Looking Back: Jeremy Chooses His Top 10 Favorite Films of 2014
by Jeremy Kirk
December 29, 2014
"This has been such a bad year for movies." That odd statement inevitably rears its head throughout social media pretty much every year. The easy response, the right response, to such a statement is, "You haven't seen enough movies." There are always great films out there just waiting to be found, incredible pieces of cinema mixed in with all the weekly, standard garbage lovers of film have to sift through. It's always worth sifting through to find the diamonds in the rough, those quality treasures of exceptional filmmaking and storytelling. So now I present to you my own Top 10 Films of 2014 that I am thankful to have discovered.
#10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Leave it to Matt Reeves, the man who made Cloverfield such an epic and interesting event and actually gave us a damn good American remake to Let the Right One In, to take the Planet of the Apes franchise in directions both exciting and intelligent. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is more than just a solid follow-up to 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a solid enough blockbuster of its own. Dawn effortlessly depicts a civilization on the brink of taking over this planet, a revolutionary war picture that stands up to the best of them, and a highly engaging entry into one of the greatest franchises sci-fi cinema has to offer. That's to say nothing of the incredible special effects and motion capture technology working to bring Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell's respective characters, Caesar and Koba, to phenomenal life. It's an adventure well worth taking and a science fiction motion picture that ranks among the best.
#9. Why Don't You Play in Hell?
Shion Sono's incredible, bizarre, feverish, whirlwind of a movie is everything a lover of cinema is looking for. The director who gave us such recent gems as Love Exposure and Cold Fish may have very well crafted his masterpiece with Why Don't You Play In Hell? The only apprehension with making such a statement comes with knowing Sono's skills as a filmmaker are only getting stronger. His latest, Tokyo Tribe, is definitely one to watch in 2015 and may very well be better than this one. For now, though, Why Don't You Play In Hell? stands as an exceptional work of art, dizzying in its frantic pace yet worked together with an extraordinary design. It's the kind of work that makes one draw comparisons with the greats, and Sono's film would be right up the alley of any Tarantino fan. Why Don't You Play In Hell? is a film that defies description, and it's just as well. You should be seeking it out to experience it for yourself.
Before 2014 I had never heard the name Damien Chazelle, but now, after having watched his feature film debut, Whiplash, I can safely say it's a name in filmmaking I will continue to seek out. Whiplash is an intense look at perfection and what it takes to reach such a thing. JK Simmons' performance as a ruthless instructor of a music conservatory has been drawing comparisons to R. Lee Ermey's drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket, a comparison worth making. The role is that intense. The scenes are that unnerving. But at its heart Whiplash serves as a painful truth. Perfection requires ruthless instruction, and the absolute worst thing you can do to motivate someone to perfection is by telling them, "Good job." Through wicked-speed editing and marvelous camera work from cinematographer Sharone Meir, Whiplash is a furious and powerful film from start to finish, a total-package motion picture that should end up as required viewing in today's high schools. That may be a little extreme, but the kids will, at least, get the point.
#7. The Babadook
It goes without saying that the best films found in the horror genre are those going for much more than cheap thrills that make their audiences jump. What should be expressed, though, is subtlety in that message is key to making great horror. The Babadook is great horror. The debut film from Jennifer Kent, it succeeds in cinematic terror from its atmosphere, scares, and subtext. The two former have their key moments, including one frightening monster design. But the subtext of the depression that seeps into the broken mind of a single mother, struggling at every turn with her troubled child after her husband has died a horrible death.
The Babadook symbolizes that darkness that can crawl its way into such a person's mind, and Kent's handling of every aspect of this tale is subtle yet all the more horrifying. Add to all of that arguably the strongest performance of the year by a female lead. Essie Davis emotes pain in every frame of the film. She's as much a factor in creating The Babadook's sincerity as the nightmarish film Kent has built around her. Yes, The Babadook can include itself in the chapter on great works of cinematic art. It does so by transcending the entire genre in which it places itself.
