Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Top 20 Films of 2014

The common refrains apply here, as always: I saw a lot of movies, but not nearly enough (I still didn’t see A Most Violent Year, Leviathan, Mommy, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and others). Making this list was hard. Don’t let anyone tell you 2014 was a weak year for movies. I wish I could have included, say, Ida, Mr. Turner, Manakamana, and We Are the Best!, among many more.

Mostly, I’ve gotten to the point where the list feels “right.” It feels reflective of the things I really loved, the things that made me think and feel, and the things that seem important and meaningful in this moment.

20. Obvious Child (dir. Gillian Robespierre)

Deft, frank, and charming. It is a true disservice to call this “the abortion comedy.” It’s infinitely better than that label.

19. Edge of Tomorrow (Live. Die. Repeat.) (dir. Doug Liman)

Repetition and difference. WWII as a sci-fi video game. Emily Blunt with a giant sword. Tom Cruise rocking that magnetic action hero swagger. It just works.

18. The One I Love (dir. Charlie McDowell)

The Best Movie About Doppelgangers in a year with a surprising amount of them.

17. Winter Sleep (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

Explores the relationship between psychological and geographical topographies, but the terrain is largely interior.

16. Captain America: The Winter Solder (dirs. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

A parable of U.S. state surveillance about drone strikes against citizens? Suggesting the intelligence community is extending totalitarianism? Bombast aside, it’s more subversive than one expects from Marvel Studios.

15. Nightcrawler (dir. Dan Gilroy)

Come for the stuff about television news and Jake Gyllenhaal’s crazy-creepy smile, but stay for the spot-on way this movie demonstrates capitalism’s exploitation of labor.

14. Blue Ruin (dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

A nasty, intense revenge movie that takes every drop of blood very seriously. The first twenty or so minutes are virtuoso.

13. Frank (dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

I love this movie. I really do. I love how bonkers it starts, and how melancholy it gets. I love how full its heart is, and how that heart really sneaks in out of nowhere.

12. Goodbye to Language 3D (dir. Jean-Luc Godard)

Godard’s massive return to relevance feels as aesthetically daring and politically provocative as his experiments towards the end of the 1960s. 3D—that is to say, cinema’s latest technology—gives him both a new level of playfulness and a new layer of seriousness.

11. Gone Girl (dir. David Fincher)

What’s most fascinating about Gone Girl is actually what it’s not about. That is to say, this is a movie where a missing (rich) white (psychopathic) woman dominates the media and a community while markers of economic recession, homelessness, and other systemic social problems linger in the background.

10. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)

These are well-tested scares—drawing on a well of Roman Polanski and David Lynch for inspiration, among others—but Kent makes them new, at times even primally unnerving, with the help of stars Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman. Also I love Mr. Babadook.

9. Force Majeure (dir. Ruben Ostlund)

A brutally funny takedown of gender norms in contemporary culture, Force Majeure places its camera far away from the action. It’s contemplative but incisive and sparse but funny. It’s a microcosmic film that feels, at times, gigantic.

8.  The Immigrant (dir. James Gray)

An old-fashioned, sumptuous melodrama about the turn-of-the-century American dream, its golden hues and recreations of New York City are beautiful enough to make you cry (that last shot! Oh, that last shot!). Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix sink their teeth into the material. Gray exquisitely channels a kind of weepy melodrama that rarely—if ever—exists anymore.

7. Selma (dir. Ava DuVernay)

I feel about Selma much the same way I felt about Milk. It’s wonderfully crafted and powerfully acted, but the context of its release—aka, the last six months of racial politics in America—give it a profound urgency. Its images and words sting.

6. Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

PTA continues to refine his long-take aesthetic and his depiction of how power operates in various times and places (though mostly, Southern California across the twentieth century). Inherent Vice is much more than a stoner comedy or a muddled plot. It’s a modern-day Chinatown (okay, that’s being hyperbolic) in how it tracks the confusing and impenetrable ways power organizes society and attempts to obliterate the ethos of the 1960s. This is a hazy, saturated world that feels frighteningly close to evaporating.

5. Two Days, One Night (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

The Dardennes’ chronicles of working-class life reach, for me anyway, a new high. Like most of their work, this is a loose, aesthetically minimalist (that is to, realistic) film that breathes in its quiet moments. Cotillard is magnificent (isn’t she always, though?) and gives the film its empowering thrust. The world they depict is cruel, but it’s one where people are willing to fight for their well-being.

4. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

Under the Skin is a visionary, haunting film. It starts as an odd meditation on being a desired woman, and broadens into more about what it even means to be human and to have a body. Like some of the very best cinema, it’s devoted to making us look at things differently—be that how we think about driving or walking through space, or how we conceive of our own bodies and what they mean for how we move through the world.

