The Best Movies of 2017

Brian reflects on the year in film, with a year end list of the Best Movies of 2017 that includes “Baby Driver,” “Dunkirk,” “Detroit,” and more.

I have no interest in making a year end list that speaks to life under Donald Trump or that reflects the cultural consciousness of 2017.

These are among the more tiring of critical, shorthand cliches for summing up the year in movies. And bold-faced political films like “Get Out” and Americana rich dramas like “Three Billboards” and “The Florida Project” all perform very well in that context. But I don’t want to read the analysis for what “The Shape of Water” has to say about healthcare any more than I want to pretend as though that’s how I shaped my list.

The other cliche is the critic who wants to recommend as much as possible. News flash: there are a lot of good movies readily available at your fingertips, but you know as well as I do that there are only so many hours in the day. Critics often bemoan these lists as pointless and would rather devote their column inches to movies that won’t appear elsewhere. But if I can be the umpteenth person to say you should really see “Lady Bird,” hey, maybe you should really see “Lady Bird.”

So here’s what I’ve come up with instead: the movies on my Best of the Year List are ranked based on what I’d most want to watch again right now. And in my book, there are about 18 truly great movies I saw in 2017 that stand above the rest. These are the ones I’ve most wanted to tell people to see, the ones that have lingered in my mind for weeks and months and have made me want to revisit them. Isn’t that enough? Continue reading “The Best Movies of 2017”

The Best Albums of 2017

First, a few words about Arcade Fire.

I never thought the day would come that I would be ashamed to like this band. 2017 in music proved that possibly only Beyoncé is sacred. Anything that you liked yesterday could just as well be fodder for infinite Internet memes today and tomorrow. If you’re not saying or doing something important right now, do you even still matter? Just ask Taylor Swift.

With their fifth album “Everything Now,” Arcade Fire sought to satirize and critique that Internet culture. And where Father John Misty succeeded and generated the right kind of controversy, Arcade Fire’s album rollout was hindered by a marketing campaign in which the band issued phony reviews and literal fake news. At one point they halted the sale of “Everything Now” fidget spinners because they had their own fidget spinners to sell. And every Internet gimmick that in one artist’s hand would be genius in another would be U2 dumping “Songs of Innocence” on your iPhone.

Arcade Fire may have been good once, but they’re now in the same cultural doghouse as U2, Coldplay and even Nickelback, undisputed fair game for whatever labels and jokes you want to assign. I don’t know whether Arcade Fire was ever “cool.” Hipsters certainly do not like them anymore. But “Everything Now” was an excuse for all the haters to come out of the woodwork. “This band has been bad since “The Suburbs!” And they’ve always been overrated!”

The problem is that the music itself didn’t rise above the online reaction and marketing rollout. “Everything Now” is their worst album, and on the whole, it’s not especially good. The lethargic reggae beat of “Chemistry,” the arrhythmia that is “Peter Pan,” the generic punk and country of both “Infinite Content” tracks: this is the worst stretch this band has ever recorded. And yet as I’ve sat with this album more, it’s grown on me. Songs like “Put Your Money On Me” and “We Don’t Deserve Love” are dreamy earworms that linger in your mind, but they’re not the soaring rock anthems that have traditionally served as Arcade Fire album finales. The title track and “Creature Comfort” are two of the best singles of the year, the first an upbeat indie dance jingle with melancholy lyrics about media saturation, and the second a violent track with a club beat and a message about suicide.

So it pains me when I have to pretend as though I’m wrong to call Arcade Fire my favorite band, as though they belong to some other cultural entity that isn’t woke to what’s actually good. Arcade Fire were great before, and they can be great again, but it doesn’t mean they’re worth ignoring now.

As for what I most enjoyed in music this year, I’m not a good enough judge of what’s fashionable to know whether any or all of these artists are actually cool or important, but I refuse to be ashamed about any of them. These are the Best Albums of 2017.  Continue reading “The Best Albums of 2017”

The Best Movies of 2016

Conventional wisdom would have it that 2016 was an awful year. Gene Wilder, David Bowie, Prince and many more stars all passed away. Shootings at night clubs and a fire at an Oakland venue sent shockwaves through communities and brought into question where we as Americans can feel safe. And of course the election results were not only the opposite of what I would’ve hoped for, but they polarized the nation so deeply that facts and freedom seem to hang in the balance.

Since the election results, I’ve been far more guarded about projecting what I believe. What’s the use when either no one wants to hear a word, or it will only echo around in a bubble of shared values?

The same could be said of movies. I’m sure for many culture writers it’s tempting to rank the most “relevant” movies and present them as “best.” It would be films that aren’t so much “good” as they are reflections of the writer’s worldview and what they say about 2016 today (somehow I feel “Sausage Party” wouldn’t do so great on that list). But when I think about the consequences of writing that sort of list in the wake of the election, I ultimately have very little interest. I’d rather present a list of the movies I would most recommend to anyone right now and leave the rest for the would-be pundits.

And yet these movies do reflect America and 2016 better than I would’ve imagined when I penciled each into a working list. You could place these films literally on a map of the US and find unique swaths and identities represented across the board. They’ve all come from a new class of elite directors and artists rather than the auteurist veterans who have been shaping the conversation for decades. And best of all, they’ve carried meaning and value for me both before and after the election. How we interpret them may evolve, but their texts and their emotional power remain unchanged. Continue reading “The Best Movies of 2016”

The Best Albums of 2016

2016 was a rough year for deaths in music, and it begs the question whether rock and roll itself will survive.

Is Rock and Roll dead? In a podcast between Steven Hyden and Chuck Klostermann this year, the rock critics clarified what they mean when writers like themselves make such a bold statement. It’s not that guitar-centric rock music will disappear altogether (although maybe it could), or that great rock albums won’t come out year to year (they seem to be getting fewer and fewer). It’s just that as far as landmark albums go, the ones that sell massive amounts of units, that are widely critically acclaimed and that make a significant impact on the culture at large and the history of music, very few seem to be clear-cut, meat and potatoes rock records.

In a just world, or maybe in another time, an album like Car Seat Headrest’s would be as acclaimed as the early Weezer records. A band like DIIV would be as influential as Nirvana. An artist like Angel Olsen would be culturally important on par with Joan Baez or Carole King. Savages would be massive feminist icons. William Tyler would be as successful as Clapton. Wye Oak would be a band that people would’ve actually heard of. Radiohead would be, well, Radiohead. And David Bowie would still be alive.

