The Best Films of 2014

Spanning a Truffaut-indebted magnum opus to a comeback vehicle for Michael Keaton, this collection of films is an eclectic representation of 2014's best.

Spanning a Truffaut-indebted magnum opus to a comeback vehicle for Michael Keaton, this collection of films is an eclectic representation of 2014’s best.


Film: The Immigrant

Director: James Gray

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Dagmara Dominczyk, Jicky Schnee

Studio: Keep Your Head

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The Immigrant
James Gray

James Gray, who is quickly becoming one of America’s greatest/most unsung auteurs, decided it was time for him to make a “woman’s picture”, the kind of Barbara Stanwyck-vehicle he’d grown up loving, and which Hollywood hasn’t been making in ages. Borrowing from Puccini and Fellini, Gray made The Immigrant a sweeping, operatic drama starring a luminous Marion Cotillard as Ewa, a Polish immigrant who arrives in ’20s New York and finds her dreams shattered when she ends up becoming a prostitute, brutally exploited by a ruthless pimp (Joaquin Phoenix). Shot in nostalgic sepias by Darius Kondji, the film feels like a valentine to a lost era, immensely critical of the American dream while remaining magical and kind to its protagonist, establishing Cotillard as the actress with the greatest, most expressive face since Garbo. img-829 Jose Solís


Film: Last Days in Vietnam

Director: Rory Kennedy

Cast: Henry Kissinger, Frank Snepp, Richard Armitage, Binh Pho, Phong Bui, Stuart Harrington, Miki Nguyen

Studio: IFC Films, American Experience Films


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Last Days in Vietnam
Rory Kennedy

“You can’t stay here. You can’t live with the Communists.” Remembering the fall of Saigon in 1975, Binh Pho, a college student at the time, underlines the utter lack of options before him. “Especially,” he adds, “if you have a connection with the Americans, then you really got to get out.” This idea, this need to get out, is the starting point for Rory Kennedy‘s smart, poignant documentary Last Days in Vietnam. On the one hand, the film makes clear the damage done to Vietnam by the US government and military, as institutions defined and limited by their self-interests. The end of the US war was not even close to an end for the people in Southeast Asia, despite the chaotic rush to exit that is perhaps best remembered in the West’s collective memory as Hubert Van Es’ photograph of South Vietnamese civilians climbing a ladder to a US helicopter, set atop the Pittman Apartments. The film makes a subtler case too, that the end of the US war was not even really the end for the US. Even as American personnel departed, they left behind friends and colleagues, family members and memories, only to bring back with them a profound, multifaceted sense of loss that shapes the national consciousness to this day. img-829 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: The Lego Movie

Director: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Cast: Chris Pratt, Emily Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-legomovie-poster-200.jpg

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The Lego Movie
Phil Lord and Chris Miller

The subtext of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s cheeky, retro-subversive The Lego Movie isn’t buried too far beneath its plastic brick surface. But even though it’s a feature-length commercial for a world-conquering toy brand that makes sure to find room to plug a few other big-ticket media franchises (DC comics, Star Wars), it still offers genuine artistry. With as much in common with Battleship and the GI Joe movies as with The 400 Blows, this past weekend’s box-office winner might be mostly empty calories, but they’re tasty. Unlike so many kids’ movies today, its animation style doesn’t draw attention to its dazzling newness, but instead evokes the action-figure stop-motion of Robot Chicken and thousands of amateur videos. The humor is also somewhat retro, occasionally surreal, as though some YouTube snark-snipers have been let loose in the company candy shop. The Lego Movie isn’t exactly calling for open rebellion against the corporate toy complex that provides its title: it means to sell interlocking plastic blocks. But in a world of cloud server-scheduled childhoods, proposing that kids should be left alone to play however they damn well feel like it seems at least mildly rebellious. img-829 Chris Barsanti


Film: Manakamana

Director: Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez

Cast: Chabbi Lal Gandharba, Anish Gandharba, Bindu Gayek, Narayan Gayek, Gopika Gayek, Khim Kumari Gayek, Chet Kumari Gayek, Hom Kumari Gayek, Simen Pariyar, Anil Paija, Saroj Gandharba, Bakhraharu, Mithu Gayek, Isan Brant, Mily, Lila Gayek, Bishnu Maya Gayek, ‘Kaale’ Dharma Raj Gayek, ‘Kaale’ Ram Bahadur Gayek

Studio: Cinema Guild

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-manakamana-poster-200.jpg

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Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez

The goats look worried. I can’t recall another film where a scene showing goats was so revelatory, so weird, so funny and sad. But here they are in Manakamana, a foursome of goats, tied so that their movements are limited, riding in a cable car to a temple in the Ghorka district of Nepal. When the car bumps or sways or the cables grind, the goats react, scrambling to maintain their hoofy footing, bleating as if in surprise, pulling against the ropes that keep their necks in place, occasionally lowering their heads as if in submission or even some sort of goaty prayer. Here one wonders how one might measure their awareness, what they know and forget, how they manage time. Can goats worry? If they can’t know that the ride is over in ten minutes, they also can’t know what awaits them when it’s over. Can they remember what precedes it? If they do, how might this matter for goats? It’s a moment you won’t soon forget, watching them. img-829 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: The Missing Picture (L’image manquante)

Director: Rithy Panh

Cast: Randal Douc (narrator)

Studio: Strand Releasing

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The Missing Picture (L’image manquante)
Rithy Panh

