JR'S TOP 10 FILMS-2014
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"Good Old JR" Jim Rutkowski weighs in with his picks for the TOP 10 films of 2014

Movie Reviews by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
10. Nightcrawler
  9. The Lego Movie
  8. Gone Girl
  7. Force Majeure
  6. Only Lovers Left Alive
  5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Whiplash
  3. Under The Skin
  2. Ida
  1. Boyhood
What a terrific year at the movies. This was a year where I had so many contenders for the top ten that I had to amend this list to within an inch of its life. But that only means that we had an exemplary year.

The film at the top of the list was a lock all the way back when I first saw it in July. Still, so many had to be left off the list. For instance, the years best documentary Life Itself. Also, Snowpiercer, Calvary, Love is Strange, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Locke, X-men: Days of Future Past. So many films, so little time. A few things that came to light while I was compiling the list: Director Richard Linklater tops my list for the second year in a row. I don't believe that a filmmaker has ever done that. Also a fair number of the ten are films about some not-so-very-likeable individuals. Sometimes the best drama comes from the most unsavory places.
Written/Directed: Dan Gilroy
This is a thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling -- where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou thrives. In the breakneck, ceaseless search for footage, he becomes the star of his own story. It manages to be a scathing look at ambition and journalistic sensationalism while still delivering as a dark thriller. pulp with a purpose. A smart, engaged film powered by an altogether remarkable performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, it is melodrama grounded in a disturbing reality, an extreme scenario that is troubling because it cuts close to the bone.
Written/Directed: Christopher Miller, Phil Lord
The years best comedy. Animated or otherwise. After withstanding some mediocre animated films in the last couple of years, the kind that mistake loud for funny, here is one that is indeed funny. A mix of both celebrating and maligning living in a product placement world. I’m going to level with you: I went in hoping at best for something intermittently amusing, not too visually and sonically assaultive, and over soon. But what I got was a clever, vividly imagined, consistently funny, eye-poppingly pretty and oddly profound movie … about Legos. As Lord and Miller skillfully balance an impressive array of narrative and thematic spinning plates—order and chaos, adults and children, practicality and magic, the real and the imaginary—it becomes clear even if this anarchic celebration of the creative capacity of play centers around the struggles of one-and-a-half-inch-tall minifigures, it’s built on a distinctly human scale.
Directed: David Fincher
Written: Gillian Flynn
One of our very best directors continues to deliver compelling work. Working from first time screen-writer Flynn, here adapting her own novel, Fincher's take on the book is dark, intelligent, and stylish to a fault. The film plays to the directors strengths while bringing the best out of stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Superbly cast from the two at the top to the smallest speaking parts, impeccably directed by Fincher and crafted by his regular team to within an inch of its life, Gone Girl shows the remarkable things that can happen when filmmaker and material are this well matched. It’s an excoriating examination of institutions under stress — marriage, the justice system, the economy, the media — viewed with a jaded eye and a ruthless mind. As information is parceled out, chances are you’ll find your assumptions and attitudes shifting, and not just about the lives on screen. David Fincher’s and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl takes a big beach read about a troubled marriage and turns it into a suspenseful screen indictment of modern times.
Written/ Directed: Ruben Östlund
The plot presents a model family - businessman Tomas, his wife Ebba, and their two children - confronted by an avalanche during a ski trip to the French Alps. A cowardly decision by Tomas sets up a conflict in his marriage, and he must struggle to reclaim his role as husband and father. Force Majeure (the title comes from a legal term for an act of God that frees both parties from a contract) is intellectually and visually enthralling and often savagely funny, but it also demands a significant investment of both patience and stamina on the viewer’s part. There are long stretches of silence broken by scenes of grueling emotional rawness, played with go-for-broke intensity by the fearless cast. What makes “Force Majeure” much more than a clinically accurate depiction of a middle-class marriage in crisis is its keen understanding of how, in modern civilization, people increasingly imagine that they can control nature. But what about human nature? Until it smacks them in the face, they ignore their irrational, atavistic drives. No matter how well we talk the talk of technological mastery and rationality, there are crazy parts of us that remain beyond the reach of language to explain or resolve.
