The Top 25 Films of 2014 (5-1)

  1. Begin Again

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Can a Song Save Your Life? That was the initial title and one I liked a lot, but I also see how it was a little too on the nose. This is the follow up to Once from director John Carney; it’s much shinier and prettier. It’s very much a feel-good film and there’s absolutely nothing wrong that. If it wasn’t such a great year for film, I’d see this film being much higher up on the list. I have it at five so that should tell you something.

I used to feel very indifferent to Keira Knightley, but she has quickly jumped on my must-watch radar. For me it started with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and here it became official. As you watch her get on the stage and start singing as the film starts, it’s all over and your life will never be the same. It’s not an exaggeration, I mean just ask Mark Ruffalo.

Ruffalo plays a record exec who is down on his luck and as he put it, seconds away from jumping in front of a train. We see Knightley up on the stage and then we rewind it to see how Ruffalo got in the club to begin with. Begin Again isn’t exactly a musical, yet there are plenty of songs in it with Knightley performing most of them. All of the songs are both catchy and memorable and I totally bought it.

The other stand out is Adam Levine. Coming from Maroon 5 and the musical background it’s no surprise that he’s able to smash the musical performances, but it was the actual acting that got my attention the most. He’s able to perfectly transition from that hopeful young artist to that empty rock star with such ease. Even though he cheats on Knightley, his girlfriend, you don’t really hate him. You just see him as empty, having fallen into the rock star trap.

Knightley has never been more charming or likeable and that comes without even trying to be either. She’s not the prettiest or most curvaceous but when she sings you can’t help but fall for her or feel the way she’s feeling. Knightley and Ruffalo hit it off past just the artist-exec relationship but it remains platonic. There was a scene where they almost took it past that but circumstances prevent it from ever going to the next level. It’s a shame because despite the age differences you just feel that these two share such a unique connection.

The film feels so real and so personal. There are the sad moments but also the movie just makes you feel so good. Both Ruffalo and Knightley have been cheated on and in a way they help each other get past it. That’s the primary reason I felt it was such a disappointment that he ended up back with his wife. Sure, everybody makes mistakes and you can forgive, but somethings you can’t just push through. At least Knightley seems to have learned that lesson and doesn’t end up taking Levine back.

The film has many highlights yet one that shine’s brightest is when Levine is performing ‘Lost Stars’ and Knightley appears. She’s both happy and sad, smiling and dropping a tear. She knows she has lost Levine to the girls and the fame but she’s also happy because she knows it wasn’t meant to be. Plus she just finished an amazing album, she should be smiling from ear to ear. You feeling down? Put on Begin Again, if you’re not smiling at the end there’s probably something wrong with you.

  1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

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Catching Fire was amazing, no doubt. The first installment of Mockingjay is something different altogether and yet at this point I feel like this new installment is better. So according to my calculations, each film has been better than the one that came before it. Hopefully this bodes well for the conclusion to this series which comes out next year.

This one is different because it’s that much more darker. That’s saying a lot since the previous two were also pretty dark, I mean the whole hunger games concept is so bleak. From the cold open in this film and the exchange between Katniss and Finnick, we get what kind of film this will be. So anyone expecting the series to tone it down will be greatly disappointed. There also watching the wrong series.

People saying Jennifer Lawrence didn’t show up for this one are insane. Lawrence shows that she is the best actress working today with also the best range. Most complaints have to do with the fact that the film was split in two. I get it but I also will not complain with having more Hunger Games in my life. To me it just sets things up that much greater for the final chapter. I love how the film ended and the fact that the last big scene was breaking the captives out of the Capital. For such a huge film, it feels so personal. The filmmakers never betray their vision.

When I think about things I didn’t like I can barely come up with anything. I feel like the race to get to the bunker for Katniss and her sister complete with countdown was unnecessary. Everything else felt right. Man, those propaganda commercials they made…they just give you goosebumps. Lawrence makes you feel it. When she starts singing ‘The Hanging Tree,’ same feeling that quickly turns into something else as you see the people sacrificing themselves and getting shot down.

The death in the movies are ugly but also necessary. The people are tired of living that way while the Capital just lives it up. There’s also an interesting question about District 13 and will they end up being just like the Capital. It’s not explored too much but there are definitely some seeds there. The ending with Peeta was pretty divisive for me. It’s super dark yes, but also it made me question the whole thing.

I’ve always seen Katniss as being stronger than Peeta so watching him attack and her fall so easy made me raise my eyebrows. You can also think about it another way, she was caught off guard. Also, why would she want to fight Peeta? The other great part is that they seemingly seem to be avoiding the whole love triangle. These films are about revolution so I love when Katniss appears to have no time for that nonsense. I get why they would both fall for Katniss but I also get why she wouldn’t bother since she has bigger things on her mind.

