Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Top Ten of 2014


I am of the opinion that 2014 was a great year for movies. There were some incredibly smart, edgy, challenging movies last year. I'm glad to have seen most of the year's movies I wanted to. There are plenty to see yet, but I feel this list defines what I enjoyed most.

Last year about this time, I saw a couple movies from 2013 that just blew me away, and I knew I had to get serious, finally, about my writing. I dusted off this old blog I'd started years ago that just never went anywhere and made this my first full year of writing about movies. In June, I got a small side gig as a columnist for my local hometown newspaper, "The Courier News" of Clinton, Tennessee, which is willing to hook me up with movie tickets. I have seen more movies in the theater this year than any other. I feel incredibly lucky to have scored such a great side job/hobby. The people of my hometown seem to like some movie talk.

Later in the summer, I got some notice from a just incredible blogger in Fisti (Andrew) at A Fistful of Films, and, now, I feel like I'm on my way. The past six months or so have been some of the happiest of my life. My passion, my hobby, of writing about the movies is finally coming along. A work in progress I'm happy to continue working on. 

This list represents the movies I saw at a theater (except one, #7) in 2014 that just blew me away. Movies I knew I would give a perfect rating before I ever left the auditorium.

So, here it is, The Speaks Movie Top Ten of 2014. Click the movie titles for full reviews. 

10. The Imitation Game


Directed
by Morton Tyldum

Screenplay 
by Graham Moore
from the book "Alan Turing: An Enigma" by Andrew Hodges

Cinematography 
by Oscar Faura

Editing
by William Goldenberg

Music 
by Alexandre Desplat

Cast
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing
Keira Knightly as Joan Clarke
Matthew Goode as Hugh Alexander
Allen Leach as John Cairncross

A perfectly-structured, heartbreaking portrait of a genius, a machine, and The War. A downright beautiful performance from Best Actor Nominee Benedict Cumberbatch.

9. St. Vincent


Written and Directed
by Theodore Melfi

Cinematography 
by John Lindley

Edited
by Sarah Flack and Peter Teschner

Music 
by Theodore Shapiro

Cast
Bill Murray as Vincent
Melissa McCarthy as Maggie
Naomi Watts as Daka
Jaeden Lieberher as Oliver 

A heartfelt, immensely touching piece of crowd-pleasing bliss. I laughed, I cried, I was uplifted. One of Bill Murray's best roles in years. 

8. Wild 


Directed 
by Jean-Marc Vallée

Screenplay 
by Nick Hornby
from the memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail" by Cheryl Strayed

Cinematography 
by Yves Belanger

Edited 
by John Mac McMurphy (Jean-Marc Vallée) and Martin Pensa

Cast 
Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed
Laura Dern as Bobbi
Gaby Hoffman as Aimee
Thomas Sadoski as Paul

"I'd rather be a hammer than a nail. 
Yes, I would. If I only could. I surely would." 
- Simon and Garfunkel, "El Condor Pasa (If I Could)"

A beautiful journey of a woman lost, then found. Reese Witherspoon's Best Actress-nominated turn as Cheryl Strayed is my favorite female performance of the year. And the storytelling here is as good as anything I saw all year.

7. Blue Ruin


Written, Directed, and Photographed 
by Jeremy Saulnier

Edited 
by Julia Bloch

Music 
by Brooke Blair and Will Blair

Cast
Macon Blair as Dwight
Devin Ratray as Ben Gaffney
Amy Hargreaves as Sam
Kevin Kolack as Teddy Cleland 

An absolutely heart-pounding, intense, masterfully-crafted story of bloody revenge in the backwoods of Virginia. It mesmerizes like a piece of good, Southern short fiction. It left me shaking.

6. Gone Girl


Directed 
by David Fincher

Screenplay 
by Gillian Flynn
from her novel of the same name

Director of Photography 
Jeff Cronenworth

Edited 
by Kirk Baxter

Music 
by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Cast
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne
Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne
Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings
Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt
Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne
Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney
Patrick Fugit as Officer James Gilpin 

A dark, twisted and twisty tale of a marriage gone way wrong, it speaks to the current state of young marriages in a majorly extreme and darkly satirical way. Fincher's direction is as on point as ever. 

