Top 15 Films of 2014 – Allen’s Picks
12) Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
The most bonkers, off the wall experience of the year is Shion Sono’s exuberant Why Don’t You Play in Hell? How can one describe this film? Crazy? Insane? Hilarious? It’s everything and anything, words are not enough; it has to be seen to be believed. In short, it features a group of young ambitious filmmakers desperate to make their first movie. Their chance comes when two yakuza clans get entangled in a war. What follows is a violent, psychedelic trip showcasing a passion for cinema unlike anything I’ve seen. Colorful and unpredictable, Sono injects his work with electricity, tossing us through the narrative with unrelenting force. This is something few are likely to forget, its visceral impact will leave you gasping for breath.
11) Life Itself
I wonder what Roger Ebert would have thought of Steve James’ documentary on his life. The most popular film critic of all time, Ebert’s influence is immeasurable. Nearly everyone who writes about movies owes something to him (including the person writing this). But James delves deeper than just Ebert’s occupation. We see his upbringing, his education, his partnership with Gene Siskel, and finally his battle with cancer through archival footage and testimony of family and friends (including his wife, Chaz Ebert). Ebert believed movies to be “a machine that generates empathy,” allowing us into the lives of people we otherwise would never be able to connect to. The exact same applies here. Not only does James document the story of this fascinating individual, but he also presents a love letter to the power of cinema, and how it can truly bring people together.
Michael Keaton gives the best performance of his career as a washed up actor clinging to some semblance of importance in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Birdman (2014). With fantasy melding with reality, Keaton’s character Riggan lives under the shadow of a superhero he played years before. In an attempt to establish himself as a “serious” actor, Riggan produces, writes, directs, and stars in a Broadway play that seems to go wrong even before its debut. With strong supporting work from Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, and Zach Galifianakis, Inarritu (along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) captures an environment that is volatile and chaotic while picking away at Riggan’s state of mind. Are the events happening in real time, or is it all inside Riggan’s head? There are many different pieces operating at the same time here, but Keaton’s performance is the cog that holds everything in place.
The fact that everyone involved in Boyhood stayed committed to the project every year for over a decade is worthy of praise alone. Richard Linklater has been infatuated with the effects of time throughout his career, with the Before series being the prime example. Boyhood is the culmination of that obsession. This isn’t just the story of a boy (played by Ellar Coltrane), it’s the story of a boy’s life, the people that have come and gone, and those that have influenced and molded him into a young man. But let’s not forget this is also about the growth and development of everyone involved. Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, and the rest of the cast and crew all grew together during the making of the film, and how they were all able to maintain narrative consistency is awe-inspiring. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much of a challenge it was to pull this project off. It’s a film about the very essence of what makes us who we are as people.