The charge for any movie based upon a popular novel is two-fold. First, they must remain faithful to the source material. You can’t have a writer bandying critical alterations in plot or character, lest they invite the chagrin of a million swarming fanboys, ready with pitchforks and sub-reddit comments. Secondly, they must inject some modicum of vision into the material. To transform a novel into a film without tact or some place of purpose is to present an audience with a run-down of in-book events without much-needed personality or intent. Think James Franco adapting Faulkner or Angelina Jolie taking on “Unbroken”. They failed because they were “adaptations” and nothing more; they changed the medium, but lost the soul. Read More
Let’s be frank: 2014 was a killer year for film. It was so murderous, you could call it Lou Bloom; so voluptuous, you could call it Eva Green. It was so sweet and sexy, you could call it Hello Kitty. If you were amongst the ranks of dissenters, whining on some Lazy-E-boy somewhere about how there weren’t enough Trans4mers movies or Hercules adaptations, you’re wrong. That’s all there is to it. 2014 popped cherries. It was violently mayhemious, hallucinatorily glorious, redonkulously fist-to-facey and totally, wholeheartedly, unapologetically weepy (yeah, I teared up more than once, what’s it to you?).
2014 was the year that Bill Murray aped a grump, Tom Cruise aped Bill Murray and Andy Serkis aped an ape. It was a kick-to-the-shinception of a year with title releases that saw anal polyps pop in sexplotitation flicks (Wetlands), hammer fights (The Raid 2), Ridley Scott falling on his face (Exodus: Gods and Godhelpmethismovieisbad), doppelgängers galore (Enemy, et al.), hungry games (some that involved auto-cannibalism, some that didn’t), Christopher Nolan falling on his face (Inter-mitently-stellar), STDemons (It Follows), Walrusfurmations (Mr. Tusk, Tusk, Mr. Golden Tusk) and lots and lots of bloody bloody vengeance (too many to list.)
It told the tales of Martin Luther King (Selma), of James Brown (Get On Up), Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything), Alan Turring (The Imitation Game), John Du Pont (Foxcatcher), Cheryl Strayed (Wild), Noah (Noah), Roger Ebert (Life Itself), Robyn Davidson (Tracks), Alejandro Jodorowsky (Jodorowsky’s Dune), Maziar Bahari (Rosewater), Jimi Hendrix (All is By My Side), Dido Elizabeth Belle (Belle), Joe Albany (Low Down), Cesar Chavez (Cesar Chavez), Abraham Lincoln (The Better (more like worse! heyooo!) Angels), and a dude named Sky Lord.
This 14th year of the 21st century crammed every element possible into the indie box, shook it up and spurted it out like spicy hot cream. From sci-fi (Space Station ’76, Young Ones) to DIY game shows (Cheap Thrills, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter), road trips (Chef, The Trip to Italy) to Twilights Zones (The One I Love, The Double), there was more buried treasure than a pirate map. Trouble is, with all these untrumpeted indie releases, you often do need a map to find them.
Maybe the fact that I attended three film festivals (Sundance, SXSW and SIFF) and was able to eke out some hidden gems that would go on to sneak past most audiences (and critics. Poor, lonely, lonely critics) helped me come to the assertion that 2014 rocked the socks off of c*cks but even without those underground, super covert, keep-them-secret-keep-them-safe riches, 2014 had a trove of wide-releases to match.
Those who guard galaxies, John Wicks, men with X’s in their names, Hobbitses, noir Liam Neesons, Godzillas and lobby boys all helped transformed the mass media cinema culture of 2014 into one worth remembering, even in the face of a fast approaching year that will see Han f*cking Solo behind the wheel of the Millennium f*cking Falcon.
Honorable mentions won’t be ticked off as we’re in the process of cranking out a top 100 movies of 2014 list and that does more than the duty of a normal man’s honorable mentions section. So ten tops and ten only. No funny business. No ties. No b*llshit. So strap in, check yourself before you wreck yourself and let’s make a f*cking list.
If 2014 was a year about blowing minds, none did it more casually and assuredly than Denis Villenue‘s total tonal WTF-fest Enemy. Starring not one but two Jake Gyllenhaals, Enemy tracks a man coming to terms with his own fracturing identity. Or did it? This existential experiment about giant spiders, locks’n’keys, balls’n’chains, dreamscapes, unrelenting ambiguity and twinsies might at first appear to be a bundle of malarky but once you dig your heels into it and break it down like a certifiable horse whisperer, everything miraculously makes sense. Not necessarily in a 5+5=10 kind of makes sense way but I’m willing to content that I have an explanation for this film (that I won’t divulge here) that will convincingly put the many aggressively jigsawed pieces into satisfying place. As the unholy apex of violently disorienting endings, there’s yet to be a movie this year that tops the complete and total f*ck you that Enemy seemingly ends on and yet, going back over it all with a fine-toothed comb (or a scalpel, it’s really up to you) it’s a masterpiece of a mind-game that isn’t as unsolvable as the casual observer may assume. For blowing my mind and allowing me to eventually recover it, Enemy sneaks into the tenth spot.
