Wednesday, August 12, 2015

And What Didn't Make the 2014 List

As a companion piece to my Top Ten list, every year I write a post to discuss some of the other major films that got a lot of positive attention, in order to give some context to my own choices. I find this type of analysis piece helpful when working out how I feel about my list and the year in film as a whole.  I wish more critics would do similar write-ups, as what's not on someone's top ten list can be as fun to discuss as what is. Please note that I will not be writing about films listed among my honorable mentions like "Whiplash" or "Wild."

Let's start with the most obvious omissions.  Where's "Boyhood"?  Linklater's "Before Midnight" made my last list, so this should have been a shoo-in, right?  While I liked the first half of the film well enough to keep it in my honorable mentions for some time, the second half was a slog, and the character of Mason ultimately wasn't particularly interesting.  The unique structure and the storytelling made up for a lot, and Patricia Arquette gave one of my favorite performances of last year, but at a fundamental level the movie didn't win me over the way it did so many others.

And what about "Birdman"?  While I'm glad to see Alejandro Iñárritu striking out in a new direction, and I thought all the filmmaking gimmicks worked, the one thing that didn't was supposed to be the movie's biggest selling point: Michael Keaton's performance.  There were too many scenes where he completely fell flat, and the movie never recovered.  It's a shame, because the rest of the ensemble is excellent, particularly Edward Norton and Emma Stone.  Meanwhile, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne were clearly the best things about "The Imitation Game" and "The Theory of Everything" respectively, but that wasn't enough to elevate otherwise pedestrian films.

Other awards season contenders I should mention include "Nightcrawler," which was too single-mindedly depraved and lacking in a sense of humor, "Foxcatcher," which never quite gelled in the same way that Steve Carrell's featured performance was never quite convincing, and "Mr. Turner," which was admirable for committing to a warts-and-all portrait of its grunting subject, but simply wasn't very memorable.  "Citizenfour" was an important, riveting film, but I couldn't say much good about it as a film.  "Interstellar" had its good moments, and even some great moments, but was overall a pretty severe disappointment coming from Christopher Nolan.  Finally, there was "American Sniper," which I still can't fathom why anybody liked outside of Clint Eastwood's fan club.

Turning to the art house, I expected great things from "Ida," and found a beautiful, melancholy film I admire to bits, but it somehow left me strangely cold.  I feel a rewatch is in order at some point.  "Force Majeure" was too impenetrable for me, and both of the main characters are terribly unlikable.  I wanted too much from "We are the Best!"  We parted on amicable terms, but won't be friends.   "Timbuktu" left me too dissatisfied, and "White God" just left me hanging.  As for Godard's "Goodbye to Language," I didn't see it in 3D, which was apparently a mistake.  Then again, I've never really understood Godard and I doubt it really would have made much difference in the end.

On the populist side of things, I still can't get over how "Guardians of the Galaxy" was such a perfect kid's film that insisted on being inappropriate for younger audiences.  "The LEGO Movie" was clever and heartfelt in the best way, but also such a constant barrage that it was exhausting to watch.  "Snowpiercer" probably doesn't belong in this category, but it is a genre film the likes of which we've never seen before, and should be lauded for its daring. Of course, it's also quite a mess and should be called out for that too.

Finally, the film that almost made the list was "Mistaken for Strangers," a documentary that starts out being about the rock band The National, but is eventually revealed to be about the journey of the documentarian, Ross McElwee style. Two others that almost made the honorable mentions list were "The Homesman" and "Pride."

And that's my 2014 in films.

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