DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Best of 2014

Friday, 26 December 2014

Best of 2014

So here's the unscientific best of the year. With a couple of exceptions the common thread of this crop is clearly the cynicism and darkness which each of these filmmakers brought to the screen. Sure Boyhood was an admirable narrative exercise and sure, The Imitation Game and Theory of Everything were handsome but forgettable biopics, but these ten pictures were the most memorable for me because they either challenged traditional genres, executed age-old genres to perfection or simply projected unique cinematic voices with panache better than anyone else.

Dir. Bennett Miller
Miller's methodical account of the relationship between Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz and his deranged benefactor John Du Pont haunts long after the picture stops 'rolling'. A fascinating character study of disparate people - Schultz the blue collar athlete wrestling in his brother's shadow and Du Pont the man-child hermetically sealed in his Foxcatcher compound - a bold exercise in sustained nail-biting tension, Foxcatcher works brilliantly on multiple thematic levels, class, patriotism, sports and American history. No film stuck more with me than this.

Dir. Damien Chazelle
Sure there’s kind of shameless exaggeration of performance, in particular JK Simmons’ pumped up rage which comes off as R Lee Ermey’s drill Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant character transplanted to a Juliard-like music school, and sure the theme of artistic desire and sacrifice for artistic perfection are hit a little hard on the nose, but Damien Chazelle’s laser-focused picture and harrowing journey of its hero is a force of nature impossible not be dazzled by. In fact, it’s a thrill ride of immense proportions. Cinematic bravura bursts from the picture's classically composed frames: gorgeous warm lighting complements the sense of history of the jazz numbers their artists play; dynamic editing, intrusive compositions, fetish-like close-ups of the Miles Teller’s drum kit and long extended takes of the kids ripping his skins creates a dynamic energy. And that showstopping ending puts all other films this year shame.

Dir. Denis Villeneuve
Villeneuve’s beguiling Cronenberg –influenced headtripping doppelganger picture is playful cinematic fun. Consciously obtuse and aloof, Villenueve places us in a David Lynch-type world, in which narrative comprehension take a backseat to the thrill of mystery and mood. Jake Gyllenhaal’s double performance is as cold and absorbing as Jeremy Irons’ double-duty in Dead Ringers. As mirror images of one another, there isn’t much to distinguish one another other than how Gyllenhaal's carries each character. It’s one of two remarkable performances this year from arguably the most interesting actor working today. Villeneuve’s probing camera and methodical pace draws into the deranged psychosis of both characters. I have my own theories of what the recurring spider motif means, and the nature of their seemingly mirror-image duality, but you won’t get this explanation here. Have fun figuring it out yourself.

Dir. Bong Joon-Ho
What a beautiful concoction this picture is. The familiar apocalyptic scenario played out on a train ride around the world, and seen through the deranged lens of Korean genre cinema master Bong Joon Ho. Last year’s English-language debut for Chan-wook Park (Stoker) showed the potential of the cross-culture mélange of Korean and American cinema. Here Snowpiercer achieves a kind of genre perfection, finding inspired freshness in the bloated post-apocalyptic set up. Robust and creative action sequences compliment the sharp sense of humour, elements all working in sync with the well thought out high concept scenario.

Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Imagine a threadbare version of Taken, replacing the righteous Liam Neeson hero with a meek and utterly frightened but intensely focused suburban everyman. And instead of the martial arts hand to hand skills of Neeson, an equally impressive common sense guile. With these stripped down elements Blue Ruin triumphs as a white knuckle revenge-thriller as tense as any of its kind.

Dir. Dan Gilroy
Influenced by the anti-heroic De Niro/Scorsese creations of Travis Bickle and Ruper Pupkin, Jake Gyllenhaal's socially awkward ne'er-do-well who finds his calling as an immoral ambulance-chasing paparazzi is a fascinating train wreck character. Gilroy's colourful Los Angeles-based cinematography (most of which takes place at night) is a delightful throwback to the seedy Hollywood of old.

Dir. Wes Anderson

After fifteen years we almost take for granted the inspired diorama-like constructed imagery of Anderson's pictures. The idiosyncratic off-the-wall characters existing in a fairytale like world of their own are also well-entrenched in our pop-culture awareness. But I'm convinced years after Anderson's career has ended collectively we'll wonder how this guy never fully received his due as one of the most unique voices in cinema history. Grand Budapest Hotel represents a high-water mark for his mid-career renaissance. Without Owen Wilson as co-writer Anderson seems to have embraced even more imaginative worlds and elaborate forms of storytelling. Hotel's decades-spanning narrative is a tall-tale fantasy bursting with everything in Wes Anderson's arsenal we take for granted.

Dir. David Fincher
If you were to simply describe the plot of Gillian Flynn’s pulpy bestseller it would come off as an outrageous Joe Eszterhas-style potboiler ripped from the era of early 90’s sexual thrillers. But when orchestrated by a master of the genre, at the top of his game, where other filmmakers would have made this picture into a sloppy ham-fisted mess, David Fincher makes two and half hours a completely engrossing experience, terrifying and witty in equal measure and self-aware enough not to take itself too seriously.

Dir. James Gunn
The shared universe of the Avengers/Marvel series has resulted in a television-like homogenization of its films. It's impossible to find any kind of directorial authorship in any of the Iron Man, Captain Avengers or Thor films. Guardians is the anomaly and arguably the reason the little-known comic property became a late summer sensation. James Gunn's sardonic sense of humour and his Star Wars era sense of adventure represents a refreshing throwback and a burst of energy to the bloated super hero genre.

Dir. E.L. Katz
This genre winner sparked a minor bidding war after its raucous SXSW premiere. Katz's slice of soul sucking cinematic nastiness applies some of the direct moral questions from say, Adrian Lyne's Indecent Proposal to a pulpy midnight film. David Koechner as a diabolical wealthy games maker challenging blue collar bar buddies Pat Healy and Ethan Embry to a game of high stakes dare. In their pursuit of the cold hard cash the meek family man Healy is tested to the limits, and the fringe criminal Embry who would seem to have the upper hand in the endeavour finds himself matched test for test. While the escalation of violence is comical in its excessiveness, the rock solid performances are humane and believable. At its best Cheap Thrills is a scathing inditement of American capitalism and the American dream.

1 comment :

Mahee Ferlini said...

Great list, I need to catch up on a few of these