All that shouldn’t diminish the greatness of Chance the Rapper or Blood Orange, who are making monumental waves in rap and R&B, spiritual and socially poignant albums that advance their respective genres. But I only wish half of these rock acts were taking over the world in the way Chance and Dev Hynes are. My list reflects those diverse tastes and hopes for the survival of good music. Continue reading “The Best Albums of 2016”

The Best Albums of 2015

Sufjan Stevens’s “Carrie & Lowell” tops the list of Best Albums of 2015.

There’s no better way to get a new perspective on a band, a sound, or a scene than a change in venue. I had a major one this year when I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to attend grad school at USC. I got a brief taste of the LA punk scene, I hit up two LA festivals, and I absorbed the LA venues, all with their own legacy and character that’s apart from Chicago.

But one significant change of pace this year was my decision to approach my album of the year list in audio. Above you can hear me pretending to be a music critic for NPR, and in it I go through the top five albums of the year. It was a challenge to say the least, trying to be critical in a form other than text and to use songs to illustrate my point of view.

Of course I listened to more than what I could cover on that radio clip, and of course I had more to write, so below is my traditional Top 10.

Note: I apologize for the absence of Kendrick.

CarrieandLowell

1) Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell

“Fuck me, I’m falling apart,” Sufjan Stevens sings on “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross”, the harrowing, final line of “Carrie & Lowell’s” penultimate track. This is Stevens at his breaking point. Stevens’s guitar picking is delicate, his instrumentation is sparse, and his high-pitched falsetto is as frail as ever. And yet “Carrie & Lowell” is heavy. By far his most personal and down to Earth album, Stevens reminisces about being left in a video store by his mother Carrie when he was just 3. He’s somber in his memory of a girlfriend checking her texts while he masturbated. And he recalls how a relative pronounced his unusual first name as “Subaru”. Ever the multi-instrumentalist, the indie folk sound Stevens achieves here is highly intricate and sophisticated, despite never raising its volume to more than a whisper. Hear the weightless, pillowing keyboards on “Blue Buckets of Gold”, the shimmering tremolo guitar lifting skyward on “All of Me Wants All of You” or the tight, offbeat rhythm of “Drawn to the Blood”.

“Carrie & Lowell” is perhaps the most easily listenable record of the year, inviting, calming and trance inducing, but no less profound and devastating. For as much as Stevens is clearly falling apart, his carefully constructed reverie and ode to his parents are a sign of him putting himself back together.

TitusAndronicus

2) Titus AndronicusThe Most Lamentable Tragedy

All the influences that have come to define Titus Andronicus over their first three records, from Springsteen to Iron Maiden to The Clash, are present in full force on “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”. But if “Local Business” was just a little too traditional of a rock record how about a 29-track, 93-minute long rock opera? Titus have answered their fans’ prayers for another record as ambitious and momentous as “The Monitor”, but have fought back with an album that is deliberately sprawling, uneven and obtuse. Two entire tracks are complete silence. They deliver 28 seconds of the most rambunctious rager imaginable in “Look Alive”, then screech to a stop, then do it all again on the aptly named “Lookalike”. They reassign the name “More Perfect Union” on a 9-minute track that combines all their influences. They even make us sit through a nightmarish “Auld Lang Syne”.

And yet among them are some of the best, most celebratory, fist-pumping tunes Titus has ever delivered. Patrick Stickles packs so many scathing, self-loathing, and philosophically profound words about manic depression into tracks like “Fired Up” and “Dimed Out”, but the former sounds like it could’ve been recorded in Bruce’s “Born to Run” sessions. Guitarist Adam Reich’s solos gleam instead of distort, and they adorn songs made for chanting. Channeling equal parts Hüsker Dü and Nietzsche, it’d require a Doctorate to piece together all of the literary allusions on “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”. But however misanthropic the album’s themes, this is a sound worth celebrating.

CourtneyBarnett

3) Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

The Aussie Courtney Barnett’s breakout “Double EP” had enough quirky and ponderous lyrics to make her a buzzy indie darling, but no one could’ve guessed on her debut album that she’d have this much muscle. “Sometimes I Sit…” is the best guitar pop record of the year, with a sound that’s as much Nirvana as it is Sheryl Crowe. Barnett still has a penchant for the mundane, satirical and absurd in her lyrics, sing talking in an upbeat stream of consciousness about the size of garages (“Depreston”), roadkill painted in the tar as a Jackson Pollock (“Dead Fox”) and building pyramids out of Coke cans (“Elevator Operator”). It’s all amusingly specific, her clear vocals and hooks amplified over simple, crunchy riffs or the wild, discordant tremolo solo on “Small Poppies”. Best of all, the formidable “Pedestrian at Best” is Barnett at her heaviest, most eloquent and feminist. Barnett’s vocabulary (“erroneous, harmonious, I’m hardly sanctimonious”) speaks volumes, but it’s when she sings the self-deprecating truth, “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint”, that she stands tallest.

TorresSprinter

4) TorresSprinter

Singer-songwriter Mackenzie Scott’s second album is called “Sprinter”, but it’s a record of many tempos and dimensions. Under the moniker Torres, Scott has made a transcendent album of personal confession, and raw, intense emotion. “Strange Hellos” is a misdirection as an opening track, starting hollow and dreary before exploding in aggressive grunge. The bone-chilling “Son, You Are No Island” has a guitar picking slowly up your spine, before Scott resounds the words “You fucked with a woman” in a nightmarish spiral. Scott grapples with her language and religion on the stately “A Proper Polish Welcome”, and she attacks a jaded hipster in her desperation to show she’s “got the sadness too”. But her sound has all the range of her lyrics; “Sprinter” is a wonderfully rounded album of hard rock, acoustic ballads and abstract electronics that earned her PJ Harvey comparisons. On “New Skin” Scott laments how tired she is at just the age of 23, but “Sprinter” is Scott at her most vibrant.

