Thursday, January 29, 2015

Favorite Films of 2014 - A Comprehensive List

by Bradley C. Harrison

The year 2014 marks the solidification of Netflix becoming a household commodity, whether it’s your brother’s, your aunt’s, or even your own account, almost everyone has access to one.  While you may have used this lovely new luxury merely to binge watch Gilmore Girls and Sherlock, it has caused a seismic shift in the world of film.

Just by giving people the ability to scroll through and see the existence of films like Amelie, Radio Days, and Y Tu Mamá También, the general populous has been exposed to, until now, an extremely unavailable catalogue of independent films. 

This new epidemic of the consumption of independent films has completely changed the taste of many moviegoers.  Movies like Chef, Boyhood, and The Imitation Game all broke into the top 100 domestic grossers, each earning over $24 million.  While this evolution of film going palate is not quite universal yet, it is real, and is certainly reflected in my favorite movies to come out in 2014.

10. Guardians of the Galaxy directed by James Gunn
I only went to see this movie because of my friends’ high recommendations.  I expected it to be nothing more than the average super hero movie, full of forced jokes, self-important egos, and no real character growth.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Mark down Guardians as the super hero movie that figured it out.  It toes the line between humor and drama perfectly while the characters have real flaws (not merely being allergic to rocks).  It closely follows the archetype for happy-endings, but the bond formed between the characters and their means of overcoming peril make this movie resonate as a great film.

9. Nightcrawler directed Dan Gilroy
Is Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, who is a systematic, sociopathic, and pragmatic worker, the capitalistic ideal?  Is the man who draws all fulfillments from business success, and who is willing to do whatever it takes to see his company flourish the hero or the villain in our society? Gilroy not only excites and chills in this stunning thriller, but he provides the fuel and spark for some pretty incredible thoughts.

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel directed by Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson has bloomed into full fruition in his latest work.  As visually striking and emotionally subtle as ever, this quirky “rags to riches” story tells of love and the depths of the human soul in an incredibly touching way.  The Grand Budapest Hotel will stick with you as you find yourself recommending it to watch with your closest loved ones. 

7. Interstellar directed by Christopher Nolan
This space epic with McConaughey and Anne Hathaway was more than I expected, but less than I hoped it would be.  Nolan’s rambling about time as a physical dimension refreshingly assumes an intellectually aware audience, while his ability to create a heartfelt story (along with the mind-blowing pictures) provides an awe-inspiring experience.  However, the movie hits you with a lot, very hard and very fast, so that it takes a few viewings to let it all sink in.

6. Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language) directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Godard, in his revolutionarily experimental 3D film, is the first to think of the 3D plane and the 2D plane as separate, and thus able to show different stories.  He disregards any form of a narrative and gives us the validation that the human's sensual experiences and ability to conceptualize are our best means of living life.  What Godard has unlocked here gives us an entirely unique way to explore and record human nature.

5. The Babadook directed by Jennifer Kent
Jennifer Kent is the new Charlotte Perkins Gilmore.  She wrote and directed this masterpiece as not just a horror film, but a social commentary on mental illness. In a “Yellow Wallpaper”-esque manner she abandons cheap stunts to scare you, and haunts you into questioning your own senses.  The end of the movie comes and you still aren’t sure if the Babadook is real, but one thing is for sure, the mind can be a very scary and dangerous place. 

4. Wild directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Biopics are hard to pull off.  You start inside of a character’s head and work your way out, and by the time you are all the way out, the character has to be real enough to make you believe you are looking through their eyes.  Vallée’s adaptation of the Cheryl Strayed novel about taking a journey to find oneself, with the beautiful work of Reese Witherspoon, does just that.  The film hits you in the face hard enough to make you feel it deep inside, but when it reaches your soul it is something touching.  

3. Selma directed by Ava DuVernay
“Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man.”  It’s been an involuntary response for all Americans since elementary school.  And while that response is in good sentiment, we often forget to truly examine the man’s life.  Selma provides the opportunity for us to take a step back and observe the load that MLK Jr. and his close followers bore.  It provides us the opportunity to try to understand the importance of his causes and the moral rigidity he had to maintain under great pressure without bending or breaking.  Selma delivers in reminding us that Martin Luther King Jr., in standing up for a righteous cause and providing the perfect example of how to fight for it, was one of the best leaders our country has ever seen.   

2. Inherent Vice directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Two friends of mine tell a story of spending St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah.  All they remember is being completely lost on Sunday, neither showered nor changed, carrying a homemade chocolate cake, when all of a sudden their car appears and they drive home.  Just as eggs are bound to break and milk is bound to spoil, there is some inherent vice in living life like that.  But Paul Thomas Anderson says there may be more to it.  No matter how much of a haze you’re under or how much society frowns upon you, if you try to do good, then you’ve done good.  He delivers this hazy, quirky, and stumbling detective drama in grand style, and though it may be somewhat incoherent, it satisfyingly delivers one of the most humorous, captivating, and fulfilling stories of the year.

1. Boyhood directed by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater writes dialogue like no other, creating human characters with touching intellectual depth.  Boyhood is Linklater’s magnum opus, his grand work of literature, truly capturing the human condition.  Conceiving the idea over a decade ago, Linklater filmed with the same cast (centered upon then 5 year old Ellar Coltrane) once a year, every year, for 12 years, recording all the moments that standout as memories for a boy growing up in this era of American life.  It’s nice to know that 50 years from now, when my grandchildren ask me what my childhood was like, I can show them this film and be completely satisfied.

2014 was an incredible year for film.  While movies are meant to entertain, many have so much more to offer than that.  Watch these movies and be entertained, but allow yourself to experience all they have to offer.  Become connected with the characters, examine the psychology, experience the nostalgia, be drawn into the stories of each, and find out for yourself how films can truly be fulfilling pieces of literature and art. 


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