The Best Films of 2014 So Far

My goal is to blog at least once a day, and though that’s really hard because I’m undisciplined, I’ll still try and take a whack at it.  And what’s easier to blog then a Top List?!

Though it’s only been eight months in 2014 (already???), a slew of movies have come out already, and there have been some good ones.  These are the seven best films I’ve seen in 2014 and in no order.

IDA
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Though I caught this beautifully quiet and small film at Telluride last year, it’s officially a release in 2014, so… yeah.  From acclaimed Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, IDA is one of those films that you’re completely mystified and stumped by.  Centered in on Anna, a young nun searching her family’s past, it’s accomplishment is creating such a moving piece of work through silence and grace.  Most films try to achieve this by large set pieces and deafening sound.  IDA wants you to drown in its quaint personality.  It’s got a wonderful story with great characters, and it looks incredible.  Black and white forever.

I ORIGINS
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This is a film that’s extremely polarizing, creating a pretty even split down the middle between those who love it or hate it.  But what I ORIGINS really goes after is discussion.  It’s a sci-fi love story that’s drenched in the controversial worlds of science and religion.  Personally, I think Mike Cahill does an excellent job allowing both worlds to co-exist.  It works on many levels, and I found out absolutely gratifying.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
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Seriously, what’s not to like about A Wes Anderson film?  I don’t think I need to explain myself much, but this is a charming, delightful film that screams Anderson’s quirkiness and vision.  Bright colors, elaborate sets, an impressive ensemble full of great actors and actresses, and a unique story that takes you on a wild journey (and you gotta love the aspect ratio changes!).  It’s one of my favorite Anderson films, and something I’ll always enjoy going back to.

SNOWPIERCER
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I don’t think I need to say a lot considering I just wrote a post about it yesterday, so go read that.  But all I have to say is… GO SEE THE DAMN THING.

UNDER THE SKIN
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I don’t recommend this film for everyone, and I will say a majority of people will be confused, despise it, or totally hate it.  It’s for a particular taste, but if you enjoy tone, environment, and the world slowly being revealed and created through the eyes of a character, then UNDER THE SKIN might be your thing.  Jonathan Glazer is quite the filmmaker, and he pulls some of the riskiest choices in a movie I’ve seen.  Scarlett is a knockout, and the score is just… genius.  If you we’re willing to take a chance on it, please do, but don’t get angry at me.  Just saying.

NYMPHOMANIAC PT. 1 & 2
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Okay, here’s another film that I adored, but like UNDER THE SKIN, is not for everyone.  I don’t think I need to explain to you in great detail why, but if you can get past all the sex (which you should expect from the title and it being a Lars von Trier film), it’s actually a poetic piece of intriguing storytelling and literature, giving it a real good glimpse of an addict’s life.  It’s beautiful, gorgeously shot, and it’s classic Lars von Trier.

BOYHOOD
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I want to write like a 2000 word article dissecting Boyhood, so I’ll save a lot of the good stuff for that, but simply put, BOYHOOD IS ONE OF THE GREATEST ACHIEVEMENTS IN CINEMA TODAY, AND EVERYONE SHOULD WATCH IT BECAUSE IT’S SO FREAKIN’ GOOD AND SO WELL TOLD.  AHHHHHHH!!!

And those are my favorite films of 2014 so far.

The Best of 2012 Awards: Top 20 Films of 2012 (#10-1)

I must first apologize for it taking so long to create this list.  The holidays are always busy, and after viewing a couple more films, it got a little complicated finalizing my top ten films 0f 2012.  Like I said, it’s been amazing year for films, and it has definitely been extremely difficult to create a list like this.  But it must be done, and enough of this banter.  Here are my top ten films of 2012!

10.  21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street is the best comedy of the year.  And though that doesn’t guarantee a spot in the top ten every year, 21 Jump Street is a perfect example of a well-written hilarious comedy where the characters, stories and the lines all work together.  Being up there as one of the more quotable films like Anchorman and Zoolander, the duo of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum worked liked mint, proving their chemistry and ability to improv in certain situations.  It’s not an Oscar film, but we need films like this, especially when it has become even more difficult to create great comedies.  21 Jump Street is that and much more, proving it self to be remembered for a long time.  Let’s hope the sequel works just as well.

