Published at: Jan. 1, 2015, 9:06 p.m. CST by headgeek
Hey folks, Harry here... I haven't done a top ten in two years. The reason, I didn't feel I had much to add to the critical wailing wall of praise those years and this year... I decided to not pay attention to any of the other critics out there. Not before making my list. There was an earlier version of this list that went to the AUSTIN FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION - but that was 3 weeks ago now... I always hate how early they demand our lists, cuz early December, for me at least, is the time where I really start digging through my notes on the year of film... where due to having screeners, I rewatch my faves aggressively... putting them into a battle off.
Creating lists of film and declaring one the best of them all... well, it's such a subjective experience - and really, I've always felt that I do this list for me, first and foremost. Now mind you, I've seen hundreds of films this year. I've watched an average of 5-7 films a day, every day. This is required for the PICKS & PEEKS column, but I've also been seeing everything in theaters. I hope that I'm better about writing up my reviews in 2015, Going to try to triple my efforts, but my schedule these days is pretty unforgiving just to watch the number of flicks I get sent. My favorite documentaries of 2014 are JODOROWSKY'S DUNE, RED ARMY, DINOSAUR 13, THE OVERNIGHTERS, THE LIFE & MIND OF MARK DeFRIEST and THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL - and they are all so completely different and wonderful, that I just absolutely love all five of those.
Before I get into this list - I have to say, I love HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF FIVE ARMIES, but I find it impossible to place in this list due to the film not really being a full on standalone film. I think the HOBBIT trilogy will grow in stature over the years. I found the latest one the most separate from the entire epic 6 film series. Mainly due to there not being a Flashback to start the film off. All 5 of the other films begin with some history, this one just instantly picks up where the previous film left off... but stylistically, it feels as though there's something missing there. I find, I will ultimately write up a big piece on the whole series once I've seen the Expanded version of this last one. Also I fucking loved THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA completely. And JOHN WICK tickles all the right sweet spots.
Now, let's dive in...
10: INHERENT VICE (Paul Thomas Anderson) - This is a film to allow your brain to be absorbed into Thomas Pynchon's novel by way of Paul Thomas Anderson's amazing vision. I love films that do period Seventies... PTA captured the light and the atmosphere that I remember - my parents were incredibly permissive and experimental - this film resonates deeply in that manner. When our house got burglarized in the Seventies, my Dad and his alternative friends began to do their own investigation, but the Austin Police department wouldn't lift a fucking finger to help 'hippies' in that era. Josh Brolin as a square drawn detectiive tickled me so. And the casual nudity of the film was just refreshing. Ultimately though, Joaquin Phoenix is just hypnotic in the film. Such a great vacation from the cynical times we currently ride.
9: THE IMITATION GAME (Morton Tyldum) - I love this story of Alan Turing, but the thing that most blows me away is the notion of inventing the modern computer to defeat the Nazis. It is just... a stunning leap of logic. It really didn't have anything of its like. It completely changed the world, decided WWII's victors, and all from a man that simply thought differently about a great many things. That he was trapped in a homophobic world is very much one of the great crimes against the United Kingdom. This man should have had the world serving his genius, I can't even imagine what else his mind might have conjured. Benedict Cumberbatch is tremendous in this film - and I have to say, I'm giddy about him getting to be DOCTOR STRANGE! So cool. Keira Knightley, whatta woman in this movie! Absolutely love her. But I also love the performances from Mark Strong, Allen Leech, Matthew Goode and Charles Dance. This movie makes you look at the world differently, that's really quite something special.
8. NIGHTCRAWLER (Dan Gilroy) - This was the closing night film of FANTASTIC FEST 2014... It had screened in Toronto, but I have to admit, I missed that coverage, so when I watched the film at FF 2014, I was watching it cold. I knew it starred Jake Gyllenhaal, but that was about it. Holy shit... The move made me tweet instantly upon leaving the theater that NIGHTCRAWLER was Fucking Amazeballs, and I've been delighted that the phrase has caught on so widely. I learned the exclamation from my friend Jed Strahm, years ago... but upon subsequent viewings of this film... the same phrase always returns. This isn't a film like many that we get anymore. It shows a man that could do the most ruthless, terrible and fear-inducing things, without batting an eye. There's something in his soul that's just broken - but watching him... I mean, that dinner date with Rene Russo is one of the most amazing scenes I've seen this year. Jake absolutely deserves the Oscar for Best Actor this year. He's just wow!
7. THE BABADOOK (Jennifer Kent) - Please - Nominate Essie Davis for her astonishing Best Actress performance in THE BABADOOK. This movie peels up the skin and just crawls under that bloody flap to tingle your spine and unhinge your mind. The best Horror film of the year by a very large margin. Watching William Friedkin lose his mind for the movie on Twitter was one of the highlights of social media this year for me. But I also completely respect it! I love when filmmakers find small films and demand that their audiences embrace them. That's how we're going to get better films. Everyone that loves a film, must help spread the word. THE BABADOOK is just a terrifying breath of fresh air! I bought it on PPV as soon as it became available... So great!
6. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Wes Anderson) - I love screwball comedy - and there's just not folks around that seem to make it often enough for my personal happiness... but let us give thanks to Ernst Lubitsch, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, George Cukor and Billy Wilder for giving Wes Anderson such wondrous films to get in the headspace to create a complete original like THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. This is highly stylized filmmaking - and bless it! Too many films have a sameness to them, this one stands apart. Fiennes is brilliant. The color palate of the film is just lovely. The film can pick your spirit up and make you feel goofy and happy. I love that. Also - what an amazing cast!
5. GRAND PIANO (Eugenio Mira) - I love this movie beyond reason. We don't get nearly enough... Hitchcockian thrillers for my tastes, and Eugenio Mira took the script by WHIPLASH director Damian Chazelle (and seriously - how fucking great is WHIPLASH?!?!? 10 is too short a list, but it's the tradition) WHIPLASH is more grounded. It's musical suspense and horror... but here, where Elijah Wood is returning to the location of his greatest performing failure as a world class Pianist, to pay tribute to his master, by playing his amazing Piano and an assassin forces him to play the impossible musical piece of the dead Master to unlock a mystery that few know of. I went in to see this one with zero expectations, and it was stunningly filmic! With Bill S Preston and Lloyd Dobler rounding out the cast with Frodo... I just went gaga for it!
4. BOYHOOD (Richard Linklater) - A towering film acheivement based upon the patience to just make the film the way Linklater chose to. Linklater is a film artist. Not always in the flashy ways of the boys that play with the big toys of cinema, instead - he uses a resource that too few even think to use. TIME. It isn't just the boy that ages, but Ethan and Patricia and Lorelei and the other characters in the film... but also... the cars, the places they go. This film reveals the amazing visual effect of the passage of time naturally, not with makeup or CG, but gravity and time impact the story so naturally that you forget it. The film plays with naturalism realism in a way that catches you off guard. The story doesn't have great plot twists and turns, it doesn't feel pushed in a direction, but allowed to live under direction. We're unlikely to see too many films of this type. Which is a shame. Patience is an exquisite virtue for a filmmaker!
3. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (Anthony & Joe Russo) - This top three films I've watched past any respectable number to share. I feel like these movies inject my own BOYHOOD better than any film about that passage of time. It isn't just that it stars Captain America and Black Widow and The Falcon... or that we get the Winter Soldier or even transcendence by way of reel to reel data storage... It's that this particular movie is actually actively subversive to the American way of life as we currently know it, and the character that is leading us through that is the very propagandistic character used to bolster our country's past battles. AND - Robert Redford is perfectly cast in the film... and Samuel L Jackson gets an incredible Nick Fury action sequence that has you gripping the chair you sit in. This film teaches us to question authority, to fight for our personal ideals all while working to remind us what those ideals are. That's an awful lot for a "comic book movie!" Very happy that the Russo's are heading up CIVIL WAR. Holy shit, the future is so cool.
2. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (James Gunn) - The first Marvel movie that I feel absolute confidence in saying... it's better than the comics these charactes have called their own. The movie flabbergasts me. I've enjoyed many of James Gunn's films, but the leap to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - is the exact same level of HOLY FUCK, WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE - that happened when Peter Jackson made LORD OF THE RINGS - and something that an industry was doubting, exceeded all conceivable expectations. That this film has repopularized CASSETTE TAPES, just makes me giddy. Seriously. Every performance works, all the silly feels right. You care about every outrageous character in the film. At the very same time, it's about finding one's place in the universe - a theme that couldn't be more resonate for Gunn himself. I'm giddy to see where he goes from here... The next GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is just too damn far away.
1. THE RAID 2 (Gareth Evans) - Hands down the best film of the year... and it's a fucking badass martial arts film that this country was too fucking stupid to worship as the best film of the year! Giggle. I'm biased as fuck, not because I know Gareth Evans... I don't really, we've exchanged a few messages online a few times, but I've never really have had the pleasure to just hang out with him. I also don't know anybody on screen in the film. But, my gateway drug to cinema was KUNG FU MOVIES. THE RAID 2 is the best foreign language movie of the year. It's got better dialogue, better shots, better characters and the best most riveting story of the year. The cinematography is brilliant. The music... amazing. This is the GODFATHER 2 of Martial Arts movies, only... as great as GODFATHER 2 is... and I've watched it a whole lot in my life. THE RAID 2 I will watch like a little girl watches FROZEN. This movie makes me throw blocks and punches as I watch it. It's excellent cardio - and - until MAD MAX: FURY ROAD - it's likely to be your favorite adrenaline flick you see. I really am conflicted about Gareth Evans. He's currently the best director shooting right now, and while I'm absolutely convinced that he would make a giant film that would bring the old gods back to Earth just to fucking watch it... but, if he's happy making films at this scale, I haven't been this excited by an Action Filmmaker since the heyday of JOHN WOO and RINGO LAM.