#6. Jodorowsky's Dune
I've always seen Alejandro Jodorowsky as a filmmaker to admire above one to like. The man is definitely a visionary, but, personally, I never grasped the emotional depths of his films. The documentary Jodorowsky's Dune changed all of that. Director Frank Pavich tells the tale of Jodorowsky's legendary attempt at bringing Frank Herbert's Dune to the big screen. The ultimate film failed to be made, but the artwork, production design, and visual aids Jodorowsky and crew created built the science fiction movie universe we know and love today.
It amazes me to think not only of this amazing vision of sci-fi that never was against the science fiction that wouldn't have been created - or drastically changed - had Jodorowsky succeeded. Stars Wars and Alien are just a few examples - the only examples you need in this case - of artistic designs inspired by what could have been with Jodorowsky's Dune. Beyond that, the film explores the visionary director's passion, the love he has in what he does and the very size of it. This documentary makes me now see Jodorowsky as a filmmaker whose passion is large enough to create cinematic universes, the films that often have people making comparisons to Kubrick and 2001. For the sheer enjoyment of discovering the size of this man's passion, I couldn't help but find a place for Jodorowsky's Dune on my Top 10 list.
#5. The LEGO Movie
For the longest time during 2014 this was the movie to beat in my view. The LEGO Movie overshadowed the incessantly hokey and pandering family genre in which it lay, not to mention the toy-int0-movie adaptations that still yearn to become a Hollywood thing. To be perfectly honest it wasn't that big of a surprise this film turned out as well as it did. With Phil Lord and Chris Miller on board everything was going to be awesome.
The juggernaut filmmaking duo could have easily put two films on this list, 22 Jump Street being one of the funniest and most clever films of the year, never mind within its own bloated genre. The same can be said for The LEGO Movie, that one animation movie that comes around every so often and perfectly nails everything it's going for. From the animation style to the pitch-perfect voices - Will Arnett as Batman? Come on! - to that damn song. You know the title. Sing it with me. Everything very much is awesome.
To avoid spoiling anything about Foxcatcher, whenever I'm describing it to someone, I go to director Bennett Miller's past work. He did Moneyball and Capote, and, looking at those film next to each other, you get an idea of what to expect from Foxcatcher. At once a 30 for 30-style tale, some forgotten moment in sports history that haven't been discussed in some time and the masterly crafted reenactments of those moments. Miller continues to prove his worth in the director's world, patiently moving his story at a deliberate pace towards its inevitable conclusion.
It doesn't matter if you've heard how Foxcatcher ends if the journey getting there is as expertly put together as this. A flawless execution is filled with flawless performances, from Steve Carell's immersion into the creepy character of John du Pont…I'm sorry, Golden Eagle, to the magnificent pair of hulking hearts found deep within the performances of Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Foxcatcher is a classic case of brilliant, old-school Hollywood filmmaking, the kind of film that rarely gets made any more. Thankfully, every now and then, they find a way into film history, and, if history is to continue repeating itself, Bennett Miller is sure to be the filmmaker who will bring them to us.
#3. Only Lovers Left Alive
When Jim Jarmusch speaks it's usually a pretty good idea to listen. When he speaks as he does in Only Lovers Left Alive it's enough to bring even the most cynical viewer of film to tears. The love story of two vampires, Adam and Eve, is as bumpy as it is beautiful, as rugged as it is effortlessly smooth, the storyteller fitting in moments of dark humor along the melancholic way. He glides stars Tom Hiddleston - proving here why exactly he was in the running to headlong a remake of The Crow - and Tilda Swinton through his hypnotic world of the supernatural with results both comic and sad never forcing too much or holding too far back. Jarmusch's storytelling voice and filmmaking eye often come together with masterful outcomes. Only Lovers Left Alive, with its expertly crafted words, playfully literate structure, and sincere world-building, easily ranks among his greatest works to date, arguably at the top. Hell, give Jarmusch the keys to The Crow franchise…starring Hiddleston. At the very least we know it'll be interesting.
#2. Inherent Vice
Some movies require repeat viewing. You have to sit through it a few times to take in all the subtext and subtle agendas. Then there are films like Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel about drugs and kidnapping and sex in drug-fuelled California of 1970. The film requires repeat viewing simply to latch onto the general plot. That would be a daunting task were the film not the dynamic, thrilling, trippy ride that it is. Anderson has created a stoner comedy for the modern age, smart enough to know what it is but not so pretentious that it hides what sense of humor it has.