TameImpalaCurrents

5) Tame ImpalaCurrents

A robotic sounding voice on Tame Impala’s “Past Life” starts talking about a mundane day at the dry cleaners until he’s stopped in his tracks by a vision of his lover from a past life. In that moment, life is breathed into that voice. Tame Impala’s breakout album “Lonerism” had remarkable, technically proficient production, but in this writer’s opinion, felt cold. “Currents”, the Australian outfit’s third album, is danceable, infectious, romantic and best of all human. The bouncy bass lines Kevin Parker adds on tracks like “The Less I Know The Better” are straight ‘70s disco grooves, and yet the sprawling lead single “Let it Happen” is contemporary and sounds like the work of a single producer, not a fully psychedelic band. “Eventually” has heavy bursts of electronic fuzz before blooming into vivid color in the chorus, a beautiful, yet melancholy, moment emblematic of the full album. “They say people never change but that’s bullshit,” Parker sings on “Yes I’m Changing”. If “Currents” is any indication, “They do.”

SleaterKinney

6) Sleater-KinneyNo Cities To Love

Although Sleater-Kinney has never been a stranger to wild, rambunctious, off-kilter noise rock, there’s something newly animal and exciting about the girl punk group’s reunion album “No Cities To Love”. Carrie Brownstein’s guitar scurries and slides throughout the up-tempo “A New Wave”. Corin Tucker barks out the pre-chorus to “No Anthems” and allows her voice to escalate marvelously as she sings “It’s how I learned to speak”. And Janet Weiss’s drums are absolutely bestial on the thundering closer “Fade”. Brownstein delivers the best and most effects-laden solo guitar work across an entire album this year. And the combined lyrics of Brownstein and Tucker elevate Sleater-Kinney beyond personal, feminist subject matter, singing about the harsh nature of daily routine (“Price Tag”), ambition (“Surface Envy”) and “atomic tourism” (“No Cities to Love”). “No outline will ever hold us”, Brownstein sings on “A New Wave,” and though Sleater-Kinney already have a place in history, “No Cities to Love” helps them break new ground.

BeachHouse

7) Beach HouseDepression Cherry

People continue to assume that Beach House refuses to evolve, that their dream pop sound has repeated itself on three (wait, four!) subsequent albums. But the distorted fuzz on “Sparks” or the reverberating guitar on “Levitation” would not belong on “Bloom” or “Teen Dream”. “Depression Cherry”, much like this year’s counterpart album “Thank Your Lucky Stars”, finds Beach House at darker shades, taking their ethereal sound to new realms. Alex Scally imagines one of his most elegant sliding riffs yet on “Space Song”. Victoria Legrand makes the lightly pulsing synths and drum machine on “Wildflower” near danceable. Her voice is as soothing and weightless as ever, but she’s still set on entrancing and transporting her listeners, singing on the opener, “There’s a place I want to take you…Where the unknown will surround you.”

Chvrches

8) CHVRCHESEvery Open Eye

Listening to Lauren Mayberry’s voice is hopeful and uplifting. She sings of her personal pain, but hearing her atop layers upon layers of synths and electronic beats can be soothing, fun and cathartic. But what’s more, she’s always overcoming obstacles in her music. “We bide our time and stay afloat”, she sings on “Keep You on My Side.” On opener “Never Ending Circles” she proposes a toast to “taking what you came for” and “running off the pain”. On single “Leave a Trace”, Mayberry can be cutting and dismissive, shunning a guy who would try to reveal the “tiny cracks of light underneath” her. And yet the song embraces her confidence with a simple clap beat and a bright keyboard that matches her pitch. Ultimately though, “Every Open Eye” isn’t just the Mayberry show, and the breakdown on “Clearest Blue” is the sort of explosive, yet upbeat melody the electronic dance floor has been missing.

FatherJohnMisty

9) Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear

“Save me President Jesus!” Father John Misty’s overly swelling and sincere folk rock affectations are as big as ever on “I Love You, Honeybear”, both the title track and the album in full, and the lyrics are as ridiculous in terms of taking anything he says seriously. On “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” he sings that he loves a woman who can walk all over a man like a “goddamn marching band,” then makes fun of her use of the words “literally” and “malaprops.” And though these songs are still ironic, his sound has at least graduated to the point where he has the sonic heft to support the irony, like the cascades of synths on “True Affection” or the fuzzy solo at the end of “The Ideal Husband.” But two albums in he’s made his point; as much as he’s mocking a certain type of performer, he very much is that type of performer, and we’re finally all in on the joke.

 

The-Dead-Weather-Dodge-and-Burn

10) The Dead WeatherDodge and Burn

I’d forgotten how surreal, experimental and noisy The Dead Weather could be. “Dodge and Burn” brings that animalism back to the forefront. Alison Mosshart is a wild woman. On “Let Me Through” she sounds like she’s out for blood, brooding “I’m a bad man, let me through”. Jack White at the drums marches in step behind her vicious “boom boom boom”, and guitarist Dean Fertita lets out a cat-like screech in a ferocious breakdown. Fertita’s penetrating reverb and tremolo on “Buzzkill(er)” is another example of the strange minimalism he’s borrowed from White. Should The Dead Weather decide to continue this supergroup, Mosshart’s closing track “Impossible Winner”, a sweeping piano rock ballad akin to something on the last Queens of the Stone Age record, suggests how this band can still find creatively weird ways to evolve.

adele-25-album-cover

11th Place (alphabetical)

Adele25

Adele could not have possibly topped “21,” but with “25” she has delivered everything that could be expected of her. “Hello” is not just another timeless classic; it’s purely an Adele song. It’s the best track on an album of Adele reckoning with growing older, both in getting her Whitney Houston moment on “When We Were Young,” trying to fit in with the present on the poppy “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” and going full on rock star in a song like “I Miss You” that could’ve easily been a Florence + The Machine number.

Alabama ShakesSound & Color

Brittany Howard and company have evolved their blues rock revival into a sound that combines electronics (“Sound & Color”) and barn-burning breakdowns (“Shoegaze”). Standouts “Don’t Wanna Fight” and “Gimme All Your Love” are further proof of just how fierce Howard can get.

DeafheavenNew Bermuda

The most polarizing band in black metal’s second album should hopefully soothe some of the hatred from hardcore metalheads. “New Bermuda” is far more of a traditional rock record, aggressive, chunky and speedy, but still just as weightless in its shoegazing beauty. Although not as weightless, spiritual and inspirational as “Sunbather” surprisingly was, “New Bermuda” is 46 heavy minutes without as much as the start/stop, soft/loud, fast/slow dividing lines of their debut.

Florence + The MachineHow Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

“HBHBHB” is the first time Florence Welch has sounded both epic and like a rock star. While not short on the sweeping pop anthems, “Ship to Wreck”, “What Kind of Man” and “Queen of Peace” all have upbeat, stadium-filling riffs worthy of her spot as the biggest woman in rock.