“We understand the Khmer Rouge by watching their footage. Pol Pot forges a reality conforming to his desire. Even nature must conform.” Rithy Panh’s assessment (narrated in English by Jean-Baptiste Phou) sounds right. In the Khmer Rouge’s simultaneously elaborate and rudimentary efforts to create reality, you might see their practices and, perhaps, glimpse their motives. But you also cannot. When this assessment comes near the end of the film — Cambodia’s nominee for 2014’s Best Picture Academy Award — you see not footage by the Khmer Rouge but the mechanics of making or finding footage: hands digging through old reel cans, a projector, and a projector’s lens pointed directly at the camera, sprocket sounds loud and light flashing, momentarily making us into the very screen we cannot see. It’s a remarkable moment in a film full of remarkable moments. And it’s this discovery — of the limits of what you can know — that makes Panh’s The Missing Pictures (L’image manquante) so affecting, so devastating. You see. And you cannot. img-829 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: A Most Wanted Man

Director: Anton Corbijn

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright

Studio: Lionsgate

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A Most Wanted Man
Anton Corbijn

Whereas Kathryn Bigelow’s takes on the “War on Terror” (2009’s The Hurt Locker and 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty) highlight the intense bomb defusings and high-stakes targeted killings of the United States’ war strategy, Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man foregrounds the realpolitik conflicts that really drive international relations at the present. In Corbijn’s realization of John le Carré’s 2008 novel, the movers and shakers that seek to mitigate the threat of terror burrow in the cold, industrial environs of Hamburg, Germany. Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his final roles) tries to bring terror suspects within the Western sphere of influence, in the hopes that they might serve as informants to sniff out the locations of real terrorist cells. Unfortunately, Bachmann’s colleagues, including a higher-up in Germany’s intelligence agency (Rainer Bock) and a representative of the American government (Robin Wright), prefer different, more direct tactics, looking for the easiest way to capture anyone who ends up on a suspect list.

As these various agencies battle over the fate of a Muslim Chechen refugee named Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), it becomes clear that the frontlines for the War on Terror look less like the sands of Fallujah and more like the imposing conference rooms of intelligence agencies around the globe. Corbijn’s measured and suspenseful direction brings le Carré’s sharp vision to life; it helps that he’s met by a terrific cast, one that makes every shot of this movie exude with paranoia. A Most Wanted Man may not be an action-a-minute thriller with gunfights abound, but more than any other thriller in recent memory it captures the political realities that make up the West’s protracted conflicts in the Middle East. img-829 Brice Ezell


Film: Mr. Turner

Director: Mike Leigh

Cast: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville, Martin Savage, Joshua McGuire, Ruth Sheen, David Horovitch, Karl Johnson

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

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Mr. Turner
Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner is a superb contemplation of the English romantic artist J.M.W Turner and also of his time (1775-1851), especially his trouble fitting in that time even as he embodied it rather perfectly. At the same time, Mr. Turner thinks about time as such, as well as art, how each shapes and sometimes comes reflect the other. Turner here is a difficult individual, an egotistical genius who is alternately brilliant and brutish, sensual and remote (in this, Leigh’s movie is rather different from, say, The Theory of Everything or The Imitation Game). As his moods change, his expression does not, at least not much. He growls more than he speaks, he glowers and dismisses. And sometimes, he’s enraptured. For Turner, the process never ends, his art ever allusive and ambitious, his vision inspiring — so too is Leigh’s film. img-829 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: National Gallery

Director: Frederick Wiseman

Studio: Zipporah Films

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-nationalgallery-poster-2001.jpg

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National Gallery
Frederick Wiseman

National Gallery is Frederick Wiseman’s newest observation of institutional machinations, this time of London’s National Gallery. In Wiseman’s vision, not only do guides, guests, and administrators look at art, but they also talk about it. Earnestly and insistently, they talk about how to understand and frame it, to define and preserve it. As they talk, you see what they describe as well as where they are and with whom they speak. The camera observes a face or a gesture, a reflection in glass or a hand on a table, the camera pulls out or pushes in on one of the London museum’s 2400 paintings, inviting you to consider not only the many efforts to situate art but also how art might elude definition, and how people’s stories about art can be awkward and self-regarding, however earnest and insistent. National Gallery also says something about how the institution is working, how it evaluates and values its objects, and how it tells a story about itself. img-829 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: Nightcrawler

Director: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Studio: Open Road Films

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Dan Gilroy

Except for a heartwarming love story, Nightcrawler provides everything you could possibly want from a movie. Because of the screenwriting experience of its writer/director Dan Gilroy (Two for the Money, The Fall, and The Bourne Legacy, among others) it has a perfectly structured plot that begins with a punch and systematically intensifies with each passing scene until its knock-out of a conclusion. It has thrilling car chases that are reminiscent of the stunt-heavy, pre-CGI chase sequences in classics like Bullitt (1968), The French Connection (1971), and To Live and Die in L.A. (1985). It has satire that acts as a mass media slicing sword. Thanks to its cinematographer Robert Elswit, it has some of most beautiful shots of after-dark Los Angeles ever filmed. And with a truly unforgettable performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an alienated by-product of a capitalist system gone wrong, it has powerful social commentary that lays just beneath the surface of a captivating character study. While its influences — including Pickpocket (1959), Le Samourai (1967), Taxi Driver (1976), American Psycho (2000), Collateral (2004), and Drive (2011) — are obvious, first-time director Gilroy manages to do what only the very best directors have the ability to do: take the old and make it new. With Nightcrawler, Gilory has channeled the great films from the end of the last century to produce one of the defining films of the beginning of this century. img-829 Christopher Forsley


Film: Night Moves

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat, Logan Miller

Studio: Cinedigm

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Night Moves
Kelly Reichardt

Unlike many of their counterparts elsewhere in the Western world, your average American environmental activist is more likely to be a quiet type; composting and the occasional town-hall meeting are more their speed than radical agitations. Kelly Reichardt’s quiet but steely sleeper of a thriller tracks the moral recalibration that results when nervous activist Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) crosses the Rubicon of terrorism in his quest for meaningful action. Josh watches his erstwhile Dena (Dakota Fanning) be seduced away by the cultivated dark mystery of the shadowy trailer-dwelling radical Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) who is providing their untrained sleeper cell with everything they need to blow up a dam. Steeped in the momentous paranoia of countercultural thrillers, Reichardt’s most plot-driven film to date (while still slow-paced, it’s practically a Michael Bay film compared to Old Joy) is also an impressive study of the frustrations of a collectivist underground torn between the desire to build and a suspicion that destruction might first be necessary. img-829 Chris Barsanti