5. American Sniper


Directed 
by Clint Eastwood

Written 
by Jason Hall
from the book "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History" by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice

Director of Photography 
Tom Stern

Edited 
by Joel Cox and Gary Roach

Cast
Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle
Sienna Miller as Taya
Kyle Gallner as Goat-Winston
Luke Grimes as Marc Lee
Jake McDorman as Biggles

A somewhat controversial (as of late) yet classically made war picture about a man who went to fight for country and did his country proud. Bradley Cooper seriously delivers my absolute favorite performance of the year.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel


 Written and Directed
by Wes Anderson

Story 
by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness
Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig

Director of Photography 
Robert Yeoman

Edited
by Barney Pilling

Music 
by Alexandre Desplat

Cast
Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave
Tony Revolori as Zero
F. Murry Abraham as Mr. Moustafa
Jude Law as Young Writer
Mathieu Amalric as Serge X. 
Adrien Brody as Dmitri
Willem Defoe as Jopling
Jeff Goldblum as Deputy Kovacs

A fun, fast-paced, gorgeous look at the years between the Great Wars from the Great American Auteur, Wes Anderson. His writing as never been better, and the delivery of his dialogue by Ralph Fiennes is just genius. 

3. Whiplash


Written and Directed 
by Damien Chazelle

Director of Photography 
Sharone Meir

Edited 
by Tom Cross

Music 
by Justin Hurwitz

Cast
Miles Teller as Andrew
J.K. Simmons as Fletcher
Melissa Benoist as Nicole
Paul Reiser as Jim Neimann 

A sweaty, fierce, sometimes even bloody, up-close account of a driven jazz drummer and his maniacal professor. Miles Teller and soon-to-be Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons spar as intensely as a couple of classic prizefighters.

2. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)


Directed 
by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Written 
by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, 
Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo 

Director of Photography 
Emmanuel Lubezki

Edited 
by Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione

Drum Score
by Antonio Sanchez

Cast
Michael Keaton as Riggan
Zach Galifianakis as Jake
Edward Norton as Mike
Andrea Riseborough as Laura
Emma Stone as Sam
Naomi Watts as Lesley

 A constantly-moving one-shot of a movie that digs into the mind of an aging actor in a life crisis. Emmanuel Lubezki continues to prove he is the absolute best camera guy in the movies. The performances from everyone, most notably from Oscar nominees Micheal Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone are miraculous. I saw this movie three full months ago. I think about it still...daily.

1. Inherent Vice


Directed 
by Paul Thomas Anderson

Screenplay 
by Paul Thomas Anderson
from the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon

Cinematography 
by Robert Elswit

Edited 
by Leslie Jones

Music 
by Jonny Greenwood

Cast
Joaquin Phoenix as Larry "Dog" Sportello
Josh Brolin as Lt. Det. Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen
Owen Wilson as Coy Harlingen
Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay Hepworth

"Will your restless heart
come back to mine
On a journey thru the past?
Will I still be in your eyes
and on your mind?"
-Neil Young, "Journey Through the Past" 

Yes. And yes you will. 
A crazy, funny, weird, sometimes off-putting ride out of the sixties and into the seventies from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. I love so much when a movie goes places no movie has gone before, defying everything you think you know about detective movies, an entire era of American history, and, really, movies, in general. I have almost never been so in awe when a movie ended. 

Honorable Mention

Life Itself


Directed 
by Steve James

Cinematography
by Dana Kupper

Edited 
by Steve James and David E. Simpson

Music
by Joshua Abrams

Featuring

Roger Ebert
Gene Siskel (Archive Footage)
Chaz Ebert
Martin Scorsese
Ava DuVernay
Werner Herzog
Errol Morris
Steve James
Ramin Bahrani

A perfect tribute to a man who we movie reviewers and bloggers can thank for everything. He championed the movies he loved and believed anyone could "get" any movie, battled alcoholism, made a best friend and enemy in fellow Chicago film critic Gene Siskel, found love and family, won the Pulitzer Prize, and gave us a life for and about movies and the written word, even as he was dying of a devastating cancer that took his ability to eat, drink, and speak. I didn't rank this movie because it doesn't deserve that. Roger never liked ranked lists, and I don't think he'd like his beautiful life story on one.


