I recently shared my Top 20 films of the year, but while 2015 is still young and its great films are months away, there’s still time to look back at 2014. In this post I’ll name my favorite lead and supporting performances and count down some of the most memorable scenes. Recognizing some under-appreciated actors and small moments, even in films I may have disliked overall, gives me the chance to mention other titles that landed just outside my Top 20 of the year and attempt to rectify the year’s biggest Oscar snub: Ralph Fiennes.
More than most years, 2014 seemed to boast a wide range of titles on critics’ Top 10 lists. With a few notable exceptions (Boyhood, of course), there weren’t many films you’d be to sure to see among any critic’s favorites. I’m not sure whether this lack of consensus speaks to the diversity and high number of quality films released, or instead indicates a lack of truly exceptional films. Looking back over my own year of film watching, I can see both arguments. Only a few movies stood out as instant classics, indelible statements that will grow richer over time. While those occupy the top of my list, there were plenty more stand-out films, maybe not masterpieces, but examples of the cinematic diversity 2014 had to offer and worthy entires on my list of the Top 20 films of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Snowpiercer, Life Itself, The LEGO Movie, Blue Ruin, Hide Your Smiling Faces
Regrets: Selma, Two Days One Night, Mr. Turner, Winter Sleep, Jauja, Force Majeure, Tale of the Princess Kaguya
[Part of VARIABLES, a series of essays on the art and politics of Jean-Luc Godard]
To conclude my series of essays on Jean-Luc Godard, I’m posting a short video essay entitled VARIABLES, on the intersection between Godard’s style and his politics. Far more than allusions to literature or overt philosophizing, Godard’s art revolves around these two poles, the extent to which his experimentation with the language of film generates new ways of seeing the world. The video, using many of Godard’s own techniques of montage, explores how the connections, or variables, between his images constitutes the political dimension of this unique artist.
After watching the video, continue below to read more on these variables, rendered even more apparent in the wake of the revolutionary use of 3D in Godard’s new film, Goodbye to Language.
National Gallery / Frederick Wiseman / 2014 /
Active Ingredients: Opening montage; Nuanced insight about art
Side Effects: Abrupt transitions; Prevalence of long setpieces
[National Gallery plays at Boston’s MFA on December 14th and 28th.]
Frederick Wiseman’s career-long project as a verite documentarian—and one of the truly indispensable filmmakers—has been chronicling the inner-workings of various institutions. I wrote about the fantastic insights this search for the humanity within a complex organization yielded in Wiseman’s great 2013 film, At Berkeley. In that film, Wiseman’s combines scenes of classroom lectures with boardroom strategy planning, and gracefully highlights themes that echo across all facets of life at Berkeley University.
On its surface, Wiseman’s newest film does the same thing with London’s prestigious National Gallery art museum. With the filmmaker’s characteristically infallible precision, patience and eye for details, National Gallery makes time for drowsy museum visitors, nude models in art classes, janitors, framers and more. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, National Gallery seems just as fascinated by the subject of its titular institution—art—as it is by the interconnected agents that make it function. Read more…
The Babadook / Jennifer Kent / 2014 /
Active Ingredients: Horror as emotional fear; Essie Davis; No cheats
Side Effects: Relative lack of visual innovation
The Babadook is the rare modern horror film that doesn’t cheat. There are no jump scares, no blasts of loud music, no ‘boo!’ moments of any kind. That’s not to say that The Babadook isn’t scary, just that its spooky suspense comes not from smoke and mirrors, but psychological fear made external and tangible. More impressive still, the type of fear The Babadook explores and exposes isn’t rooted in any well-wore horror cliche. It’s vision of terror doesn’t come from a creepy doll or possessed rocking chair, but from the real-life fears of motherhood. Read more…