Slam Adams’ Top 50 Movies of 2014 (Part 2)
Out of 154 total movies seen. The movies had to be released in the US (because that’s where I am) between January 1st and December 31st, in theaters or on VOD. Part 1 30. Run and Jump The Irish Casey family’s world is turned upside down when their patriarch, Connor, suffers a stroke dynamically changing his personality. An American doctor is given permission to live with them documenting Connor’s progression and the effects it is having on the family. Will Forte plays the doctor, and Connor MacLiam plays the father suffering from a stroke. Both give outstanding nuanced performances, but both also have the screen completely stolen from them by Maxine Pearke as Connor’s wife, Vanetia, trying to keep the family from falling apart. It paints comedy and tragedy as very strange bedfellows with Pearke overflowing with joyous energy no matter what feelings she is actually having in the moment. 29. Obvious Child Obvious Child is the rare romantic comedy that proves that romantic comedies are still worth making. Up and coming comedian Jenny Slate plays up and coming comedian Donna Stern, currently only concerned with honing her craft instead of doing more personal things like dating. Then she meets Max (played by Jake Lacy), and after a one night stand with him, she ends up pregnant. This forces her to track him down and attempt a relationship with the guy, while contemplating whether to have an abortion or not. Despite the abortion aspect, it sounds like a pretty run of the mill rom-com, but what sets it apart is its ability to just be plain funny (who’d a thunk it) and honest about its subject matter. 28. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Jessica Chastain plays Eleanor Rigby, a grief-stricken wife, adding another emotionally dense performance to her resume. Her chemistry with James MacAvoy’s Connor, Eleanor’s estranged husband, is fantastically antagonistic. They are not officially divorced, but they are separated. Their stories are so magneticized to each other though that there is no keeping them apart. Made from the combination of two different movies, each made from either Eleanor or Connor’s point of view, they are edited together for a haunting depiction of marriage implosion brought on by contrasting methods of coping with grief. 27. The Drop The Drop is my kind of gangster movie. No empires. No international business dealings. No pompous jerks with tacky clothes and accessories. Just a couple of neighborhood tough guys trying to make their cut. Tom Hardy stars as the lead neighborhood tough guy, Bob Saginowski, a simpleton wallflower who just wants to be left alone. Trouble pretty much knows where to find him at all times though. It throws the wounded puppy and battered girlfriend of an abusive jackass into his lap, and his cousin, played by James Gandolfini in his final film role, gets Bob in over his head with his own criminal ways. The Drop is a no frills kind of crime thriller that succeeds in being unique by holding back the envelope rather than over-compensating trying to reinvent the wheel. 26. Starred Up From the jump, Starred Up could seem very intimidating thanks to some nearly indecipherable lingo and accents. It is ultimately very satisfying thanks to its lead actor. This England set prison drama stars Jack O’Connell as Eric Love, a role that should be a star making role even though everyone else will probably remember O’Connell for his less inspired performance in Unbroken. He is put on the same block as his stubborn and violent father, played by an excellent Ben Mendelsohn. Eric finds himself torn between two worlds. One is the violence-prolonging micro-society of the block where threats and grudges reign supreme. The other is group therapy with the one counselor in the whole prison who actually believes in helping the prisoners work through their violent tendencies but can’t seem to get the bureaucrats on board. 25. Force Majeure Force Majeure is a Swedish import that follows a family on a ski trip in the French alps. When a controlled avalanche scares the shit out of a bunch of skiers on a balcony, this family is rocked by the split-decisions they made and didn’t make, even though the danger didn’t really exist. It is a darkly comedic and uncomfortable story that infects near-by people with their own self-doubt. It is probably one of the most perceptive relationship dramas in some time, taking special aim at the insecurity of the male ego.. 24. The One I Love The One I Love is like a feature length episode of “The Twilight Zone.” Not one of the more straight forward horror/sci-fi episodes, but one of those weird quasi simplistic ones. A struggling couple in therapy, played by Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass, are sent by their therapist to a cottage for some alone time. Their first night starts out very stressed until something weird starts to happen. The trailers have done a really great job at not spoiling the twist (which comes pretty early on in the movie), so I don’t want to either. Just know that this strange reality-bending experience gives the couple just the insight they need to move on, with or without each other. 