Sunday, January 18, 2015

Top Ten Films Of 2014!

Having seen more than 100 films released in 2014 I am left feeling "blah". It wasn't an awful year at the movies as it was in 2000, 2006, 2008 and 2009 but I didn't enjoy what I saw as much as I did in 2010 or 2012.

The movies of 2014 were mostly average. There were a few good ones, those will be the ones on this list, and there were some bad ones, those will not appear on this list. But there were more films this year that were just average.

The studios and the big head executives tried to make us believe they had some strong, high caliber, meaningful films on their hands ("The Imitation Game" anyone?) but they didn't stick. The critics were ho-hum to them and the public didn't bother to see them.

A lot movies which I had high expectations for didn't meet the bar. A lot of the movies the sheep (movie critics) praised, didn't impress me. A lot of the movies the public went to see in droves, well, I didn't even bother to see them. I'm just not a fan of comic book movies, sorry.

It was somewhat difficult for me to come up with a list of ten great movies. They were out there but they weren't where you were looking. They weren't the Oscar nominated films. They weren't the box-office hits. They weren't the critical darlings. Nope. They were the small movies in most cases. They were the movies you haven't heard of. The movies which didn't have a $30 million dollar advertising campaign. They didn't get media attention. The best films of the year were the ones which were ignored. They were the documentaries, the low budget independent movies, the foreign language films. Those were the movies which inspired me. Which grabbed me. Which provoked me. Which touched my heart.

These 10 movies don't share a common theme. Though, a lot of them deal with relationships. A lot of them deal with ordinary people at a crossroad. They will make decisions which will change who they are forever. Why was I attracted to these stories? I'm not sure. Maybe I see myself at a crossroad in my life. Or maybe it says something about our country, about the world we live in. Maybe a lot of people aren't happy with their lives. They hate their job. They aren't making enough money. They are in a bad relationship or they are unhappy because they aren't in a relationship. Maybe they read the newspaper and world events scare them. Maybe some people feel, too many have let them down, whether it is their government or their neighbor.

So many movies were about people learning and dealing with these issues. One of the most acclaimed animated movies of the year, "The Lego Movie", presented a world where people were told what they must do but the system was out to hurt them not make life better. Compare that with "Divergent". A movie which was about individualism. It argued, don't let society label you. Fight back. "The Giver" presented a world in the future where once again the government controls its people by taking away their memories. Of course, we don't need science fiction to tell us the government is trying to control us, there was the documentary "Citizenfour", about Edward Snowden, the American patriot who exposed government surveillance. And the "Hunger Games" movies show us a government that amuses its rich citizens by showing them poor children killing each other.

Pretty serious and scary ideas huh? But, as I say every year, movies don't invent themselves. They are a reflection of our world. Writers come up with stories which they believe will be relevant. Movies contribute and sometimes start the national debate. They shows us the world we live in far better than we can see it, We are too busy running around to take a moment and think of our lives. Movies, great art in general, makes us slow down and pay attention.

In this "average" year at the movies here are the ten "best" I saw and a runner's up list.

1. FED UP (Dir. Stephanie Soechtig; U.S.) - It didn't get much media attention. It wasn't a topic on the nightly news and the critics didn't throw high praise at it. I'd be surprised if you find a critic name it as one of the year's 10 best films, but, "Fed Up", is an important documentary. This is something anyone that eats should watch. This documentary is about the amount of sugar in our diet and the harmful effects it has on our body. The documentary suggest this issue is one of the leading causes for obesity in America. Sugar is not properly labeled in our nutrition facts on the food we eat. And who do you think this benefits? The sugar lobby! They have fought strongly against this.

The most important thing the viewer will come away with as they watch this is, we are slowly killing ourselves. We are putting poison in our bodies. The consumer really doesn't know what they are eating. And, the government doesn't care. They aren't helping the matter. "Fed Up" makes fun of the fact Congress has labeled pizza a vegetable. That's not a joke. That is true. That is one example of how our government is failing us.

"Fed Up" should open a lot of eyes. More people need to be aware of this documentary. There is vital information here.

2. AMERICAN SNIPER (Dir. Clint Eastwood; U.S.) - Based on the life of Chris Kyle, a NAVY SEAL, who served four tours in Iraq as a sniper has been cause for a lot of controversy among critics and the public. Not since Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" (1987) have I seen a movie which shows the dehumanization of war and the effects it has on the soldier.

Click here to read my review.

3. CITIZENFOUR (Dir. Laura Poitras; U.S.) - This critically acclaimed documentary, which is nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary, tells the story of American patriot Edward Snowden, the man who exposed the far-reaching effects of government surveillance, which should have been known to the public anyway due to the "patriot"-act during the Bush administration.