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Film: Northern Light

Director: Nick Bentgen

Cast: Walt Komarnizki, Marie Cox, Rebecca Marenbach, Emily Wolfgang, Isaac Wolfgang

Studio: Icarus Films

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Northern Light
Nick Bentgen

The road looks endless. Tracking along a snowy highway in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the opening shot in Northern Light is both breathtaking and daunting. Snow flecks against a windshield, trees stretch into the gray sky as, gradually, another vehicle appears in the distance, hard to see. It’s as if you’re moving and not moving at the same time, pressing forward and pushed back. In these early moments, shaped by a gorgeous strings score by composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrianns, Northern Light feels revelatory, introducing a world as familiar as it is incredible. And this is only one of many endless roads you’ll discover here, as the film follows the experiences of three working class families, as they plan for and participate in an annual 500 mile-long snowmobile race in Sault Ste. Marie. Alternating between brief, intensely present moments and long, ponderable stretches of the future, the film connects strands of experiences with an unusual grace and respect. Walt spends as much time working in the garage on his skidoo as he does in his 18-wheeler, driving forever to support his family, worrying about money with his wife Becky, looking forward to the birth of his grandchild, even if he’s not quite sure what comes next. His back is troubling him, so driving — as a means to make a living and a chance at a $10,000 first prize — is increasingly challenging. img-830 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: Only Lovers Left Alive

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt, Jeffrey Wright

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

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Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch

Vampires are overused. Scrubbed up and prettified to the point they can be nonthreatening romantic partners for teenagers, today’s cinematic vampires are, well, pretty toothless. With Only Lovers Left Alive, director Jim Jarmusch has managed to salvage the vampire mystique. His vamps are sexy, mysterious, brooding, and dangerous in equal measures. Adam (Tom Hiddleston, proving he deserves the admiration of a thousand Tumblrs) and Eve (Tilda Swinton, in one of her many standout performances this year) don’t do much throughout the course of the film — the two reunited lovers mostly bum around Adam’s Detroit home — but throughout their conversations, Jarmusch manages to slip in elbow-to-the-ribs jokes about history, ruminations about marriage, and most importantly, a meditation into the creation of art itself. And Hiddleston and Swinton make it look so, so cool. img-830 Marisa LaScala


Film: Out in the Night

Director: Blair Doroshwalther

Cast: Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Renata Hill, Patreese Johnson, Karen Thompson, Tanisha Johnson, Kimma Walker, Dell Barron Glo Ross, Des Marshal, Laura Italiano

Studio: ITVS

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Out in the Night
Blair Doroshwalther

“I was scared.” In August 2006, Renata Hill and six friends were arrested in the West Village. As she remembers it, they were walking outside the IFC Theater when a man accosted and then attacked them, leading to a fight when the women defended themselves. When police officers arrived on the scene, the man claimed the women assaulted him, at which point they were arrested, processed, and sent to Rikers Island, where they were locked in the fearsome BullPen, left to sleep on the floor. The ordeal was “long, drawn out,” recounts Renata, “It was real scary.” As Patreese Johnson, 19 years old at the time, puts it, “We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.”

They couldn’t have known that they were headed into a legal nightmare, that the charges against them would be premised on other people’s fears, that their limited options would be shaped by sensational media coverage. That coverage and the trials are recalled in Out in the Night. In tracing the confusions of that night and the chaos that came after, Out in the Night makes use of some familiar documentary elements. These include interviews with the New Jersey 4 (that is, the four members of the group who pled not guilty, and whose convictions and sentences raised public concerns about the legal cases), their family members and lawyers, experts and court transcripts. The film goes on to show the many effects of fear resulting from this system, what it means to feel perpetually scared of people who claim the right to act on their fears of you. It’s not just that the police look after their own or neglect to punish their own, but also that disrespect for some people’s lives is pervasive in the broader culture: black bodies are at risk everywhere, especially, as the film makes clear, “out In the night”. img-830 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: The Raid 2 (The Raid: Beernedal)

Director: Gareth Evans

Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad

Studio: Sony Classics

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The Raid 2 (The Raid: Beernedal)
Gareth Evans

The Raid 2 is one of the best action movies ever made. At a time when the genre has been plagued with an overuse of digital effects, Gareth Evans wisely goes back to the basics. The film is void of the loud explosions often seen in the Transformers franchise; instead, Evans highlights the physicality of his performers as they beat one another to a bloody pulp. Those who can stomach the gruesome violence and non-stop pummeling (the film is 150 minutes) will find themselves having just experienced the most artfully constructed film of 2014. Action cinema is too often overlooked by critics and awards groups, and The Raid 2 reminds us that, when done right, the genre represents cinema at its most vital. The set pieces are among the most inspired and beautifully choreographed in cinema history, and they become more exciting and impressive as the film progresses. You don’t need to watch the first film to believe the hype. The Raid 2 is a new action classic. img-830 Jon Lisi


Film: Return to Homs

Director: Talal Derki

Cast: Talal Derki, Abdul Basset Saroot, Ossama al Homsi

Studio: Proaction Film

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Return to Homs
Talal Derki

“Even in my darkest nightmares, I couldn’t have imagined the city as it is today. Nothing interrupts this silence, but the chirping of birds and the roaring of bombardment.” Talal Derki is walking as he speaks in voiceover, walking through what’s left of Homs. That is to say, he’s “walking through” quite literally. Certainly, he’s crossing from one room to another, but more dauntingly, as he walks, the camera follows him from one home to another: he’s walking not through doorways but through holes in walls, holes created with hammers, so that people who have not evacuated the city, who mean to fight and document the fight, can pass under some modicum of safety and cover, unseen by snipers and men with rocket launchers, waiting to shoot at anyone they spot. This passage, at once painstaking and casual, is startling the first time you see it in Return to Homs, a dark nightmare that you probably haven’t imagined. But then, you see it again, and then again, in scenes that mark both the filmmakers’ continual returns to Homs, in western Syria, and you begin to understand that what you’re seeing is not only men in transition, but also, the ways that Homs, the city once known as the “capital of the revolution”, is changing, drastically and chillingly. img-830 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

