Top 10 Films of 2014 – Part Two
By Vincent Abbatecola
05) Calvary – Onene of many things that can make movie-watching an enriching activity is when you begin a film and think it’s gong to play out in a certain way, only to then have the story unfold into something else. Such is the case with John Michael McDonagh’s drama, “Calvary.” Brendan Gleeson plays Father James, a Catholic priest in Ireland. One day at a confession service, a parishioner reveals to Father James that he plans to kill him for wrongs done to him in his childhood by another priest. By the time we’re introduced to the eclectic group of supporting characters, we already know who the confession-goer is because of the person’s recognizable voice. Because of that, the film doesn’t turn out to be a guessing game of who’s threatening Father James, but rather a story about a priest knowing who this individual is and hoping the person decides not to go through with the murder, which will then confirm the priest’s belief that there is still goodness in this person. The film is anchored by an emotional performance by Gleeson that really makes the audience hope for him to get through his parish’s uncertain and troubling times, and although the awards circuit isn’t giving his performance and the film itself the attention it deserves, it certainly deserves yours.
04) Whiplash – The struggle for perfection can take a physical, mental, or emotional toll on an artist, and that’s certainly the case with this drama from Damien Chazelle. Miles Teller plays Andrew Neiman, a gifted, 19-year-old jazz drummer who attends the (fictional) Shaffer Conservatory in New York and soon comes under the unbearably strict tutelage of conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Teller expertly manifests the troubling effects that his character’s strive to be the greatest has on him, but the performance that truly commands this movie is Simmons’. As the verbally abusive and formidable jazz conductor, the authority that Simmons brings to the role makes him endlessly interesting and frightening to watch. Other than the performances, Chazelle stages some excellent music scenes, and the last five minutes includes one of the most staggering musical sequences to appear in any film in quite some time. Chazelle offers a great deal of tension that brews in this film that renders you unmovable at times, a testament to the power that this stunning movie has on the viewer.
03) Foxcatcher – Bennett Miller is a filmmaker who excels in biographical dramas. With “Moneyball” and “Capote,” he proved to have a reliable hand at bringing the lives of American figures to the big screen. His latest film tells the disturbing true story of affluent wrestling coach John du Pont (Steve Carell), who invites Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to train on his estate with other young wrestlers. The two eventually form a friendship that leads to tragic consequences. The dramatic depths to which Carell is able to go for this film are astonishing, all adding up to a performance the likes of which are far beyond what we’ve seen him do, and he’s backed up by tremendous work from Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, who portrays Mark’s brother, Dave. The story takes its time in developing the relationship between John and Mark, slowly preparing the audience for the unsettling results of their connection. Even though you already know what happens in the end, Miller doesn’t make it any less startling. His handle on true stories is genuinely admirable and continues to stay as strong as ever.
02) Birdman – Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films tend to be grim, yet very affecting dramas. Because of that, I never would have thought he would pursue a comedy, but with his latest film, he succeeds with his jump into an entirely different genre. Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, an actor once known for starring in a series of blockbuster superhero movies. Having lost his popularity, he sets our to be taken seriously by adapting a Raymond Carver short story for Broadway, a project that leads to many difficulties. Keaton gives the best comedic performance of the year, one that also has some sadness to it, and is joined by a hilarious supporting cast, highlighted by Edward Norton as a Broadway star who goes to extreme levels to show how dedicated he is to his craft. The movie is also proficient in its camerawork, having been shot and edited to make it appear has though most of the film was done all in one long take. Iñárritu’s emergence into comedy is one that’s both truly funny and very artful, and any other ideas he might have for this genre will be certainly welcome in the future.
01) Boyhood – The most magical cinematic experience of the year is director Richard Linklater’s story about the transition from childhood to adulthood. The story follows Mason Evans (Ellar Coltrane) as he ages from 6 to 18 and traverses through the fun and difficulties of adolescence. The movie began shooting in 2002, with the cast coming together annually for 12 years to film for a brief period each year, and the result has the audience watching Mason grow up right on screen. The cast also includes Patricia Arquette as Mason’s mother, Ethan Hawke as Mason’s father, and Lorelei Linklater as Mason’s older sister, and the time they have spent over the years filming this movie clearly makes their familial bonds that much stronger in the film. This is an unforgettably beautiful and special movie, one that has the ability to resonate with any viewer. I would even say that this film should be included in the high-school curriculum for seniors because of how those students will be able to appreciate Mason’s full journey as they get ready to make the transition out of high school, just as he does at the end of the movie. The ambitiousness of this film and the cast and crew’s 12-year dedication to bringing this achievement to moviegoers is a cause for celebration, and once you see “Boyhood,” you’ll understand why.
Be on the lookout for my Oscar predictions in February.