I originally wrote this for the UWM Post here: http://uwmpost.com/13-best-films-of-2014-four-overlooked-categories/
I love movies, I hate ranking them though. This quote sums up my problem nicely: “Putting great movies against each other it sometimes feels more akin to taking your kids, giving them knives, throwing them into a pit, and seeing who survives” – Film Crit Hulk
So instead I am recommending three films, each separated by a different and somewhat arbitrary category.
SERIOUS DRAMA – These films play it inflexibly straight. Are you ready for explorations of human dynamics, emotion, and tense silences?
- “Locke / The Drop” – These two would make a great Tom Hardy double feature. Locke, particularly is a showcase for Hardy. Alone in a car for the whole film, he makes this film’s knowable interpersonal stakes thrilling. It’s a crime film that knows the weight of a single gunshot.
- “Force Majeure” – This french language film deals with a fracturing family ski vacation. A marriage goes to pieces when unspoken truths are revealed in a frightening moment of clarity. In the middle of lunch, a husband runs from an avalanche and a wife stays to protect her children. Relational repercussions rack and wrench.
- “A Most Wanted Man” – Spy films have a reputation for being something your overly hawkish father-in-law might like. Philip Seymour Hoffman brings that beloved “dad” element in his portrayal of a heavy set middle aged German spy whose role is more managing people than cloaking and daggering. This film rises above in its post-9/11 realism. Conversation, not torture, is the real weapon used here.
ROMANCE – You know what this is.
- “What If” – There is something about romantic comedies that bring to mind the 90s, but “What If” is a movie for now. Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan adorably navigate what it means to be friends with chemistry in this smart and relatable evolution for the genre.
- “Beyond the Lights” – A heroic cop with political aspirations saves an isolated pop star from a suicide attempt. He reminds the public of her depression and is toxic PR. She costs him treasured political capital with the older, more traditional voters. Do you want to watch two beautiful people fall in love against all the odds? Gugu Mbatha-Raw is great as Noni, a Rihanna inspired songstress trying to find her own voice.
- “The Fault in our Stars” – This film was created to get you to cry. Cancer kids fall in love. Will either or both of them die? Yes, everyone eventually dies even if it’s not from cancer and this movie keeps telling you that over and over. If what you want is something that goes for the gut punch every ten minutes, look no further.
DARK COMEDIES? – I am a terrible viewer of dark comedies. There’s something about the magical dim theater environment that makes me unimpeachably square and receptive.
- “Nightcrawler” – Just go see this one. Crime “journalism” never seemed so menacing. I wrote about ithere (It’s not about the blue x-man).
- “Dom Hemingway” – Jude Law has the most fun of his career playing the swearing, smirking, naked, angry, and recently incarcerated safe cracker. Hijinks and peril abound, just take a look at the plot keywords on IMDB. Shout out to Jumayn Hunter in his late bit as the smartly dressed young crime boss Lester. You might know him as a south London gangster from “Attack The Block.” One day this guy is going to be big.
- “Calvary” – A priest is threatened in the confessional. He is told he will be murdered in one week. The humble priest accepts his fate but the audience is strung along wondering which parishioner will do the deed. I found myself suspecting almost every conceivable character. If receiving a favorable response from religious reviewers counts as bonus points for you, that’s a thing too.
BASED ON A TRUE STORY – These three films all deal with an abuser and the abused. That these stories are true makes them all the more devastating. While not necessarily accurate in each particular instance, each of my picks has a non-fiction book to read and straighten out the facts if the historical record intrigues you.
- “Foxcatcher” – The film’s subject, Mark Schultz, has a problem with anyone insinuating he had a sexual relationship with the man who killed his brother. Unfortunately the story “Foxcatcher” tells, excellently at that, is one of the fallout of sexual abuse in the context of athletics and the life of an Atlas-Adonis who operates at the highest level.
- “The Railway Man” – Forgiveness is a tricky thing. In the admittedly small slice of film that is real life POW forgiveness stories, “The Railway Man” is the one to see. With a generous portrayal of finding love later in life, “The Railway Man” marries the destruction of war with the attempts to build as a person afterwards.
- “Rosewater” – Jon Stewart’s maiden voyage into long form cinema earns a recommendation for showing that you can laugh in prison. I wrote about Rosewater and its issues here.