PG Cooper’s Top Ten Films of 2014

Posted: February 15, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Lists, PGCMAs

Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson PGCMA 2014*The above image represents 2013’s PGCMA Best Director and Best Picture winner; Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.

There are two signs of a good year when might notice when compiling a top ten; reshuffling of the top choices, and having to make some tough cuts. There were lots of movies worthy of making this list and while it hurt to cut some, I’m really satisfied with the list assembled. Additionally, the top choices are all excellent and I put a lot of thought into where everything goes. So, to conclude my awards series, as always, my top ten films of the year, with my top five acting as my nominees for Best Director and Best Picture, with the number one film being the winner of the aforementioned awards. Thanks to everyone who read through my awards and without further ado, I present my choices for the top ten films of 2014.

10. Foxcatcherfoxcatcher__span

Written by: E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

Directed by: Bennett Miller

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 4 (Best Fight, Best Hair and Make-Up, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Cast)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 1 (Best Cast)

The true tale of Mark Schultz, an Olympic wrestler who became associated with wealthy but mentally unstable philanthropist Jon du Pont and the dark path such a relationship led to.

It’s funny, there are a few films that I left off the list which I actually gave a higher score than I did Foxcatcher. The film even had a pretty limited presence during the PGCMAs, only scoring a handful of sporadic nominations. And yet, there is something very compelling about this film that keeps me coming back. This is a very engaging slow burn plot complimented by Bennett Miller’s style. This is a very well-shot and edited film which slowly builds dread before coming to a very dark ending. The film also has some nice musings on mental illness, the powers of the wealthy, and patriotism. And then of course there’s the cast, which is fantastic. Steve Carell is the obvious stand-out given the dark streaks of his character, but Mark Ruffalo lives up to his usual high standards and this is also Channing Tatum’s best work yet. I don’t totally love the film mind you. Its themes, though interesting feel a little scattered, at least on first viewing. Still, I find myself fascinated with Foxcatcher and I look forward to future viewings.

“Coach is a father. Coach is a mentor. Coach has great power on an athlete’s life.”

9. Nightcrawlernightcrawler-poster

Written by: Dan Gilroy

Directed by: Dan Gilroy

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 5 (Best Chase, Best Cinematography, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 1 (Best Chase)

An ambitious and possibly psychotic young man takes a job filming the aftermath of horrific crimes for the local news station.

The most talked about aspect of Nightcrawler from the start has been Jake Gyllenhaal, and for good reason. The man has been doing some of the most interesting work of his career and this performance might be his crowning achievement. Lou Bloom is deranged and remorseless, but Gyllenhaal also gives the character a lot of life. This is a guy who loves what he does and is fascinating to watch. Rene Russo also gives her best performances in years, and the film finds a good role for Bill Paxton too. Additionally, this is actually a really smart script which makes some interesting satiric points about contemporary media and what we as a society value. The movie also looks really sharp and features some great scenes. A little bit Network and a little bit Taxi Driver, Nightcrawler provides a pretty biting outlook on the modern day while still being oddly accessible.

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person obliged to hurt you for this?”

8. WhiplashWHIPLASH+onesheet

Written by: Damien Chazelle

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 5 (Best Editing, Best Musical Performance, Best Supporting Actor, Biggest Surprise, and Best Original Screenplay)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 2 (Best Musical Performance and Best Supporting Actor)

A young music student finds his drumming abilities pushed to the limit by a ruthless musical instructor.

Movies about artists pushing themselves to their absolute limits are not new, nor are stories of overbearing instructors. So what is it that makes Whiplash such an incredibly fresh film? First and foremost the execution, which is top notch. J.K. Simmons has (rightfully) been the center of many accolades, but Miles Teller also gives a really strong turn as a young man desperate to be great. The film also contains some really strong moments. The musical performances are very well edited, with the finale being especially masterful and one of the most epic movie moments of the year. There’s also a sense of authenticity to Chazelle’s depiction of the musical world. But the unsung praise of Whiplash is its own dedication and love to the music. Despite the hardships Andrew endures, the film has a clear respect and love to this type of jazz and it really is infectious.

“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”

7. Selmaselma_ver2

Written by: Paul Webb and Ava DuVernay

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 4 (Best Use of Source Music, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 0

Dramatic depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. and other protestors’ efforts to lead a march from Selma to Montgomery in protest of black voting rights.

