Top 15 Films of 2014 – Allen’s Picks
8) #chicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator
Why is no one talking about this movie? Joe Piscatella’s #chicagoGirl is a riveting documentary detailing a revolution through the eyes of the millennial generation. From her home in a Chicago suburb, a young Syrian-American girl (Ala’a Basatneh) participates in the Syrian revolution against president Bashar al-Assad. Incorporating technology and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Basatneh helps coordinate protests and demonstrations with compatriots thousands of miles away. This could not have been done fifteen years ago. It’s a fascinating look at how modern methods are used to tackle established institutions. But the resonating question is: is it enough? How far can one take this method, and at what point do people drop their cameras or computers and pick up a rifle? It’s a question that still lingers to this very day.
7) Force Majeure
Hailing out of Sweden, Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure is a penetrating look at family, the roles of husbands and wives, and the choices we make under heavy duress. During a vacation trip on the French Alps, a near catastrophe descends on Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), Ebba (Lisa Loven Konglsi) and their children. Although they end up safe from harm, it’s the choice Tomas makes during that moment of terror that throws the whole family in a tailspin. Ostlund’s screenplay dissects the role of patriarch, and what it means to be “the head of the family.” The dialogue is often blunt, leading to scenes of awkward quietness that borders on the comedic. There are scenes that make you cringe, but the tension is so palpable you can’t turn away. It’s a family drama of harsh truths, set against a beautiful snowy backdrop.
6) The Babadook
The success of Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent’s debut feature is that it works both as an eerie horror film and a well-realized character study. There are plenty of movies that offer more scares, but few tie the dread so closely with a character’s emotional arc as this does. Essie Davis brings her character Amelia to life as someone who is plagued with trauma, but has to keep herself together for the sake of her young son (Daniel Henshall). Playing with themes of loss and depression, Kent navigates Amelia’s mindset with quiet nervousness. She works with the dark like an experienced veteran, rarely relying on jump scares to get a reaction. Instead, Kent locks in on suspense, capitalizing on our fear of the unseen. But the beauty here is that it transcends the limitations of a specific genre. If this were categorized as a drama instead of a horror piece, it would be just as effective, because the focus is so much on Amelia’s past, her relationship with her child, and her deteriorating emotional state. I look forward to seeing more work from everyone involved here.
Slick, funny, and disturbing, Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a stylish satire of American capitalism as well as a deconstruction of shock journalism. Jake Gyllenhaal displays an odd eccentricity as Louis Bloom, a man whose sole focus is moving up the economic ladder. Sporting a sunken face and eyes brimming with intensity, Gyllenhaal is at his finest when Louis is at his worst, with late night crime videography as his chosen profession. Louis stalks the L.A. streets in search of a hot story, even if it means him manipulating things to get it. He’s clearly a sociopath, whose numbness to human interaction causes as much laughs as uncomfortable anxiety. Filled with splashy colors and a hypnotic soundtrack by James Newton Howard, Gilroy builds a neo-noir world of soulless individuals, where monetary success is not just the main thing, it’s the only thing.