“What occurs as Enemy progresses is quaking, the earth below your feet seems to tremor faster and faster, moving its way up the Richter scale. A floating Tarantula as big as a Goodyear blimp slinks its way over Toronto. A woman’s body with a Tarantula’s head walks upside down through a corridor. At 90 minutes, it shrinks and expands the mind, then ends abruptly with no questions answered. Enemy is a rollercoaster personally designed by the Devil. Twist and turn, crash and burn.” (Full Review)
9. THE GUEST
Heading into last year’s Sundance Midnight Premiere of The Guest, I had nothing to go on save for the above image – an armed, robo-faced Arayan slipping through a blood-red colorscape with all the wrong kind of intent. The film that followed knocked me out (and this is after seeing five (!!!) films already that day). The Guest left me humming and high on transcended genre thrills, shellshocked from grenades and ringing in the ears from some large caliber weapon or other. I was hooked like a junkie on that sweet blue sky. Dan Stevens is a dream in the eponymous role, guiding us through Adam Wingard‘s hallucinatory and unapologetically violent landscape with the cold-hard gusto of a seasoned pro, forcing smiles, guffaws, sneers and drop jaws in equal, calculated doses. The concept of the film could be reduced to “What if Bourne malfunctioned?” and the result manages to feel fresh, even through curtain after curtain of homage. When I caught The Guest for a second time, I found that my initial enjoyment hadn’t been stayed so much as intensified – this was clearly one of the most entertaining films of the year and for it, has earned a spot on this list.
“Slam Drive and Stocker together, rub them down in a spicy 80’s genre marinate and sprinkle with mesmerizing performances and dollops of camp and you have The Guest. Like a turducken of genre, Adam Wingard‘s latest is a campy horror movie stuffed inside a hoodwinking Canon action flick and deep fried in the latest brand of Bourne-style thriller. It’s clever, tense, uproarious, and hypnotizing nearly ever second.” (Full Review)
8. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
There were no blockbusters this year that came close to topping Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I mean, the freakin’ thing had apes firing automatic weapons on horseback. And tanks. And some of the most harrowing depictions of war ever set to screen. And tanks. That’s because Reeve’s film dealt with the idea of the anatomy of war and of a war mentality with a kind of sobering ideology that so few blockbusters dare to touch. It’s war sans glory. There are no heroes, just a bunch of wounded f*ck-ups. Andy Serkis‘ monkey-work was arresting as always (green screen bling king) but it was Toby Kebbell who stole the show as the year’s best villain, the emotionally-and-physically scarred Koba. There were few scenes this year that were more powerful than when all-out warfare erupts at the hands of Koba. That 360 tank sequence was a dream within a nightmare but when Koba literally drags an unwilling soldier to his death, you realize that the dreams of revolution can only be written in bright red streaks. These were haunting moments of filmmaking somehow stuffed into a PG-13 movie about monkeys ruling the world. What the hell? But even when you strip back all the ambitious themes of the film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is still a mighty entertaining piece of blockbuster fare with unbelievably perfect FX work and stunning camera work. It really does work on every level.
“As Reeve’s film leaks historical allegories like a zesty geyser, his political astuteness pans to a smart dissection of why we choose war in the first place. War is a side effect of fear, fear a scar of misunderstanding. Koba’s are scars that cannot be healed. Dreyfus won’t stand for Three-Fifths of a vote. Peace is a process. Wars start inevitably. It’s not that these two civilizations could not peacefully co-habitate, it’s that sometimes a punch in the face seems like a more swift resolution than drawn-out talks.” (Full Review)
7. THE RAID 2
And then there’s Gareth Evans borderline genius The Raid 2; an action movie that makes guns look p*ssy-shaped in the face of a fury of hand-to-hand combat, that unloads scene after scene of inhumanely choreographed fistsplosions and that delivers perhaps the best martial arts movie of all time (or at least of the last decade). What this second Raid movie has over the first is a good story, and a damn good one at that. Like Internal Affairs and The Departed before it, The Raid 2 tells the tale of a deep cover agent, set with all the angsty check-behind-the-lamp paranoia and grueling psychological breaks that such a position demands. But that doesn’t really matter once the car chase scene rolls around and is filmed by a dude disguised as a seat cushion. Evans – who wrote this before he wrote and directed the first film – doesn’t skimp on the narrative gooeyness and when he eventually launches into a balls-to-the-walls orgy of violence that’ll have your blood pumping in ungodly, death-inviting spurts, you’ll know that you were born to behold this film. It’s just all so righteous.
