Albert’s Top 10 Movies of 2014

I feel unwilling yet obligated to post a Top 10 list this year. Attempting to strong-arm my way into the critical culture that surrounds cinema is often exhausting work, and let it be known that all critics, not just me, have to sort through a lot of chaff to get to the good stuff. But I feel it’s necessary to recommend a few of last year’s films, not least of all because the year began so shakily, and you would be forgiven, as I was tempted to do, to write-off 2014 all together. But, without further ado, here’s a collection of films from the past year that I enjoyed, and which I grudgingly have to refer to as my Top 10 (in no order).

As always, I’m limiting my top films to those that I’ve seen this year, which unfortunately means I have to exclude Selma and Inherent Vice outright, thanks to their “limited release” status.

Foxcatcher | Bennett Miller

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Dark, atmospheric, and tense, Foxcatcher is a slow-boil, character driven film that rises to a chilling climax. This well-executed film includes a transformative performance by Steve Carell as mysterious and deeply conflicted billionaire John DuPont, which, in my opinion, ought to earn him an Oscar.

Gone Girl | David Fincher

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Fincher has done it again with this twisted and compelling thriller. Solid acting and an omnipresent bleakness of tone help to elevate this film to a top-tier production. Though not without its faults, Gone Girl primarily succeeds thanks to its excellent screenplay, written by original author Gillian Flynn, and rightly deserves it spot on the list.

Whiplash | Damien Chazelle

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Whiplash is at once supremely human and oddly terrifying. Starring Miles Teller, perhaps the hottest up-and-coming young actor in Hollywood, as well as the always-terrific J. K. Simmons, the film is a high-energy yet intimate experience that is sure to keep you hooked until the very end.

Nightcrawler | Dan Gilroy

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Are we sensing a pattern here, perhaps? Another supremely dark film, Nightcrawler represents the benchmark in Jake Gyllenhaal’s career thus far. Superbly acted and filled with unpredictable twists and turns, the film is an entrancing journey into the dark depths of a sociopath’s psyche.

The Drop | Michaël R. Roskam

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This film, despite the contention it raised among my Simply Film colleagues, remains one of my favorites on this list. A dyed-in-the-wool crime thriller, The Drop features some outstanding acting by both Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini, and climaxes in one of the most beautifully understated endings that I’ve ever seen, period.

The Raid 2 | Gareth Evans

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Endlessly imaginative and gleefully brutal, The Raid 2 is one of the most flat-out fun films released this year. Though the story may be a bit bare-bonesey, the focus is firmly fixed on the action—to the film’s credit, I think. I mean, there’s a blind woman who fights with a pair of hammers. What else do you need to know, really?

Edge of Tomorrow | Doug Liman

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Edge of Tomorrow was sort of a surprise entry on this list, but decidedly earns its place here nonetheless. With a clever little story and some truly impressive action sequences, the film is one of the best original science fiction properties to be released, I’d argue, in the last decade.

The Grand Budapest Hotel | Wes Anderson

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Perhaps one of the most auteur directors ever to come out of Hollywood, Wes Anderson has admittedly had some misses in his time, but The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t one of them. At once viciously funny and strangely poignant, the film includes Anderson’s signature sugary-sweet, dollhouse aesthetic sensibility while maintaining a tight focus on the vibrant characters that populate his world.

Snowpiercer | Bong Joon-ho

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Director Bong Joon-ho proves, once again, why he remains the premier South Korean filmmaker in the West, with his newest film. Starring Chris Evans as a scrappy revolutionary, Snowpiercer is a high-concept sci-fi odyssey that portrays the decaying state of the human race, all while maintaining an undeniably beautiful visual style and atmosphere.

The Lego Movie | Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

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The thing that you’ve got to understand about The Lego Movie is that no one, myself included, really expected it to blow up like it did. What I had initially pegged as merely a glorified advertisement for Lego turned out to be so shamelessly funny and imaginative that I felt no recourse but to include it on this list.

A couple of films, listed below, were good enough to deserve at least a mention, but fell just shy of a coveted position on the Top 10 list. They include:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 | Dean DeBlois

Big Eyes | Tim Burton

Listen Up Philip | Alex Ross Perry

 

That’s all there is. There isn’t any more. Good riddance to 2014.

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The Drop

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This week in cinemas creates an interesting “point-counterpoint” type of situation between A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson, and The Drop, featuring Tom Hardy; these two films, both ostensibly crime dramas and starring well known actors, offset one another in narrative quality. As we’ll explore, the places where Tombstones falls flat are the same places in which The Drop succeeds—and then some.

The film is directed by Michaël R. Roskam, whose only other feature film was the Belgian drama Bullhead (2011) and is written by novelist Dennis Lehane. As the man behind the novelizations of Gone, Baby, Gone and Shutter Island (adapted by Scorsese in 2010), Lehane’s screenplay was inspired by one of his short stories entitled “Animal Rescue.” It’s abundantly clear that Roskam and Lehane make a great team, as Roskam’s careful, deliberate style of filmmaking lends gravity to and emphasizes Lehane’s beautifully paced, character-driven story.

Speaking of characters, the film’s central protagonist, Bob Saginowski, was masterfully brought to life by Tom Hardy, whose understated yet quietly intense performance reminded me, in the best of ways, of Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of the unnamed protagonist in Drive (2011). Continuing this positive trend, the chemistry between Hardy’s Bob and love interest Nadia, played by Noomi Rapace, felt amazingly natural and compelling; more importantly, however, the relationship between the two was vital in a narrative sense (as opposed to being strong-armed in, which we tend to see a lot of in Hollywood) as it provided context for the actions of the antagonist, expertly played by Matthias Schoenaerts, making him appear all the more dangerous and unpredictable. The Drop also features the final performance of the late James Gandolfini, who plays Cousin Marv, an ex loan shark with strong ties to the local organized crime syndicate. As expected, Gandolfini proves to be a perfect fit for the role, and gives a performance that I like to think he would be proud of.

No stranger to the crime drama genre, Dennis Lehane shows considerable restraint by omitting much physical violence—that is, until the final, bloody climax. Instead, the story progresses via the implication of violence and veiled threats as the protagonist is beset on all sides by forces which threaten to decimate the quiet, fragile life that he has created for himself. Throughout the film, the audience discovers that Bob, trapped in the center of an unstable and violent world, might be infinitely more complex than we might have first imagined.

One of the only real criticisms I can level at the film is that there’s an intrigue established early on concerning an ongoing investigation by a Detective Torres (John Ortiz). Presumably, the intent was to create a little more pressure to the event’s of the film and to add a sort of ticking-clock element to the proceedings. While it works well at the beginning and helps to establish the characters and events to a certain extent, it doesn’t really end up going anywhere by the end. I do think it’s a nice touch though, because the police investigation, which is external to the immediate events of the film, lends a bit of perspective and gives the impression that there’s a larger world outside of Cousin Marv’s bar and its denizens.

The Drop, in my opinion is one of the best crime dramas around and easily one of the best films of the year so far. Granted, it’s only just now the beginning of October, but before all the Oscar-bait starts hitting the screen, Roskam’s sophomore effort is, without a doubt, a very fun time at the movies.

Rating: 4 out of 5