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What We Talk About When We Talk About Great Movies: The 10 Best Films of 2014 - Part II

And here's (finally) part two of my list of the best from last year, along with the full list at the bottom.

5. The Wind Rises - The worst thing I can honestly say about this gorgeous animated feature is that, at 126 minutes, it wasn't long enough. I could get lost in Hayao Miyazaki's final effort for hours and not get bored. The writer-director-animator is a master of whisking us away to new worlds of his own creation, but how fitting that his last masterwork is where we're rooted into the past as Miyazaki tells the story of real-life Jiro Horikoshi as he lives out his dreams of building airplanes, despite them being used for the Imperial Army back in World War II. Every last frame of this film - from Jiro's dreams with fellow designer Giovanni Caproni and his brief romance with Nahoko, to showing the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1932 and his journey to Nazi Germany several years later - is painstakingly beautiful and artfully crafted to within an inch of his life. And yet, Miyazaki never falters on touching on themes of greed, war and how humanity takes something pure, only to turn it into a tool of destruction and profit. Yet, the 74 year-old filmmaker asks us to choose between "a world with pyramids, or a world without?" The question is bittersweet in its choice between having a world where airplanes will inevitably be used as instruments of death, or a world where we never see human being flying at all. Miyazaki's final feature is as bittersweet as the character Jiro's life itself, but in the end we are all better for his time than we are without it.

4. Gone Girl - I've seen some messed up thrillers, dramas, satires and films in general, but leave it to director David Fincher and author-screenwriter Gillan Flynn to make a pitch-black and ice-cold satire on suburbia, marriage and the media circus over the "missing white girl" that echos American Psycho for it's critique of a rotten society hidden underneath it's false, empty surface. The tandem between screenwriter, her source material and director echos Fincher's other masterwork, 2010's The Social Network, where script and filmmaker are fluently in sync, to the point where it becomes a highlight in of itself on repeated viewings. The supporting roles are flawless, from Neil Patrick Harris as an obsessed boyfriend from Amy's past, to (surprise) Tyler Perry as Nick's high powered lawyer, whereas Ben Affleck as Nick Dune and Rosaumnd Pike are simply phenomenal as Nick and Amy Dune, two shallow, superficial individuals who are engaged in a battle of wits against each other. 

3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Mexican director/writer Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu has made a name for himself in crafting bleak, engrossing character dramas like 21 Grams, Babel, and Bitiful. Yet, in this black comedy about a washed-up actor trying to stage a comeback to stay relevant, the filmmaker has never been more playful, more wicked in crafting a razor-sharp satire about the entertainment biz, and more daring artistically. Shot as if the whole film was done in one continuous take (captured by the ever-magnificent Emmanuel Lubezki), brilliant performances by Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, and Edward Norton, and a scene in which Riggan Thompson (Keaton)'s alter ego is unleashed, Birdman flies on wings of it's own pure creation. It's not hard to see how this walked away with four Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture at this year's Oscars ceremony, and yet, as much as I love and dug Inarritu's creative and hypnotic film, I wish that there was a split this year between this and my no. 2 pick on my list...

2. Boyhood - I wan to say this, for the record: in any other year, Richard Linklater's ambitious and triumph of filmmaking and storytelling would be my pick for the best film of the year. There are few words I can say to describe my love for the writer/director's sweeping, tender, sometimes harsh and always from the heart salute to the joys and growing pains of youth, except that, many times during the film, I saw myself in Mason (played by the excellent newcomer Ellar Coltrane): the desire to do my own thing, regardless of how others may want me to do something their way; acting like I know everything, only for reality to give me a ruse awakening; the struggle to form an identity and to be accepted; my love for Anime and Dragonballl Z (ok, that last part I haven't grown out of), etc. These moments have been captured exquisitely by Linklater over the course of 12 years; that's right: while he was churning out  School of Rock, Before Sunset, Bernie and Before Midnight, among other movies, he set aside a few weeks each year to make this bold, audacious experiment with the same cast, and they all give, what I consider, some of the best performances I've ever seen in a film, from the Evans siblings (Coltrane and Linklater's own daughter, Lorelei) to Ethan Hawke and Patrica Arquette as the divorced parents trying to make it work with their children. People will say that Boyhood is a gimmick and that nothing really happens. To say that is to miss the miracle that is this film - life happens, sprawled out in front of us. 

1. Selma - Again, in any other year, Boyhood would have the no.1 spot on this list. And I'll be honest: part of the reason this list took me months to write this list has to do with whether to put these two exceptionally unique and masterful works of art as my pick for the best of last year. Perhaps down the line, I'll revisit both films and end up announcing it as a tie, but for now, I'm going to stand by this urgent, brutal and painfully beautiful classic and announce that it is the best of 2014. Someone who'll be reading this list might might say that I've chosen director Ava DuVernay's biopic on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Selma that spurred a nation into passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, due to the events in Ferguson and New York, regarding police brutality. That's a big part of it, though it's not the fault of the film that these tragic and ugly events happened to consider prior to the film's release, and it's not the overriding factor as to why I chose it as the best of the year. The truth is that Selma, like Schindler's List, Philadelphia, and Malcolm X before them, were all films of it's time and place, and all of these films, to their own degrees, spoke to the fierce urgency of what was happening at the time.

Steven Spielberg's harrowing historical drama on Oscar Schindler saving over a thousand Jews from certain death can be taken as a historical document on the darkest chapter in human civilization, but it also acts as a searing commentary on how world leaders (including the Clinton Administration) turned a blind eye to the suffering of the Rwandan people during the wars in the African region. Philadelphia was a film full of subtle anger and sorrow over how we largely ignored the AIDS epidemic (and the plight of gay Americans), believing it to only be contained within the gay community. And Spike Lee's biopic on the controversial civil rights leader of the 1950's and 60's came at the heels of the Rodney King beatings, where the filmmaker used the chilling event, caught on videotape, to furiously declare that African Americans were living in an American nightmare. Selma is a film about the grassroots portion of the Civil Rights movement, but to say it's purely that is being very disingenuous.

DuVernay is grabbing us - forcing us is a more apt description - and making us see that the issues Dr. King, and countless other brave souls fought and died for, aren't just issues of the past: they're the same issues we're facing now; with the Supreme Court striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Republican governors in numerous states disenfranchising minority voters, via Voting I.D. laws, and story after story of police using excessive and deadly force on unarmed African-American youth, the struggle against racial injustice continues. I will admit that I chose Selma because it it's an important and an urgent film, but I also chose it because of the skill of DuVernay's direction, the perfect screenplay of Paul Webb, the soulful performance of David Oywello as King, and the terrific cinematography of Bradford Young, capturing the chaotic nature of the time. It is simply a classic of the first order, a vital historical document, and a passionate, urgent commentary that we need to stand up and fight injustice wherever it festers.

As promised, here is the full list:

1. Selma
2. Boyhood
3. Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
4. Gone Girl
5. The Wind Rises
6. Whiplash
7. Nightcrawler
8. Wild
9. Beyond the Lights
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


  1. I really like your top 10. I agree with 5 of your picks, but need to re-see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and still see Beyond the Lights and The Wind Rises.


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