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Monday, February 16, 2015

My Top Films of 2014

It's Oscars time! Here are my best films in descending order:

11. MEET THE PATELS/ LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED. I'm going to put these 2 together because neither has received a release yet. Josh Levin at West End Cinema tells me he's trying to get Meet the Patels - it's a laugh-out-loud documentary about an Indian-American comedian turning to his parents after a breakup to find him the right girl. Living Is Easy... stars Almodovar's Javier Camara as a schoolteacher in 1966 Spain wanting desperately to meet John Lennon, who is filming How I Won the West 8 hours away. Really hope this gets a run locally.

10. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Yeah, I'm artsy but nothing wrong with having fun. This was an old-fashioned, well-written, well-acted sci-fi romp starting with that first scene with Chris Pratt and his classic soundtrack. I'm sure the sequel is close by.

9. TWO DAYS ONE NIGHT. Where have all the foreign films gone? I don't know if there is one in theaters now. It seems they are all relegated to festivals and museums now. Anyway, we did catch this one at AFI's EU Showcase and it was mesmerizing. The Dardenne Brothers come up with a great set-up, and Marion Cotillard returns to her unglamorous roots to reel you in.

8. A GOOD LIE. It's interesting that Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey starred in the excellent film Mud together last year. Both have made unbelievable film choices in the last few years. Here Witherspoon doesn't show up until midway through - the first half shows the war in South Sudan - but she makes up for lost time with a gritty performance, complementing the great work by the unknown leads.

7. INTERSTELLAR. McConnaughey's turn. This film takes a while to get going, but when it does it draws you in with good, old-fashioned storytelling. Anne Hathaway also takes a star turn, and others like Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn, William Devane and John Lithgow show up at various intervals. Good, original script.

6. FORCE MAJEURE - Hey, a foreign film that actually got a regular release. I left this film thinking about everything, gender, relationships, children, the French Alps. The director does a wonderful job setting up the situation, and when it happens it's almost like a flash. One of the best cinematic scenes of the year is the dinner scene here with the 2 couples. AFI is showing it Jan. 15 with the director present.

5. WILD. Here's Reese again. She doesn't really try to be likeable here, and yet...she is. We root for her and hold our breath as various men come her way, with varying motives. The scenery is spectacular, and the director Jean-Marc Vallee - who directed The Dallas Buyers Club starring guess who - shows a really skilled touch with a story that's basically a woman walking a trail. It's a neat experience to watch.

4. CITIZENFOUR. Should win the documentary Oscar. It takes a little bit to get going, but director Laura Poitras is just setting the stage. Who knew that Edward Snowden was such a fascinating character, whether talking about his secrets or fixing his hair? The access that Poitras gets  cannot be overstated - she's part of it but smartly stays behind the camera. By the end, I wanted more.

3. BEYOND THE LIGHTS. I loved it. Only award this riveting tale will probably get is worst marketing campaign. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker make an exciting, human couple and Danny Glover and Minnie Driver are two pros as respective parents. Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood uses modern conveniences - like social media - to her advantage and then lets Mbatha-Raw take over. It's a fun movie.

2. SELMA. Wow! I walked out of the theater in awe of the restraint and skills that director Anna DuVernay shows with this mature and illuminating piece of work. Nothing is overdone and yet the emotional force of the movie is near-overwhelming. The actors are pitch-perfect and please stay for Common's song over the credits. In fact, I don't think anyone left before the credits had finished at the showing I went to. Awesome.

1. BOYHOOD. I was already in the tank for director Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke and this only submerged me further. Just amazing that they found the right boy - at what, age 7? - to play the leading role. With every stage he went through I recalled my own passages. And my friend Cinthia said she recalled HER own, so it's not just a guy thing. The time goes quickly here, and I was sorry to see it end. Rosanna Arquette also deserves a nomination.

MY NEXT 10 or SO:  Ida, Pride, Jimi By My Side, A Summer's Tale (ah Rohmer!), Last Days in Vietnam, The Overnighters, The Skeleton Twins, The Trip to Italy (I love the 'Trip' films), Diplomacy, Dear White People, and Top Five, A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice.

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