Best of not-2014

It’s that time again! The best movies I saw in 2014, that weren’t released in 2014.

10. Short Term 12 (2013)

Feel like having, like, a lot of sad feelings? Watch a movie about foster kids! And if you think the kids have it bad, JUST WAIT until you hear about the staff at the group home and THEIR issues!

That makes this movie sound more depressing than it is, but the emotions are definitely intense. A tremendous lead performance from Brie Larson, some terrific supporting teen actors, and a small dose of humor keep Destin Daniel Cretton’s film from veering too hard into Movie-of-the-Week territory. It’s just bare, honest drama.

9. One Way Passage (1932)

Kay Francis! William Powell! A doomed love lived out in coattails and sparkling gowns! God I love these early ’30s romances, packing so much passion and pain into an hour’s worth of crackling scenes and then leaving us with a swell of the music and an aching heart. On a trans-Pacific crossing, he’s a criminal being taken for execution who’s conned his way into a few final days of freedom on the boat, and she’s a lady of means whose terminal illness could snatch her beautiful breath away at any moment. Neither knows the other’s secret, only that their love must end when the ship reaches dock. Oh, the Fates, how they toy with us!

8. Enough Said (2013)

While I appreciate her voice out there in the world, I’ve never really “gotten” Nicole Holofcener. I’ve dutifully seen all of her features, but fallen into the camp of feeling like there was too much shallow, privileged ennui mixed in for me to really empathize with the characters. However, the influence of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini strongly pushes me into the pro camp for her latest film, which captures a more specific and only-in-the-movies dilemma than Holofcener usually goes for: divorced Eva might really like divorced Albert, except she’s just made friends with Albert’s ex-wife, who has a lot of stories….

This is a smart story with a slightly difficult woman at its center (I love me some difficult women), with great, loose performances, funny and romantic. I’d say don’t call it a rom-com, except I’m not one of those people who gets down on rom-coms, so yeah: it’s a fucking good rom-com. Deal with it.

7. Bombshell (1933)

“Your hair is like a field of silver daisies. I’d like to run barefoot through your hair. Your mouth is like a gardenia open to the sun.” Gotta love a comedy about a talented, feisty woman whose biggest problems are the dumb men surrounding her. The wonderful Jean Harlow — who seems like she was born with a reaction shot on her face — plays a screwball version of a movie star not so unlike herself, who’s dealing with a bunch of freeloaders while trying to figure out what’s missing in her life.

In its own way, Bombshell has a feminist streak, with Lola Burns taking no shame in seeking her own path to “have it all” — she makes a decision to adopt a baby, a plan that springs forth with only the briefest consideration that maybe she could marry a man and do it the old-fashioned way. And just as the good themes seem they might be undermined in that “the previously rejected love interest shows her what’s best for herself (and it’s him)” kind of way, the farce twists back on itself yet again. So much fun.

6. You’re Next (2011)

Many a horror fan evangelized about this film when it played the festival circuit in 2011, but I was part of the problem in not making it a hit when it finally had a wide release two years later. Not seeing it on the big screen is my loss, but I’ve joined the evangelizing since catching the movie on Netflix. What a joy to see a full-on, twisted slasher movie, brimming with shocking and gross and occasionally hilarious deaths, but without having to grimace and ignore any blatant sexism or soul-killing objectification of women. The film’s heroine should join the ranks of great final girls, and aspiring young males with movie cameras and buckets of blood should look to director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett’s example as one to live up to.

5. Middle of Nowhere (2012)

Ava DuVernay is, I sincerely hope, on her way to a Best Director nomination for her achievements with 2014’s Selma. She’s also somewhat insultingly being included on various “filmmakers to watch” lists, as if those of us in the know haven’t already been watching her since she ***won fucking Sundance*** with her second feature film, the quieter, but still devastating, drama Middle of Nowhere. (Or even before that, because of the lovely, light-filled I Will Follow.) I didn’t get to see the film until it was finally shown on the BET last year, because even with that win, wide theatrical distribution never came. Funny, that.

Not only is DuVernay excellent at capturing the small moments that build to a moment of stark choice, making everything seem tense with possibility yet inevitable, but she’s starting to build a small stable of signature actors, as well — something male directors like the Coen brothers or Wes Anderson get praised for, yet women directors rarely get a chance to do. As she has with David Oyelowo and Omari Hardwick, here’s hoping she soon crafts another role for Emayatzy Corinealdi, whose work here as a woman devoted to her husband in prison but questioning her choices is so beautiful.

4. Purple Rain (1984)

If I had seen Purple Rain while, for example, curled up in sweatpants with a glass of Chuck on a Wednesday night, I would have enjoyed it, but it may not have been so high on this list. But I saw it under the absolute best circumstances for a first viewing: at an outdoor summer showing at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, with hundreds of other picnic-drunk Angelenos, swaying and singing and holding up lighters and soaking in the night together under Prince’s spell. The magic may never be underestimated, nor recaptured.

Ever the feminist killjoy, I must of course also acknowledge how this film is not exactly un-problematic in its commentary on domestic violence. Despite this, the general spectacle of music and emotion and costumes and sex remains electric, even as we shake our heads at things we hope no filmmaker would get away with thirty years later.

3. A Hijacking (2012)

If I had to pick a country besides the United States that’s making my favorite movies today, it would probably be Denmark. As an example, their version of a film about a cargo ship being hijacked by Somali pirates is just, well, insanely better than ours. (No offense, Captain Phillips.) Tobias Lindholm builds a story with excruciating patience, brilliant structure, and heartbreaking performances. A Hijacking was so great that I didn’t want it to end, even though watching it was kind of killing me. IT’S ON NETFLIX WATCH THIS MOVIE OMG.

2. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

Oh, I had a damn fine time finally watching this movie. Why didn’t anyone tell me how witty and fun it is? Yes, it deals with a serious subject, but I’d always assumed it was a sort of domestic counterpoint to the same year’s other major Sidney Poitier film, the fantastic but heeeaaavy In the Heat of the Night. Not so. And yes, of course the racial discussion here is dated, but the scenes are so carefully crafted for the time that watching them remains a pleasure. I can even forgive the film ending its series of delightful conversations between diverse characters with a lengthy monologue from an old white guy, because Spencer Tracy deserved that moment in his final performance (which, due to illness, everyone knew during filming would be his last).

1. An Unmarried Woman (1978)

Every fucking male filmmaker out there who seems to think he can’t make art out of the lives of women needs to take a fucking look at what fucking Paul Mazursky did in nineteen-fucking-seventy-eight and be ashamed of themselves. Fuck.

Jill Clayburgh was nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of Erica, an Upper East Side woman figuring out what the rest of her life might look like after her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Though we see her re-enter the dating scene, this isn’t really about finding a new love; though she questions how to proceed in her professional life, when she’s only been working part-time in a gallery, this isn’t really about money. As Erica’s conversations with her friends and therapist and lover show, it’s just about her. Her as a complete, independent, important person, no matter what happens. Imagine that.

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1 Response to “Best of not-2014”

  1. 1 patty January 11, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    i loved the final scene in short term 12. it was a pretty heavy movie, but it didn’t feel like a boulder was sitting in my chest when it ended–always a good sign.

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