Not every movie that came out this year was list worthy, but some were still really good. A few of those said films: The Immigrant, The Double, Calvary, Selma, Edge of Tomorrow, Life Itself, Locke... There were even more solid additions that would have been higher in some lesser years. Now, the meat and potatoes of the list.
It was especially hard to get a screenshot from this movie that was, uh, appropriate to put on here. But really, Lars Von Trier's newest is one to see. He weaves an (admittedly long) tapestry obsessed with the concept of sex as an idea and driving force. It makes for some uncomfortable, funny, weird, and wonderfully philosophical viewing. If you have the time, it's worth a shot for sure.
A study in humanity. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's newest film is one of real emotion. Marion Cottilard plays a woman who is losing everything and trying, trying to get it back. It's about what people do when they despair. Cotillard's performance here ranks among her very best and she soldiers through the film with a true expertise. This is not the most revelatory thing you may see at the theater but it feels honest and has some wonderful moments.
Guardians is not a "Great" film by any means. It suffers from the same plot structure and character problems that has plagued every single Marvel film. Yet, it's exuberant tone, hilarious one liners, and breathtaking production design make it a more than entertaining viewing. I've seen it three times now, and despite its multitudes of flaws, it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Denis Villeuve, the man behind last year's excellent Prisoners, proves with Enemy that he is a master of ominous alley ways and dark color schemes. Enemy is a gripping delving into one man's psyche. The most horrifying part is we don't know the way out. This boasts one of the great Jake Gyllenhaal performances (and not even his only one this year!) and is generally brilliant. I have a sneaking suspicion this will grow in stature upon future viewings.
In which Jake Gyllenhaal plays an Antichrist for the modern age and Dan Gilroy proves he's better than The Bourne Legacy. Overall a tense-as-hell and awesomely cynical thriller that works as one of the best satires of television since Network. Here, Jake Gyllenhaal gives THE best performance of the year (What the hell, Academy?).
"Ugh. The Lego Movie. A gross celebration of perverted capitalism not even trying to disguise its obvious identity as a corporate ploy to sell merchandise." That's the what I thought I'd be saying about this movie after I saw it. Instead, I was thinking "What a wonderful celebration of imagination and wonder! This movie is genuinely funny! How? I don't care. This is good." The animation is beautiful, nearly all of the jokes land, and all in all it is a good time. There's much more going on here than jokes and animation though. This is a legitimately good movie. See it.
9. GONE GIRL
Probably the most gripping film I've seen all year. Fincher's newest film is possibly his trashiest, going for big twists and lots of glorious pulp, but it's also one of his best. It simultaneously picking apart gender stereotypes in film while telling a hell of a good "page turner". Rosamund Pike is the MVP here, giving a wonderfully evil performance. It all looks great too. I'm looking forward to returning to this. The whole thing just works.
8. LISTEN UP PHILIP
Quite possibly the most under seen movie of the year, mainly due to it only really being released through Video On Demand, which is unfortunate. Alex Ross Perry's newest about a successful writer (Jason Schwartzman) slowly receding into himself while alienating those around him is a hilarious and fantastic little movie. It's cynical, but not to the point where it becomes tiresome. The whole thing fittingly watches like a novel, complete with droll voice over narration and a story spanning years. Schwartzman is giving his best work here and delivers every line without fail. But Elisabeth Moss, playing Schwartzman's jaded girlfriend, is the real surprise here.
I won't lie, Birdman has plenty of flaws. It can be mighty heavy handed at times and sometimes goes into messier and less honorable directions. Yet, despite all that I couldn't help but love it. There were moments that made me cringe, but there were far more that made me beam. It's filmed so the whole thing looks like it's one shot. Thus, the movie begins to seem more like a play, fittingly. It's manic, crazy, a little misguided, but totally enthralling and awesome. The performances and cinematography are immaculate. The script has a lot of little problems, but they can be easily forgiven. It's really a very good film. Keaton is back, and he's not alone.
