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2014 in Film: Part Three – The Good Stuff

March 9, 2015

Tony: Quick tangent. Earlier in the conversation, you mentioned Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. While I haven’t seen that yet, that has to be one of the year’s great movie titles. Sometimes a movie‘s title gets ruined when you actually see that movie itself, but I like to think that films win an important battle early on when they really nail down a great title. Typically, a great title tells you something vital to the story, even if you don’t know exactly what it means at first and I think it has to have some lyrical quality as well. Here are my top five titles from 2014, regardless of whether I’ve seen them or not, in some order:

Nightcrawler/Foxcatcher (Nightcrawler is the better title, but don’t they look great next to each other??)

The Hundred Foot Journey

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Only Lovers Left Alive

Inherent Vice


Zack: You know, I hadn’t really thought to put together a list of the best-named films this past year, but that does seem like a fun little exercise.

Without ranking, and sort of just off the top of my head, I’d add the following to your list:

Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

A Most Violent Year

We Are The Best!

Listen Up Philip

Now, for the ‘good stuff,’ why don’t we each present the first halves of our respective top-ten lists. Maybe that’ll build something resembling suspense. Then we can discuss. We could even talk honorable mentions if you felt so inclined

I’ll start:

10. A Most Violent Year
9. Obvious Child
8. Selma
7. Foxcatcher
6. Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)
Your turn, Tony.

Tony: Birdman and A Most Violent Year probably would have been #6 and 7 on my best titles list if I continued past the top five. Gone Girl and Snowpiercer are also above average titles, but for some reason they didn’t pop out at me when I was skimming titles.

I’m always game for honorable mentions so here some movies I really liked but didn’t put in the top ten:



The LEGO Movie

Zack: Funny enough, Frank and Interstellar were just outside my top ten as well. Throw in Listen Up Philip, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, and The Grand Budapest Hotel as films I couldn’t quite squeeze in.

Tony: And here is the bottom half of my top ten:

10. The Double
9. Edge of Tomorrow
8. Chef
7. Nymphomaniac
6. Ida

Also, probably going to see American Sniper tomorrow, so that’s a contender to crash my list at the eleventh hour. (EDIT: I saw it at a drive-in on a double bill with Fifty Shades of Grey.)

Zack: I honestly don’t think I have the wherewithal to discuss American Sniper in any real capacity; enough think pieces on that film exist. What I can say is that it’s a movie I saw.

But hey, I’ll round out my top ten films now, giving you my top five (which does not actually include Top Five):

5. Under The Skin
4. Whiplash
3. Gone Girl
2. Boyhood
1. Inherent Vice

I love knowing just from your first half that our lists will inevitably vary. That’s maybe my favorite part about moviegoing–that it can be so different to so many people in such a wide variety of ways. That’s the nature of art, I suppose, but the inexorable debates serve as reason enough to broach a conversation.

So let’s hear your top five. Then let’s discuss. Then let’s hate each other. Then let’s bond over some common ground.

Tony: That’s a good looking top five. This is what I came up with:

5. Nightcrawler
4. Snowpiercer
3. Gone Girl
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
1. Inherent Vice

Two matches in our top fives! I’m sure there could have been more, and I bet the top ten movies I haven’t seen yet would make a formidable top ten for anyone else. I had to drive 200 miles to see Inherent Vice. That kind of distance makes it tough to see all the limited-run films at opportune times, but Vice was well worth it.

By the way, How goofy is it that the “Or” in the full Birdman title is outside the parenthesis? Are we supposed to call it Birdman Or?

Zack: Yeah, that full Birdman title is pretty wonky, but it’s that little quirk that makes it so charming to me, I think.

The whole limited-run, Oscar-baity release schedules of some films definitely irk me. I can’t complain too much, living here in New York City, but it’s still a pain to know that some movies that I may absolutely adore won’t get around to my hometown for sometimes almost two months. This really only tends to affect how I’ll talk with my parents and a select group of friends about movies, but I do occasionally feel guilty nonetheless. I get why it’s done; I just don’t like it.

So we’ve agreed on Gone Girl and Inherent Vice. I’ve already talked about Whiplash. It’s pretty easy to find any number of write-ups on Boyhood. So I’ll take this chance to make my small case for Under The Skin.

This was the film in 2014 that blindsided me most. I’d only seen half of a trailer for it and felt more than a little compelled to take the leap. Jonathan Glazer has such a singular vision here, and Scarlett Johansson is such a pro; they both tackled this otherworldly, surreal story with such precision and ease that it was honestly infectious. To say I’ve never seen a film like Under The Skin feels a little too much like a cliché, but it’s the honest truth. It’s one of those experiences that left me wondering what was real and fake, what was staged and improvised, who was an amateur or professional. It was mind-boggling and satisfying and challenging and intense. I don’t want to get too plot-heavy with this little blurb; that’s half the fun of seeing the film. Just know I can’t recommend it highly enough. (And as a bonus, it even had one of my favorite posters of the year!)