Director: Sam Fleischner

Cast: Jesus Valez, Andrea Suarez, Azul Zorrilla, Tenoch Huerta Mejia, Marsha Stephanie Blake

Studio: Oscilloscope Pictures

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Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Sam Fleischner

Ricky (Jesus Sanchez-Velez) holds a sneaker. The camera in Stand Clear of the Closing Doors is close on his fingers as he rubs the faux suede, vaguely purple, and the Supra crown logo. He leans in to smell the shoe, his glasses glinting in the dim light. A pop tune plays on the shop’s sound system, a speedy beat that links Ricky’s close-up with a subsequent longer shot, his sister Carla’s (Azul Zorrilla) legs, in textured tights and boots, as she waits for him, restless. “Come on Ricky,” she says, “We gotta get cat food.” Ricky remains focused on the shoe, as Carla walks into his frame, hoping to keep their disagreement between them, invisible to the boy she spots across the room, a boy trying on shoes, briefly looking her way when he hears Ricky’s voice rise. While Carla’s nervousness, her hope not to make a scene, makes her like most other 15-year-olds, very aware of the world around her, Ricky, 13 and has Asperger’s syndrome, lives another experience, one they can’t share. If their differences seem obvious, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors goes on to consider their similarities, the sensory and emotional fragments that make anyone’s experience a mix of order and chaos. img-830 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: Two Days, One Night

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salee

Studio: Artificial Eye

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Two Days, One Night
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne

This moving neorealist domestic drama exposes working class hardship without sentimentality and is the Dardenne Brothers’ most compelling film since 2005’s Palme d’Or winner L’enfant. Still recovering from a devastating bout of depression, a woman (Marion Cotillard) returns to work to discover her co-workers have voted to lay her off in order to secure themselves a €1,000 bonus. A commitment to realism through long takes and imperfect compositions allow Cotillard, one of France’s most consistently stunning actresses, to thrive at a level of nuance we’ve missed from roles limited by quicker pacing. She brings to life a delicate, honest depiction of major depression; one defined not by flat sadness, but a heartbreaking sense of guilt over her mere participation in others’ lives. Tight, handheld camera work ensures this dialogue-heavy drama is packed with moments of tension and release. img-830 Taylor Sinople


Film: Under the Skin

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan, Krystof Hádek, Jessica Mance, Scott Dymond, Joe Szula, Michael Moreland, Lee Fanning, Ben Mills, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Jeremy McWilliams

Studio: A24

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Under the Skin
Jonathan Glazer

Perhaps the most atmospheric film you’ll see all year, Under the Skin is a masterpiece rumination on postmodernism that explores cultural alienation in a very literal way. If you’ve yet to come across the attention-grabbing logline, here it is: Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who has come to Earth to prey on human men. English director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) shot some scenes here with hidden cameras and real people, and hinges everything on whether Johansson is interesting enough to spend much of Under the Skin studying. She is. Roaming around Glasgow and attempting to reproduce human behavior, she uses men’s obsession with the surface level, her skin, to seduce them into a deadly trap. But after viewing the film, it will be, for more than one reason, what is under the skin that audiences will find unshakable. With opportunities to read the story different ways, each of them satisfying, Under the Skin is not a science fiction piece so much as a feast of intellect and style, spiked with the haunting thought that you could pass Johansson’s character on the street and be none the wiser. img-830 Taylor Sinople


Film: Whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

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Damien Chazelle

In Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, music student and jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) tells his girlfriend that he strives to be one of the greatest performers of all time. In reality, it’s actor Teller and his co-star -— J.K. Simmons, playing Terence Fletcher, Neiman’s teacher and bandleader —- who really seem to be making a play at greatness. The film is about their conflict, and how Neiman believes he deserves greater acclaim as a drummer, with Fletcher arguing Neiman needs to pay more dues. Their back-and-forth brings the movie to a fever pitch —- whiplash, indeed —- with Teller and Simmons portraying the extremes of anger, frustration, and ambition without being afraid to show the egoism and callousness that go with them. It all builds to a climax that’s nothing short of virtuosic, both musically and cinematically. img-830 Marisa LaScala


Film: The Zero Theorem

Director: Terry Gilliam

Cast: Christoph Waltz, Gwendoline Christie, Rupert Friend, Ray Cooper, Lily Cole, David Thewlis, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Peter Stormare

Studio: Well Go USA

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The Zero Theorem
Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam’s latest masterpiece, The Zero Theorem, is a meditation on modern depression, anxiety, and self-imposed isolation in a world dominated by corporations, nine-to-five numbercrunching jobs, and ever-evolving technology. Like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, it dares, in a prejudiced world, to treat mental health as a serious topic worthy of respect, and does so in a passionate, sympathetic and compelling way. Intentionally recalling Gilliam’s past works as it does — Qohen’s (Christoph Waltz)’s shaved head and transparent rain coat evoke images of Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys, for instance – the film finds cinematic shortcuts that make a potentially difficult tale remarkably easy to connect with. A tragedy in the form of a satire, Pat Rushin’s script displays a unique understanding of human behavior and would have been done a disservice under the command of a lesser director or any other company of actors. Waltz, Mélanie Thierry, David Thewlis, and Matt Damon give career-best performances, and young Lucas Hedges, as the son of Damon’s amoral corporate overlord, prove he’s one to watch. Resonant, unsettling and deeply profound, The Zero Theorem is a colossal achievement. It’s worth seeing, even if you may miss your call by doing so. img-830 Kevin Brettauer

