Grading the Year in Film: 2014
On this, the final day of 2014 and the final day of the first year of Audience Everywhere’s existence, I feel somewhat obligated to provide some sort of testimonial regarding the collective film effort of 2014. The problem here is that my friends and colleagues at Audiences Everywhere have already done a magnificent job at recapping the best and worst of what the year had to offer. So, I’m abandoning all pretense. Instead of pretending I’m licensed to select the best of anything, I’m just going to outline my favorites and least favorites and grade the year as a collective film assignment.
But before I do all that, I want to thank you all for visiting and reading.
Thanks for joining us in 2014, and I hope to see you back in the New Year.
My 20 Favorite Films
20. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes– A summer blockbuster that that starts with an unnoticeably wordless twenty minutes. The rare summer blockbuster that makes the viewer wish the characters wouldn’t pick up guns as quickly as they do. This is a film with ambitions of investigating society in a keen but macroscopic angle without surrendering the big movie thrills.
19. Under the Skin – Haunting, precise, honest, and troublesome, one of two films I wish I could re-review (Chef is the other; doesn’t hold up nearly as well on a full stomach).
18. Ida- One of those films you where you can hit pause on any frame and print out a work of art. Quiet and sharp, Ida has more to offer than just disarming aesthetic.
17. Enemy– Gyllenhaal at his double best, a control of atmosphere that will seep into your bones, and an ending that will ruin your next five films.
16. Joe- An incredible performance by Nic Cage and David Gordon Green’s lyrical film poetry serve as the perfect pair to enliven Larry Brown’s scrappy novel about aimless lower class aggression and anger.
15. The Drop– I’d posit that Tom Hardy had the best year of any performer, and his bait and switch in The Drop left me reluctant to appreciate the film for a few days. As time settled, I realized this was an air tight film.
14. The Equalizer– Fans of over the top violence, undiluted revenge, throwback action, and Denzel goddamn Washington will find their interests turned all the way up to 11. I was literally tapping my feet in the theater during this one.
13. The Homesman– A surreal, dreamlike, and strange journey back out of the American West; the female perspective illustrated as cleanly as its over been. Magnificent performances and unsettling direction.
12. Oculus– The best mainstream horror film since The Descent and the first movie to tease a schizophrenic interpretation that didn’t make me want to attack the screen. Should be in Oscar talks for editing.
11. Blue Ruin– Perhaps the year’s biggest directorial breakthrough: a movie colored in tones of its high-standing predecessors. A measured revenge film heavy on influence and yet unique in its new approach.
10. The Homestretch– An inspiring documentary about homeless inner city children that exposes an under-discussed American epidemic and the strength of the human spirit to persevere where society fails.
9. Child of God- The boldest filmmaking of the year; Unpleasant as it might be, Franco’s much maligned adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel holds more narrative sincerity than any other 2014 film.
8. Coherence– Sharply realized and on a shoe string budget, embracing modern theoretical physics and exploring human behavior as cleanly as major works of great sci-fi.
7. Godzilla– A master class of perspective and scale and a straightforward appeal to the inner-child of cinema lovers of all ages.
6. Mistaken for Strangers– The first film I loved in 2014. As touching an funny as any other movie this year, yet one that has proven to be criminally under-viewed. The best rock documentary in quite some time.
5. Fury-A gut punch of wartime senselessness, unforgiving in its gruesomeness and malicious in its violence. Fury is the best war movie of the current century and was a contrived ending away from being one of the greatest films of this or any millennium.
4. Boyhood– A movie that addresses the passing of time like perhaps no film before. Not much I can say about this one that hasn’t already been said over and over.
3. Locke– Unnerving and confident filmmaking punctuated with the year’s best performance. As tense as any film on the list before it.
2. Whiplash– The most realized traditional film of the year comes in the form of a young man with ambitions of excelling as a great jazz musician. The two central performances are stellar, the pacing and score are nerve-wracking, and the building action moves to a riveting climax without missing a beat.
