2014: Year in film

Michael Keaton takes flight and North Korea grounds a blockbuster in unpredictable movie year

I’m half-inclined to say that the fiasco surrounding The Interview makes that much-publicized but largely unseen picture the emblematic movie of 2014. The whole brouhaha bespeaks an era of powerful people blundering on a global scale from within their respective political, financial and pop-cultural bubbles.

But whatever the gloomy clouds emerging from all that, there’s a good deal to be said on behalf of the movies that did come our way in 2014. And while I don’t really think that any one movie or group of movies could be truly “emblematic” of an entire year, movie wise or otherwise, I don’t at all mind saying that, for me, 2014 is the year of Birdman, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

From where I sat, those three pictures were the best to have come our way in the first 50 weeks of 2014 (as usual, I’m writing this on the Monday before Christmas). It may have been yet another year without any truly great masterpieces, but once again there were plenty of exceptionally interesting films coming into view.

Other outstanding 2014 arrivals in local theaters included Under the Skin, Nightcrawler, The Great Beauty, Locke, Her, The Drop, John Wick and Gloria. The last two titles in that group might not have made it into my “local” top 10 if a few other 2014 standouts had actually made it onto local theater screens. Particularly noteworthy instances of the latter include Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, Marco Bellocchio’s Dormant Beauty and Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida.

I’ve encountered those films only via DVD so far, but DVDs and streaming movies, foreign and domestic, played a larger-than-ever role in the pleasures and satisfactions of my movie year. The True Detective miniseries also ranks with the group just mentioned, as does Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman, a year-end release that might still make it into a local movie house.

Apart from the Oscar-winning The Great Beauty (Italy) and the small gem Gloria (Chile), top-flight foreign language films were hard to come by in local movie theaters. But there were plenty of them brought within reach on video.

In addition to the previously mentioned films by Bellochio and Pawlikowski, the video-only foreign-language standouts include a superb character study from Romania (Calin Peter Netzer’s Child’s Pose), an offbeat film noir from Italy (Salvo, co-directed by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza), and five films from France—Martin Provost’s biopic, Violette; François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful; and three sprightly comedies—Michel Gondry’s exuberantly eccentric Mood Indigo, Cédric Klapisch’s Chinese Puzzle, Bertrand Tavernier’s Quai d’Orsay (aka The French Minister).

And there were plenty of remarkable English language films in the video-only category too: David Michôd’s The Rover from Australia, John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary from Ireland, Joon-Ho Bong’s allegorical Snowpiercer (a South Korean/Czech/ American/French co-production), Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant from Great Britain, David Mackenzie’s Starred Up (Ireland/UK). Plus, four pungent indies from the U.S.: Liza Johnson’s Hateship Loveship, Daniel Schechter’s Life of Crime (from an Elmore Leonard novel), Jim Mickle’s Cold in July (from a Joe Lansdale novel), and Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin.

It was a good year for brilliantly despondent crime thrillers—Nightcrawler, The Drop, John Wick, Cold in July, Blue Ruin, The Rover. Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings brought biblical epics back into play, but the really good films with spiritual subject matter turned up elsewhere and in more intimate form—Ida, Calvary, Dormant Beauty, Wild, Birdman, Locke, etc.

Favorite performances of the year: Edward Norris and Emma Stone in Birdman, Tom Hardy in Locke and The Drop, Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer and Only Lovers Left Alive, Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson in The Rover, Guy Pearce and Kristin Wiig in Hateship Loveship, Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin and Her, Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou in Mood Indigo, Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson in Cold in July, Luminita Gheorghiu in Child’s Pose, Paulina García in Gloria, Brendan Gleeson and Kelly Reilly in Calvary, Reese Witherspoon in Wild, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in True Detective.