10. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Ana Lily Amirpour's feature debut is an Iranian-set vampire spaghetti Western set in "Bad City," wearing a bevy of influences on its sleeve while simultaneously feeling fresh, textured, and visionary. Stark, stunning photography by Lyle Vincent and an eclectic soundtrack add to its dreamy atmosphere.
"The first thing really was the hador. I had one—it was a prop from another film—and I put it on and I felt like a creature. I felt like a bat or a stingray, and I just instantly saw that this was an Iranian vampire. And she would be this girl, and she was probably someone that you underestimate." -Amirpour
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson's gorgeous, meticulously-crafted pastel-shaded concoction of madcappery is energetic, wistful, and sublime. An actor known primarily for his dramatic roles, Ralph Fiennes' turn as the concierge is his nimblest, most free and fun performance.
"There are people like Gustave. I think it’s about sort of controlling an environment. Creating an environment, because it’s essentially creative. And about control, organization. Wes isn’t Gustave, but I think a lot of that, that attentiveness, I think a lot of the spirit of Gustave comes from Wes, who’s very, very charming, highly sensitive to other people, and loves to create an atmosphere and an environment that’s not just a good working environment, it’s also just, it’s an energy between various people. It was in the evenings that we had these dinners together, unforced and very relaxed. I think there’s a lot of Wes in Gustave." -Ralph Fiennes
8. Gone Girl
This twisty, sleek, enjoyable black comedy from author Gillian Flynn--who also penned the crackling script--and director David Fincher is a rare (for these times) contemporary-set Hollywood thriller aimed at adults. The "risk" paid off as it ended up being one of the year's top-grossers. The frigid photography, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross Twin Peaks-inspired score, and the cast (some of them sardonically chosen) make it an atmospheric, acerbic thrillride.
Also read Rishiv's astute observations on the film.
"I think when we turn on the TV or watching a movie — whether it's true-crime reporting or maybe a [fictional] crime show, the only women that we want to watch die are the beautiful ones. Even in death, there seems to be this demand that women need packaging in a certain way, and certainly those are the ones that get the most attention from these true-crime shows. The characters in Gone Girl, I think, are certainly aware of that trope, too, from the start: Here's this attractive couple that has the added pathos that she's gone missing on her anniversary. From there, it almost seems inevitable that they're going to be in the media cross-hairs.
I think, more and more, the media has become very facile; we get the coverage we deserve. I tune into these shows too, and I think that idea of packaging ourselves as a personality is something that Gone Girl plays with throughout. Nick and Amy play these sort of persona roles for each other in the early days, and the media then comes in and immediately wants to cast one person as America's Sweetheart and her husband as the villain. We put that lens on them because that's what we do, and that's what's expected. You can only cover so much truth in that 15 second sound-bite. You can only project so much information when all you have is footage of a guy walking from his car to his house." -Gillian Flynn
7. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The mind can be a brutal, claustrophobic place as displayed cinematically in Birdman with Emmanuel Lubezki's skillful photography and its one-take feel, Antonio Sanchez's crashing drum score, and an ensemble of zany characters. Michael Keaton as the self-absorbed, faded Hollywood actor at the center, desperately adapting Raymond Carver for Broadway, delivers a tour-de-force comeback performance that carries the emotional weight of his bumpy career.
"The whole movie was thought-out to be shot, the way it is shot. It’s not something that happened posteriorly, it was how Alejandro wrote the movie. His other movies are very cutty, sometimes he uses multiple cameras. His movies are wonderful and beautiful, but he wanted to do something different with Birdman.
From the very beginning, he wanted to do the movie in one shot or in very long takes -- practically impossible things. Alejandro said, ‘Well you know when I wake up in the morning and I start my day, it doesn’t feel like a bunch of cuts. It feels like a constant move. I go from the bed to the bathroom, etc. ’ There is something about the one shot deal; all these long takes are related to that. Life is continuing, and maybe not having cuts was going to help immerse the audience in that kind of emotional rhythm.
Since they started writing the script, he thought about this character stuck in this environment. They wrote it so you could feel that you were walking with him in the corridors. His life starts imploding in this environment and they are all connected. It’s a beautiful exercise in writing." -Emmanuel Lubezki (Cinematographer)
6. Life Itself
Roger Ebert, the legendary film critic who left us too soon, is given a moving, unflinching elegy in this documentary by Steve James (fittingly a director Ebert championed early in his career). The movie embraces Ebert and his charms and wit but also shows us his flaws and failings while paying tribute to his unbelievably strong widow Chaz.
"Roger and I were both very strong-willed people. It's not like every day was a day of roses. There were thorns some days. And do you know why I didn't ask Steve to take it out, as much as I hate it? To think that people were going to see this, people struggling with family members or loved ones with disabilities or illnesses—and I want them to see. People set us up as this idealized couple in dealing with illness, but we had frustrations too, and I wanted people to see that. It wasn't always easy, and there were times when we were at odds with each other over doing things. So that was difficult for me to watch, but I hope it helps other people." -Chaz Ebert
5. Love is Strange
Ira Sachs' relationship drama focuses on the being apart more than the being together as older married couple tackle aging, discrimination and the nitpick details of NYC real estate. An understated, lovingly played film.