9.  Ruby Sparks

Another example of an Indie film that made its mark in the year 2012, Ruby Sparks, from the creators of indie sensation Little Miss Sunshine, is a great American novelist film, focusing on the magical ride of a writer looking for inspiration, but finding it through his implausible situation of creating the love of his life through his typewriter.  Though it sounds ridiculous, it’s a beautiful film, discussing the idea of true love, and how a relationship is based on two individuals fighting and working for each other, rather than one fitting the bill for the other.  It’s done so well, and the work Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (writer) is marvelous to watch.  Its literature is profound, and the movie is an inspiration to all writers out there.

8.  The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite directors working today, and his latest work, The Master, highlights his ability to capture characters in a unique setting.  Just like his award-worthy work in There Will Be Blood, The Master is focused on friendship between Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd, who is a religious pseudo-intellectual whose ideas and beliefs enlighten Quell.  The film, which has been criticized for a lack of story or structure, is mesmerizing to watch, mainly because of its lack of cliche mechanism and story-telling.  It most likely won’t get as much Oscar attention as it deserves, but hopefully the cast will, specifically Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It’s a very diverse film experience, asking questions about humanity, religion, the search for soul and the experiences that we all suffer from.  Not everyone will enjoy this film, and some may actually hate it, but for me, it was an experience to behold, unraveling in its beauty and wonders.

7.  Beasts of The Southern Wild (tie)

If you haven’t noticed, I love indie films.  And like I said before, the reason for it is because it takes chances.  Stories that you would never see come to life from studio green-lit films, Beasts of The Southern Wild is one of those films that would only be produced through an independent financier.  And how thankful we all should be for this opportunity.  Based on the premise regarding a father-daughter household living in run-down, poverty-stricken area called The Bathtub, is a stunning film, focused on the growth and maturity of a girl taking control of her own world.  It’s a coming of age story that you’ve never really seen before, through the eyes of a young girl, that is physically and emotionally tough.  It’s somewhat difficult to explain, but it must be experienced.  One of those films that deserves all the attention it’s been getting, I hope to see it get even more publicity through the Oscar circuit.

7.  The Impossible (tie)

This was a difficult to put on this list just because it wasn’t originally on my list.  I didn’t get to watch The Impossible until this past Thursday, but what a powerful film it was.  I put this with Beasts of The Southern Wild mainly because it has a similar theme in the power of family through tragedy, but The Impossible is a very different film.  Though it’s far from perfect and somewhat manipulative in the kind of emotions it’s trying to bring out from the audience, I still couldn’t ignore it’s power and scale.  Based on the remarkable true story of the Nolan’s and their separation in the Indian Ocean tsunami, it embraces the power in love and how life, no matter how difficult or distressing, family will always empower the will of any individual.  Sometimes these characters make stupid decisions, and it blew my mind the situations they would encounter, but I forgave, mainly because no film of 2012 made me as emotional as The Impossible.  It’s nearly impossible (…) to go through this movie without tearing up, and if you watch, you’ll understand why.

6.  Looper

Look out for Rian Johnson, one of the up and coming filmmakers of this generation.  He makes conceptual films without strong character development, and Looper is no exception.  One of the more creative and inventive films I’ve seen in a while, it takes a beaten tool (time traveling) and switches it on its head, not centralizing it, but applying it to a story that utilizes it to its full potential.  Looper, centered on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is an original science fiction film, applying the basic structures of story telling, but also adding an exquisite narrative never seen.  Looper is a great film from a great writer/director, and hopefully Looper gives Johnson the full open doorway to future projects.