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Film: Actress

Director: Robert Greene

Cast: Brandy Burre, Tim Reinke

Studio: Cinema Guild

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Robert Greene

Actress, Robert Greene’s documentary about actress Brandy Burre, was filmed during a time when her life took some turns. The movie is able to press for a number of reasons, in particular the subtle, seductive, and sometimes jarring collaboration between Green and Burre. As she looks back on her family life — she has two young children with her husband Tim Reinke — and also on the acting career she put on pause in order to pursue this life, Burre ponders and also embodies the questions that might come up for anyone who’s made choices, who’s followed a particular path or left behind another. As she thinks through her past and considers new options for a future, including her hopes to return to acting (she’s best known at this point for her role on The Wire, as political campaign fixer Theresa D’Agostino), the film observes and also works with her. Throughout, Burre appears utterly and exquisitely self-aware, which makes her several moments of apparent confession at once emotionally effective (she’s a fine actress). They also appear to be intelligent, thoughtful glosses on the act of confessing, on the ways self-expression becomes and is interwoven with self-performance. Actress underscores this idea in its elegant framing, its selective lighting, its careful cutting of one scene with another. It also allows Burre the screen space and time to make her own image — or so it seems. img-831 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case

Director: Andreas Johnsen

Cast: Ai Weiwei, Lu Qing, Gao Ying, Angus Walker, Silke Ballweg, Pu Zhiqiang

Studio: International Film Circuit Inc.

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-aiweiwei-fakecase-poster-200.jpg

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Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case
Andreas Johnsen

“It’s quite extreme condition. Even if I explained to you, you wouldn’t understand, because you have to be like that to understand.” Ai Weiwei is walking. Specifically, he’s walking in a parking lot near the park where he used to walk, a park near his studio in Beijing. He walks a lot in Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case, Andreas Johnsen’s impressionistic record of Ai’s life since his detention for nearly three months in 2011. He used to walk in the park, the film reports, “due to his high blood pressure.” Now he walks in the parking lot, the film tells you in an intertitle, “so he can see if anyone is following him.” Yes, someone is always following Ai Weiwei. The film reminds you repeatedly, with low angle shots of surveillance cameras and longer shots of cars parked outside Ai’s studio, and also, during one sequence that’s one part antic and two parts unnerving, when Ai has his driver do a u-turn and begin following the car that was following them. Whenever he goes outside now, people follow him with phones and cameras, more often people who mean to witness abuses and oppression than those who mean to commit it. And so you see, Ai is “just political”. img-831 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: Approaching the Elephant

Director: Amanda Rose Wilder

Cast: Dana Bennis, Dennis Charles, Alexander Khost, Elizabeth McCarthy, Pat Gamsby, Mason Shepherd

Studio: Kingdom County Productions

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/a/approachingtheelephant_filmreview_poster200.jpg

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Approaching the Elephant
Amanda Rose Wilder

A “recording of” the school’s first year of existence in New Jersey, Amanda Wilder’s remarkable documentary shows all sorts of dynamics, pleasures, and tensions among the kids and adults, as they figure out how to manage such an experiment. All might be considered students, for they have no curriculum and no set of rules as they begin. Rather, as school founder Alex Khost puts it, they are all in this adventure together, making use of “democratic” principle, discussing and voting, in order to come to agreements, and maybe to some sense of order and fairness. “We’re not starting off with a whole bunch of rules here,” Alex says as the film begins. “Maybe some safety rules,” he allows. Instead, “We’ll make them up as we go along,” deciding as they might be needed or desired. The movie doesn’t speak for anyone, so they tell you what they might. img-831 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: Begin Again

Director: John Carney

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Hailee Stenifeld, Mos Def

Studio: Weinstein Company

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-beginagain-poster-200.jpg

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Begin Again
John Carney

There is a scene in John Carney’s Begin Again that feels straight out of a Bing Crosby musical. As grouchy music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) tries to convince a group of obnoxious kids to stop making noise, he realizes instead that he can coerce them into doing backups for the song he’s recording with the brokenhearted Greta (Keira Knightley). That the song talks about how “everything’s coming up roses”, and that the children go from loud rascals to cherubic choir effortlessly, is testament to the film’s tremendous heart, which seems blissfully unaware of how little patience modern audiences have for sincere romance. img-831 Jose Solís


Film: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Jon Eyez, Enrique Murciano, Judy Greer, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Matt Reeves

For many decades, movies have enabled a discussion about “why we fight”. In 2014, that discussion extends well beyond documentaries intended to influence opinion for or against war. Genre films such as Big Bad Wolves and The Rover negotiate heavy subtexts of political and military tensions and economic collapse within plots of comparatively limited scope. The characters of Big Bad Wolves seek a confession of murder. The protagonist of The Rover wants to retrieve his stolen car.

Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is similarly concerned with global fears and conflicts but doesn’t minimize the field of action. Control of our planet is at stake. Though some critics (and at times, Reeves himself) have emphasized a humans=bad, apes=good interpretation, the film is unexpectedly observant about the ways in which individual sins of selfishness, resentment, ignorance, greed, etc. could build to breakdowns of tragic proportions. It’s a rare and rousing summer blockbuster that delivers the firepower promised by the trailer even as it dramatizes justice in war-time as a moving target. img-831 Thomas Britt


Film: Bird People

Director: Pascale Ferran

Cast: Josh Charles, Anaïs Demoustier, Roschdy Zem, Taklyt Vongdara, Radha Mitchell

Studio: IFC Films

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/filim-birdpeople-poster-200.jpg

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Bird People
Pascale Ferran

Airports are all about promise. Springboards to the great elsewhere, they are also, for passengers en route, a comfortingly null zone wherein the normal rules of adult life are suspended. The promise of airports can be intoxicating. But the reality is more often deadening, not transportive. In Bird People, Pascale Ferran’s ode to the in-between, Charles de Gaulle airport takes on both qualities. It’s at once an escape and a trap for the unwary. At first, it’s hard to tell where Ferran is going with much of this. We initially seem to be watching lives in freefall, like some 21st-century riff on Antonioni. Instead of setting up circumstances to bring these characters together, about halfway into one story, Ferran throws viewers a surrealistic curve.