23. Cold in July A while back, G-Funk had a series of articles titled 10 Directors of the NOW. I followed that up with my own list. If I could go back and do it again, I would definitely include Jim Mickle. So far, everything I have seen from him is exactly what I wanted from the horror genre. He is a master at atmosphere and character building creating things that are wickedly cool and sincerely tense at the same time. With Cold in July, he bears left a little into thriller territory. A home invasion that ends bloody puts a family man played by Michael C. Hall on a revenge filled advenutre with a violent vengeful father and a cowboy bounty hunter/private investigator (played excellently by Sam Shepard and Don Johnson).For the trio, every rock they turn over leads to something even more depraved than the last. Despite all of its twists and complications, this movie is tailor made for the “they don’t make’em like this anymore” adage 22. Pride Inspired by a true story, a group of gay and lesbian activists in England start raising money to help a small mining town on strike. The rough neck miners who never cared about gay rights find themselves connected to the gay activists over their common enemies: the police, the conservative press, and Margaret Thatcher, all of whom are working to paint these two groups as social bottom feeders. Highlighted by a charming ensemble, this community bridge-building sympathizes and uplifts without pandering with sentimentality. Instead, it relies on awkward social situations to build chemistry instead of pinning them together with truisms. Although, the truisms are hard to avoid. They simply seem more like earned feelings rather then half-assed conclusions. 21. The Guest Like Borgman already mentioned, The Guest seems to have more going on in the movie than filmmaker Adam Wingard is willing to divulge. David, a former soldier, visits the family of a fallen brother to check in on them, a last request. As he settles into their home, mysterious deaths begin occurring, and the teenage girl in the family begins to suspect David is more than a charming smile. In fact, he is a deadly killing machine (possibly in more ways than one) channeling George Clooney and Mike Myers (the slasher) interchangeably. It is a colorful action-horror with the kind of synth score that immediately reminds you of John Carpenter. It’s Drive meets Halloween. 20. A Girl Walks Home at Night Billed as “the first Iranian vampire western,” A Girl Walks Home at Night takes place in the fictional Bad City, an Iranian ghetto of sorts full of delinquent kids, drug dealers, and prostitutes. Among them is a girl, played hypnotically by Sheila Vand, who roams the city at night in her cloak and headdress, sometimes zooming through the streets on a skateboard. She plays vigilante eating those who seek to disrupt the peace, or at least those who won’t be missed. It is a cool as hell picture shot in black and white and featuring a killer soundtrack. It is a patchwork of styles and homages, combining elements of horror, film noir, westerns, and the films of Jarmusch, in a clever way that never makes it seem derivative. 19. Coherence Coherence might be the most under the radar movie this year. With barely a release and almost no marketing outside of word of mouth, new filmmaker James Ward Byrkit weaves a mind boggler about a group of friends getting together for a dinner party during an astronomical anomaly that throws their lives into turmoil. It is a low budget sci-fi character driven thriller that rises above the cheapest of cheap ploys to sound intelligent, a foundation built on Schrodinger’s cat thought experiment. Once it gets going, it’s quick pace saves it, disseminating information quickly and ultimatley creating a film version of MC Escher’s Relativity. 18. Leviathan Leviathan is a dense and occasionally comic story that reminds us the dangers of fighting city hall. It centers on a Russian family, on hard times, who recently inherited a home with a fantastic view of the sea. The mayor wants it, and armed with some Russian version of eminent domain., makes a play for it. Thus, the fighting begins. They find a lawyer, an old friend who manages to complicate things, while the court is portrayed humorously deadpan in how much it finds this whole thing not humorous. Bleak as a Russian novel and as obsessed with suffering and failed love as one too, Leviathan works so well as a downer because it actually has an affable and interesting cast you want to see succeed. 