Joaquin Phoenix gives a raucous lead performance as a PI trying to work through his stoner haze to actually do some good in the world while Josh Brolin turns in a solid and hilarious supporting turn as his straight-arrow, LAPD nemesis. Also notable are the supporting players - Martin Short, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, and the rest of the eccentric lot - who litter Anderson's world with outlandish vibrancy. The atmosphere may have grown dull and stale in this '70s-era California, but the players remain ever-colorful. Anderson remains firmly at the top of his game. Every piece of cinematic art serves as evidence for why he is well-regarded as master of his craft. Whether it's a serious, turn-of-the-century drama against decadent oil fields or a bizarre tale of one man's vision for a new religion or, yes, even a stoner comedy, Anderson's subtle stylings and impeccable eye for detail makes each and every one of his films an event picture. Here's to 20 more years, at least, of having PT Anderson at the top of his game.
Over 2014's Summer, at the Rolling Roadshow event where I first saw Snowpiercer, it didn't take long for Bong Joon-ho's film to completely and utterly captivate me. The basic conceit had me interested, a sci-fi, action epic where the remaining humans left on the planet live their lives on a train that's constantly in motion, constantly circling the Earth, and the class system built within that can go nowhere but towards revolution. To read the original source material, the French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, you realize just how much Bong and Kelly Masterson had to invent to create the film they've given us. Within the film, however, little details begin to emerge from the first time you experience it, details that resonate all the way through to your sixth or seventh time boarding the adventure.
From Tilda Swinton's phenomenal, near unbelievable, performance - I still laugh out loud when she says, "Size 10 chaos." - to those long shots where Bong allows you to see the movement of the train from the interior all the way to those final 30 minutes when Ed Harris turns in a dynamite villain performance as essentially a fairy tail villain. Wilford is a crazy man, holding all of humanity in his toy train while he gets to play God. And the children. Oh, the children… I'll remain vague as there are some secrets in Snowpiercer that should not be given away freely.
Every nut and bolt on this post-apocalyptic train are perfectly placed, efficiently tightened, and the entirety of the work moves at a seamless pace. There are big ideas and layers of hidden meanings scattered throughout Snowpiercer, questions it demands you raise and just enough of the puzzle to come up with your own logical answers. Snowpiercer is the perfect cinematic toy a movie-lover with child-like curiosity could hope to find. There are many locked doors in Bong's twisty and serpentine fairy tale, and finding the keys on your own is the reason why his film is so rewarding.
Honorable Mentions: 22 Jump Street, Afflicted, The Battered Bastards of Baseball, Big Bad Wolves, Blue Ruin, The Boxtrolls, Boyhood, Calvary, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Citizenfour, Cheap Thrills, Cold in July, Dead Snow 2, The Drop, Enemy, Escape from Tomorrow, Filth, Force Majeur, Frank, Fury, Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Guest, Honeymoon, Housebound, The Internet's Own Boy, Interstellar, The Interview, Joe, John Wick, Locke, Magic in the Moonlight, Moebius, Neighbors, Nightcrawler, Noah, Obvious Child, The One I Love, The Overnighters, The Purge: Anarchy, The Raid 2, The Sacrament, Selma, The Skeleton Twins, Starry Eyes, The Strange Color Of Your Body's Tears, Stretch, The Theory of Everything, They Came Together, Under the Skin, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Wetlands, and Wild, so don't tell me there were no good movies in 2014.
What I Missed: 20,000 Days On Earth, Beyond the Lights, Big Hero 6, Cake, Dear White People, The Dog, Ernest & Celestine, The Fault In Our Stars, Ida, Life Itself, Mommy, Mr. Turner, Particle Fever, Top Five, The Tribe, The Trip to Italy, Two Days, One Night, Venus in Fur, and We Are the Best!
Stay tuned, because Ethan Anderton and Alex Billington will be delivering their favorite films of 2014!
What do you think of Jeremy's Top 10 Films of 2014? Agree or disagree with these picks?