By Mark Saldana
I had an incredible year at the cinema this year. 2014 proved to be a year filled lots of great films of different varieties, but it seemed like it was the year of the biting satires. In addition to my routine trips to the theater for the new releases, I had the honor and pleasure of attending four film festivals in Austin this year. As usual, I have come up with my top ten list of new release films I saw this year, but instead of making a list of the ten worst films of the year, I will only mention what I consider to be the worst film of the year. I will also include my favorites in more specific categories and some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut, but deserve acknowledgement. I enjoyed movies so much in 2014 that I decided to focus more on the positive aspects and much less on the negatives.
My Top Ten Films of 2014:
1. Birdman Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance: Writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñárritu celebrates and skewers the craft of acting, the theater, Hollywood, and the insanity that comes with arts and entertainment. Michael Keaton makes the comeback of the year in a role he was born to play. It is a technical and artistic marvel that I feel deserves top honors.
2. Boyhood: Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater delivers his magnum opus which took him twelve years to complete. His most ambitious fictional film project follows a Texas born and raised boy (Ellar Coltraine) as he grows up and ultimately leaves the nest at 18 to take on the real world. Linklater’s gamble pays off beautifully as he delivers a film that really touched my heart and often had me laughing and smiling. Patricia Arquette delivers an outstanding performance as the single mom who mostly raises the titular Mason, Jr. Boyhood is also my favorite film from this year’s SXSW Film Festival.
3. Ida: From Polish director, Pawel Pawlikowshi, this powerful and moving film, about an orphan nun-in-training discovering her roots, floored me. This post-World War II era period piece is beautifully filmed, exceptionally written, and features extraordinary performances by Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza. It is my pick for best foreign language film of the year.
4. Gone Girl: David Fincher’s latest examination of sociopathy comes from the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn. This adaptation can take its place among Fincher’s best movies which are Seven, Fight Club, and Zodiac. Ben Affleck offers a solid performance, but Rosamund Pike gives what I consider to be the best performance by an actress this year. This movie is another biting satire that left me with a variety of mixed emotions and is on this list because of this.
5. Nightcrawler: Naturally, my favorite movie of this year’s Fantastic Fest would make my top ten list. Another razor sharp satire for 2014, this film by writer/director Dan Gilroy is the Network of the modern era. This movie not only critiques the priorities of mass media, but also critiques how financial need and the obsession in achieving the American dream can turn people into blood suckers. Jake Gyllenhaal stars in an insanely superb role that definitely deserves nominations at all of the film awards.
6. Wild: Write/director Jean Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club) is back this year with an exceptional film which stars Reese Witherspoon in a very candid and heartbreaking role. Witherspoon’s passionate performance is another which deserves recognition at all of the movie awards. This film also happens to be my favorite entry at this year’s Austin Film Festival.
7. The Imitation Game: This excellently made biopic by writer Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum (based on the Andrew Hodges’ novel, Alan Turing: The Enigma) tells the fascinating and ultimately heartbreaking story of the brilliant cryptologist Turing whose work helped the Allied forces win World War II. Benedict Cumberbatch stars in the lead role and is my pick for the best actor of the year.
8. The Lego Movie: My favorite animated feature film of the year definitely took me by surprise, though it really shouldn’t have. With the dynamic filmmaking duo, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the talented writer/directors of the 21 Jump St. movies, at the helm, I should have known better. This movie is a total blast with every single joke, gag, and one-liner working beautifully. The excellent voice-cast which includes Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, and many others just adds the icing on an already delicious treat.
9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: This darker second installment in the Planet of the Apes prequels succeeds where the previous film faltered somewhat. Not only do the apes make a valid case for their cause, so do the humans. The lines between villain and hero are much more blurred and this serves the film well in creating a compelling and deep summer movie. Writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Mark Bomback, and director Matt Reeves have created a frightening, beautiful and despondent story that is so intelligently conceived and brilliantly presented that no other tent pole film could top it this summer.
10. Whiplash: This unsettling, but great film about a student musician (Miles Teller) and his cruel instructor (J.K. Simmons) may not necessarily have an original plot, but still has its own style and voice. Writer/director Damien Chazelle offers a fresh and exciting take on these character archetypes and their relationships with one another. Teller and Simmons face off and it is truly magical. J.K. Simmons is also my pick for the best performance by an actor in a supporting role.
Honorable Mentions: Cheap Thrills, Joe, Blue Ruin, Under the Skin, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Enemy, Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive
Best Director: Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñárritu – Birdman
Best Original Screenplay: Nightcrawler
Best Adapted Screenplay: Gone Girl
Best Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Best Actress: Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman
Best Score: Antonio Sanchez – Birdman
Best Animated Film: The Lego Movie
Best Foreign Language Film: Ida
Best Documentary: Life Itself
Worst Film I Saw This Year: Bad Johnson
I want to wish all of my readers, friends, supporters and Truevies a happy and prosperous new year. I will see you at the cinema in 2015!