In keeping with last year’s bright idea of writing two posts about my favorite films of the year, I’m going to write a little something about the movies of 2014 that I’ve seen so far and enjoyed. I have to do this past-tense as, obviously, I waited until after New Years to do this.
Anyway, here goes…
There were four movies I really enjoyed in 2014. My favorite by far was “Boyhood”, a brilliant, low-key, honest story of a boy’s life. It wasn’t until just last year (2013) that director Richard Linklater revealed he had been filming the same four actors for a few days a year over a period of 12 years. We watch the boy, Mason Jr., and his sister Samantha grow up, and their divorced parents Olivia and Mason Sr. grow older and (in their own ways and on their own schedules) wiser. As much as the film is about childhood, it is equally about parenthood, though through the point of view of Mason Jr.; the film takes the autobiographical point of view of Mason, recalling both important and mundane moments in time. That’s how it is for everyone when taking a stroll down memory lane — sometimes we remember the monumental events that shaped who we are, and sometimes we recall some random moment, a song playing on the radio or a sunny afternoon or that time we rode our bikes down the street covered in slush and got our pant legs sopping wet. But I digress… Most of the adults in the film impart advice onto Mason, some nothing more than efforts to control him (his teachers, employers and both stepfathers) but some genuinely useful (his father, while discussing parenting: “We’re all just winging it”).
My next favorite film was ‘Under the Skin”, a dark, seductive sci-fi thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien posing as a prostitute who lures men into her dark cavernous oil-liquid sex-cavern of a home and literally sucked the innards out of their skins. Mmm-hmm. It’s a morbid premise, but Johansson excels in portraying the alien seductress, probably her best film role to date.
There are only a few films by indie favorite Jim Jarmusch that I have really latched onto — “Dead Man” and “Broken Flowers” and the scenes from “Mystery Train” with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. His latest film, “Only Lovers Left Alive”, starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, tells the tale of two centuries-old vampire lovers, awash in gothic melancholia. After centuries spent influencing music and science, Adam now spends his days holed up in a dilapidated Victorian home in Detroit (the perfect run-down setting for this film), sneaking into hospitals to buy blood like a drug addict. His wife, Eve, flies from Tangier to join him and shake him free of his suicidal funk. John Hurt guest stars as a vampire Christopher Marlowe. Jarmusch’s films are, for me, best enjoyed by focusing on the mood rather than the plot.
And then there’s “Wild”, the indie film starring Reese Witherspoon as a woman who has lost everyone close to her, either through misfortune or by her own doing, and she embarks on a spiritual cleansing of sorts by packing way too much shit into a hiking pack and embarking on the Pacific Crest Trail in true greenhorn fashion. The film connected with me in that it rekindled a lot of memories of my time hiking in the mountains of New Mexico in the summer of 1997. A few memorable scenes — an older man running a camp graciously helps Witherspoon’s character strip the chaff from her pack and obtain proper footwear; the unsavory yet necessary muckwater treated with iodine tablets; being mistakenly interviewed by a reporter for “Hobo Times”; removing a boot to pop a blister and yank off a bloody toenail, only to watch said boot tumble down a few hundred feet of a steep rocky cliffside, immediately followed by much cursing and tossing of the matching boot in an act of angry defiance. The hike is something I’d like to try at some point in my life, preferably while I’m still “young”; that is, while I still have healthy knees and ankles.
I also really enjoyed the following:
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Wes Anderson’s saddest, most elegant film to date; my favorite scene is the chase between the attorney (Jeff Goldblum) and the henchman (Willem Dafoe) through the dark museum just before closing.
“Blue Ruin”, the most practical, bloodthirsty revenge film since “No Country for Old Men”.
“Interstellar”, a believable end to life on Earth, the cool TARS design and a star-swallowing black hole I couldn’t look away from. The docking scene was the most suspenseful four minutes of any film I saw in 2014.
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” with its crazy two hours of drum solo soundtrack and 99% single-shot camerawork… and Michael Keaton, who is the most perfect person to cast for this type of role since John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich”.
“Nightcrawler”: no one can tell me Jake Gyllenhaal can’t act after having watched this film. He is just great in channeling a greasy businessman version of Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver”. Creepy sociopath with a laser-like focus on success and absolutely NO morals whatsoever.
“Citizenfour”, which has convinced me our government will do just about whatever it wants to regardless of the law.
Other films I’ve seen this year and liked include: “Big Hero 6”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, “Chef”, “Cold in July” (much like “Blue Ruin”), “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “Dear White People”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, “Enemy” (another great performance — two, actually — by Gyllenhaal), “A Fantastic Fear of Everything”, the 2014 version of “Godzilla”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”, “How to Train Your Dragon 2”, the beautiful black and white camerawork of “Ida”, “Land Ho!”, “The LEGO Movie”, Kelly Reichardt’s “Night Moves”, the strange of beautiful “Noah”, “Snowpiercer”, the ultra-trippy “The Congress”, the beautiful animation of “The Wind Rises” and “The Dance of Reality”.
2014 has been a really strong year for documentaries. Aside from “Citizenfour”, I really enjoyed “Maidentrip”, about a 14-year old Dutch girl who became the youngest person to sail around the world alone, over a two-year voyage. I also liked “Life Itself”, based on Roger Ebert’s autobiography; “Tiny: A Story about Living Small”, “Jodorowsky’s Dune”, and the fist-clenching frustration induced by Errol Morris’ “The Unknown Known”, about Donald Rumsfeld (a sequel of sorts of his 2004 doc “The Fog of War”, about Robert S. McNamara).
Now, some holdover movies from 2013 that I didn’t see into well into 2014 and wanted to share: “The Broken Circle Breakdown”, “Prince Avalanche”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”, “Dear Mr. Watterson” and “The Heat”. Two films from 2013 I really enjoyed and recommend are “Nebraska”, Alexander Payne’s touching tale of an old coot, his exasperated wife and loyal son, chasing a million dollar prize through the small dying towns of the Great Plains, beautifully shot in black and white; and “Prisoners”, a surprisingly captivating (and depressingly dark) tale of abduction and revenge.
Thanks to Netflix, YouTube and the UNI Library, I have continued to discover a number of great older movies:
“The Red Machine”
“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (Dario Argento’s film film)
the late 80s techno-metal Japanese horror film “Tetsuo: The Iron Man”
the 1983 WWIII film “The Day After”, which Wikipedia claims was the most-watched made-for-TV movie in history (over 100 million viewers) and can be seen in its entirety on YouTube
a pair of early David Cronenberg horror films, “The Brood” and “Shivers”
perennial 2010 Portland favorite “Cold Weather”
Werner Herzog’s 2010 documentary “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga”
the 2012 film “In the Family”, a really really damn fine film about custody rights in a Southern state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.
I also *finally* saw “Westworld”, the 1973 sci-fi western that was the first feature film to utilize digital image processing (to simulate an android’s point of view).
[I also want to point out I finally had the opportunity to re-watch the 1997 made-for-ABC “The Shining” miniseries, which is pretty awful.]
*And thanks to Netflix, I have binged on a number of episodic programs: “House of Cards” and “Orange of the New Black”, both of which were better in their first seasons than their second; the entire series run of “Twin Peaks” and various episodes from the first four seasons of “The X-Files”; and “BoJack Horseman” hands down the funniest show I have watched in a long time. I also rented on DVD the first season of HBO’s “True Detective”, a very well-written and well-acted show.