Guest Post: Parker's Top 9 of 2015

Nic here. My cousin Parker has written a couple of guest articles on here before. As you may remember, he's a big film fan. (He and his father go to Sundance most years.) What you might not know is that film studies is his major in college.

And so, after the jump, I encourage you to read this guest article of his, where he briefly discusses his favorite nine (yes, nine, not ten, deal with it) films of 2014.

Take it away, Parker....

Top Nine Films of 2014

I think it should be said that this is my list. I know that not everyone may agree with me; this is just my personal favorites of the year. Also, yes, you read it right. There are only nine films, not ten, decided to be a little different.

First off, the top 3 for this year were all masterpieces, and it was really hard figuring out the order. If any of these films had been released a year ago, they would have all ended up as number one for my list of 2013. Alas, it was tough competition this year, which means it was also a great year for movies!

Number 1 – Boyhood

Someone once asked me, “ How many great movies have come out in the last decade or so? I mean truly great? A movie that you will tell your kids about?” Boyhood is one of those films. A movie I will in fact tell my kids about. Richard Linklater’s 12 year project is simply put: beautiful. Boyhood somehow captures the little moments of life, seamlessly flowing through the events of Mason’s childhood. Nothing incredible happens, no big events, nothing extraordinary, instead Boyhood focuses on the mundane, the seemingly ordinary, communicating to the viewer that life is truthfully just a compilation of these moments. And for an audience member that realization can either be completely awe inspiring or incredibly horrific. Mason’s mom toward the end of the film, as she’s sending her son away to college, breaks down in tears and says, “I just thought there would be more.” Perhaps that’s the lesson moviegoers should heed from Boyhood, there doesn’t need to be more. Life is filled with various nuances, little moments that come and go and appear insignificant, but later prove to have tremendous amounts of meaning. In the ordinary, we experience, passion, joy, disappointment, and looking back, it rushes us with nostalgia. While some will try to grasp for more, the truth is we don’t need more, because in the mundane, Boyhood proves we get to do something overwhelming beautiful; we get to live. My favorite scene from the film comes when Mason ask his father what the meaning of life is, his father responds, “I sure as shit don’t know. We’re all just winging it. The good news is you’re feeling stuff.” I’m not gonna lie, I got emotional towards the end of this film; it’s a movie that doesn’t just make you contemplate the ideas presented, but makes you reflect internally about yourself, about your own experiences, your own memories, and about your own life. It’s a reflection ultimately of gratitude. Boyhood may be Linklater’s crowning achievement, and it’s a film that will be revered, praised, and applauded for years and decades to come. A true masterpiece.

Number 2 – Whiplash

There is a fine line between ambition and obsession, between greatness and madness. Perhaps no other film has dealt with this idea as complexly as Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. Chazelle poses several difficult questions and wisely avoids answering hardly any of them, allowing the film to remain morally grey. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons deliver two of the best performances of the year. Teller plays a student drummer with lofty ambitions of greatness, and Simmons crushes the role of the ruthless instructor, who pushes his pupils far beyond their breaking points. Their shared ferocity, passion, and ultimately hatred for one another, fuses an intensity that practically burst off the screen, like a firecracker you never know when it’s going to go off. The characters have such depth, their motives so clear, and their drive so tangible, that when those goals begin to come under attack, the film actually transforms into the best psychological thriller of the year, demonstrating that character tension and dynamics are far more gripping than shoot outs and car chases. Cinematically, Whiplash is almost flawless, yet the most notable aspect is the editing, which often uses the beats in the jazz music as cues when to cut. During faster songs it can actually become quite jarring, but it renders its desired effect, adding another layer of intensity to a scene full of suspense. Whiplash can viewed with two entirely different perspectives. Some will say the film asks, “Is greatness worth it? Is it worth going through psychological torture? And especially, is it worth alienating those that truly care about you?” Others will see a slight variation in those questions, “What is the sacrifice of greatness? How far must one test themselves before they can become truly great? And is there no option but to disconnect from those who are holding you back?” The last ten minutes of the film will determine what you take away from Whiplash, and if you think about it, that ultimately reveals a lot more about you than it actually does about the film itself.

