Yesterday, we revealed the bottom half of the best ten films of 2014, according to me. I’ll skip the pleasantries and jump right in. Here are my top five films of 2014.

5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Lots of dollying, panning, and surface fade to reveal shots create the illusion that Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman was filmed in one, long continuous take. Which is not true. Howbeit, the film is made up of many continuous one shot scenes, sometimes lasting up to ten minutes long, and it’s all done, essentially, at one location. That’s tough to do. Not a lot of directors can do it, or do it well for that matter. But Iñárritu didThe meticulousness of this kind of filming demands perfection. Pan left when you should have panned right, queue up take 27. Michael Keaton counts out four steps when he should’ve counted three, 28. It’s a technique that compliments the Birdman script like a good cabernet does a juicy ribeye. Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former superhero (Birdman) movie star (wait, is this real life?) whose refusal to star in a third Birdman movie (…real life?) leaves him a washed up has been. Seeking to right his own ship, Riggan attempts to produce, direct, and star in an arena that couldn’t be further from that of a comic book movie: Broadway. The intricacy of Riggan’s task demands a perfection that his life has never produced (much like the fastidiousness of executing a film made up of long, single take shots). Never able to keep a woman, a disappearing dad, a lackluster friend, and dying career, the only thing Riggan has done well in life is screw things up. For Riggan, the future of… everything hangs in his ability to execute this play to perfection. One mistake means the end of notoriety, the end of his life. Perhaps, though, the end of that life will be his saving Grace.

4. Calvary

Calvary-1-740x1024With Calvary, Irish writer/director John Michael McDonagh certainly avoids the sophomore slump. The film is not without flaws, though. It often struggles to shift smoothly into seriousness from comedic dialogue, but even then it remains brutally honest to its culture. A gripping commentary on the digression of the Catholic church in Ireland, Calvary astonishingly chooses not to curb stomp Catholicism. Instead, its story hones in on a good priest. A very good priest. Father James (Brendan Gleeson), who presides over a small parish in a small Irish town, is told by a mysterious church-member during confession that in seven days, he will murder him. The threat is born out of vengeance from the mysterious menace’s troubled past with the priests of his youth. The body of the film focuses on the seven day build-up to the promised killing. Each day, the anticipation builds; will Father James be murdered or not, and if so, by whom? The priest attempts going about his business as he would any other week, but as a viewer, I wondered why. With a legitimate death threat, James still tends to his flock, but, for the most part, he is met with animosity. Yet, he chooses to stay put. When the seventh day arrives, I recalled a line from the proposed murderer at confession, “There’s no point in killing a bad priest. I’m going to kill you because you’re innocent.” And then another statement that Father James had said to his daughter earlier, “I think there is too much talk about sins and not enough about virtues.” His daughter then asks, “What would be your number one (virtue)?” His answer, “I think forgiveness has been highly underrated.” Calvary is a highly religious movie that was made for both the religious and irreligious. In Father James, we see a phenomenal personification of Christ, and Gleeson gives a performance that is dripping in Gospel.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel 

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What’s a Mockingbird top five film list without Wes Anderson? One with a slightly less disciplined color palette, that’s for sure. With TGBH, Anderson received his highest critical acclamations since The Royal Tenenbaums. TGBH contains the aesthetic consistencies we have come to expect from WA, but he added some new tricks to as well. His use of three different aspect ratios to distinguish three separate historical settings in the film was a very dynamic technique that just made the film fun to watch; a technique I had never seen before. A period piece, TGBH takes place in the fictional European republic of Zubrowka, mostly during the 1920’s, some in the 60’s and 80’s (refer back to aspect ratios). It’s obvious that Wes is mimicking the real historic world war struggles of that time. His focus, however, lies more on a relationship between the prestigious hotel’s concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and an orphaned lobby boy whom Gustave chooses to mentor, Zero.

To be perfectly candid, the film’s conflict plays out like one huge MacGuffin. The accusation of murder pinned against Gustave sends him, along with Zero, on the run, perpetually hopping from frying pan to fire. I’ve seen the film three times, and I’m never sure if what the characters are up to actually matters, but that’s almost beside the point in a film like this. Underneath the chilly surface of the whimsical sets, the quick witted humor, and the fast paced plot are darker, warmer waters. The bond between Gustave and Zero brought on by an adoption of sorts. There were many moments in the film where I began to emotionally attach myself to its main characters, and right on queue, with some ridiculous scene, their perplexed-ness would over power my sentiment. I found that strangely perfect. Wes Anderson’s fantastical, unrealistic world of liberties is merely skin to be peeled, revealing a friendship that gleams with an uncanny reality; one that encourages vulnerability and remorse. When an older Zero is recounting the mentorship afforded to him by Gustave, which included Gustave’s death, David’s poetic response to the death of his beloved friend Jonathan in 2 Samuel comes to mind:

