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It's the most wonderful time of year! I'm referring of course to awards season. There's nothing quite as holy and special as the brightest minds and biggest egos in Hollywood herded into one place to schmooze and booze and suffer snubs together. For me however, this season boasts a rather unique conundrum compared to awards seasons of yore. Indifference. I'm not particularly head over heels for 2014 in film, but I'm also not wholly against it. There have been standouts, and there have been the duds. Unfortunately, the powers that be (The Academy, The Hollywood Foreign Press etc.) aren't always on the money when it comes to nominations, and this year, it looks like they were just straight up not paying attention. So with that, I feel compelled to share my personal favourite films of 2014, and pray to the movie gods of 2015 that this year, we'll be blessed with excellence and justice for awards season 2016. 

#10 John Wick

I heard a rumour about John Wick before I saw it - I heard that it was Keanu Reeves' renaissance. I would have to agree with that sentiment. In the film, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a deadly assassin known as "the boogeyman" who comes out of retirement after a five-year stint away from the job. His return is provoked when Russian gangsters kill Daisy, a puppy that John's wife posthumously gifted to him after a long battle with an unspecified illness. It sounds ridiculous, but truth be told, it's one of the slickest action movies I've seen in a while. A good chunk of the film is dedicated to action scenes of the shoot-em-up persuasion, and while scenes of that nature can get tiring, they somehow never do in John Wick. It's a high energy, near-perfect action film from start to finish with gorgeous cinematography and surprisingly sympathetic characters. John Wick proves that cool, smart action movies are still in style. 

#9 Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice is one of the more criminally underrated movies of the year. At the very least, a fantastic performance from Joanna Newson should have garnered a best supporting actress nomination. The film takes place in a '70s Los Angeles, where Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) is a dope-tokin' private investigator, muddling his way through criminal intricacies, some of which are so complex that they totally elude me. The confusion is familiar though - like watching the '70s crime movies that inspired Inherent Vice. The best way I can think to describe Inherent Vice is a composite of The Big Lebowski, Serpico, and Boogie Nights. It’s checkered, like visiting random clearings in an otherwise pot smoke-filled mind, and it’s confusing and it’s hazy and it’s weird, but it’s also kind of fantastic. Joaquin Phoenix is wonderful as per usual, but this time he gets to stretch his comedy legs a bit. Everyone else in hollywood is also in it: Josh Brolin, Reese, Benicio, Owen Wilson, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph, all smaller, fantastic roles. The big problem with the movie is it’s about 40 minutes too long, and has some pretty convoluted/disconnected storylines, but again, it’s so smart and so stylish that I can forgive all that. It’s kind of like this year’s American Hustle if American Hustle had had a fraction of Inherent Vice's personality or pizzaz. 

#8 Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin made a name for itself this year as an almost entirely crowd funded independent film. Not to mention, it's just an all-around incredibly well-shot thriller. Seriously, the cinematography is sinfully beautiful, The film follows Dwight Evans (Macon Blair), a mangey looking homeless man living out of his car. We're thrust into Dwight's world right when he has received news that the man who killed his parents has been released from prison. What follows is an icy revenge story that's executed so cleanly and so perfectly that it never misses a beat.  Blue Ruin has the contemplative, rumbling evilness of films like No Country For Old Men, and Taxi Driver; low-key but frightfully suspenseful. And if you haven't heard the name Macon Blair yet, be ready to, because Blair delivers one of the best performances of the year as Dwight, the seemingly gentle soul hell-bent on redemption. I can't recommend this film enough.

#7 Ida

Ida is a Polish black and white film about a nun on the verge of taking her vows. It takes place in the ’60s but at times feels far more ancient as we travel back to buried secrets from just after the end of Nazi occupation. I’m adoring this trend right now of quiet, reflective films shot in black & white - Nebraska (2014), Frances Ha (2012), Ida (2013). It really allows you to focus on the stillness of the characters. With Ida, you have this gorgeous, dramatic cinematography that feels very German expressionist, which really sets the tone for the film - almost a little bit foreboding. That’s coupled with lots of wide shots, mostly static and so serene. Ida is nominated for best foreign film at the 2015 Oscars, and for good reason. It's just stunning. 

[full review]

#6 Under the Skin

Under the Skin has been such a polarizing film in 2014. You either love it or you hate it. It stars Scarlett Johansson as what can only be described as an alien siren. Guised to be irresistible to the opposite sex, the woman (as she is known in the film) is specially trained at reeling in humans. And her swinging sex pad is in reality a lair where her victims, mid-undressing find themselves sinking into a black abyss. At first, the prolonged shots of ScarJo's inky-black cornerless lair seemed metaphorical when contrasted with the busy pedestrian shots of Scottish cityscapes, where the film takes place, but unfortunately for her victims, it's a very real, tangible place. Horny boys are doomed. Director Jonathan Glazer forgoes traditional explanation and instead plunges you into experimental asylum. But really, the focus isn't on the mechanics of the aliens' ploy, it's on the woman's growing understanding of human compassion and what it means to be human. 