3. Foxcatcher (dir. Bennett Miller)

It’s a cold and restrained film, one that almost seems afraid of penetrating too deeply, but its themes are as old as any in American popular culture: the individual trying to succeed, money as the root of all evil, the divides between the rich and the poor. Its bizarre allusions to American history widen its foggy landscape to a deeper vein of exploitation.

2. Citizenfour (dir. Laura Poitras)

Its status as a historical document of Edward Snowden’s disclosure of information about U.S. surveillance policies alone would make this important, but Poitras and collaborator Glenn Greenwald use Citizenfour to explicate the stakes of surveillance on a global and everyday scale in an incisive and painfully clear way.

1. Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)

Enough ink has been spilled over the very existence of Boyhood, so I’ll just say: the real triumph of the film, for me, isn’t necessarily its 12-year production time. Rather, Boyhood restores everyday life to cinema. By that, I mean it lives and thrives in mundanities, repetitions, and routines. It is about all those tiny things that happen to us, and how those little things accumulate into something broader, richer, and more meaningful. Hitchcock once said that drama is life with the dull bits cut out. Boyhood pastes them back in, to beautiful effect.

Golden Globe Predictions

Golden Globe Predix, 2014

Made with reckless abandon.

Best Picture, Drama

The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Will Win: The Imitation Game
Should Win: Boyhood
Watch Out For: Boyhood

Why?  My theory for the awards season is that it’s actually not a competition between Boyhood and Birdman, but rather Imitation Game and Birdman. Despite Boyhood’s piles of accolades from critics’ groups, I see HFPA going with the more British-y and conventional Alan Turing pic here, positioning it for a run through many of the Guilds. This would be a major upset win, but I’m feeling gutsy.

Best Actress, Drama

Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Will Win: Julianne Moore
Should Win: N/A (seen 2/5)
Watch Out For: Reese Witherspoon

Why? Moore’s been called the frontrunner for this from the get-go, despite the film being underseen and largely underdiscussed. I’d also easily see Witherspoon taking this.

Best Actor, Drama

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
Should Win: David Oyelowo
Watch Out For: Benedict Cumberbatch

Why? Swap out one of these for Michael Keaton and you could very easily have the Oscar line-up for this category in play here, so this will give a bit of clarity to a field of highly praised performances. Not to sound cynical, but Redmayne’s embodiment of an illness will get more awards thrown his way than the others.

Best Picture, Comedy/Musical

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
St. Vincent
Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Birdman
Watch Out For: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Why? Birdman has the most overall nominations. Budapest has been surging, but shouldn’t pose much of a threat here.

Best Actor, Comedy/Musical

Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Bill Murray, St. Vincent
Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice
Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes
Will Win: Michael Keaton
Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Watch Out For: Ralph Fiennes

Why? Arguably the buzziest performance of the year.

Best Actress, Comedy/Musical

Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Emily Blunt, Into the Woods
Helen Mirren, The Hundred-Foot Journey
Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Quvenzhane Wallis, Annie
Will Win: Emily Blunt
Should Win: Julianne Moore
Watch Out For: Amy Adams

Why? Maps to the Stars moved back to 2015 for its wide release, making this nomination seem very out of place, and probably locking Moore out of this win. The Globes love to give actors in musicals this prize, so I’ll default to Blunt over Adams here.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Should Win: Patricia Arquette
Watch Out For: Meryl Streep

Why? Nothing is safe when Meryl Streep is nominated for a Golden Globe, but Arquette is pretty damn close to feeling like a lock here.

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Will Win: J.K. Simmons
Should Win: Ethan Hawke (or J.K. Simmons. Or Mark Ruffalo. Love all three)
Watch Out For: Ethan Hawke

Why? Simmons has been presumptively given this Oscar since, when, Sundance? For the prophecy to be fulfilled, he’ll have to win here. Only if the love for another movie (Boyhood, Birdman) is too great would he be derailed.

Best Director

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay, Selma
David Fincher, Gone Girl
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Should Win: Richard Linklater
Watch Out For: Alejandro G. Inarritu

Why? I love this category. It’s more interesting to me than either Best Picture race. If I’m picking Boyhood to lose Best Picture, I almost feel like I have to also pick it to lose here. This will give us a bit of insight into how the Battle Between Birdman and Boyhood is shaking up for Oscars.

Best Screenplay

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Boyhood
Watch Out For: The Imitation Game

Why? Enough people love Anderson’s movie that this is a logical place to give it an award, but if I’m right about The Imitation Game beginning a ground-swell, this could be the start.

