I often find it difficult to create a yearly “best of” list for films because I always feel that I have yet to discover the hidden gems of the year due to the fact that I live in a city where the local cineplex bring in comic book movies, family films and rom-coms until the Oscar nominations come out. 2014 was a year where the films I anticipated the most disappointed me, and too many sequels bogged up the landscape. However, that didn’t stop a few remarkable films from crossing my radar. If you don’t see the films you loved the most this year please e-mail me your personal favorites at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can preview what you saw and loved. I still think I have a lot yet to discover from 2014.
PCA MOVIE OF THE YEAR – BOYHOOD
Richard Linkletter’s epic coming of age film, Boyhood, is potentially the most groundbreaking film in decades. Experimental and highly original, it was an experiment that was doomed to fail but, miraculously, it didn’t. The result is a a beautiful time spanning journey through the life of a broken family unit. Nothing like this has ever been filmed before.
In 2002 Richard Linkletter began filming Boyhood and for the next twelve years, would bring his cast back together creating a natural time lapse which allows the audience to see the same people age and change within a three hour film. Of course the most radical change perceived by the audience is that of the film’s young stars, most notably Ellar Coltrane as the film’s protagonist Mason. Seven years old when the film began, the audience watches him grow and mature to the age of eighteen in front of their very eyes. As time ebbs and flows through his emotional and physical journey, he is joined by Patricia Arquette as his bright but emotional mother who is prone to making poor relationship decisions, Ethan Hawke as his weekend father who the audience watches grow from loveable slacker to responsible family man, and newcomer Lorelei Linkletter (Richard Linkletter’s daughter), as Mason’s headstrong and often bossy older sister Samantha who, in the same way as Coltrane, ages from nine to twenty in front of the audience.
Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linkletter are incredible actors and it is amazing that Linkletter was able to keep them under the radar for so long. With Boyhood being the darling of the Golden Globe’s, and with Oscar nominations written all over it, hopefully we’ll see both of the films’ young stars move into other roles within Hollywood.
Just like real life, the story seems to change focus and goes into different directions as time goes on. Instead of being a story, it is more a character study of a sensitive and artistic boy, as well as his family unit. The passage of time is the factor that makes the film so unique and is a testament to the creative passion of Linkletter and the devotion of his team. Twelve years in the making, Boyhood is a triumph and it’s unlikely it could be done as successfully again, although I am sure that many copycat directors are about to try. A true masterpiece in film, Boyhood is something truly original in an industry that often lacks originally.
OTHER MOVIES WE LIKED
Although many may argue that Gone Girl is nothing more than another formula thriller, I’d argue that it is a well pieced cat and mouse mystery filled with suspense, twists, turns, and surprises which, if he were still alive, Alfred Hitchcock would have filled himself. Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a bar owner in a small town who returns home on his anniversary to find his wife Amy, played by Rosemond Pike, is missing. A minor celebrity, due to being used as the prototype for the main character in her parent’s popular children’s books, a media frenzy occurs with both the TV news and the police looking at Affleck as being the killer. As the story of the couple’s past unfolds in flashbacks, Affleck is just smarmy enough to make the audience wonder if, just maybe, he did it. But a mid-movie twist turns the whole thing on its head, which is preventing me from revealing much of anything at all. Director David Fincher uses the advent of modern 24 hour news channels and combines it with yellow sensationalist journalism that dates back to William Randloph Heart. The result goes beyond being a thriller but making the audience reexamine their relationship with news media. Gone Girl has its flaws, but it is one of the strongest thrillers in years and Pike and Affleck are terrific. In fact, Affleck is so good that you almost thing that maybe….just maybe….he might be able to pull off Batman after all. Maybe….