Mikal CroninMCIII

“MCII” had strings, pianos and a lot of fuzz, but on “MCIII” Mikal Cronin strives for something entirely more sweeping and grand. Starting with the swelling orchestra on opener “Turn Around”, it’s a whole album of finales, all of them shimmering, major key rockers, with Side Two specifically arranged as something of a mini rock opera. It’s not as immediately accessible or complete a collection of pop songs as “MCII” but it grows in esteem because of how proudly it wears its ambitions on its sleeve.

My Morning JacketThe Waterfall

As is plain as day on their album cover, My Morning Jacket’s “The Waterfall” is picturesque. “The Waterfall” is not as surreal as some of their earlier efforts, but it’s their most complete record since 2005’s “Z.” It grooves, soars, thunders and whispers, and it’s album of big sounds and “Big Decisions.”

25 Best Songs (in alphabetical order)

  • 4th of July – Sufjan Stevens
  • A New Wave – Sleater-Kinney
  • Adventure of a Lifetime – Coldplay
  • Bitch Better Have My Money – Rihanna
  • Bored in the USA – Father John Misty
  • Depreston – Courtney Barnett
  • Dimed Out – Titus Andronicus
  • Don’t Wanna Fight – Alabama Shakes
  • Fired Up – Titus Andronicus
  • FourFive Seconds – Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney
  • Hello – Adele
  • Hotline Bling – Drake
  • I Feel Love (Every Million Miles) – The Dead Weather
  • Leave a Trace – CHVRCHES
  • Let it Happen – Tame Impala
  • Pedestrian at Best – Courtney Barnett
  • Ship to Wreck – Florence + The Machine
  • Should Have Known Better – Sufjan Stevens
  • Space Song – Beach House
  • Spring (Among the Living) – My Morning Jacket
  • Strange Encounter – Father John Misty
  • Strange Hellos – Torres
  • The Harshest Light – Torres
  • The Less I Know the Better – Tame Impala
  • Trying – Bully

20 Best Concerts

  1. Foo Fighters – Wrigley Field
  2. Titus Andronicus – The Roxy
  3. Sufjan Stevens – The Chicago Theater
  4. Kanye West – FYF Fest
  5. Savages – FYF Fest
  6. U2 – United Center
  7. Courtney Barnett – Pitchfork
  8. Father John Misty – The Wiltern
  9. Mikal Cronin – Prairie Center for the Arts, Schaumburg, IL
  10. Foxygen – Metro
  11. Chance the Rapper – Pitchfork
  12. Wilco – Pitchfork
  13. Sleater-Kinney – Pitchfork
  14. Mac DeMarco – Pitchfork & FYF Fest & Beach Goth
  15. The Drums – FYF Fest & Beach Goth
  16. Laura Marling – FYF Fest
  17. My Morning Jacket – The Chicago Theater
  18. Grimes – Beach Goth
  19. Sex Stains – The Echoplex
  20. Ghost – Beach Goth

The Best Movies of 2015

It’s a weird year at the movies when the one every critic goes crazy for is “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a 30 years late sequel/reboot of an apocalyptic action movie.

But that’s the state of cinema and popular culture in 2015. We’re so accepting of the fact that TV surpasses film in the storytelling department that we’re so desperate to embrace a movie that shows its vision and style in full, spectacular display. We’re so frustrated at the lack of strong roles for women in Hollywood that we champion one that boldly declares “We Are Not Things.” And we’re so angry and eager for something more out of the movies that it takes a movie called “Fury Road” to shake us awake.

I missed out on a lot of movies that could’ve made this year’s list, but then lists should never be about completion. With the way the awards cycle has jammed every interesting movie into a two month or even two week period before the end of the year, Hollywood has made it near impossible to catch everything. All I know is that these are the films that I most wanted to talk about and get others to see.

MadMax2

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” is insane, a disturbed fever dream of a movie, addled and excitable to the point of delirium. Everything is accelerated. Everything is racing. “Fury Road’s” characters feed off the fire and blood of Max’s world, becoming amped at just the idea of moving forward. Through his hyper editing and frenetic tracking camera, Miller has captured adrenaline in a bottle. But for as cathartic and exciting as all of “Fury Road’s” CGI-free stunts are, watching this world of pure orange and blue is nightmarish and hypnotic. It feels so captivating because “Fury Road” is a movie pointing toward the future. What a lovely day.

Room-trailer

  1. Room

“Room” is such an emotionally affecting story because it concerns the walls and spaces we build inside our mind and how we find solace within them. Happiness is not a location, but the state of mind we build for ourselves. Lenny Abrahamson’s film is very aware of these walls, of these confines, and he finds poetry and untold possibilities and confusion in glimpses of the sky and the struggle with walking down a flight of stairs. Brie Larson is a mother desperate to get her son to “connect with something” and Jacob Tremblay is the boy grappling with his own sense of reality. Despite the film’s remarkable conceit, “Room” is a universal story of motherhood, maturity and acceptance.

Spotlight

  1. Spotlight

“Spotlight” is the best journalism movie actually about journalism. Thomas McCarthy’s film is not a thriller or caper with conspiracy, villains or suspense set pieces, but a movie of hunches, discovery, research and hard work: pure journalism. The film’s docu-realistic, testimonial quality of soft shades of blue make it a purely neutral story in both themes and aesthetics, a film obsessed with asking more questions, going deeper and finding the bigger story. As it escalates, it becomes as much a film about losing faith in religion and belief as it is uncovering the truth. The ensemble cast of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Paul Giamatti and John Slattery absolutely hums, and in their search for the real story, “Spotlight” just keeps digging.

Chi-Raq

  1. Chi-Raq

No film is as urgent and aggressively opinionated this year as Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq.” Staging this timely political statement against gun violence in America as a version of the Ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” is no accident. The film’s rhyming verse and colorful musical numbers make it distinctly fresh and memorable. And by introducing women’s sexuality into the story, Lee reframes the gun debate into one of gender. People are dying everyday, and you want to talk about how women behave? “THIS IS AN EMERGENCY” the film blares, and that urgency has finally taken root.

