Top Ten Movies of 2014
The Academy cherry-picked some fine – sometimes dubious – films for this year’s awards ceremony. Lots of old dads, granddads, and aunts that look like Joan Cusack voted for their favorite films. Stupid, exasperating things were nominated (Into the Woods) and barbed, fang-baring films were not (Nightcrawler, basically). Wes Anderson churned out another pastel smudged hymn to construction paper. A film I cared so little about that I actually spilled a liter of Kool-Aid on the promotional materials that Fox Searchlight sent me. This year, Ethan Hawke was nominated for being an affable schlep that plays guitar (the parent version of his character in Reality Bites). Meanwhile, Patricia Arquette was nominated for sighing over coffee tables for a span of 12 years. Many of the films I championed remained missing in action, gathered somewhere to collect dust. As I list them here, I can imagine my friend, Josh Board of Fox 5 San Diego, outwardly lamenting my selections. “Your movie taste has gotten worse!” he will say. Perhaps he will lay a “this is terrible, Rob!” on me. Certainly, he will not be in my corner.
All dirt, grease and rust. Broken earth and rattling tails. The world belonging to older shadows. David Gordon Green’s opus has the most texture of any film this year. Comprised of fear and sweat lacquered brows, Joe entrenches the viewer in a world of skewed justice. Getting back to Green’s dogged roots was instrumental in the aesthetic of this skilled Nic Cage performance. This film succeeds where director Jeff Nichols’ Mud failed. Expect little levity and lots of recoil.
09. Palo Alto
Eagerly dismissed by critics and vehemently pelted by confused fans of James Franco, Palo Alto captured the slushy dissonance of teenage dystopia. Director Gia Coppola captures incendiary nothingness of being a teenager; it’s a place where everyone resembles Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, only dressed in a sweater that has over-sized sleeves. Smoking. Texting. Baying at the moon. Mad hatters with the inability to process emotion. Coppola’s film has the gears of a Gus Van Sant film, but a heart all its own. Not all of the frequencies work, but when they do, you remember the cold rush of night air and the wretched pang of what it was like to be around this kind of farcical carnage.
08. Obvious Child
My generation is an amalgam of brattiness, co-dependence, vanity, and intellectual dickery. We suck in the best way, and I guess the romanticism is in the balled up tinfoil of our self-awareness. Here, Jenny Slate is a broken phalanx. Her performance is so good that you have to admonish yourself for thinking otherwise. And, hey, Obvious Child is funny. There is a sense of propriety and texture to Slate’s self-depreciation and serrated acceptance. Obvious Child is a film that feels ornery with heart.
A gnarled globule of chewed gum with the acerbic nature of a hangman’s noose. Dan Gilroy’s smarmy and razor-sharp Nightcrawler features an antihero for the ages. Clearly the best original screenplay of the year, this malicious character study contained a career-defining performance by Jake Gyllenhaal (the Academy never needed a public relations overhaul more than this year, when they robbed the actor of a nomination). Los Angeles looks like an asylum on the verge of collapse. Media is a swinging pendulum. And cash rules everything.
06. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is a riotous plunge into whirring bullets and barbed observational humor. Steve Coogan’s dry and acrimonious delivery gnashes down on everything in director Declan Lowney’s rabid film about a radio station buckling under the pressure of a hostile environment. With his muzzle off, Coogan is allowed to spit trenchant one-liners at elevated speed. The expert tightrope balance of physical comedy and off-color humor absolutely slays.
5. A Most Violent Year
“This will be very bad for my business,” Oscar Isaac asserts. His stoic, almost inert inflexibility hides a boiling pot of desperation. I love that “Violent” is in the title of this film, because J.C. Chandor’s first two pictures – Margin Call and All is Lost – were extremely violent. They lived in a quiet carnage. Seething, slicing, and eviscerating. Here is a writer/director with a sock full of marbles. And the violence is further articulated in Chandor’s latest opus. What a hugely ambitious, sullen, lipstick branded love letter to dreams and the flammable materials that their sparks land upon.
04. Dom Hemingway
Pockmarked with violence and gallows humor, Dom Hemingway is a spurious and primal ode to man’s Id. Jude Law must have binge-watched Bronson before he got his mitts wet on this film. Richard Shepard’s brass knuckled opus is probably the most hilarious crime flick since Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast. And it’s impossible to not love the fact that Richard E. Grant looks like a cross between Bill Nighy and musician Bob Welch. Stellar business that gets branded by its dark musings on comedy and loss.
03. Under the Skin
Steely and resolute in its soul-siphoning ruthlessness. Aesthetically present, but emotionally vacuous: Scarlett Johansson may as well be Michelangelo’s David. She doesn’t need a personality, because others assign it to her. It’s an indictment of the carnality of men. Sex as death. And a score that is reminiscent of Penderecki and Brian Eno. A fusion that sounds like insects scattering. So very, very terrifying.
02. The Rover
Parched colors, dirt smeared maws, and blood-flecked walls. The Rover is not only beautifully melancholy, but absolutely terrifying. Entrenched in its own filmy teeth and calloused hands, this dystopian outback tale is a rusty and barbed travelogue of regret and destitution. The crushing duress of open fields and dust-licked faces punctuate one of the best films of the year. And despite Robert Pattinson’s groan-inducing turn as an unconvincing Salvador Dali in Little Ashes, he’s proving to be a reliably good actor. Between presenting mealy steel in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and showing up as a sun-maimed witness in The Rover, Pattinson is moving from “empirically-friendly dude” to “seasoned thespian.”
Mechanical clicking, the droll roar of a foghorn, the winged fluttering of strings. Enemy’s score envelopes the audience in a sort of sonic net. A psychologically pressurized waltz through carnality, fever pains, and clawing through panic. Enemy is scary in a sense that you haven’t quite realized what, subconsciously, you fear about the film. 2014 is certainly the year of repressed fog and mind-searing entitlement (and, perhaps, just Jake Gyllenhaal?) There is nothing conspicuous about Enemy other than the fact it forces you to confront your ideas of just how over – or under – evolved we are as a species.