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Fourteen films I'll remember having watched in 2014

December 30, 2014

There's only so much time to work, play, or whatever in a year. I could pretend I saw all the best films or all the latest films in 2014, but I didn't. Still, the calendar makes us think about how we used our time working, playing, or whatevering. The following is a list of fourteen films that will stick with me (whether they were released in the last year or decades earlier):





August: Osage County (2013)
My wife's family hates Meryl Streep, or at least all the men on that side of the family do. I, however, am convinced that the relentless display of her talents is pretty much unrivaled, whether we're comparing her to actresses, actors, her generation, or for all time. She's good, and her performance in 2013's film adaptation of Tracy Letts' play is pretty much everything people wanted Leonardo DiCapprio's performance in The Wolf of Wall Street to be, only Streep's Violet Weston comes across less as caricature and real to life. Her turn as a character unrelenting in her daily habits and addictions is also more striking because she embodies a residual lifestyle and rural culture that persists like a low rumbling blues riff that rises from barren geographies and burned out dreams.

Like Osage Country, The Wolf of Wall Street tempts us while also repulsing us, but its allure of power and riches may cling so tightly to its subject matter that it becomes almost impossible for the film's audience to feel any guilt for being complicit in creating these monsters of a consumer society. Moreover, The Wolf of Wall Street relies ultimately on Scorcese's breaking the fourth wall for any semblance of moral clarity. Osage County, however, does something else, largely because its moral clarity is so far removed from anything remotely resembling a center, unless a drug-riddled matriarch in rural Texas, seen dancing without her wig, can count as such a thing. I feel like writing more on this dichotomy sometime, but not now.

Bamboozled (2000)
The DVD for one of Spike Lee's more imperfect films is possibly one of the most expensive DVDs you can imagine buying (made this century or any other). Moreover, the film's imperfections are what make it such a worthwhile investment in terms of minutes (if not in dollars). After all, to be perfect on matters of race and prejudice probably means one isn't trying hard enough. And, while there are in Lee's satire whole scenes that could probably be deleted, the close-ups of Manray and Womack applying blackface are alarmingly graceful in their depiction of tragedy. The result of which becomes a haunting metaphor of how trauma does not always occur suddenly but with the application of subtle brushstrokes acted over time. Moreover, the film's closing montage is a heart-wrenching tribute and penetrating lesson on how the ideology of race can reify an entire nation's culture, history, and present. To not see this film (or to at least encounter the ideas embedded in its critique of American culture) is to not fully see America. It's worth revisiting if you haven't seen it since its release or seeing for the first time if you've never seen it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Probably Wes Anderson's most fast-paced film to date. A lot of fun. And smart too. Time Magazine picked it as their best film of the year (or something like that).

Gravity (2013)
I wrote about this film earlier in the year, comparing it with All is Lost. I mention it again here because a year after Alfonso Cuaron took audiences into space so, too, did Christopher Nolan. I find these trends interesting.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I'm bored with The Avengers. This felt fresh, even if it did beg, borrow, and steal from past films (as discussed here).

Interstellar (2014)
I don't want to say too much about this film because if you're like me, you often see things months later either by streaming them or opening an envelope in the mail, and this film is still in a wormhole somewhere between the theater and your living room. However, it's worth watching because it pretty much seals the deal that the debate about whether Nolan is an auteur or just making the same film over and over again will start to happen. I side more with the former.

A Most Wanted Man (2014)
Watch this for the 21st Century cat-and-mouse game. Or, watch it for Philip Seymour Hoffman, especially his final scene of the film in which he pretty much paces a parking lot, breathes heavily, and attempts to yell. It's painfully captivating.

Mud (2013)
Cause it was good. And cause both Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon are in right now, which makes the fact that this film was hardly noticed a year ago somewhat strange.  

The One I Love (2014)
Is this film a dark romantic comedy or a psychological thriller? Doesn't matter. Was it perfect? No. But that's part of its lasting power. I would compare the experience of watching it with reading VanderMeer's recent novel Annihilation. This is one of the few films I've watched in a long while where I feel like I quit trying to figure it out or nitpick it and just seeped into it, or it into me.

Out of the Furnace (2013)
After seeing it, I joked that it was the longest Pearl Jam music video ever made, and it is. However, it's also an interesting film to view in light of how almost everything in Hollywood that doesn't resemble The Hunger Games, the Marvel Universe, or Tyler Perry's caricatures, right now, seems to echo the landscapes of Cormac McCarthy and Winter's Bone. The haze of mid-century Noir smoke seems to be lingering at the start of a new century, Even after the Cold War and the private investigator have faded, we're still very much rooted in the same crime stories that our parents and grandparents were. The backwoods of everywhere are being explored in book and film and 'best of' lists because, perhaps, we're fascinated by the worlds we've never known because they recede before the suburban sprawl and the reach of the internet that helps certain lifestyles thrive and renders others extinct. This is one of those films; a violent artifact of something possibly real and most definitely imagined. I'll remember it for that, as a symptom of a moment, if not necessarily for its imperfections in executing a rather trendy yet provoking vision.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Alright, I'm often behind, but when I finally got around to watching this over the summer, I came away thinking the climactic battle scene on the Golden Gate Bridge was the first real action sequence I've enjoyed in years. Then, I watched Guardians of the Galaxy and had a similar experiences, although the tones were quite different. Also, Andy Serkis is brilliant as Caesar.

Scarface (1932)
I included this film because my high school film students absolutely loved it. I did too. And more so upon every viewing.

We keep running back to this same spot it seems.
The Third Man (1949)
I waited too long in my life to watch this. I showed it in my high school film class, but I'm not sure they grasped just how influential a film it is. I need to work on that for next year; I might start by having them compare the sequence of Orson Welles' character straining his fingertips through a metal sewer grate with the opening frames in A Most Wanted Man, where a refugee's sinewy hands grab a hold of a stone retaining wall and heft a body from the sea.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
I won't write too much on this because I plan on writing more on it later, but the fact that The Avengers are more popular than the X-Men doesn't bode well for the psychology of a movie-going nation. This statement is only kind of hyperbole. This was a good film, and the X-Men series, while still the stuff of blockbuster, challenges us more as an audience, while the Avengers merely comfort us with their Biblical archetypes, tendencies towards nationalism, and clearly defined evils.

Bryan Harvey can be followed on Twitter @LawnChairBoys.

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