Jonathan lies slain on your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women. How the mighty have fallen…

2 Samuel 1:26-27

2. Boyhood

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A twelve year production that documents a real life (fictional) boyhood of a real life (fictional) boy, Boyhood is the stuff that film geek dreams are made of. I first heard about Boyhood in the fall of 2008. By that time, Richard Linklater had already been filming for seven years. And he still had five more years of work ahead of him. Needless to say, I was absolutely giddy when it came to a theater near me earlier this year, and it did not disappoint. Watching Boyhood was like digging up a freshly buried pop culture time capsule: Britney Spears and The Flaming Lips, shots of the very first X-box, the kid-frenzy surrounding the release of the first Harry Potter film, every slice of culture was perfectly preserved, recorded in real time. Boyhood is an anomaly; an original work of art that is simply the story of American boyhood. I mean even the character’s names are simple: Mom is only ever called Mom, same with Dad. The boy is Mason and his sister is Sam. The worshiping of a dad, the pains of moving, the teenage angst, the first love, it’s all there, pasted together with an unprecedented patience. The story never pushes too hard. It never forces anything too dramatic. Things just… happen, and you’re never sure what’s going to happen next, because that’s how life is. Perhaps the most interesting facet to Boyhood is the misplacement of the Boyhood family. While broken, and all trailblazing their own separate ways, they share common denominator of being a bunch of liberals encased in a conservative Texas. Remove the political overtones and what you are left with is a handful of misfits struggling to find freedom.

1. Interstellar

kevin-dart-interstellarMatt Zoller Seitz, editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com and mastermind behind The Wes Anderson Collection, tweeted yesterday, “Interstellar might end up being Nolan’s Life Aquatic or New York, New York, its reputation growing with time.” While I am happy to read that a critical metamorphosis is taking place, I’m not sure I ever understood the hostility assigned to Interstellar to begin with. The Playlist, a very competent and worthy film blog, took a massive critical dump on the Interstellar upon its release, but then recently included it in their top 15 films of the year. Seitz’s statement is peculiar, but true, and I’m pretty damn curious as to why that is. I’d like to think that the film is just that powerful. Similar to a man’s first sip of scotch which is undoubtedly followed by an expression of disgust, yet still leaves an impression so full, that it is too robust to not revisit. Interstellar is a visual masterpiece, and while Nolan is no rookie in the world of mind-bending, this film in particular takes the viewer into unexplored dimensions, literally. Where Boyhood succeeds with its simplicity, Interstellar propels itself with complexity. The thick layers of the film are intricately laminated telling the core story of a father’s journey to save his kids. Nolan’s most amusing space trick comes in the entanglement of a black hole, where Cooper (McConaughey) uses an extra dimension to reach back in time, communicating to, simultaneously, his daughter Murph when she was a child and when she had grown. He sends her information that was responsible for getting him in the black hole in the first place, which is the same information that could be responsible for saving mankind. In this scene we see Cooper acting as a guide, a father, and a savior, all as one person, while extending himself through space and time. Gravity and time were not being manipulated per se, they were being controlled to dictate the past, the present, and the future.  This all happens while the same question our #10 film, Snowpeircer, asked looms heavily: Is mankind worth saving? This, at least for me, created a goosebump-raising depiction of the Holy Trinity. The accuracy of this picture was enough, in itself, to raise Interstellar to its top rank

 

Honorable Mentions: Under the Skin: confession, I saw this film yesterday, and had I seen it earlier it may have made it’s way on the list. A terrific sci-fi that explores the troubles of being a woman, constantly preyed on by men. The One I Love (on Netflix): a quite sci-fi romance that paints marriage in a similar, but lest violent way that Gone Girl did. Guardians of the Galaxy: easily Marvel’s most developed film in years, and a truly satisfying summer blockbuster. The Double (on Netflix): a high stressed take on the damaging blows of unhealthy self-worth and false identity. Blue Ruin (on Netflix): a terrific revenge flick done in the classic way of an old western. Noah: a film I is still hold as more honest picture of the Biblical patriarch than who most of us learned about Sunday school.

Films Not Recognized That I Still Need to See: Nightcrawler, Inherent Vice, Locke, A Most Violent Year, The Rover, Selma, Ida (on Netflix), Foxcatcher.

And finally, here is your playlist for the top five films of 2014, according to me: