Top 10 Films of 2014

Tomorrow, the Oscars will put a bow on the year that was film, 2014. As always, there’s been a lot of ink spilled over what was nominated, what wasn’t, critics’ favorites, audience favorites, yadda yadda yadda. But before we wrap it up, it’s time for The Best Films of Our Lives to chime in, just under the wire. We’ve had time to catch up with the foreign and limited releases trickling into theaters, and now we present to you, dear readers, our Top 10 Films of 2014. Enjoy!

Elaine’s Picks

10. “The Theory of Everything”

The Oscar Best Actor race has been billed as a battle between the British scientists: Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. But it’s actually the performance of Felicity Jones, as Jane Hawking, that shines in “The Theory of Everything.” Jones, an indie darling for the Sundance hit “Like Crazy,” elevates a middling script with her performance, particularly in the scenes when she first learns of Stephen’s disease. As Redmayne’s Hawking is increasingly trapped by motor neuron disease, the movie relies on Jones for complexity and its emotional center. “The Theory of Everything” didn’t quite live up to expectations, but Jones’ and Redmayne’s performances, its cinematography, and an appropriately mathematical score rescued it from a decidedly mediocre script.

For more thoughts on “The Theory of Everything,” click here.

9. “Boyhood”

Enough has been written about “Boyhood” without me taking up too much space here, and while I was less swept off my feet by Richard Linklater’s latest endeavor than most of the world, I can’t deny that it’s an incredible accomplishment. Following one boy for 12 consecutive years of boyhood, the movie blends a fictional plot with the actual passage of time to create a tableau of adolescence as it passes in real time. But while Linklater should be lauded for his vision and perseverance, “Boyhood” didn’t reach the emotional pitch of his earlier time-bending works, the “Before” series. The pleasure of watching “Boyhood” mainly comes from recognition; those who loved it saw themselves and their childhoods in Mason’s experiences. But it’s not enough to simply chronicle the process of growing up, and that’s all “Boyhood” did.

8. “Belle”

At first glance, “Belle” seems like any other middlebrow period drama, cosseted and corseted women courted by powerful men in pantaloons and wigs. But Amma Asante’s movie rises above the rest due to a fascinating story, smart writing, and a stellar cast. “Belle” is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate daughter of an 18th-century British aristocrat and his slave mistress. She is raised alongside her white, aristocratic cousin under the roof of her great-uncle (Tom Wilkinson), the Lord Chief Justice of England who presided over a key decision that led to the abolition of slavery. It rolls a love story into an intelligent portrayal of British history, asking questions about the plight of women, the hypocrisy of the class system, and the poisonous well of racism and slavery.

7. “Only Lovers Left Alive”

If ever anyone was born to play a vampire, it was Tilda Swinton. Put her alongside Tom Hiddleston armed with Jim Jarmusch’s luscious lighting and hypnotic script, and you have “Only Lovers Left Alive.” The latest from the eclectic director, the movie follows Adam and Eve, a vampire couple who have spent their centuries inspiring and mingling with the titans of Western culture. The movie is less interested in the familiar tropes of vampires, the blood, coffins, and insomnia, and more about capturing a moment and a mood. For much of the movie, nothing happens. But Jarmusch’s striking images and the natural rapport between the two lead actors ensure that it doesn’t matter. At some point Eve’s unstable sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) appears and wreaks enough havoc to drive the plot forward, but for long stretches of this brooding, atmospheric movie, it’s enough to watch Adam and Eve be.

For more thoughts on “Only Lovers Left Alive,” click here.

6. “Selma”

I’ve seen better movies before, but no movie has ever made me as angry as Ava DuVernay’s “Selma.” As the Alabama police attacked the peaceful marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge with clubs and chains, I felt a powerful urge to run out of the theater and go tell someone, anyone, how wrong it was that such things could have happened—and continue to happen. The uproar that “Selma” has inspired shows how important a film it is in our national discourse. But it is as beautiful a movie as it is timely, with exquisite cinematography and a wonderfully controlled performance by David Oyelowo as King. One of DuVernay’s great achievements was to know her limits. Recognizing the foolishness of a traditional biopic of MLK’s incredible life, she narrowed the scope, focusing on the three-month period when King and his supporters marched from Selma to Montgomery. The chaos, volatility, uncertainty, and hope of the 1960s is brought to life with such raw vitality that even if you paid close attention to the civil rights unit in history class, the movie packs surprises and suspense throughout. “Selma” doesn’t top my list for best movie this year, but it’s certainly the most important.