"I think my job is to be accurate about the time that I live in but to tell stories about characters in ways that are timeless, that speak to basic human truths and relationships and I try to be both in my time and outside of it. I think of it as a little bit like an analyst, who is empathetic to his characters but also keeps some distance. All those things make my focus on questions of intimacy, loss, culture changing lives, that’s all very true and I’m personally an example of that. I don’t think I could’ve made this film five years ago, not just because of the laws but because I wouldn’t have felt the same I do now as a gay man about my life and my feelings about love. Those two things are very entwined, we can’t be separate from our time." -Ira Sachs
Ava DuVernay's portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.'s call to action in Selma is built like a logical, sturdy argument and gradually, quietly moves into a stinging, uplifting, and devastating conclusion. Unfortunately the movie was marred by a ridiculous LBJ "non-troversy" but the outstanding work by cast (David Oyelowo is magnificent as King; Carmen Ejogo is quietly powerful as Coretta) and crew (Bradford Young's subtly rich photography; Ruth E. Carter's precise costuming) on this important subject matter is something to learn from, remember and embrace fully.
"A lot of these historical events are very visceral, they have texture, they have life to them, they were vibrant at their time. By the time they get on film, and so many voices and hands have been on them, trying to be made palatable to the widest audience just drains them of something. For me, they are not my favorite to go see. There are some that I love! There are some that are fantastic. But more often than not, they're a little watered down. And so that really colored my approach to Selma. I really wanted it to be nuanced and feel urgent, and to have some life to it." -Ava DuVernay
The horrors of the past hover over the story of this slender, breathtakingly-photographed film of circumstance. As the titular character's haunted, hard drinking aunt, Agata Kulesza is mesmerizing--a powerful force.
"The other big motive was to do a film in Poland in that landscape of the early 60’s which I hold very dear and which stayed with me. I was a kid when it happened, and I remember it from my own kind of very deforming memories from family albums, photographs, and memories of my parents who are both dead who were then in their prime and kind of cool people. It was a bit of homage to a certain type of Poland. I know you might find this film, especially in the States, very bleak and depressing. For me, I love that landscape and these people, people who are traumatized but strong, who have lived. And therefore, what they do and what they say have a certain weight, people who had to make big decisions in life that went wrong sometimes. I miss such people in the world today." -Pawel Pawlikowski (Writer / Director)
This is a wallop of a movie. Another masterpiece from Andrey Zvyagintsev, a compassionate filmmaker who lands considerable blows against corruption, class differences, and organized religion. As he did with Elena, Zvyagintsev looks into ordinary life, oppression, and tragedy, this time in a remote Russian setting. Much ado has been made by American critics about the film's withering attack on the politics of the director's home country but the origins of the story actually occurred in Colorado.
"I was told the story in the US from 2004, about this guy called Marvin John Heemeyer, who was this average guy who had a small job who lost his job and went nuts broke some official buildings and show some rebellion, his name was Killdozer, you can find it on the net if you like.
This is really the beginning of my film that’s how we started working on the scenario. I was told this story in 2008, so for 6 years I worked on that and finally got this result.
And I really had this desire of showing on the big screen that story that happened in the US, and show it on the big screen in my own words, you can say, in an artistic way.
And I didn’t want to make a documentary film about what happened, so I really had to talk about this thing but I needed to find some parallel to the subject. That’s how I found the story of Job, I wanted to tell a story of a man who loses everything he has; one by one, little by little, up to the point when he loses his health and his life.
For the room in order to build this topic, I needed some sort of mattress, to create some sort of collision and make this story eternal. And that’s why I called it Leviathan.
Some friends of mine, who teach philosophy, (they are married actually), they told me about Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. Originally, the idea came from the ancient story, but when they told me about Hobbes I thought “OK, everything matches. I really have to talk about this story; this story of a powerful state.”
Once the location was confirmed, we found the house, we found the place, some local guy came to us and said, “you know, there’s a place 8 kilometres from here where you can actually see whales”, and that was like the epiphany, I knew it was a sign coming from above that we had to work here." -Andrey Zvyaginstsev
Even if it begins to creak along towards the near-3 hour mark, the 12-year-in-the-making stunt of Boyhood is one of the most remarkable achievements in cinema history. Despite the triumph of its craftsmanship, the movie is so quiet, unassuming, richly acted (especially by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) and sensitively-directed by Richard Linklater. It also captures an era of American life beautifully.
"We had no idea what the response would be. We all knew we loved our project. We were in it 1000 percent and it meant a lot to us and I knew it was incredibly adventurous for the financiers, but also Rick’s directing with such restraint. Even though a studio would look at this and go, what demographic are you making this damn thing for, it doesn’t fit into anything. To see young kids crying, old people crying, that just felt really beautiful." -Patricia Arquette
Other notable films of the year (in order of preference):
Wild, The Babadook, Foxcatcher, Blue Ruin, Nightcrawler, Stranger by the Lake, Enemy, Obvious Child, The LEGO Movie, Under the Skin, Whiplash, Starry Eyes, 22 Jump Street, Child's Pose, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Inherent Vice, Two Days, One Night, Begin Again, Force Majeure, Belle, The Imitation Game, Into the Woods, The Skeleton Twins, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Missing Picture, Omar, Palo Alto, Oculus, The Trip to Italy, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia, Mr. Turner, Housebound, Magic in the Moonlight, Only Lovers Left Alive, Still Alice, Happy Christmas, Godzilla, Late Phases, Le Week-End, The Immigrant, The Theory of Everything, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, We Are the Best!
A look back at 2013!