After walking through my #20 through #6 films of 2014, here are my choices for the top five films of 2014!
5. “Two Days, One Night” – Rightfully nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, Marion Cotillard plays a woman in dire emotional and financial stress. Sandra (Cotillard) fights to keep her job – for reasons I will not give away here – and pleads her case to 16 co-workers. Directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s revealing drama finds Sandra battling her defeatist tendencies on a semi-methodical march to each colleague’s home. Sandra believes she’s only marching to keep her job, but her journey – without her knowing it – becomes an opportunity to discover her own self-worth. This quietly powerful film – just about – perfectly captures the wide spectrum of the human condition.
4. “Calvary” – Brendan Gleeson delivers an utterly captivating performance as a good priest living under extreme duress in small seaside Irish community. Although scenic beauty surrounds him at every winding country road turn, almost all of the townspeople constantly spew hostility in his direction. The biggest danger, however, comes from a man who enters his confessional box and threatens to kill him within one week. Writer/director John Michael McDonagh weaves a very dark “whodunnit” film which plays like an old western as it stumps towards Father James’s (Gleeson) date with destiny. A surreal and difficult picture to watch, but McDonagh creates a beautiful film noir. Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd and M. Emmet Walsh co-star.
3. “Guardians of the Galaxy” – Marvel Studios latest effort is also their very best. When five ruffians band together to deliver a mysterious orb for an astronomical (pardon the pun) profit, they discover the meaning of friendship. As corny as that sounds, the manner which director James Gunn gets us there is anything but corny. This is an entertaining action film of the highest order, and – accompanied by a wonderful 70s soundtrack – it captures the imagination. More importantly, this movie is simply extremely funny. As far as I’m concerned, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is right up there with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and dare I say, “Star Wars”. Most fun I’ve had in a theatre in years.
2. “Birdman” – Riggan (Michael Keaton) is a 60-something former movie superhero star who takes on the most ambitious project of his career: he writes, directs and stars in his Broadway adaptation of his hero’s (Raymond Carver), short story. The picture plays out like a play as writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu films the 2-hour picture under several continuous 10-minute shots. While the camera winds through the hallways, dressing rooms, and the stage itself, we are privy to the backstage maneuvering and hilarity needed to put on a Broadway production. The writing is razor sharp, and all the performances hit their marks. None are better than Edward Norton’s portrayal of a talented actor with a chip – the size of a city block – on his shoulder.
1. “Boyhood” – Writer/director Richard Linklater creates an absolute marvel of a film. In a most unique way, he organically captures the impact of a dysfunctional and flawed upbringing over a 12-year period. Yes, Linklater filmed the story of a six-year-old boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) over 12 years. Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, come along to tell Mason’s and their characters’ narratives too. Their day-to-day conversations and seemingly ordinary events compile over years to help form a person from child to adult. Over 2 hours and 45 minutes, we, the audience, see Mason’s progression and the emotional land mines he’ll need to avoid from age 18 and beyond. A complete triumph. I’ve never seen another movie like it.