I’d like to apologize to everyone who was anxiously awaiting the unveiling of my list. I’m sorry this is so late. And I’m sorry that I saw so few movies this year. I tried doing a log this year, writing my thoughts on every new film that I saw. Some of these reviews are copied from that (sorry). Others are reviews that I threw together this morning because, holy shit, I still haven’t submitted my list yet! Sorry about that again. So, without further apology, here’s my top ten sorry.
Nas: Time Is Illmatic
J.K. Simmons is excellent at shouting verbal abuse, but what makes his performance even better are the moments when he’s allowed to temper that, like when talking to his friend’s young daughter, or in his nightclub performance in front of Teller (who is also quite strong, even though the script doesn’t really sell his transformation from shy music geek to a drumming Mark Zuckerberg). In hindsight, a lot of this is kind of silly, and A.O. Scott was pretty astute in his observation that the movie “turns a historically African-American art form into the existential arena for a couple of white guys”. Still, I had a lot of fun.
The Academy-ratio compositions are gorgeous, but they also work thematically, forcing characters into the edge of the frame in such a way that it looks like their surroundings are going to swallow them whole. I think I would have loved this film if it had spent more time on Anna and Wanda’s road trip, especially since both actresses are great. As it is, I still like it quite a bit.
Inevitably falls flat a bit when Snowden heads to Moscow, but just about everything involving Snowden, Greenwald, and Poitras together is absolutely riveting. We already know this information, for the most part, but by witnessing the circumstances surrounding its initial dissemination, we find ourselves watching a powerful historical document. Poitras doesn’t coast on that factor, though, as this is also refreshingly cinematic. She films this as a thriller, and frankly, the fire alarm scene is more effective than most of the suspense set pieces I’ve seen in narrative films this year. As good as this could have possibly been, given the inherent handicaps. Oh, and Snowden is a goddamn hero, obviously.
Cringe-inducing in the first act (some of the worst exposition I’ve ever seen) and frustratingly non-committal about the implications of its climax. But for a good while, this was shaping up to be my favorite film of the year. Nolan isn’t a brilliant visual stylist, but he clearly has a knack for narrative propulsion and cinematic rhythm. Even with the aforementioned expository dialogue, this screenplay gives him a lot of plates to spin, and it’s honestly pretty incredible to see him keep all of them going. Just like in Inception, it’s thrilling to watch him cross-cut between multiple dimensions (though, in this instance, I wish more time had been allotted to the action on Earth with Chastain and Grace).
Seeing lots of praise for McConaughey, all of which he deserves. The scene in which he watches the 23 years worth of video messages is genuinely heartbreaking. But really, the entire cast is good here, especially given the utilitarian nature of some of these roles (I’m thinking of Hathaway, Chastain, and Gyasi in particular, but Caine and Affleck also contribute a good deal with limited time to do so).
Here’s my Hot Take™ on Boyhood: I like it. It has its fair share of missteps (the one that sticks out the most to me is the scene in which the Latino restaurant manager who had been a day laborer earlier in the film thanks Mason’s mom for inspiring him to get an education), and there are parts of it that play too broadly to really fit in with the loose nature of the rest of the film. But watching Mason/Ellar grow up really is amazing, it’s often moving in a way that sneaks up on you, and I left the theater thinking that I’d gladly watch three hour films about Mason’s mom, biological dad, and sister.
As an action movie, this is refreshing. Bong Joon-ho makes great use of space and conjures up some of the most memorable set pieces I’ve seen in years. As an allegory, it’s just as good. It doesn’t exaggerate the way our society operates so much as it transplants it into a sci-fi/action context. Still, I’m pissed that I now have to throw away my screenplay, The Train That Was a Metaphor for Capitalism.
Jim Jarmusch would make a vampire movie about coolness. Besides being a great (and very unconventional) hangout movie, it also gave me a lot to think about re: elitism, cultural omnivorousness vs. cultural homelessness, and the ways we use art as sanctuary. Best opening shot of the year, too.
I had heard that Blue Ruin was a well-crafted revenge thriller with a great lead performance. While hearing the words “revenge thriller” was enough to make me fear for the worst (I think I’ve come to the realization that some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen are shitty revenge thrillers), I was happily surprised to find that that the movie was genuinely critical of the virile attitudes that fuel so many movies in that sub-genre. It can be both unbearably tense and darkly comedic, sometimes simultaneously. I was reminded of Blood Simple in the way it deals with the logistics of violent crime and its repercussions. But instead of a God’s eye view of a group of people caught in a web of misinterpretation, this one forces you to follow one man who is in way over his head. There are some story choices that I think stretch credulity, but it’s definitely effective in the moment. I might be underrating this, honestly. Looking forward to a second viewing.
We see a man have a personal epiphany. He decides to change his life forever. It’s a selfish decision, and Pascale Ferran doesn’t make it easy to watch. We see just how complicated, sad, and harmful this man’s choice is.
And then something completely unexplained happens. The second half of Bird People is one of the riskiest, most out-of-left-field surprises I’ve seen in a movie. I hate to be so vague, but I don’t want to spoil it. I’ll simply say that the film becomes so goofy, endearing, and excitingly unconventional that I’ve watched it twice now just to experience the shift at the half-way point again. It’s like the movie goes from Dubliners to… ugh, it’s difficult to write about this movie without giving anything away. Just check it out.
A movie about pathological narcissism that made me laugh until I cried. I love that the film itself is never misanthropic. It’s actually very kind to its characters, especially Ashley. The segment of the film focusing on her would be a great short film on its own. Maybe it’s because I know people like Philip, or maybe it’s because Alexander Ross Perry’s sense of humor appeals to me so much, but Listen Up Philip captivated me more than any other movie I saw this year. Hell, I even loved the end credits.