  1. Comet

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While I really love when films surprise me, I can’t say that this one did. I hadn’t heard about it and it came out of nowhere for me, but it didn’t surprise me. I heard about the premise and the people involved and well that just had me dying to see it. Upon that initial viewing, I was all in and ended up seeing the film two more times the next day. It takes a while for you to see where the film is going and what exactly is happening but once you get it, it’s hard not to find something special here.

While I know Emmy Rossum has had a long career while still being relatively young, I’ve never really noticed her or felt like she’s had that break out role. Not many people will see this film so this certainly won’t make her breakthrough but she is fully on my radar now. She is just so real here that it almost makes me want to go back and revisit some of her past work. I just don’t think her past roles are as great as the one she has the chance to play here. It largely succeeds because it does seem that she really isn’t acting at all.

Despite the opening lines that tell us the film takes place in an alternate world, the film is a simple one about the relationship between a boy and a girl. Rossum plays the girl and Justin Long plays the boy, the character names don’t really matter so they will just be identified by their real names. The film takes a look at five specific moments in their relationship, all told out of order; almost as if Long is in a dream state, remembering each one.

It’s always fascinating to watch how two people are before entering a relationship and how that relationship changes them. As two people are constantly with each other, one usually begins to take the other for granted without really even realizing it. It’s only until one person leaves or threatens to leave that they really wake up and see how things really are. It also points out how sometimes people are just not good for each other.

It’s really evident if you look at the three scenes when they are not together compared to the two when they are. When they aren’t together, she’s more reserved and really seems to have her things together. It’s also not that simple. Rossum isn’t quite what she appears to be. Getting to know Rossum throughout the film, you get the sense that she is too weird to be normal so when she does have her things in order it seems like it’s an attempt to hold it all together. The times they are together, she’s more real and off the hinge; perhaps more true to who she really is. So the question becomes about who she really is. Does Long cause her to destruct or does he allow her to truly be herself? The film isn’t really about easy answers, rather it lets you decide for yourself.

Take the last scene of the film when she has moved on and he is attempting to get her back. He flat out tells her that he’s been thinking about their times together, even the moment that is ongoing. She wants to know what will happen or how his dream ends. Long tells her that just as he is about to kiss her he wakes up and of course just as he is actually about to throw all caution to the wind and go for the kiss, the film ends. It puts the thought into your head about whether it was all a dream or even following up with an incident that happened when they first met, if it he died at the moment he first saw her. Like I said, it depends on the viewer. To me, it happened and it certainly was as real as me sitting here and typing these words.

  1. Gone Girl

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Being such a huge fan of the book that the film is based on, there is no way I was going to come out of this screening nothing less than amazed. You throw David Fincher in the mix and the perfect casting of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy Dunne, how was the film not going to deliver. Watching the words jump from the page to the big screen just reassured my belief of how great the story truly was.

No, Gone Girl isn’t about the mystery of did a husband kill his wife and if not then who did. To me, it was never about that. The story is such a real, in-depth exploration into the lives of a married couple and how you never truly know the person you are with. Amy and Nick begin their story very much like a fairy tale. You see the two meet and Nick charm Amy as they both believe this is it for them. Neither believes it will end as bad as it does, no one ever does. The problem comes from the persona we put up and the people we pretend to be in order for the other person to truly love us. It’s not malicious at all and you never believe you’re doing something wrong. What happens though when you let that guard down and stop pretending to be that person? You’re comfortable enough to be yourself now but will your partner even like the real you. The best parts of Gone Girl have always gone beyond the whodunit mystery.

Watching Pike become Amy, I can’t help but wonder what director David Fincher saw in Pike’s filmography that made him believe she could pull this off. Pike does more than pull it off as she completely immerses herself in the role. I just didn’t think she had it in her but as I sat and watch the film I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. The casting of Ben Affleck was more of a no-brainer for me. Affleck has had the media on his back since day one; targeting every part of his personal life. Earlier in his career, Affleck probably wouldn’t have been capable of pulling it off, but where he is at now there was no better choice.

I mentioned when they first met and how it seemed like something out of a fairy tale. The encounter was so beautiful and certainly seemed that way but knowing what they would do to each other and how bad it would all end, you almost want to scream at them to just run away from each other as fast as they can. There’s no doubt in my mind that they loved each other, but there’s also no doubt that they were both playing a character. It felt right to them and felt like they were the obvious choice for each other so why wouldn’t they want to settle.

