My list of the year’s best movies would be identical to the list of my favorites. Pretty Meta huh? Some of the films I saw this year, I didn't expect to love as much as I did. Some that I had set such high expectations for had failed to meet them. While others had easily surpassed them. While there will be a number of familiar movies and titles you’ve probably been hearing about for months and some crossover with many other top ten lists, I’d like to think that I’ve once again come up with a nice mix of big studio movies and small independents across a diversity of genres. Experiences large and small, foreign and domestic, intense and enlightening serve as ample reminder that movies aren’t just an industry, they’re an art.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s created a virtuoso meta-fable of an actor fallen from grace. As Riggan Thompson, a former Hollywood sellout looking to stage a comeback on Broadway, Michael Keaton channels the live-wire energy he's long been known for but also shows us layers of sadness and desperation that we’ve never really seen from the actor, and certainly not in a showcase part like this, surrounded by a terrific ensemble including Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis. Much has been made of the film’s awe-inspiring “single-take” (actually achieved by seamlessly stitching together its merely very impressive long takes) and the film’s detractors have pointed to that as a gimmick. But the technique isn’t merely Iñárritu showing off (though it is that too), it’s also the best way to communicate the film’s manic energy and immediacy, in a world where where mundanity and surreality collide. With his first four features Iñárritu was in danger of hitting the same notes one too many times and thankfully he switched instruments just in the nick of time with this massively entertaining, genre-defying film - we come up short on comparisons when trying to describe it because there’s really nothing quite like it. Which is probably the best recommendation of all.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Going in to 'Guardians Of The Galaxy,' I wasn't sure quite what to expect. Granted, the Marvel hype machine was running at full steam, but this adaptation of one of the comic book giant’s lesser-known titles seemed like a HUGE gamble. Fronted by Chris Pratt, a guy best known for a supporting role on a sitcom, and featuring a gang of deep space outlaws, including a thief, a ruthless assassin, a literal minded thug, an anthropomorphic raccoon with a penchant for heavy arms, and a talking alien tree who only says three words, it was however a gamble that paid off big time as ‘Guardians’ became the biggest movie of 2014 in the U.S. (second worldwide only to Michael Bay’s latest 'Transformers' offering). It’s also the best time I had in a movie theater all year, mixing the high adventure and clever humor of an 'Indiana Jones' movie with the swashbuckling deep space action of 'Star Wars.' Marking the transition of James Gunn from making quirky, skewed-vision, offbeat personal low-budget indies, to making quirky, skewed-vision, offbeat multimillion dollar blockbuster tentpoles. Marvel Studios continues to exhibit a Midas touch.
Perhaps it’s not that surprising that some audiences have been reluctant to embrace this film, even outright rejecting it. It’s undeniably goofy at times, even cheesy in its tipsy balance of grand/intimate, but it's also so earnest and made with such artful craftsmanship that its power, for many of the rest of us, is undeniable. We can discuss the 'faults' all day long, but in the end, 'Interstellar' has a sense of adventure, and a scope of ambition in tackling the Big Questions that really no other blockbuster even nodded to this year. In Christopher Nolan’s space opera, the Earth coming to end is not a time mourn but an opportunity to explore new worlds and evolve as a species - it’s easily his most affecting, emotional work, that may have introduced a few of us to a new experience: crying at a Nolan film. His place in the pantheon of modern auteurs is well-earned, but 'Interstellar' evokes a spirit of human endeavor and an old-fashioned awe at the idea of space exploration, that makes all the spectacle somehow endearing too.
As Dan Gilroy’s dark drama unspooled this fall, critics and movie-goers seemed to have trouble pinpointing exactly what it was. It’s a trenchant media satire! It’s a psychological thriller! It’s a character study! Ultimately, it’s all of those things, and none of them; what it’s about is right there in its title. It’s about the things that go creepy-crawling out from under the rocks, after the sun goes down. Sometimes funny and sometimes thrilling, with yet another Jake Gyllenhaal performance that colors daringly outside the lines, 'Nightcrawler' left this viewer feeling much the way 'Taxi Driver' did: like there are some awfully scary creatures out there in the middle of the night. Louis Bloom is Patrick Bateman raised on a diet of Horatio Alger stories and recently gorged on self-help business strategy books. Gilroy and Gyllenhaal bring audiences into a Los Angeles not of sunshine, beautiful people and gleaming buildings, but of corroded aspirations and desperate measures that have curdled all morals and ethics. Ultimately, 'Nightcrawler' becomes one of year’s finest films by being one of its most uncompromising.