Written/ Directed: Jim Jarmusch
Director Jim Jarmusch has taken many small steps toward the mainstream since making the beautifully minimalist, heavily influential indie “Stranger Than Paradise” back in 1984. But even when he flirts with conventional themes (“Coffee and Cigarettes”) or bold-faced names (Johnny Depp in “Dead Man,” Bill Murray in “Broken Flowers”), Jarmusch keeps his own, slyly deadpan voice intact. So it’s only natural that the ageless cool of his new vampire romance, “Only Lovers Left Alive,” leaves “Twilight”-style swoons in the dust. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, both impossibly magnetic, are Eve and Adam. They’re sophisticated bloodsuckers feeling worn down by the unceasing grind of eternal existence. Although married, they live separately. But they’re as mad for each other as the day they met, centuries ago. This is a movie about the transcendent bond between partners who can communicate without speaking a word. Swinton and Hiddleston complement each other so elegantly that languor gives way to a genuinely affecting—and erotic—love story. These two exiles from humanity truly are inseparable, wherever fate and the blood supply may take them, and we're entangled too.
Written/ Directed: Wes Anderson
Another top-notch work from Anderson. The plot recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune -- all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing continent. Exotic pastries play an absurdly significant role here, but it all makes perfect sense. The entire movie is like a giant, elaborately decorated cake, created by this most exacting of film craftsmen. And how tasty it is! All of the usual stalwarts of the Anderson company are here: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban, But the most engaging and amusing of them is new to Anderson’s antics: Ralph Fiennes. There’s a lot going on, but everything comes marvelously to fruition with The Grand Budapest Hotel, the grandest of treats from Wes Anderson. Where’s my fork?
Written/ Directed: Damien Chazelle
Andrew Neyman ( Miles Teller) is an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Plagued by the failed writing career of his father, Andrew hungers day and night to become one of the greats. Terence Fletcher ( J.K. Simmons in a sure Oscar nominated turn), an instructor equally known for his teaching talents as for his terrifying methods, leads the top jazz ensemble in the school. Fletcher discovers Andrew and transfers the aspiring drummer into his band, forever changing the young man's life. Andrew's passion to achieve perfection quickly spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability-and his sanity. Whiplash is mostly a consideration of the potential, value and cost of perfection. Is such a thing possible? And if so, is it worth pursuing? The movie spends much of the time measuring the cost of this pursuit – not only in terms of the emotional abuse from Fletcher, but also the sacrificing of things like family and friends, as well as the sheer physical demands. This is a great film that knows a thing or two about what greatness means.
Written: Walter Campbell, Jonathan Glazer
Directed: Jonathan Glazer
The years most polarizing film. Of the plot, I will only describe it this way: an alien in human form ( Scarlett Johanssen ) is on a journey through Scotland. To say more would be a disservice to the film and the viewer. This is a movie that demands that you keep up with it on a purely visual level. The first twenty minutes or so of Under the Skin had me convinced that I was watching one of the best movies made in the last two or three years, at least: a cryptic sequence of sounds and images, yoked by visual motifs, that slowly and only implicitly coalesces into any kind of representation of actual things, suggesting that both horror and science fiction are burbling along in the background. It's easy to see why people have been insistently calling director Jonathan Glazer, making his third feature a new Kubrick. The manner in which the film was shot is nothing but astounding: from a technical standpoint, what Glazer and cinematographer Daniel Landin were up to here makes Under the Skin one of the most amazing success stories of the year in movies. Cameras hidden in tiny little impossible crevasses around the van as Johansson drove around without a plan and talked to passers-by, in character, gives the whole film a disarmingly realist, without-a-net feeling, one that emphasises the gulf between Johansson's artificial nature - a black wig and plugged-up British accent only add to the feeling of wrongness - and the utter normality of her surroundings. The result is, basically, an atmosphere piece about alienation and being alone: the woman is alone, the people she targets are all alone, and the attempt to cease being alone that makes up the final act goes terribly wrong. It is not a pleasant film, certainly. But it goes about crafting its sensations and arguments so intuitively and entirely through formal means that I love it anyway, with a fierce desperate love. This is the most confident and bold kind of filmmaking, Glazer's most ambitious film yet and essential viewing for any cinephile.
