Movies - Lists postsMonday January 12, 2015
My Top 10 Movies of 2014
Intro music (for a slideshow): Thanks to Hollywood's distribution system (all the best movies stuffed into the end of the year, often with only NY and LA screenings), I had to wait a few weeks before posting this. And I still haven't seen J.C. Chandor's “A Most Violent Year,” which is currently playing in all of four theaters around the country. (Thanks, A24.) Despite the chatter elsewhere, I think this was a good year for movies. Any year in which “Life Itself,” “Nightcrawler,” “Selma” and “Whiplash” don't make my top 10 is a good year. Plus it was good early. Nearly half of the films on my list played in Seattle before July 1.
10. Force Majeure: The atmosphere Ruben Östlund creates is distant, cold, spooky. It’s the modern, mechanized society. All needs are met but no one is present. We only see two employees at the ski resort and both are silent and incompetent. Otherwise, everything is just there and vaguely menacing: the booms of the controlled avalanches; the creaking of the ski lifts. One of my favorite shots is the family waiting through their electric toothbrush routine. No physical movement is actually involved. They’re all just waiting for the mechanism to finish its task. Its task is us.
9. Foxcatcher: What an indictment of the American class system. It’s about how excellence can be bought by the idle rich. It’s a movie about the sadness of people with too few options, and the sadness of people with too many. It’s about these words, “No, Mark, stay,” which implies a dog you can control, and “No, John! Stop, John!” which implies a dog you can’t. The dog you can’t control is the very rich, who are very different from you and me.
8. Love Is Strange: The best love story of the year. The dramatist’s dilemma isn’t how to bring the lovers together but how to keep them apart for 90 minutes, and Ira Sachs’ approach is novel: he marries them. Society does the rest. The movie has issues (all movies have issues), but it has such humanity. I think of John Lithgow's Ben painting on the rooftop, and Alfred Molina as George showing up for a rainsoaked late-night embrace.
7. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson needs real actors at the heart of his movies to give them heart, and Ralph Fiennes does so here. Anderson says the film was inspired by Stefan Zweig's memoir “The World of Yesterday,” and, indeed, we go through a world of yesterdays (2014, 1985, 1968, 1932) to get to a protagonist who lives in a world of yesterday: as 20th-century war approaches, he pretends 19th-century manners matter. Anderson’s world of yesterday is one where art and literature matter, and he sustains that illusion with a marvelous grace.
6. Le Passé: There are small, exquisite scenes. Asghar Farhadi often shows us the thing before revealing what the thing means; before revealing its past. The ending is about as perfect as endings get. “If you can hear me,” Samir tells his comatose wife, “squeeze my hand.” The camera then pans to his hand in hers. We’re waiting for any movement. It's the title. It's a man being held, and not, by something that’s dead, and isn’t.
5. Fury: It begins with a man on a white horse patrolling through the fog of a recent battle. Except he’s a German officer and he’s quickly killed by Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt). David Ayer is putting us on notice: No men on white horses here, kids; no John Waynes. You know the leap in realism between John Wayne movies and, say, HBO’s “Band of Brothers”? “Fury” almost feels like that leap again. It makes you long for the moral clarity of “Band of Brothers.”
4. The Drop: The obvious comparison, and it’s a doozy, is with “On the Waterfront.” Both films have dark moods, a weight of the world, a sense of being trapped. The cops are no help and the church just reminds you of all the bad you’ve done. The key relationship is the older relative—brother Charlie, cousin Marv—and each has a dirty history. Years earlier, favors were asked, lives were ruined. Maybe the asker doesn’t know it yet. Maybe he doesn’t want to know. Then there's Hardy's final monologue. I go to the movies for the way he says “Nah.”
3. Ida: It's not just a gorgeously shot look at Poland and the aftermath of World War II; it's the best roadtrip movie of the year, the best detective team of the year. The beautiful novitiate nun gets them in places, the sharp-tongued Jewish prosecutor digs for answers. “Did you know the Lebensteins?” “Jews?” “No, Eskimos.” The closer she gets to an answer, the more she unravels. There's a purity to the film in form and content. There's not a wasted line, a wasted shot.
