The 2015 Academy Awards have nominated some of the weakest films in recent history. Composing a top 10 of my personal favorite films of the year was partially a struggle with the lack of exceptional movies coupled with a vast majority of mediocre films. One of the most widely positively and negatively talked about films of the year, and the potential Oscar favorite to win, is Boyhood. While I reviewed the film as the most overrated movie of the year, it represents the year as a whole…good, but not great. The Academy appears to be resting on some of the safest films that can be considered important and groundbreaking cinema, but fall on the cusp of mediocrity. There were a lot of great films that got ignored this year that may or may not have made my list like Inherent Vice or Guardians of the Galaxy, but are some great movies that shouldn’t be overlooked by viewers.
This is my third year composing a top ten list, and while I’m satisfied with these 10 films, I’m disappointed in the year as a whole. These are what I consider my personal favorites (not a top 10 of what I consider to be the best in well-rounded cinema). Here’s hoping 2015 has more to offer with greater competition and greater risks in the filmmaking industry.
“We celebrate all the religions of the world in this room, Oliver. I’m a catholic, which is the best of all the religions, really, because we have the most rules. And the best clothes. But among us, there is also a buddhist, agnostic, we have a baptist, and we have an “I don’t know”, which seems to be the fastest growing religion in the world.”
Plot: “A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door.’
Director: Theodore Melfi
Actors: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts
Bottom Line: The coveted top 10 spot is taken by St. Vincent…trumping both The Babadook and Inherent Vice. Although it was a difficult decision to narrow down, Bill Murray’s sour turned sweet character won over my heart in St. Vincent. If you’re a fan of Bill Murray, expect another great performance to add to his acting resume, and one not directed by Wes Anderson. While St Vincent may be aided by some movie cliches, the overall performance of Bill Murray coupled with his costars makes my top 10 list.
“That’s my job, that’s what I do, I’d like to think if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life. “
Plot: “When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.”
Director: Dan Gilroy
Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
Bottom Line: The Academy Award for creepiest, budging eyeballs goes solely to Jake Gyllenhaal in one of his best performances to date; a performance completely snubbed by the Academy this year. Like Gone Girl, this film questions how far the media will go to present the perfect news story.
“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we lost all that. Or perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us. “
Plot: “A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to ensure humanity’s survival.”
Director: Christopher Nolan
Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain
Bottom Line: Both groundbreaking scientifically and cinematically, Interstellar is one of the greatest Oscar snubs in recent history. The epic science fiction voyage questions our near future with the fate of humanity in jeopardy. Whether or not you’re a fan of science fiction, it’s undeniable that Christopher Nolan made advancements in cinema that have gone completely ignored by the Academy.
“Nick dunne took my pride and my dignity and my hope and my money. He took and took from me until I no longer existed. That’s murder.”
Plot: “With his wife’s disappearance having become the focus of an intense media circus, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it’s suspected that he may not be innocent.”
Director: David Fincher
Actors: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris
Bottom Line: Whether or not you’ve read Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl (I haven’t), fans of the novel attest that the film adaptation doesn’t stray far from it’s source material. When Amy Dunne mysteriously goes missing, her husband becomes the central focus of her disappearance during a media blitz covering her story. There’s a lot of meat to the core of the story as well as debate–is this a misogynist film, does it have a misanthropic view on marriage? Gone Girl may have sparked questions and raised a few eyebrows, but it has unanimously garnered praise from moviegoers; I haven’t really heard a single complaint on the Internet about this film. While it’s not my favorite Fincher flick, it’s strengths outweigh it’s weaknesses. This is a smart film that’s going to make you think, have you talking about it for a while and leave you fully unsettled with what you just watched.
“You drank Ian!”
Plot: “A depressed musician reunites with his lover, though their romance – which has already endured several centuries – is disrupted by the arrival of uncontrollable younger sister.”
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Actors: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska
Bottom Line: If any genre of as been over-explored in our culture, it’s the blood-sucking, vampire genre. But indie director Jim Jarmusch offers a melancholy, hipster-driven film that pushes the boundaries of love for centuries between two outsiders living in the shadows. What makes these vampires unique is their non-violent approach to ensure blood is available during feeding; Adam works the graveyard shift in a hospital where he trades substantial amounts of cash for blood samples to take home. Adam lives his life as a total hipster–tormented by humans (he calls them zombies) whom he believes are rotting the world. Unlike Eve, he’s unaccepting to the ever-changing culture. “I’m sick of it–these zombies, what they’ve done to the world, their fear of their own imagination.”
