Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Review: My Top 10 Movies of the Year

I am a firm believer that's there no such thing as "bad" movie years. (If you can't find a sufficient amount of good films, you just need to do a little more exploring.) But I will confess that 2014's overall crop wasn't as strong as previous years'. Part of that feeling comes from measuring the amount of straight-As that I gave out in 2014 as opposed to 2013 and 2012, but it's also reflected in the number of movies I thought had a legitimate shot of being considered in my end-of-the-year Top 10. There were plenty of very good movies in 2014, but not as many absolutely astounding ones.

That said, I'm unhappy a handful of standouts couldn't make the list. (And I'm also sad about a few films that I need to catch up on, including The Last of the Unjust, Jealousy, The Story of My Death, the second half of Nymphomaniac, and What Now? Remind Me. And I would have loved another crack at The Immigrant, which I haven't seen since Cannes last year.) But without further ado, here's my Top 10 of 2014....

1. Boyhood 
2. The Overnighters 
3. Under the Skin
4. The Unknown Known
5. Mr. Turner 
6. Foxcatcher 
7. Night Moves 
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel 
9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
10. Manuscripts Don't Burn

I go into more detail about films 10-6 here. And I wrote about films 5-1 here. (And if you're interested, here's my full ballot from the Village Voice film poll.)

As for my list, I'm reminded yet again how fluid such determinations can be. Coming out of Sundance, I ranked Boyhood second behind The Raid 2 from the festival, although even then I knew that could change. As I wrote at the time...
My head tells me that Boyhood is going to eventually overtake The Raid 2 on my end-of-the-year list. Linklater's film feels like one for the ages, while Gareth Evans's achievement may diminish with multiple viewings. They couldn't be more different films: Boyhood caresses the heart, while The Raid 2 pummels the senses and rearranges your nervous system -- and for this moment in time, it's the grander achievement. But ask me again in about 11 months.  
Multiple viewings convinced me of Boyhood's greatness -- not to mention multiple conversations with people who found the film boring or couldn't see what "the big deal" was. The Raid 2 ended up No. 14 on the year. (It's a sign of how strong 2014 was that I'd sit down and watch that orgy of brilliant action again in a heartbeat.)

A few final notes...

* Three of my top four films screened at this year's True/False. It was an inspired choice on programmers Paul Sturtz and David Wilson's part to include Linklater's film as one of their rare fiction selections since the movie documents time in an innovative way.

* The fantastic Manuscripts Don't Burn, the only foreign-language film in my Top 10 (unless you count all the grunting in Mr. Turner), was one of the last movies I saw in 2014. Its deceptively dispassionate approach to government thuggery was stunning, strong enough to upend the film I thought was going to be my No. 10, the wonderfully meditative and life-affirming Manakamana (No. 11).

* Two of 2014's best films were seen in 2013 -- and both are underrated. When they made their way across the fall festival season last year, both The Unknown Known and Night Moves were labeled as disappointments, not up to the level of their makers' (Errol Morris and Kelly Reichardt, respectively) previous high-water marks. Clearly, I disagree.

* Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sole representative in the Top 10 from a pretty stellar slate of blockbuster filmmaking in 2014. X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow and especially The Lego Movie (No. 16) were all a kick.

* If you're looking for the best under-the-radar picks from the year gone by, I can't recommend highly enough National Gallery (No. 13), Stray Dogs (No. 15), The Strange Little Cat (No. 17), Policeman (No. 22), Child's Pose (No. 24) and It Felt Like Love (No. 25).

* The above still is from Goodbye to Language (No. 19), Jean-Luc Godard's playful, hypnotizing experiment in 3D. It's the sort of provocation that you're lucky to get one or two of every year. (You know, the more I think about it, 2014 really was amazing.)

On a personal note, this past year saw me travel to the Middle East for the first time: In October, I attended the Beirut International Film Festival. A month later, I was back in Los Angeles as part of the New Auteurs jury for AFI Fest, which was a treat. I couldn't make Cannes this year, sadly -- a book project kept me away -- but Sundance, True/False, Toronto and others kept me plenty busy. 

I want to wish you a happy, prosperous 2015. Many have complained that, out there in the real world, 2014 was overwhelmingly depressing. And it was -- but just like I don't believe in bad movie years, I don't believe in bad years. I don't want to diminish anyone's personal miseries -- we all had plenty in 2014 -- but hope and light always coexist with tragedies and irritations. Remember what Lou Reed once said: "There's a bit of magic in everything/And then some loss to even things out."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

D'Angelo and the Vanguard - "Another Life"

Yes, Friday Video is a day late this week. (I'm on vacation: Cut me some slack.) It seemed appropriate, then, that I selected a song from the most long-delayed album of 2014. It's "Another Life," the final track off Black Messiah. It's a record that can't possibly be fully processed until some point in 2015.