2. Birdman: The Susan Sontag quote, “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing,” is taped to the corner of Riggan's dressing-room mirror, and it's the most ignored thing in the movie. Is the play any good? Depends what the New York Times critic writes tomorrow. Am I any good? “You’re beautiful, you’re talented, and I’m lucky to have you.” We want to be of the people but soar above them. We want to feel ourselves beloved on the earth. Because if we're not? We're nothing. We're not even here.
1. Boyhood: It has moments that feel as real as my own memories: the search for arrowheads, giggling at lingerie ads, hanging in the narrow space between garages. There’s the late-night, teenage drop-off in the station wagon, the makeout sessions in same, the friends that come and go. The movie, filmed over 12 years, is wholly unique. Because we watch this young actor age all this time, there’s a pang when we think of him and the boy he once was. It’s almost as if he’s family.
Exit music (for a slideshow): Feel free to post your faves below. Here are my top 10 lists from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.
The 8 Worst Movies of 2014
I mostly get to choose which movies I see, and I mostly choose movies that I think have a chance in hell of being good. So I'm sure there were worse movies released in 2014. That said, the eight movies that follow are pretty bad, and the bottom three or four or five are downright painful. My comments for each entry are pithy, so if you want to read more click on the link for the (generally verbose) review. Onward and downward!
8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1: Never has so much talent created so little for so many.
7. Divergent: At least Katniss looked like she could kick ass.
6. Robocop: The 1987 original was brilliant. I wouldn’t buy this one for a dollar.
5. The Other Woman: Come back to the 9 to 5, Dabney Coleman, Dabney Coleman.
4. 300: Rise of An Empire: It’s less fascistic than the first.
3. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: Sex + violence isn't supposed to be this boring.
2. God’s Not Dead: I don’t know about God but godawful is very much alive.
1.Tusk: Kevin Smith recently said he’s reached the “I don’t give a fuck” portion of his career. It shows.
What's that you say? You have your own thoughts? Feel free to include them below. And if you're interested in the worst of past years, here you go: 2011, 2012, and 2013. May 2015 stink a little less.
My Top 10 Movie Quotes of 2014
Squawk! It's been a good year for squawking in movies, hasn't it? I actually had to leave off some good lines: “This isn't freedom, it's fear,” for example, from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which states, in a popcorn movie, what would have been relegated to a Nation editorial 10 years ago. We got Dame Judi Dench quoting Shakespeare and then telling us, “Now if you'd written that you'd be up all night looking at yourself in the mirror,” in the so-so Bard doc “Muse of Fire.” Speaking of: how about John Hurt, as a world-weary Christopher Marlowe (+ vampire), telling Tilda Swinton's Eve, who wants to cause thrilling chaos, “I think the world has enough chaos to keep it going for the minute,” in “Only Lovers Left Alive.”
Most of what follows are from the usual, highly acclaimed suspects, but one in particular comes from a mediocre action movie released last January. Most are somewhat cynical, as I am.
10. “There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”
— Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), quoting her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern) in “Wild.” Screenplay by Nick Hornby from the memoir by Cheryl Strayed.
9. “Everything you say is valid, but you are scaring my dick off.”
--Joey (Gabe Liedman) to Donna and Nellie (Jenny Slate and Gaby Hoffman) in “Obvious Child.” Screenplay by Gilliam Robespierre.
8. “She’s got a lovely gait.” “Probably padlocked.”
--Steve Coogan, eyeing a pretty woman, and Rob Brydon, responding, as the two actors play version of themselves in the mock travelogue, “The Trip to Italy.”
7. “Look at these people. Look at their eyes. They’re all sparkly. They love this shit. They love action. Not this talky depressing, philosophical bullshit. Give the people what they want: some good old-fashioned apocalyptic porn!”
--Birdman, the character, to his alter ego, actor Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), about us (the movie audience) in “Birdman.” Screenplay by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo. If movie audiences are said to have power, then this was Inarritu telling truth to power. My eyes did get all sparkly, but for that reason.
6. “Dear God. Thank you? Amen.”
— Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), a possibly Jewish kid asked to give a prayer before the class on his first day of Catholic school, in “St. Vincent.” Screenplay by Theodore Melfi. It's my new prayer.
5. “The rest of us are just walking around trying not to be disappointed with the way our lives turned out.”
