By SUN STAFF
1. Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s trademark appeal is providing audiences with elaborate visual mediums through which he conveys utterly absurd plots, characters and themes. While we are drawn to his quirky characters (and of course the actors who portray those idiosyncrasies), often times his convoluted, semi-psychoanalytical and illogical plots and themes distance some viewers. However, The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a historical fiction with relatable insights into the suffering in post-war Europe and what it means to overcome past struggles. The hotel itself serves as symbol of the characters’ journeys vacillating between success and slow decline, ultimately ending in a comfortable and content middle. Above all, the power of this film lies in its ability to highlight the universal human strive for relevancy even through the typical Anderson-esque eccentricities.
— Harini Kannan
As easy to love as to hate, Boyhood has attracted and sustained so animated a discussion because of its perceived “relatability.” Some see themselves in Mason Jr.’s every milestone and indecision, while others resent that the all-encompassing sweep of the title points to yet another white boy from Texas. Both takes are correct, but what else is there in Boyhood? Its main subject, more than Mason, turns out to be time, and how it shapes who we are by virtue of its passing alone — doesn’t matter if you change for the better or keep making the same mistakes, because you’ll always be defined by your past. The film responds by moving ever forward, to the point where the story merely stops rather than ends. Past and future are palpable specters in Boyhood, pinned loosely by the enrapturing present of watching them all collide at once.
— Zachary Zahos
The highly anticipated film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel shocked audiences everywhere and created a realistic sense of horror. Ben Affleck played the unsettlingly stoic Nick Dunne, who fell under heavy suspicion when his wife Amy, made eerily calculating by Rosamund Pike, went missing on their fifth wedding anniversary. The lead actors perfectly portrayed the transformation from a happy and loving relationship to a marriage damaged beyond repair, and made the bizarre plot feel relatable. With a strong cast and constant twists and turns, the film kept the endless investigations from dragging and led entire theaters to jump out of their seats upon the dramatic revelation halfway through, never letting the suspense die down in this haunting tale.
— Emily Fournier
Birdman is the actor’s film of the year. Not a single performance is anything less than a revelation, an exercise in commitment and passion toward a role. Michael Keaton should be a top contender in this year’s Oscar race for Best Actor for his comeback performance as washed-up action hero Riggan Thomson. Ed Norton’s role as the Daniel Day-Lewis-esque method actor Mike Shiner may be the funniest thing I’ve seen all year. It isn’t often that a Hollywood film about showbiz simultaneously skewers and exults the creative process this sharply and with such wit. In fact, I’ve never seen anything quite like Birdman, and I doubt I ever will.
— Sean Doolittle
Snowpiercer, the first English language film from South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho (a master of blending multiple genres into a single film), takes place aboard the Rattling Ark, a train that travels around a frozen, post-apocalyptic world, carrying the only human survivors of said apocalypse. The train is divided into rigid class lines, with the poor living in squalor in the back and the rich living in decadence in the front. A revolution by the back, with the goal of reaching the front car, the engine, is led by none other than Captain America himself, Chris Evans. The film contains action sequences so thrilling and innovative (and non-reliant on special effects), I sat there saying to myself, “how did they even think of that?” This movie has something on its mind too, with the final act philosophically complicating the film beyond its simple 99-percenter premise. Snowpiecer may not be the best movie I saw this year, but it’s certainly the boldest and least pretentious one, one that doesn’t care whether people see it as a pure action film or an intellectual class allegory. How refreshing.
— Jesse Weissman
Whiplash, winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is a virtuosic mediation on what happens when an artist goes too far with his craft. It is by turns exhilarating and punishing, far and away the most intense film of the year and certain stretches of it are downright painful to watch. I expected a leisurely paced indie drama, but a case could be made that this is one of the most violent movies of 2014 — on a psychological level. Razor sharp editing, wicked fast whip pans and tour de force performances from Miles Teller and a volcanic J.K. Simmons add up to an experience that leaves you drained and exhausted and yes, whiplashed, by the time it crashes off its last downbeat.
— Mark DiStefano, Originally printed Oct. 14, 2014
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
If great characters alone can make a great movie, Guardians of the Galaxy was destined for success. In addition to Chris Pratt’s portrayal of the bumbling, music-loving underdog Star-Lord, the eponymous Guardians includes a vengeful alien assassin (Zoe Saldana), a kleptomaniacal raccoon (Bradley Cooper), a humorless superhero (Dave Bautista) and the world’s most lovable tree (Vin Diesel). Their mission? Stop the eye shadow-slathered, sledgehammer-wielding Ronan (Lee Pace) from destroying the entire galaxy. James Gunn and Nicole Perlman’s inventive screenplay delivers all of the bravado and excess of superhero movies while still crafting poignant backstories for the protagonists. In the end, Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie for comic book nerds, animal lovers, audiophiles, adrenaline junkies and anyone who just wants to see stuff blow up.
— Shay Collins
8. A Most Wanted Man
Melancholy is rarely done well in film. It is far too easy to drift into cynicism or, even worse, nihilism. Anton Corbijn managed the impossible with A Most Wanted Man, creating a spy flick that is impossibly sad but not once cynical. Philip Seymour Hoffman is impeccable in one of his final roles as the very dedicated German counterterrorist agent Gunther Bachmann. His acting is so methodical, so streamlined that it can seem plain or bland, but it is anything but. PSH worked in a league of his own, endowing each glance, scowl and cigarette — and the movie is full of them — with a mountain of passion and ferocity unlike any I’ve ever seen. Damn, we truly lost one of the greats.
“My motto is: If you want to win the lottery, you have to have the money to buy a ticket.” Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler starts out as scary of a sycophant as one could imagine, flashing a winningly-rehearsed smile and listing his many personal selling points for an uninterested supervisor. His motto, and his story, is as American as they come. Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the isolated sociopath is already being compared to De Niro’s big roles of yore, due to its chilling misanthropy (“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people, but that I don’t like them?”) and clammy, desperate physicality: His eyes are bulging out of his head at all times, his hair is slicked back when he’s dressed to impress and tied up in a ridiculous top-knot when he’s setting in to do some grunt work (a twisted Violet Baudelaire) and he delivers every line, from chummy workplace jokes to blackmail demands to sermons on self-help with impossibly unnatural timing and inflection.
— Kaitlyn Tiffany, Originally printed Nov. 3, 2014
Oscar forecasters are predicting multiple nominations for Foxcatcher, but rest assured the movie is better than that. There are few art house films, let alone mainstream films starring Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, that trust the eloquence of silence as much as Foxcatcher does under Bennett Miller’s direction. Prideful, solitary men exchange charged glances or else give one another the cold shoulder for long stretches of this multivalent and mysterious film, which critiques our plutocratic, flag-waving country with such precision that it’s doubtful any viewer can leave the theater without his or her mind racing. Oscar-type movies don’t tend to do that, if you think about it, but the performances — from Carell, Tatum and Mark Ruffalo especially — are so detailed the tedium of the award circuit will follow Foxcatcher for the coming months, with lasting fascination to follow.
— Zachary Zahos