Monday, February 02, 2015

My Top 10 Films (Released In 2014)

This post contains the list of the Top 10 films that I saw in 2014. The year before my favorite film was  12 Years A Slave. This year it was very hard to decide between the very best film of the year, with three contenders essentially tied with each other but each had a very powerful impact on me in their own way.

Anyway, here is my Top 10 list of the films released in 2014 that I saw last year. This year I saw roughly 17 films in the movie theaters and then another half dozen or so through other channels (at home on television via premium cable or iTunes) and on planes.
10. Blackbird. This is the latest film by Black gay wunderkind Patrik-Ian Polk (Punks, Noah's Arc). It stars Mo'Nique in her first film role after winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Precious and is a film adaptation of the classic book by the same name about a young Black boy coming of age in the South. Unfortunately, Blackbird still has not found a distributor but I was able to see the film twice in 2014, once at the Pan African Film Festival, and then several weeks later at Outfest Fusion. The main strength of this film is its authentic portrayal of a gay teenager's life and love, and even though the actual twists of the story are melodramatic, it felt good to see representations of Black gay men like myself on screen. If you get a chance to see Blackbird, grab it!
9. Snowpiercer. I had heard of Snowpiercer but it just looked like another bat-sh*t crazy Tilda Swinton movie. My interest was piqued when I discovered that the always fun to watch Chris Evans (Captain America) was also in it. Sadly, Evans has an extensive beard and shows almost no skin in the film but delivers an effective performance that grounds the film, even though, by any measure, Snowpiercer is a pretty wild ride of a film. It is reminiscent of other wild, visually arresting classics like Brazil, The Fifth Element and The Matrix. Just like those movies, the story doesn't make much sense but somehow you can not stop watching it. Definitely a movie I will remember years from now, probably more so than some of the higher ranked films on this list.
8. Big Hero 6. This was the best animated film that I saw in the theaters this year. (The LEGO Movie I saw on AppleTV soon after it left the theaters and despite what the Oscar voters say, it is better than Big Hero 6.) Like Edge of Tomorrow, Big Hero 6 is based on content from another source, this time a popular Marvel comic of the same name. The best thing about Big Hero 6 is the inflatable robot named Baymax, although the main character of Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter) is a close second. I guess one of the main reasons why I liked Big Hero 6 is that it reminds me somewhat of one of my favorite movies, The Incredibles.
7. Edge of Tomorrow. If you had told me when I wrote last year's Top 10 list that a Tom Cruise science fiction flick would be one of my favorite movies of the year I would not have believed you. But Edge of Tomorrow also stars Emily Blunt in a big screen adaptation of a Japanese graphic novel with a fiendishly clever script, directed by a well-respected action director (Doug Liman, known for his work on the Bourne series starring Matt Damon). Since the film was so badly marketed I went it to the theater with low expectations, which were happily easily exceeded.
6.  X-Men: Days of Future Past. This latest entry into the X-Men franchise was directed by animating force behind the reboot: Bryan Singer, which is a good thing. The key feature of this movie is that it featured Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart from the first set of X-Men films as well as Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy playing the same characters (Magneto and Professor Xavier, respectively). It's really fun to have both sets of actors in the film, even though they basically have no scenes together (since they are playing the same characters in different eras). Another strength of this film was the plot which, although it depended on a somewhat cheesy time travel device allowed the film to be mostly set in the early 1970s, which was an inspired choice. 
5. The LEGO Movie Guardians of the Galaxy. At the beginning of the year I guess I might have been one of the many people who did not know the name of the actor who plays the young, tall, goofy white dude on Parks & Recreation but there are very few people who don't know who Chriss Pratt is now after he appeared in not one but two of the biggest box-office hits of the year. The LEGO Movie sounded like it would be a painfully bad attempt to leverage a well-known nostalgic brand (Battleship, anyone?) but instead was a surprisingly clever romp strengthened by the voice talents of Pratt and Morgan Freeman, the silly but hyper-infectious theme song "Everything is awesome!" and a snarkily satirical script. The Lego Movie was fun and a huge hit but since Pratt does not physically appear in the film it took the summer blockbuster