This great little Australian horror flick didn’t get a widespread release in North America, but has gained massive popularity due to it being included on so many “Best of 2014” lists, and rightfully so. Writer/director Jennifer Kent creates a bizarre and truly frightening experience with her horror creation The Babadook. Essie Davis stars as Amelia, the widowed mother of a troubles autistic boy Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman. Pushed to the limit of a near nervous breakdown due to both her grief and the alienation that she receives due to her son’s erratic and often bizarre behavior, Amelia discovers a creepy children’s book called The Babadook left in her house. The story of a “boogeyman” who lives in closets and under beds that come to take away little children, the book terrifies Samuel who begins to obsess about it, claiming that The Babadook is real and in their house. First disregarding Samuel’s outburst as being part of his overactive imagination, Amelia begins to suspect something supernatural may be in her house after all. Is there really a Babadook, or is she just going mad due to exhaustion and the demands of her unstable child? A haunting film, The Babadook is stylishly filmed, especially a terrifying nightmare montage reflective of the style of silent horror director Benjamin Christensen. Sure to please horror fans, the film adds elements of drama, pathos and its own horror as Amelia descends into madness due to her inability to cope with her own child. An emotional and terrifying journey, I see sequel written all over this one.
For the most part, the American output of horror films was disappointing, with the films being either dull or idiotic. The exception was John R. Leonetti’s Annabelle. A prequel to the hit 2013 film The Conjuring, Annabelle tells the origins of Annabelle the haunted doll. However, while The Conjuring is based on a true story from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, and while Annabelle is a real haunted doll that is owned by the couple, the origins of the doll are unknown. Thus Leonetti relied on the imagination of Gary Dauberman to flesh on a fictional origin of the doll for this film. But either fiction or fact, the film works. Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis play a young couple, Mia and John, whose home is invaded by Satanic cultists. Pregnant with their first child, Mia barely survives the attack, but the cultists are killed by police. However, in their wake, they have left something behind. A vintage doll that John had bought for Mia which they named Anabelle is acting strangely, as if it now has a mind of its own. Basic Hollywood popcorn thriller, Annabelle has some truly terrifying moments, and it will make you question ever bringing a doll into your home again.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Okay. So everybody that ever saw Guardians of the Galaxy pretty much loves it. It truly is the action/adventure film of the year. But let’s be blunt about what’s really impressive about Guardians of the Galaxy. As a comic books go, Guardians is truly a D list franchise. Even Stan Lee himself admitted that he wasn’t sure who these characters were. As someone who has been reading comic for thirty years, I can tell you that I have never read a book with the Guardians of the Galaxy in it. However, due to expert casting, lovable characters, a witty script, some action, adventure and a lot of fun, Guardians of the Galaxy is now one of the most profitable comic book franchises in the world today. Starlord, Groot and Rocket Raccoon are now household names and the film eclipsed classic heroes like Captain America, Spider-Man and The X-Men at the box office this summer. But just because you’re popular doesn’t mean you’re good. Well, Guardians of the Galaxy is that good. Look – I am tired of the superhero film genre. It’s over played, has become dull and repetitive and for the most part they just aren’t good movies. I don’t want to see another comic book movie. Truly I don’t. But with that said, why am I on pins and needles waiting for a Guardians of the Galaxy film? Because it’s just that good. Perhaps other directors and producers will learn from Guardians and realize that dark and serious isn’t how you create a successful comic book movie. You need to add a little element of fun into the mix too. I am Groot!
What to Watch for in 2015 – Two words – Star Wars. With George Lucas handing the reins to JJ Abrams Star Wars fans are finally going to get the sequels that they deserve. There is no way on God’s green Earth that Abrams can screw the franchise up more than Lucas did with the ill-fated prequels. With Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford back in the roles of Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, hopefully the bitter taste left in the mouths of fans worldwide can finally be cleansed. Admit it – you got emotional when you saw the Millennium Falcon in the trailer. I know I did. Peanuts returns to the big screen for the first time since the death of Charles Schultz in a new computer animated full length feature. With the Schultz estate hands on with the project, including Schultz’ son Bryan as one of the writers of the film, this could be a rejuvenation of a beloved comic franchise. The previews shown thus far are delightful. The Woman in Black 2 is coming, and it could go either way. A brand new story based on Susan Hill’s ghostly character, the last film featuring the story was mediocre and lacked the subtlety of the original book, stage play and 1989 teleplay. But it’s a favorite franchise of mine so it’ll be interesting to see which way it goes. We’ll have to wait and see. And speaking of horror franchises, Samara returns in Rings, a prequel to the popular The Ring films. Little information has been released yet, but The Ring, as well as the original Ringu films from Japan, are amongst my favorites and I can’t wait for the creepy little well girl to return to the big screen.