This also has some issues, some that grate on me more than others. But you know what? Screw it. I loved this movie. As technology advances, it seems like genuine awe at the cinema is less prevalent. A realistic explosion or spaceship is no longer such an impressive feat as it once was. Yet, somehow Interstellar made me gaze in wonder, and even a little bit of joy. It's not because of the incredible special effects (although they were a factor). No, it's Christopher Nolan's use of the universal theme of pain felt through passing time. We are all watching it pass. Time is a countryside speeding away as we ride on a train. Nolan understands this, and uses it quite well. And on top of that it's backed by a terrific Matthew McConaughey performance and a wonderful Hans Zimmer score. Interstellar is sometimes a little ridiculous, sentimental, and even derivative. But overall it is a beautiful and powerful experience and one of the best times I had at the movies this year.
Whiplash is tense, economical, and terrifically edited. It sounds like a cliche, but I honestly was on the edge of my seat throughout the entire film. There has been much fuss over J.K. Simmons performance, and for good reason. This is one instance where I would not feel foolish in using the word bravura. The movie is about a young and talented drummer going to school under a wildly abusive (and equally talented) teacher. As it progresses, it begins to read not as an artist coming of age film, but of the creation of a monster. A cautionary tale about taking things too far. It's all very entertaining. Jazzy and exciting, yet incredibly dark underneath it all. In a year of such experimental and interesting films, Whiplash stands as more conventional. Yet, it's one damn fine piece of convention. I look forward to what writer/director Damien Chazelle has to offer next.
Boyhood is likely the most talked about film of the year, mainly because it was filmed over twelve years, tracking a boy from ages six to eighteen. It's easy to see someone disregard the movie as nothing more than a gimmick, a simple little movie that's getting blown out of proportion because of the method in which it was made. Yet, that wouldn't be true. Boyhood could have been just an exercise, but it it so much more than that. It not only honestly depicts childhood, but delves into real introspection and as it goes on becomes a commentary on itself. This is a film that revels in the little moments. Richard Linklater knows that what makes up most of our memory is not the big weddings, funerals, and birthdays, those events are kept in photo albums. Our true memory is made up of the talks with friends, afternoons in the woods, and muffled voices in the next room. Boyhood is a truly incredible movie, and not one to be forgotten.
3. UNDER THE SKIN
An amazing movie about the futility of human existence what Earth looks like from the outside. This is almost tied for my number two spot (and was actually my #1 for a while), it's that good. Scarlett Johansson gives total role commitment here and it pays off. Her portrayal of an alien alone among strangers is by far the best female performance of the year. There's so much to unpack here, I almost feel as if I am doing the film an injustice by trying to sum it up in one measly paragraph. Even on a rewatch, Under the Skin keeps surprising and giving forth more, while still keeping things opaque. All of this set to the breathtakingly shot Scottish countryside. This is light on narrative, but heavy on theme and atmosphere. I look forward to returning to this one for years to come. Oh, and the soundtrack is wonderfully creepy, adding to it all.
2. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
How does Wes Anderson do it? This movie is much too good. It's a layered and whimsical film about the nature of storytelling. The film begins with a writer telling a story of a man who told him a story. Thus begins the fantastically wonderful cinematic journey that is The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson's detractors have lambasted him for years over "doing the same thing". Here, he goes deeper into his trademark pop-up book style and uses it as a backdrop for an incredible story with genuine novelistic sprawl. I do not think this is quite Anderson's best (The Royal Tenenbaums takes that title) but it is certainly his most impressive. Here, he has created a world like no other. On the surface it seems like an ode to times that have past. It isn't. The world being reminisced about here never existed anywhere else but Anderson's imagination, and he is simply bringing it to light. Essential viewing.
1. INHERENT VICE
Simultaneously an examination of America at a certain time and place, the best deconstruction and parody of noir tropes since The Big Lebowski, and a love letter to Thomas Pynchon, Paul Thomas Anderson's newest film is nothing short of a masterpiece. Every line of dialogue carries heavy thematic weight and each character brings something new. It is a very funny film that at the same time is almost unrelentingly sad. It is the end of an era and everyone is unsure of themselves. The curtains have been pulled back and rays of unwanted sunlight are washing in. Even those in authority, the ones who are supposed to know what is going on, can't help. Anderson frames this all through the pot addled psyche of a good natured detective, Doc Sportello (played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix). Many have been complaining about the complex plot of the film. It is a bit convoluted, but rightfully so. It's commenting on the equally complicated detective noir films of the past (The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, etc..) and echoing the dazed and confused minds of the main characters, who are as lost as anyone. I could go on for hours about this movie. I've seen it twice now and I know this is one that will only improve on successive viewings.
Here's to a great 2015.