Originally published on http://www.Santanerozin.com – February 2015
It is that time of year again when the movie industry gets together and slaps each other in the butt for their own self-gratification. This year more than others, the academy awards are surrounded with controversy for their snubs. I personally don’t care for much of the controversy; I just love celebrating movies, an art form that captured my imagination since when I was but a wee lad sneaking into the movie theatres to watch Rated R films. So, as I have done in the years past at this time, I have compiled my top ten favorite movies of the past year, 2014. Here they are starting with number 10.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a smart, yet very weird and creepy looking loner out of a job and desperate to find one. He stumbles upon the world of freelance video journalism and decides to take it up as his profession. The movie centers on Lou and the lengths to which he goes to keep his career going. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is pure evil creepiness as the overly determined Lou. It was unfortunate that he was not recognized for it by the Academy. This movie is not for the Disney crowd. It is a dark film that really dives deep into our current social obsession with exhibition, voyeurism, and greed. With what will seem to most as a very unsatisfying film, I found it to be one of the more daring films of the year that really gave its audience no compromise. Its pure unethicalness is its most endearing quality.
Much has been talked about this film not getting certain nominations from the Academy (it was nominated for best picture and song). While I don’t buy the arguments accusing the Academy of racism, I find it unfortunate that the quality of this film has taken a back seat to the controversies that have surrounded it. Do I think the film deserved a little more recognition? Yes. Certainly, in my opinion, David Oyelowo deserved a nomination. His performance as Martin Luther King Jr. is spot on and he drove this movie with a passionate and intimate performance of a man entrusted with such a heavy responsibility. Do I think Ava DuVerney deserved recognition for her direction? No. While this film is a triumph in execution, there were just better made films this year than this one (some of which didn’t get nominated either). Snubs happen. It’s not racism, it’s an opinion on the overall quality of the film just as this whole list is an opinion on quality. Forget about the historical inaccuracies (every film based on a true story is going to have them), forget about the award snubs, just go watch this movie, it’s good, it’s really good, Oprah Winfrey notwithstanding.
The film centers on Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) in his freshman year at the fictional music college of Shaffer Conservatory in New York. Andrew is an aspiring jazz drummer who is plucked out of his class by the school’s Jazz band conductor Terrance Fletcher. Fletcher is every student’s nightmare; he insults and belittles his students who do not meet his high standards of excellence. When Andrew is singled out and ridiculed by Fletcher during a rehearsal, Andrew is determined to win over Fletcher’s approval.
Much has already been said about J.K Simmons’ performance as the evil Terrance Fletcher. He will win the Academy Award and I cannot argue against it. The man certainly deserves it. Miles Teller also does very well as the main protagonist, Andrew. He, apparently, did most of his own drumming. Miles is growing into a star very quickly since his breakout performances in The Spectacular Now. I can only see him get more and more good roles such as this one. The film is well done and it quickly sucks you into the frustrations and ambitions of the main character as he tries to fulfil his dream of becoming an elite jazz drummer despite Fletcher constantly yelling at his ear. The audience is made to wonder whether Fletcher has gone too far or is doing just right considering his philosophy on the world’s complacency with mediocrity.
- St. Vincent
Bill Murray gives one of his best performances as the grumpy Vietnam veteran, Vincent MacKenna. With an affinity for chain smoking, alcohol, and gambling on the ponies, Vincent plays out the last few years of his lonely life occasionally entertained by a Russian pregnant prostitute and avoiding his gambling debts. When new neighbors, Maggie and her son Oliver, move in next door, Vincent reluctantly takes the opportunity to make some much needed extra money by babysitting Oliver. Oliver turns out to be the friend Vincent needed to get his life back in line. While most would find the plot of this film formulaic, the film does a great job of taking a familiar story and still finding a way to engage us and strike us emotionally. The acting is what really drives the film. From Bill Murray’s excellent portrayal, to Melissa McCarthy’s subtle turn as the single mother trying to get by, to the young Jaeden Lieberher as the smart and curious Oliver, every actor in this film is perfectly casted. I cannot deny that the ending pulled a few tears from my eyes. Damn you, old fashioned storytelling!
- Gone Girl
David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven, The Social Network) directs yet another fine film, the mystery thriller, Gone Girl, based on the best-selling book of the same name by Gillian Flynn. Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne who comes home one morning to find his wife missing and seemingly kidnapped. Nick informs the authorities and is soon suspect number 1 in his own wife’s kidnapping and possible murder. The film is a tense mystery as we slowly begin to learn the history of this somewhat abnormal couple. Rosamund Pike, does a remarkable performance as the wife, Amy Dunne. I know Julianne Moore is going to win for her performance in Still Alice, but I am hoping Rosamund Pike pulls out an upset. She embodies this role and you can’t help but hate her, and at the same time, respect her cleverness.
