[tps_title]Allyson Johnson’s Top Ten Movies of 2014:[/tps_title]
I could have easily created a top 20 list but alas.
- The Immigrant: The film is beautiful to look at. The cinematography is lush and warmly shot with the locations feeling authentic and lived-in. The story about the evolution of morals, true sacrifice and damaged love is enticing in its apparent simplicity before it rips the rug out from under you in the last ten minutes. James Gray’s film about a Polish immigrant trying to help her sister through any means necessary went through distribution hell, which is a shame. It’s classic without being hackneyed and draws forth emotional responses due to performers who give it their all.
- The Skeleton Twins: There are plenty of people who didn’t like this film, and I’d agree that there are some obvious missteps and weak spots, but, sometimes all a film needs is one or two scenes that hook you, and this Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader film had them. The scene where they lip sync to “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” broke my face with the smile it plastered on me and their moment in the bar during Halloween was one of the more genuinely affecting scenes of 2014. This film showcased a breakthrough performance with Hader and offered up a wonderful Luke Wilson. The film’s focus on utilizing laughter and humor even in the darker moments of life was wonderfully delivered.
- Pride: There’s nothing wrong with “feel good” movies. Pride has one of the most impressively stacked casts of 2014 with standouts in Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott and newcomer/chameleon Ben Schnetzer. The soundtrack was as infectious as the films characters, the storyline allowed emotional highs and lows for all its actors without it ever feeling scatterbrained or incoherent, and it was one of the few stories this year that truly earned its underdog stature. It’s a story about fighting for what’s right, offering a hand to those who need it and showing solidarity in times of strife.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Everyone is talking about Guardians of the Galaxy as being a “turning point” for the Marvel universe, and while I loved that film I’d argue that It was The Winter Soldier that truly set the stage for the shift. Effortlessly bridging genres such as action-adventure and political thriller, the film was the one film this year that had me on the edge of my seat in excitement and anticipation. I left this film with a smile and an immediate want to see it again… and again. There’s some incredible fight choreography, a great trio of performers in Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie and Scarlett Johansson, an epically scaled score by Henry Jackman and a plot that has drastically changed the Marvel universe from hereon forward. It’s a great film and one that should be mentioned more as the year ends.
- Starred Up: There is no performance this year like Jack O’Connell’s in the British prison drama Starred Up. Playing a caged animal more than a violent young man, O’Connell plays this damaged character as all kinetic and wound up energy, constantly putting on a show, hiding a wounded young boy behind it. The movie dances with the ideas of manhood, father and son relationships and the bonds you make when all you need is a hint of affection.
- Calvary: This film ran me through an emotional gauntlet. It set a story with a ferocious and furious fire at the pit amidst a deceptively tranquil setting. It’s a classically rendered story; it’s a film about the virtuous versus evil, a good priest trying to tame and heal his wounded and embittered peers. It’s a story that’s about the loss of innocence, the confidence one has in their faith and what happens when a man seeks vengeance on an honest man because some bad ones abused him. Brendan Gleeson leads an impressive ensemble as the good natured but angry priest with supporting standouts in Kelly Reilly and Chris O’Dowd. This is a film that lingers.
- Obvious Child: In a year stuffed with movies about men, directed by men and written by men, Obvious Child was automatically going to appeal to me as an advocate of female representation. Loving the film for everything else that made it up was simply an added bonus. The script is whip smart, Jenny Slate and Jake Lacy deliver charming and wholly formed performances, and the film manages the balancing act of being outrageously funny while simultaneously containing a lot of heart. It’s what romantic comedies should all strive to be.
- Birdman: This is easily my most exciting film of the year because of how it turns the cinematic world on its head. Cinema progresses with time: obvious, I know, yet people are reluctant to accept growth. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and decision to cut the film to make it look like one long take by director Alejandro Iñárritu pushes the confines of what we’ve seen so far. It also allows for some electric performances by a cast that all seem thrilled to be a part of the film.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel: When I love a movie by Wes Anderson, it’s when he manages to combine his particular stylistic sensibilities along with a story that’s resonant with its viewers. (I’m sure many fans of his will argue that all of his films do this.) His latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, works so well because we get the greatest turn out of both of those aspects of his filmmaking in one film, not once resting too heavily on sentimentality or style. It is a fluid and immensely enjoyable film with some fine performances, particularly from Ralph Fiennes who perfectly captures the essence of a man out of time. The film dabbles in a handful of genres from comedy, romance and action, but the thread of melancholy that persists throughout is what makes the heart’s pulse so thoroughly felt. It’s a film that loves its story and its characters and presents itself as if it were a pop-up picture book for all of us excited viewers to flip through. Also worth noting: the score and cinematography are both top-notch.
- The Tale of the Princess Kaguya: When a movie is really, truly great it can leave you flabbergasted, a mess of emotions. Kaguya, directed by the mastermind Isao Takahata, stunned me into silence. I’ve written about the film and even still can’t truly wrap my thoughts into comprehensive words about how this movie simply made me feel. It’s a stunning, evocative piece of art (in its truest form) that uses the language of animation and color to reinforce emotional responses. It’s a tale about a girl who wanted to feel the love of earth and how the misdoings of parents, the want and need for wealth and finery, and self-preservation can all transcend their normal boxes. The score by Joe Hisaishi, the meticulously hand-drawn artwork, the passionate voice acting and the devastating narrative are all done with a master’s hand and a master’s eye. The movie and its makers understand the finely sewn emotions of the heart and aren’t afraid to leave you feeling hollow because of them. It’s a powerful accomplishment in film this year and along with Budapest, one of two masterpieces.
Honorable Mentions (that I HATED omitting): We Are the Best!, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Boyhood, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Double, Guardians of the Galaxy, Whiplash, and Like Father, Like Son.