2014 in Review: The Best So Far

The Grand Budapest Hotel
We’re halfway through the movie year and I’ll admit that I’m a bit disappointed with 2014. Perhaps 2012 and 2013 are simply tough acts to follow—they’re two of the best movie years in recent memory—but the films released this year aren’t quite on par. Admittedly, my tally for the year so far is lower at the midpoint of 2014 than it was in 2013. I’m trailing 2013 by over 30 films at this point in the year, but that’s because I’ve devoted a good deal of time to some volunteer projects that don’t leave much time for writing. (But they’re great experience!) Having less time for moviegoing, however, means that I’ve been more discerning about what I screen and review, so I’ll have to be extra careful when screener season comes in November and I’ll make sure to catch second runs of films like Finding Vivian Meier, Ida, Nymphomaniac, Fading Gigolo, and Belle that I missed on their first runs. I’ll have more time to go to the movies in a few weeks, so I’ll have to play catch-up!

Only Lovers Left Alive
While I don’t think that this year is as strong for films overall, there are a handful of great films that stand out. It’s a tough call between The Grand Budapest Hotel and Only Lovers Left Alive for the title of the best film of the year so far. Both films are brilliantly original works of art that are bracingly refreshing rarities in a time when the multiplex has more junk than ever. (My consumption of films on home video has increased greatly, too, although that’s more a product of cost, geography, and convenience than of quality.) It’s hard to find even ten films to make a list for 2014, since many of the better films I saw this year (ex: The Great Beauty, The Missing Picture, and Le démantèlement) are technically 2013 stragglers. Many of the releases of the early half of 2014 simply aren’t worth the time. Another Captain America? Yawn. Another Spider-Man 2? Boring! More Liam Neeson shenanigans… on a plane? Ha!

We’ll forget about the clunkers, though, and remember the goodies as the year goes on. Here are, in alphabetical order, my picks for the best films and performances of 2014 so far. What are yours? (Please note that Night Moves, The Immigrant, Begin Again, Boyhood, Obvious Child, The Rover and a handful of other films have not yet opened in Ottawa.)

The Best Films of 2014 Thus Far:

Jon Favreau cooks up a winner with Chef! Pork on the griddle, buttery sandwiches, father-son bonding—Chef offers a great course in the swell year for food on film in 2014. It’s a pleasure to see Favreau work indie dramedy magic as a chef kicking’ it old school after realizing how fed up he is with the assembly line.
(Chef is currently screening in Ottawa at the Coliseum, Landmark Kanata, and Cine-Starz Orleans.)

Enemy is a film that demands to be seen twice. This fact seems wholly appropriate for Denis Villeneuve’s mind-bending doppelgänger film. This take on the novel The Double by José Saramago is a weird twin that tears the book into pieces to deliver an unnerving web of nightmares. It also offers the ugliest image of Toronto since Rob Ford.
(Enemy is now on home video.)

Enjoy an extended stay in the whimsical Alpine nation of Zubrowka as Wes Anderson cordially invites audiences to one of his best films yet. Budapest is a perfectly eclectic marriage of style and substance, for Anderson’s madcap eccentricity jives in tune with the zany energy of the slapstick humour. A perfect ensemble, some scrumptious desserts, and a hilarious painting called “Boy with Apple” (which had darn well better be a part of Fox Searchlight’s FYC swag!) all come together for an impeccably escapist affair.
(The Grand Budapest Hotel is now on home video. It also screens at The ByTowne August 15-17.)

This return to the seduction of Dr. Lewis offers little new, but Don McKellar’s remake of Seducing Dr. Lewis is just as good as the Quebecois original. Brendan Gleeson makes for a sturdy Newfoundlander while Gordon Pinsent steals the show in a hilarious performance of dry humour. The Grand Seduction is one of those films that anyone can enjoy.
(The Grand Seduction is currently screening at select theatres in Ottawa.)

Everything is awesome in The Lego Movie! Lego offers the best board game to screen adaptation since Clue: The Movie (put that in a trailer!) and it takes product placement to new levels with this brilliant flight of the imagination. The most magical toy of all gets the movie it deserves! And it gives Liam Neeson his most dignified role in about five years.
(The Lego Movie is now on home video.)

