The Top 10 Films of 2014 (Part II)
After some delay, here is the second half of my top 10 list for the films of 2014, which will cover my five favorite films from this past year. If you’d like to see my selections for numbers 10-6, you can check them out here.
So, without any further adieu, here are my top five selections for the top ten films of 2014…
5) “Nightcrawler” (Dir. Dan Gilroy)-
Before I had the chance to see “Nightcrawler”, nearly all of the buzz surrounding the film was centered on Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformative and creepy performance. Gyllenhaal lives up to the hype here (more on that later), but “Nightcrawler” is also deserves praise as a great film on its own merits. Dan Gilroy, a first time director here and brother of “Michael Clayton” director Tony Gilroy, also wrote the screenplay and has done a fantastic job. Within the first minute, he has established Gyllenhaal’s sociopathic character Lou Bloom as an upwards climber with absolutely no moral compass and the rest of the film gradually demonstrates what a dangerous combination that is. Gilroy, with assistance from master cinematographer Robert Elswit, paints a foreboding picture of Los Angeles at night, establishing the city as a key character of its own within the film. The supporting cast isn’t deep, with only two other characters besides Bloom of any real significance, but Riz Ahmed as Gyllenhaal’s guileless employee and especially Rene Russo (who’s married to Gilroy in real life) as a newscast producer who becomes professionally entangled with Bloom, are both terrific. That being said, however, by its conception this film is a showcase for Gyllenhaal and he delivers in spades here. The performance is a tour-de-force, with Gyllenhaal managing to be both magnetic and repulsive at the same time.
4) “Gone Girl” (Dir. David Fincher)-
Any film from David Fincher (“Zodiac”, “Fight Club”, “The Social Network”), my favorite director working today, is a near guarantee for a list like this. However, that shouldn’t detract from the fact that he has once again delivered a powerhouse thriller in the form of “Gone Girl”. Fincher is paired here with Gillian Flynn (who wrote the screenplay and authored the best-seller from which this is based), and their authorial voices are a perfect match. While the twisty plot mechanics of “Gone Girl” become increasingly ridiculous as the film progresses, Fincher and Flynn have imbued the film with a self-aware sense of humor about the proceedings to help keep things grounded. The film also benefits from Ben Affleck’s convincing and restrained central performance. This is the kind of performance that never quite gets its due because Affleck makes it all look so easy. It also doesn’t help Affleck that his quiet performance is in many ways overshadowed by co-star Rosamund Pike’s showier performance. Pike, a familiar face who’s never been given an opportunity like this before, delivers a star-making turn that will be talked about for years to come.
3) “Foxcatcher” (Dir. Bennett Miller)-
Before “Foxcatcher”, director Bennett Miller only had two other narrative features to his credit (“Capote” and, more recently, “Moneyball”) and his selectivity with his projects pays off again with his latest. His patience in choosing his projects in only matched by his patience as a filmmaker. He is able to build a mood of unease quietly by letting scenes play out and letting his actors convey so much through just body language alone. Channing Tatum continues to show surprising range as an actor here, delivering a performance of intense physicality. As Tatum’s character’s brother, Mark Ruffalo offers up what may be the best work of his career. Because Tatum is asked to play a very troubled soul, Ruffalo counters by offering this often chilly film a warm, human center. Although all three central performances are impressive showcases for their respective actors, it’s Steve Carell’s career redefining work here that left the strongest impression on me. His usual charming goofball screen persona is challenged here (with the aid of some physically transformative makeup) through a chilling, creepy performance that perfectly taps into the mental state of a deeply lonely and disturbed man.
2) “Boyhood” (Dir. Richard Linklater)-
It’s hard to know what else to say at this point that hasn’t already been said about Richard Linklater’s twelve year experiment of a film. I think the film has been oversold by some because of the central gimmick, but beyond that gimmick, “Boyhood” is a terrific slice of life film that struck a very personal chord with me. If you are willing to be patient with the films’ low-key, essentially plotless rhythms than there is something in “Boyhood” that will feel relaltable to your own life experience regardless of your age, gender or your upbringing. The film resonated for me personally because it progresses over a similar timespan of my own childhood, so in that sense it felt like my own generational experience was playing up their on the screen from my early childhood to where I am now. However, Linklater is not only telling my generation’s story, but a universal story of growing up, and he captures the fleeting moments of adolescence with great poignancy and the naturalistic eye of a documentarian.
and my number one film of 2014 is…
6) “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Dir. Wes Anderson)-
Although it didn’t resonate with me as strongly upon first viewing, this choice was made easy given that “Grand Budapest Hotel” is the rare treat of a film that only improves upon repeat viewings. Anderson has long made a signature out of his quirky, splendid visual design, but in previous films he failed to populate the frame with convincing human characters. In his last few films, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “Moonrise Kingdom” and especially here he has found an underlying humanity, marking “Grand Budapest” as his best to date. The craftsmanship here is even more extravagant than in previous outings, and the film builds the beautifully designed titular setting into a character in-and-of-itself. But where “Grand Budapest” really stands out as the finest work of Anderson’s career is through the central character of M. Gustave, the elegantly refined hotel concierge brilliantly rendered on the page by Anderson and brought to vivid life through Ralph Fiennes portrayal. Fiennes, in what may be the best performance of his career, captures the silly eccentricities of the character without ever losing sight of his dignified humanity, which pays of in the surprisingly poignant epilogue. The ludicrously large supporting cast (many of whom are Anderson regulars) are all wonderfully game here, and it’s nice to see Anderson allowing some of these characters to be more emotionally accessible than is often the norm for him. Above all, “Grand Budapest” is a very enjoyable viewing experience, one with a, unexpected depth to match its colorful wit.