Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Taking On 2014 - Top Films

So, after a(nother) long break, we have once again found our way back here to fully wrap up the year that was 2014 hot on the heels of the Academy Awards. I sort of got bogged down trying to play catch up, especially with films like American Sniper and Selma, things I couldn't qualify as 2015 films because of their place in the Oscar race, releasing about halfway through January. But it's time to stop chasing and start moving on to the year ahead. But first, one last look back at the year that was, the movies that have changed, and the films that will continue to be.

10. Goodbye To Language 3D 

Perhaps the hardest slot to settle on this year was this final one, though in the end I think that Godard's latest film certainly earns its spot. It didn't strike me in the way that Film Socialisme did, but to see what he does with 3D is truly awe inspiring. Not nearly as adverse to interpretation as it or others make it out to be, the film clips along at a fine enough pace. However, there is a single moment of fusion in the film, one that I never thought possible, that uses the medium in such an exhilarating way that it more than earns its spot on this list. A technical marvel, and once again another wonderful case for 3D as both a worthwhile formal element and one that can inform theme.

9. Night Moves

One of the later additions to this list, Kelly Reichardt's most recent film is less the on the surface ecoterror yarn and much more a character study. An exploration of consequence, if you will. or perhaps guilt? There's really a decent amount of depth to the film's otherwise simplistic premise. It's a movie about ambition and navigating a societal structure, so for the most part it fits in with the rest of the BIG THEMES of 2014, but the psychological thriller aspects that Reichardt infuses is both surprising and refreshing.

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson, you are undeniably on a roll. At this point, in a post-Fantastic Mr. Fox world, Anderson crafting an amazing film is hardly surprising from a technical level, but the script here is so layered with the very idea of storytelling that it almost feels like a variation on Cloud Atlas. Not as personally effecting as the glorious Moonrise Kingdom, there is still plenty of heart here to elevate it above its formal prowess.

7. Boyhood

This film is tough, because any discussion about it needs to acknowledge the great lengths taken to even make it possible, but doing so can minimize just how beautiful and tragic Linklater's latest can be on a moment to moment basis. The restraint with which he brings up most of the bigger moments and revelations in the film is so impressive, and properly stages the human drama at the film's heart. 

6. Snowpiercer

Missing out on being the final member of 2013's Big Three Films where Korean masters made their English language debuts, it was a small miracle that Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer was released at all. And while its own themes are not the freshest aspects, Bong's ability to film action is just so damn impressive. He has certainly made more complex films, but even compared to The Host, there's a refined sense of style here that is unlike most of what I have seen in quite some time. Bong does not disappoint, elevating the summer blockbuster to heights that I doubt many other films could achieve.

5. It Follows

We have reached a fairly important moment in Processed Grass history with this one. I believe that this might be the first time that a horror film has ranked on a yearly Top 10, and while this Philadelphia Film Festival (and Cannes, though I couldn't go there, obvi) favorite is still awaiting its 2015 release, there are moments in this film that have lingered with me months after the initial viewing. Not exactly terrifying, the teen horror caution tale plays on common Gothic and horror tropes of dangerous sexuality invading the youth in an overly sexed world or whatever by having some demon STD passed around and killing the most recent carrier until it (presumably) makes its way back to the source. What this does for the film though is make you pay attention to every character in the background, to be suspicious of each and every slowly moving person. All of which culminates beautifully in one of the best closings to any film I saw in 2014.

4. Inherent Vice

Ah, Paul Thomas Anderson, it has been too long. Though I have no ties to the source text, Anderson's film seems to have just as much in common with a Coen brothers comedy as it does with any literary work. There is a brilliant intimacy to the camera, but what makes this film so great is that quality extends to reveal so much about the characters. For all the twists and turns, the narrative is not all that difficult to follow, but the dreamlike haze of the actual actions make the film so amazingly compelling.

3. Mommy

In a year that was marked by wonderfully technical film making, the most staggering example may be Mommy. The concept of the film is not incredibly high, but the way the camera works here is simply marvelous in a way that blends perfectly with the film. Sure, it gets ostentatious at times, but always with a purpose and always incredibly effective. Not to mention the soundtrack is pretty much magical. All the elements from the film, the performances in the film, are just so well constructed. And that Lana Del Rey. Damn...

2. Nightcrawler

Dan Gilroy's directorial debut took me entirely by surprise, but the stylish satire is biting in the way that it deconstructs both the news cycle as well as the systems of communication and signals define them. Sort of like Drive meets There Will Be Blood, this film is chilling in a way that I did not expect, but also entertaining at every turn. Just truly fascinating. It really is a remarkable motion picture, and probably the most fun I had in a theater all year.

1. Nymphomaniac

Could it truly end any other way than with Lars Von Trier's wonderful epic? Known as a provoc-auteur, there was not all that much shocking about this film in terms of the way sex was presented. Certainly it got intense at points, but the study of Joe's life as she progresses through it is decidedly nuanced and even injects the film with humor at times. And the culmination of nearly four hours of film is so striking and effective, but frustrating in its execution, where about systems are challenged and rebelled against, is simply wonderful. Von Trier's film is the film that defines 2014.

And with that, I do believe that we are likely finished with the year that was, so thank you for sticking through this long and arduous process. Additionally, I have two lists on Letterboxd: the first of which is simply all the 2014 films that I watched from the previous year, while the other is a ranked list of my 20 favorite films, so you can see what nearly made the cut as well.

It was not a great year for cinema, but there were certainly some gems, and I cannot wait to see what 2015 brings. Agree or disagree with the lists? Let me know in the comments below!


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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© 2015 Richard James Thorne

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