TheBigShort

  1. The Big Short

When did banking stop being fucking boring and start being the game of men, bros, douchebags, crooks and giant egos? Whereas “The Wolf of Wall Street” was the fantasy about American excess, “The Big Short” is the real-world story that makes those people pay, and it does it with big balls and attitude. The CDOs that led to the downfall of the housing market weren’t bad loans; they were dog shit. Don’t believe the movie? Just ask Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, and then fuck right off. Adam McKay’s film is edgy and in your face, and then it makes you feel awful for being rich and being right.

Montage of Heck

  1. Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Kurt Cobain once sang, “Unless it is about me, it is now my duty to completely drain you.” Director Brett Morgen has obliged with “Montage of Heck,” a disturbing, emotionally draining, and violently edited documentary that ranks among the most daring rock-docs ever made and perhaps the only to delve this deeply into the psyche of its rock star protagonist. Morgen uses countless audio snippets, scrapbook notes and home movies of Cobain that to another director would be an un-cinematic liability, if not purely unusable. They’re transformed into surreal, artistic virtues that show Cobain’s genius and madness.

Ex-Machina-Gallery-01

  1. Ex Machina

Alex Garland’s sleek sci-fi “Ex Machina” toys with our emotions. Face to face with a gorgeous robot named Ava (seductively played by breakout actress Alicia Vikander), we begin to feel the animal urges of love, desire and sexual attraction very much coded into our DNA. Are we any less programmed than the artificial intelligence we’ve designed? What makes anyone human? Garland’s film packages these profound ideas of human nature into a film that teeters from romance and beauty to suspense and conspiracy. “Ex Machina” is a finely tuned machine adept in the “micro expressions” that make us human.

Carol1

  1. Carol

Todd Haynes’s “Carol” is a movie about two people entering into separate worlds and learning to feel at home. “Carol” is lush, poetic, and ravishing, a stellar romance in which the unsaid words and thoughts seep into the movie’s background and color everything. The ‘50s setting is rich and painterly, and Rooney Mara gives off a magnetic charm as the young and innocent Therese Belivet. Along with Cate Blanchett channeling Old Hollywood movie star glamour, the pair is enchanting in this dreamy, forbidden love affair.

Anomalisa2

  1. Anomalisa

“What is it to be human, to ache and to be alive?” The artificial nature of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s stop-motion animated film “Anomalisa” makes that question far clearer. Through incredible animation that manages remarkable long takes, hilarious sight gags and intimate set dressing, “Anomalisa” is a touching portrait of loneliness and yearning. These figurines have seams, they share the same voice, and we even endure them having sex, but their artificiality makes us hyper aware to all their anomalies. We discover more deeply what it is to have flesh and blood and to be alive.

storm-troopers-10-was-star-wars-prequels-improve-series

  1. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

It was unrealistic to think that J.J. Abrams could deliver a masterpiece on par with “A New Hope” or “The Empire Strikes Back.” What he managed was to make a Star Wars movie. “The Force Awakens” has the spectacle, the whimsy, the humor and the campy screwball charm of the original films. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are instant stars, Harrison Ford is so at home playing Han Solo again, and hearing John Williams’s score swell to invigorating lightsaber duels and X-Wing dog fights all over again is pure magic. In channeling the same themes of good and evil and the mythos of the Force, “The Force Awakens” has the spirit of a Star Wars classic.

Magic Mike XXL

  1. Magic Mike XXL

The bros of “Magic Mike XXL” don’t strip because they want to bang chicks. They want to make women smile and make them feel good. “Magic Mike XXL” is a sneaky feminist statement wrapped in a stylish musical and hilarious road trip movie. Channing Tatum is an absolute star who sets it off in his woodshed and quite literally makes sparks. No one moves like he does, but as an actor he’s got a dopey, enthusiastic charm that truly makes him Magic. “Magic Mike XXL” has the scene of the year with Joe Manganiello dancing inside a gas station convenience store, and combined with Steven Soderbergh’s crisp and fluid digital cinematography behind the camera, this film has one massive package.

Inside Out

  1. Inside Out

Pixar’s “Inside Out” develops an elaborate ecosystem and fable to help kids understand and visualize the most complicated aspects of our minds: our emotions. And perhaps more than any Pixar film, it’s the first to reach kids and adults alike on such an intimate, fundamental level of asking who we are and how we function. As we peer inside young Riley’s head, every thought and moment she feels is ripe with humor and possibility, and Director Pete Docter compliments that with daring animation and remarkable color. “Inside Out” shows that sadness as much as happiness shape what we remember, how we grow and the people we become.

Tangerine1

  1. Tangerine

Alexandra is a transgender prostitute who just doesn’t want any drama, but after she tells her friend Sin-Dee Rella that her pimp boyfriend Chester has been sleeping with “some fish” (that’s code for, the bitch has a vagina), that’s all she’s going to get. “Tangerine” is a fast-moving, spitfire buddy comedy of an indie that’s a pure riot. The film marches through the seedier, lesser seen streets of Hollywood on Christmas Eve and gives no fucks about what it finds, who they upset and, as a film about African American trans women, what norms they shake up. “Tangerine” is a blast, and though it’s the first movie ever shot entirely on an iPhone, it’s a sun-drenched spectacle.

The Martian

  1. The Martian

The most impossible feat in Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” is not that a man can survive on Mars. “The Martian” is refreshingly optimistic, a movie that believes in not just the ingenuity and resourcefulness of mankind but the camaraderie and good nature. It speaks to the power of the Internet and society in the 21st Century to collectively find a solution and rally around a moment in history. It embraces science and logic, it congenially unites our interest and attention, and Matt Damon is perfect as a person we all want to root for to survive. “The Martian” is a fantasy not just for its sci-fi trappings but as a movie about positivity, something so uncommon in 2015.

Steve Jobs

  1. Steve Jobs

Aaron Sorkin’s cleverly structured three-act biopic on the life of Steve Jobs expertly plays on the conflict within Steve Jobs’s embattled ideologies. It goes beyond the notion that great men have stepped on others to get to the top, instead reckoning with the idea that being great and being a good person can even be two sides of the same coin. “Steve Jobs” is perfectly Sorkinesque in its dialogue and drilled in performances, and Boyle handles the material like a showman, giving each stage in Jobs’s life a new colorful filter and rhythm to accentuate the corporate jargon and family melodrama. Whether Jobs was accurate to the image depicted in Sorkin’s biopic is beside the point. He captures the image of the myth and legend we’ve created.

