*This top 10 has been compiled and published by Victoria Ahearn, Andrea Baillie and Nick Patch, of The Canadian Press…
TORONTO – A remarkable look at the growth of a young boy, a gripping portrait of a maniacal jazz instructor and a quirky summer blockbuster are among the cinematic stories that captured the imaginations of the reporters and editors at The Canadian Press this year. In alphabetical order, our top films of 2014 are:
A Most Violent Year – Cinephiles who compile annual “best-of” lists have been largely confounded by a year in which there were precious few critical slam-dunks. Thank goodness, then, for J.C. Chandor’s smart, stylish crime drama starring Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain and an unrecognizable Albert Brooks. Set for a late January release in Canada, it’ll be a most welcome way to start the movie-viewing year, with assured, absorbing perfomances that are bound to be rewarded come Academy Award time.
Birdman – Michael Keaton, that erstwhile Batman and Mr. Mom, was back with a vengeance as washed-up star Riggan Thomson in this eye-popping meta-meditation on fame and aging. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has been deservedly lavished with praise for the film’s magical camera work, while Emma Stone shows new acting chops as Riggan’s tough-talking but troubled daughter.
Boyhood – Richard Linklater delivered a cinematic mind-bender with this groundbreaking look at one boy’s journey to manhood, shot over a period of almost 12 years. Sure, critics found little things to nitpick, but there’s no disputing the sheer technical and imaginative achievement that is Boyhood (which boasts stellar performances from Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and newcomer Ellar Coltrane). Indeed, the film is so ingenious that it almost becomes difficult to process at times, essentially creating a genre unto itself. And just when it dawns on the viewer that “Boyhood” is not about to offer a tidy cinematic ending, the film packs its biggest emotional punch – a devastating speech by Arquette’s character about life’s ultimate futility.
Guardians of the Galaxy – In these days of constant big-budget sequels, reboots and adaptations, remaking a slightly obscure comic-book somehow feels as close as we’re going to get to an original property. It helps that this space odyssey – far more light than the increasingly leaden comic-book fare crowding multiplexes – feels genuinely fresh, a visually immersive tale with memorable characters, a killer soundtrack and a star-making performance from goofy good guy Chris Pratt. Guardians of the Galaxy finally proved the coldly competent Marvel machine capable of surprise.
Jodorowsky’s Dune – Alejandro Jodorowsky’s lunatic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s reputedly unfilmable sci-fi epic Dune never made it to theatres, but this crowd-pleasing documentary is a perfect consolation prize. The aborted film apparently would have starred Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali, with music by Pink Floyd, and a runtime between 12 and 20 hours. The story dances off the screen in large part thanks to the octogenarian Jodorowsky, an animated interview presence who’s by turns jovial, bitter, sentimental, egotistical and irreverent.
Mommy – Quebec phenom Xavier Dolan announced his coming of age with an ear-splitting roar when he unveiled this masterful tale of a widowed mother (Anne Dorval) raising her troubled son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) with help from a neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clement). A cinematic assault on the senses that combined breathtaking visuals with a throbbing soundtrack, audiences at the Cannes Film Festival rewarded Mommy with a rapturous 13-minute standing ovation and Hollywood’s most sought-after stars promptly took notice (Jessica Chastain is reportedly set to star in Dolan’s next film).
Selma – There’s a stinging sense of relevancy throughout this story of Martin Luther King Jr., and 1960s civil rights marches, particularly at the end when Common raps on the song “Glory” about the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Director Ava DuVernay’s instinct to look at those who fought alongside King makes for a gripping and moving portrait of issues that still resonate today. British actor David Oyelowo portrays King in a way that’s believable, measured and doesn’t distract from the overall story.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson at his most meticulous, peculiar, idiosyncratic – and somehow, his most accessible. Set in a semi-fictional Europe ornately framed by nostalgia and imagination, Grand Budapest is a madcap caper revolving around a stolen painting. It’s brisk, mischievous and tinged with melancholy, and the constellation of assembled stars – including Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton – seem to be having a ball populating Anderson’s snowglobe. Dioramas aren’t supposed to have this much life.
Whiplash – An abundance of fills but no filler populates this tight, deliriously entertaining tale of an ambitious young drummer (Miles Teller) nudged to the edge of his sanity by a demanding bandleader, played with snarling intensity by J.K. Simmons. To its credit, the lean film nimbly avoids answering its own questions about whether talent can be drawn out through sheer force. Its pacing is too breakneck to leave much time for philosophical pondering anyway, and with its blood-spattered practice scenes and a grandiose winner-take-all climax, Whiplash is truly the sports movie of the year.
Wild – It could have become another trifling Eat Pray Love. But in the deft hands of Montreal director Jean-Marc Vallee, and with heavy involvement from original author Cheryl Strayed, Wild explores the dark psyche of its protagonist in a stirring way that helps viewers sympathize and understand her need for a gruelling soul-seeking journey. There’s a striking edge to a stripped down, world-weary Reese Witherspoon here as her character treks the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to shed her reckless, drug-addled past. Also elevating the material is the screenplay from Nick Hornby and cinematography from Yves Belanger, who worked with Vallee on 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club – which received six Oscar nominations.