5. Inherent Vice
This is probably the film I was looking forward to most in 2014. Ever since There Will Be Blood, whenever Paul Thomas Anderson has a new release, there is the potential for an all-time masterpiece. He’s one of the genuine auteurs working. While it does not end up in the top spot of my list, the film did not disappoint. It was one of the most enjoyable film-going experiences I had all year, with a great audience that was tuned in to the film’s wavelength. To say the plot is labyrinthine is an understatement. But so is the Thomas Pynchon novel the film is taken from. Also, it’s maybe the most faithful adaptation in terms of dialogue being lifted line for line I can remember. The plot, however complex, is secondary, maybe even tertiary to the enjoying the film. The performances are all spectacular; I especially enjoyed Josh Brolin as Bigfoot Bjornsen, who seems to be channeling his inner Sterling Hayden. And the film is also beautifully shot.
2014 was a year that saw a slew of church-related and spiritually themed films (Noah, Exodus: Gods & Kings, God Is Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real, Son of God, Fury, Unbroken, Ida ) that were released with mixed results. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh, brother of writer/director/playwright Martin McDonagh (of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths fame), made the best of these films this year. A small Irish coastal town is the setting for this film of a priest who is told during confession by one of his parishioners that he is going to kill him in a week as punishment for the Church’s scandals involving clergy. Unsure how to respond, the film follows the priest through his week. Brendan Gleeson’s Father James, the priest at the center of it all. His interactions with the people in this town and his daughter who visits him are at times poignant and caustic. The film is meditative and contemplative while also having moments of levity and dark humor blended into it. Calvary resonated with me more than any other film I saw this year.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
One of the best films of Wes Anderson’s already impressive filmography, The Grand Budapest Hotel is delightfully funny and enjoyable. A lot of credit for that has to be placed at the feet of the two leads of this film, Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori. Revolori plays the lobby boy who falls under the tutelage of Ralph Fiennes hotel manager M. Gustave. Gustave carries an air of refinement about him, which make his lapses into the profane so funny. Not every actor can fit into a Wes Anderson film, but Fiennes is a delightful addition to Anderson’s stable of actors, and I hope it’s not their only collaboration. The framing device of this film is a bit hard to follow, it’s almost like a Russian nesting doll, which can make it a bit hard to follow, but not many complaints can be lodged against this film. Moonrise Kingdom remains my favorite, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is near the top.
I first heard buzz about Whiplash coming out of one of the early festivals of 2014. Everybody was saying J.K. Simmons was amazing and guaranteed an Oscar nomination. Well, when it finally got released in theaters, it lived up to the hype and exceeded my expectations. Simmons plays a drill instructor of a music teacher at a prestigious New York music school. Miles Teller, one of the best young actors out there right now, plays the drum student who wants to be great. Of course, the discussion about this film centers on the boundaries that are allowed to be crossed by teachers and people in authority when it comes to coaching and training kids and young adults; in pushing someone to greatness, is it possible to push them away instead? The film pulls no punches in this department while also making no apologies for Simmon’s R. Lee Ermey-like instructor, whose teaching philosophy is summed up in the statement, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” Aside from the discussion, the ending of this film is truly something to experience. Also, I thought Simmons’ “That’s not quite my tempo/Were you rushing or were you dragging?” scene should have become 2014’s “I drink your milkshake” phenomenon. Oh well.
Similar to when I saw The Tree of Life in 2011, I just knew when I walked out of the theater after seeing Boyhood this past summer that it was going to be at the top of my list. At first blush, there is nothing profound to the story of this film. It’s a film that follows the childhood of boy, Mason, from age 5 to 18.. Some people would say that director Richard Linklater could have saved time, used different actors to play Mason at different stages of his life, but it wouldn’t have been near the same kind of film then. There is something to be said for the process and the fortitude of sticking to this premise. Aside from documentary series, like Winterbottom’s Up series, this is unprecedented stuff. The time investment of the film invests you in the lives of the characters, watching the year-to-year ebbs and flows of their lives, the people who walk in and out of their lives, the relationships between the kids and their parents, all of it feels like a unique film experience. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are great as the divorced parents; Arquette should be the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress. Linklater should win best director, if for no other reason than the sheer ambition and determination of making a film like this and in this manner.