Honorable Mention:

WorldofTomorrow

World of Tomorrow

Don Hertzfeldt only draws crude stick figures, and his animated short film is only 15 minutes long, but it contains more profound ideas on life than many films this year combined. The colorful geometric shapes create an abstract image of a future way beyond our current sense of space and time, and the absurdist prose and humor about robots writing depressed poetry on the moon show a filmmaker fully in control of his gifts. The stick figure clones of “World of Tomorrow” are beautifully apt, and they serve as a reminder that there’s something utterly human about knowing “you are alive and living and the envy of all of the dead.”

1401x788-the-look-of-silence

The Look of Silence

I saw “The Look of Silence” in October 2014 and didn’t put it on my best of the year list then because I knew it would come out this year. But now another calendar year has passed and I’ve missed the opportunity to see it again and reward it properly. The documentary is the successor to Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing,” but while this film is less surreal, it’s far more emotional, focusing instead on a human victim rather than the murderers. It’s a harrowing masterpiece and is easily one of the best movies of the decade.

meandearl_0021

16th Place

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

The movie that won the Sundance Audience Prize and Grand Jury Prize quickly became one of the more polarizing, critically reviled titles of the year. They’ve labeled “Me and Earl” as narcissistic, racist, and a Wes Anderson copycat. Upon a second viewing, they have a point, but this film still has some lovely style and moments, a movie about how we learn to better appreciate others after they’re gone. See it with a crowd and see the magic behind it.

Brooklyn

“Brooklyn” is such an old fashioned instant classic it feels as though it could’ve been directed by George Stevens, Michael Curtiz or William Wyler. It’s a lovely period drama about finding home where your heart is without any added freight to bear, and Saoirse Ronan is wonderful.

The End of the Tour

The best movie about writing since “Almost Famous,” “The End of the Tour” is one of the year’s best character studies and has incredible performances from both Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg channeling intellectually what it is to be famous and fascinating.

Where to Invade Next

“Where to Invade Next” is by far Michael Moore’s most optimistic film, a movie made for American audiences at how the grass is far greener on the other side of the Atlantic, and how we can make these ideas a reality back Stateside.

Cartel Land

A better, more realistic movie about drug cartels than even “Sicario,” “Cartel Land” has the look of “Zero Dark Thirty” and the scary realization that there’s no solving the problem of these cartels.

It Follows

In “It Follows,” sex is no allegory. It’s a movie about forever looking over your shoulder and of being branded with a label and an inner demon you can’t shake. It’s a new horror classic.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Alex Gibney still goes into “Going Clear” with a pointed agenda, knowing already what he’s going to discover about Scientology, but then the results are scary. In Gibney’s mind, L. Ron Hubbard was disturbed, Tom Cruise is brainwashed, John Travolta is blackmailed, and David Miscavige is the most evil person on Earth.

Trainwreck

“Trainwreck” is a riotously funny rom-com in which the truly daring feminist achievement is in Amy Schumer simply switching the gender roles on a tried and true formula. Bonus points for Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller being amazing weirdoes.

Beasts of No Nation

One of the grimmest sits of the year, “Beasts of No Nation” is a brutal, bluntly violent movie about isolationism and the loss of innocence. The kids of this film are lost without clear goals or directions in their fighting, and Cary Fukunaga gets us hypnotically caught in that haze.

Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg takes the small scale behind the scenes drama of the Cold War and plays them writ large. It’s a courtroom drama, the stuff of conversation, negotiation and debate, and yet it has all the entertaining and thrilling theatrics of any of Spielberg’s epics.

10 Best Movies I Haven’t Seen Yet: “The Revenant,” “The Hateful Eight,” “The Assassin,” “Mistress America,” “The Duke of Burgundy,” “About Elly,” “45 Years,” “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “Son of Saul,” “Girlhood”

Very Early 2015 Movie Preview

“While We’re Young,” “Silence”, “Queen of the Desert”, “Knight of Cups” and more arrive in theaters in 2015.

Sigh, another year over and another one just beginning, with no time in between. After trying to tear through as many 2014 movies as I could in the last month or so of the year, getting excited for 2015 is kind of like going to the grocery store after you’ve just eaten; there are a whole lot of options, but it’s much harder to choose anything.

With any luck, I’ll use the first couple of months of 2015 to get caught up on a handful of missed Oscar contenders for this year, watch some classics from Herzog that are collecting dust on my bookshelf and maybe watch a few shows that some friends have been endlessly pestering me about.

Just like last year and the year before when I made my list, I inevitably don’t watch all of the movies I end up saying I’m excited for, and several more are just plain bad. My 2014 prediction track record this time around was even worse than before, in which I stumped for “Annie”, “Jersey Boys”, “Transcendence”, “Unbroken”, “Exodus”, “The Hunger Games”, “Noah”, “The Monuments Men”, “Labor Day”, “Into the Woods”, and the still unreleased “Jane Got a Gun.” but hey, I had a feeling “Gone Girl” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” would be good.

These 20 films just barely scratch the surface of all that could be good or great in 2015. In fact, I’m deliberately avoiding many of the blockbusters that will be on EVERY list this January. Hopefully these say a little about me and what I’m hoping for moving into the new year.

WhileWereYoungWhile We’re Young

Noah Baumbach killed it with “Frances Ha”. I likely underrated it the first time I saw it and still thought it was great. “While We’re Young” looks a little more familiar and conventional and not as black and white (i.e. not at all), but this director and this cast that includes the rising Adam Driver (step aside Chris Pratt, I have a new favorite oddball) should be able to elevate any material, even stuff that resembles the failed Apatow production “This is 40”.

99 Homes

Thanks to Roger Ebert, Ramin Bahrani was one of my favorite up-and-coming directors with “Man Push Cart,” “Chop Shop” and “Goodbye Solo,” all knockouts. Then he went bigger with his story and made “At Any Price”, which I didn’t see for lack of good notices. “99 Homes” falls somewhere in the middle of Bahrani’s indie roots and elevated presence, pairing Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon in a drama about a man foreclosing on homes. Word was good out of Toronto and drops in March.

maps-to-the-stars-julianne-mooreMaps to the Stars

Yeah, I guess a few people saw this out of Cannes, and yeah, it kind of got an Oscar qualifying run for Julianne Moore, but David Cronenberg’s latest is a 2015 movie in my mind. A polarizing film just the way Cronenberg likes it, “Maps to the Stars” features Moore, Mia Wasikowska and John Cusack in a twisted Hollywood drama about fame psychology.