“To try to boil down what is so sublimely excellent about The Raid 2: Berandal is a futile exercise in tilting at windmills. It’s like boxing a griffin, outthinking a Sicilian, or KY-Jelly wrestling an anaconda. Instead of trying to describe the irrepressible satisfaction this balls-to-the-walls, smarter-than-your-dad actioner elicits, instead conjure up what it felt like to lose your virginity, if you lost your virginity in a ten-on-one man brawl in a pit of mud.” (Full Review)
Boyhood topped my most anticipated list for 2014 and for some time, I considered it my favorite film of the year. There is something undeniably magical about watching young Ellar Coltrane grow up before our very eyes in Richard Linklater‘s ambitious 12 year experiment and that something makes for a film that demands our uninterrupted empathy like few others have. It truly gave me all the feels. Some have confused Linklater’s long-gestated gimmick as a form of indie-cred beating off where it’s really just offbeat genius. Watching Boyhood for the second time didn’t ignite all the fiery passions that it had the first so it’s lost a little traction throughout the year with me, but nothing can make me forget that first magical experience I had with it, sitting amongst the first audience to behold its glory in a giant Sundance screening room. Revisiting the oh-so-true growing pains of adolescence was heart-rending enough but Boyhood really thrives in the quieter moments where we just sat back and watched an unextraordinary young boy mature, awkwardly bragging about hooking up with a girl from out of town, huffing back on a doobie and having the cavalier gaul to admit his highness to his mom, chatting with his dad about girls and Star Wars. It may be the film on this list that I’ll re-watch the least, but it shouldn’t be.
“Calling it a coming-of-age story feels slight as Boyhood tracks the joy and pain of growing up, one delicate moment at a time. We find ourselves in Macon, a perceptive youth, in his strength and in his weakness, in his whiny teenage angst and his youthful abandon, in his quasi-stoned prolific moments of reflection and his meekest helplessness.” (Full Review)
I’m willing to admit that David Ayer‘s Fury is a bit of a mess. Then again, aren’t most of Tarantino’s films? (If you say no, I’d like to direct you to the Django Australian miner scene…) Django was my favorite movie of 2012 because it was big and weird and overwritten. And dazzling and savage and brilliant. It was great not in spite of its giddy flaws but because of them. Fury shares the same traits. Somewhere in the midst of it, the crew settles down to an impromptu dinner party (a scene that has divided critics and audiences alike). It sticks out from the rest of the movie like a sore thumb and yet is one of the most beautiful, affecting scenes of 2014. Then Ayer follows that up with Fury‘s tracer-fire highlighted Tiger tank battle and you can forgetaboutit. It’s a movie that works scene-to-scene maybe a touch better than it does as a whole but as an assemblage of scenes, Fury is a big, beautiful, bent out of shape ball of fire and I unabashedly loved it. Ayer dares to air out old things in new light (war as a job. As a mostly shitty but sometimes awesome job) and his film features the best ensemble cast work of the entire year. Push back all you want, Fury is here to stay.
“To boil Ayer’s masterful Fury down to “war is hell” is to ricochet off the mark. To call it a movie without subtext is to poke holes in a block of swiss. The themes stare you in the face, they thump into your cranium and they sick in your soul. They bear witness to wartime masculinity pig-piling on itself in a nasty, self-fulfilling prophecy that causes and perpetuates war. The rally speeches become just as dangerous as the nuclear weapons. The hoorahs build into their own Manhattan Projects.” (Full Review)
We’re getting down to the big ones at this point and there’s perhaps no movie bigger, bolder and more bonkers this year than Dan Gilroy‘s Nightcrawler. From the very moment we stumble upon Lou Bloom, the sociopath with a banker’s name, everything feels like a happy accident, as if Gilroy’s camera just happened upon this X-manly-purported slip of a human and decidedly followed him like a nightly news crew. But there’s no accidental filmmaking in Nightcrawler (there are many accidents, though mostly of the vehicular kind) and as Gilroy bends his titular Nightcrawler into bigger and odder shapes, he makes room for one of the most important and mind-altering filmic trips of the season. With the borders filled in by revivalist performances from Rene Russo and Bill Paxton – and a whole chunk of space dedicated to Riz Ahmed‘s consciously unconscious thespian discharge – Gilroy’s perfectly written diatribe to greed and America’s obsession with suburbian horrors becomes the most arresting and visceral thematic account of where we stand as a nation and featured the best performance of the year in Jake Gyllenhaal. Greed is good is dead. Long live all is greed. Long live Lou Bloom. Long live Jake Gyllenhaal.