Guardians of the Galaxy to really send Pratt's profile into the stratosphere. Guardians of the Galaxy  can not be considered a surprise sleeper hit like The Lego Movie since it is one of the Marvel suite of comic-book movies but even in that context, Guardians of the Galaxy is a surprisingly effective entertainment. And Pratt is front and central to the movie's runaway success, in all his attractive goofiness.
4. Gone Girl. Regardless of what Oscar voters think, in my opinion David Fincher's representation of Gillian Flynn's blockbuster mystery novel was one of the best directed  and most thrilling movies I saw in 2014. Even though I read and quite enjoyed the book, I was very impressed with how much of the book was able to be included in the film. There are very strong performances by a bevy of well-cast actors, starting with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as the (un)happily married couple Nick and Amy Dunne at the center of the film, and also including Carrie Coon as the suspicious detective who investigates Amy's disappearance,  Neil Patrick Harris as Amy's obsessive childhood crush and even Tyler Perry as Nick's buffoonish but media savvy defense attorney. Fincher's film also includes a wickedly dark sense of humor that adds oomph to the impression it leaves on the psyche.
3. The Imitation Game.  This film was another one of my most anticipated films of  2014 that also lived up to my expectations. Additionally, it also provided a fair number of surprises by giving information about the story of Alan Turing's life and work that I was unaware of even though I was generally familiar with the broad outlines of his heroic contributions to society and the tragedy of his personal biography. In fact one of the key strengths of The Imitation Game is its ability to present a British period piece in a way that is both compelling and suspenseful, even though we know how the story ends. Another major strength are the performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley as well as the structure of the screenplay adapted from Andrew Hodges classic biography.
2.  The Grand Budapest Hotel This is the only film that I saw multiple times throughout the year and was also one of my most unexpected pleasures at the cinema all year long. I have not been a huge fan of Wes Anderson's work in the past (I still have not seen Moonrise Kingdom) but was convinced by friends to see this one and found it absolutely delightful. The screenplay is so clever, and the film is anchored by the hysterical and self-possessed performance of Ralph Fiennes  as M. Gustave, the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel as well as an impressive debut by Tony Revolori as the Lobby Boy. Additionally, the huge supporting cast (Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton) and surprising cameos (Bob Balaban, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Fisher Stevens) present an inexhaustible supply of smiles and giggles that cement this film as one of the most enjoyable films of the year.
1. InterstellarWhen I started thinking about this list I did not place Christopher Nolan's film at the number one spot, although I was pretty sure it would be somewhere in my Top 5. However when I went back and looked at my written reviews I saw that I had basically felt that The Imitation GameThe Grand Budapest Hotel and Interstellar were all essentially tied as my favorite films of the year. Then as I reflected more upon the three I realized that Interstellar was not only my most anticipated film of the year it was also the film that had the strongest emotional impact on me after viewing. It was not a perfect film (some of the dialogue is painfully bad) by any means but there's no question that it was the film which had the most memorable visuals of anything I saw in the theaters all year long. The suspenseful plot and the always rock-solid performances by Sir Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Matthew McConnaughey are other impressive strengths. I still do not think it was as compelling conceptually as Nolan's Inception (2010), which possesses one of my all-time favorite soundtracks and is a film that I have seen and enjoyed multiple times.
 There ya go. There are still some very well-regarded 2014 movies which I have yet to see, such as Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, Selma and Foxcatcher.

Some Honorable Mentions that could be on this list are Divergent (mostly for Theo James' hotness), and Birdman (although overall I think it is somewhat self-indulgent and a bit too-"inside Hollywood" for me).

Looking forward to seeing more movies in 2015!

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