Silence

Martin Scorsese’s latest, if it’s finished this year, stars Liam Neeson in the height of his badass phase as a mentor to two 17th Century Jesuit priests (the aforementioned Garfield and Driver) who travel to Japan and witness the persecution of Christians forsaken by God.

Green Room

Did you see “Blue Ruin” this year? Not many have, but you should. It’s an intense and realistic indie drama about a man out for revenge but doesn’t have a clue. That’s beside the point. What is the point is that Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore follow-up “Green Room” stars none other than Patrick Stewart as a white supremacist terrorizing a young punk rock band after they witness Stewart’s gang committing a murder.

Spectre

“Skyfall” was awesome. In my mind the best of Daniel Craig’s three James Bond movies and possibly one of the best Bond movies ever, it was sharply directed by Sam Mendes, it looked fantastic as shot by Roger Deakins and had a great villain in Javier Bardem. Now Mendes is back, and the new villain is a guy who has played another iconic 2000s baddie, Christoph Waltz. Given the title, it’s likely they’re rebooting the franchise somewhat and that he’ll be playing Blofeld, so there’s definitely a lot to be curious about.

Midnight Special

I’m not alone in thinking that Jeff Nichols is seriously the real deal and maybe the best rising filmmaker today. “Midnight Special”, starring Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard and Adam Driver again, is his biggest production yet. It’s a sci-fi about a father and son on the run after it’s discovered the son has special powers. How he’ll manage to squeeze in ideas of Americana I’m not sure.

Queen of the Desert

New Herzog? Yes please. Herzog is going the biopic route in a story about Gertrude Bell, an English writer, archeologist and spy who worked alongside none other than T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia. Nicole Kidman plays Bell with Robert Pattinson taking up Peter O’Toole’s old iconic role, and “Queen of the Desert” also stars James Franco and Damian Lewis.

The Revenant

“Birdman” left me cold, but another Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film, with more cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, and yet another fiery cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, should be enough to get my blood boiling again. In “The Revenant”, DiCaprio plays a hunter mauled by a bear who then seeks revenge on those in his company who left him for dead.

KnightofCupsKnight of Cups

Who would’ve thought Terrence Malick could be so prolific? “Knight of Cups”, starring Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Ben Kingsley and even Nick Offerman, among many more likely to be erased in the editing room or made into background noise, is in fact coming out in 2015. The synopsis on IMDb makes no sense whatsoever, but the trailer reveals a film about wealth, excess and love all done Malick style. Like “To the Wonder,” the film can’t help but resemble “The Tree of Life,” which is never a bad thing.

The Hateful Eight

To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of “Django Unchained,” so to see Quentin Tarantino return to the Spaghetti Western is a hair disconcerting. But then I remember that any script that generated this much controversy and attention after its leaking and subsequent dismissal by Tarantino, it must be good. Channing Tatum stars alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Demian Bichir, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth and Walton Goggins.

That’s What I’m Talking About

No plot details are yet known about “That’s What I’m Talking About”, but this year Richard Linklater was elevated in my mind to genius stature. His latest is a comedy about baseball players on and off the field, and he’s described it as a spiritual successor to one of his finest, “Dazed and Confused”.

Red Army

Hey! I’ve seen this! It’s a documentary about the Soviet hockey team during the ‘70s and ‘80s, in which Chicago-Director Gabe Polsky attains unprecedented access to former hockey legend and current Russian diplomat Slava Fetisov. The film is hardly just a sports doc for hockey fans, going deep inside the nuances of Russian politics and providing a perspective American audiences didn’t see on this side of the Iron Curtain. Read my thoughts in my Best Movies of 2014.

The-Look-of-SilenceThe Look of Silence

Another movie I’ve seen! In fact, this one would’ve been my number two film of this year had it actually come out. Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to “The Act of Killing” is less surreal, but innately more human. Oppenheimer now follows a man who lost his family in the genocide while confronting the killers responsible, powerfully holding their feet to the fire. Read more about it from me here.

Clouds of Sils Maria

Going to plug one more I’ve already seen, although this time not one I loved. “Clouds of Sils Maria” is Olivier Assayas’s latest and stars Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Moretz, the latter two whom are as good here as they’ve ever been. Binoche plays an aging actress joining a restaging of a play opposite the role that made her famous, and it’s a smart, well written and acted character drama about fame and legacy.

InsideOutJoyInside Out

While there are actually two original Pixar movies coming out in 2015, the other being “The Good Dinosaur”, “Inside Out” is the first to actually get a trailer. It takes you inside the mind of a little girl and personifies her emotions. Hopefully this pair of films puts Pixar back on top of the world as storytellers.

The Walk

After surprising with “Flight” from a few years back and wrangling a great performance out of Denzel Washington and John Goodman, Robert Zemeckis is back with another live-action, true story project that seems perfect for 3-D. It’s the story of how Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tight rope walked across the World Trade Center towers, a story that already got told via the Oscar winning documentary “Man on Wire”.

Joy

We’ll pretend that David O. Russell doesn’t have another film coming out this Valentine’s Day not called “Nailed” and just focus on his latest string of knock-out projects starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. O. Russell has tapped Lawrence to play above her age yet again as Joy Mangano, a housewife who became a business mogul selling the Miracle Mop.

The Duke of Burgundy

The Dissolve has been raving about this one since it came out of Toronto. A kinky, stylish, hypnotic drama about human sexuality from the director of Berberian Sound Studio, this period piece is already been called one of the best films of the decade and looks absolutely ravishing.

Untitled Steven Spielberg Cold War Spy Thriller (also known as “St. James Place”)

Tom Hanks repairs with Steven Spielberg for the first time in over 10 years in this spy thriller about an American lawyer recruited by the CIA to help rescue a pilot from the Soviet Union. Any Spielberg is a must-see, but it also comes from a Coen Brothers script, so who are we kidding? It’ll be awesome.

A few more that could be good:

“Good Kill”, by the war politics minded Andrew Niccol, Ethan Hawke plays a drone pilot torn with his actions during combat.

“Regression”, by Alejandro Amenabar (“The Sea Inside”), a thriller starring Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson and David Thewlis

“Sicario,” by Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”, “Enemy”) and starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin

“The Martian,” a new sci-fi directed by Ridley Scott

“Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter,” a strange, intense looking psychological drama about a woman who believes a VHS of “Fargo” will lead her to a treasure.

It Follows”, indie horror that’s also being called strangely “endearing”

The Tribe”, an experimental, foreign, “pure cinema” film containing no dialogue and no subtitles, only sign language.