Tony: A great poster and a great title. How did we not include that title on our list? Travesty.

Even though it’s been a major player in awards season, I’d like to heap some praise on The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think this is one of Wes Anderson‘s two or three best films. Budapest, along with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are all anchored by strong, soulful performances from veteran actors. In Bupadest, Ralph Fiennes‘ performance (like Bill Murray‘s and Gene Hackman‘s before it) accents all that trademark Anderson whimsy to great ends.

Thank goodness Anderson had Fiennes because he really pulled out all the stops here. There are lavish miniature models, tailored aspect ratios, and everything in and around the hotel is candy colored. I think it’s the kind of stuff that turns some people off to Wes, but I always enjoy his visual zaniness. I’m convinced that the combination of memorable characters with a grand confectionary production is what propelled Budapest to be Anderson’s biggest hit yet. This was one of the first films I saw from 2014 and it has stood tall throughout the year as one of the best.

Zack: Agreed on The Grand Budapest Hotel. I thought it was Wes Anderson’s most plot-centric film to date, which could be a thing that plays against it, but he comes out on the other side having made a deft, nuanced (and seriously fun) caper flick that didn’t confuse me a bit.

But then there was another maze-like story put to film by a man named Anderson in 2014. Let’s talk about Inherent Vice, okay?

This is the first film for which I’ve ever knowingly avoided trailers and press materials. I didn’t read the novel first. I barely looked at the IMDB page. I had an innate desire to let the film take me with it with no preconceived notions.

Then there was the added pressure of knowing the film would have a limited run in early December before a wide release in the early days of 2015. How could I possibly avoid any bit of information for two or three months after the trailer was released? I spend entirely too much time on the internet and on my phone. There was no chance.

Well, I was lucky enough to find myself exactly where I needed to be when the announcement came that Inherent Vice would have its worldwide premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 4th. The only thing I had to do was find a ticket. I won’t draw this out much further, but just know I spent a lot of free time scouring various corners of the internet trying to snag a ticket to the premiere. Late nights, early mornings, work hours, all the time. And then I lucked into a certain Craigslist ad about a week before the premiere and scored a pair of tickets each to Inherent Vice and Birdman. (Yes, I flipped the extra ticket to each. No, I won’t tell you how much I spent or how much I was paid.)

Anyway, that’s just the origin story to me getting to see the film. The day finally came, and Paul Thomas Anderson introduced the film to an anxious crowd, proclaiming this presentation would be on 35-millimeter film. And I sat there, letting the whole thing wash over me. Every character introduction, every hazy sequence, every Joaquin Phoenix mumble. It was a pile of plot. And I admittedly got lost more than a couple times, trying to catch up with any loose threads I thought needed tying. I’d gotten too hung up on the minutiae.

I walked out of the auditorium thinking, “Well, I did just see a movie.” And I couldn’t muster an opinion, really. I just knew I needed to see it again.

Luckily, the Film Festival had announced a midnight showing that same night for which I obtained a ticket. And that second viewing cleared the air. I locked in immediately. (The whole film’s key is that first scene in Doc’s apartment!) The noir tones and drug-induced vagueness clicked. Everything worked on basically every level. The story wasn’t as complicated as I’d assumed – it was actually fairly linear (albeit with several hefty sidebars), all things considered.

And that ensemble. My god, that ensemble. PTA, more than any director this side of Robert Altman, knows how to assemble a whole mess of actors into working, winning characters to fill a narrative. Every character was singular. Perfectly cast. The mood was just right.

Tony: Very well said. And since you mentioned the ensemble, I’ll just say it was very nice seeing Owen Wilson bringing something to a role in a good movie not directed by Wes Anderson. Vice reminded me of why I like him. He has such a unique delivery. In lesser material it comes across as shtick, but in something like Vice he can really shine. Nothing is wasted, and thus is the power of PTA.

Zack: I spent the week immediately following the festival burning through Thomas Pynchon‘s novel. The humor translated to the screen seamlessly, with some necessary changes, but getting into Doc’s scatterbrained head a bit more proved all but essential to a new level of enjoyment and immersion. It was a gateway into a new point of view on the film.

I went on to see it five more times in theaters once December rolled around. All on celluloid. All gorgeous. And you know what? I found something new each time.

That’s the mark of a film I can’t shake. That’s the film I’ll continue to revisit. That’s why Inherent Vice was the best film of 2014.

And that’s what I have to say.

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