“With a name as innocuous as Louis Bloom, you wouldn’t initially suspect the lead character of Nightcrawler to be so dangerous. But the virulent Lou is the kind of guy who dissolves into shadows; who feeds vampirically in the darkness. He’s not a villain so much as a force of nature. Silent but deadly. Throughout the film, Lou’s facial expressions percolate with a kind of serpentine other-worldliness. As if his tongue could dart from his mouth at any moment to nip at the night air. It doesn’t. He remains squarely within the realm of the human. No matter how inhumane he is. A testament to Dan Gilroy‘s narrow degree of restraint and Gyllenhaal’s tightrope-walking ability.” (Full Review)
The fourth (and final) entry to this list that I caught at Sundance 2014, Whiplash knocked me on my ass. Adapted from an award-winning short film, Damien Chazelle‘s Full Metal Jazz Kit is a whirlwind of genre. It’s a sports movie blanketed in a war movie and punched in the face by a character study. JK Simmons roars as a drill sergeant of a conductor and we gratefully whimper in response. His performance is monsterous and marked by some of the best one-liners of the year (“That’s not your boyfriend’s d*ck; don’t come too early). Whiplash is a film that’s all about keeping tempo and getting walloped when you don’t. That beady stare that Fletcher’s perfected promises a hearty verbal wallops if not a lashing or two from those unnaturally muscled 60-year old guns. Like the most studious graduates of the school of hard rocks, Chazelle keeps tempo like Buddy Rich, chugging us along to a grand finale that is nothing short of grand. Really, really f*cking grand. If you don’t want to explode up from your seat with hands full of applause at curtain time, you’re probably deaf. Or at least tone deaf.
“Through Chazelle’s assured hand and Blacklist-topping script, Whiplash is fantastically dynamic – a perfect ode to that musical constant acting a central catalyst to the film’s narrative. While students get smacked for being the slightest bit off tempo, Whiplash is unmistakably paced to precision – the loving design of a satisfied perfectionist.” (Full Review)
2. GONE GIRL
Ben Affleck‘s grin can eat shit like none other and only a genius like David Fincher could cast on a grin alone. If there’s but one linchpin moment to Gone Girl (there’s so many) it might be his solitary poo-scarfing beam. Planted next to his wife’s missing poster, smirking like a grinch, the man looks a positive jackass. And this is the brilliance of Gone Girl – to present two sides and make us uncomfortable choosing either. As much a dissection on media as it is on marriage, Gillian Flynn‘s adaptation of her own novel presents a darker Amy and a less reasonable Nick. In this dark tale, no one gets away with being called “amazing”. Backed up some of the best score work of the year (Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor solely backing Fincher’s horse is just too perfect to be true) and one-upped by the preeminent kill of the year, Gone Girl is a masterclass stroke of jet black intelligence.
“Always going, going, gone, David Fincher absolutely knocks it out of the park. Gone Girl is one of the best, and darkest, visions he’s ever dished up. Always one step before the action, Fincher demands we race to catch up. Each shot ends just marginally too quickly. His vision is frantic by design. Things get lost in the dark that are never recovered. You just have to pretend along with it.” (Full Review)
Ka-KAW! Number one. Explosions in the sky. Theater in the streets. Birdman is the most relevant, important and downright entertaining film of the year. Kind of a comedy, kind of a drama and 100% a showcase of actors doing their best acting, Iñárritu’s jeremiad on the death and resurrection of art in the 21st century is as bitingly funny as it is boldfaced misunderstood. Existentialism has never seemed so moody and hysterical as Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone tear up the world stone-by-stone and try and piece it together to fit their narrow-minded narratives. Their undressings are their undoings and Iñárritu shoves the camera oh-so-perfectly down their throats. No film this year played with the mounting importance of social media, the unbecoming preeminence of superhero culture and the distressing role of celebrity status while meticulously piecing together a construct of high art like Birdman was able to and from the no-cut gimmick to a firing-on-all-cylinders ensemble cast, Birdman left me as intellectually rock hard as Mike Shiner on dress rehearsal night. No need to fade to black, this is what movies are made for. Period. The end.
“Steeped in an exacting degree of irreverent relevance, Iñárritu’s able to pull off the rare feat of raising existential questions in the same scene that he blows up a cityscape. It’s like seeing Black Swan and A Beautiful Mind fist-fighting in a Charlie Kaufman play; a crossroads of cinema and theater that’s entirely novel and entirely brilliant.” (Full Review)
So there you have it. Ten magical films to cherish from henceforth until happily ever after. Ten Bountiful beauties that will transport you to a better (or worse) place, regardless of your potentially feeble headspace. No need to thank me, just doing my critic-y duty. If you happen to disagree, I’m willing to afford you one spoonful of words. Anything more than that is a waste of breath and probably warrants a punch in the mouth.
2014 has been one big toss up for Oscar contenders. With the release of nominees from the Golden Globes (winners now), SAGs, the PGAs, the ADGs, the ASCs, the WGAs and the BAFTAs as well as AFI Top Ten, LAFCA, NYFCC and more things have been shaping up into more and more of an unconventional top crop for contenders. Front runners Boyhood, The Imitiation Game, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Selma look to nab nominations across the board while darker films like Nightcrawler, Gone Girl and Whiplash are looking more and more likely to be amongst the conversation as serious players.
