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Click below to continue reading my official Top 10 Films of 2014.
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
What genre could you put Whiplash in? Is it a drama? Maybe it could be considered a musical based on its subject matter? Because of my experience as a musician, I’m tempted to categorize the film as a horror movie. Because the film is so tense and features some of the scariest scenes crafted this year. Let me back up, Whiplash is the story of a drummer (Miles Teller) who is being trained by and strives to impress his strict mentor/drum instructor (J.K. Simmons). The film features several scenes where the jazz ensemble practices in front of Fletcher (Simmons) and performs in front of an audience. These scenes are terrifying. Anybody who has ever performed live (whether musically or theatrically) knows this simple fear: at any moment something could go wrong. That fear is perfectly encapsulated in Whiplash. Because the film is all about Jazz music though, the fear is intensified as the music is so precise and needs to be performed perfect. Through most of the film I experienced extreme amounts of anxiety as I was hoping and praying that Neeman (Teller) would not screw up; I had just as strong a positive reaction when he succeeded. That’s the point of the movie. True success cannot happen except in the face of true failure. You can’t do something right unless you have ample opportunity to screw up and have a chair thrown at you by a crazy instructor. The film is extremely tense, features powerhouse performances by all involved (well-deserved Oscar win for Simmons) and is a great exploration of a musician’s journey. But I must warn you, if you have trouble with anxiety please prepare yourself before attempting to watch this film.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer)
The X-Men franchise is a strange beast. There is the original trilogy of films, two Wolverine spin-off films and the prequel/reboot X-Men: First Class. There was never really a sense that Fox had a plan when making these spin-offs and other movies, we just accepted it as another X-Men movie coming out, never really as huge mythos spanning over multiple-films. With X-Men: Days of Future Past, that all changed. Days of Future Past made official that First Class is a prequel and sets the continuity between the young cast and the older cast of Bryan Singer’s original X-Men trilogy. Contrary to what we thought, this HAS been one big franchise set over 50 years. When dealing with a film that attempts to connect two franchise using both casts and time travel, it can be understandable if you’re worried about it. I think that’s what made Days of Future Past so enjoyable. For me, there wasn’t too much hype and because of that I was able to be blown away by it. Bryan Singer returns to the franchise he started (and perfected, X2: X-Men United is one of the all-time great comic book films) and he is joined by one of my new favorite screenwriters, Simon Kinberg. Together, along with every X-Men cast member ever (no really, ALL OF THEM), they created an amazing X-Men film that has both thrilling action and beautiful allegory the franchise has become known for. I truly believe it would be limiting to call Days of Future Past a “superhero” movie. I believe it to be a finely crafted piece of science-fiction filmmaking. Yes, the individuals have powers, but its not about costumed heroes saving the world. Days of Future Past has big set pieces, but it carries weight because of the emotional build up that comes from the writing/performances of its leads. There is a sense amongst fans that we are to dislike Fox because they own the X-Men and Marvel doesn’t. And while Fox has definitely made some poor films out of Marvel comic properties, X-Men: Days of Future Past proves that they can make amazing films out of these characters and I can’t wait for the future of the franchise.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
While watching this year’s Academy Awards, I had to try and explain what Birdman was to some friends who had never heard of it. You know how these things go, when a film is in contention to win Best Picture you can’t just explain what the film is about, you have to explain why it is winning so many awards and what is so good about it. I started my synopsis,
“Well, its the story of an actor trying to revitalize his career by doing a stage play.”
“Ok, seems straight forward enough.”
“BUT, he used to play a superhero in the 80’s, and now that character (Birdman) haunts him in his subconscious and in his professional life.”
“And though we’re not sure if it’s real or in his mind, Riggin Thompson uses supernatural powers like Birdman did in the movies, Birdman being the fictional movie that exists within this movie.”
“Wait, you’re losing me.”
“And its like super-meta because Thompson is being played by Michael Keaton! You get it? It’s like, Michael Keaton played Batman back in ‘89, and now his character is an actor that used to play a superhero! Isn’t that great?”
“I’m not sure if this film is for me.”
“No, I’m telling you, it’s great! Plus the whole movie is filmed to look like one long shot! And the whole score is just drums, but it adds to it, like the whole thing is improvised! Then there’s another level of meta because the movie is about actors acting while they teach us about how actors act……oh, you’re not listening anymore, that’s cool……OH MY GOSH BIRDMAN WON BEST PICTURE YEEEEESSSS!”
Though that may be a bit exaggerated, the point still stands. Birdman is a film that film geeks will love. It’s script, the way it is shot, the performances and its meta-story telling all make for a breathtaking experience. Usually I only buy blu-rays for the big blockbusters, but after seeing Birdman my wife and I agreed, we have to own this thing and go for the ride again.
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