Welp, enough with all of the heartfelt reflection – it’s time for the big show. You know, the one that involves me actually divulging my top ten films of 2014 in a typically untimely fashion. Existential redundancy aside, I implore you to peruse, possibly enjoy and, above all, chime in with (dis)agreeances and general commentary.
The Immigrant is exactly what one can and should expect from Gray – a markedly unique melodrama laced with a fervent devotion to its key players. Putting aside the familiarity of Cotillard’s Ewa’s ever-present, moreover era-specific plight, the script manages to illustrate Phoenix’s antagonistic Bruno and his foil without ringing biased. Sure, he’s the bad guy as evidence suggests, however Gray laces this tragic period piece with a sort of multifaceted illustration of why he’s an asshole, why he’s forever envious of Ewa’s could-be savior Orlando (Jeremy Renner) and everything in between as complications predictably but engagingly benchmark the proceedings.
If you’ll be so gracious as to free your mind of vapid genre archetypes, I’ll gladly present you with Only Lovers Left Alive. While immortality is treated like some bullshit members-only commodity in similarly-focused trash, the film in question explores vampiric existentialism with notable aplomb. It treats its central couple as a truly immortal pair – one that’s logically accrued centuries’ worth of knickknacks and knowledge as they both remain unquestionably in love. Not without their respective personal and shared problems, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are one especially welcome departure in the vein of their bloodsucking cinematic predecessors.
I’m going to block Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy from my memory-stricken subconscious for a moment here, if only because The Double is the superior of two comparable efforts. Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of the titular Dostoyevsky novel only suffers at the hands of those not immediately enamored with its retro dystopian stylings. Although a Gilliam-esque aeshetic permeates the film’s entirety, The Double‘s overall presentation is what separates it from the pack. Eisenberg is stupendous as always and poignancy is a constant as said talent walks a tricky tightrope with ease.
It goes without saying that Listen Up Philip‘s detractors are most likely, well, less than enamored with the central character’s relentless demeanor. For fans of quick-witted, exceptionally straightforward narcissism though, Alex Ross Perry’s latest embraces the coinciding vitriol with a vigor nearly everything else is afraid to. It’s all steadfastly unflinching in an alternately nostalgic and refreshing way that demands attention, but I can see why you hate it if you do.
Hamstrung by distributors’ misconception of American moviegoers, Snowpiercer was a highly anticipated enigma that ultimately delivered what it promised. Thriving in its familiarly allegorical but lovingly crafted dystopian bubble, the film’s on-the-nose commentary becomes entirely forgivable as chaos reigns. Not only are bets off from the get-go – this film breaks the fucking handle clean off the faucet of predictability. It’s gleefully irreverent, appropriately gratuitous as such and, although it veers off the rails (pun intended) in its latter moments, Snowpiercer‘s ability to transform a technologically marvelous train and a disgruntled lower class’ uprising into cinematic bliss transcends both genre tropes and viewers’ expectations alike.
Entirely crowd-funded by the pining cinephile masses, Jeremy Saulnier’s feature debut epitomizes the low-budget, neo-noirish revenge thriller. It’s admirably straightforward, tense, darkly humorous and adept in illustrating its core blood feud – aspects that define Blue Ruin‘s bravery in challenging the polar opposite bombast plaguing the A-List side of Hollywood today and henceforth. Acute minimalism aside, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a comparably competent affair in this vein going forward.
It no doubt convincingly explores the seedy underbelly of true crime journalism, but I’ll be damned if any character/performance is as endlessly compelling as Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom. An unabashed sociopath through and through, what starts out as a socially-impaired go-getter’s pipe dream escalates into one of the more frequently uncomfortable films of 2014. Following my third or fourth involuntary full-body clench/respiratory seizure, along comes the best action sequence in a concretely non-action film in recent memory. If you’ll forgive my hyperbole, I assure you that Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is as astute in intention and presentation as they come.
Say what you will about Wes Anderson’s continued honing of his particularly unique skill set – The Grand Budapest Hotel is a nearly flawless embodiment of his prowess as one of today’s deservingly revered talents. The otherworldly art direction, complex but coherent narrative and eclectic sensibilities are all here, not to mention a show-stealing performance from Ralph Fiennes to round out the film’s credible batch of merits.
Gone Girl, in the wake of its October theatrical release, has both fortunately and unfortunately become infamous thanks to how voluminous discussions about it are. Perfect or imperfect, compelling or irredeemable slog – I for one admire the shit out of Fincher’s execution of Gillian Flynn’s tawdry, twisty, turny and downright mean-spirited true crime epic. The core narrative is assuredly enough to satisfy, yet its Fincher’s meticulous adherence to what one can classify as his all-encompassing aesthetic that stands out and dominates.
Now more than ever, a film is critically lauded based on the quality of the performances at its core. In the case of Birdman, the entirety of the proceedings reek of an assured, front-and-center technical prowess that comes together ceaselessly and marvelously. As Keaton and his supporting players steal the show, we’re offered with a painstakingly emulative “single-take,” finger-snapping jazz drum score and highly-effective commentary on the high stakes of fading celebrity that dole out engagement like piñatas do candy. Compelling everywhere it counts, Birdman‘s seriocomic trappings may turn off those looking for a more layered semblance of substance, but I don’t reside within the film’s slight pocket of dissonance; I simply adore it.