Number 3 - Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Does Birdman count as the best superhero film of the year? I don’t know, but it’s certainly a funny thought. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has crafted one of the most memorable and unique film experiences of the decade, and credit everyone involved in taking a risk on such an ambitious project. Birdman is shot to look like one long continuous take, and it’s a phenomenal technical achievement. It’s just really fantastic to witness a director take chances and get creative behind the camera. However, the tracking shot style of filmmaking serves a larger role than just for the film pseudo-intellectuals to salivate over; it actually enhances the experience, adding to the films chaotic quick pace. From the opening shot to the ending credits the movie never stops moving at an Olympic speed, the tracking camera adds to this element, hastily following characters as they run through the set. The dialogue is quick-witted and constantly progressing, like something out of a Sorkin screenplay, and the background jazz drumming only increases the tempo. All these elements create an adrenaline rush that last throughout the entire film and because of it, it’s impossible to be bored in Birdman. The performances are all top notch and some of that has to do with how incredibly layered each character is. These characters are given such great depth; it results in a film that covers a whole array of topics because every character is fleshed out so well, each with their own complex issues. Riggan (Michael Keaton) desires respect and admiration, to know his existence means something, and to ultimately know he matters. Sam (Emma Stone) deals with various drug problems and those problems stem from a feeling of neglect, from the fact that her father was never really there for her. Mike (Edward Norton) struggles with the issue of duality. He’s an actor, but he can never be himself unless he’s on stage. His true emotions do not exist in his real life. It’s an identity crisis. The film manages to impressively discuss all of these issues, but it doesn’t stop there. It critiques modern Hollywood, taking jabs at the blockbuster genre, and it raises questions about the job of critics, insinuating that it’s easier to write behind a pen and paper then to actually get up on stage and perform. Birdman is a multilayered film, filled with nuances in thematics and technique, there’s just no way one viewing will suffice. Seth Rogen said it best, “Just saw Birdman. S**t was dope.”

Number 4 – Wild

Personally, I’m a huge fan of these soul searching, finding yourself, adventure films and Wild is the best installment in the genre since Sean Pean’s Into The Wild. Director Jean- Marc Vallee has made an absolutely beautiful film, and Cinematographer Yves Belanger took full advantage of the breathtaking landscape, expertly framing each shot to encompass all the beauty presented. However, what this movie does so well is that it moves beyond aesthetic beauty; it’s just as thematically rich, dealing with heavy subjects, asking meaningful questions, and brilliantly using flashbacks to add depth and layers to the main characters overall arc. Wild deals with the idea of redemption, rebirth, and cleansing oneself from past demons. It’s a journey both literal and figurative, of the body and soul. Reese Witherspoon has never been better as Cheryl Strayed, a women who’s broken from what life’s thrown at her and what she’s thrown at herself. Witherspoon delivers the performance with such honesty, being strong yet vulnerable, conveying a whole array of emotions with little dialogue to no dialogue. Her performance really becomes quite moving. The editing is also flawless using the right cues through the hike to reference past emotional tragedy, allowing for a better understanding of Strayed’s need for redemption. Wild is ultimately about choices. How we choose to handle adversity, hardships, and the general struggles of life. What’s going to be our perspective when we’re going through tribulation? And what’s our attitude when life doesn’t go our way? We always have a choice. “There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”

Number 5 – Guardians of the Galaxy

Sure, the villain is undeveloped, the first half of the plot is somewhat messy and sloppy, and the third act is nothing new from a Marvel movie. But you know what? I DON’T CARE!! You wanna know why? Because Guardians of the Galaxy is the most entertaining movie of the year, and it delivers on its promises, giving the audience an intergalactic space adventure that relishes in its eccentricity, rather than neglects it. James Gunn is the real star of the film, directing the picture with style and flare, embracing the uniqueness of the material, instead of shying away for a safer film. The opening credits, showing StarLord dance around to the beat of “Come and get your love,” sends a message that paves a way for the rest of the movie. That message is that Guardians of the Galaxy is going to be exactly what it is; a silly space film saga with whacky, off the wall humor, inspired 70’s pop music, and a gang of unwanted misfits that are just as oddball as the material itself. Essentially, it’s refreshing. It’s refreshing to see a summer blockbuster break away from the mold and distinguish itself through characters and style rather than heightened special effects. The cast and crew clearly had a good time while making this production and their enjoyment is infectious, jumping off the screen and into the audience. Basically, it’s almost impossible not to have fun while watching Guardians of the Galaxy. So sit down, grab a coke and popcorn, and prepare for one wild ride.

