Any attempt on my part to assess the year in film is bound to be inadequate, because there are just too many films I know I ought to see that I haven’t seen yet. Moreover, that list of “oughts” has already been shaped by the reactions of other critics; it’s already too late for the joy of discovery that I felt, say, attending a screening of “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” back in January, before everyone had heralded Ana Lily Amirpour’s Persian vampire noir western as the hot new thing. And anyway, films are largely incomparable across genres. Which was a “better” film, “Boyhood” or “The LEGO Movie?” It’s kind of a silly question – they aren’t trying to do anything remotely comparable.
Nonetheless: posts must be blogged. So: let’s start with the critical consensus. The nice folks at Metacritic have compiled a meta-list, combining the views of 137 different critics on what they think are the top ten films of the year, for a meta-list of 20 films. Herewith:
1. “Boyhood.” My feelings about the film tracked very closely with Eve Tushnet’s. I admire the experiment, and I was drawn in deeply during the first hour. But in the last hour I found myself far more interested in the parents than in the titular boy, which to me feels like the film didn’t achieve all that it set out to do.
2. “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” I am a great admirer of Richard Linklater’s work, which is why I was surprised that I didn’t respond to “Boyhood” with raptures. Wes Anderson I am much more ambivalent about. But “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was for me a sheer delight from end to end, and may even have become my favorite Anderson film, because for once I felt his fussiness was fully justified by the film’s subject and setting. Leon Hadar’s thoughts on the film are also very worth reading.
5. “Selma.” A film I have not yet seen, and plan to, though I fear I won’t like it. I don’t tend to like pious movies, regardless of the object of piety, and I fear this will be one.
6. “Whiplash.” I wrote up my thoughts on Damien Chazelle’s film here, and then followed up with additional thoughts here, but I continue to chew on it. “Whiplash” is very worth seeing, but it irritated me, and I wonder whether that reaction says more about me than it does about the film.
7. “Ida.” Near the top of my list of films I need to see.
8. “Gone Girl.” Amazingly, I still haven’t seen this film. I begin to suspect I’m avoiding it, and I’m not entirely sure why.
8. “Inherent Vice.” I’m only falling more in love with P.T. Anderson with time, and am very eager to see his latest.
10. “Nightcrawler.” I find myself away from the pack on this one. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom seemed like he had dropped to earth from Mars in the first frame. What, I wondered, did he do the day before the film began? The month before that? The year before that? I found no really plausible answer to these sorts of questions. Nor did I buy this young man’s sudden transformation from bizarre recluse to a ruthlessly effective manipulator of other people. The film presents itself as a dark satire – I kept thinking it was trying to be a noir-esque, indie-scale “Network” – but I never felt like the satire connected with anything terribly specific.
12. “Force Majeure.” I haven’t seen it yet, but hope to do so.
13. “Goodbye to Language.” Haven’t seen it yet, clearly need to – it’s actually somewhat relevant to a script I’ve written.
14. “The Immigrant.” Jeepers, I haven’t seen this one yet either – and this one wasn’t even on my list of want-to-sees. From the description, the film sounds like an Isaac Bashevis Singer novel, which makes me want to see it to see if that’s how it plays on-screen.
16. “Only Lovers Left Alive.” I described “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” as a “Jarmusch-esque” vampire flick without having seen Jim Jarmusch’s own vampire flick. I suppose I have to find out which is more Jarmusch-esque: the actual Jarmusch or the homage? In any event, Eve Tushnet’s always-worthwhile thoughts can be found here.
17. “Snowpiercer.” This extremely stylish and idiosyncratic action-flick-cum-allegory of global inequality was far darker than I had expected. Indeed, inasmuch as it has a clear politics, those politics are almost pure anarchist rage. Far from presenting a brief for revolution, the film paints a deeply bleak and pessimistic picture of the choices before humanity in an age of scarcity driven by ecological impoverishment.
20. “Citizenfour.” Another film I need to see, but that I expect not to be enraptured by as so many have been.
So I’ve only seen 9 out of 20 of the films that comprise the aggregated “critics’ picks” list. Not a particularly impressive showing – though I expect to improve upon it substantially over the next month or so.
Meanwhile, what’s missing from this meta-list in terms of my personal faves of the year? And what else am I eager to see that I haven’t gotten to yet?
Not necessarily films that I would put on any kind of “Top 10” list, but all worth renting, are: “Frank,” “Listen Up Philip,” (reviewed here), and “The One I Love.” All extremely well-written films, and all films that would work just fine on a small screen. Films about prickly, difficult male artists (a theme of the year), and about the cold war between the sexes. And two doses of Elizabeth Moss to boot.
What am I eager to see? Apart from those mentioned above, I’d add “Wild,” “The Babadook,” “The Overnighters,” “Big Eyes,” “Leviathan,” and “A Most Violent Year,” plus (from stuff I missed from earlier in the year) “Gloria,” “Calvary,” “The Dog,” “The Blue Room,” and “Jodorowsky’s Dune.”