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Top 10 Films of 2014

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Just a quick update before we get started. I’ll have my Oscar predictions and results from the latest Vote! segment out this week, so make sure to get your votes in before it closes. Additionally, hopefully, my review of “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter,” a film I greatly adore, will be published before week’s end. Now let’s get going…

25: The Raid 2: Berandal (Gareth Evans)
24: Snowpiercer (Joon-Ho Bong)
23: Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
22: The Trip to Italy (MIchael Winterbottom)
21: Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)

20: The Rover (David Michod)
19: I Origins (Mike Cahill)
18: Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)
17: The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum)
16: Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)

15: Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
14: The Drop (Michael R. Roskam)
13: Nymphomaniac (Lars Von Trier)
12: Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour)
11: Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

10: Starred Up (David Mackenzie)/(’71, Yann Demange, 2015?)

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Are we going with 2014 or 2015 for “’71?” It’s rather comical that up-and-coming super-stud Jack O’Connell had three films screen this year, the worst of which received the widest release. “Starred Up” is a hard-hitting prison drama that’s lifted to towering heights by the performances of O’Connell and co-star Ben Mendelsohn. Swapping the more traditional, cringe-worthy visual aspects of the unflinching prison sub-genre (not all) for impenetrable dialogue and a vast array of relationships teetering on the brink, “Starred Up” will fill you with insight before knocking a few teeth down your throat.

9: Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) / Enemy (Dennis Villenueve)

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Very few have had quite as stellar a year as Jake Gyllenhaal in 2014, which is why I couldn’t help but rank this remarkable double-feature inside my top 10. This double-dose of Gyllenhaal showcases the actor’s staggering, at times terrifying range. It’s mind-blowing that Gyllenhaal didn’t garner an Oscar nomination for either of these two fantastic performances, but I digress.

8: The Guest (Adam Wingard)

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Containing easily the best soundtrack any film of 2014 had to offer, “The Guest” sees dynamic duo Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett reach new cult status. With incredibly charismatic performances from Dan Stevens and Maika Monroe, in addition to non-stop action “The Guest” is endlessly entertaining!

7: Locke (Steven Knight)

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Looked upon as a reliable, strong-minded scribe with a plethora of solid screenplays to his name, including the creation of “Peaky Blinders,” a personal television favourite of mine. Prior to 2014’s “Locke,” Steven Knight hadn’t much to brag about from behind the camera, but that quickly and assertively changed. Led by a phenomenal performance from occasional Knight collaborator Tom Hardy, “Locke” is a magnificent spectacle of the human experience.

6: A Most Violent Year (J. C. Chandor)

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This is the second consecutive year-end “best of” list J. C. Chandor has cracked for me, personally (All Is Lost, 2013). Much like last year’s film “All Is Lost,” “A Most Violent Year” didn’t get much love come award season, but once again that didn’t discourage my ranking it inside the top 10. With formidable performances from its entire cast, including Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, and Albert Brooks, a subtle, yet immensely powerful story, gloomy atmosphere, and the sure-handed direction from Chandor, “A Most Violent Year” is a must-see to any who missed it.

5: Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund)

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As I’m sure most of you are aware, comedy cinema doesn’t sit too well with me. Which should only speak volumes in regards to “Force Majeure’s” placement on this list. Providing the laughs, abundantly, and a rock-solid story that’s never as easy to watch as its breezy demeanour would insist, “Force Majeure’s” Oscar snub is almost as unforgivable as the absence of “Mommy” in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

4: Gone Girl (David Fincher)

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To say that I adore David Fincher and his very impressive resume would be a massive understatement. “Gone Girl,” although not the illustrious filmmakers best work to date, certainly has a place amongst the top of his efforts. Further cementing Ben Affleck as a force to be reckoned with both on and off screen and earning Rosamund Pike an Oscar nomination, deservedly so I might add, “Gone Girl” mixes all the potent Fincher facets into one hell of a morbid cocktail.

3: Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

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The odds-on favourite to take home “best foreign language film” at this year’s Academy Awards, “Leviathan” is an aptly titled juggernaut. Breathtaking visuals, impressive performances, and an unfathomable socio-political complexity are just a few tangents of what makes “Leviathan” triumphant.

2: Mommy (Xavier Dolan)

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Directed and written by home-grown Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, “Mommy” catapults the young filmmaker to the relative peak of my top 10. I’d feel very unpatriotic leaving Dolan’s latest off this list, but rest-assured he earned this spot. “Mommy” is brutal, unforgiving, whilst conversely evoking the most genuine and rooted responses of the emotional spectrum. Performed with the utmost investment by the entire ensemble, “Mommy” is one foreign language film you won’t want to miss.

1: Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)

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It doesn’t exactly bode well for the credibility of Nolan’s latest topping this list, seeing as I could be considered the leader of Nolan’s group of so-called “Fanboys,” but I can’t stress “Interstellar’s” greatness enough. You’ve either seen this film by now and loved it or hated it. I fail to see the middle ground and apparently so does everyone else. With monumental visuals, a complex, out-of-this-world premise that simultaneously showcases the down-to-earth emotionality and intellectual reach of the human race. “Interstellar” will leave you in awe and down-right flabbergasted. Thankfully, this film offers much post-viewing reading that should solve any issues or curiosity.

