Typical disclaimers: There are a bunch of movies I didn’t see this year, and this is mostly a snapshot capturing how I feel right at this moment. Enjoy!
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
The Trip to Italy
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
10. God Help the Girl/Whiplash
Neither God Help the Girl or Whiplash are perfectly crafted films. They are a bit rough around the edges, from debut filmmakers Stuart Murdoch and Damien Chazelle, respectively, but each film conveys the importance of music to people in the most visceral ways possible. Eve (Emily Browning), Andrew (Miles Teller) and Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) all have deep emotional scars that affect how they approach music in different ways. And God Help the Girl has the best musical soundtrack in recent memory.
9. Listen Up Philip
This film has stuck with me since I saw it, as Alex Ross Perry creates a literary version of New York City. Jason Schwartzman is perfect as the title character, a young, almost unbelievably pretentious author struggling with his second novel. The film mostly follows Philip from one self-centered decision to the next, wallowing in the awkward and annoyed reactions of those he encounters, and truly giving us a portrait of an artist lashing out in arrogance out of self-distance and fear. I would also be remiss if I did not mention Elizabeth Moss, who is a lead for part of the film, and provides a great ‘realistic’ counterbalance to Philip.
Different from the film above, Snowpiercer is proof that staying close to the source material is no guarantee of success. Bong Joon-ho truly created something special by taking the premise from the French comic and creating a truly unique take on the post-apcolyptic tale. Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt bring a great energy to the film as well, but Alison Pill’s performance as a teacher is one of the best scenes of the entire year. Additionally, the film’s broad political message is clear but not overbearing, baked into the very universe of the film.
I’m a sucker for a hard sci-fi epic, and Interstellar is a fantastic example. Original, expansive, and urgent, this film exemplifies what Christopher Nolan does best. And it also stands alone in his filmography in successfully telling a story that rests just as much on human emotion as it does on science. Read my full review.
6. Inherent Vice
While I’m not a Pynchon fanboy by any stretch, I was doubtful that anyone, even a filmmaker as detailed and fastidious as Paul Thomas Anderson could successfully translate the author’s meandering prose for the screen. The novel is more accessible than most of Pynchon’s bibliography, and the film deftly captures the way the novel oscillates between clarity and clouds of smoke. Joaquin Phoenix delivers an excellent performance, of course, but Josh Brolin as the authoritative detective Bjornsen may give the most effective performance of the large ensemble.
5. Gone Girl
Truly a work of pulp fiction, David Fincher and Gillian Flynn show us how the most torrid stories can reveal to us truths about people, psychology, culture, and gender. Excellently adapted, the film abandons much of the suspense of the novel for the slow burn of unravelling threads. Read my full review.
4. Edge of Tomorrow
I’ve come to realize that Tom Cruise is one of my favorite actors, especially when it comes to blockbusters like Edge of Tomorrow. It’s inventive and fun, while being smart in exploring the premise. It balances a dark experience (dying over and over) with a sense of humanity and humor that creates a rewarding viewing experience over and over. Read my full review.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
The only surprise here is that this Marvel film ranks so low on my list. It’s a rather perfect comic book film. Like Star Wars, the main characters’ relationships and goals evolve over time, an origin story for losers turned heroes. Joss Whedon’s The Avengers presented a bunch of misfits assembled in a time of crisis, but they seem positively well-adjusted compared to the Guardian characters. Even Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill describes them as “losers,” as in people who have lost a great deal in their lives. Seeing the characters come to mutual respect and understanding is handled deftly by director Peter Gunn, often showing how they come to know each other rather than telling. Although the characters are all familiar archetypes (with the exception of Groot), there is something about hearing a disgruntled raccoon in a space suit threatening someone with a bomb that automatically feels fresh.
2. The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie is a film that strikes me at my very core. Combine the smart, self-aware storytelling, with fantastic jokes and my lifelong love of Lego, and that’s how it ends up as number 2 on my list this year. Every part of this film just works, and the twist at the beginning of the third act recontextualizes the entire film in a way that genuinely surprised me. It’s rare for any blockbuster release to do this, let alone one targeted at eight-year-olds. Extremely quotable and rewatchable, it’s already become a go-to for a rainy Saturday morning.
1. Grand Budapest Hotel
This is Wes Anderson’s most impressive achievement to date. In my book, the director hasn’t made a bad film, but here he shows maturity in his most complex and meaningful film to date.
The Hotel serves as the nexus of these characters, seemingly all misfits of disparate backgrounds, whether refugees from foreign lands, world travelers, escapees from routine or hiding in their fixation on nostalgia. Hotels are the crossroads of the world, and the crossing of lines encourages the undermining of those forces that seek to confine people to their respective groups. At a hotel, the working class interacts with the upper class, strangers become friends, and everyone is united in trying to escape from something back home. Stepping from the present, backward into the interwar period is a forceful reminder that although it feels distant to us, the ripples of war, atrocity, and modernistic progress echo ever forward in time. Read my full review.