Bird People resembles a fairy tale in that it understands both the allure and the danger of freedom. But it’s not a fairy tale, despite its quivering optimism, reframing its cool hymn to generic, circular, and modern spaces. As it creates and never quite allays such tension — between the still and the dynamic, the lost and the yearning — this glittering little oddity also finds greatness. img-831 Chris Barsanti


Film: Calvary

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach De Bankole, M. Emmet Walsh

Studio: Fox Searchlight

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-calvary-poster-200.jpg

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John Michael McDonagh

It’s possible that Brendan Gleeson can do no wrong as an actor. That possibility is given even more proof in John Michael McDonagh’s caustic black comedy Calvary. Gleeson plays Father James, a priest in a lonely western Ireland parish where most of the people want nothing to do with him. The scars of the Church’s devastating scandals run deep in the formerly religious locals. When a local man (Chris O’Dowd) who was molested by a priest as a child threatens to kill James just for being a man of the cloth, the locals’ sense of betrayal is so profound he has nobody to turn to. The film features McDonagh (The Guard) at his best and worst; the razor-sharp cynicism of the dialogue, combined with a look-at-me flouting of clichés about rural Irish life. Gleeson is the true attraction here, his barrel-like physique and dispassionate manner barely hiding his simmering resentments about the banality of modern life and a deep and honest love for his fellow man, no matter what horrors they will inflict on him. A bracing comedy that’s also a spiritual indictment of both organized religion and the empty materialism that rises up in its wake. img-831 Chris Barsanti


Film: Citizenfour

Director: Laura Poitras

Cast: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Ewan MacAskill, Bill Binney, Jeremy Scahill

Studio: Radius-TWC

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/c/citizenfour_filmreview_poster200.jpg

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Laura Poitras

“It’ll be sort of the internet principle of the hydra. You can stomp one person, but there’s gonna be seven more of us.” Edward Snowden speaks from a hotel room in Hong Kong, discussing the likely consequences of his coming out, making himself known as the man who’s leaked information concerning the NSA’s surveillance activities. He appears in close-up, utterly poised and impressively pale. Snowden’s face fills the frame for several scenes, his eyes focused on the TV screen where stories about him, stories not even approximate to the individual before you for the past hour or so, stories that target him, or gazing into the mirror where he re-sees himself, with newly colored hair, a vague disguise he adopts before leaving the hotel for a vehicle that may take him to a safe place. Watching Snowden watch is revelatory. These long takes suggest a conventional form of intimacy, the sort of image that films use to solicit your sympathy or faith. But they do something else too, which is to reflect back on you, raising questions about how you see yourself, your social environment, your political assumptions. Your position matters here, more than you can know. img-831 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: The Congress

Director: Ari Folman

Cast: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm, Danny Huston, Paul Giamatti, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sami Gayle

Studio: Drafthouse Films

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-congress-poster-200.jpg

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The Congress
Ari Folman

The first image we see in The Congress is an extended close-up of Robin Wright’s face, two tears on her cheeks. As the camera slowly pulls out, we see what’s behind her, a large window that reveals an out-of-focus background. A disembodied voice — soon revealed to belong to her agent, Al (Harvey Keitel) — berates Wright for her “lousy choices”. Her “whole story”, he asserts, is dominated by her choice of “lousy movies” and “lousy men”. With this striking opening, Ari Folman’s film, available on introduces its central themes: the relationship between visuality and storytelling and the differences between sensory and cognitive perceptions. Loosely adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel The Futurological Congress, the movie has Wright playing a version of herself, a 40-something actress who has made bad romantic decisions. The Congress is an ode to cinema that celebrates — indeed, animates — the affective power of imagination. img-831 Amanda Gilroy


Film: Expedition to the End of the World (Ekspeditionen til verdens ende)

Director: Daniel Dencik

Cast: Minik Rosing, Daniel Richter, Jonas Bergsoe, Tal R, Per Bak Jensen, Katrine Worsaae, Morten Rasch, Bo Elberling, Jens Fog Jensen

Studio: Argot Pictures

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Expedition to the End of the World (Ekspeditionen til verdens ende)
Daniel Dencik

“The notion of the end of the world is unique to man,” says Tal R, gesturing vibrantly with a pencil as he speaks. “Imagine if the mountains shared the thought. They just change colors. Ten million years slip away and then they have a new layer.” The artist pauses, gazing at the mountainous cliffs of northeastern Greenland. “There’s a lot of hope in a brutal landscape like this.” That’s not to say it would be easy to find another “landscape like this,” where Tal R has traveled for the documentary, Expedition to the End of the World (Ekspeditionen til verdens ende). He and a group of other Danish artists and scientists spend their time hiking and hunting, sketching and studying, appropriately awed by their surroundings and trying to make some rational or poetic sense of it. Extinction isn’t a phenomenon unique to humankind, even if our capacity to think it might be. And so by the end of Expedition to the End of the World, you’re back to this problem of thought, awareness that might make “the end of the world” terrifying — if denial weren’t part of the process too. For a few minutes anyway, the film helps you to look at the earth, so majestic, so superb, and to want more than ever to be aware. img-831 Cynthia Fuchs

10 – 1

Film: Enemy

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Jake Gyllenhall, Sarah Gadon, Melanie Laurent

Studio: A24 Films

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/e/enemy_filmposter200.jpg

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Denis Villeneuve

Following the release of Enemy, Denis Villenueve’s take on José Saramago’s novel The Double, numerous people online came out with their theories explaining the film and its enigmatic ending, claiming that they conclusively “solved” its mysteries. Enemy is very much a film that entices the viewer into interpreting it, but what makes Villenueve’s vision so compelling is that just as you almost get at an explanation, it slips from your fingers. This deceivingly simple story of a man who discovers that he has a double (Jake Gyllenhall, nailing the dual role with aplomb) is a cipher that eludes a perfect description.

