I love contributing to year-end lists! I wrote a few blurbs for PopMatters' list of best films of the year.
No. 29: Only Lovers Left Alive
Vampires are overused. Scrubbed up and prettified to the point they can
be nonthreatening romantic partners for teenagers, today’s cinematic
vampires are, well, pretty toothless. With Only Lovers Left Alive,
director Jim Jarmusch has managed to salvage the vampire mystique. His
vamps are sexy, mysterious, brooding, and dangerous in equal measures.
Adam (Tom Hiddleston, proving he deserves the admiration of a thousand
Tumblrs) and Eve (Tilda Swinton, in one of her many standout
performances this year) don’t do much throughout the course of the
film—the two reunited lovers mostly bum around Adam’s Detroit home—but
throughout their conversations, Jarmusch manages to slip in
elbow-to-the-ribs jokes about history, ruminations about marriage, and
most importantly, a meditation into the creation of art itself. And Hiddleston and Swinton make it look so, so cool.
No. 22: Whiplash
In Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, music student and jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) tells his girlfriend that he strives to be one of the greatest performers of all time. In reality, it’s actor Teller and his co-star—J.K. Simmons, playing Terence Fletcher, Neiman’s teacher and bandleader—who really seem to be making a play at greatness. The film is about their conflict, and how Neiman believes he deserves greater acclaim as a drummer, with Fletcher arguing Neiman needs to pay more dues. Their back-and-forth brings the movie to a fever pitch—whiplash, indeed—with Teller and Simmons portraying the extremes of anger, frustration, and ambition without being afraid to show the egoism and callousness that go with them. It all builds to a climax that’s nothing short of virtuosic, both musically and cinematically.
No. 5: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson has a reputation for being constricting. His shots are so composed and his aesthetic so specific that his stories barely have room to breathe. The Grand Budapest Hotel refutes this generalization. Anderson pulls back and widens the scope of his film, spanning multiple time periods (with different casts of actors for each), countries (imagined ones, at least), and even aspect ratios (with frame sizes changing to denote the different timelines). Along with the broadened scope comes a certain looseness not normally associated with a director as controlling as Anderson; the actors, for example, each speak with their own accents, whether or not it makes sense in the context of the film. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as Anderson’s other films; it subtly moves from sequences of light farce to moments of real grief, sadness, loneliness, and anxiety about an approaching war. It adds up to a masterpiece on par with Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger’s Boy with Apple.
No. 4: Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
If there were a theme to 2014’s best movies, it would be about the struggle of creation. From the generation of music, as seen in Whiplash and Only Lovers Left Alive, to the art of Mr. Turner, the year was full of characters fighting to get something out into the world. Birdman is no exception. Not only is Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) trying to mount a play (a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”), he’s also trying to complete an act of self-invention. Along the way, director Alejandro González Iñárritu completes his own metamorphosis, from a director known for cross-cutting to one crazy enough to make a movie that looks like it was all one take. The subtitle of the movie is “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”, but it should instead be “The Unabashed Joy of Ambition”.Click through to read the full list at PopMatters