5. “Beyond the Lights”

In a time when Hollywood is busy figuring out how next to blow things up and save the world from alien supervillains, Gina Prince-Bythewood has made an honest, moving drama about two people falling in love. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (mentioned above in “Belle”) as Noni, a black pop star whose hypersexualized image has eclipsed her talent, the movie is a love story unashamed of being romantic, a rarity among Hollywood romances that increasingly polarize between saccharine Nicholas Sparks adaptations and indie movies riddled with irony. It’s also the story of a woman who has spent her life “ass up, face down” finding herself, her voice, and her identity. Noni’s image and time have always belonged to everyone but herself—to her exploitative mother (an excellent Minnie Driver), her agents, and her fans—and watching her take those her life back into her own hands sends a powerful, and altogether too infrequent, message to women.

4. “Relatos salvajes” (“Wild Tales”)

Are you mad as hell? Because these Argentines are. Argentina’s Oscar nominee is a compilation of six shorts connected by a single theme: we’re not going to take it anymore. From road rage spiraling out of control to a nightmare wedding, Damian Szifrón’s dark comedy is the rare anthology movie that manages to deliver consistent quality across all six segments, propelled forward by an impeccable sense of comedic timing, a razor sharp screenplay, and excellent performances. While it’s the most uplifting of the foreign film nominees—it’s the only one that doesn’t deal directly with war, oppression, and corruption—it’s no less powerful a political commentary. There’s something rotten in the state of Argentina, be it the bureaucracy, corruption, or inequality. We’ve all had days where we want to lash out at the world. These ordinary citizens show us the heady, delicious sensation of giving in, if only just this once.

For more thoughts on “Relatos salvajes,” click here.

3. “Lilting”

David Carr, the New York Times journalist who died suddenly this month once said: “What I learned from two years of reporting, investigation, and writing is that you can’t know the whole truth. But if there is one, it lies in the space between people.” No movie captures that truism better than “Lilting,” the beautiful, sensitive debut of British-Cambodian writer and director, Hong Khaou. Starring Ben Whishaw and Cheng Pei-Pei as two people mourning the death of the same loved one, the movie is split evenly between English and Chinese and uses the language barrier to explore the space between people. This movie is entirely about relationships, between lovers, parents and children, strangers united in grief. Whishaw and Cheng excel, the cinematography took home top prize at Sundance, but the real standout is the script. Khaou dances between languages, alternating between an on-screen translator and subtitles without ever feeling redundant or cumbersome. By placing translation at the heart of the movie, he also provides a rare, refreshingly sensitive portrayal of the Asian immigrant experience. “Lilting” is one of the quietest movies on this list, but it resonates.

For more thoughts on “Lilting,” click here.

2. “A Coffee in Berlin”

This German indie movie swept the 2013 German Film Awards but debuted to sadly little fanfare here in the U.S. the next year. At its center is Niko (Tom Schilling), a twenty-something Berliner who has dropped out of law school and doesn’t know what to do with himself. As he goes through the city in search of a cup of coffee, it seems that no one else has any idea either. It’s a familiar tale of prolonged adolescence, told time and again in anything from “Peter Pan” to “Frances Ha,” but “A Coffee in Berlin” is one of the best of its genre. Schilling has a sensitive face made for the camera, vulnerable and open, and the movie puts together a string of slapstick moments and absurd situations that make Niko question if it’s really him that’s the problem or everyone else. It manages to be melancholy and silly at the same time, which, in the end, is what being young and confused is all about.

1. “Ida”

After watching “Ida,” you will never forget lead actress Agata Trzebuchowska’s eyes. Filmed in black and white, they appear like deep pools of memory containing the guilt and suffering of Poland’s painful twentieth century. Before taking her vows, Anna (Trzebuchowska), a novice at the Catholic nunnery where she grew up, is ordered to visit her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a chain-smoking, heavy drinking, sexually promiscuous Communist judge whose ardent belief in the cause has hardened into cynicism. Wanda reveals to Anna that her real name is Ida Lebenstein, and she is the daughter of Jews murdered by their Catholic neighbors in the Holocaust. Together they travel to her parents’ village—her own birthplace—to find out who killed them and what happened to their bodies. “Ida” is a technical masterpiece, an acting master class, an inquisition of the Second World War and the Communism that followed it, an inquiry into the power of faith, and the story of one young woman’s awakening. All of that in only 80 minutes.

Ethan’s Picks

 

10. “Whiplash”

Audacious, supremely confident, a cunning film with crowd-pleasing trappings that hide a pitch-black heart. Throw all “realistic” expectations of jazz music or modern teaching out the window – Damien Chazelle’s sharp sophomore feature is a psychological thriller masquerading as one of those “inspirational mentor” flicks. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, a young musician and his insanely abusive teacher, are both superb as two halves of a perverse, symbiotic whole: the hammer and the nail. Virtuoso editing builds the film, rhythmically, to its explosive, altogether masterful final scene.

9. “Boyhood”

The culmination of Richard Linklater’s twelve-year project is a paradox: an achievement of directorial ambition characterized by near-infuriating restraint. At times, the story of young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) drifts along with the aimlessness of Linklater’s “Slacker” or “Dazed and Confused;” at others it flails into the kind of pretentiously over-crafted dialogue and situations that form the worst moments of his otherwise wonderful “Before” trilogy. At times, it seems to be genuinely concerned with the stories of Mason’s mother and father (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, exceptional in fulfilling a challenge never quite asked of any other actors before); at others it dumps them into clichés. What to make of this puzzling, condensed mix of the mundane and the melodramatic? It’s certainly unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

8. “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”

A gentle and heartbreaking fairy tale from Studio Ghibli’s OTHER master animator. Isao Takahata hasn’t gotten the stateside press of his colleague Miyazaki, perhaps because tonally he’s closer to Ozu than Disney – which is a film snobby way of saying he’s got a tendency to bum you the fuck out. “Kaguya” is no “Grave of the Fireflies,” but it’s a film bursting with equal parts joy and melancholy, as the supernatural protagonist grows away from the family and friends she loves and into the rigid mores of high society. Breaking somewhat from the traditional Ghibli style, Takahata’s watercolor-based drawings are dreamy and evocative; the Princess’ flight from her mansion is simply one of the most breathtaking sequences of animation in film history.

7. “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

It’s a dangerous place to go, that spot inhabited by art that tries to address the self-indulgence of art. Why do I appreciate “8 1/2” but despise “Stardust Memories?” I couldn’t even really tell you. But after repeat viewings, I can say that I still tremendously enjoy “Birdman,” the unexpected reveal from Alejandro Iñárritu that he does, in fact, have a considerable sense of humor – and more importantly, that he’s extremely willing to turn that humor on himself. Yes, that New York Times critic character is a misstep (or is she just another figment of the protagonist’s nightmares?), but let’s be fair to her – the play-within-the-movie put on by floundering actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) does look pretty god-awful. And that’s the point: not some great battle between high and low art, nor an insinuation that Riggan is an unfairly underestimated talent; just that self-expression, in all its forms, is always a struggle for fulfillment. I’ve seen films try to make that argument in ways far less engaging than an Ed Norton slap-fight.

6. “Timbuktu”

For many of us, religious extremism is a violent intrusion into our everyday lives, a vague threat in the back of our minds pushed to the front by the savage destruction of villages in Nigeria, or a massacre in downtown Paris, or a horrific video flashing across the news. For those not blessed with remove, it’s just the opposite: violent, oppressive evil enacted in the name of god is a mundane reality. Abderrahmane Sissako’s measured, patient film finds the moments of beauty that puncture through the cloud of terror hanging over the titular, jihadist-occupied city: young men playing soccer, a cowherd guiding his flock, a woman’s gentle voice singing in the night. Cinematographer Sofian El Fani’s river-spanning, human-swallowing shot of the aftermath of a tragic confrontation might be the shot of the year.

You can read more thoughts on “Timbuktu” here.

5. “Selma”

In retrospect, A.O. Scott most likely regrets the timing of this piece, which questioned the ability of contemporary American art to tackle the great social-political issues of our times. It ran only a few scant weeks before Ava DuVernay’s film erupted on to screens with a relevance that the director couldn’t possibly have foreseen. There may have been better movies this year (only a handful by my count), but I daresay none that felt so desperately necessary. Out on the streets, protestors screamed that black lives matter, and on the screen Martin Luther King shouted glory, and for a sharp and scathing moment “Selma” wasn’t a movie but a mirror.

Even as the passionate moment in which it debuted recedes, I believe “Selma” will remain a lasting and powerful work of art. It peels back truths that we will never find in history books, creating a fierce and insightful portrait of social change. MLK, played by a quasi-possessed David Oyelowo, forms the film’s center but not its focus. This is a film in which activists, allies, community leaders, ordinary people and presidents come together to perform a complex dance, in which the pattern goes something like: two steps forward, one step back. DuVernay dares to show progress as stuttered, not a straight line – messy, complicated, human.

4. “Ida”

The greatest Bresson film that Bresson couldn’t live to make. Deeply felt yet staunchly unsentimental, Pawel Pawlikowski’s slices open a wound in history (Poland’s not-always-coerced participation in both the Holocaust and Stalinism) and calmly watches it bleed. It’s a painful road to take, but there is something in the frank, unflagging determination of the film’s two female to follow through on their quest to uncover the truth that makes “Ida” feel necessary and endurable. Both Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza, as a young novitiate and her hard-living, disillusioned aunt, are extraordinary; they’re allowed to play fully formed, complex women, of the kind (you know, the realistic one with deeply personal motivations that have nothing to do with men) you wouldn’t find within twenty thousand leagues of Hollywood at the moment.