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What did you think of my list? Have a list of your own? Let me know in the comment section below!

 

TIFF 2013: Under the Skin (2013)

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It’s essentially a foregone conclusion that everyone on this planet has a fear of something or someone. Anyone who tells you different or that they are fearless is down-right idiotic, lying, or inhuman. To fear is to live. Now, you’ve got your typical fears of sensible, common, physical things, for example: spiders, ghosts, storms, clowns, etc… Then, there are psychological trepidations such as: social anxiety, heights, being alone…things that are a little bit harder to understand and empathize with. Regardless however, for the most part, the things that draw the ire of our dread can be avoided, accepted, tolerated. And for the most part we can continue living day-to-day without our fears ruling over our existence. That being said, the majority of us have a fear that exceeds all bounds of comprehension, rationality, and common sense. They leave us inconsolable, paralyzed…just a complete wreck. Not everyone has despair this extreme, but the ones who do know what a nightmare it can be.

Now, you’re all probably wondering to yourselves, “what does this have to do with the review?” Well, it just so happens that my unbearable fear, I’d even go as far as to call it a phobia, happens to be aliens. You know, the kind that travel amongst the stars, searching for habitable planets or resources and settle into Earth to begin exterminating us. It’s quite ironic actually, I’m an avid stargazer and enjoy being an amateur astronomer, cosmologist if you will. So I’m rather knowledgable when it comes to the cosmos, therefore completely convinced that extraterrestrial life exists and have come to peace with it. I am aware that the way these foreign creatures are depicted in films, novels, and media is inaccurate and for the most part is just science fiction being science fiction. Yet somehow, it still manages to make my skin crawl. So you can imagine how conflicted I was being a cinephile aching to see “Under the Skin.” While the film doesn’t portray alien life to the same negative extreme as sci-fi epics such as “War of the Worlds.” It still consists of a foreign life form consuming and ending human lives…so I was a little weary.

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Nonetheless, we are here. I watched the film at TIFF and survived the experience. To be honest, it wasn’t even as bad as I originally anticipated. I concluded it to be because the alien was cloaked in Scarlett Johansson’s skin. And if I was to be murdered, then digested by an extraterrestrial, I’d prefer it to be at the hands of one who looks exactly like Scarlett Johansson. Not to mention, I’d manage to find a way to come to peace with the fact that the last thing I saw was Mrs. Johansson completely naked…but that’s besides the point. The film is, in my opinion, quite remarkable. It’s a highly visual, highly artistic exploration into this typically high-budgeted, explosion-filled science-fiction trope. It is, without question the most unique film I experienced at this years festivities and I officially dub it my sleeper hit of the festival…if that means anything to anyone at all.

Based on the novel of the same title by Michel Faber, “Under the Skin” tells the tale of an alien sent by a massive corporation from her home planet to capture unimportant, family-less, lonely hitchhikers. She is then to return them for fattening and sale as human meat is a delicacy on her planet. But believe me, it offers so much more than this disturbing premise in the sense of underlying themes and content. The story is one of the more intriguing, intelligible aspects of the film. Touching upon several significant, socio-political, and controversial topics: humanity, mercy, farming, sex, and business morals being the most prominent. Although, in my opinion, the film could have better explored and expanded these themes, much the same as Faber’s novel did. Jonathan Glazer, the director of “Under the Skin” does a sublime job packing in all the lyricism, relevance, and symbolism from its source into the hour and forty minute runtime.

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Set in the Scottish countryside, “Under the Skin” has no shortage of serene, stunning scenery. It is immaculately captured by Glazer, who superlatively masks the vibrancy and naturally enthralling element of northern Scotland and drenches it with the dreary, shadowed nature of the film. Visually, it might appear all doom and gloom, but there is something uplifting, chilling about its epic atmosphere. Alongside, Glazer accompanies his complex, hypnotic story and dark setting with an entrancing, terrifying score composed by Mica Levi. The soundtrack really completes the film’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” feel with its ominous tones and horrifyingly abrupt shifts. No doubt, if you prefer the lack of emotion and drama in  “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it’s subtle intellect and deceptiveness. “Under the Skin” will serve as an excellent update to a sub-genre that’s recently lost its way.

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For the most part “Under the Skin” relies on the beauty and seductiveness of its female lead, played by the aforementioned Scarlett Johansson. Who, I forgot to mention is unfathomably stunning here, both physically and in her portrayal. She elegantly captures the dark, at times satirical humour of the film drawn on by awkward encounters and familiarizing herself with our planet’s customs, not to mention her own body. However, as impressive and memorable as her physical and socially inept performance may be. Watching her stoic, cold-blooded alien transform into an emotionally conscious and understanding being is the highlight of the film without question. Apart from Johansson, “Under the Skin” is practically void of a cast, which makes her portrayal all the more amazing. Nevertheless, the supporting ensemble, despite not being on screen for more than 5 minutes individual, do a fantastic job selling the premise and evoking strong reactions.

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Deeply intelligent, highly visual, and featuring an outstanding performance from Scarlett Johansson. Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” is one of the films to watch out for in 2014 and is sure to be a cult smash. I recommend it be infused into the science fiction canon.

Under the Skin: 9 out of 10.