It’s been a different year for movies. A good friend of mine noted there didn’t seem to be any big ‘Oscar movies’, nothing that screamed Must see! or that has a lock on Best Picture… and that is true. But for me, this has been a good thing. In an age where so many movies are huge depressing blockbusters: sequels ad nauseam with the same old, same old tired CGI action that makes me numb, my personal favorites of the year were movies that were small, indie and often very weird. Some of these even blew me away.
In no specific order:
EDGE OF TOMORROW / LIVE. DIE. REPEAT
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Isn’t this the type of big budget blockbuster you were slamming above?
Actually… no. This terrific, very smart, very suspenseful movie is what every big budget action movie should be. It’s the most sheer fun I had at the movies all year. A blast of a picture, Edge Of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat.) is extremely clever and, along with terrific supporting performances, has two kick-ass lead performances by Tom Cruise and the heavenly Emily Blunt. Wretchedly marketed by Warner Bros, (the movie’s name has even changed!) the ads looked like same old same old and revealed none of the humor (it is very funny), none of the romance (it has a heartbreaking romantic subplot) and hid just how good Tom Cruise was as he played one of the great cowards ever to be portrayed onscreen. That’s right, a total, yellow bellied coward. I confess, I love the guy, he is a superb actor (watch Magnolia if you disagree) and he clearly had a ball playing very against type. You probably missed it on the big screen, which is a bummer, but see it anyway. It’s a @%#$ blast.
This is a wild, weird, phenomenal twist on the action thriller by one of the most inventive directors alive, Joon-Ho Bong. Very hard to describe, the entire movie takes place on a futuristic speeding train containing all that is left of humanity. With splendid action scenes and extremely inventive set pieces (wait until you get to the ‘classroom scene’ with a deliriously upbeat Allison Pill) Snowpiercer has a wild, weird sensibility that is all Bong, who also directed the equally wild and wonderful movies The Host and Mother. Chris Evans does his best work yet on screen. He’s terrific. As are all the supporting players. And then there’s Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton. Her part, Mason, was written for a man. When she was cast, they changed not a word, she transformed her appearance and this remarkable, fearless actress gives a hilarious, biting performance unlike anything you’ve ever seen. While the movie is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, it has a classic revenge suspense plot holding it together that will keep you leaning forward. Experience something wonderful and trippy. See this movie.
**For the rest of my “Best of”, click here —>
Whiplash blew me away. I saw it three days ago and am still processing it. It’s a complex, riveting exploration of both a brutal teacher/student relationship and the age old question, “How far should anyone go for the sake of great art?” Knowing this, before I saw it, I thought, “Ok, cool, but I have seen this story before.” Indeed, the first half of the movie is an expertly made, brilliantly acted, very engaging riff on many movies you have seen before. But then the movie goes off on it’s own dazzling track. With two of the year’s performances by Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons, this may have surpassed Boyhood as my favorite movie of the year.
Speaking of Boyhood! What an absolute joy. Much has been written about the innovative approach to this movie, filming the same actors one week each year for twelve years to capture twelve years in the life of a boy and his family. I myself wrote a long post last year about writer/director Richard Linklater and his brilliant ‘Before’ trilogy. This movie, though, is something completely different, even from an artist responsible for such innovative films as Waking Life. Certainly also not everyone’s cup of tea, given its length and mostly leisurely pace, I found myself entranced all the way through and in the last 15 minutes or so, incredibly moved.
One of the most electrifyingly directed movies of all time. Seriously. In case you have not yet seen it or you don’t know anything about it, I don’t want to say more to keep from giving a few surprises away. Know this, though… it’s a very well written, brilliantly acted movie that, like Whiplash and, yes, many movies before, explores art, how far one should push oneself to create art, and the effect reaching for greatness can have on an artist. Everyone is talking about Michael Keaton, who is indeed wonderful in the movie. He has a scene, for instance, with the great Lindsay Duncan I could watch every day of my life. All the actors are terrific in it, in fact, but my favorite was Edward Norton, who is hilarious as what seems to be a ramped up version of himself. This movie was thrilling to watch.
Probably my biggest surprise of the year, this dark, creepy look at the underbelly of local news and video paparazzi has the best performance of the year by Jake Gyllenhaal. Transforming himself completely, he is extremely unnerving as a weirdo we slowly come to realize is a psychopath. You cannot take your eyes off him. At least until Rene Russo comes on screen. Mmay I stop and say how much I love love love Rene Russo??) Russo has her best role since The Thomas Crown Affair. She also knocks it out of the park. I love how instead of chewing the scenery, as many would do with this specific part, she plays it real and subtle. She’s quietly devastating in a long dinner scene between the two. I love pretty much any movie about my favorite city, Los Angeles (look for a full blog about this soon). Nightcrawler is one of the best LA movies in memory. The garish, neon look that captures both beauty and horror is dazzling. Score a huge debut for writer/director Dan Gilroy. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
THE IMITATION GAME
The most ‘classic Oscar movie’ of any on my list, The Imitation Game is an expertly made, beautifully acted and at times quite gripping movie based on the true story of the man who attempted to break Germany’s Enigma Code in WWII. This also is a type of movie you have seen before, but when it is done this well, it doesn’t matter. The triple layered structure was a terrific idea and very well done, keeping three concurrent mysteries juggling. Phenom of the day Benedict Cumberbatch is, as always, pitch perfect and he is surrounded by many wonderful actors including Keira Knightly (see also below) and a favorite of mine, Matthew Goode. Oh, and Grandaddy Lannister: Charles Dance. Love. Him. The movie also sports my favorite score of the year by the great Alexander Desplat.
A few other very honorable mentions:
The screen adaptation of the justifiable phenomenon Gone Girl sported great performances across the board. The two leads, Ben Affleck and particularly Rosamund Pike, nailed it. I mean, nailed it. I am a huge fan of the novel and enjoyed the movie, and these two, very much.
Keira Knightly was absolute loveliness in the very enjoyable romantic comedy musical Begin Again. (Full disclosure: one of my best friends produced this movie but I would not post it if I did not like it.) Singing her own songs, Knightly was delightful. The movie also sports easily the best movie song of the year, Lost Stars, sung incredibly well by Adam Levine. Scandalously, this song was not nominated for a Golden Globe, though it makes a certain sense since the Globes are a well known joke. Hopefully it will get the Oscar attention it deserves.
Yeah, yeah, it is a sequel, it is an action movie, it is filled with CGI. Still, the Captain America follow up is by far my favorite Marvel movie, probably because it specifically homages some of my favorite films, the paranoia thrillers of Alan J. Pakula and others from the 70’s. Smarter than most, with solid performances from everyone involved, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. So nice to see Robert Redford on the screen (again, the homage) and Chris Evans makes my list for a second time since he is perfect as Captain America, the best of the Marvel heroes. Well done.
Another of the best performances of the year was Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s best movie by far since Million Dollar Baby. Like many others this year, he transformed himself into someone very, very different. He was remarkable in the movie, which sports some of the most intense and suspenseful war sequences since Black Hawk Down.
Because of another bad marketing campaign, most people missed this terrific, scary thriller adapted from a Lawrence Block novel. Some of the promos made it look like Taken 5, ugh. However, A Walk Among the Tombstones was expertly adapted by Scott Frank, a favorite screenwriter of mine. Very intelligent, very complex, it felt like a dense novel onscreen, which is a high compliment from me. Find it on DVD or VOD. It’s excellent.
I’d love to know your own favorites! Leave a comment and feel free to reblog the post!