Keith’s Top Ten Movies of 2014

This year, far too many prominent movies shackled themselves to real-life stories – with all the unfortunate compromises that entails.  Many of the most critically praised movies (Birdman, Boyhood, The Lego Movie) were disappointing.  And the blockbusters often seemed more accomplished – and more resonant – than the “serious” films.

The first five spots on this list were easy to fill; after that, I had to do some digging to come up with movies I could feel comfortable praising.  Does that make it a bad movie year?  Possibly.  But then again, I saw only 34 new movies in 2014, so maybe it’s all my fault.

#1: Whiplash

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A breath of fresh air, a punch in the gut – a tight, propulsive, delicious thriller, and a blaring announcement of director Damien Chazelle’s arrival in the ranks of major filmmakers.

#2: Life Itself

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A rich and moving celebration of Roger Ebert, the art form he loved, and the exceptional life he lived.

#3: Edge of Tomorrow

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Tense, funny, imaginative, and thrilling – everything a Hollywood action movie should be.

#4: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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Another piece of sharp and ruthless storytelling from the series that’s probably the best franchise going.

#5: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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A welcome return to form for Bryan Singer, who brings a great deal of precision and style to the now-crowded superhero genre.  Some of this movie is clumsy, but what’s good is really good.

#6: The Theory of Everything

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Of all this year’s shameless glut of biopics, this is the most warmly human – and Eddie Redmayne’s performance is jaw-droppingly good.

#7: I Origins

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Imperfect, but distinctive and thought-provoking – as well as a tribute to how effective low-budget sci-fi can be.

#8: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Nobody makes a Wes Anderson movie like Wes Anderson.  Is there something inescapably precious about the whole undertaking?  Absolutely.  But is there real feeling underneath the compulsive dazzlement?  In this case, I think so.

#9: Foxcatcher

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It’s an icy little number, and a bit too deliberate – but it’s superbly made.

#10: Boyhood

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Yeah, I know I said it was overrated – and I stand by that.  But it’s also a warm-hearted portrait of a loving American family, and I’d say there are worse things a movie can be.

 

Honorable Mention: Penguins of Madagascar.  Not a deathless classic, but lots and lots of fun.

Worst Movie of the Year: The Monuments Men.  So bad and so smug that I wish it were a person, so I could slap it in the face.

Most Overrated: Birdman.  “Half-baked” is the best word.

 

For the record, here’s the full list of 2014 movies I’ve seen to date:

 

American Sniper

Big Eyes

Birdman

Boyhood

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Chef

Edge of Tomorrow

Foxcatcher

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

God Help the Girl

Gone Girl

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

I Origins

The Imitation Game

Interstellar

The Interview

Into the Woods

John Wick

The Lego Movie

Life Itself

Low Down

The Monuments Men

A Most Wanted Man

Nightcrawler

Penguins of Madagascar

Selma

The Skeleton Twins

The Theory of Everything

Two Days, One Night

The Two Faces of January

Whiplash

X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 4:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

American Sniper

(Clint Eastwood, 2014)

with Anna Melo, Williamsburg Cinemas, 2/19/15

5

American-Sniper

An especially lucid illustration of a timeless principle: real life isn’t a very good screenwriter.  As the credits rolled at the end of the movie, a woman a few rows back from me gave vent to a perfectly spontaneous, beautifully eloquent reaction: “What???

She was right.  The fact that it really happened is no excuse.  It’s a terrible ending – arbitrary, abrupt, and meaningless.  It makes an otherwise excellent movie – full of emotional tension and moral struggle – seem, in retrospect, like a cruel and clumsy joke.

Screenwriters: don’t let real life write your movies for you.  They’re movies.  You’re writers.  Write them yourselves.

Published in: on February 22, 2015 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nightcrawler

(Dan Gilroy, 2014)

with Mike Lavoie, 378 Bond St., 2/18/15

5

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Slick and suspenseful, but let down by a whimper of an ending.  The “bad guy does bad things” genre is naturally a little repetitive, and since we’re never in much doubt that Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is a ruthless creep, there’s a limited amount of shock value in watching him do creepy/ruthless things.  Scene by scene, Nightcrawler works very well, but it’s hard to say what we’re left with when it’s over.  Maybe just a general icky feeling about Los Angeles?

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 4:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Selma

(Ava DuVernay, 2014)

with Jess de Martine, BAM Rose Cinema, 2/13/15

6

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What a maddening mixed bag this is.  The editing is distracting and disorienting, violating every known rule of visual storytelling, to no obvious purpose.  Some scenes are awkward, and some are heavy-handed, while others are measured and nuanced and alive with insight.  Martin Luther King remains a bit of a cipher throughout, half-humanized and half-mythologized – both familiar and unknowable.  The crowd scenes have great visual impact and symbolic power, and the backroom scenes provide a fascinating glimpse at the strategy behind the symbolism.  All in all, there’s a lot to admire here – and a lot to regret, too.

Published in: on February 20, 2015 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Two Days, One Night

(Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014)

with Darcy and Theo Meneau, IFC Center, 1/31/15

5

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Located on the hairline crack between dull and sublime – and, at times, somehow managing to be both – Two Days, One Night makes a virtue of its simplicity, but never transcends its ordinariness.  It’s hard to sympathize with a protagonist who’s her own worst enemy, but that’s the challenge the Dardennes have set for themselves, and there’s something noble about their insistence that everyone – even those who have to be dragged to it kicking and screaming – deserves a shot at redemption.  Theirs is a world of moral grays, a world of small gestures, a world of quiet, unheralded courage and petty, unpunished spite – in other words, it’s our world, with all the familiar frustrations and satisfactions that go along with it.  Is there something perverse about creating drama from such unrelenting mundanity?  Yes.  Is there nevertheless something admirable about it?  Probably yes, too.

Published in: on February 3, 2015 at 4:43 pm  Leave a Comment