Friday, July 11, 2014

Top 4 Films of 2014 (So Far)

As is my normal tendency, I got a little stalled out this year on topics to write about in the spring and early summer. That should change in a few weeks with my most anticipated film of the year, Boyhood, seeing its release in my neck of the woods on the 25th of this month. I will be first in line.

Until then, I wanted to catch everyone up on the best few films I’ve been able to see this year. Out of the 15 or so titles I’ve seen from 2014, there are four that I feel are worthy of a “top” list, but I didn’t feel strongly enough about a fifth film to round it out and make it a top 5.

There are a few films I simply have not been able to catch yet although I really wanted to, including most notably the Scarlett Johansson vehicle Under the Skin, as well as blockbuster titles Edge of Tomorrow and Godzilla. The rest of the year is shaping up to be pretty great, as well. Until then, catch up on the following titles if you haven’t been able to yet:

4. Enemy

Improving on his 2013 film Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve builds an eerie and genuinely unpleasant cinematic world around which to tell his doppelganger story, which like his former effort also stars Jake Gyllenhaal. A lonely and aloof college professor, Gyllenhaal’s character comes into contact with a doppelganger who happens to be a brash and cocky aspiring actor, and the film follows each character’s story as they attempt to resolve the mystery. This is Gyllenhaal’s best performance to date in a dual role. The ending will leave you gasping.

3. The Lego Movie

I had to make room for one of the two great features this year by directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and I thought this film was superior in many ways to their recent comedy sequel 22 Jump Street. Though the film is an impeccable crafting of the many different worlds that Lego operates in, perhaps the most impressive thing about this film is how it manages to remain hilarious throughout while actually having some interesting thematic points of view. I can’t wait for the inevitable sequel.

2. Chef

This was the biggest surprise of the year for me so far. Jon Favreau writes, stars and directs in this comedy about a chef that is a loose metaphor for his own career in the film industry. A visionary chef in a renowned Los Angeles restaurant, Chef Carl Casper must reinvent himself after his culinary endeavors are stifled and he subsequently receives a blistering review from a food blogger. The story then becomes somewhat of a travelogue, as it follows him and his son on a journey across the continental U.S. in a food truck, as they attempt to restore their relationship while Casper finds his voice as film director, ahem, I mean chef. It is surprisingly sweet, funny, and has some of the best food porn in any movie I’ve seen in awhile.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Sometimes, forces converge in a director’s path that enables their voice to sing at its most beautiful pitch. This is the case with Wes Anderson’s latest film, which I find to be his best. The whimsical focus of the story, a concierge at the titular hotel played wonderfully by Ralph Fiennes, is the exact type of material we’ve become used to Anderson working with. But the backdrop of the imminent Nazi occupation of Hungary and the ensuing World War allows him to add thematic depth and a sense of meaning to the whole thing, and I wonder if this is Anderson acknowledging the quaintness of his own work, while demanding that we don’t focus solely on the hipster-glossiness of his films and mine for the truth that undoubtedly lies within all his work. A real gem, this one.