Crimson Peak”, Guillermo Del Toro’s first real foray back into the horror genre in quite some time.

Trainwreck”, directed by Judd Apatow and written by and starring Amy Schumer, could be a recipe for success or another disappointment.

Oh yeah, and “Star Wars.”

The Worst Best Movies of 2014

The most “overrated” movies of 2014, from “Nymphomaniac” to “Locke” to “The Double”.

There are critics, and then there are trolls. A troll is someone who enjoys raining on the parade, to take a beloved classic and tell you everything you thought you enjoyed about it was wrong. The troll only hates something because everyone else enjoys it, and the troll wants to define himself or herself by blazing their own path and forming an interesting, provocative opinion that challenges the status quo of their peers.

I’d hate to think that my opinion on an individual movie would completely define my own personality or my taste in film. That’s because each year, a number of highly critically acclaimed films come out, and not every critic can reasonably get behind all of them. In fact, some critics find a handful of films in this bunch downright bad, and they struggle to explain what all the fuss is about. It happens every year, with just about every movie. Yes, even “Boyhood.”

And yet each year, there are angry commenters who shun the first critic to break the 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, and there are people who aim to invalidate a critic’s entire reputation by saying, “How could you hate X and yet give a good review to Y?”

This year I found myself on the far end of a few of these critical spectrums; that doesn’t change the fact that I absolutely loved loved LOVED so many of the other critical darlings and cultural hits from 2014. Yes, that one too.

So take this list with a grain of salt. It’s not meant to be contrarian or say these movies are overrated. Just know that much as I disliked this small batch of films, they’re each admirable, ambitious and memorable in a way you could very well love. Just don’t hold it against me.

Continue reading “The Worst Best Movies of 2014”

The Best Movies of 2014: 11-25

The Best of the Year list rolls on with my picks for the 11th through 25th best movies of 2014.

If I’m counting correctly, I saw 87 movies that were released theatrically in 2014, which may be a new record. In writing about 25 in all for my best of the year list, that’s actually not overkill to say I feel strongly about just over a quarter of the movies I saw this year. Why limit myself for the sake of brevity when there are recommendations to be made and when just about any one of these could become one of your favorites? Here’s ranks 11-25:

  1. Like Father, Like Son

A wealthy Japanese family discovers that their 6-year-old son Keita is not their biological son but was switched at birth. Hirokazu Kore-eda takes this high concept situation and turns it into a profound family drama, one that first touches on powerful chords of class divides and blood lines in Japan, but one that also ends on the perfect note.

  1. Life Itself


Perhaps an even greater tearjerker than “The Fault in Our Stars,” Steve James’ “Life Itself” is a celebration of the life of everyone’s favorite film critic Roger Ebert. James is unafraid to show Ebert at his worst, both in his behavior as a competitive and caustic journalist and former alcoholic and in his physical condition undergoing suction from his throat as treatment for his cancer. While loosely based on Ebert’s autobiography of the same name, “Life Itself” finds depth as a documentary exploring movies, film criticism and most notably the people Ebert’s life touched. Everyone from Errol Morris to Werner Herzog to Ramin Bahrani and Richard Corliss are on hand to pay their respects, and it’s a touching remembrance whether you’re a cinephile or not. But it’s most importantly a film about Roger the man more so than just the critic, and James finds room for sweet stories about Ebert’s Chicago Sun-Times colleague Bill Nack and how Ebert came to be a father figure for his wife Chaz’s children and grandchildren. Life Itself is the perfect tribute to Ebert’s memory because it doesn’t just fawn over him but it feels as though it is him. It’s warm, loving and funny but also deep, critical and flawed. It’s hard to say if Ebert would’ve loved this movie, but he would have known it all too well. (This blurb originally appeared in Sound on Sight’s annual Best of the Year Poll)

  1. I Origins

“I Origins” is a film of science and spirituality, using grandly melodramatic gestures to pose a simple question: “What would you do if something spiritual tested your understanding of the world?” Mike Cahill’s film is a feverish, investigative and urgent mystery paced in a way that it earns its broadly dramatic strokes. It’s also beautifully fascinated with the human eye.

  1. The Wind Rises

“The Wind Rises,” Hayao Miyazaki’s biopic of Japanese aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, finds Miyazaki grappling with beauty, desolate conflict and melodrama in a way his whimsical career has never allowed him before. It’s full of enchanting displays of flying and color but jarringly edited with the grim realities of war, poverty and disease. “The Wind Rises” is Miyazaki’s most grounded film, but only he could allow it to also take flight.

  1. Winter Sleep

Talkative, introspective, atmospheric and wonderfully engrossing, the Palme D’Or winner “Winter Sleep” conveys sprawling themes of wealth, morality and privilege across nearly 200 minutes yet never over stays its welcome. Nuri Bilge Ceylan makes a gradual asshole out of his lead character and blows up this tiny, isolated mountain town to capture the scope of all of human behavior. Continue reading “The Best Movies of 2014: 11-25”

The 10 Best Movies of 2014

The Best Movies of 2014, from Boyhood, Citizenfour, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gone Girl and more.

Despite a lack of racial diversity, gender equality, originality, strong box office returns or general cultural interest in things that aren’t Taylor Swift or “Orange is the New Black”, the movies manage to put out more than a few good ones each year.

But because all of the above are all anyone’s been clamoring for this year, it’s hard to say this was a strong year for the movies and then read a post like Mark Harris’s in Grantland. His article “The Birdcage” is the most compelling and informative Death of Cinema post you’re likely to read this or any year. He argues that Hollywood is following superheroes down the franchise rabbit hole, in which it isn’t enough for a movie to be a movie; it has to fit with the brand.

I look at my Top 10 list now and only see two blockbusters, only one of which will become a franchise, so presumably it can’t all be bad. But increasingly I’m not so sure. Following the events of “The Interview,” will Hollywood be likely to take the risks that produced that movie, among many of the other daring films this year? It’s unlikely that anything will ever be made quite like my Number One selection this year, but does the audience for such a film get smaller or larger moving into 2015?

The 10 films I’ve listed here are simply the ones I enjoyed the most, not necessarily the ones most likely to push cinema forward or be the game changers the industry needs. Later this week I’ll list out my picks for the 11-30 Best Films of 2014, and hopefully those will help tip the scales a little more. Continue reading “The 10 Best Movies of 2014”