"The Best Movies of 2014": The staff at Sam Fragoso's indispensable site, which recently relaunched, ranks the 50 best films of 2014 (Tina Hassannia penned the intro below).
“2014 was a rollicking year for film, filled with most violent years, strange little cats, a never-dying Tom Cruise, missing women, arrogant literary geniuses and vampire rock-stars, among other things. While the industry for think pieces about the end of cinema and the end of filmmaking-as-we-know-it-now continues to boom in our digital era, and while some of these pieces have become refined enough to make some valid claims about the tumultuous industry and art form we call cinema, it’s simultaneously true that taking a look back at the year can produce a sense of awe. Such an assessment makes you realize that good films continue to be made. 2014, the middle child of the 2010s, was full of some great examples, as this list will attest. This kind of seasonal reminder is necessary to appreciate the aesthetic abundance we cinephiles have. Despite the ridiculous logistical and financial hurdles that accompany filmmaking, it’s astonishing and comforting to know that our beloved art form continues to thrive.”
"Interstellar: The Loneliest Journey in Human History": At his blog, They Live By Night, Bilge Ebiri writes an excellent piece on Christopher Nolan's divisive blockbuster.
“Coop, whose very name suggests restlessness, and whose one previous attempt to go into space was aborted before he left the stratosphere, basically is a child. Early on, when Murph comes to the breakfast table with a broken lunar lander toy from her bookshelf, he says, ‘What’d you do to my lander?’ Coop’s daughter walks around school with his old science textbooks. He’s a loving parent, but not a particularly attentive one. He forgets parent-teacher conferences; he doesn’t know how to deal with his daughter’s problems; he’s more excited about chasing stray Indian spy drones than he is about getting his kids to school on time. He’s a dreamer, out of his time and place. ‘Interstellar’ initially positions itself as Coop’s thwarted dream of flight finally coming true, but over the course of the film, our hero’s dream – as dreams often do in the movies – becomes something of a nightmare. One of Nolan’s greatest strengths has always been his control of tone, and, not unlike ‘Inception,’ ‘Interstellar’ is a blockbuster bathed in sadness and desolation. Cooper and his team’s journey is a bleak, lonely one. They travel the far reaches of space and find themselves on empty, barren planets – one an endless stretch of ocean, the other an endless stretch of ice. Meanwhile, Earth is turning into an endless stretch of dust, filled with fewer and fewer people. Humanity seems like an old, dying patient that no one visits anymore – managing from day to day but quietly slipping away. That subtext, of course, is the very subject of the Dylan Thomas poem that’s repeated (probably one too many times) throughout the film – a poem that doubled as a letter from the poet to his father, asking him to fight even as he lay on his deathbed. The first time we hear it in the film, it’s over images of Coop’s spaceship finally leaving Earth.”
“The Oscar-buzzed new movie ‘The Imitation Game’ is an old-fashioned biopic, crafting a tidy, entertaining narrative from disparate strands of its subject’s life—in this case, British mathematician, codebreaker, and computer pioneer Alan Turing. Slate movie critic Dana Stevens has taken issue with the film’s emotional straightforwardness, writing, “The Imitation Game’ doesn’t do right by the complex and often unlovable man it purports to be about.” Meanwhile, on Outward, my colleagues J. Bryan Lowder and June Thomas praise the film’s message in spite of its historical inaccuracies. Just how inaccurate are those inaccuracies? I read the masterful biography that the screenplay is based on, Andrew Hodges’ ‘Alan Turing: The Enigma,’ to find out. I discovered that ‘The Imitation Game’ takes major liberties with its source material, injecting conflict where none existed, inventing entirely fictional characters, rearranging the chronology of events, and misrepresenting the very nature of Turing’s work at Bletchley Park. At the same time, the film might paint Turing as being more unlovable than he actually was. For details on the film’s flights of fancy, read on. (There will, naturally, be spoilers.)”
"Wes Anderson's DP Robert Yeoman on Bringing 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' to Life": The cinematographer discusses his Oscar-worthy work with Indiewire's Paula Bernstein.
“In the lobby of the hotel, which was a sort of a department store that Wes found in Görlitz, Germany. It was no longer being used and it had this beautiful skylight. And Wes knew if we went to an existing hotel, we really couldn't control it the way we wanted. He wanted to paint it and very much control the art direction. When you shoot in a real hotel, there are always restrictions. He wanted a place that he could convert to his hotel. So when he found this department store, he said ‘this is the place.’ The same lobby of that department store became our lobby and for the '60s portion of it, Adam Stockhausen, our production designer built a giant drop ceiling, a fluorescent ceiling, which the Communists frequently did at that time. They took out the beautiful lights and put in overhead fluorescent lights, so that kind of ruled our aesthetic in the '60s quite a bit, particularly in the lobby. Then when we switched to the '30s part of the film, it was a much more romantic time, much more beautiful. So we pulled that fake ceiling off the lobby and lit through the skylight which gave it a very soft kind of ambience and then we had a lot of practical lights in the background that were very warm and it gave kind of a nice glow that made the place seem much more inviting. It was certainly a different feeling for the two time periods, for sure.”
"Why I Hope 'Star Wars' and 'Avengers' Don't Give Hollywood a Record 2015": An impassioned essay by Scott Mendelson of Forbes.
“Do we want a Hollywood whose output constantly looks like 2016’s six-week June/July chunk containing ‘Independence Day’ 2, a ‘Mummy’ reboot, a ‘Tarzan’ reboot, ‘Star Trek 3,’ ‘Ice Age 5,’ a ‘King Arthur’ reboot, a fifth ‘Bourne’ film, a third ‘Planet of the Apes’ film, and a ‘Power Rangers’ movie? That’s what we all say is the nightmare scenario, yet I’m sure overall box office in 2016 will be quite high. Do we really want to cheer a Hollywood that drowns us in preordained blockbusters and then scores record overall box office as a result? Will a record-breaking cumulative box office based on safe franchise plays and mega-budget would-be tent poles ‘revive’ theatrical movie going or help seal its doom by teaching studios to make more like ‘Night at the Museum’ and less like ‘Gone Girl’? To the extent that we in the media that set the media narrative can influence the studios and/or ‘teach lessons,’ what lesson will we be teaching if we care more about the overall box office grosses earned on the backs of surefire sequels like ‘Avengers 2’ and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ than the individual box office successes of films that might not necessarily fit the blockbuster mold? What do we say, especially to publically-traded companies whose stocks can rise and fall for the most arbitrary of reasons, when we bemoan a token and explainable downtick in domestic grosses as a crisis and then argue that the solution is just more preordained blockbusters?”