This past year in film was filled with high expectations. There were some disappointments, a few good biographical films from England, exceptional ensemble casts, and a film twelve years in the making. The word, “subjective” is proudly displayed in the title because, by nature, I am a very impressionable person, guided by who I am with, what I had to eat or drink and whatever mood that results. Sitting in a dark theater watching credits, trying to embrace what I just watched, Karen’s interpretation of the film, Calvary confirmed what I was feeling. Released in August, no other stood up to the power of this film.
#1 – Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
Maybe it was the modern, intimate Volant Theater in Austin, Texas, maybe the spring rolls and beer that I carried into the
small house, but the little heralded Irish film, Calvary moved me like no other film in 2014. From the startling opening line to the last scene, this is a bold film delivered by Brendan Gleeson’s brilliant portrayal of a priest in remote northern Ireland, A creatively aberrant screenplay and a topical issue of these times, the plot is unveiled in the opening scene with a threat that is consuming throughout as the story reveals a wave of eccentric characters that could all be the ultimate antagonist. The priest’s connection with his confused daughter reveals much depth and integrity to Gleeson’s innocent character as he confronts peril connected to the issue of child abuse within the Catholic church. It may not be for the timid, but Calvary delivers realism through good writing, exceptional film-making and deserves to be called one of the best films of 2014.
#2 – Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro Inarritu)
My expectations for Birdman were high. A dark comedy and Michael Keaton always seems to be a good marriage. The
cast, with names like Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Zack Galifianakis begs the question, “Why did so many fine actors choose this film?” because it clearly could not be for the money. Lastly, director Alejandro Inarritu usually rides the fence between mysticism and reality. In a biographical twist, Keaton portrays yesterday’s celebrity superhero who puts his heart, soul and legend into producing his own play, based on an obscure novel. The future of his career, his relationships, his self-worth is on the line while he fights off the pressures of a scattered past. Norton delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the obnoxious, narcissistic co-star and Emma Stone’s character balances compassion and confusion. So, just throw caution in the wind and enjoy the film that would get my vote.
#3-A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn)
From a John Carre’ novel on international espionage, A Most Wanted Man features Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his
last role, as a crusty, veteran German spy obsessed with the capture of an illegal with ties to a terrorist organization. A reluctant collaboration with an American CIA agent, played by Robin Wright leads to much intrigue and suspense with an unexpected twist at the end. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance was so seamless that I fully foresaw an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately, an early release date may have resulted in the film and performance being overlooked.
#4-Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
There has never been another film like Boyhood. Taking 12 years to make a film with two
important child characters is always a risk. However, I was most intrigued with the physical, emotional and maturational changes in the adult characters, namely Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, both deserving of their nominations. Overall, this is a story of survival and, in my two-hour snapshot, I felt like a 12-year friend of the family. Director Richard Linklater created the groundbreaking experiment and it worked. It would be unfortunate to make him wait another 12 years for an Oscar.
#5-The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
What’s not to like about Wes Anderson films, quirky stories developed around quirky characters that seem to attract the best actors in the world. Although The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a
brilliant screenplay and great performances, led by Ralph Fiennes, what sets it apart, for me, was the extraordinary
cinematography. This was a beautiful film to watch and, not since the French film, Amelie, have colors played such a significant role in the enjoyment of a movie. Let’s all root for cinematographer Robert Yeoman to win Oscar.
#6 – The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)
The idea of a mathematician developing a machine that breaks the German “enigma” code, literally ending WWII, later to be persecuted by the same government he served for being homosexual would make a compelling screenplay. Actually, it is a true story that needed to be told. Benedict Cumberbatch does indeed deliver a gifted performance as Alan Turing, the man who actually did break the code and was later prosecuted for his sexuality. Kiera Knightly’s character as a young female mathematician living with the glass ceiling for woman in the 40’s, added good chemistry.
#7 – The Theory of Everything (James Marsh)
The second big British biopic featured Eddie Redmayne’s staggering portrayal of acclaimed physicist Stephen Hawking during his famous research and struggles with the onset of ALS disease. While
Redmayne’s performance makes him an Oscar frontrunner, I found Felicity Jone’s role of Jane Wilde Hawking to be a major force in the film and she deserves her nomination. The Theory of Everything had everything from beautiful cinematography to compelling drama.
#8 – American Sniper (Clint Eastwood)
The focus of this film was the man, the human being that was Chris Kyle and what led to his role
and legend as a famous sniper. That being said, Bradley Cooper does an admiral job delineating the man who saw himself as a protector. The film contains realism that is, at times, hard to watch, but any judgements on the controversial subject were left to the viewer, as it should be. Clint Eastwood’s low-key, efficient style makes this film work.
#9 – Gone Girl (David Fincher)
I liked Gone Girl, I even liked the ending. Having not read the book, I found it to be a classic thriller, unique in its own way, with a rememberable performance by Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne, the lovely young wife who becomes something else. Who would have thought.
#10 – Rosewater (John Stewart)
I give the nod to Rosewater, John Stewart’s first venture into film, due to the timely topic and Gael Garcia Bernal’s riveting performance as Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who
was detained for over 100 days in an Iranian prison because of a satirical interview on Stewart’s, “The Daily Show.” The film has some flaws, but the interchange between the Bahari character and the interrogator was worth the price of admission.
If you can find them, “Me And My Moulton” and “Boogaloo and Graham” are highly recommended in the Animated Short and Live Short categories. Enjoy the movies!