However hazy some of the later-down-the-list nominees might be, the front runners and potential winners are looking more locked up than they do most year before the nominations are even announced, with few big battleground categories. You could assuredly put your money on a Richard Linklater win for Best Director, Michael Keaton for Best Actor, Julianne Moore for Best Actress, JK Simmons for Best Supporting, and Patricia Arquette for Best Supporting Actress. Wes Anderson‘s script for Grand Budapest Hotel looks like a shoe-in win while Gillian Flynn hopes to score Oscar gold for Gone Girl.
I would bet money on a second Emmanuel Lubezki win in a row (Gravity, now Birdman) for Best Cinematography, even though it’s looking like a crowded field. This happens to be the case with many of the technical fields. Just too few slots for too many contenders. Those categories that I really feel like I’m just taking a shot in the dark at are Best Song, Sound Editing/Mixing and Best Visual Effects (which could go many, many ways.)
Otherwise, I’m just hoping that my Best Picture contenders are on the money since if things go the way I’m thinking they will, we’ll have one of the best Best Picture collections in recent history.
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Richard Linklater “Boyhood”
Alejandro G. Inarritu “Birdman”
David Fincher “Gone Girl”
Ava DuVernay “Selma”
Wes Anderson “Grand Budapest Hotel”
Michael Keaton “Birdman”
Eddie Redmayne “The Theory of Everything”
Jake Gyllenhaal “Nightcrawler”
Benedict Cumberbatch “The Imitation Game”
David Oyelowo “Selma”
Julianne Moore “Still Alice”
Reese Witherspoon “Wild”
Rosamund Pike “Gone Girl”
Felicity Jones “The Theory of Everything”
Jennifer Anniston “Cake”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
JK Simmons “Whiplash”
Mark Ruffalo “Foxcatcher”
Edward Norton “Birdman”
Ethan Hawke “Boyhood”
Robert Duvall “The Judge”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette “Boyhood”
Emma Stone “Birdman”
Keira Knightley “The Imitation Game”
Jessica Chastain “A Most Violent Year”
Meryl Streep “Into the Woods”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Wes Anderson “Grand Budapest Hotel”
Alejandro Inarritu et al “Birdman”
Richard Linklater “Boyhood”
Dan Gilroy “Nightcrawler”
Ava Duvernay, Paul Webb “Selma”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Gillian Flynn “Gone Girl”
Graham Moore “The Imitation Game”
Nick Hornby “Wild”
Damien Chazelle “Whiplash”
Anthony McCarten “The Theory of Everything”
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Wild Tales (Argentina)
Grand Budapest Hotel
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Grand Budapest Hotel
Into the Woods
The Theory of Everything
BEST SOUND MIXING
Into the Woods
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
BEST SOUND EDITING
Into the Woods
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Into the Woods
Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
A Most Violent Year
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Theory of Everything
The Imitation Game
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Last Days in Vietnam
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The LEGO Movie
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Big Hero 6
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Mercy Is” (Noah)
“Yellow Flicker Beat” (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part I)
I knew a guy in college who was accused of rape. He was a few years older than me and confided the tale over a joint and some cheap whiskey. The case didn’t go to court nor did he see the inside of a jail cell but the accusation alone stood as a scarlet letter. He became a bit of a pariah; an un-dateable. His side of the story admittedly painted a dubious picture – both of them were drinking, they fooled around, two weeks later it was reported as a rape – but I nonetheless felt uncomfortable swilling from the same bottle of Seagram’s 7 as him.
Like he had unintentionally Inceptioned me, the inkling of suspicion was planted, the possibility that this guy had physically and emotionally scarred a woman swarmed my mind and grew into an unpleasant garden of doubt. It almost didn’t matter who was guilty. The blood was in the water. So what if he were innocent? The idea had still taken hold. So what if all it took to break a man down to the studs was one simple, four-letter word? Tawana Brawley set a judicial precedent with her 1988 court case of such a nature, Crystal Mangum and the Duke Lacrosse Team proved such an occurrence was no novelty. You better believe that acquitted or no, none of those chums are going to be the next contestant on The Bachelor. And then what if we dial that up to murder? How many Grand Trial Juries see a case in which a wife is murdered and immediately assume the husband’s involvement? Gone Girl harnesses that destructive power of accusation, plants us in the eye of the storm and dares its audience to keep up with each and every turn, no matter how subtle or seemingly easy to dismiss. Brace for impact, it’s a hell of a ride.
Adapted from Gillian Flynn‘s Best Seller of the same name, Gone Girl is a movie I knew I was going to love from the opening credits, which is no short surprise for movie maestro David Fincher. The names of associated talent blip in bright white words to fade unnaturally quickly from focus. They supernova. In the background, staccato shots of perfectly framed suburban residences attack the audience, underscored by Trent Reznor‘s pulsing, foggy soundtrack. Mimicking the volcanic rumble of a natural disaster or, worse yet, demons trying to escape from hell, his gothic, almost science fiction-like soundscape rolls over all like a fiery wave. As if on a timer, the blue house with white trim jolts to a four-bedroom with a red door. A low synth note sustains. Suburbia never looked so menacing.