1. Birdman- I love every element of this movie. The performances, the cinematography, the editing, the score, the pretentious praddling of the self-involved characters and the way the script observes them as a means of investing the modern human ego.
My Favorite Scenes
5. The Beach Scene in Under the Skin- While clearly upsetting, this scene has so much to say about human compassion and its absence.
4. Denzel Washington Going Full Denzel for the First Time in The Equalizer- That moment in the upper floor of the restaurant when you realize what kind of Denzel movie you’re watching. Holy. Shit.
3. The Final Scene of Whiplash- While it’s worth debating what victory is symbolized and for whom, there is no debating the cinematic effect of this Round 12 knockout.
2. The Water Wall in Interstellar– An infuriatingly perfect big budget sci-fi thriller scene in a movie that does everything it can to squandor these better moments.
1. The Opening and Closing of Calvary- Two perfect images reflecting one another and highlighting the spiritual power of the film; the most affective, moving, and resounding of the year.
My Favorite Performances
5. Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler- Eerie, precise, and indicative of the commitment he’s given in his last few efforts.
4. Kristen Stewart in Camp X-Ray- Turns out Bella can carry a narrative with quite a bit of weight.
3. Scott Haze in Child of God- This performance is something altogether new. I urge everyone to ignore the Rotten Tomato rating and check it out.
2. Shailene Woodley in The Fault in Our Stars– If the film itself had been better, Woodley would be an Oscar shoe-in. What she does to balance the weight of the film’s mediocre calculations and emotional suckerpunches is nothing short of expert. Every good thing about this movie starts with her.
1. Tom Hardy in Locke– A fascinating character study and an entire story played out on a calm, reserved face. Hardy’s performance is the movie, and it’s a damn find movie.
5. As Above, So Below– It’s a rare year in which I can pick five movies to make a Top Five Horror list, but I had some to spare this year. As Above, So Below was surprisingly unnerving, a cinematic haunted house perfectly choreographed for the big screen.
4. Willow Creek– The quietest frightening film of the year, one in which next to nothing happens, but the fear is very real and it is built upon one of the least scary entities in the American monster canon.
3. The Sacrament– Just hang in there until the last act.
2. The Babadook– A debut etching its way into classic horror status.
1. Oculus- Even as The Babadook earns such widespread praise, I still can’t help but feel that Oculus is the best horror film I’ve seen in nearly a decade.
Most Disappointing Moment
Interstellar. For perspective, because of the trailers and historical Oscar context and my faith in Christopher Nolan, I’d been touting this as a probable Oscar winner all year. I was so eager to see it, I bought tickets to three different 70 mm iMax showings. While I still went to all three, I was more and more disappointed with each watch. There’s about half as much narrative execution as there is cinematic ambition in this film. It is, at times, far-fetched and hollow, which is made all the more infuriating when the film provides stretches that tease what might have been (see My Favorite Scenes above).
My Least Favorite Films
10. Noah- ???
9. Blended– Probably a victory for Sandler that he doesn’t land in the bottom five.
8. Sabotage– Ayers lands one on the best and worst list. An impressive feat.
7. Nyphomaniac– Like catching your genius roommate masturbating, crying, and writing a bad poem all at once.
6. X-Men: Days of Future Past- Always forget X-Men movies shortly after watching. This one wouldn’t let me do that. It had to be infuriatingly pointless, loud, and flashy.
5. Wolf Greek 2– Just boring and standard and built upon a stereotype that I can’t appreciate.
4. Big Bad Wolves– Not funny, not edgy, and believes itself to be both those things. Also, needed to be both to succeed as a concept.
3. Contracted- I can’t make a bit of sense out of this terrible film.
2. Left Behind– I don’t need to explain this one. Nor do I want to. I’d hate to leave the year angry.
1. Winter’s Tale- My favorite part is when Colin Farrell has sex with the lady and she just dies. Nothing in between. Just an assumed STD of tremendous power. Will Smith is the devil.
2014 Grade: B-
Featured Image: Lock, A24, Birdman,; The Fault in Our Stars, 20th Century Fox; and Fox Searchlight Pictures.