I have opinions about movies. Here they are.
If you want my 11-25 here is the link. http://haostersblog.tumblr.com/post/109112886919/my-top-25-films-of-2014-part-1-11-25
10. Love is Strange
Love is Strange is a tender comedy of manners film. Ira Sachs, the film’s writer-director, centers his film on a gay couple who are recently married, played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. Both character actors bring complexity and tenderness to their characters, as well as well defined flaws hidden beneath the surface. They’re a homosexual but that informs their character rather than is the focus of the plot which is refreshing in its own right. The film is an ode to Yasujiro Ozu in the way it handles manners of the home, maneuvering amongst the social mores of being a house guest. Sachs has a deliberate hand in each shot of this film, always focusing on the character. This is not the flashiest or innovative film but it is one of the most heartfelt.
In his last few films, Jake Gyllenhaal has been on a creative hot streak due to finding a good collaboration with a variety of filmmakers. Here he is working with first time filmmaker, long time screenwriter, Dan Gilroy. For his first feature, Gilroy directs Nightcrawler assuredly, take influences from the neo-noir style of Michael Mann, lavishing in the LA’s nighttime cityscapes and synthpop. Although the commentary on broadcast news has been done before with Network and Broadcast News, the magnetic nature of the film anchored by Gyllenhaal’s performance is hard to resist. Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom is more sociopathic in a Patrick Bateman way, saying more about the type of people who succeed in business than it does about news. Very rarely does the film set place in the day time and that darkness haunts the film just as it did me when I left the theater.
There have been enough think pieces, awards and accolades that have expressed why Boyhood is one of the best films of the year. What I can do is express how it made me feel. While it is a film about a white teenage boy, it made me feel closer to my mother. The power of Boyhood is that it was able to be universal without generalizing and condescending. The mother, played wonderfully by Patricia Arquette is both my mother and not. They captured a feeling in Arquette’s character that made me realize could be an inkling into my own mother; a feeling and expression that I have never been able to put my finger on beforehand. This film is great because it is a Rorschach Test. Every person has come out of this film taking different things from it because it is so expansive. And that ambition by Richard Linklater is going to keep this film lingering on the consciousness of cinema for years to come.
7. Life Itself
This documentary is probably the most personal film on the top list for me. The film is well made but even if it was terrible I am not sure I would have been able to critically evaluate this film objectively. Life Itself is Steve James’ documentary on the influential film critic Roger Ebert. What surprised me about this film is how much it was allowed to reveal about Ebert. This is an authorized biographical film, as James had help from both Chaz and Roger in the film. But, the film did not shy away from Ebert’s critics, saying that he devalued the film criticism medium by simplifying it to “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down”, and Ebert’s own alcoholism. The film also unflinchingly looked at Ebert’s struggles with cancer as it captured his final months and unfortunately the only film we see him reviewing is the terrible A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. By the end of the film I was sobbing because Ebert was truly a hero of mine and probably the first hero of mine to have gone. James really captures his importance and more importantly his spirit and love for the movies.
I first heard of Damien Chazelle after seeing Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips’ top ten list a few years ago in which he lauded Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. As one critic put it, the film was a wonderful combination of “Cassavetes in a Jacques Demy musical”. I loved that film and the young Chazelle became a filmmaker that I knew I have to look out for. This is just a convoluted way for me to brag, “Hah, I knew about this up and coming director first”. Whiplash was a really great film. It is less a movie a about music as it is a movie about achieving greatness. The two central characters feed off each other in a Mellvillian type of relationship. They are both obsessed with musical genius that is literally killing Miles Teller. In a year in which we have biopics about people who are achieved greatness from one scene through the next without process, this film really shows the downside of that dynamic. The ending is a litmus test thanks to the smartly placed ambiguity that really gives a sharp crescendo to the whole film. Chazelle paces his film like a musician and it is wonderful to watch.
5. We Are the Best!
This Swedish film is about three preteen Swedish girls from the 1980’s trying to start a punk rock band and I felt like they were telling my story and I am a college aged Asian American of this millennium. We Are the Best! and Boyhood both captures the age of their protagonists really well. Here the three central characters get into petty fights over boys, complain about things as nonsensical as sports and find a passion in something they are not particularly good at. It’s a beautiful sentiment to film. This is truly a coming of age film in which the character is still exploring who they are by trying to be different. That is the most punk rock thing about them. The Swedish girls start a rock band but they are terrible at it which perfectly encapsulates the mood of punk and adolescence. More importantly, this film, like punk rock, is fun and endearing. I love Bobo.
