Top 15 Films of 2014 – Allen’s Picks
There is a quiet power in every frame of Ida. I was not sure what to make of it at first, but it lived in my thoughts for days on end. Pawel Pawlikowski’s film touches the soul, from the beautiful black and white cinematography to the sublime performances. We follow the journey of Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) a novitiate nun on the verge of taking her vows in 1960s Poland. But before she does, she is tasked to seek out Wanda (Agata Kulesza), her last known living relative. Their meeting sets off a haunting search for truth in a place still reeling from the horrors of World War II. Anna is a blank slate, and Trzebuchowska’s big, round eyes exudes the naiveté of a character still finding out where she belongs. Kulesza is equally good as Wanda, bearing the weight of her choices from the war, and her struggle to move on from her demons. There’s a lot of pain here, but there’s also a tenderness that captivates. Characters struggle to find purpose in their lives, even fighting within the frame to stand out. It’s a film heavy in emotion but with a touch as light as a feather.
No other cinematic place this year was realized as creatively as the one in Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer. Set entirely in a massive train that never stops, we watch as a group of lower class citizens fight their way toward the engine to take control away from the corrupt bourgeoisie. The commentary on class struggle and climate control is not subtle, but Bong Joon-ho’s vision (adapted from the graphic novel) is so inspired that the surprises keep coming. From the intricate designs of each car to the different aspects of the characters, this is a sci-fi film that carries its own unique identity. It’s also a rugged, down and dirty action thriller. Chris Evans is the reluctant hero, going along with events almost against his will. This is a side of Evans we have not seen enough of, and hopefully his performance will open new doors for him. But the stand out is clearly Tilda Swinton. Wearing glasses and having hilariously terrible teeth, Swinton chews up scenery as a leader of the opposing force, but does so in the best way possible. Snowpiercer is twisted, suspenseful, and thrilling, but gives you something to think about as well.
If Keep on Keepin’ On shows how a passion for music can bridge people together, then Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash shows how it can tear down and destroy them. Miles Teller stars as Andrew, a promising jazz drummer. Andrew is obsessed with being the best drummer in the country, and he finds his opportunity under the tutelage of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) a renowned music instructor. Fletcher is known for his tough and demanding personality, but Andrew is willing to do anything to succeed, even if it means going through an emotional hell. What follows is a demonstration of an abusive relationship, as Fletcher’s methods turn increasingly worse and Andrew’s acceptance of it increasingly masochistic. How far must an artist go to succeed? At the expense of losing themselves? Simmons (who has been great for years) has one of the year’s best performances as the cruel taskmaster. He wants his students to excel, but has crossed the line so often that the line has disappeared. Supported by fantastic jazz music, the film becomes something like a horror movie in its second half, punctuated by the finest ending scene I’ve seen this year. It had me riveted; the further it went the closer I sat to the edge of my seat with suspense.
I’ve now seen Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy multiple times, but with each viewing I’ve grown more wrapped up in its mystery. It left me uneasy, even frightened with how strange and menacing it is. But it’s an incredibly well crafted film. Despite whatever oddities there are, nothing felt false. Every step, every turn, every weird and disturbing image felt like the right choice. It begs to be deciphered and analyzed, holding the answers just out of our reach. Like the best of David Lynch, this is a film I believe will be revisited years from now, its appreciation only growing the more times people see it.
Jake Gyllenhaal has had a very good year. He returns to this list in the dual role of Adam and Anthony, identical men who live very different lives. As their paths slowly start to converge, everything Adam and Anthony have known starts to fall apart. Their relationships, families, and their very identities get flipped, where one becomes the other, or is it the other way around? And what’s going on with all those spiders?
Denis Villeneuve has become a filmmaker of serious consideration. From Incendies (2010), Prisoners (2013), and now this, Villeneuve has shown an exceptional skill to tackle various kinds of material. With Enemy, he utilizes visual symbolism as a way to deliver themes not specified in dialogue. During every second, we sense there is something happening, something we can’t quite put our finger on, but we know it’s there. Villeneuve could’ve made a bland story about a man’s reluctance toward domesticity and fatherhood, but instead we get something more developed, more puzzling, and downright terrifying. It’s all about control, but control over what? Over society, over each other, over ourselves? The best movies are the ones where we find something new each time we watch it. And because of that, Enemy is my favorite film of 2014.
The Lego Movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Under the Skin, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Joe, Neighbors, Blue Ruin, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Locke, Chef, Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, 22 Jump Street, Cold in July, Guardians of the Galaxy, Frank, My Old Lady, Gone Girl, John Wick, Dear White People, The One I Love, We Are The Best!, Terror At The Mall.