16 comments:

  1. Great post! I haven't seen all these movies yet, but I loved Blue Ruin and Gone Girl and I really liked American Sniper and Grand Budapest Hotel. Congratulations on the newspaper column and launching this terrific blog.

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    1. Thank you so much, Irene! I've had a great year getting into more new stuff. And I've loved so many this year.

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  2. So far I've only seen Gone Girl and Grand Budapest. Love the former, rather lukewarm on the latter. That might change though. Hope to be watching Blue Ruin this week.

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    1. Right on. Let me know what you think about Blue Ruin. It's a really special little thriller, if you ask me.

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  3. Part of the problem with being a cinema studies student is that it becomes really hard to find time to watch movies besides those screened for my classes, let alone keep up with everything that comes out in the theater. I also have a strange tendency to always end up missing the year's most popular films for one reason or another.

    Out of your list, I've seen a grand total of two: American Sniper (which I'm not really sure counts seeing as it came out in 2015) and The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was an amazing, if at times odd, experience. On the other hand, the oddness probably helped, considering how many weird and unpredictable directions the story manages to go in.

    One film that I did get a chance to see last year that I would strongly recommend (it made the #2 spot on my own list: http://hitchcocksworld.blogspot.ca/2014/12/best-movies-of-2014-that-i-saw.html) is Under the Skin. That was a really interesting experience in just how unusual it was. Scarlett Johansson was amazing in a role with very little dialogue, managing to have the right balance of qualities; playing a character with an appropriately alien mind while simultaneously being the most human character in the movie.

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    1. I know how it is when you're in school, man. I was an English major and, needless to say, reading what someone else throws at you all the time gets in the way of really getting into the newest stuff.

      Inherent Vice and American Sniper did not release here in Knoxville until January 9th and 16th, but I'm counting them as 2014 releases, as they were released in the bigger cities in December for awards contention.

      I did a short write up on Under the Skin when I watched it on Blu-ray a couple weeks ago. I can't say I loved it. I felt it had more than enough to admire, but, at the same time, it just didn't totally work for me, as far as best of the year goes. It is a haunting and quite beautifully dark piece, for sure.

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  4. I've seen four of these: Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gone Girl and St. Vincent, three of them also making my top movies of the year. I'm hoping to get through some of the movies on the list, particularly the Oscar nominated ones before the actual ceremony.

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    1. Yeah. There's a reason Birdman is so high up here and got so much Oscar love. It is just technically perfect. Probably the most perfect movie I saw from 2014. The Imitation Game was really unexpectedly perfect. Whiplash, Wild, and American Sniper have three of the best performances of the year for me.

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  5. Great list! I'm so annoyed that my theaters got rid of Whiplash and Inherent Vice so quickly. I'll be getting those on DVD for sure.

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    1. That sucks! Regal is headquartered in Knoxville, and they run an 8-screen "CinemaART" theater here, have for years. I feel sort of lucky on that. They've had Whiplash and Birdman non-stop for several months now. Inherent Vice has been playing since January 9th. I hate when it gets so hard to see the best stuff at the theater. I wish there was more love for these kinds of movies as far as the multiplexes go. They could let go of one of their 20 screens here and there.

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  6. Once again, thank you so much for the love, my friend!

    I've only seen three of these films, so obviously I need to get back to the movies! Great, eclectic and diverse list of flicks here.

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    1. No problem, man. Thanks for having me around. And for coming around here. I would never get to see this many new movies if I hadn't started getting hooked up on that newspaper gig. That has been so awesome!

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  7. so great to see Wild and The Imitation Game on your list! They are getting some undeserved hate from people.

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    1. Both great films, Sati. No doubt! I felt pure love watching both of them. No hate anywhere near them.

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  8. Great list. I haven't seen all these with, but did enjoy the ones I saw, especially The Imitation Game and not because of BC. Even has a history gal, I think WWII is often overdone, but that movie was a unique WWII story and very well done. Ones on my list, maybe not 4 star quality but I loved, would be the last X-Men movie and The Fault in Our Stars. Great book to movie adaptation that I know you weren't big on.

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    1. X-Men and TFIOS were both solid movies, even if they didn't make this cut.

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