In its depiction of the instability of identity and the dehumanizing nature of capitalist society, Enemy reveals just how difficult it is to piece together a coherent reality in a fragmented world. Although the film opens with a title card that reads, “Chaos is order yet undeciphered”, it’s more alluring to marvel at the chaos of the movie rather than an ostensible order lingering underneath it all. For that reason, it’s best not to preoccupy oneself with finding out “the one true interpretation”. Settle into a cozy chair in a dim-lit room and let Nicolas Bolduc’s jaundiced cinemaphotography, Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurrianns’ mesmerizing score, and Villenueve’s Hitchockian sense of menace crawl their spidery legs up into your brain. img-832 Brice Ezell


Film: Guardians of the Galaxy

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro

Studio: Walt Disney Studios

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/g/guardians-poster1.jpg

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Guardians of the Galaxy
James Gunn

This year, after one deadening spectacle after another, the Marvel franchise looked to be on the verge of creative exhaustion. What a glorious relief, then, to see James Gunn’s crackling and exuberant space opera blow open the possibilities for comic-book cinema. Featuring a squad of backbenchers from the deepest and weirdest archives of Marvel’s more oddball storylines, Guardians of the Galaxy is a romping adventure in which Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a good-hearted but thick-headed Earthling who calls himself “Star Lord”, has to chase down one of those glowing whatsits the genre loves so much. His comrades wouldn’t look out of place in any Mos Eisley watering hole, particularly the walking tree who can only say “Groot” and the talking raccoon with the itchy trigger finger. The lack of a need to feed into the more Earth-bound storylines frees up Gunn to send his Guardians bounding across the galaxy with as much verve and comically ill-advised swagger as a half-dozen space-voyaging Indiana Joneses. The ‘70s K-Tel Classics soundtrack doesn’t hurt, either. img-832 Chris Barsanti


Film: Force Majeure

Director: Ruben Östlund

Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

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Force Majeure
Ruben Östlund

If Michael Haneke and Luis Buñuel had a lovechild who was obsessed with Stanley Donen’s Charade he would’ve come up with Force Majeure; a dark comedy set in an idyllic, Alpine ski resort where a husband (Johannes Kuhnke) and wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) find themselves battling over the dilemma of survival instincts vs. paternal responsibilities. Director Ruben Östlund shoots the film as if it was set on the moon, the snowy landscapes becoming a metaphor for the characters’ emotional distance and their inability to recognize the humanity in each other. As we laugh at them and their petty issues, the snow begins to reflect something else: us, our indifference and apathy every bit as icy and unexpected as an avalanche. img-832 Jose Solís


Film: Freedom Summer

Director: Stanley Nelson

Cast: Julian Bond, Rita Schwerner Bender, Bob Moses, Pete Seeger, Tracy Sugarman, Dorothy Zellner, Larry Rubin, Karin Kunstler Goldman, Taylor Branch, Susan Brownmiller, Charlie Cobb, Bruce Watson, Barbara Jan Nave, Roscoe Jones, William Scarborough

Studio: Firelight Films, American Experience Films

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Freedom Summer
Stanley Nelson

“They’re caught in a circle. If there are people who want to break out, they don’t know how, they don’t have a chance,” says Bob Moses. “White people are probably more oppressed in terms of their ability to speak than Negroes.” The camera is close on Moses as he speaks, the footage black and white. The time is summer, 50 years ago, when he and some 1,000 volunteers have arrived in Mississippi, determined to register black voters for elections to come that fall. This moment, one of many archival grace notes assembled by Stanley Nelson for his documentary, Freedom Summer, reveals not only Moses’ vibrant generosity and wisdom, but also, his insight into the problem stretching before the organizers of that historic project, the COFO (the Council of Federated Organizations), working with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), and the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference), among others. Freedom Summer does what you might expect. It commemorates a movement that was shrewdly planned and brilliantly executed, including the recruitment and mobilization of black and white college students all over the state, working in Freedom Schools and registration drives, riding buses and establishing the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party (MFDP) to attend to Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. img-832 Cynthia Fuchs


Film: Fury

Director: David Ayer

Cast: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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David Ayer

In 2007, The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott wrote of Atonement, “the film’s treatment of the war has a detached, secondhand feeling.. The impression left by a long, complicated battlefield tracking shot is pretty much ‘Wow, that’s quite a tracking shot,’ when it should be ‘My God, what a horrible experience that must have been.'” With Fury, writer/director David Ayer, director of photography Roman Vasyanov, and a small band of actors (Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal) fully commit to visualizing and enacting horrible experiences of World War II.

It’s April, 1945. Much of the action of the film is confined to the interior and immediate exterior of a Sherman tank. For this tank crew, a “final push in the European Theatre” means the war is closing in, rather than coming to a close. Ayer and Vasyanov align the audience with the crew in this claustrophobic setting, using different techniques but similar intentions to their quasi found-footage approach to police drama in 2012’s End of Watch. The effect is to not have any distance from the action or from the choices of the characters as they react to the chaos around them.