5.  Zero Dark Thirty

The most controversial film of 2012, Zero Dark Thirty is getting hit from both the left and right, and unfortunately so.  This is a great film.  Regardless of its political context or it’s potential support for torture (which it is definitely not), Zero Dark Thirty, written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathyrn Bigelow, is an exceptional film marked by incredible acting and writing.  It’s a true journalistic experience, just like All The President’s Men, and deserves to have the same merits as the American classic.  Fueled by Jessica Chastain’s performance as Maya, we really see a powerful film on the fight against terrorism and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the practices of torture, but the overall change in American strategy and motivation.  Why people can’t see the truth of this film is beyond me, but ignoring all this controversy, it’s a great film worthy of being in the top five.

4.  Moonrise Kingdom

First love.  So simple.  So innocent.  And yet so difficult to get right.  But Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is a classic, completely engulfed in the nature of love at a young age.  I raved about Moonrise Kingdom when I first saw it this summer, and though the fall season has released some excellent candidates, this film has stuck with me through the end of the year.  Anderson has a knack of trending with his artistic value and storytelling, and though it has become more tiresome than trendy in his last few outings, it works incredibly here.  Mainly because the quirkiness and essence of Wes Anderson is now the nature of the film, but the nature of the film works with his quirkiness and essence.  The characters and the story are all part of this world, and it all comes together better than any of his other films.  I loved Moonrise Kingdom, and I hope Anderson continues to make films like this.

3.  Life of Pi

This was as difficult of a choice as ever.  The top three films of the year were interchangeable, and I went all political on this list, meaning that the film that I most likely will love the most in 2012 was placed in the three spot.  I know, this is stupid.  But let’s discuss the achievement Life of Pi is.  Ang Lee is definitely a director that deserves to be regarded as one of the best, and adding this film to his resume only suggests this notion.  Life of Pi is a beautiful film, both visually and spiritually, allowing the two to be unified through a grand vision.  Only a few directors can accomplish such work, and considering Life of Pi was considered an impossible film to transition into the screen, it’s adds more to Lee’s abilities and work.  The film works in many different ways, and one can interpret it through multiple levels, and that’s when you know you have a great film.  Life of Pi is all of this and more, becoming one of the greats of 2012.

2.  Django Unchained

Easily the most entertaining film of 2012, and what else do you expect from Quentin Tarantino?  Django Unchained is just great fun, bringing on this journey through an extremely difficult time, and flipping it on its head and becoming one of the most enjoyable films Tarantino has ever made.  Everything works beautifully here, especially the cast, delivering knock out performance after performance from numerous actors.  Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson put in worthy performances, and easily will see nominations, at least for Waltz and DiCaprio.  Though it may be difficult to watch at times, it provides a unique narrative rarely touched by Hollywood.  Only Tarantino can use historical eras like slavery and Nazi Germany and provide such engaging and exciting movies.  Here’s to a great filmmaker and a great film.

1.  Lincoln

Like I said before, this was definitely the hardest decision to make, considering there were so many worthy choices, but bringing it down to the number one film of the year, there was no other film that was as important and worthy of the number one spot than Lincoln.  Obviously it’s a film that effects people differently, but being from a historically-intrigued background, it worked for me on so many levels.  From the importance of the 13th Amendment to the all around cast, Lincoln is Spielberg’s best work since Saving Private Ryan, realizing the need to take a step back from his overpowering hand, and relying on his actors to take charge of the film.  And when you’re in the hands of such amazing veterans like Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, there’s nothing else he can do but watch the marvel of these actors.  What came down to Lincoln being the number one film of 2012 mainly came from it’s importance.  Life of Pi effects me in such personal ways through my spiritual and religious interests.  Django is just great entertainment.  But Lincoln is more than just entertainment.  It’s a film focused on its material and the issue at hand, not trying to grab our sympathy or attention through tricks, but attaching the audience through the necessary component of unity and determination of something we needed at the time.  Lincoln is a masterpiece, trusting in all its elements and combining it into a force of nature politically, morally and ethically.  Spielberg is back to his masterful ways and Lincoln is the best film of 2012.

