. Many great movies were released in 2014, and I’ve covered them extensively this week, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is as close as any got to perfection.
Well, that’s all. Thank you again for joining me on this quest. This blog will resume its regularly scheduled programming in the next couple weeks. On to 2015!