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 in Review: The Year's Worst Movies

Next week, I'll reveal my Top 10 movies of 2014. (If you can't wait that long, it's actually available on the Web at a couple different locations.) But for now, Will and I each pick our five worst movies of the year, which you can read about here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 in Review: The Year's Best Forgotten Movie Performance

Back in August, it seemed like a no-brainer that Chadwick Boseman would be in the running for a Best Actor nomination for Get on Up. After all, actors playing musicians like Jamie Foxx (Ray) and Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) had gotten attention from the Academy. Instead, Boseman's great turn as James Brown has all but been forgotten. I sing his praises in this piece for Deadspin, where Will and I both reveal our choices for the year's best forgotten performance.

2014 in Review: The Year's Best Movie Scene

I've been raving about The Raid 2 since Sundance, so there's no reason to stop now. For Deadspin, Will and I both picked our favorite movie scene of 2014, so I went for something from the Gareth Evans opus. You can read both our picks here. (Will's is top-notch, too. Ironically, I also saw his pick at Sundance.)

My Interview With Christoph Waltz

For Rolling Stone, I spoke with Christoph Waltz, who is a highlight of the forthcoming Big Eyes. I like a subject who's thoughtful with his answers, who doesn't just give me the same rehearsed spiel he'd delivered to everyone else. That didn't feel like the case when he and I talked: He seemed genuinely mystified by journalists' fascination with the acting process, and he wanted to have a conversation about it. You can read my profile of Mr. Waltz here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

'Unbroken' Review

It is hard to express how strange it is watching Unbroken, a movie about an extraordinary life that's nonetheless very uninvolving. Louis Zamperini was an Olympic athlete and World War II veteran who suffered terrible torture and survived. But director Angelina Jolie's film just never comes to life. I reviewed the Oscar-seeking film for Deadspin.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Taylor Swift - "Welcome to New York"

My understanding is that some people hate "Welcome to New York," the opening track off Taylor Swift's 1989. Apparently, Swift should be caned because, as a pop singer, she had the audacity to write a song about New York as an idealized place where young people can reinvent themselves, find love and perhaps live happily ever after. Doesn't she know there is a lot of crime and economic inequality in New York??!?!? What's wrong with her??!?!? Swift, who just turned 25 and was never expected to be an expert on economics, responded to the criticism exactly right....
[W]hen you write a song, you're writing about a momentary emotion. If you can capture that and turn it into three-and-half minutes that feel like that emotion, that's all you're trying to do as a songwriter. To take a song and try to apply it to every situation everyone is going through -- economically, politically, in an entire metropolitan area -- is asking a little much of a piece of a music.  

I'm as optimistic and enthusiastic about New York as I am about the state of the music industry, and a lot of people aren't optimistic about those two things. And if they're not in that place in their life, they're not going to relate to what I have to say.
I've never lived in New York, but I can't think of a song in the last few years that's so captured that giddy rush of being young and living in a big city -- of thinking that the whole world is in front of you and oh my god, it feels amazing. "Welcome to New York" conveys that sensation perfectly. It's what being in your mid-20s sounds like.

In fact, the track reminds me of two very different artists: PJ Harvey, whose own New York album, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, opens with a "Welcome to New York"-like tune called "Big Exit" and is full of similarly euphoric romantic abandon; and Liz Phair, whose 2003 self-titled album opened with "Extraordinary," which like Swift's "Shake It Off" is about the woman she is versus the woman other people assume her (or want her) to be.

I haven't finished filling out my Pazz & Jop ballot yet, but "Welcome to New York" might make the cut. I can say for sure, though, that it always sounds great blasting out of my speakers on the freeway. Here she is performing it on Late Show With David Letterman -- right, in New York.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Into the Woods' Review

Into the woods, into the woods, into the woods!

If you see only one musical this holiday season......absolutely don't let it be the atrocious Annie. And while Into the Woods isn't terrific, it's perfectly, pleasantly solid. My review of the big-screen adaptation of the James Lapine/Stephen Sondheim classic is up live over at Screen International.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

'Selma' Review

For Deadspin, I reviewed Selma, which recounts Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1965 attempt to organize a peaceful march from Selma to Birmingham to raise awareness for voting equality. It's a strong, solid drama that has its shortcomings. But my review ponders whether such nitpicking matters in the face of American history: both 50 years ago and right now. You can read my piece here.