Best Original Score

Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Johann Johannson, The Theory of Everything
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl
Antonio Sanchez, Birdman
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
Will Win: Interstellar
Should Win: Gone Girl
Watch Out For: Birdman

Why? This is a toss-up. The last three nominees could all conceivably win this.

Best Original Song

“Big Eyes” from Big Eyes
“Glory” from Selma
“Mercy Is” from Noah
“Opportunity” from Annie
“Yellow Flicker Beat” from The Hunger Games
Will Win: Selma
Should Win: Selma
Watch Out For: Annie

Why? Because it works so freaking well in the movie, but the Globes also love to give this to songs from musicals.

Best Animated Feature Film

Big Hero Six
The Book of Life
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO® Movie
Will Win: The LEGO® Movie
Should Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Watch Out For: Big Hero Six

Why? The LEGO® Movie became an inexplicable cultural juggernaut this year.

Best Foreign Language Film

Force Majeure
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem
Will Win: Ida
Should Win: N/A (2/5 seen)
Watch Out For: Leviathan

Why? I would love for Force Majeure to win this, but Ida has been a darling of the art cinema circles all year. People love Leviathan, but I feel it may have come State-side too late in the year.

Best Television Series, Drama

The Affair
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
House of Cards
Will Win: House of Cards
Should Win: Game of Thrones
Watch Out For: Game of Thrones

Why? House of Cards is well-liked by this group. If Game of Thrones had acting nominations, I would be tempted to put it in the win-slot.

Best Actress, Drama Series

Claire Danes, Homeland
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Ruth Wilson, The Affair
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Will Win: Viola Davis
Should: N/A
Watch Out For: Robin Wright

Why? Robin Wright won this last year, and How to Get Away is a very buzzed-about show starring a very respected actress. I could also see Claire Danes winning here.

Best Actor, Drama Series

Clive Owen, The Knick
Live Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
James Spader, The Blacklist
Dominic West, The Affair

Will Win: Kevin Spacey
Should Win: N/A
Watch Out For: James Spader

Why? People love Spader on The Blacklist, but House of Cards is seen as a higher pedigree show. Spacey did not win last year. Toss-up.

Best Television Series, Comedy/Musical

Jane the Virgin
Orange is the New Black
Silicon Valley
Will Win: Transparent
Should Win: N/A
Watch Out For: Silicon Valley

Why? I don’t know, Transparent has major acclaim and this would be an enormous coup for Amazon.

Best Actress, Comedy Series

Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin
Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black
Will Win: Gina Rodriguez
Should Win: N/A
Watch Out For: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Why? The Series nom for Jane shows it has support in this group.

Best Actor, Comedy Series

Louis CK, Louie
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Ricky Gervais, Derek
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Will Win: Jeffrey Tambor
Should Win: N/A
Watch Out For: Ricky Gervais, I guess?

Why? This seems as obvious as some of the film acting categories. Anyone else would be a major shock.

Best Miniseries/Made-for-TV Movie

The Missing
The Normal Heart
Olive Kitteridge
True Detective
Will Win: True Detective
Should Win: Fargo
Watch Out For: The Normal Heart

Why? People love True Detective. Its critical adoration has eclipsed the equally (if not more) impressive Fargo, much to my own dismay.

Best Actress, Miniseries/TV Movie

Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge
Frances O’Connor, The Missing
Allison Tolman, Fargo
Will Win: Frances McDormand
Should Win: N/A (I missed a lot of TV this fall)
Watch Out For: Allison Tolman

Why? A high-profile category, but McDormand was highly acclaimed here and hasn’t really been a “part” of the awards circuit in a while.

Best Actor, Miniseries/TV Movie

Martin Freeman, Fargo
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo
Will Win: Matthew McConaughey
Should Win: Billy Bob Thornton
Watch Out For: Billy Bob Thornton

Why? My Kingdom for a Thornton win here! Probably nothing can stop that McConaughey steamroller, but it would make the whole evening for me to see one of the Fargo actors get this statue.

Best Supporting Actress, Television

Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Allison Janney, Mom
Michelle Monaghan, True Detective
Will Win: Uzo Aduba
Should Win: Uzo Aduba
Watch Out For: Allison Janney

Why? Janney’s work on Mom feels perfect for a Golden Globe, but Aduba was undeniably a better part of OITNB’s second season, and would be a fitting place to give the show an award.

Best Supporting Actor, Television

Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
Colin Hanks, Fargo
Bill Murray, Olive Kitteridge
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Will Win: Matt Bomer
Should Win: N/A
Watch Out For: Bill Murray

Why? Just going by the huge support for Normal Heart and its cast.