THE HOWIES or THE BEST IN FILM 2014


legoWell, it’s that time of the year again, when lists must be made to give meaning to all the time spent going to movies the year before rather than doing things like joining Doctors Without Borders or trying to find a cure for cancer or sharing memes of kittens on facebook.
No matter what anyone tells you, this is the endgame of film watching, to create order out of chaos, to reach conclusions from randomness, to give deeper meaning to something that in many ways has little meaning except the attending in the first place.
But we’re human and it’s what we do.
However, before getting to the nitty-gritty, I would like to first make a few observations about the state of cinema these days based on the films I saw last year.

1. I don’t think anyone is going to be particularly surprised by my statement that this year has been a particularly bad one for American film. I’m not the only one to reach this conclusion, it seems to be a reoccurring leitmotif of critics and others who write about the state of the art.

The really sad thing about this statement is that American film is even worse than it has been the last few years where the same people had already been bemoaning how weak American film has become.

This is true for studio films which are more and more dependent on established franchises, whether in movies or in books or in graphic novels, as well as independent films which show less and less imagination as time goes on.

American filmmakers are in a state of flux. The studios have the money, but are squandering it, and the movie audience is shrinking.

For indies, it’s reached the point where anybody can make a movie, where everyone is making a movie, but where those everyone’s who are making movies have yet to figure out something to say or to have come up with some reason to make said movie.

Because of this, most of the real imagination and innovation is being done on television where originality is welcome as a way to get the audience out of the theaters and into their living rooms (which didn’t need a lot of goading in the first place).

2. The above must be taken with somewhat of a caveat where this critic is concerned. I was not as enamored of certain films that others were.

I found The Grand Budapest Hotel to be structured like a farce, but not having anything farcical driving it (so I got bored), as well as a serious miscasting and underwriting in the role of the lobby boy. I found Boyhood to be little more than a stunt film with a bland central character and a female character whose story was a bit too stereotyped and unoriginal. I found Birdman to be a directorial and technical tour de force with some great acting, but I never had an emotional connection to it. Even films like Only Lovers Left Alive came up short for me (when it comes to Only Lovers…, I felt the theme was, the longer you live the more boring life and you become).

At the same time, I would like to say that even though I had issues with the above films, the filmmakers have all done much better before and I still admire their imagination, their innovation, their attempt to do something different, their uniqueness.

It is these sorts of films that I hope new filmmakers will take note of as they create the future of American film.

3. In the U.S., the best films are still the independents. But within that, the best of those are genre films.

American’s strength in making movies has always been in genre. We have not always been as strong at straight drama, but have always seemed to excel with those films that fit a certain type or category.

In the 1930’s, it was gangster and rom coms. In the 1940’s and ‘50’s, it was westerns, musicals and thrillers/film noir. In the 1960’s and ‘70s, it was again gangster and crime dramas, along with horror and sci-fi.

And today, the most interesting independent films are sci-fi/horror/fantasy and thriller/film noir. These include such movies as The Drop, Cold in July, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Coherence, The Signal, Nightcrawler, Birdman, Only Lovers Left Alive, Lucky Bastard, Cheap Thrills, Night Moves, The Double and many others.

4. This year, the best and strongest films were foreign ones. It is in other countries where the filmmakers still have something to say and are creating works of art that are innovative and exciting.

There was one small clue to just how strong the foreign films were this year. When the short list for the foreign language Oscar contenders was released, no one complained or said that something had been left out.   There have just been so many worthy contenders this year, one couldn’t carp that one’s personal favorite didn’t quite make the cut.

We may be on one of those cycles right now and maybe it will change in the future. In the 1930’s and 1940’s (to the early 1950’s) we were the innovators that influenced the world. Then in the 1950’s through the early 1970’s, it was foreign films. Then in the 1990’s, it swung back to the U.S. again. And now it’s foreign films.

Maybe in the next few years, the new generation of filmmakers will start taking their cues from overseas and return to a filmmaking of creativity.

 

And so to the point, my best of the year.

I only do seven main best of categories (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Screenplay).

I do top ten when it comes to Best Picture. For the other categories, I allow myself between five and ten.

When I first began my lists, I always did a top five when it came to acting, etc. But I always felt that when it came down to making my final selections, it felt arbitrary to leave out those I really felt deserved to be included.

And anyway, it’s my list and I can do what I want.

I also usually do a list of Best Ensemble (why, I don’t know; sometimes I think it just gives me a way to award some extra performers when I just don’t have other room for them) as well as a list of miscellany awards for any film that I felt had some technical aspect to it that should be recognized.

I follow each individual list with an additional list of films I liked for the various categories, but couldn’t quite put in the top list.

I then finish the list off with the worst of the year.

And away we go:

 

undert he skinBest Picture:

Under the Skin

 

 

 

Remaining nine (listed in alphabetical order; but for the record, Wild Tales is my second favorite film of the year):

Borgman

Drop, The

Force Majeure

Ida

Lego Movie, The

Nightcrawler

Nymphomaniac, Vol. I and II

We are the Best!

