The Best Movies of 2014

The Year In Film.
By Awais Mushtaq
[contributor]

The Lego Movie

“Everything is awesome!”
If you didn’t get a chance to join in this uproarious sing-a-long of 2014, one truly representative of the film itself, then here’s your chance. Characteristic of a master builder, The Lego Movie with its satirical brand of comedy running within a surreal free-formed animation style opens the world of Lego for all ages.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

“Home. Family. Future.”
It’s an example of how blockbusters can rise to the challenge, one where the characters really advance the story—even if they happen to be motion captured. With an inevitable grand battle always on the horizon, Dawn manages to parcel out the violent action sequences with much care and reverence; they are sure to consider impact on the drama that unfolds at the forefront. In a story seen through the eyes of apes and humans where neither is infallible, prejudice is rampant and the eternal struggle between peace and war rages on.

Guardians of the Galaxy

“You said it, bitch. We’re guardians of the galaxy.”
With an impressive soundtrack at its side, the Guardians are quite possibly the most unique band of misfit space criminals to ever team up to save the galaxy from Ronan the Accuser and his infinity stone. The film’s biggest strength comes from its ability to take unrecognizable characters and treat their interconnected stories in a flippant manner. At times the subject matter is earnest and other times it’s absurd, but by the end you’ll be sure to remember the name “Star Lord.”

X-Men: Days of Future Past

“The past, a new and uncertain world. A world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes…for the future is never truly set.”
X-Men is more of a fish-out-of-water, or rather, fish-out-of-time story. The film is a time-travel yarn that recaptures what represented the best about the franchise—ideas about intolerance and societal effects on the “others” as well as on the majority. Overall, it’s a character-driven story, one where sinister villains aren’t the be-all end-all; everyone is equally responsible for their fates.

Edge of Tomorrow

“Come find me when you wake up!”
With the tagline “Live, Die, Repeat”, this movies makes the viewer feel the toil that the reliving of a single day takes on its characters. A Groundhog Day premise amidst an extraterrestrial war, Edge of Tomorrow offers an in-depth character study of immortality and what it means in the most harshest of places: the battle field.

Transcendence

“The Internet was meant to make the world smaller, but it feels a lot smaller without it.”
A throwback to ‘70s science fiction Transcendence might have failed at the box office but it definitely deserves a second look. Like every great science fiction, it’s a film about ideas and how those ideas are interpreted through a social lens. The idea of a human consciousness within a digital age as a possible threat or benefit to humanity’s evolutionary climb. In other words, Transcendence is an intriguing film even if it fumbles in its execution of it.

Godzilla

“The arrogance of men is thinking nature is in their control and not the other way around. Let them fight.”
Godzilla is a film that is more of a tribute to the original in form, but not in any functional way. While it doesn’t carry the same poignant weight or character depth/development as did the 1954 version, its treatment of the monsters is done very much in the classic sense, as fully fleshed characters themselves.

Noah

“We broke the world – we did this. Man did this. Everything that was beautiful, everything that was good, we shattered. Now, it begins again.”
To treat Noah as a biblical epic would be a disservice. It is an epic, but more in the realm of fantasy than anything else. With a story as ancient as this, there’s an inclination to dismiss it for its absurdity. Notwithstanding, it’s a work that deals with its material seriously enough to deliver a subtle ecologically-driven theme about humanity’s place within the world, and at the same time a story of personal struggle, or more accurately, tragedy. By no means is it simplistic either in its story-telling or in its messages, the crowning achievement is the accurate representation of a fallible human and his psychological torment of letting one world die for the beginning of another.

Mr. Turner

“The sun is god! Ha ha ha!”
Going beyond a traditional biopic, Mr. Turner is a two-and-a-half hour film that doesn’t feel its length at any point. Within the heightened landscapes and changing artistic, cultural, technological and scientific times of the English romantic period the film offers a character study of J.M.W. Turner as a complex historical figure. His paintings are a reflection of deeper social messages for hidden societal problems, and his often humourous, but ultimately tragic personal relationships. With an unforgettable performance by Timothy Spall, who gets away with single caveman-like grunts in the place of words throughout the movie, the embodiment of the character is a defining moment for this light and dark period piece in the 2014 film year.