Historical biopics are a dime a dozen and every Oscar season we see a few of these. However sometimes these films really excel and that’s certainly the case with Selma. The film not only serves as an excellent history lesson. We see the big demonstrations and speeches, but the film also focuses on the behind the scenes dealings which allowed all of this to occur in the first place. This backroom dealings are in many ways the film’s most insightful scenes, and Ava Duvernay does a great job tying what’s on screen to contemporary problems in North America. The craftsmanship, with the exception of a few bumps, is very strong and the performances across the board are fantastic. I understand how some might have missed Selma due to the underwhelming ad campaign and it coming out at the height of the Oscar season/Holiday logjam, but this is a really powerful work that more people hopefully discover.

“Our lives are not fully lived if we’re not willing to die for those we love, for what we believe.”

6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apesdawn_of_the_planet_of_the_apes_poster_a_p

Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 5 (Best Shootout, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Villain, and Best Action Movie)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 2 (Best Shootout and Best Villain)

After a virus has wiped out most of humanity, what little remains comes into tensions with a tribe of hyper intelligent apes living in the woods.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the big surprise of 2011, breathing new life into the franchise by focusing on the character dynamics and featuring some amazing effects. This sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, lacks the same shock effect, but is actually the superior film in its own quiet way. Lead character Caesar continues to evolve in interesting ways and the dynamics between him and the other apes are great. The film also shows an interesting portrait of one civilization on the rise while another crumbles and the growing sense of inevitable conflict is handled really well. It proves to be surprisingly effective on an emotional level. Matt Reeves proves to be a very solid yet anonymous craftsman, staging human drama well while mixing it with special effects, which remain incredible, and the action scenes better than the series has ever seen. These new Apes movies have quietly become one of the best film series in recent memory and I can’t wait to see where this trilogy goes.

“Ape not kill ape.”

5. Interstellarinterstellar-teaserposter-full

Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 7 (Best Set-Piece, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Score, Best Poster, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 2 (Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects)

With planet Earth dying, a team of astronauts venture out to find habitable worlds beyond our solar system.

Interstellar is one of my favourite types of science-fiction films. The kind that asks bold, daring questions about the unknown possibilities within our universe. There’s a lofty ambition to this kind of filmmaking that I can’t help but respond to. The film presents a fairly bleak worldview early on, but goes on to inspire a real sense of optimism and wonder through a story which is straight-forward, but charged with big emotions brought out by a collection of really strong actors. The film is also a technical marvel, featuring some stunning art direction, beautiful visual effects, and one a score which ranks among Hans Zimmer’s best. The film is also full of really well-crafted set-pieces and Christopher Nolan once again proves himself to be a master at modern day spectacle. The film is far from perfect. Some of the ideas feel a bit underdeveloped and there are a few plot contrivances, but most of these faults stem from an immense ambition, and that should not be taken for granted.

“We used to look up and wonder about our place and the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

4. BoyhoodBoyhood

Written by: Richard Linklater

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 8 (Best Editing, Best Soundtrack, Best Use of Source Music, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 3 (Best Soundtrack, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay)

The coming of age story of a young boy in Texas from age seven to nineteen.

If nothing else, Boyhood is almost certainly the most discussed film of 2014. Much has been made of Richard Linklater’s project, which he’s slowly filmed and edited little by little over the last twelve years. This aspect has come to really dominate discussion regarding the work but when you actually sit down to watch the film, the behind-the-scenes facts take a back seat to the work itself. Watching Mason grow from a typical little boy to a young adult with his own distinct identity proves to be a pretty powerful experience. The film doesn’t accomplish this through grand moments, but rather through simple and honest storytelling which becomes totally engrossing. Mason himself is an interesting character and while many of his experiences are relatable, Linklater never tries to turn him into some generic avatar for the audience. The rest of the cast is equally important and watching all of these people come into their own is very rewarding. In many ways, Boyhood is about how people are always changing and how we’re never really done “growing up”. The performances from the four family members are all very real and Linklater does a good job making the film visually interesting while maintaining the film’s more low-key aesthetic. Some may criticise the film’s minimal style, but it’s appropriate for the story and not easily accomplished. This is the pinnacle of what Richard Linklater has worked toward is entire career.

“You don’t want the bumpers, life doesn’t give you bumpers.”

3. X-Men: Days of Future

Written by: Simon Kinberg

Directed by: Bryan Singer

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 12 (Best Set-Piece, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Editing, Best Use of Source Music, Best Trailer, Best Cameo, Best Action Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 3 (Best Use of Source Music, Best Cameo, and Best Action Film)

To avoid a desolate future, the X-Men send Wolverine back to the 1970s to prevent Mystique from assassinating a political figure, which will lead to massive casualties of both mutants and humans.