Under The Skin
A sublime take on another worldly incarnation preying among us. This is Scarlett Johansson’s best performance of her young career and Jonathan Glazer channels Kubrick wit with freshness. It’s based on Michel Faber’s book, but plays out nothing like it and transcends in adaptation and concept. It confounded and challenged me, and moved me in ways I wouldn't have thought possible. Why else go to the movies?
The Lego Movie
Who knew that this animated kid’s movie about branded plastic building blocks come to life would be such a cheeky, subversive thrill? Who knew that Chris Pratt would have a leading role in two of the ten best movies of the year? 'The Lego Movie' is loaded with such smart writing and visual gags that it builds and builds the fun and excitement (And a GREAT film score to boot).
Honorable Mention(s): Big Hero 6, Jodorowsky’s Dune & Snowpiercer.
2014 was filled with more entertaining hours and half hours than any human being could possibly watch. Of course, if you’re a cord-cutter, there was plenty of great TV available to you at your convenience - which also meant, more so than ever before, many of the best shows were being discovered on the audience’s schedule. This marks a peculiar time for television, as the (over) abundance of choices is also being met with the freedom to choose when, where, and how a series is consumed whether it be in weekly installments, a little at a time, or all at once.
Game Of Thrones
There’s no other show like it on television, but that’s not why GOT deserves a spot on this list. It’s because, despite the sprawling nature of its massive narrative, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels, has done whatever it takes to hold the audience’s attention at nearly every turn. Whether it’s focused on Tyrion and Jamie discussing a cousin’s very Martin-like penchant for smashing beetles, or Brienne in an epic battle against the Hound, the show knows exactly what buttons must be pushed to make sure it stays part of the Monday-Saturday conversation. There are few shows left in this age of DVR, streaming, and on-demand titles that manage to captivate millions of people on one particular night of the week. But as long as the map of Westeros keeps expanding, there’s a good chance that, for 10-weeks at a time, Sunday nights will belong to HBO.
Noah Hawley didn’t just deliver a convincing Coen-esque crime drama set in the snow-strewn Midwest; he lovingly handcrafted what may be the next big thing in FX’s anthology department. Season One was defined by terrific performances across the board. Allison Tolman’s gave the show both its brains and its heart as Deputy Molly Solverson, but the rest of the 10-episode series was rounded out with some spot-on characterizations that included Martin Freeman’s put upon Lester Nygaard and Colin Hanks’ uncomfortably nice Gus Grimly. But wrapping it all together was Billy Bob Thornton’s scene-stealing performance as Lorne Malvo, whose line: “Lester, is this what you want?” underlined the themes of choice and morality woven into Hawley’s darkly comic and sometimes profoundly weird tapestry.
Damon Lindelof’s return to television had many viewers (not myself) hesitant about investing in HBO’s new drama 'The Leftovers,' a tale about the people left behind in a small New York town after a rapture-type event mysteriously takes millions worldwide. 'The Leftovers' isn’t about why millions of people disappeared. It’s a look at how these characters deal with this traumatic event. Simply put, this is an intimate look at how a community reacts - running the whole gamut of guilt, division, blame, anger, hurt, sadness, emptiness and more - to a tragedy. It’s all immensely intriguing because even though this story is powerfully heartbreaking and often bleak, it can have moments of levity and even a scrap of hope.
In retrospect, The series which told its story in the space of eight episodes, was less about whodunnit and more about the evolution of the working relationship and friendship that developed between McConaughey's Rust Cohle and Harrelson's Marty Hart. 'True Detective' feels more ridiculously stylish and assured than philosophical, but it’s hard to deny that it knows how to create characters, and stories, that feel impossible to pull away from. It still would have been excellent if it was just eight hours of that Rust Cohle interview. And how can anyone forget the visual masterpiece created by director - of all eight episodes - Cary Fukunaga? That's some next level ISHT.
The maddeningly uneven second season of BBC America's rollicking parable of the clash between science and religion veers from the merely utilitarian ("Governed As It Were by Chance") to the positively inspired ("Knowledge of Causes, and Secret Motion of Things"), all the more frustrating for its glimpses of antic genius. That 'Orphan Black' snuck onto this list at all is thanks to the incomparable Tatiana Maslany. As a full complement of human clones (bickering, backstabbing, chasing, dancing, embracing, and even imitating each other), she manages to disappear fully into every role, an act of artistic daring that marks hers as perhaps the finest performance(s) on television.
Honorable Mention(s): Louie.
What are your favorites that didn't make my list? Let me know.
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