The problem is the whole notion of settling. Amy does despicable things in the film but you can’t say she didn’t have a good motive or a great point. Love should not be unconditional. Once we let our guards down completely and stop giving the relationship the constant attention it deserves, that’s when it all falls apart. So no, we should never truly feel comfortable in our relationship. Amy does crazy and unrealistic things but does it really matter. The focus is always about the central relationship and how sometimes the ends justify the means. Nick is no saint. Both of the characters are easy to dislike and both are often in the wrong. It makes it evident how perfect these two lunatics are for each other.

  1. Boyhood

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Richard Linklater directed my favorite film from last year and here he is again. Linklater’s films are so amazing that he has to be the most underrated director working today. I know he has the Dazed and Confused ‘spiritual sequel’ coming out, so maybe he’ll be at the top again for 2015. That’s next year though, let’s bring the focus back to 2014 and Boyhood.

Much like Linklater’s ‘Before trilogy,’ Boyhood doesn’t have some crazy plot that will change the face of the Earth. No, Boyhood is just about observing life and the passage of time. It’s not just about a 12-year old boy; it’s also about his sister, his mother and his father. The film could easily be about either one of them as it certainly put the focus on each one of those characters at any given time.

The film was shot over a 12-year period and so we get to see the actors actually age on screen. Think something along the lines of The Wonder Years or Harry Potter except here it happens over the course of two and a half hours. The compressed time frame puts more focus on the aging yet it’s never a gimmick. There’s no crazy makeup to make the actors look younger or older. Linklater just shoots and allow the actors to be natural; bringing this amazing, normal story to life.

It is a view into the life of normal people. There’s nothing really extraordinary about any of the characters in the film and yet that’s what really makes it all so special. This is a look into your life or my life. It could be anyone of us. Life is so grand, so amazing as it is that it really doesn’t require anything else to glam it up. This has a connection to the ‘Before Trilogy’ because of the director, because of star Ethan Hawke and because ‘nothing happens.’ Yet that’s really where the comparisons end.

Boyhood doesn’t have the dialogue of a Before Sunset. It’s not great so much because of what’s on the page or because of what comes out the mouth of these characters. It’s more about what they do and the way they live. How can anyone not be entranced by Boyhood? I get that our society has been programmed to think anything without killing or explosions is boring, but come on. Boyhood is life and how we are all just passing through. The running time is almost three hours and yet it didn’t feel like that was enough as the film just flies by.

We watch 12-year old Mason go from the innocent, mischievous and adventurous kid that lived in all of us to a lost 18-year old on the verge of manhood and everything in between. It’s very easy to relate to for men, women and children. The young girls can relate to Mason’s sister Samantha as she goes from a loud and crazy kid to a reserved and timid young lady. Samantha’s journey is just as interesting, if not more, than Mason’s because of what it says about women and what society expects them to be.

Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette really hold it all together as the mother and father who are divorced before the film even begins. Again, even watching their transformation from the beginning to the end of the film is fascinating to watch. We watch as Arquette chooses jerk after jerk all the while attempting to do what’s best for her children. She’s not always portrayed positive or as the ‘cool’ parent but then again she has the harder role of actually being there day in and day out for her kids.

Hawke probably makes the biggest transformation as he begins as a mess, getting all the easy stuff when it comes to his kids. He sees them once in a while, buys them presents and takes them to exciting places. We watch him as he gets more involved in their lives and even as he starts a new family. He’s never a bad person still it’s great to watch him become such a good one.

12 years is a long time. Watching the years just fly by, you can’t help but feel it all. It’s so real and true to life. Your own memories begin to form as you remember when you did certain things the characters do. I can certainly relate to a lot of Mason’s adolescence, but now the real interesting part is how soon I’ll find myself relating with his father’s life as well.

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One thought on “The Top 25 Films of 2014 (5-1)

  1. If you want to look at some of Emmy Rossum’s work that really shows what she can do, check out some of her other indie films. She made a nice feature film debut in Songcatcher (2000) when she was all of 13. She’s quite good in Dare (2009), and this year she did two other strong indies: Before I Disappear (which is a supporting role, but she still does good work) and You’re Not You. Her TV series, “Shameless” is also a great showcase for her. Mainstream Hollywood can be restrictive for young actresses. There are a few favorites who tend to get the plum roles and the others are often relegated to playing “the pretty girl”. A lot of Rossum’s higher profile films don’t ask much more of her than that. Indies and television have allowed her to show that she’s a thoughtful, skilled actress.

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