Number 6 – Cooties

The opening scene completely sets the tone for Cooties, showing the process of how a chicken becomes a chicken nugget. Suffice to say, it’s as gross as any scene in the entire film and at the same time, equally as clever and hilarious. This infected chicken nugget goes on to become the catalyst for the disease that spreads rampant among elementary school children, turning them into crazed, blood thirsty zombies. The result is a horror/comedy that’s able to perfectly balance the two styles without compromising it’s tone and legitimacy. The film is exceptionally funny, as it makes the wise decision in fleshing out its characters, giving them each their own unique quirks and personalities, and making us as the audience invested in their stories. Directors Jonathan Milot and Cary Murnion have fun with elementary zombie storyline, inventively clashing the two for some laughs(let’s just say they don’t use a tetherball on the playground). Cooties has all the elements of a horror/comedy classic. The humor at the beginning of the film certainly delivers, but when the horror arrives, it never feels out of place or parodistic and yet, it never overshadows the comedy. Cooties could easily began to fall during the second act of the movie, but instead it hits full stride, never losing site of its own identity. In all honesty, Cooties may have been the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year and at the end of the day, you can’t ask for more than that.

Number 7 – Rudderless

William H Macy’s directorial debut is nothing short of spectacular. Rudderless is a emotionally powerful film, dealing with ideas such as, guilt, loss, and ultimately forgiveness. Billy Crudup excels as Sam, a mourning father who has to find acceptance in the death of his son Josh. This is where Rudderless really begins to shine, as Sam discovers comfort through his son’s old music. The score is easily the best aspect of the film, offering up songs that are both poignant and reflective then up-beat and inspiring. However, the music serves a larger purpose than just making you tap your feet; it’s used as a gateway for Sam to re-understand his son. Through this Rudderless discusses several ideas about art and it’s relation to the artist. In art can we discover more about an individual than we previously knew? Can it reveal the complexity of their emotions and thoughts? Essentially, can it show who they truly are? There’s a wonderful scene where Sam gives the box of his son’s music to his ex-wife. Sam says, “Give the music to his brother. That way he’ll know who Josh really was, instead of just what he’ll read in the paper.” The lines in the closing song of the film perfectly demonstrate what Rudderless is really all about, “What is lost can be replaced. What is gone is not forgotten.”

Number 8 – Nightcrawler

Corrupt. Vile. Morally dissolute. Nightcrawler is a chaotic, twisted but compelling film, that reflects on the darker truths in our society. In particular, the film examines the media and the tainted American dream. The main character, Louis (Jake Gyllenhaal), works as an independent cameraman for news stations. His job is to collect the most violent, disturbing, and horrific footage, putting on display the absolute worst of humanity. Certainly there is a connection to our current news channels, which constantly seem to be filled with negative after negative story; however, Nightcrawler draws more attention to the how impersonal stations treat victims, looking more at the dollar signs than the actual tragedy. One scene is quite powerful, Louis’s partner asks Louis not to film a certain individual because they knew him, Louis retorts, “No, he is a story now.” The American dream is shown in its ugliest and darkest form, highlighting how truly self-serving it is. The film does a great job of demonstrating how nasty the business world can be and how one may have to sacrifice morality for prestige. Louis begins by simply filming crimes, then he repositions victims for better camera angles, and eventually he starts committing crimes himself, all for the sake of his business. However, even through all of this, you still root for Louis to achieve his ambition. That’s an impressive feat for any film to achieve, making an antagonist main character that still manages to receive the audience’s support. Jake Gyllenhaal gives not only the best performance of the year, but also the best performance of his entire career. He gets lost in this character, perfecting all the details, like the smallest of mannerism, tone of voice, and the general eye movement. Louis is sly, ruthless, and cold, and Gyllenhaal portrays all of this often in one simple gaze. Nightcrawler is ultimately like its main character, dark, manipulative, and devilishly twisted, but also so utterly fascinating; you simply can’t turn away.

Number 9 – Edge of Tomorrow

After an awful ad campaign, which featured a rather inconsistent Tom Cruise, a terrible tag line, and a trailer that was utterly boring and forgettable, no one believed in Edge of Tomorrow. However, Edge of Tomorrow was the surprise hit of the summer, cleverly constructing a plot-line that’s the sci-fi equivalent to Groundhog Day. The film is funny, well paced, and brilliantly edited. Seeing Cruise relive the same day over and over again, in an attempt to stop the alien invasion, could have easily been one of the most dull moviegoing experiences of the summer. After all, it’s hard enough to make a scene interesting the first time, let alone making the same scene watchable on the sixth or seventh viewing. This is where the editing comes in beautifully, never showing the audience more than they need to see, briskly moving from scene to scene. Edge of Tomorrow does a wonderful job of creating humor in the midst of Cruise’s situation, keeping the tone light-hearted and getting laughs out of Cruise’s many failed attempts; it actually becomes really inventive at times. Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise also do a great job at anchoring the film, delivering a real emotional arc between the two characters, giving the film a personal touch that is often missing in big summer Hollywood movies. Edge of Tomorrow maybe the smartest blockbuster of the year, and it’s living proof that Tom Cruise has a little gas left in the tank.

Posted on January 7, 2015 .