- Big Hero 6
Ever since Disney bought out Pixar and hired all of its workers, the quality of Disney’s product has vastly improved from their lackluster years of the last decade. Big Hero 6 is probably the best Disney has put out since The Lion King. The main character, Hiro, is a highly intelligent young man who is interested in robotics. After his brother is killed in a fire, Hiro finds comfort and companionship from the balloon like healthcare robot, Baymax, a prototype built by his brother before his death. Baymax and Hiro partner-up to form a team of heroes set out to stop a villain that may have been connected to Hiro’s brother’s death. The charm of this movie is all in the character of Baymax. Baymax is a wonderful character reminiscent of Wall-e but without the robotic ET look. The film is a feel good, funny, and entertaining story about friendship. I haven’t seen very many animated films this year, so I can’t speak for the other nominees in the animated film category. All I know is that I loved this movie and it was one of only two movies this year that managed to make me shed some tears.
- The Imitation Game
Based on the real life story of Alan Turing, The Imitation Game tells the story of how Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a team of code breakers managed to break the code of the infamous German Enigma system. Turing who is one of the innovators of computer science, was a gay man living in a time when being gay was not just looked down upon, it was illegal. Despite his great accomplishments, Turing was convicted of indecency by the British government and forced to take hormonal treatments. Two years later, Turing took his own life. The film concentrates specifically on Turing’s time while working for the British government to break the Enigma code. Obviously, Turing was a genius and a somewhat social outcast. Cumberbatch plays him with great care and although Turing can be quite a jerk at times, we can’t help but like the man for his honesty and sheer genius. The film works as an excellent drama. Kiera Knightly plays Joan Clarke who helps Turing create a computing machine that can help solve Enigma. Although we know the ending, we are still at the edge of our seat as the team struggles to solve the great puzzle. Out of all the films this year based on a true story, this one is definitely the one to watch.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director, Wes Anderson, has always been hit or miss for me. The Royal Tenenbaums was great. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was just stupid. Moonrise Kingdom was cute and funny. The Darjeeling Limited was boring. Now, with The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson scored another hit for me. Gustave H. played by Ralph Fiennes, is a well-known concierge for the hotel that bears the film title’s name. The rich and famous of the fictional Republic of Zubrowka gather at this hotel to indulge in the services that only Gustave is able to give. Zero Mustafa, played by the very talented Tony Revolori, becomes Gustave’s most trusted lobby boy. When Gustave is framed for murder, Gustave and Zero are thrown into a series of hilarious events as the duo bumble their way to solve the mystery of the true murderers. Not since The Royal Tenenbaums has Wes Anderson been able to communicate his unique form of humor so well. There is a wonderful balance of good old fashioned physical comedy with dialogue driven comedy. The film is clever, smart, ridiculous, and silly all at the same time
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu has become a master auteur. His previous films, Babel, 21 Grams, and Amores Perros have all made previous top ten lists of mine. Birdman is yet another masterpiece and this time Iñarritu hit really close to my heart on this one. Michael Keaton is Batman for me (screw Christian Bale, Adam West, and all the other Batmans). Michael Keaton is Batman, dammit! Since then, I have always loved Keaton as an actor, although he has not done much of anything lately until this film. In Birdman, Keaton plays a washed up actor, Riggan, who, like Keaton in real life, once played an iconic superhero. The similarities are intentional and there are references to Keaton’s real life relation to the Batman films within Birdman.
Riggan is trying to jump start his career again by getting into theatre. The film takes place during the few weeks before the premiere of Riggan’s play. We follow Riggan as he deals with the struggles of getting the play to work in time for the premiere, and, at the same time, with his own insecurities and identity crises. The acting is superb in this film. Keaton is my pick to win the Oscar for Best Actor and Edward Norton, as the crazy method actor, Mike, is probably the only performer this year who can challenge J.K Simmons. Emma Stone, does a decent job as Riggan’s troubled daughter and Jack Galifianakis impresses with his dramatic, although still somewhat comedic, turn as Riggan’s agent. Since my number 1 film wasn’t nominated for best picture this year, my hope is that Birdman takes the prize away from Boyhood as I found Boyhood to be quite unexceptional. More importantly, Iñarritu deserves the directing win. The way this film was shot, showing no obvious cuts through-out the first two hours of the film and still have the film work so well is an accomplishment I do not think I have seen before. Plus, Iñarritu would become the second Mexican director in a row to win the prize, something I hope comes to fruition.
No other film this year blew my mind like Interstellar. I loved it so much that I watched it twice in theatres (yup, paid for it twice). Visually, it’s a stunning film. Its story is an epic mind fuck I enjoyed so much that I wanted it to keep going despite already getting close to the 3 hour run time. The film takes place in an unknown future time when the Earth has become one giant dust bowl and humanity is on the brink of extinction. Mathew McConaughey plays Cooper, an astronaut who is entrusted to save the world by travelling across the universe through a wormhole to find, essentially, Earth 2.0. He takes with him a team of scientists including Brand (Anne Hathaway), and Romily (David Gyasi). The team must venture into new worlds, galaxies, and even new dimensions to save humanity. Christopher Nolan has created yet another unique film that not only entertains as a blockbuster, but is clever, smart, and original. The film stayed with me for weeks occupying my mind and my conversations with friends. I know many movie nerds will disagree with me when I say this, but Interstellar is the 2001: A Space Odyssey of this generation. It is a film that I still think about deeply more than six months later after its first watch.