Om nom nom! If the way to a man’s heart is through his belly, then consider me love-struck with The Lunchbox. This terrific fusion of foodie film and love story has the right blend of flavour for any palette. Great performances by Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur, plus magical use of Mumbai’s intricate transit system, make The Lunchbox a sweetly powerful tale about the comfort of sharing a meal in an increasingly impersonal world.
(The Lunchbox screens at The ByTowne July 25-27.)

I’ve immersed myself in horror films this year and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive rekindles my faith in speculative art. Everything old is cool again as Jarmusch and company flip Twilight the bird and take back the night. Only Lovers Left Alive feels like the first true vampire film amongst an endless stream of terrible vampire movies. Add Tilda Swinton, rocking immortal cultural savvy in a wig of dishevelled yak hair, and OLLA is some tasty garlic for all that teen vampire crap. The art film will never die!
(Only Lovers Left Alive screens at The ByTowne on July 10.)

Tracks is a remarkable odyssey. The film brims with life and effervescent human spirit as Mia Wasikowska gives the best performance of her career thus far as real-life adventurer Robyn Davidson and treks across 2700km of Australian desert. Arid landscapes and sun-scorched scenery have never before been captured with such personable beauty, and the geography as lensed by DP Mandy Walker is as personable as Wasikowska’s performance itself. Oh, and the camels are great!
(Tracks screens in Ottawa at The ByTowne until July 3 and at The Mayfair July 4-10)

This showstopper of a sci-fi is one of the best holdovers from TIFF last year. Scarlett Johansson sheds her skin and delivers an enigmatically seductive performance as a man-eater in this fascinating experiment from filmmaker Jonathan Glazer. Under the Skin, hypnotic and maddening, will be in viewers’ minds for days.
(Under the Skin screens at The ByTowne July 30-31.)

The Best Performances of the Year So Far:

Colin Firth in The Railway Man

Best Actor

Nicholas Cage in Joe
Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel
Colin Firth in The Railway Man
Irrfan Khan in The Lunchbox
Jude Law in Dom Hemingway

Toni Collette in Lucky Them

Best Actress

Juliette Binoche in Camille Claudel 1915
Marilyn Castonguay in Miraculum
Toni Collette in Lucky Them
Paulina Garcia in Gloria
Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin
Angelina Jolie in Maleficent
Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive
Mia Wasikowska in Tracks

Gordon Pinsent in The Grand Seduction

Best Supporting Actor

Xavier Dolan in Miraculum
Stephen McHattie in Meetings with a Young Poet
Gordon Pinsent in The Grand Seduction
Tye Sheridan in Joe

Anne Dorval in Miraculum

Best Supporting Actress

Maria de Medeiros in Meetings with a Young Poet
Anne Dorval in Miraculum
Sarah Gadon in Enemy

I am Big Bird

Best Unreleased Films

And some other kudos!

Best Screenplay:
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
-Honourable Mention: Only Lovers Left Alive – Jim Jarmusch

Best Cinematography:
Only Lovers Left Alive, Yorik Le Saux; Tracks, Mandy Walker (Tie?)

Best Costumes:
Maleficent, Anna B. Shepard
-Honourable mention: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero

Best Score:
Under the Skin – Mica Levi;  The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat (Tie?)

Best Song:
Honourable mention: The Lego Movie – “Everything is Awesome

Best Random Dance Sequence:
Longwave / Les grands ondes (à l’ouest) - The George Gershwin/Pussy Riot number

Best Decrepit Ruins:
Only Lovers Left Alive - Detroit

Best Overall Menu of Food on Film:
The Lunchbox – Curries and such

Best Sandwich in a Supporting Role:
Chef – The Cuban Sandwich

Best Pastry:
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Herr Mendl’s Courtesanau chocolat

Best Frozen Dessert:
Only Lovers Left Alive – The blood Popsicle

Best Tilda Swinton
Only Lovers Left Alive – Tilda Swinton
-Honourable mention: The Grand Budapest Hotel – Tilda Swinton

and, sigh...

I, Frankenstein

The Worst Films so Far

Nurse 3D

 What are your favourite films of the year?