Day one, morning of. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) enters a bar; his bar; The Bar. It’s only 11 but he fixes a whiskey, neat. Sister Margo, played with gusto by Carrie Coon, joins him. It’s his fifth anniversary. The “wood” year. Appropriate seeing that’s what his marriage now resembles. Margo makes disparaging remarks. Nick grants them. His wife’s a bitch. “Amazing Amy” is a farce.
A side story breaks in without warning. In swooping penmanship, Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) diary takes us back in time. In flashback, life looks promising. A storybook. Reznor’s tracks get playful, as if they’re played on a kiddy xylophone. Nick and Amy spar verbally, the flirtation of the intelligentsia, before kissing in a sugar storm. Their meeting is an Ivy League daydream. As a girl, Amy’s life had been massaged and melded into a popular kid’s series penned by her mother, “Amazing Amy”. Amy’s amazing counterpart always made the varsity team. She was a shoe-in for valedictorian. She had a dog because it made her relatable. Amazing Amy was a tough act to follow. But in the potpourri of a sugar storm, the crusty side of life is easy enough to forget.
Day one, afternoon. Nick returns home to find a bouquet of smashed glass and no Amy. After finding a trace of blood splatter, Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) is quick to rule this a missing persons case. The hunt for Amazing Amy begins. As the vigil lights spark, the curtain comes up on Amy’s ill-standing in the community. Even before her disappearance, she was a ghost. A New Yorker with her nose too high in the air to notice the Missouri (she pronounces the word startlingly like “misery”) locals around her. Nick registers as unfazed to the social community at large with TV personalities and town’s people alike taking turns to knock his untimely playboy grins and unbefitting calm.
By Day Seven, the incident has unraveled into a full scale media circus and Fincher’s direction chases the rabbit down the hole. Nick’s wrapped up in a chess game played with power sex and won by carnal obliteration. Staring into the furtive abyss of the death sentence, Nick associates with a high status defense lawyer, played by a surprisingly great Tyler Perry, as he tries to mount a case that goes beyond just proving he didn’t kill his wife. In the age of social networking, you also have to win Twitter. The murderer becomes a Bachelor contestant. Womankind nationwide have to get their jollies if he stands a chance at an acquittal. Nick’s a pawn, moved unwittingly across the board by a mastermind the likes of Bobby Fisher and Fincher knows exactly when, where and how much to show. Just watching is stressful. Alleviating yourself by sucking down Coca-Cola or smacking popcorn is self-defeating. You don’t even dare to take a bathroom break.
In large part thanks to the massively enticing performances, Gone Girl threatens to slack your jaw so low it could fall off. Though unlikely to see much award fanfare, the oft underrated Ben Affleck is perfectly on mark. He’s not the hero you want but he’s the one Fincher’s picture deserves. Above him, below him and all around him, Rosamund Pike is an explosion. She’s breathtaking. She’s the remnants of a shattered China Doll, self-repairing into a new, frightening form. Like Chucky. She’s brilliant. She’s my current front runner for Best Actress. If not at the Oscars, in my own awards. A scene in which Amy undergoes a fluid-soaked transformation is as startling as it is perfect. The phoenix rises from the ashes. The devil is in the details. Fincher’s camera eats it up like pudding. Like everything else in her life, Amy owns her scenes.
Let’s break down one bit in particular. Ex-boyfriend Neil Patrick Harris fantasizes about octopus and scrabble on the Greece coastline. Like Amy, the octopus feeds through a hidden maw. A cavernous web of teeth. Impossible to predict, its arms are a slippery tangle of deception. Before you even see the octopus coming, you disappear in their cloud of ink. They’re inconspicuous predators. Similarly, the best Scrabble players can find meaning in a mess. In that cloud of ink, they thrive. They whip things to their advantage, trading up for better letters. For better standing. For a better Amy. Octopus and scrabble. His fantasy is his undoing. He feeds right into Amy’s manipulative maw.
Gone Girl deals in accusations and historical gender circumstance. It’s a 21st century battle of the sexes; a tennis match played with grenades. Amy and Nick’s affair depends entirely upon existing gender roles. It festers because of the wobbly stature between mankind and womankind. It’s not feminist. It’s emasculating. It’s not progressive. It’s the end of times. It’s a pedagogical treatise on the anatomy of a broken marriage. Or maybe all marriage. Who can tell? And I guess that’s the point. It’s always going, going, gone (girl). David Fincher absolutely hits it out of the park. It’s one of the best, and darkest, visions he’s ever dished up. Always one step before the action, Fincher demands we race to catch up. Each shot ends just marginally too quickly. His vision is frantic by design. Things get lost in the dark that are never recovered. You just have to pretend along with it. Case in point, I never got to the bottom of that college guy’s story. And in the end, his reputation never really hinged on the truth at all. Just what people thought.