--Maggie Dean (Kristen Wiig) to her brother Milo (Bill Hader) in “The Skeleton Twins.” Screenplay by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman.
4. “We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people.”
--Roger Ebert in opening voiceover, reading from his book “Life Itself” in the documentary “Life Itself.” I left off the next line, “And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy” because I tend to disagree. The best movies might but most movies simply engage us in power and romance fantasies. We are asked to identify with the beautiful and powerful, not the plain and powerless.
3. “Regret, it piles up around us like books we haven’t read.”
--Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) to Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” Screenplay by Adam Cozad and David Koepp. This is me, exactly. Please see the unread books piled in the corner.
2. “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it. But I will say he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.”
--Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) on his mentor and friend, Gustav F. (Ralph Fiennes), in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Screenplay by Wes Anderson. Lovely, isn't it? It also describes Wes Anderson to a “T.”
1. “There are some sins that you can’t come back from, you know? No matter how hard you try. It’s like the Devil is waiting for your body to give up because he knows … he knows that he already owns your soul. Then I think maybe there is no Devil. You die, and God, he says, 'Nah. Nah, you can’t come in. You have to leave now. You have to leave and go away, and you have to be alone. You have to be alone forever.'”
--Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) in “The Drop.” Screenplay by Dennis Lehane, from his short story “Animal Rescue.” As I said in my review, I go to the movies for moments like this; to hear Tom Hardy say “Nah” the way he does.
And there goes 2014. Thanks for reading. Feel free to add your own favorite quotes in the comments below. If you're interested in looking back, here are my top 10 movie quotes from 2013, 2012 and 2011, along with my five most-quoted movie lines.
Film Critics Wrap 2014: Consensus at the Frye
Patricia and I went to the Frye Art Museum's “Critics Wrap 2014” (film version), hosted by critic Robert Horton for the 10th and apparently last time. He and his wife are moving to Scotland in February.
For the brunt of the evening, before we all repaired to the alcove for champagne, toasts, and a tidbit of conversation, we watched the four on stage debate the best movies of the year. Except, per Seattle, there wasn't much debate. There was mostly agreement. Except from me in the audience. I kept disagreeing with what they were saying.
Here are the top 5 movies from each critic (Andrew Wright wasn't in attendance):
The two movies at the top of each list are “Under the Skin” and “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and I wasn't a fan of either—although I predicted, in the first graf of my review back in April, that “Skin” would be a topic of critical conversation at the end of the year. I'm actually willing to revisit “Skin,” to be honest. You never know. One critic, Kathleen Murphy, says she didn't like the movie the first time she saw it, but after the second time it became her favorite movie of the year. Quite a leap. Woody Allen once talked about his first screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and how disappointed he was with it, and how after two more viewings over the years he realized what a sensational movie it was. So maybe that'll happen with me and “Skin.”
But “Only Lovers Left Alive” has a big problem that none of the four people on stage mentioned. It's a very nostalgic film but its nostalgia is writer-director Jim Jarmusch's, not the characters'. The leads, Adam and Eve, are vampires who have lived for centuries, maybe millennia, and are well-versed in the arts and sciences; but their nostalgia is particular to, say, 60-year-old hipsters. They play 45s, read Shakespeare's Sonnet CXVI, lament the death of culture. The heroes on Adam's walls are the heroes of a college student in the late 1960s, not a vampire who was born in, say, 838 A.D. It's a good movie, but ... top 5? For everyone? That's a bit much.
There was a bit much consensus on stage, too. No one really disagreed on a movie until a kid in the audience asked about “Gone Girl,” which Emerson liked and the others didn't. But that was after more than an hour of scenery chewing.
Is this a danger? This consensus? Does it demonstrate that these are in fact “the best” or does it demonstrate that Horton and his friends, two of whom were his teachers, have similar backgrounds, tastes, experiences, predilections, conversations?
I'm looking forward to “The Homesman” anyway. And my own top 10 list. About which even I don't have much consensus.
My Top 10 Movies of 2013
“This river brings a lot of trash down it,” says Uncle Galen (Michael Shannon) to his nephew, Ellis (Tye Sheridan), in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud.” “You gotta know what’s worth keeping and what’s worth letting go.”