Written: Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Paweł Pawlikowski
Directed: Paweł Pawlikowski
In 1960s Poland, Anna, a young novice nun, is told by her prioress that before her vows can be taken, she must visit her family. Anna travels to visit her aunt Wanda, a heavy-drinking judge and former prosecutor associated with the Stalinist regime responsible for oppressing Polish anti-communist resistance soldiers. The aunt dispassionately reveals that Anna's actual name is Ida Lebenstein, and that her parents were Jewish and were murdered during World War II. Ida decides she wants to find their resting place. She and Wanda embark on a journey that both sheds light on their past and decides their futures. In many ways, Ida feels like a film that might have been made anytime in the past 50 years. It’s set in the early 1960s, and its stylistic austerity and interest in theological questions are formidable. But there’s an urgency to Ida’s simple, elemental story that makes it seem timely, or maybe just timeless. What follows is an admirably compact and elegant (if ultimately gut-wrenching) road movie that traces the developing relationship between the naïve, pious Anna and the disillusioned Wanda. There isn’t a frame that isn’t composed with superb artistry and attention to detail. Pawlikowski, a U.K.-based director working for the first time in his native Poland, likes to use natural light coming in through a window, and many of his images, especially in the early scenes at the monastery, are as crisp and luminous as Vermeer paintings drained of color. He often places characters low in the frame, as if to emphasize their humility or insignificance in the grander scheme of history—his sense of composition is almost Japanese at times. The soundtrack contains no extradiegetic music—that is, music the characters aren’t listening to themselves—but all the music that’s there is significant and carefully chosen, from Wanda’s treasured collection of classical LPs to the tinny Polish pop that plays on the car radio as the women drive toward their grim destination. The truths this young nun and her aunt discover in the Polish countryside are terrible, but the journey they undertake together to unearth those secrets is hauntingly beautiful. Take it with them.
In theaters now.
Written/ Directed: Richard Linklater
In his song “Beautiful Boy,” John Lennon said “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” For a boy named Ellar Coltrane, life is what happened while he was making a movie. Starting when he was 7, every summer for a dozen years, Coltrane spent weekends on a unique production with director Richard Linklater. At the end of 12 years, the secret project bloomed into “Boyhood,” the closest thing to a lived life that fictional cinema has yet produced. This is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason ( Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason's parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, the film charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, set to a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay's Yellow to Arcade Fire's Deep Blue. Boyhood is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting. It's impossible to watch Mason and his family without thinking about our own journey. Though Mason’s parents’ struggles and loves provide a scaffolding to hang the story on, the real stuff of Boyhood consists in the consecutive isolated moments of childhood we experience through Mason’s eyes—listening to his parents fight downstairs, getting a note from a crushed-out classmate for the first time, being dragged to get a crewcut against his will by his strict new stepfather, shouting at his annoying sister to stop singing Britney Spears. Without flashbacks, flashforwards, explicit time markers (“two years later,” etc.), or other explanatory devices, Linklater trusts his audience to hang on for the ride as Mason grows—at first imperceptibly, then suddenly with shocking speed—from a round-cheeked imp on a bike into a lanky, thoughtful teenager with piercings, acne, and a fast-food summer job. Compressed into the space of under three hours, growing up seems as inexplicable a feat as a magic trick. “It’s always now,” the college-aged Mason marvels near the end of the film, tripping on mushrooms with some friends in West Texas’ Big Bend National Park. Mason’s epiphany about the ever-renewed “nowness” of the present moment may be hallucinogen-induced, but the audience’s own epiphany has been brought on by something else: the profound, funny, beautiful film we’ve just, to our surprise, spent nearly three hours (or was it 12 years?) inside of. The time just flew by.
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