So before you go asking about Lars von Trier‘s 5-hour sexcapade Nymphomaniac, Woody Allen‘s latest period piece starring Emma Stone or any of the three Terrence Malick films that may or may not debut this year, let me just stop you short and let you know that they didn’t see their way onto this list. Though Allen’s newest may be good, he shoots out so many duds that it’s hard to really look forward to any one piece of his work. And Trier, well, do I really have to say anything beyond look at the description? Maybe they’ll be bits of interest but I’m more dreading it than I am anticipating it. As for Malick’s certain pedigree of art film, let’s just say I’m wildly uninterested in anything the man does as I find his work more a chore than anything else.
Although I tried to keep my list as tidy as possible, I did make a bit of a miscalculation so this top ten will actually be a top 11. I was thinking of chopping one but when we’re down to the wire like this, I really want to make sure to get all these top-tier selections out there. One extra film to look forward to right?
Korean director Joon-ho Bong (The Host – the good one, not the bad one) makes his English-language debut with this dystopian film set on a high-speed train. Starring Captain America‘s Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris, and Octavia Spencer, Snowpiercer opened in France in October to rave reviews. Some even went so far to call it “the best pure science-fiction film since ‘Children Of Men.” [The Playlist]. There’s been a little controversy over it’s US release, such as when will it actually release, amongst stirrings that a US release under the Weinstein Co. banner may see extensive cuts but I’m hoping that if this film ever arrives intact and well, it’ll be a stunner.
No official release date yet but it’s likely 2014 or bust.
10…Again. Map to the Stars
(Accidentally) sharing that top ten spot is David Cronenberg‘s Map to the Stars. Although Cronenberg has largely dropped the ooey, gooey sci-fi-horror genre that made his name what it is today, he’s still a director with a tremendous amount of passion and ideas. Obviously the cast is stacked; Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, Carrie Fisher, Mia Wasikowska, John Cussack; but this isn’t the sci-fi adventure the name may suggest. No, instead that star map refers to the celebrities of Hollywood as Cronenberg, backed by a script from Bruce Wagner, turns a satirical lens on child stars. With back-to-back collaborations, it looks like Cronenberg has found a new muse in Twilight‘s Pattinson and I must admit to strongly enjoying their last effort Cosmopolis so sign me up for a trip to Map to the Stars.
So far all we know is that this’ll hit screens sometime in 2014.
Continuing down the list, it’s all about the guys behind the camera. In Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller (Moneyball) tells the tragic story of how paranoid schizophrenic John duPont killed Olympic Champion Dave Schultz. Yikes. Even a year out, this film screams Oscars and is already poised to make contenders out of the likes of Mark Ruffalo and, however unexpectedly, Steve Carell. Miller has shown a knack for telling a true story in a way that we could never have expected so I’m fascinated to see what he does with a crazy dude and a murder plot.
Yet another without an official release date, Foxcatcher was pushed out of 2013 so there’s no chance it won’t see the light of day in 2014.
Brad Pitt is back to war and I’m already saving my seat. Backed up by Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, and Shia LaBeouf (…) Fury tells the story of one Sherman tank and its five-man crew as they hunt down Nazis with a tank. While Pitt’s glorious recent track record may be the only thing immediately popping out about this one, Fury has something much bigger going for it: David Ayer. The only director to have two entries on this list, Ayer has proven that he can balance drama and tension like none other with End of Watch and this looks even better than entry #15 Sabotage. I’m really wagering a lot on Ayer this year but I have a feeling that neither of his latests will disappoint. If End of Watch is any indication, Fury could be the sleeper hit of the year.
November 12 will see Fury rolling in.
7. Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson. Joaquin Phoenix. Nuff said. Ok fine, I’ll go on. Even after the fuzzy disappointment that was The Master (and I’ve had enough of arguing why it was or was not a good movie), PTA will be returning to a more wacky and linear story. I started the 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name and found it a little dry and noirish for my reading taste but I can already imagine the kind of cinematic flair that PTA and Phoenix will bring to it. Needless to say, I’m confident that it’ll be a superior film experience. Although the source material suggests the story may be too pulpy for real awards consideration, could this be the film that brings Phoenix his awaited Oscar?
More 2014 films without confirmed release dates.
6. Gone Girl
Dark, dour, depressing. The three D’s of David Fincher. But what can you expect from the man who brought us Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac? Based on the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl tells the tale of a woman who disappears on her wedding anniversary. Although I’m trying to go into this one with as little details as possible, the mere fact that Fincher is on the case is enough to whet my curiosity. However much next year will revolve around his Batman role, Ben Affleck will have the chance to offer a much more interesting performance here and it’ll be nice to see the man stretch his wings and step outside of his easy, breezy comfort zone.