3. “Under the Skin”

Easily the most distressing and unsettling film of the year, Jonathan Glazer’s ultra-loose adaptation of the Michael Faber novel makes the unease of its alien protagonist achingly visceral with an eerie, shrieking score, uncannily immaculate cinematography and the perfect use of off-kilter special effects. Scarlett Johannson is revelatory (yes, I said it) in a role that seems made for her: as an alien creature inhabiting the body of a human woman, she gradually awakens to the horrors of all that entails, with just a furrow in her brow and a question in her unblinking gaze.

2. “Calvary”

Do we have a word for the opposite of a sophomore slump? John Michael McDonagh’s debut feature “The Guard” was a fine dark comedy in the vein of his brother Martin’s “In Bruges,” but mostly a vehicle for the always-great Brendan Gleeson; his follow-up, in which Gleeson plays a Catholic priest attempting to do his duty in the small Irish village where an anonymous confessor has threatened to murder him, is startling, and not just in subject matter. As Gleeson makes his way through the rogue’s gallery that doubles as the town’s cartoonishly awful populace, the comedy becomes so black you can barely laugh what for all the soot in your mouth. But it’s the film’s underlying streak of sincerity that makes it quite so astonishing: McDonagh is genuinely concerned with what it means to have faith, and what it means to have that faith shattered.

1. “Leviathan”

Russia is not a place. Russia is a condition. There are few other countries on earth quite so concerned with the quality of their national character – and perhaps none that are so brutally and articulately self-lacerating about it. I wrote about this more at length in my piece about the film for The New Republic, but Andrei Zvyagintsev’s film is far more than just a critique of the Putin regime: it cuts through political trappings to the existential dread that has perpetuated centuries of authoritarian rule.

Look, this film was practically pre-programmed to top my end-of-year list. Zvyagintsev is easily the best and most important post-Soviet Russian filmmaker, by my mark; he’s drawing on a century’s worth of Russian cinematic tradition while staking out a mannered style that’s both idiosyncratic and cross-culturally translatable. Spiritual malaise is always likely to capture my attention (see three of my top five here). But no one else this year created a film of such fearful symmetry. Chilling, beautiful, bitterly funny and unsparing, “Leviathan” lived up to the human monstrosity promised by its title.

Ten more (it’s my blog, I can cheat): “A Most Violent Year,” “Foxcatcher,” “Inherent Vice,” “Mr. Turner,” “Dear White People,” “Nightcrawler,” “Force Majeure,” “A Most Wanted Man,” “Starred Up,” “The LEGO Movie”

The 8th Annual EMOs

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34 films. 17 different theaters, from New York to Bucksport, Maine, and Culpeper, Virginia. 3976 minutes (that’s over 67 hours). And way, way too much $$$$.

That, in a nutshell, was my year in film, 2014. But this is more than a nutshell. This is Ethan’s Makeshift Oscars. So let’s get into it. As always, to get nominated for an EMO, a film must have been released in 2014 and I had to see it in 2014. No limits on the number of nominations per category, though I try to keep it to 10; in the competitive categories, nominees are listed in ranked order from the cut-off line to the winner. And of course, be sure to stay tuned for the second half of the EMOs, where every film is a winner in its own way.

Check back in a while for a more detailed (and, once I’ve caught up with a few more late-year limited releases, accurate) top 10 of the year. Enjoy!

Best Action Film:

  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Godzilla

Funniest Film:

  • Chef
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Land Ho!
  • Obvious Child
  • Frank
  • Dear White People
  • Inherent Vice
  • Birdman
  • The LEGO Movie

Most Fucked-Up Protagonist:

  • Curtis, “Snowpiercer”
  • Andrew Neyman, “Whiplash”
  • Riggan Thomson, “Birdman”
  • Eric Lomax, “The Railway Man”
  • Mark Schultz, “Foxcatcher”
  • Amelia, “The Babadook”
  • Amy and Nick Dunne, “Gone Girl”
  • Lou Bloom, “Nightcrawler”

Most Deserving to Have Everyone Involved in Production Die a Horribly Painful Death Just For Making Me Watch the Trailer:

  • Tammy
  • A Long Way Down
  • Left Behind
  • The Other Woman
  • The Legend of Hercules
  • I, Frankenstein

Worst Science:

  • Interstellar
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Godzilla
  • Transcendence

Rising Above It Award (for acting performance significantly above the overall quality of the film it’s in):

  • Brendan Gleeson, “The Grand Seduction”
  • James McAvoy, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
  • Jeremy Irvine, “The Railway Man”
  • Emily Blunt, “Edge of Tomorrow”

Scene-Stealer Award:

  • Emily Watson, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Ed Harris, “Snowpiercer”
  • Robert Downey, Jr., “Chef”
  • Domhnall Gleeson, “Calvary”
  • Toby Jones, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Breakthrough Actor/Actress of the Year:

  • Evan Peters, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
  • Chris Pratt, “The LEGO Movie” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”
  • Dave Bautista, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
  • Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”
  • Carrie Coon, “Gone Girl”
  • the collective cast of “Dear White People”

Best Poster:

  • Under the Skin

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  • Whiplash

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  • Inherent Vice

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  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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  • Foxcatcher

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  • Nightcrawler

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  • Rosewater

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  • Men, Women and Children

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  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

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  • Birdman

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Best Trailer:

  • Mommy
  • Godzilla
  • Boyhood
  • Knight of Cups
  • Gone Girl
  • Force Majeure
  • Selma
  • Nightcrawler
  • Birdman
  • Inherent Vice

Best Scene:

  • Eating a piece of cake, “Under the Skin”
  • Skydiving into San Francisco, “Godzilla”
  • Business over dinner, “Nightcrawler”
  • Brothers warming up, “Foxcatcher”
  • Docking, “Interstellar”
  • On the beach, “Calvary”
  • A syndicate of dentists, “Inherent Vice”
  • Despair, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • “Not quite my tempo”, “Whiplash”

Best Use of An Existing Song:

  • “The Obvious Child,” Paul Simon, “Obvious Child”
  • “In a Big Country,” Big Country, “Land Ho!”
  • “Come and Get Your Love,” Redbone, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
  • “Hero,” Family of the Year, “Boyhood”
  • “Vitamin C,” Can, “Inherent Vice”

Best Original Song:

  • “Where No One Goes,” by Jónsi, “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
  • “For the Dancing and the Dreaming,” by Jónsi and John Powell, “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
  • “Song of the Heavenly Maiden,” by Joe Hisaishi, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • “I Love You All,” by the Soronprfbs, “Frank”
  • “Everything is AWESOME!!!” by Tegan and Sara with The Lonely Island, “The LEGO Movie”

Best Original Score:

  • Alexandre Desplat, “Godzilla”
  • Herbert Grönemeyer, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • James Newton Howard, “Nightcrawler”
  • Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, “Gone Girl”
  • Jóhann Jóhannson, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Hans Zimmer, “Interstellar”
  • Alexandre Desplat, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
  • Antonio Sanchez, “Birdman”
  • Jonny Greenwood, “Inherent Vice”
  • Mica Levi, “Under the Skin”
  • Joe Hisaishi, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”

Prettiest Pictures:

  • Benoît Delhomme, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • Hoyte van Hoytema, “Interstellar”
  • Benoît Delhomme, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Jeff Cronenweth, “Gone Girl”
  • Larry Smith, “Calvary”
  • Robert Elswit, “Inherent Vice”
  • Robert Elswit, “Nightcrawler”
  • Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski, “Ida”
  • Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman”
  • Daniel Landin, “Under the Skin”

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Andrew Bovell, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”
  • Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan, “Frank”
  • Gillian Robespierre, “Obvious Child”
  • Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”

Best Original Screenplay:

  • Chris Miller, Phil Lord, “The LEGO Movie”
  • Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook”
  • Justin Simien, “Dear White People”
  • E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, “Foxcatcher”
  • Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
  • Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”
  • Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, “Ida”
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris, “Birdman”
  • John Michael McDonagh, “Calvary”

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Robin Wright, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • Andrea Riseborough, “Birdman”
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Frank”
  • Carrie Coon, “Gone Girl”
  • Joanna Newsom, “Inherent Vice”
  • Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”
  • Kelly Reilly, “Calvary”
  • Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
  • Emma Stone, “Birdman”
  • Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer”

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Will Arnett, “The LEGO Movie”
  • Tyler Perry, “Gone Girl”
  • Dave Bautista, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
  • Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”
  • Riz Ahmed, “Nightcrawler”
  • Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
  • Chris O’Dowd, “Calvary”
  • Edward Norton, “Birdman”
  • J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
  • Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”

Best Actress:

  • Aki Asakura, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • Tessa Thompson, “Dear White People”
  • Jenny Slate, “Obvious Child”
  • Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Agata Trzebuchowska, “Ida”
  • Agata Kulesza, “Ida”
  • Essie Davis, “The Babadook”
  • Scarlett Johannson, “Under the Skin”

Best Actor:

  • Domhnall Gleeson, “Frank”
  • Tyler James Williams, “Dear White People”
  • Earl Lynn Nelson, “Land Ho!”
  • Paul Eenhorn, “Land Ho!”
  • Michael Fassbender, “Frank”
  • Channing Tatum, “Foxcatcher”
  • Miles Teller, “Whiplash”
  • Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
  • Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, “A Most Wanted Man”
  • Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
  • Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
  • Joaquin Phoenix, “Inherent Vice”
  • Brendan Gleeson, “Calvary”

Best Acting Ensemble:

  • Frank
  • The LEGO Movie
  • Snowpiercer
  • Dear White People
  • Boyhood
  • Calvary
  • Inherent Vice
  • Birdman

Best Director:

  • Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook”
  • Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
  • Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”
  • Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”
  • John Michael McDonagh, “Calvary”
  • Pawel Pawlikowski, “Ida”
  • Jonathan Glazer, “Under the Skin”
  • Isao Takahata, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
  • Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman”
  • Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Best Film:

  • Frank
  • Nightcrawler
  • Dear White People
  • Foxcatcher
  • Whiplash
  • Boyhood
  • Inherent Vice
  • Ida
  • Under the Skin
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya
  • Birdman
  • Calvary

Best “Drunk History” Impression: “The Legend of Hercules”

I mean I guess I might get Hercules, the Bible and “300” confused after ten shots of tequila too.

Most Ineffectual World-Conquering AI

also

Least Sexy PG-13 Robot/Human Sexytimes

Biggest Waste of Morgan Freeman’s Talent…the Week of April 18

Most Tech-Savvy Neo-Luddite Terrorist Group

Least Invested Johnny Depp

and

Most Misguidedly Aspirational Title: “Transcendence”

I just couldn’t stop.

Most Plot Twists Telegraphed Through Casting: “Non-Stop”

Liam Neeson is stuck on a plane with a murderer who could be ANYONE…of the five name actors involved with this film. And gee, I wonder if Julianne Moore is going to be important maybe.

Most Fraught Ethical Issues Raised and Then Immediately Dismissed By a Feel-Good Comedy: “The Grand Seduction”

I mean I guess we’re all OK with blackmailing a doctor in order to bring an environmental-unfriendly petrochemical factory to a tiny picturesque island with a population that couldn’t possibly sustain responsible business models…because…Brendan Gleeson said so?

Most Inexplicable Absence of a Piece of Pop Culture Inside Another Piece of Pop Culture:  “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow”

Time-manipulating alien invaders, exoskeleton-equipped super-soldiers, Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt romance; I’ll buy it all, but fuck off if you ask me to believe the future forgets about Bill Murray.

The Closest Thing We’ll Ever Get to Colin Firth in “Taken”: “The Railway Man”

I’m just saying, Hollywood is leaving a considerable amount of money on the table here.

Most Depressing Captain America Movie: “Snowpiercer”

Maybe that whole time when he was trapped under the ice Steve Rogers was eating babies to survive.

Best Archival Villain: Nazi videotape, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

I don’t think my NYU graduate education in moving image preservation has properly prepared me for the eventuality of discovering Toby Jones’ consciousness downloaded onto 1000 quad machines. I want my money back.

Most Concerned I’ve Ever Been That an Actor’s Veins Might Literally Explode on Screen: Hugh Jackman, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Can someone please tell Mr. Jackman that he can stop being so polite and everyone will be OK if he stops taking steroids now please?

Biggest Genetic Gamble: the child of Sofia Vergara and Jon Favreau, “Chef”

May the odds be ever in your favor, kid.

Most Blatant and Ill-Conceived Attempt to Be Disney But Not Disney: “How To Train Your Dragon 2”

“Everyone knows that the mom always dies in Disney movies…so…what can we do differently….”

Most Actors Acting in Completely Different Movies: “Gone Girl”

I’m not even entirely convinced Tyler Perry knew he was in a movie at all, or if they just filmed him laughing at David Fincher.

Most Han Solos: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Everyone loves s cocky space pirate. Or fifteen.

Most Anatomical Questions Raised: “The Theory of Everything”

Look, Stephen, I know you’re British and don’t discuss these things. But a throwaway joke is not enough detail here. Forget the black hole stuff. I need charts.

Dumbest Film-Related Complaint of the Year: not enough Godzilla in “Godzilla”

^ Honestly, I don’t know what fucking “more Godzilla” you need.

Cheekiest Punctuation: “Land Ho!”

This could’ve gone to “I, Frankenstein,” but the one thing I would like to reward about THAT film is that they got their grammar right.

Most Likely To Drive You Insane Trying to Figure Out Who’s Voicing That Robot: “Interstellar”

For the record, I love Bill Irwin – he’s freaking phenomenal in “Rachel Getting Married” and does a great job with TARS. But goddamn if he doesn’t sound like every single other famous male actor in Hollywood. Ever. Seriously, I considered that he was the recycled voice of Marlon Brando for a little while.

Most Fucking Instances of Fucking Ralph Fiennes Saying “Fuck” A Fucking Lot: “The Grand Budapest Hotel

Clearly this is so stunning that we must give Wes Anderson all the screenplay awards.

Best Evidence That Everything About the Abortion Sequence in “Juno” Can Go Fuck Itself: “Obvious Child”

To be clear, “Juno” is still a solid-to-good movie overall. But just everything about those scenes. Every. Thing.