Conquering Young Love: Moonrise Kingdom Review

What isn’t cliche anymore these days?  Pretty much every major movie we see today contains a cliche plot line, story, character, an element that the audience already has witnessed.  Wes Anderson though, has introduced his own cliche.  Using the theme of family and biological quirkiness, almost all of his films are identical through its dialogue and approach.  What’s interesting, well at least for me, is that this never gets old.  Some may feel his material is too obscure and more of a redundant act, but I personally take appeal to his work because it’s creative, fun and sometimes, it’s okay to be different.

In Anderson’s newest film, Moonrise Kingdom, he goes after the king of cliches, young romanticism.  Okay, it may not be the biggest cliches ever, but if anything, it portrays a dilemma almost all of us go through, and we’ve seen our fair share of adolescent love affairs.  But this isn’t your ordinary love story.  It’s nowhere near from the usual order.

Sam and Suzy are in love.  Sam is an orphan and Suzy is the oldest of four, but is barely understood.  Loved may be the more appropriate word, but that is questionable.  Sam is a khaki scout part of Troop 55, where he is unwelcomed, outcasted and intelligently different from the rest.  Suzy, though attractive to the eyes, is not your average teenage girl.  She’s weird, disappointed with life and has a track of angry and violent incidents.  Pretty much, they are perfect for each other.  And they soon realize this is such an Anderson-esque introduction.  They send letters to each other, and at one point, where there lives are so unbearable in its current state, they decide to run away and camp out to some undisclosed location on an island off New England.  It’s like an emo version of The Blue Lagoon.  But there’s so much more substance and less of the awkward nudity and sex scenes.  Thank goodness.

Though this is Wes Anderson, this had a different feel to it, as it wasn’t as dark nor anywhere near as heavy as some of his other work especially in The Royal Tenanbaums and The Darjeeling Limited.  But it has his previous works’ tones, from his simplistic but attractive way of basic interaction, conversations, displaying scenes involving characters and his signature work in cinematography.  If Anderson released a film every year, then yes, this act would get tiring and repetitive, but he clearly doesn’t, and he knows he can’t.  This is why he has such a strong fan base because his work is great but released in small quantities.  That’s an equation for success in Hollywood.  Don’t showcase your act too much.

We get our handful of intriguing characters that have so much depth, but all act in similar manners.  Anderson has this way of portraying all these major individuals in identical manners, but there is such distinguished traits and tendencies that allow each figure to stand on its own.  It helps that he’s got an excellent cast, most likely his best, from Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton and the ever impressive Frances McDormand, but the two that shine the brightest here are the little ones.

Sam played by Jared Gilman and Suzy played by Kara Hayward are absolutely tremendous and lovable.  At first, you look at them and are just like, “these kids are weird”.  But then we are slowly revealed their identities, their struggles and why the escaped for a romantic but unrealistic love escapade, and we just can’t resist this relationship.  Their chemistry is off the charts, and they really showcase the innocence but also the curiosity of teenagers barely out of their children’s phase. 

Like any other Wes Anderson film, the music is so good, and you can tell he really emphasizes his score collection just like any good director will know how important it is to not just screw around with it.  There’s just so much here that is great, it’s hard to compare this to any of his other works because though they were good, I feel that this is by far Anderson’s best work.  It takes some time for this film to really engage the audience, at least for me, but the more I was seeing, the more I was engaged.  It was an ascending experience where eventually, I didn’t want this story to be finished.  I wanted to keep watching Sam and Suzy, their growth and their acceptance that though life has really sucked for them, they at least have each other, and that’s all they need.  It’s such a naive but dreamy way of thinking, and I think every person wishes they could go back to that idealistic mindset. 

Simply, I loved everything about this film.  It was a transcending 90 minutes, and I would’ve loved for another 90.  From the alien orgy-fest that we are currently riding in right now, it’s nice to have such a successfully different film where I don’t have to see explosions, destroyed cities and all that other nonsense to be entertained. And so far, Moonrise Kingdom has been the best entertainment I’ve seen this year.

Moonrise Kingdom gets 4 stars (out of 5).  It is currently in Limited Release.