It really was an excellent year for films. 2014 brought with it releases by some of the world’s most innovative filmmakers in Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. There were several great performances by Timothy Spall, Benedict Cumberbatch, Marion Cotillard, Joaquim Phoenix and Ralph Fiennes, among others. And even some breakout performances in Elizabeth Moss, Rosamund Pike and Channing Tatum.
1. Boyhood, dir. Richard Linklater
An impressive achievement that should hold up as Linklator’s career defining moment. Boyhood follows the story of Texas kid Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from childhood to college. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are excellent as Mason’s dysfunctional parents, whose divorce acts as the primary event in the boy’s early life.
Filmed over 12 years, the actors age as the film moves along. It is a personal film as well. Linklater’s real-life parents also divorced and it is believed that there’s a lot of his own life in this movie. The Bush and early Obama years act as a good backdrop as well. It is beautifully shot and incredibly illuminating. It is cinema at its very best. And if it does not win Best Picture at the Oscars, it will be a great injustice.
2. Listen Up Philip, dir. Alex Ross Perry
A film that has flown under the radar. Jason Schwartzman plays Philip Lewis Friedman, a 30-something successful writer who is about to release his new novel. He is a generally insufferable character who spends much of his time reminding people of his success and alienating those who see the very little good there is in him, including his long-suffering girlfriend Ashley played by Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss.
It is a 1970s-style comedy that will remind you of Woody Allen’s best work. Jonathan Pryce is also very good as an aging writer named Ike Zimmerman who takes Philip under his wing. It is my hope that Elizabeth Moss gets nominated for Best Supporting Actress. This film deserves to be seen by more people.
3. The Imitation Game, dir. Morten Tyldum
The Imitation Game tells the real-life story Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the brilliant mathematician who helped decipher Nazi codes during the Second World War. Director Tyldum throws in war footage that is completely unnecessary. The real action take place at Bletchley Park, where Turing and his small team of codebreakers helped save a nation from destruction.
After the war, Turing was persecuted by the country he helped save because of his sexuality. The film includes an excellent supporting cast in Matthew Goode, Kiera Knightly, Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Allen Leech. It brilliantly captures how one man’s actions could make such a difference to people’s lives. It won the audience award in Toronto.
4. Inherent Vice, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon and set in 1970s Los Angeles. Joaquim Phoenix is at the very top of his game, playing Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello, a private investigator who is approached by an ex-girlfriend named Shasta (Katherine Waterston) to help keep a millionaire out of trouble. It is clear immediately that Sportello still has feelings for Shasta. And that Shasta might not be telling him the whole story.
Sportello begins to unravel a web of conspiracy that involves corrupt cops, drug dealers, government spies and drug-fueled hippies. Josh Brolin is also very good as a conflicted cop named Bigfoot, who hounds Sportello through much of the film. The story is very layered but it is easy to follow. I could see myself watching this one several times in the future.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel, dir. Wes Anderson
After a few dubs early last decade, Wes Anderson has fully returned to form. The Fantastic Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and now the Grand Budapest Hotel prove that Anderson is at the top of his game. Ralph Fiennes is again excellent as a concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel named Monsieur Gustave H. The film is set in a fictional Eastern European Republic of Zubrowka sometime between the two World Wars.
When one of Gustave’s confidant’s suddenly dies, he is immediately suspected of murder. Gustave goes on the run with a young lobby boy and trusted friend Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). Anderson creates another thoroughly enjoyable adventure that is illuminating and refreshing. It includes a wonderful ensemble cast in Adrian Brody, Tilda Swinton, Mathieu Amalric, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, and many more. This is a film that should improve with multiple viewings.
6. Two Days, One Night, dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Belgian brothers the Dardennes continue to make vivid, neo-realist classics. They take simple real-world problems and illuminate them. The wonderful Marion Cotillard proves once again that her talent is wasted in Hollywood. She plays a young working class mother who suffers from a mental illness and must fight to keep her job.
Her co-workers vote to accept bonuses on the condition that Cotillard’s character Sandra be laid off. However, her employer agrees to a re-vote. She has two days, one night to convince her co-workers that they should save her job. This film does what Hollywood is yet to do, make a film that truly captures the hardship of those that have been hit hardest by the recent global economic crisis. It is a film for our time.
7. Gone Girl, dir. David Fincher
This is my guilty pleasure of the year. Gone Girl is adapted from a best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn. Fincher has once again made a commercial film with brains. Ben Affleck is perfectly cast as Nick Dunne. On his five year anniversary his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Nick soon becomes the prime suspect.
It would be wrong to give away more of the plot. Affleck’s experience with ‘Bennifer’ makes him very believable in the role as the husband. Gone girl is an insightful look at media sensationalism. But it also captures the gradual breakdown of a marriage, made worse by difficult economic times. Neil Patrick Harris has a memorable role as Amy’s former boyfriend as well.
8. Only Lovers Left Alive, dir. Jim Jarmusch
Admittingly, I have never been a big fan of Jarmusch’s work. But Only Lovers Left Alive is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Tom Huddlestone and Tilda Swinton play vampires, who are married but live apart. Huddlestone’ character Adam is a successful musician but has become disillusioned by life. Eve (Swinton) comes to see Huddlestone in Detroit. The unexpected arrival of Eve’s younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) brings some unexpected consequences.
Although the film is light on plot, it matters little because it has an almost hypnotic quality to it. John Hurt, Waskisowski and Anton Yelchin are all excellent in supporting roles. It has a few memorable scenes that bring to mind Detroit’s past glory.
9. Foxcatcher, dir. Bennett Miller
Based on the real life relationship between John du Pont (Steve Carrell) an heir to the chemicals empire, and brothers Mark and David Schultz. Channing Tatum plays younger brother Mark, who since winning Gold at the 1984 Olympics has lost his passion for competition.
One day, Du Pont invites Mark to his Foxcatcher estate, offering to fund his training. Eventually, David (Mark Ruffalo), who also won Gold in Los Angeles, is brought on board. This sets off a series of events that ends with a murder. Carrell is excellent as a manipulative, cynical Du Pont who is driven by an unhealthy need to please his mother (Vanessa Redgrave). Tatum proves that he is more than just looks and muscle as well.
10. Mr. Turner, dir. Mike Leigh
Timothy Spall proves once again that he is one of his generation’s greatest actors. He plays J.M.W Turner the English 19th century painter whose blending of colour was revolutionary in his time.
Leigh divides the film into a series of events in the artist’s life. The film will test the audience’s patience but it is an ultimately rewarding film. Spall should get his first nomination for Best Actor. He captures Turner in every word, every movement and every grunt.