Whiplash

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”
A film not necessarily just for musicians or jazz lovers, Whiplash is a highly relatable movie for all who have at one point in time come to meet their Fletcher: an antagonist with a cutthroat personality bent on perfection. Tackling the power and pitfalls of negative reinforcement and the extremes of obsession, it is a film that delivers a raw quality of intense performances with a bookend ending resound with redemption that initially throws you for a loop. Just remember to clean the blood off the drum set when you’re done.

Frank

“But what goes on inside that head inside that head?”
Billed as a dark comedy, Frank offers audiences a much more rewarding experience than term can describe. The adoption of (English musician/comedian) Frank Sidebottom’s Paper Mache head as a crutch for the socially awkward musical genius, Frank is less of a publicity stunt and more of a look at the avant-garde garage rock movements within the margins of the music industry. Tonally quite complex, particularly by the end when the masks are figuratively and quite literally pulled off, viewers can expect a moving and deep narrative covering the reality of band life/tours. A cult indie classic if there ever was one.

Calvary

“I think there’s too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.”
A timely film to say the least, Calvary, with its sharp language and uncomfortable premise, tells a disturbing tale of the residual effects of child abuse at the hands of the priesthood, and its impact on those who practice it in good repute. And itt’s done all in the form of changing cultural attitudes towards religion and threat of murder from a confessional. It’s not a traditional whodunnit, but a who’s going to do it theatrical comedy. With an unflinchingly sombre finale act, an overarching theme of forgiveness echoes up until the very last frame. Not just of others, but of oneself.

The Rover

“You should never stop thinking about a life you’ve taken. That’s the price you pay for taking it.” Stripped to bare bones, The Rover’s minimal approach to its story telling makes it a quite believable future set 10 years after the “collapse.” A film that talks about how people, particularly men, become estranged from their morals in an environment that has reverted back to more of an archaic lawless world on its last legs. It is a world holding onto a monetary system of “wealth” and some form of societal control. The film dispenses with expository dialogue at certain times to shine light on what’s truly important, the transformations of characters and how it influences the demise of others as they try to merely survive the Australian gold rush. An absolute thought provokingly dark western for the modern age. Don’t forget to look in the trunk.

Locke

“Do it for the piece of sky we are stealing with our building. You do it for the air that will be displaced, and most of all, you do it for the fucking concrete. Because it is delicate as blood.”
Shot and shown much like a theatre production, Locke is a real time look at the psychological and often blunt tragic character of Ivan Locke, a man tangled in a life-changing event set to disrupt his carefully constructed family and work life. Within an 85-minute span, the film manages to deliver a multifaceted look at fatherhood, parental responsibility, perseverance and love through the eyes of a single character. Those able to remain in the car until the end will be well rewarded with a sliver of hope, a key to the success of this bleak but powerful narrative.

Blue Ruin

“The keys are in the car…the keys are in the car…the keys are in the car.”
An anti-revenge film, Blue Ruin is an indie powerhouse that brings forth the spirit of the revenge thriller genre without the simplistic tropes or clichés that often accompany it. At the heart of it is the twin ideas of revenge and violence, which ultimately work toward destroying everything and everyone involved, directly or indirectly. It is a cautionary tale about the arms ridden badlands of the Americas that plays out like a Shakespearian tragedy where both feuding Montagues and Capulets are equally responsible for the roles they inhabit–that invariably come with long term irreversible damage. The morality of it all is what makes it so intriguing.

Predestination

“Time, it catches up with us all, even those in our line of work. I guess you could say we’re gifted. God Jesus, it sounds arrogant saying that out loud. Alright, I’ll put it a better way. I guess you could say we were born to do this job.”
An unconventional time travel yarn that is unlike any before, Predestination, like any great science fiction, uses the genre only to hold a mirror to existing societal issues, while still delivering on the mind bending narrative that can simply be explained as a snake eating its own tail. Impressively, 95 per cent drama with 5 per cent devoted to action (the way it should be) only works to strengthen the plot about a time traveling temporal agent caught within a biological time loop, a gift given to the world through a predestination paradox. If it all sounds a bit too heady then do not worry, the film manages to make the unexplainable explainable and the unbelievable shockingly believable.

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