A pre-Halloween release with an October 3 date.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I feel like I stand alone by being merely lukewarm on Wes Anderson‘s last celebrated film, Moonrise Kingdom, but I’m a staunch believer that his earlier, and more adult, work is his finest. So it’s no wonder that I silently celebrated when The Grand Budapest Hotel got a R-rating. All of Anderson’s usual quirk and OCD-level of visual detail appear to be in tow as are Anderson regulars Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray. This time newbies include Ralph Fiennes, in the starring role, Saoirse Ronan, Lea Seydoux, Tom Wilkinson, Harvey Keitel, and F. Murray Abraham. It really seems like Anderson can put a cast together like none other and with a cast list this stacked, you have to imagine that these actors are just lining up at the door to work with him.
In theaters March 7.
4. Chuck Hank And The San Diego Twins
Jonathan Keevil’s debut, Bellflower, was one of the most jarring and visceral films to date and I simply could not wait to see what he did next. So when it was announced that he would write and direct what seems like a loose adaptation of Romeo & Juliet (well there’s warring families and a captured girl so pretty much…alright scrap the R & J reference) I was pretty pumped. Keevil constructed his first film with less than fifteen grand and considering that this budget is about ten times that ($150K) it puts it in a great position. Still far enough away from the mainstream to retain a wholly original flair and yet loaded enough for a little financial flexibility to do more stunts, Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins is a definite risk pick but one I’m confident making. In Keevil’s Kickstarter campaign, he noted they needed the funds to create such awesome action sequences as: “jumping out of a helicopter”, “Molotov cocktails everywhere” and “punching a guy and he bursts into flames.” Righteous.
It seems like none of my most anticipated have release dates as this one has nothing locked down yet either.
For years, Darren Aronofsky has led us on about his Noah project and finally this year we’ll see what it was he was chomping so hard at the bit about. Once Black Swan made 25 times its production budget (which for those of you don’t already know is totally insane) the folks at Paramount felt it was right to dish out the 130 million dollars Aronofsky wanted to make Noah the big budget spectacle film he always dreamed about. All evidence points to Aronofsky as a tremendous dramatic director (see Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan) but his first “spectacle” film (The Fountain) was seen as a bit of a failure. Hopefully he’s learned from his mistakes and Noah will satisfy us on a visual and emotional level unlike anything else this year.
Storms into large format theaters on March 28.
Speaking of spectacles, there’s no denying that Christopher Nolan is the undisputed king of the blockbuster. Forget about James Cameron, Nolan’s films have staying power and pepper coveted spots on top ten lists every year one of his films is released. Amazingly enough, Nolan’s films have the uncanny ability to attract fanboys and high-nosed film critics in equal measure and it all comes down to his ability to mesmerize an audience. Like Inception before it, Interstellar is an entirely original idea this time revolving around space travel and time warps. Of course we’re interested. Largely abandoning regulars like Christian Bale, Ken Watanbe and Cillian Murphy, Interstellar looks to a new generation of Nolanites in Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Wes Bentley, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow and, naturally, Michael Caine. Let’s just be honest with ourselves: there is no summer movie of 2014 that we’re anticipating more than Nolan’s.
You’ll be able to see Interstellar at the biggest screen in a 100-mile radius on November 7.
When you think about it, it shouldn’t be a surprise that my most anticipated film of 2014 goes to Richard Linklater (whose Before Midnight was my Top Movie of 2013) but I’m willing to bet you haven’t even heard of this one. Ambitious to a fault, Boyhood has been in the making for 12 years. And by being in the making, I mean in legitimate development. As in filming for 12 years. Like Linklater’s Before series, Boyhood tracks a father’s (Ethan Hawke) relationship with his son as he grows from 6 to 18. With filming taking place for a few weeks every year, this film will not only serve as a time capsule for the ever-changing Hawke, Linklater, and newcomer Ellar Coltrane but will reflect a changing American culture in the most unaltered of ways. When asked about the film, Hawke said, “[we do] a scene with a young boy at the age of 7 when he talks about why do raccoons die, and at the age of 12 when he talks about video games, and 17 when he asks me about girls.” Essentially, the film will be like growing up all over again. As I said earlier, it’s ambitious beyond compare but I just can’t wait to see what is in store.
Of course there’s no official release date on this.
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. Just to recap:
30. How to Train Your Dragon 2
29. Jupiter Ascending
27. Dumb and Dumber To
26. Only Lovers Left Alive
25. Wish I Was Here
24. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
22. Edge of Tomorrow
20. Dom Hemingway
19: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
18. X-Men: Days of Future Past
16. Guardians of the Galaxy
14. Big Hero 6
13. The Raid 2: Berenthal
12. The Monument’s Men
10. Map to the Stars
9 Fox Catcher
7. Inherent Vice
8. Gone Girl
5.The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Chuck Hank And The San Diego Twins