We live in an era of reboots, remakes, and reimaginings and Fox might have pulled that card on X-Men at any point. Instead, they stuck with the franchise and their patience culminated in Days of Future Past, I truly excellent entry in the series which uses the legacy of these characters to explore interesting arcs and dynamics between them all. Central to everything is the relationship between Xavier and Magneto, which is also contrasted brilliantly between their young and old counterparts, but really all of the characters fleshed out and the dynamics between everyone is very strong. The story here is total comic book material, but it really works and plays to classic series themes of intolerance, fear, and hope. Days of Future Past also excels as an action film, loaded with tons of set-pieces, all of which are great, some of which are transcendently awesome. However where the film really derives its strength is from the characters and story, that’s why it’s at number three. As an added bonus, the film is full of elements guaranteed to satisfy long-time fans of the series. Personally, I knew I was in good hands during the opening credits when the X2 theme came up. Days of Future Fast is a perfect comic book movie from top to bottom.

“All those years wasted fighting each other Charles…to have a precious few of them back.”

2. Gone Girlgone girl

Written by: Gillian Flynn

Directed by: David Fincher

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 9 (Best Set-Piece, Best Cinematography, Best Score, Best Trailer, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Cast, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 4 (Best Set-Piece, Best Score, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress)

Nick Dunne’s life is thrown into chaos when his wife mysteriously disappears and everyone ponders if Nick killed her.

Coming off of August, movies went through something of a dry spell. None of the wide releases really seemed all that interesting and if there were any notable arthouse releases, they weren’t being released near me. Than in October David Fincher brought us Gone Girl and shot a tremendous burst of life back into mainstream cinema. This is an immaculately well-crafted film from a director at the height of his abilities as a storyteller. The visuals are sharp, the editing is crisp, and every scene is just staged really, really well. Fincher also makes great use of a cast featuring performers usually not held in the highest regard. Ben Affleck, despite directorial accomplishments, has never been praised for his acting, Neil Patrick Harris is more known for his comedy and charm, and Tyler Perry is generally seen as a punching bag. Yet each give a great turn here, along with lesser known actors like Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens. However the real standout is clearly Rosamund Pike, who shows a level of depth and skill that I don’t think anyone expected. And then there’s Gillian Flynn’s excellent and unpredictable script which takes viewers for one hell of a ride. The basic beats may seem inherently trashy, but Flynn and Fincher elevate the material through their compelling storytelling and thematic resonance. Pound for pound, Gone Girl is one of the most perfect films of the year.

“What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?”

1. Birdmanbirdman-click

Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Number of PGCMA Nominations: 13 (Best Chase, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cameo, Best Comedy, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Cast, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Number of PGCMA Wins: 4 (Best Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture)

Washed up Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson attempts a comeback with a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love”.

Despite loving Birdman from the get-go, it wasn’t until I had some time to reflect on the film (along with a rewatch) that I came to realize just how deeply I admired the film. This is an incredibly ambitious film on damn near every level that not only accomplishes what it sets out to do, but it excels. First and foremost, this was a huge departure for Alejandro González Iñárritu. The man is one of the best filmmakers of his era, but his filmography consisted entirely of realistic dramas defined by their bleak worldviews and depressing storylines. Birdman has some dark elements, but it’s certainly a lot more fun and playful than anything Iñárritu had ever done, and also has a much more heightened tone than his other works. This is also a film that looks and sounds radically different than his previous efforts, and the single take format inherently eliminates the presence of the kinetic and fast-paced editing seen in something like Amores Perros. Iñárritu however has not missed a beat in the stylistic transition. Birdman is amazingly well-put together film which takes a lot of ambitious risks (the single take format, the all drumming score) that pay off marvellously. The cast is also fantastic, with each actor really bringing their A-game. This may be Michael Keaton’s film to shine, but Iñárritu has filled the film with other talented actors who each create vivid characters and work great as an ensemble. Many assumed Birdman would be a satire of the superhero film, but in actuality the film is more of a mediation on the divide between high art and low art, or if such a divide really exists at all. The film is just as quick to mock the pretentious folk who deem only the highest works of art worthy of their time as it is the masses who just want to see shallow fluff. And to top it all off, Birdman is just really damn entertaining. In addition to (or perhaps because of) the thought provoking themes, brilliant craftsmanship, lofty ambitions, and perfectly acting, this is the most fun I had at any movie all year. It’s a complete package of filmmaking and the best film of 2014.

“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”

  1. Good list, haven’t seen all of these but have heard good things about them!

  2. alysonkrier says:

    Nice top 10. My number one this year is also Birdman, followed by Whiplash and Gone Girl.

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