4. The Tale of Princess Kaguya
A lot of people have been complaining about The Lego Movie being snubbed from the animated film category at the Oscars but I was dancing for joy because they were able to recognize the wonderful The Tale of Princess Kaguya. The film is directed by isao Takahata of Graves of the Fireflies fame. It is a beautifully crafted piece that comes straight out of the imagination of Studio Ghbili. This film really proves why hand drawn animation is still the best. The backgrounds are beautiful water color landscapes and there is one dream sequence in which the film devolves into streaks and lines that is one of the best films of the year. The film is split into three parts, forming something akin to a three course meal. Each part comes at us wonderfully blending together into a movie about living up to your parent’s expectations. This is Takahata’s first film for the animation studio in 15 years and he still knows how to manipulate the audience emotions. Maybe I shouldn’t use the word manipulation because he earns every single tear that is shed. This is a movie that could be shown to children and adults but not in the condescending way that bad mid 2000’s Dreamworks was. He does so by creating three dimensional characters with stakes and emotions. By the time Buddha comes down from the heavens, you had to struggle to hold back the tears.
Selma is the rare biopic or historical film that really captures process. Too often this year, the other films like The Imitation Game skipped out on the process on how their central character becomes the person they are. In one moment Alan Turing is thinking of the code cracking machine and then suddenly a smash cut to the machine running. Selma does things differently and in doing so pay respect to the importance of all the people involved in the Selma marches as well as demystifying Martin Luther King. It is too easy to have a figure of King as this icon because that is what he is. But, in that process he is not human. He is simply the person who had fought for Civil Rights and got it while going to jail a few times. This film sees all the politicking, struggle and pain involved with civil disobedience. It is not easy to contain anger in such a hostile environment and Ava DuVernay so deftly captures the pain in watching other people get physically harmed. There has been controversy about LBJ being villainized in the film but that is further from the truth. He is shown as a politician who cares but has many problems to deal with while King only had this struggle to focus on. This dynamic is brilliantly captured on film. Selma is the beautiful example of Hollywood mythmaking while still staying true to reality. Selma is a film about the past but a film of the moment and is the most important American film of 2014.
2. Like Father Like Son
I compared Love is Strange to Ozu earlier in this piece but the clear descendant of Ozu is the Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda. His film from 2014 was Like Father Like Son and it is a great film. The plot in any other hands would become a sickening drama with too much score and condescending attitudes. But, Koreeda is deft at what he does. He lets the emotions of each scene linger. His character process each new information or awkward moment. The film is about the model Japanese family who finds out that their son was switched at birth with another child. Koreeda focuses on the central conflict of whether or not being a son means being born or being raised. The characters struggle with that too. Koreeda never gives a clear answer, instead lets his characters play out. It is up to the audience to decide. Like Ozu, Koreeda is very minimalist in his scenes. His shots are calculated and there is at no point do you feel that you are not being handled with tenderness. By the end, I felt that emotional clump in the center of my chest because the movie is beautiful. Parenthood is more complicated than nature vs nurture and that makes it beautiful.
1. Force Majeure
My number one film for the longest time was Like Father Like Son. But, then this other family drama began to percolate in my mind. Each scene began to replay and as I started recommending this film to people to watch, I realized how much I loved this film. I realized that I loved how darkly funny this movie is. I realized how much I love how many twists and turns the family dynamics take in this film, ending with a stellar punch line. I love how each moment the male characters cannot let the last line go. Ruben Ostlund has come completely out of nowhere for me and proved to be the satirical voice that I never thought I needed until now. The film is a combination of everything I love; beautiful cinematography, uncomfortable humor and something to say. The structure of family is a concept that is constructed and this film shows how easily it could fall apart. Masculinity is easily fallible as well and the thematic resonance it has with family really makes the film enriching. Like the avalanche that plays a central role in the film, this film will slowly build up in your mind becoming closer and closer to a perfect film as each moment goes by.