'Mr. Turner' Review

With Vera Drake, Happy-Go-Lucky, Another Year and now Mr. Turner, writer-director Mike Leigh has been on a 10-year hot streak. His latest is his long-in-the-works portrait of 19th century artist J.M.W. Turner, which stars a singular Timothy Spall. I loved this movie -- and if you can see it on the big screen, do it. I reviewed Mr. Turner for Paste.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What's the Best Recurring Segment on 'The Colbert Report'?

Is it "Better Know a District"? "Difference Makers"? "The Word"? "ThreatDown"? For Rolling Stone, I counted down the 30 greatest regular features of The Colbert Report. I spent way too much time on this, and it was totally worth it. The whole list is here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

'Annie' Review

My final review of the year for Screen International is a huge lump of coal. The Annie remake is positively dreadful. (Thank goodness for Rose Byrne's warm presence.) You can read all about it here.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

SAG Foundation: My Conversation With Timothy Spall

On December 4, I sat down with Timothy Spall, the star of the mighty Mr. Turner, to discuss the film at a SAG Foundation screening. We only had about 25 minutes, but he was terrific. This is one of those Q&As where my guest does all the heavy lifting: Spall spoke at length, and articulately, about his approach to playing the painter J.M.W. Turner and his relationship with writer-director Mike Leigh, whom he refers to as a "forensic filmmaker." Needless to say, I was honored to get to speak with him. The video is below.

Friday, December 12, 2014

'Inherent Vice' Review

Inherent Vice isn't as magnificent as Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood or The Master. It's pretty damn fantastic anyway. I reviewed Paul Thomas Anderson's latest for Deadspin.

2014 in Review: The Year's Best Lists

This was very fun: For Rolling Stone, I compiled the best lists of the year. Yes, it's a list of great lists. I brought science, reason and careful objectivity to a deeply silly enterprise. (Full disclosure: I had a blast.) You can read about the 20 best lists of 2014, including Grantland's countdown of all the NBA home court designs, right here.

Can - "Vitamin C"

After you see Inherent Vice, you'll want to hear this song on a loop.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2014 in Review: The Year's Biggest Comebacks

Before we salute 2014's best (and worst), let's take a moment to salute the people and things that came in from the cold this year, becoming relevant again for the first time in forever. That includes Beck, the Kansas City Royals and (sigh) the Republican Party. I picked 20 of the year's biggest comebacks for Rolling Stone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Interview With Krysten Ritter

For Backstage, I sat down with Krysten Ritter, one of the stars of Big Eyes. We talked about the movie, being a longtime Tim Burton fan, and why auditions and talk shows make her nervous. You can read the whole interview here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Movies for Hard Times

With the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island, what films should people watch to work through their grief and anger? That's the question posed in this week's Criticwire survey. I answered it in a sorta roundabout way. You can read my response -- as well as other writers' -- right here.

'Top Five' Review

Chris Rock is the man behind Top Five, serving as writer, director and star. And he's come up with his best film, a very funny, very shrewd romantic comedy about a Hollywood A-lister who's trying to be taken seriously with his next project, a super-solemn historical drama. I reviewed the film for Deadspin.

Friday, December 05, 2014

'Press Play With Madeleine Brand': Reese Witherspoon and Julianne Moore

I was very happy to be back on Madeleine Brand's daily KCRW show today, talking about Wild and Still Alice with fellow critic Matt Atchity. (We also took a look at Black or White and Life Partners.) You can hear our segment of Press Play right here.

TV on the Radio - "Happy Idiot"

I always love danceable TV on the Radio, and the first single off Seeds certainly qualifies. Still processing the rest of the album, but this puppy hooked me instantly.

Monday, December 01, 2014

'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' Review

I've never seen eye-to-eye with my colleagues when it comes to Peter Jackson's Tolkien films. I liked the Lord of the Rings movies but never loved them. (Well, The Return of the King is pretty terrific.) And I never hated The Hobbit like many critics did. This December, the final Hobbit film, The Battle of the Five Armies, arrives. I found it as entertaining and limited as the first two Hobbit movies. Expect a Return of the King and you'll be disappointed; prepare for battles galore and you'll have a fine time. My review is up at Screen International.