Best Cinematic Birth Control Since “Eraserhead”: “The Babadook”

Nope nope nope no children nope nope never nope.

Greatest Disparity Between the Quality of a Movie and the Quality It Has Any Business Being: “The LEGO Movie”

I don’t remember the last time an hour-and-a-half long toy commercial made me cry. Don Draper would be so proud.

Saddest. : “A Most Wanted Man”

RIP, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The Chiara Mastroianni Award: “Nightcrawler”

So this one requires a bit of explanation. Maybe you know Chiara Mastroianni, European actress and model:

A perfectly attractive and striking woman; but, and with no insult meant here, just not the stunning ethereal being that you would expect from the union of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve, two of the most beautiful humans ever to walk this planet:

                          

So how is this relevant to “Nightcrawler?” Well, imagine Marcello Mastroianni is “Taxi Driver” and Catherine Deneuve is “Network.” Now combine the two, if you get my drift. Stunning on paper, very good in practice – and yet…

God Damn It He Sings Too: Michael Fassbender, “Frank”

Life just isn’t fair.

Yo, Is This Racist? : “Dear White People”

Nope!

Most Fascinating Beard/Hair Combo Ever Known to Man: Dave Schultz/Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”

I just can’t….stop….staring at it….

Bloodiest Depiction of Music Since the Lost Director’s Cut of “Mr. Holland’s Opus”: “Whiplash”

I never even considered it before, but I feel really bad for the janitors at Juilliard now.

Best Candidates for the Next-Next Season of “True Detective”: Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”

With Doc Sportello in the mix we could easily fill Matthew McConaughey’s stoned rants.

Best CGI: “Boyhood”

It’s really amazing what they can do with computers today, man.

Most Ridiculously Art-House Movie of the Year: “Ida”

I mean, it’s a Polish film about a nun discovering the emotionally devastating truth of her family’s death in the Holocaust, filmed in black-and-white Academy ratio. Are we sure this is an actual movie that exists or just a super dedicated Funny or Die sketch?

Highest Combined Total of Physical, Emotional and Social Distress: “Under the Skin”

Ugggggghhhhhhh I’m so uncomfortable but I kind of like it? It’s really weird to be a film snob sometimes.

Most Unexpected Anti-Buddhist Propaganda: “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”

FUCK YOU, MOON BUDDHA.

Most Likely to Confuse Insecure Film Critics: “Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

“But…but…they make fun of critics…….must…activate…humorless douchebag mode….”

Most Terrifying Evidence That Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones” Is Attempting to Cross Into Our World Through the Vessel of Aidan Gillen: “Calvary”

It would appeeeeeaaaaarrrr soooooooo…

Reviews: Land Ho! and Calvary

Moving right along through my recent theater-going: today you get an indie two-fer! I could try to find a thematic or dare I say spiritual link between these two films, but it would be laborious. Let’s just accept that I don’t feel like making these two separate posts and move on.

Land Ho!

A convincing friendship can be even trickier to film than a good romance: friendship is so often based, not necessarily on common interest or natural chemistry or even long-term compatibility, but shared experience. It’s a tricky thing to convey, in an hour and a half, many years of backstory and interaction; the greatest strength of “Land Ho!,” a quiet, agreeable road-trip flick, is how effortlessly its two leads slide into the tail end of a lifetime of companionship.

As former brothers-in-law Mitch and Colin, Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn have the ease of amateurs; neither has an extensive history in acting, but they both appear incredibly comfortable in front of the camera and playing off each other. In fact, whether Nelson, the rambling, outgoing and stubborn half of the pair, is even acting at all may be a bit of a question. Mitch is the sort of older gentleman who can no longer be bothered with disagreement or decorum – when he informs Colin, who has just been dumped by his second wife (back in the day, the two men married sisters, both of whom have by this point passed), that the two are going to go on a trip to Iceland, it’s not really a suggestion but a statement, and there will be no dithering niceties about footing the bill, either. Colin, far more introverted and gentle, has no choice but to be swept along for the ride.

Mitch and Colin make for an amusing and endearing odd couple, swapping meals at five-star restaurants, idly chatting about younger women and getting lost in the Icelandic wilderness. Co-writers and directors Aaron Katz (“Cold Weather”) and Martha Stephens avoid the obvious geezer jokes of old men out-of-place at a nightclub or ingratiating themselves with the Young Folk, letting humor arise naturally out of Nelson and Eenhoorn’s strong character work rather than taking old age itself as the joke. The film has no grand ambitions, no terrific insights into aging, loss or fraternity; Mitch and Colin are not metaphors for imminent mortality nor faded distinction. They’re just a couple of guys on a particularly nice vacation.

