Note to the Reader.
2014 has come and gone. Maybe I’m a bit late in the game but I thought I would write down some of the best films I saw this year. As you may notice, I only included 4 films. The reason being that there are just too many for me to cover all at once. These little reviews offer a bit of a personal look into my head, and why I choose these films for this list. I also added insight into the #1 review of how I came about having seen “Gone Girl”. These are my first public reviews, although not perfect nor in any way great by my own standards, I am just an average dude. I had put some work into this piece, and thank you for reading. And, I look forward to writing more for these guys here, my friends and cinephiles, at Mind.Erase.Media… enjoy!
1. Gone Girl
Reason: Holy Shit Everything.
Gone Girl is a film, I nor any of my friends, knew anything about when it was first publicly announced. I had faintly heard about it from people in the industry. But the fact that David Fincher was directing was more than enough of an incentive for me to see it.
And so it was, I found myself at the Century 16 in downtown Pleasant Hill with three other friends blindly looking for anything to watch… I had forgotten that David Fincher had made a film earlier in the year; therefore, we all decided to watch it. Clearly what I watched for the next couple of hours was the most solid and beautiful filmmaking I have seen in the last ten years (it seems like a bold statement, I know, but I tend to, regardless of what anyone says).
Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a local teacher in Missouri, who’s wife Amy Dunne (played by the wonderful Rosemund Pike) goes missing on the eve of their fifth anniversary. It’s a thrilling odyssey through a dysfunctional marriage, and a look at the world we live in this age of obsessive media, the contemplation on what we do to each other, why we love one another despite our flaws, and things we keep buried within ourselves.
The film was superbly well directed with some of the best cinematography of the year, and there are some gorgeous lighting (just look at the sugar storm scene!). More to the point, the film does an excellent job of giving us two extremely flawed characters, both of which gave us a different perspective on life, the choices we make, and the direction we head in life. I believe the stand out star in this film is Rosemund Pike. She gave a mesmerizing performance that will surely launch her into more leading roles. Over all, this film played it risky enough to please my inner cinephile. Entertainment wise, the film asks frightening questions we cannot possibly answer and leaves you haunted and curious. What more can you ask for in a film? Therefore I name this the best film of 2014.
Reason: The Audacity Of Pretentious Filmmaking.
Boyhood is a film that crept up on me only before the weeks leading up to its release. I knew nothing about the project or even that Richard Linklater was making a film that was not an installment in the Before the Sunrise or Before the Sunset series (oh when, oh when will he adapt another Philip K. Dick novel?). The few murmurs I heard about the film was that it took 12 years to make this film. The first thought in my head was “fuck this sounds so pretentious”. Then a real thought came to my head,”Why is it so bad for a film to be pretentious?” The answer is… it’s not bad. In fact, I look at those films as a challenge, a new bar to be set, that people can attain to in the medium.
Boyhood is a film set over twelve years and tells the story of a boy named Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) from ages six to eighteen and all the struggles to Come of Age in the modern era. It touches on the music and the most important events that shaped the last decade – everything from the war in Iraq to the economic collapse of 2008. The film is ambitious in its scope and intimate like a family album. The fact that we see the same actors age over the course of the film in an extremely organic way to give the movie a sense of unburdened realism. The performances by the parents played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are wonderful and painful at the same time. Hawke plays the father, Mason Evans Sr., who cannot get his life together and dreams of being a rock star musician. Arquette plays Olivia Evans, a single mother, looking to provide the best for her children while balancing a social life and getting a degree in college. Both characters are well written and honest. Hawke plays to a tee the kind of father we all know, from somewhere a friend’s dad, who never made it in his dream career or married too young to realize the burden of raising children and holding together a relationship, only to have it all fall apart while trying to keep the family together.
Arquette gave one of her best performances as Olivia Evans. What I found interesting about her character throughout the film was that she works so tediously to make a better life for herself and her children but finds herself in situations that break her down from bad marriages to spousal abuse and the struggle to retain normalcy for her children. She comes out stronger and more determined to push her children to a better life. The film stands on the parent’s shoulders. But not to down play any of the younger actors who have their moments, the film itself is not about any one actor, or even the ensemble casts members of the film it lies on as an experiment.
Let’s go back to that old friendly word people throw around too often: “pretentious”. This film is a bit intimate, and a bit scary for the filmmaker to shoot, as well. Maybe that’s why we call them that, something so big and different, as to be pretentious because we do not understand it.
But back to the film at hand. It’s an impressive film with a big scope filled with great performances. All around, Richard Linklater is a filmmaker that should be admired for having such a big vision especially in an age where the biggest visions involve multi-billion dollar budgets and scripts that lack any sort of warmth.