17. Selma Selma is a distinguished film if there ever was one. By boiling down the entire life and career of Martin Luther King, Jr, the most enduring voice of Civil Rights to a singular fight, specifically the march from Selma to Montgomery to secure equal voting rights, director Ana DuVernay can peel back the curtain to reveal the men and women behind it. There is an Odyssey sized historical epic in the story of the Civil Rights Movement, but it will never feel as real or sincere as Selma. It replaces romanticized heroism with very real human doubt and sadness, impassioned speeches and demonstrations with political chess matches, and sentimental cliches with sympathetic performances. 16. Two Days, One Night There are not many people who get multiple opportunities at a “role of a lifetime.” Marion Cotillard does though. She plays Sandra, a factory worker trying to return to work after being hospitalized with severe depression, just another compelling and nuanced performance to throw on the pile. She loses her job when her boss realizes the workcan still get done short one worker. To add insult to injury, he puts her fate in the hands of her co-workers: either Sandra comes back to work or everyone gets bonuses. Sandra must now fight for her job seeing each of her co-workers one by one and convince them to change their vote. It is an impossible situation for everyone. Directing duo Jean-Piere and Luc Dardenne, with amazing support from Cotillard in the lead, create something profoundly heroic out of an ordinary disaster by finding the honesty at the root of the story. 15. The Babadook The Babadook stars Essie Davis as a mother struggling to control her misbehaving son while still grieving the sudden death of her husband. This has left her frustrated and hopeless, a feeling the snakes its way into the tone of the movie exponentially getting worse as the movie goes. It sort of makes it feel like the walls are coming in on you. These feelings leave Davis vulnerable to the titular Slender Man-esque villain who infects her behavior. With an emotionally resonant metaphor and an effective leading lady, The Babadook becomes a classic example of psychological horror at its best, the kind that creeps up inside you and festers. 14. A Most Violent Year Writer/director JC Chandor is quickly making a name for himself as one of Hollywood’s most versatile story-tellers, with the Wall Street ensemble, Margin Call, and Robert Redford’s one man show, All is Lost, already under his belt. He follows that up with this poisoned tale of the American Dream that comes the closest to capturing the look and feel of The Godfather of any gangster picture since. The funny thing is, this isn’t really a gangster picture. Oscar Isaac’s Abel Morales prides himself on being honest and fair, running the business started by his gangster father-in-law. He is not a law-maker or breaker, just simply a compromised man trying not to break bad for his piece of the pie. 13. The Grand Budapest Hotel This is what it looks like when Wes Anderson makes a globe-trotting action movie. Like all of his films, The Grand Budapest Hotel looks as if you are merely thumbing through the pages of an overly ornate pop-up book featuring vibrant Easter colors that would never be caught dead in a “real” action movie. Armed with his trademarks (deadpan wit and confident whimsy), Anderson delivers his most inventive movie yet. He crafts an entire history for a fictional European country to, at once, honor and critique the characteristics of by-gone eras. Cast with an amazing ensemble, including a terrific comic turn by Ralph Fiennes, it may just be the Anderson movie to finally make a fan out of you, if you aren’t one already. 12. Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhaal has never been scared of going deep into the darkest souls of his characters to pull off a riveting performance. This piece of pulp fiction offers Gyllenhaal yet another chance to explore such a soul as Lou Bloom, a would-be “first man on the scene” cameraman who deals in human tragedy and suffering. He is glued to his police scanner waiting for a juicy story to capture. It is a mix of “if it bleeds, it leads” social commentary underneath all the grime, spotlighting the lengths at which people will go for success, like money or in this case ratings. It all comes back to Gyllenhaal’s bonkers character though, a bleak character study of an inhuman person, like Christian Bale’s American Psycho except without the vague illusion of normalcy. 11. The Immigrant There was a time when James Gray’s The Immigrant was a hotly anticpated movie surrounded by award hype thanks to some early festival screenings. When it was finally unveiled for the public, it was dumped early in the year and sadly forgotten. This does nothing to lessen the greatness of the movie. Marion Cotillard gives a heart-breaking performance as a Polish woman separated from her ill sister while trying to get into America. Soon after she is forced into a prostitution by Joaquin Phoenix’s pathetic pimp and seduced by Jeremy Renner’s con artist magician. It is a bleak look at the American Dream, a hopeful signal for so many of the “huddled masses,” only to be put through the ringer and have their innocence taken from them.