Whiplash, Damien Chazelle
There’s not much I can say about this film, other than – watch it. It defies all expectations. And the performances by Miles Teller and J.K.Simmons are out of this world. It’s incredible that a movie about an ambitious student at a music conservatory can pack so much adrenaline and tension.
Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund
I was really sorry to see this movie so unceremoniously dumped from the Oscars race for best foreign film. (Granted, it was jostling for a spot against such tours de force as Ida and Leviathan.) It’s a quiet and understated but brilliant piece on human weakness and the perceived role of men in families and society. At times, it’s hard to watch. It also forces you to ask some really uncomfortable questions about yourself, and how you would react in certain situations. I loved it.
Honeymoon, Leigh Janiak
The dread in this movie is slow in the building but pervasive. It culminates in true, disturbing horror without resorting to any of the typical devices employed by bigger-budget productions. Rose Leslie, of Game of Thrones fame, is excellent. The second best horror movie of 2014 for me.
The Drop, Michaël R. Roskam
James Gandolfini’s last movie sees him in his familiar Sopranos milieu, and he doesn’t disappoint. But the true star of this flick is Tom Hardy, delivering another surprise performance after Locke. I was also happy to see Noomi Rapace finally cast in a role that brings her closer to her breakout performance in the Millennium trilogy (and sadly missing from her Hollywood exploits ever since). Beside the excellent cast, the clever and well-written script departs from the clichès of so many similar crime dramas, thanks to Dennis Lehane who also authored Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone (both fantastic films in the same genre). A quiet but strong movie.
Copenhagen, Mark Raso
When this small movie punches you in the gut, you don’t quite see it coming, because at first it looks like so many other movies you’ve seen. I don’t want to talk about the plot because I’d be giving away the whole crux of it. It’s a love story, it’s a coming-of-age story, it’s a drama, but all of it quietly subverted by the twist in the tale. It’s deep and it’s uncomfortable. The chemistry between the lead characters is palpable. The young Frederikke Dahl Hansen is amazing. I can’t wait to see what Raso does next.
Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
I truly fail to understand what makes this movie great. It’s not bad per se, but it’s certainly not all that it’s cracked up to be. Michael Keaton is great, and there are a few other really good performances (Emma Stone, Edward Norton). I even laughed for a couple scenes. But the incessant drumming backdrop and Keaton’s voiceover narration drove me insane. I wasn’t able to connect or relate to any of the characters. The worst thing about it is that it’s so utterly forgettable: no memorable moments or lines, no lingering food for thought.
Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
I gave up watching after about two thirds of it. I’d stopped trying to make sense of the storyline shortly before that. When I read reviews and reactions afterwards, the general recommendation seemed to be to not look for a plot, but to just sit back and enjoy the evocativeness of the movie. Well, I’m sorry, but for me, born at the butt-end of the 70’s in communist Yugoslavia, and having never been to California, it was evocative of absolutely nothing, even after I realized the plot was not important. Plus, I have a real problem with loose-to-non-extant plots: I only survived Malick’s Tree of Life because of the poetry and beauty I saw in it. I saw none in Anderson’s movie.