“There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”
Plot: “The relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.”
Director: James Marsh
Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior
Bottom Line: The Theory of Everything has received praise for its acting (particularly for Redmayne and Jones), James Marsh’s direction, Anthony McCarten’s screenplay, Benoît Delhomme’s cinematography, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s musical score and its overall production. Catherine Shoard of The Guardian praised the film and particularly Redmayne, writing, “Redmayne towers: this is an astonishing, genuinely visceral performance which bears comparison with Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot. The film balances both beauty and fact with an elegance seldom seen in theaters. If I were to have it my way, both leads would be taking home golden statues for their challenging portrayals executed so effortlessly on screen.
“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”
Plot: “A washed up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play.”
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Actors: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Bottom Line: The cinematic talent of this film is undeniable. Whether or not it beats Boyhood at the Academy Awards, Birdman‘s experimental nature in filmmaking is exceptional and unlike anything I’ve seen this year. It’s cinematography, editing and tremendous acting by it’s troupe of actors make it best-picture worthy for this Academy Awards.
“I just… wanted to get away from it all.”
Plot: “A mysterious woman seduces lonely men in the evening hours in Scotland. Events lead her to begin a process of self-discovery.”
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay
Bottom Line: “A genuine revelation. We may finally have an heir to Kubrick,” states LA Weekly in the film’s trailer. With A chilling score shrieking like crisp nails on a chalkboard juxtaposed with the serene countryside of Glasgow, LA Weekly may be on to something. The contradiction between score and cinematography is haunting yet beautiful. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen nor heard in recent years in the void of science fiction cinema…until now. It can be interpreted that the film uses aliens as a metaphor to question what it means to be human and what it’s like to be free of judgment or predisposed to our superficial culture. It’s completely bizarre and frightening yet impossible to look away from. Director Johnathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) has resurrected Kubrick-style science fiction that faded off-screen decades ago.
“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”
Plot: “The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.”
Director: Wes Anderson
Actors: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric
Bottom Line: Variety reports that The Grand Budapest Hotel has grossed a tremendous box-office take of $103.8 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film ever made by Hollywood power director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums is second with $71 million worldwide). But let me be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Wes Anderson’s films despite his artistic, palpable visuals and undeniable cult following. As a friend of mine quickly quipped in response to his newest release, “Anderson is a fraudulent artist.” However, there was something special about The Grand Budapest Hotel; a pivotal shift in direction that not only gave this film a broader appeal, but it has become an instant five-star winner for me–someone vehemently unattracted to the typical Wes Anderson craft of storytelling.
“And here comes mister gay pride of the Upper West Side himself. Unfortunately, this is not a Bette Midler concert, we will not be serving Cosmopolitans and Baked Alaska, so just play faster than you give fucking hand jobs, will you please?”
Plot: “A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student’s potential.”
Director: Damien Chazelle
Actors: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist
Bottom Line: Jazz drumming at an elite conservatory didn’t puncture my curiosity initially, but Whiplash has more to offer than a tremendous jazz score. The film shares a dynamic duo whose relationship heavily blurs the line between right and wrong. Miles Teller rips through this film with an elevated level of dedicated ferocity that I haven’t seen from a young actor recently, while J.K. Simmons is both electrifying and terrifying to glimpse on screen. Whiplash is knocking on Oscar’s door, and I think the Academy may listen to what Whiplash has to offer. A lot of people seem to be shrugging off Whiplash as a “music movie” or a movie about a kid who’s got a real knack for playing the drums, but Whiplash is one of the best-reviewed films of 2014 for a reason. It has the strength to get under your skin and challenge you–should you settle at mediocrity or strive to be the best? A question both relative to the film as it is relative to our present day culture who perpetually settles at the margin. The film pushes the envelope with this question combining the driving force of Black Swan dedication under the severe command-style of Full Metal Jacket. This tour de force is not one to miss and certainly one to learn from this year.