This modest, humane little portrait is complemented by the film’s vibrant scenery, bouncing soundtrack and leisurely pace. The structure is more or less episodic, as Mitch and Colin toodle from one hotel to another, stopping at spas, waterfalls, geysers, bars, beaches; it’s a fluid, appealing, aimless experience. Katz and Stephens seem to be inviting their audience to just relax and soak in life as their protagonists do – and it’s tough to want to argue with them.

Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars

 

Calvary

“I think there’s too much talk about sins, to be honest. Not enough about virtues.”

I find it impossible to talk about John Michael McDonagh’s “Calvary” without getting a little into my personal life. I don’t think these details are critical to appreciating McDonagh’s superb, acerbic moral drama, but they might help to explain why this film in particular knocked me sideways.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church, the American-based branch of Anglicanism. I am what’s known in the biz as a PK – Priest’s Kid. My father’s churches in Massachusetts, Chicago and Cleveland were loving, supportive communities and I do not mention this to make any sort of complaint. I merely want to mention that I feel I have witnessed, in a very firsthand way, the casual and ever-increasing disillusionment and wariness of the modern world towards “the church” (and rest assured, in the eyes of many, the distinction of which church exactly you’re talking about isn’t particularly crucial). Again, I don’t wish to paint this as an account of any kind of distress suffered by myself or my family – just some observations I’ve made, quietly, over the years. The slight beat after a new acquaintance asks what your parents do, and perhaps a quick shift in conversation. Unprompted declarations of atheism. A noticeable discomfort in the room when you invite your friends to the Youth Group’s spring musical.

If you take what’s at the heart of these reactions, drag them out into the open and strike the very real, very raw pain endured by the victims of church abuse, you are approaching the ground that “Calvary” dares to address with acid wit. Though the rock at its center is the sympathetic, hounded Father James (Brendan Gleeson) – a good man even by the standards of the film’s veiled “antagonist-” “Calvary” makes no attempt to cover up the horrors of the Catholic Church’s molestation scandals, nor excuse them as an anomaly. What Father James (and, by extension, McDonagh) seems to be searching for is a purpose in the wake of devastation: what, in essence, is the point? What role do the church and faith serve in a jaded, damaged world that, for unsettlingly good reasons, has turned against it? Why should Father James continue to serve a community that not only doesn’t like him, but is an active threat?

These are the questions on the film’s mind, despite an initial setup that feels more like a ticking-clock suspense thriller. “Calvary” opens in a cramped confession booth, as Father James listens to a man informing him that, in retribution for the sexual abuse suffered by this man as a child, he is going to murder Father James in a week’s time. The man’s intention is to cause a stir – killing a bad priest might be justice, but it would be a part of the natural order of things, the cycle of crime and punishment. This mysterious figure wants to upset that order, to cause real change.

Father James knows who the man is, but we do not: a reversal of dramatic irony that gives “Calvary” a riveting tension. What will the priest do – accept this man’s judgment? Fight back? Abandon the small, coastal Irish village that he calls home? We certainly wouldn’t blame him if he picked the latter. As Father James goes about his business for the week, calling on various members of his flock, we are treated to a gaggle of low-lifes and cynics: a self-righteous wife-beater (Chris O’Dowd), a nihilistic member of the nouveau riche (Dylan Moran), an imposing immigrant mechanic (Isaach De Bankolé), a scathingly atheistic doctor (Aidan Gillen), and others. They are almost universally, cartoonishly horrible to Father James, dismissive of him and his calling. McDonagh skirts the edge of caricature, reigning in the film’s more outlandish characters with flashes of brutality and harsh truth. There is a point at which black humor becomes so dark it’s difficult to say whether it’s even comedy anymore – those are the shadows in which “Calvary” lives.

Father James’ respite, such as it is, comes from his daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly). Retreating to the village after a failed attempt at suicide, Fiona (born when Father James was still married, before his wife passed and he joined the priesthood) is similarly floundering; but it’s in their conversations, as well as Father James’ encounter with a grieving widow (Marie-Josée Croze) that we see something refreshing, and possibly redemptive: intimacy. Cynicism may be earned, but at what point does it become self-perpetuating?

The cast is uniformly excellent, but even so Gleeson looms large. It is no easy thing to be so weary and yet so stubborn – if patience is a virtue, Father James has long since booked his ticket to heaven. But still he forces himself on, and Gleeson’s measured performance reveals the weight every word costs Father James. And, while much of the success of “Calvary” relies on the acting ensemble and McDonagh’s precisely crafted screenplay, the writer-director shows a sophisticated eye for composition here that was almost entirely absent from his entertaining but generally superfluous debut feature, “The Guard.” The opening confessional scene, for instance, is a small masterpiece of lighting: as Father James, at the height of his disgust with the unspeakable abuse heaped on his would-be killer, leans ever so slightly back into the dark, one wonders if he’ll ever be able to make his way back.

Verdict: 4 out of 4 stars