So with the movies. I talked about the trash earlier. Here are some of the keepers.
2013 started out awful (“The Last Stand,” “A Good Day to Die Hard,” “Olympus Has Fallen,” rahhrrrr), but that's typical. But it didn't get much better over the summer (you should've been better, “Man of Steel,” “World War Z,” etc.), while fall brought a slew of critically acclaimed but thin portrayals that left me appreciative but lukewarm (“Aint Them Bodies Saints,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Short Term 12”).
Then came December.
I had trouble with Nos. 1 and 2. I kept switching them in my head. “American Hustle” is the tighter film, and it almost never stops being fun, but I had more to say about “Wolf of Wall Street.” It kept reverberating in my mind. The controversy helped in this regard. I keep having to return to it to defend it. Plus it challenges us more. It challenges our notions ofthe American Dream.
I actually left a screening of “Inside Llewyn Davis” somewhat disappointed, but it’s worked on me since. The work began almost immediately with the Salieri connection. Leaving “Kapringen (A Hijacking)” during SIFF, I felt the opposite, blown away, devastated, and “Captain Phillips,” the other Somali pirate, only made the Danish film seem that much better. I really don’t get the lack of attention for “Philomena.” Well, I guess I do. It’s a straightforward story with a surprising midway turn and a good ending. I think it’s underrated. I think Judi Dench is being taken for granted. Stop it, you.
I reviewed more than 100 movies in 2013 and 80 of them were 2013 movies. These are the best I saw.
10. MUSCLE SHOALS
Having grown up hearing how white performers made a mint off of, or stole outright, black music, it’s fascinating to see just who was backing some of the great black performers of the 1960s. Wilson Pickett on “Mustang Sally”? White dudes. Percy Sledge on “When a Man Loves a Woman”? White dudes. Aretha on “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”? The same white dudes, a group of guys from or near Muscle Shoals, Ala., called the Swampers. In this doc, they’re variously called “funky,” “groovy,” and, courtesy of Aretha, “greasy” with a z, but the best description comes from a man who never played with them. Bono, U2’s frontman, calls them “a bunch of white guys who looked like they worked at the supermarket around the corner.”
“Mud” is an adventure story about two teenage boys who stumble upon a charismatic outlaw on an island in Dewitt, Ark., but it’s also a very specific type of coming-of-age story. It’s about how life, if you pay attention, keeps pushing you away from childhood absolutes and toward complexity and relativism. Ellis (Tye Sheridan), 14, lives along the White River with his taciturn father, Senior, and a mother who wants a divorce. She wants to move away from the river, which is how Senior makes his living. It’s also all that Ellis has known. Neither man is happy about it but Senior accepts it; Ellis refuses. Or he deals with this coming instability by searching for stability. He finds it in the unlikeliest of places: in a boat in the trees
It isn’t perfect. Coogan, who wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope, pushes the differences between the two characters to an unnecessary comic degree. He turns Sixsmith into too much of a Steve Coogan character and makes Philomena more daft than she probably is. But Dench is perfect. We get several scenes from the 1950s to demonstrate what Philomena lost, but these, to me, are almost unnecessary. We know what Philomena lost. You just need to watch Judi Dench act.
What does the title refer to? It's obvious, right? In 1988, international pressure led Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet to hold a plebiscite on whether he should remain in power. Vote YES for Pinochet, vote NO and real elections follow.That's what NO means, and our hero, René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), the son of a leftist and ex-husband of a leftist and a former exile himself who now works in advertising, agrees to advise the NO campaign. But might the title also be referring to René Saavedra? Is the movie actually saying “No!” to its hero?
On the cargo ship, a few of the men get closer to a few of the pirates. It’s an unequal relationship, of course. One side is always this close to being humiliated, or this close to being killed. They run out of food, catch a fish, sing “Happy Birthday.” The one song everyone knows. But as the days grind on things get bad. Mikkel isn’t shot but he is psychologically abused. A skinny pirate follows him around, keeps placing the barrel of a gun on his neck, keeps pulling the trigger. Click. Remember the “Mao mao” guy from “The Deer Hunter”? Like that. We want to kill the guy. Mikkel goes the other way. He breaks. Pilou Asbæk gives a stunning performance. In the beginning, in his gregarious stage, he reminded me of a scruffy, bearded Joshua Jackson. By the end, with his thousand-yard stare, I kept thinking of Michael Shannon. Either nobody’s home or the person that’s home is curled up in a corner in the basement. And be careful about ringing the doorbell.
