With the Oscars tomorrow night and by way of my top ten list, it’s time to reflect on the cinematic art of 2014 that had the most impact on me.
While some filmmakers, purists and other folks bemoan the decrease of celluloid being shot and projected – I wholeheartedly agree it’s a major concern, especially for someone who grew up on a steady diet of the stuff – it’d be a sad world we’d live in if the only filmmakers who could afford to make movies were those who could only do so with the backing of major studios. 2014 offered a lot of great films we may have missed out on or that simply would not have been financially or otherwise possible if alternative methods of filmmaking were not available. These methods include the comparative cheapness of shooting on digital and having the world pitch in money through crowdsourcing channels such as Kickstarter. Sure, there’s bound to be a bunch of crap out there as a result of such facilitation – there’s always a bunch of crap, regardless – but inevitably, the cream of these little, usually idiosyncratic films (almost) always seems to rise to the top, allowing those of us that write about this stuff for a living to take notice and pass them on to others. Such is the case with most of the films making up this list, with the glaring exceptions being the two big studio productions and the two previously theatrically unreleased flashbacks.
So if you’re like me and watch The Academy Awards mostly for the pomp and circumstance and not because you take them seriously as rewarding the best of the best in any given year (or maybe you do take them seriously but want to hear from someone who doesn’t) here’s my (mostly) “alternative” list to this year’s nominees:
1. Interstellar – It’s rare that I’m moved by a big, mainstream movie, much less choose it as my favorite of the year. On top of that, I’m not a Christopher Nolan fan. The bookends to his superhero trilogy are a snoozefest while the middle entry is elevated to art mostly due to Heath Ledger’s performance. Take The Joker out of that film and there’s hardly anything to smile about. So it came as a complete surprise to me when I was floored by Interstellar. Out of all the movies this year it’s the one that achieves artistic greatness by succeeding in that old Hollywood specialty: the combination of spectacle with personal drama. It’s quintessential Hollywood: the vastness of our imagination as a backdrop for our deepest emotions. King Kong, The Wizard of Oz, 2001, The Empire Strikes Back, Close Encounters, E.T., Avatar, Gravity, Frozen – it’s in that same league and then some as its foundation in hard science fiction makes it quite possibly the most realistic science fiction fantasy (as opposed to Gravity‘s straight up realism) ever made. Off the top of my head, Contact comes the closest to a counterpart, but is no where as ambitious or as grandiose. Despite all of Interstellar‘s greatness, it’s really hardly a surprise that The Academy decided to snub it. In The Academy’s myopic view, the fact that Gravity won a major award last year – best director – pretty much canceled any chance of anything resembling sci-fi this year from being seriously considered for anything outside of practical and digital cosmetics. The byline would have to read either Spielberg or Kubrick for The Academy to seriously consider this type of soft and hard science fiction blend. That’s ironic since Interstellar resembles something either one of those filmmakers would have made, Spielberg even being initially attached to the project.
2. Coherence – Up until I saw Interstellar this was the one. Perhaps it’s fitting that it’s runner-up since with its similar philosophical musings Coherence almost feels like the dinner theater re-imagining of Christopher Nolan’s magnus opus. Any description of plot or even mention of genre would spoil the thrill of experiencing the wonder that is Coherence. So do yourself a favor and watch Coherence without knowing anything about it, if that’s at all possible in this day and age.
3. Blue Ruin – Like a stripped-down Coen Brothers thriller, Blue Ruin is what happens when you inject a shot(gun) of reality into Hollywood’s revenge fantasy fantasy.
4. Jodorowsky’s Dune – Read my review here.
5. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – Read my review here.
6. Gone Girl – Quite possibly the pitch blackest comedy I’ve ever seen. I laughed all the way through.
7. Runaway Nightmare – Read my review here.
8. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films – a walk down memory lane for anyone who lived through the ’80s version of grindhouse.
9. The One I Love – Yet another movie about parallel universes. This one is a sci-fi rom-com. So watch it with a date. Or two.
10. Nothing Lasts Forever – Read my review here.
Notable mentions in no particular order: Ping Pong Summer, Cold in July, Finding Vivian Maier, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Banksy Does New York, Nightcrawler, John Wick, Locke, Giuseppe Makes a Movie, The Babadook, Dear White People, Enemy, The Guest.