[full review]

#5 The Grand Budapest Hotel

I find that some enjoy taking Wes Anderson down a peg. Sentiments of "he's trying too hard", "every movie looks the same", and "what a fucking hipster" seem to be popular ideas when his name comes up, and are especially prevalent this year with The Grand Budapest Hotel. Whether you agree with the term or not, Wes Anderson is an auteur, casting an unmistakable Wes-ness that's totally visually distinct from any other director working in film today. The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception, complete with every quintessentially Wes Anderson trope you can think of. That's what's so great about the film. It's Wes on steroids - like a really colourful middle finger to the haters. Really, Grand Budapest reads like a visual essay on how to make a perfect Wes Anderson film. But if auteur analysis isn't your jam, The Grand Budapest Hotel is just a straight-up fun film about the oddball, hilarious, and often heart-warming characters residing at the world-famous mountain hotel.

#4 Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler is Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut. And what a standout debut this is. Nightcrawler is a fantastic LA noir that’s so far removed from the realm of predictability, that I'm not really sure how much I should disclose. It’s the neo-Noir baby of Drive (2011) and Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)nocturnal flicks that are visually stunning, but lacking in depth. Nightcrawler fills that void twofold with perhaps film’s most deliciously sociopathic figure yet. Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a smart, driven guy who happens upon the skeezy underground profession of 'nightcrawling'; filming crimes and accidents as they’re happening, footage of which will be sold to the TV station with the highest bidder. Nightcrawler is vile and beautiful - and I’m not just talking about Jake Gyllenhaal’s man-bun. It’s truly a unique film that doesn’t pander to audience’s expectations. Be prepared to be deceived, disgusted, delighted; take your pick.

[full review]

#3 Whiplash

Whiplash is spectacular. When I saw it at the theatre, the second the screen went black, there was a tremendous silence, followed by a release of built up air en masse. Nothing I've seen this year, has measured up to the enormity of fire and passion that makes up Whiplash. The film is about Andrew (Miles Teller), a talented young drummer attending one of the best music schools in the country. Andrew is recruited for the prestigious jazz band masterminded by an abusive and manipulative madman director, played by the incomparable J.K. Simmons. Now, J.K. Simmons is a name I've had to explain to people a lot this year. "You know...the dad from Juno?". "He was in Burn After Reading?." "No, I don't mean J.K. Rowling". If you aren't familiar with the name now, I'm certainly hoping you will be come Oscars night because I haven't felt this passionate about a deserving best supporting actor role since Christoph Waltz' Hans Landa. Simmons is awe-inspiring and sickeningly terrifying all in one. And overall, Whiplash  is just simply amazing. The intensity and energy is so high, your heart might as well be in double-time swing too. 

#2 Mommy

Mommy director, Xavier Dolan just turned 25 years old, and Mommy marks his fifth feature film already. At the Cannes Film Festival this year, Mommy shared the Jury Prize and was an official submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film, though unfortunately it didn't quite make the cut. Mommy is maybe the most brutally honest, heart-breaking, and funny film of the year. The film follows Die (Anne Dorval) as the “mommy” in question. She's a brash, working-class Québecoise who spews profane-tinged joual (linguistic features associated with Québec French), and rocks heels and mini-skirts on the daily. Steve (Anotine-Olivier Poinel) is her son, crude like his mother, but with a tempestuous spirit that brings him from exorbitant joy to rage-blinded hate at the drop of a hat. Together, they take on the world, or at least Montréal. What's so unique about Mommy is it's 1:1 aspect ratio, a stylistic decision that has divided film fans on this movie. The way I see it, a restricted screen at times creates a powerful and beautiful symmetry, and as the scene moves to a fro, the focus becomes off kilter, much to the effect of its characters’ inner turmoils. Mommy is fantastic, and really one of the better films of the year, totally ignored by the academy. 

#1 Birdman

If J.K. Simmons could win best supporting actor for Whiplash, and Michael Keaton best actor for Birdman, I would be satisfied enough with the academy to maybe forgive some of the erroneous injustices that have plagued this awards season. (Just kidding. The Academy is fucked). Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Innocence is another one of those dividing films - you love it or you hate it. I've however, found many of the people standing firmly on the latter end, are the proponents of Gone Girl winning best picture...so I'm not putting too much weight on those opinions. I (obviously, since it's my #1 choice for 2014), adored Birdman, from the seamless editing, to the incredible script, to the enigmatic performance from Michael Keaton. It's a teasing, twisty mess of film; a beautiful, beautiful mess. Birdman centres on Riggan (Michael Keaton), a washed-up superhero star, famous for playing the character "Birdman" (subtle parallels between film and real-life, Birdman's specialty they are not). Riggan is investing every penny he has left into producing a Broadway play, all the time accompanied by the devilish Birdman himself, who speaks persuasively over Riggan's shoulder, and offers him evil assignments and suggestions. We're left wondering if the Birdman is a physical manifestation or psychological; if the movie itself is a fantasy, a sci-fi, or a cerebral thriller. It's highly ambiguous, delighting in masking the lines between real-life and fantasy. 

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