Anyone who watches the nightly news or reads a newspaper, knows about Snowden and his heroic acts and the controversy that sadly follows him, as the United States government, embarrassed their secrets were revealed, engaged in character assassination to discredit Snowden.

The movie can be frightening, if you think about it long enough. Everything we do is being recorded by our government. No fictional story can beat that. This is the new sad reality of our lives.

A young man like Snowden, with nothing to gain but everything to lose, had a moment of clarity. As he stood at the fork in the road, he took a brave stance. How many people can say they would act the same way?

 People need to see this movie. Even if you already know this information by following the news, this visual presentation will still have an effect on you.

4. THE BABADOOK (Dir. Jennifer Kent; Australia) - One of the sleeper hits of the year. This low budget Australian horror/psychological film gained a lot of traction on the underground film scene generating plenty of positive buzz.

The movie is about the grieving process, mother and son relationships, the difficulties of being a single parents, guilt and resentment.

It is also pretty darn freaky!

Click here to read my review.

5. ST. VINCENT (Dir. Theodore Melfi; U.S.) - For me, the feel good movie of the year! Bill Murray, in a Golden Globe nominated performance, stars as Vincent, a Vietnam war vet, who is seen as the local grouch. He lives alone, drinks a lot and doesn't like people but, deep down he is a good man who befriends his new neighbors; a single mom (Melissa McCarthy) and her son (Jaeden Lieberher). Some may argue there are stereotypes and cliches in Melfi's screenplay but the movie works for me because of Murray's performance first and foremost, a shame he didn't get an Oscar nomination.

The movie is sweet and human. We all have our bad sides but if you give people a chance you will find the goodness in them.

6. JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (Dir. Frank Pavich; U.S.) - A great story of "what if". Director Pavich interviews the cult favorite Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky about a screen adaptation of Frank Herbet's science-fiction novel "Dune" which Jodorowsky's never got to make, though all the preparations were made.

The movie is a celebration of art and an artist's desire to be heard. It is a celebration of film and the movie making process.

One of the few movies that made me feel great as I left the theatre.

Click here to read my review from this blog.
Click here to read my review as published by Chicago Talks.

7. CHILD'S POSE (Pozitia Copilului, Dir. Calin Peter Netzer; Romania) - A continuation of the trend of powerful Romanian films distributed in America, here is a story showing us the story of two worlds; one for the rich and one for the poor.

A child dies in a car accident. The driver comes from a wealthy family with connections. The victim comes from a poor family.

Will justice be served? Or can the rich get away with murder?

8. LOCKE (Dir. Steven Knight; UK) - A one man moral drama starring Tom Hardy as David Locke.

The movie takes place in Locke's car on the most disruptive day of his life. He is at a crossroad and makes a decision which will change his life forever.

Hardy delivers a tour-de-force performance. The entire movie rest on his shoulders. He is the only character we see. And yet, the movie is never boring. It is exciting and compelling and very well written, with a screenplay by Steven Knight.

A pity Hardy did not receive an Academy Award nomination.

9. LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (Dir. Hirokazu Koreeda; Japan) - A couple learns their six year old son may not be their's at all. The question is do they want to know the truth. And, if they do find out, then what? What moral responsibility do they have to this child they have raised as their own? The child only knows them as his parents.

Nominated for the palm d' or at the Cannes Film Festival this is a touching, human story about doing the right thing. About what defines a family.

10. LE WEEK-END (Dir. Roger Michell; UK) - A charming British comedy/drama about an elderly couple returning to Paris decades after their honeymoon.

A smart observant piece about marriage and growing old. The performances by the two leads; Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan create two lovely characters we enjoy seeing spending time together and hope they are able to work our their problems.

Click here to read my review.

Runner's Up!

1. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (Dir. Woody Allen; UK/ U.S.) - Click here to read my review.

2. THE NOTEBOOK (A Nagy Fuzet, Dir. Janos Szasz; Hungary) - Click here to read my review.

3. A MASTER BUILDER (Dir. Jonathan Demme; U.S.)

4. FORCE MAJEURE (Turist, Dir. Ruben Ostlund; Sweden)

5. A MOST WANTED MAN (Dir. Anton Corbijn; U.S.)

6. VENUS IN FUR (Dir. Roman Polanski; France)

7. OMAR (Dir. Hany Abu-Assad; Palastine)

8. WHIPLASH (Dir. Damien Chazelle; U.S.)

9. THE NOVEMBER MAN (Dir. Roger Donaldson; U.S.)

10. ANNABELLE (Dir. John R. Leonetti; U.S.) - Click here to read my review.