When the Academy Award nominations are revealed in just a few hours, the final stage of marketing/recognizing films and filmmakers of 2014 will commence. With all the shenanigans that go on behind the scenes by those campaigning and by those voting, it's understandable why people like Woody Allen, who has himself been nominated 24 times and won four Oscars, says "the whole concept of awards is silly." That's a sentiment a few of us around these parts agree with.
Considering how different people's tastes are, can any group actually determine what work is the "Best"? Humphrey Bogart suggests the answer is no by pointing out "Awards are meaningless for actors, unless they all play the same part." Besides what all these organizations really mean is what's most popular with those who voted, and they might not even being voting on the merit of the work or have even seen it.
But that's not to say there wasn't films from last year that were enjoyed immensely. And we would like to draw your attention to some of our favorites:
The Grand Budapest Hotel is very much what we have come to expect from a Wes Anderson movie, perhaps even taken to the next level when you consider how big and famous the cast is. However, this is a testament to the quality of Anderson's work, and the fact people like working with him. Now, he's added Ralph Fiennes to his cadre of actors, and in the process gets perhaps the best performance from anybody in one of his films.
It's precisely articulated and as aesthetically pleasant as anything else he's done. It's funny, often very funny, but also unusually violent and perhaps his most melancholy movie in its own way. It is perhaps not Anderson's best film, but it is very good, and Fiennes is fantastic. Maybe he'll be back for the next Anderson movie. If Bill Murray can always pop up, why can't he?
They Came Together had a tight rope to watch. It exists as a parody of romantic comedies, and a completely absurd one. This was made by the guys who made Wet Hot American Summer, after all. However, it also has to function as a movie. Otherwise, it would just be a series of absurd set pieces. Sure, a lot of it is that, but there is a real through line there at works.
Of course, the fact Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler play the lead characters doesn't hurt. They are both fantastic, and they are both perfect for finding the right tone for this film. It's bonkers, but it is hilarious. It's pointed in its commentary on romantic comedies, but it is rarely facile and never cheap. Some of the set pieces are great, and some flop. Overall, though, it's a very funny movie, whether you love romantic comedies or loathe them.
There were so many great films from 2014, but if I had to choose just one, it would have to be Life Itself. I didn't get to see it in theaters, but when I heard that it was coming on CNN, I had to see it, and believe me, it was absolutely worth the wait. I just loved the footage from Ebert's early days as an up-and-coming film critic, after writing the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. But, it was also devastating, because I saw footage of he and Siskel doing their famous reviews, and I realized that there will never be another Siskel & Ebert. So I think that Ebert himself would be very proud of this documentary. It was one of the best films of 2014.
Honorable mention: Boyhood, Under the Skin, Frank
Matt Paprocki of DoBlu.com
America's second go-round for Godzilla is an enthralling blockbuster success, engorging on explosions and ludicrous monster brawling. But more so, the film is intricate in weaving mammoth visual effects and human perspective together which layers on thick insight into the USA's excessive military fears. Where Japan's Godzilla was born of nuclear fire and stepped on tanks, 2014's Westernized version avoids making any branch of the armed forces look weak while Aaron Taylor-Johnson drops into a devastated city to recover a nuke. The fear is not radiation creating the monster, rather losing the ability to bomb it. The script - whether by accident or intent - is smarter than most have given it credit for, turning a redundant giant monster picture in an elaborate peering into subtle military propaganda.
Boyhood would be a marvel whether the strung together 14-year long narrative were cohesive or not. In an era of contractual studio in-fighting, seeing a movie pull away from the legal wrangling - all while keeping a growing teenage boy interested for the duration - is spectacular. However, that aside, it is Boyhood's infinitely reflective storytelling methodology which makes it work. In front of the lens, Ellar Coltrane is as flawless at five as he is at 18, creating a striking portrait of troubled on-the-move childhood. Characters still make movies and Boyhood's are excellent.
I also would have selected The Grand Budapest Hotel as my favorite for Anderson's compelling script and direction, the fantastic production design, and the talented cast, particularly Ralph Fiennes who deftly handled the character's great range so well, it's causing many to overlook the talent required to pull it off, but since Chris has covered it, I'll draw attention to other films.
Birdman's crew demonstrated amazing technical prowess to make this film about a play being put on feel like the viewer was right there watching the play being put on. Although the script came up short in the final act, the visuals of space seen in Interstellar were the most stunning to grace the silver screen, and they alone make the film worth revisiting. With Captain America: Winter Soldier and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it felt like the filmmakers realized they could deliver intelligent stories alongside all the action and razzamatazz as they continued the world-building within the respective franchises. And I have no idea how Dawn's Andy Serkis has yet to be recognized for his talents as an actor. He has been the focal point of both Apes movies and delivered heartfelt performances through the motion-capture technology.
I was going to rave about a couple of documentaries I saw at TIFF, but they weren't screened last year outside of film festivals. Be on the lookout for Red Army, an outstanding examination of hockey was a major front in the Cold War, and Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, an important chapter in (low budget) cinema history.
Let us know what your favorites films of 2014 were and if you agree or disagree with our choices.