Last year Movie Habit celebrated 15 years, so that makes this year our sweet 16. It has truly become a habit with me, and I’m grateful that enough of you read our little web site to keep us in screenings and screeners. Thank you.
There was a year or two, long ago, when I determined to see just about everything that I could, including all the cookie-cutter comedies, teen bait, and weepy chick flicks. But without being able to make a living at it, it wasn’t worth the effort. There are just too many mediocre movies out there, and too many valuable things to do with one’s life.
Now I review about a movie a week (though I probably watch 3 or 4), and I allow myself to be selective about what I see. Perhaps that explains some of the films on my "not seen" list, below.
That’s also my way of saying: Take my suggestions with a grain of salt.
But I still fall in love when I see a movie with a great combination of human insight; storytelling finesse; and genuine, earned emotion. I hope you find some interesting items to poach for your own rent list from what’s below.
Here is my list of the top ten of 2014, along with some secondary lists.
Top Ten of 2014
Under the Skin - A fascinating mystery that works emotionally and visually
We are the Best! - Moodysson gives his characters the perfect mix of love, protection, and freedom.
Frank - There’s more to the absurd than just amusement
Fury - Pitt, in peak form, leads a tank crew through war and domesticity
1001 Grams - Hamer brings his visual wit to lives of Norwegian precision
Mistaken for Strangers
I didn’t review this film for movie habit. It showed at the Boulder International Film Festival in February, and it was in contention for the Best Documentary (Finding Vivian Maier beat it out). The documentaries that usually impress me most are those that find a satisfying, cinematic way of telling their story. Talking heads recounting events in chronological order is not enough anymore. What first-time director Tom Berninger achieves is a remarkable transformation, both personally and story-wise. The brother of Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National, Tom lives his life in the shadow of another. He wants fame and recognition, but maybe doesn’t have the will or work ethic of his brother. His documentary shows the ambition and also the personal flaws that make it obvious to the audience why he’s having no success. Only late in the film do we understand why the first part of the film has been thus.
I was in Toronto watching independent and international films when Nightcrawler poked its head above ground. I finally saw the film in December and had all the right reactions. Gyllenhaal is a great creep in an industry that needs no help looking scummy. Rene Russo delivers one of the year’s best lines of dialogue ("No, morally" — see it in context and you’ll understand). The only scene that disappointed me was the coda that showed nondescript beige-panted, polo-shirted interns learning from the new master. Somehow that detracts from Gyllenhaal’s unique persona, although I understand the film was trying to show his sociopathic ethic creeping into the mainstream.
Here is another one I didn’t review on opening, but saw in December. I loved the Rope-esque gimmick of presenting the film as a single take (kudos to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and the rest of the crew). I loved Edward Norton’s supporting role, probably more than Keaton’s lead. I’m not sure I appreciated the story because I was so taken by the cinematography, but would be happy to see Birdman again to find out what I missed.
Ida - Slow and beautiful, Ida is more impressive cinematically than narratively
Boyhood - Linklater’s bold experiment pays off
These films didn’t make my list, but would have been respectable additions.
- Art and Craft
- The Boxtrolls
- Finding Vivian Maier
- Force Majeure
- Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Imitation Game
- Of Horses and Men
- Two Days, One Night
Wish I’d Seen
These are films I had the opportunity to see but missed. I’ve read enough about them to wish I’d seen them. They might have earned my consideration.
- Keep On Keepin’ On
- The Drop, on Robert Denerstein’s recommendation
- Gone Girl
Not For Me
These are films that appear on the lists of other critics whom I respect. I’ve seen these films, and most of them are not half bad. But I didn’t think they stood out enough to deserve a spot on a top ten.
- The Babadook
- Get On Up
- Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
- Goodbye to Language
- The Missing Picture
- A Most Violent Year
- The Theory of Everything
Humbug to Studios
These films got year-end respect. But the studios work in mysterious ways, and for whatever reason, they didn’t invite me to the screening or send me a screener. Bah, Humbug to you.
- American Sniper, although the trailers are gripping
- Inherent Vice
- Winter Sleep
- Mr. Turner, although I really like Mike Leigh