One way of looking at Fury is as the most deadly serious fraternity film of all time. An initiate must earn his pledge name amidst a group of hardened brothers who’ve been broken down and built up so many times that scars are all that remains. What elevates Fury from good to great is its attention to the small acts of mercy that promise a way of being that exists outside of the present war. For most of its running time, Fury is inescapably a film about becoming death. But a key concluding event of the film expresses what it is to live (and let live) after the killing subsides. In this moment, Ayer’s film manages to rival the impact of Atonement‘s Dunkirk spectacle, all while confined to a dark hole in the ground. img-832 Thomas Britt


Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Mathieu Amalric, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson

Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson has a reputation for being constricting. His shots are so composed and his aesthetic so specific that his stories barely have room to breathe. The Grand Budapest Hotel refutes this generalization. Anderson pulls back and widens the scope of his film, spanning multiple time periods (with different casts of actors for each), countries (imagined ones, at least), and even aspect ratios (with frame sizes changing to denote the different timelines). Along with the broadened scope comes a certain looseness not normally associated with a director as controlling as Anderson; the actors, for example, each speak with their own accents, whether or not it makes sense in the context of the film. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as Anderson’s other films; it subtly moves from sequences of light farce to moments of real grief, sadness, loneliness, and anxiety about an approaching war. It adds up to a masterpiece on par with Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger’s Boy with Apple. img-832 Marisa LaScala


Film: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zack Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan

Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/f/film-birdman-poster-200.jpg

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Alejandro González Iñárritu

If there were a theme to 2014’s best movies, it would be about the struggle of creation. From the generation of music, as seen in Whiplash and Only Lovers Left Alive, to the art of Mr. Turner, the year was full of characters fighting to get something out into the world. Birdman is no exception. Not only is Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) trying to mount a play (a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”), he’s also trying to complete an act of self-invention. Along the way, director Alejandro González Iñárritu completes his own metamorphosis, from a director known for cross-cutting to one crazy enough to make a movie that looks like it was all one take. The subtitle of the movie is “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”, but it should instead be “The Unabashed Joy of Ambition”. img-832 Marisa LaScala

Because many of the greatest artists are filmmakers, many of the greatest films are about artists. Birdman is a great film about an artist trying to reach greatness, and with it director Alejandro González Iñárritu himself may have reached greatness and in-turn established himself as a great artist. But what makes a work of art, and the artist who creates it, great? Is Iñárritu and his film, Birdman, great because of the overflowing energy he captures and projects through the film’s near continuous take and camera-work that moves with manic madness? Or maybe he has reached greatness with Birdman because he placed the talent of the film’s cast — Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and Michael Keaton — upon his back and carried it to the peak of one of 2014’s tallest mountains? These questions are hard to answer because greatness often comes from unknown sources and is usually defined based on ambiguous measurements. Keaton’s Riggan Thomason, a has-been Hollywood star who is known for playing a popular superhero 20 years ago, goes all in with the last of his life’s chips and takes on a deadly mission to produce, write, direct, and star in an broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story in search of greatness. Although I won’t tell you if he ends up reaching greatness, I will tell you that with Birdman, Iñárritu definitely has. img-832 Christopher Forsley


Film: Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater

Studio: IFC Films

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/b/boyhoodposter.jpg

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Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, filmed with the same actors over a 12-year period, is not only an impressive narrative experiment, but it’s also a painfully poignant, emotionally complex film. That’s a rare balance, but it’s also why the movie has been able to resonate so universally. Boyhood is about a kid, a family, and a society trying to find harmony with their lives while simultaneously pushing their own influence onto the world. Near the end of the film, Mason’s father tells him that “we’re all just winging it”, hinting at Boyhood‘s larger themes. It’s just one of the thousands of ways that the film captures humanity’s constantly tenuous relationship with the experiences of living, from youth to adulthood. Linklater here sends the message that it’s okay that we don’t really know anything all, which he wraps up in an ambitious, career-defining production. img-832 Colin Fitzgerald


Film: Gone Girl

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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Gone Girl
David Fincher

In the greatest cinematic depiction of a marriage gone band, Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, Johan (Erland Josephson) tells his ex-wife Marianne (Liv Ullmann), “We’re emotional illiterates. And not only you and I — practically everybody, that’s the depressing thing. We’re taught everything about the body and about agriculture in Madagascar and about the square root of pi, or whatever the hell it’s called, but not a word about the soul.” Gone Girl, David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel, depicts the ways in which that emotional illiteracy makes feuding couples give in to the darkest parts of their personalities. Here, Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike, flawless every second she’s in the frame), following years of infidelity and miscommunication with her husband Nick (Ben Affleck), hatches an intricate and ingenious scheme to seek her revenge. After staging a homicide and kidnapping, Amy engineers an abusive husband narrative that leads to the national spotlight being put on Nick.

Gone Girl is about the dark side of marriage, but more than anything else it’s about how narratives are constructed, particularly in modern news media. Amy and Nick are both unreliable narrators, and so too are the media talking heads (namely Missi Pyle in a Nancy Grace-esque turn) and the local news reporters who think they have the scoop on the story. Ultimately, the patchwork narrative that emerges from Amy and Nick’s battles reveals Fincher and Flynn’s vision of marriage, where deceit is the foundational premise of the marital union. Amy and Nick are emotional illiterates in more ways than one, but it is in their deceptions and misdirections that they become articulate. img-832 Brice Ezell


Film: Ida

Director: Paweł Pawlikowski

Cast: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza , Joanna Kulig, Dawid Ogrodnik, Adam Szyszkowski, Jerzy Trela

Studio: Soloban

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Paweł Pawlikowski

Any attempt to summarize the characters of Ida is insufficient. Anna, orphan/novitiate nun visits her aunt Wanda, an alcoholic Communist Party judge. Here they sound like an odd couple, the setup to a bad joke, or grist for self-serious drama on the art house circuit. But as written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, shot by Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, and performed by Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska, these women and their journey awe the viewer to a degree not felt since Terrence Malick unveiled The Tree of Life in 2011. Whereas Malick’s recent canvases have been full of movement and color, Ida is still and monochrome. Each shot of its compact 82 minute running time is vital and full of meaning. To see Pawlikowski plumb this brief encounter for a complete rumination on the incalculable weights of God, family, history and the Holocaust is to see a seasoned filmmaker accomplish an impossible cinematic mission. img-832 Thomas Britt