' ' Cinema Romantico: The 10th Annual Prigges: Top 10 Movies Of 2014

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The 10th Annual Prigges: Top 10 Movies Of 2014

As always, this is an eclectic list but, as always, these were the best movies I saw in 2014 regardless of genre, budget, box office, critical/audience consensus, or 'importance'. (Click on the title to read the review.)

10. Lucy. Oh, the synopsis-izers will tell you Luc Besson’s actioneering epic is about some sorta MacGuffin-ish drug that gives Scarlett Johansson 100% access to her brainpower, or something, or something else. I say, the hell it is. “Lucy” is about one thing and one thing only – having communion with the alluring omnipotence of our most endangered cinematic species, the movie star. ScarJo, to infinity and beyond!

9. Coherence. Eight friends gather for a dinner party the night Miller’s Comet makes a pass by Earth. When it does, things go haywire. And while the ensuing film is kind of a thriller sort of propelled by the age-old thought experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat, it goes beyond genre and scientific gobbledygook to explore what might happen if we literally had to look ourselves in the mirror and square (or not) with where we are and what we have become. Now that’s a horror movie.

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel. If Wes Anderson’s films have long taken place in the Land of Make Believe, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, structured like a rich novel and centered around the once-glorious, now-fading edifice of the title marks the first time the real world has begun making inroads, peeking around the curtain, insinuating itself, perhaps where it's not wanted. And it surfaces most in the sterling creation of Ralph Fiennes' Gustave H., a concierge whose dedication to style and civil code and renunciation of encroaching true-to-life atrocities elegantly summarizes this luminescent elegy to the way things were.

7. The Homesman. Tommy Lee Jones' western is a ragged and brutal composition of revisionist poetry, quietly but forcefully attacking the wayward misogyny of its many historical cinematic forefathers. And its auteur and co-star (alongside a stalwart yet sad-eyed and marvelous Hilary Swank), he of the meme-famous unamused scowl, actually has the cojones to make himself the butt of the joke.

6. A Most Wanted Man. Based on a John le Carre novel, “A Most Wanted Man” is one of those films that is so specifically and relentlessly about what it’s about that it’s not until its ultra-intense wrap-up that you realize it wasn’t really about what it seemed to be about at all. Its end is rooted in ineffectuality, brought about by a cruel, cruel world that is always one step ahead. And even if “it’s a just a movie”, it’s never just a movie, and it’s nigh impossible to not connect the last great performance of its leading man, Philip Seymour Hoffman, to his character’s debilitatingly haunting closing shots.

5. Ida. Pawel Pawlikowski’s intimate Polish story of an about-to-take-her-vows nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) was filmed in a 1:37 aspect ratio that boxes its characters into every black & white frame and makes it seem, wondrously, if angels, joyously or judgmentally, are hovering over every shot. Yet in spite of its resplendent cinematography, this is no mere technical marvel, as genuine emotion slowly seeps in from those squared-off sides and coils itself around the characters. And, as we know, emotion and religion…..they don’t always mix.

4. Night Moves. The closest Kelly Reichardt has yet ventured to outright genre territory (in this case, a thriller), she nonetheless transcends the potential limitations of that choice by writing each character with a specific voice and turning shot after shot into naturalistically pissed-off poetry. It’s about eco-terrorism, yes, and the futility of an eco-terrorist’s scare tactics, sure, but its ideas of futility stretch far, far beyond that limited scope. Its protagonist, a frightfully closed-off, tight-lipped Jesse Eisenberg, has become lost in the noise of his own head, consumed by an urban jungle, powerless to escape its crawling concrete vines.

3. Only Lovers Left Alive. Jim Jarmusch stylishly employs a pair of ancient bohemian vampires (Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston) as witnesses to a slowly-emergent artistic apocalypse. Some have labeled its attitude toward a dying world as smug but I saw it as sorrow, a melancholy lament, and yet still with a tenable hope for a restorative oasis. To see them stand in the ruin of the Michigan Theatre like a grand synagogue is to experience a litmus test of faith. What is, or what was and what can be again?

2. Two Days, One Night. A remarkable aesthetic achievement, “Two Days, One Night” is a socially realistic fable enveloped in the cloak of a ticking-clock thriller that is emotionally tied together by a genuinely grand Marion Cotillard performance that never steps on the film's toes. It will make you question the world and the humanity within it. It will make you believe in the world and the humanity within it for all time.

1. Land Ho! Its two sixty-something protagonists purport to be taking a road trip through mystical Iceland as a means of getting their groove back, but that’s not quite right. It’s more like getting into the groove, if not necessarily staying there, seeing as how these characters are saddled with real-life complications wondrously resistant to tidy resolutions. This is a low-key but breathtaking paean to the eternal attempt to get past the fleeting nature of being in the moment so that the moment can build you back up. What did Molly Shannon say in “Serendipity”? Ah yes. I think you should just be here. And they are. And it is. And I was. Let this movie lift you up.


Nikhat said...

I watched Land Ho! because I kept seeing you tweet about it and it was really delightful and sweet. Thanks for that! Also, love that Lucy's here :')

Derek Armstrong said...

You are officially in the bag for Aaron Katz! (I haven't seen Land Ho! but have just added it to my various watchlists.)

Interesting list. Five of those movies are in my top 25, four I haven't seen, and the other is Lucy. (Which is about #50 on my list.) To learn any more about my list, you must wait until 1/15.

Do you consider this an "out of sync year" for yourself? Only one of your top ten do I expect to get a nomination for best picture (Grand Budapest). Not that that matters or would even necessarily be a good way to measure the year, but I'm curious whether you surprised yourself but not liking as many of the buzzed about movies as you might have in some other years.

Wretched Genius said...

Not a single film on this list is on my yet-to-be-posted Top 10, though Coherence, A Most Wanted Man and Lucy would all probably make my Top 20. And of the 3 main ScarJo films, you picked the right one. Under the Skin was pretty, but overrated.

Nick Prigge said...

Nikhat: Hearing that you made a point to track down "Land Ho!" warms my heart. Thank you, and glad to hear you enjoyed it too. I know I can sometimes prattle on about films that maybe don't do for others what they do for me.

Derek (Vance?): I am so utterly in the bag for Katz. In these 10 years, he's only the guy/girl to have a film land at #1 twice. He just makes films that appeal to my sensibilities. As for your question.....I was somewhat surprised I slanted so heavily toward indie fare this year. I guess I just have more access to more of everything now, not just from living in Chicago but from screeners and such, that I get more below the surface of just the buzzed stuff. Then again, "Boyhood" WAS on this list until early December when I encountered "The Homesman." Changes had to be made. I was powerless.

Brad: I liked "Under the Skin", though perhaps not to the degree of many of my critic colleagues. But. Yeah. "Lucy." I mean, damn.

Alex Withrow said...

I watched Lucy the other day and pretty much loved it. It knew exactly what it was doing and wasted no time doing it. A blast.

Was also a great fan of Coherence, The Homesman and Night Moves, three films that deserved far more play than they received. And holy hell, I need to see Land Ho! ASAP.

Nick Prigge said...

Love that you loved Coherence too. I remember reading your review of it. it seems like anyone that tracks it down immediately falls in love with it, so hopefully more people do. It deserves a massive audience!