How much do the movies inure us, blind us, unite us with the powerful onscreen rather than the powerless? To what extent do we take the lies of Hollywood from the theater and try to recreate them in our own lives? And is that what the various movie gangsters, including Anwar Congo, did in 1965 and 1966 as the aided an Indonesian military coup? Did they see themselves, even as they killed, even as they became death-squad leaders, as the heroes in their own Hollywood movie? However the movies worked upon the mind and soul of a man like Anwar Congo, it was acting in a movie, this one, that helped him find empathy. So does “The Act of Killing” ultimately redeem movies? Or does it only redeem acting?
“Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” Llewyn sings in the beginning, and for the rest of the movie the Coens come close to doing it. Do Llewyn’s travails make him a better performer? That would be the easy way out of the story. That’s what most Hollywood movies would do. Llewyn is on this odyssey, often with Ulysses the cat, and he comes back a wiser man, and that wisdom leads to success. That’s the lie Hollywood often tells us, because it’s the lie we often tell ourselves, because otherwise why all this? Why travails, and pain, and sorrow, if it doesn’t lead to something? But here Llewyn’s travails lead to Bob Dylan’s success.
Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), 65, wise in his age, bemused in his stance, idle with his time, is on a sort of search. He’s not searching for meaning so much as a reason to keep going. At one point he says, “I can’t waste any more time doing things I don’t want to do,” and this is just before he disappears rather than look at the naked photos of a beautiful woman, Orietta (Isabella Ferrari). So: high standards. At another point he sees a giraffe, a beautiful giraffe staring down from on high and surrounded by a half-circle of ancient Roman columns; and the two, Jep and the giraffe, stare at each other until Jep’s magician-friend arrives and explains the giraffe. It’s part of his act. He makes it disappear. And Jep leans close and asks, “Can you make me disappear?” That’s when we realize the extent of Jep’s ennui. He shows the world a bemused face, but inside, particularly in the morning light after another party, he’s desperate.
“American Hustle” earns the “American” in its title. It’s big, brassy, energetic, corrupt, and has great cleavage. It’s a movie that never sits still. It also earns the “Hustle” in its title. It’s about people hustling/striving to get ahead and people just hustling/conning everyone else. Usually the two go together. You’ll hear a lot about the acting, but it’s not in the weight Bale gained nor in his elaborate combover nor in Bradley Cooper’s perm. It’s in the eyes. The con, and then the concern, in Irving’s, the need in Richie’s, and the fear, the dizzying fear, in Sydney’s. It’s the death stare of Victor Tellegio, delivered as only De Niro can deliver it. It’s in the officious blankness in Stoddard Thorsen’s eyes. A small favorite moment: After all that Richie puts him through, there’s no vindictiveness in Stoddard’s eyes in the end. His eyes remain blank and officious. Like he’s simply wondering when he can go home.
There’s been controversy over the movie. The raunch. The debauch. The misogyny. One side says “Wolf of Wall Street“ glamourizes this life and makes a hero of its villain. The other side, including Leonardo DiCaprio, says, no, it’s an indictment of that life and that man. Well, it is and it isn’t. That’s why the movie’s great. Jordan Belfort is an ass but he’s also the American id, acting out, and stirring the suppressed id within each of us. The movie is both lesson and blueprint. It passes the test of a first-rate film: it holds two opposing ideas in its head at the same time and entertains. It informs us and challenges us. ”See, an IPO is an initial public offering, the first time ... You know what? You’re probably not following what I’m saying." That.
Honorable mentions: 12 Years a Slave, 20 Feet from Stardom, All Is Lost, Anchorman 2, Blackfish, The Bling Ring, Blue is the Warmest Color, Dallas Buyers Club, The Deep, The Gatekeepers, her, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, The Trials of Muhammad Ali, The World’s End.
Movies I haven't seen yet but will soon: The Past, August: Osage County, The Hunt, The Grandmaster, Cutie and the Boxer, Frozen.
Until next year, kids.