Reason: An Actors Film For The Ages
For many years I have followed the career of Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican filmmaker and auteur extraordinaire. His films, have always stuck out, not all of whom are a big hit with me, but nonetheless, are memorable films. In my eyes, Birdman is his masterpiece. The film stars Michael Keaton in the title role of Riggan Thomson, a former A-list actor, who starred in the popular Birdman franchise of the 90s (any of you old enough to remember, Keaton himself starred in the first two Batman films from the 80s and 90s). Thomson finds himself a washed up actor looking for a way back into the business and proving himself to be a true actor in the modern era of the mega blockbuster comic book films that dominates the box office. The film follows him, as he tries to adapt a Raymond Carver story as a play, while showing us the life he has created.
Keaton played perfectly a man hanging by a thread of hope to achieve something for him to be remembered by, while showing us some of the greater inner fears and demons that lie within us all… when we reach a goal so high or maybe a goal reached only for a faint second and had it taken away from us. Michael Keaton is so perfect in the role, that at times, felt I like I was him playing five different kinds of people all in one. As Michael Keaton played Riggan Thomson, he also played Thomson playing his character in the play, and then Thomson playing a sane Thomson, as well as a Thomson that loses his mind in a sense, and last, and most importantly he plays Thomson as Birdman, who was his guiding and tormenting spirit through this odd journey. Keaton’s acting is so good in this film that he deserves an Oscar. He played a character close to home and reaches beyond to give us a performance so well done that he makes the audience wonder if he was acting at all.
The film doesn’t just shine around Michael Keaton. Every supporting actor in this film was absolutely fantastic. Edward Norton plays a volatile actor, named Mike Shiner, who steps in to play a supporting role in the play. His scenes opposite Keaton are intense and oddly magical. Norton seems to have a certain knack for picking out roles that not only suit him but extenuate his acting abilities. In this film, he seems to be playing a version of himself the media wishes he would be… a self-destructive, hard to work with, self-absorbed actor with extreme method acting devotions. Well some of these traits might be based in reality but who knows? Maybe he is that good of an actor. I have never met the man, nonetheless, Norton plays the role perfectly conflicting against Keaton’s Thomson character.
In other supporting roles are Emma Stone, playing Thomson’s daughter, fresh out of rehab and helping her father’s production. She does a fantastic acting job; her character added a certain sense of reality along with conflict to Shiner’s character. Amy Ryan also appears in a supporting role as Thomson’s ex-wife. Her role is very limited but, nonetheless, importantly reminding us of the man Thomson was before being Birdman. Naomi Watts also plays a pivotal role as Shiner’s ex-girlfriend and cast member of the play. Also, in a possibly career-turning role, Zach Galifianakis plays Riggan’s friend and lawyer, Jake, who tries desperately to keep everything together around Thomson. Never would I consider one of the stars of the Hangover series to be a decent actor.
This film is not for everyone but it is a movie that should be remembered as staple cinema of 2014 for the solid acting and the wonderful direction which should garner the film a “Best Picture” nomination. All around, this film is astounding, thus worthy of multiple viewings.
4. Life Itself
Reason: The Importance Of The American Documentary.
Life Itself is a documentary on the life of Roger Ebert, an esteemed film critic and host of Siskel & Ebert. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), the film follows Ebert on the last few years of his life and moments leading to his cultural stamp on America and cinema. The film is touching and at times painful to watch because of what they show, particularly the later half of his life living with cancer.
The film is a loving yet honest tribute to man who transcended the film criticism medium. It follows his early life and tribulations from alcoholism to success as a writer for the Chicago Tribune. So much of the film is reliant on his relationships with other people in his life and how a critic can be so well beloved in an industry where film criticism is looked down on. The film is intensely personal. Steve James does a fantastic job of showing us the reality of Roger’s condition, from the feeding tube to the many painful exercises required for recovery, while contrasting it with Ebert’s many life choices – including fights with show partner, Gene Siskel, and his conflict of personality with some powerful people in the industry. But what it does most, and what any real documentary should do, is be honest and true to the subject. The film is a tear jerking tribute to a man who really loved the craft and art of cinema and respected it. In some ways, the film is a look back to a time when cinema was just beginning to get the respect it deserved through eyes of a man who was at ground zero. Thus, earning my respect as a documentary, the film is well edited and directed. Steve James who has a knack to capture a simple beauty in every shot, no matter how painful it may be. The films sad coda reminds us that life is a journey, and we must make a better world for those who follow us. Roger was a man who transcended the genre, and improved it by inspiring millions in the process.
Coda: Well, that article was fun to write. I don’t feel a hundred percent about it but I did it. Like I have said above, I look forward to writing and improving my writing. Thanks to everyone who took the time read it.