Movies are another matter. I've noticed more people doing the "New To Me" angle when compiling their Best Films list this year and that's what I'm doing again. Thanks to all the various ways to watch movies out there, I've seen over 300 films this calendar year, some new, some old classics I've finally caught up with and a couple way from way out in left field. Since I waited until the bitter end, I'm able to consider every film I saw in the calendar year 2014. This is a list of my 20 favorites. I'm not going to write in depth on all of them, especially the actual 2014 releases that have gotten a lot of attention everywhere else.
This one lived up to every bit of its lofty reputation. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play an elderly couple forced to live with grown children who don't want them around. Directed by Leo McCarey, best known at the time for doing Laurel and Hardy and Marx Brothers movies, this is a heartbreaking, poetic film, about the tragedy of growing old and at the mercy of a family that no longer wants you around.
2. Frances Ha (2012)
This surprised me. Modern comedies about quirky, young single women usually drive me up the wall (See In A World...) but I really liked this one. Greta Gerwig made a really cool, intelligent and likable protagonist and you could see her maturing as the film went along.
3. Stories We Tell (2012)
Sarah Polley has made several intriguing films about families but this one was a documentary investigation into her own family, examining the lives of her parents and finding out some things she never suspected. It's a moving story and one that makes you think about how tangled family histories can be.
4. The Big Combo (1955)
A lean and sharp film noir that pit hard-nosed cop Cornel Wlide against slick gangster Richard Conte. It was filled with familiar tough-guy actors like Earl Holliman, Lee Van Cleef, and Brian Donlevy and was a master class in how to create atmosphere with light and shadow on a low budget.
|Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner|
This is a recent film that is liable to get lost in the end-of-year "prestige picture" shuffle but shouldn't. British director Mike Leigh constructed a gorgeous biography of 19th century painter J.M.W. Turner played by Timothy Spall as a prickly, jovial rascal out of a Dickens novel. It shows a lot of respect for the artistic process and the colorful, contrary personalities of Turner's day.
I've gained a lot of respect for the work of Alain Resnais in the last few years and this film which starred Adolph Green as a sourpuss comic strip artist being feted in France was enormous fun. It celebrated comic culture with a far lighter touch than the grim flood of superhero movies we put up with these days.
7. Birdman (2014)
8. Foxcatcher (2014)
9. Under The Skin (2014)
10. Scarlet Street (1945)
Another old one I finally caught up with, a story of a meek little man's decline and fall told eloquently by the great Fritz Lang with Joan Bennett at her sexiest. Dan Duryea at his slimiest and Edward G. Robinson making a memorable tragic hero.
11. The Babadook (2014)
Wesley Morris and Glenn Kenny, two of the few movie critics I read regularly these days, both loved this horror film and they had a point. It's an Australian film about a mother and son terrorized by an evil spirit out of a children's book. It relied far more on mood than explicit violence and was a far cut above the current crop of horror movies.
I remember hearing about this film when I was a kid. It starred Dame Edith Evans as an old woman who lives alone with "voices" her only company and is preyed on by her son and con artists before being delivered into the custody of an estranged husband who is not too happy to be reunited with her. Evans' dotty but deep performance and the twisting plot are completely engrossing.
13. A Most Wanted Man (2014)
One of Philip Seymour Hoffman's last movies where he plays a German spy chief involved in a John Le Carre intrigue concerning a mysterious suspected terrorist. It's a beautifully complex story and Hoffman's rumpled, shrewd presence dominates.
14. Out Of Sight (1998)
This is another long-overdue catch-up, Steven Soderbergh's Elmore Leonard adaptation about a sexy U.S. marshal who gets involved with a bank robber. It's one of the movies that made George Clooney's career and it showed classy possibilities for Jennifer Lopez's career that she has yet to follow up.
15. Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)
I'm a big fan of Jack Webb's 50's Dragnet and this crime film where he starred as a 20's jazz trumpeter has the same, tight punchy rhythm but enhanced with imaginative camera shots, acting support from the likes of Edmond O'Brien, Janet Leigh and Lee Marvin and singing by Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald.
This takes a little explanation. It's essentially a French softcore sex film that I caught on Netflix. It starts with a teenage boy who is caught masturbating in school and it expands to explore the sexual desires of his entire family, his parents, sister, older brother, and grandfather. It does so in a natural, open-minded way completely different from the snickering embarrassment you'd probably see in an American treatment of this theme. There are a lot of near-hardcore sex scenes and by the end almost everyone is happily paired off with someone, including the older brother with his boyfriend. The grandfather has passed on but a young prostitute he built a relationship with gets accepted into the family.
17. The Boss (1956)
This was an odd but interesting combination of plots. It starred John Payne as a World War I veteran who rises through the ranks of his hometown's political machine to become a statewide power broker who isn't above a shady deal or two. The odd part is that it switches emphasis in the second half from dirty dealings to the boss' crumbling relationship with his wife and feels more like a soap opera by the end. Nevertheless, Payne makes an excellent tough guy.
A very strange black comedy that stars Heather Graham as a woman obsessed with getting her own TV cooking show who develops a creepy fixation on a despondent former child actress who lives across the hall played by Carrie-Anne Moss. I've always thought Graham was underrated and her combination of manic cheerfulness and derangement here is really impressive.
19. Wish Me Away (2011)
A lovely documentary on country music star Chelly Wright and her decision to come out as a lesbian.
20. Ernest And Celestine (2014)
The one animated feature I managed to see was this French film about the friendship that forms between a mouse and a bear in a world where the two species regard each other as monsters. It was funny and beautifully drawn. I know there's a dubbed version around with American voice actors but I saw the original French version and the voice work was delightful.