Wild Tales

Also rans, in alphabetical order: ’71, The Babadook, Begin Again, Birdman, Child’s Pose, Chinese Puzzle, Coherence, Cold in July, Dear White People, The Empty Hours, God Help the Girl, Ilo, Ilo The Imitation Game, Jealousy, Leviathan, Lilting, Listen Up Philip, Lucky Bastard, The Lunchbox, A Most Wanted Man, Mr. Turner, Night Moves, Pride, The Rover, The Signal, St. Vincent, Starred Up, Two Days, One Night, Unbroken, Venus in Fur, Violette, The Way He Looks, X-Men: Days of Future Past

 

starred upBest Actor:

Jack O’Connell for ’71, Starred Up and Unbroken

 

 

And in alphabetical order:

Mathieu Amalric – Venus in Fur

Jan Bijvoet – Borgman

Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler

Tom Hardy – Locke, The Drop

Michael Keaton – Birdman

Timothy Spall – Mr. Turner

Also rans: Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher; Bradley Cooper, American Sniper, Guardians of the Galaxy; Brendan Gleeson, Calvary; Philip Seymour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man; Bill Murray, St. Vincent; David Oyelowo – Selma; Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher

 

lucyBest Actress:

Scarlett Johannson for Under the Skin, Lucy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 

 

 

And in alphabetical order:

Angeli Bayani – Ilo Ilo

Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night

Essie Davis – The Babadook

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Nymphomaniac: Vol. I and II

Luminita Gheorghiu – Child’s Pose

Julianne Moore – Still Alice, Maps to the Stars

Emmanuelle Seigner – Venus in Fur

Also rans: Juliette Binoche – The Clouds of Sils Maria; Emmanuelle Devos – Violette; Ronit Elkabetz – Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem

 

whiplashBest Supporting Actor:

J.K. Simmons for Whiplash

 

 

 

And in alphabetical order:

John Cusack – Adult World, Maps to the Stars

Vin Diesel – Guardians of the Galaxy

Zach Galifianakis – Birdman

Ethan Hawke – Boyhood

Don Johnson – Cold in July

Roman Madyanov – Leviathan

Randall Park – The Interview

Andy Serkis – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

 

Also rans: Woody Allen – Fading Gigolo; Takamasa Ishihara – Unbroken; Edward Norton – Birdman; Matthais Schoenaerts – The Drop; Sam Shepherd – Cold in July; Martin Short – Inherent Vice

 

ida 2Best Supporting Actress:

Agata Kulesza for Ida

 

 

 

And in alphabetical order:

Anna Kendrick – Into the Woods

Kiera Knightly – The Imitation Game

Renee Russo – Nightcrawler

Kristen Stewart – The Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice

Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

Uma Thurman – Nymphomaniac, Vol. I

Yann Yann Yeo – Ilo Ilo

Also rans: Laura Dern – Wild; Elizabeth Moss – Listen Up Philip; Noomi Rapace – The Drop

 

birdmanBest Director:

Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman

 

 

 

 

And in alphabetical order:

Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler

Jonathan Glazer – Under the Skin

Angelina Jolie – Unbroken

Lukas Moodysson – We Are the Best!

Pawel Pawlikowski – Ida

Damián Szifrón – Wild Tales

Lars von Trier – Nymphomaniac, Vol. I and II

Alex van Warmerdam – Borgman

Also rans: Jennifer Kent – The Babadook; Roman Polanski – Venus in Fur; Michaȅl R. Roskam – The Drop; Andrew Zvyagintsev – The Leviathan

 

wild tales oneBest Screenplay:

Damián Szifrón for Wild Tales

 

 

And in alphabetical order:

Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer – Under the Skin

Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler

Dennis Lehane – The Drop

Lukas Moodysson – We Are the Best!

Pawel Pawlikowski – Ida

Justin Simien – Dear White People

Lars von Trier – Nymphomaniac, Vol. I and II

Alex van Warmerdam – Borgman

Also rans: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle – Cold in July; Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne – Two Days, One Night; Ruben Ӧstlund – Force Majeure; Alex Ross Perry – Listen Up Philip; David Ives, Roman Polanski – Venus in Fur

 

dear white peopleBest Ensembles:

Birdman,Dear White People, Into the Woods, We Are the Best!, Wild Tales and Pride

 

 

 

grand budapestSpecial Awards:

Birdman – Music – Antonio Sanchez

Birdman – Cinematography – Emmanuel Lubezki

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Production Design – Adam Stockhausen

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Music – Alexander Desplat

Ida – Cinematography – Ryszard Lenczewski, Lukasz Zal

Mr. Turner – Cinematography – Dick Pope

Mr. Turner – Production Design – Suzie Davis

Unbroken – Cinematography – Roger Deakins

Unbroken – Music – Alexander Desplat

Under the Skin – Music – Mica Levi

Whiplash – Editing – Tom Cross

 

spidermanAnd last, but not least, the worst films of the year:

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Godzilla

Gone Girl

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Horns

Inherent Vice

Meleficent

Noah

Snowpiercer

Tusk

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t watch as many films as you and look to reviewers I trust to pick out films to view. I can’t argue with most of what you say and another 6% drop in the film industries revenues supports this. I do disagree with Under the Skin. It had potential that I feel it didn’t meet. The endless driving around in the dark, the unreal scene at the beach, the lack of dialogue made this film un-interesting and boring to me. I’m looking to film for escape and entertainment value and Under the Skin fell short for me.

  2. You know your films, Chris, I’ll give you that, even though I disagree with much of your choices, but nevertheless, impressed with your critical input – I would have had The Imitation Game in the top 10, I enjoyed Under The Skin, but best film? Completely disagree re the worst films – if they were the worst, geez, you’ve missed a lot of shit movies, my friend – but hey, like you, it’s only an opinion.

So tell me what you think.

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