It’s been a while since I wrote something for Pop Eye. But now, with 2014 wrapping up, I felt like I had to tell you about my favorite films of this past year. The result of which is this column and, in the end, this piece came about quite quickly, because all of the movies on here sprung to mind instantly when I started writing. That, to me, is what makes a great film: it’s a film you can’t and won’t forget, one you keep going back to in your mind after you’ve seen it, one you remember fondly, and one you can’t wait to watch over and over again. These picks, these five movies, did exactly that: they didn’t let me go and stayed with me long after I had left the cinema auditorium. And now, at the end of 2014, it’s the time to honor what I consider to be this year’s best movies.
5. The Two Faces Of January
This old-fashioned and slow-burning Hitchcockian thriller from the director Hossein Amini is an expertly crafted film that boasts some fine performances from Oscar Isaac, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen. The multiple layers present in both the storytelling and acting make this tale of greed and deceit a very gripping one that is sure to leave a lasting impression. Aided by the Greek landscape the movie takes place in, scenery that’s lush and savage in equal measure, the film contains a timeless, mythical and brooding quality that’s absent from a lot of thrillers these days. Here the boiling heat, yellowish rocks, white sun and drops of sweat present on the characters faces add a tangible sense of exhaustion that beautifully compliments the paranoia and tension the director expertly builds.
4. The Raid 2
A beautifully choreographed ballet of blood and bone-shattering beatdowns, is what I called The Raid 2‘s fight scenes in my review. And while the terrific fights are definitely the film’s stand-out to most, and rightly so, it’s also the mood I remember. Director Gareth Evans painted a grimy but stylish picture of a world rotten to its core, where evil is rampant and good souls have to steep themselves in violence to overcome the wolfs at their door. This heightened quality is what makes The Raid 2 so much more than just an action film: it makes it an experience unlike any other. Evans does not only present you with gorgeous and brutal fights, an excellent crime story and wonderful performances from his actors; he drags you into a environment that’s both thrilling and frightening and always fascinating.
Back when I wrote a column about my favorite Jake Gyllenhaal performances, I mentioned how I had a feeling that the list would change once Nightcrawler hit. I wasn’t wrong: Gyllenhaal delivers a career-best performances as Louis Bloom, a gaunt and seemingly polite young man looking for a job. That is until Lou finds the work he’s really cut out for: he becomes a nightcrawler, a predator armed with a camera to record the terrible crimes and accidents that happen on Los Angeles’ streets every night. It’s a job the sociopathic and ruthless Lou proves to be extremely good at, and Gyllenhaal’s performance, which gets more twisted and unnerving as the film goes on, is mesmerizing. But the actor isn’t the only reason this film ranks this high: the film is fabulously directed and expertly written by Dan Gilroy, and also gorgeously shot. The way it blends thriller, satire and dark comedy elements is also commendable: Nightcrawler is not only exciting but it really has something to say.
2. Gone Girl
David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name is dark, twisted but also so much fun. Fincher’s brand of dark and biting comedy that was present in Fight Club and The Social Network, returns to the forefront here, with juicy results. Sure: Gone Girl is also a thriller and drama about a man investigating the disappearance of his wife, but Flynn’s satirical look at the behavior of the media and the roles people play each and every day, is really what this story is about. Fincher delivers Flynn’s screenplay onto the silver screen with his trademark perfection and glorious pizazz, and the result is a truly spectacular film. Gone Girl‘s score, composed by frequent Fincher-collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, enriches the movie even further and the central performances keep you on the edge of your seat. Ben Affleck is especially terrific as protagonist Nick Dunne; Affleck’s performance is both nuanced and explosive, and it makes him the true and dependable anchor of the film.
This probably isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s read my review in which I called Boyhood a masterpiece and rated it 10 out of 10, a rating I still stand by wholeheartedly after now having seen it multiple times. Richard Linklater’s look at growing up is beautiful in its universality, incredible in its vision and, to top it off, a unique feat in filmmaking. This project was shot over a period of twelve years and the result is simply unlike anything you’ve ever seen: you see a small child grow up before your very eyes, and all the while you’re reliving your own experiences with moving, relationships, your parents and brothers and sisters. Lacking a conventional story, Boyhood still feels whole and complete despite its fragmented nature; Linklater manages to find key moments to create this illusion and is aided brilliantly by the acting and growth of the cast, and the naturalism of his dialogues to maintain this illusion. Ultimately Boyhood is a brilliantly constructed, heart-warming, honest, rich and tender film that leaves its competition in the dust and decisively claims its spot as best film of 2014.
Now you know my five favorite movies of the year. But what are yours? Be sure to let me know by leaving a comment with your thoughts and picks.