End of the year // 25 Non-2014 favorites

I keep putting this off, so I’m just going to take a stab at it right now even though we’re well into 2015. Last year was a strange one, I started off quite well with the writing in my own right and especially with the films I watched. Everything went well until August ended and I basically disappeared from actually blogging. I want to say it was a mixture of school, work, and having a computer that shuts off in the middle of whatever you were doing. Fast-forward to now, and I finally have a computer so I really want to get back to writing, and I greatly appreciate everyone who views A Cinematic Odyssey, but more importantly everyone who continues to do their thing on their own respective blogs, you are all inspiring.

Aside from watching around 120 films last year, I become fondly interested in television shows. True Detective was of masterclass and the first show I’ve watched since Heroes and Lost, and I was eventually convinced to watch Breaking Bad. Just saying the shows name is already almost enough, I strongly encourage you to check it out if you haven’t yet. About a month ago I started The Walking Dead, and surprisingly this is a really good show. The way The Walking Dead deals with the nature of humans and emotions is so good, it’s scary.

I tried to partake in the Blindspot, but that failed early on, I want to try it again, but I don’t want to let myself down again. One of the funnest things about watching films last year is all thanks too my good friend Hunter over at The Soul of the Plot. I kept track off all the films I watched, so when the end of the year finally rolled around; a top 25 list could be made to show the best non-2014 films I watched. So I will leave you all with that, and wish the best for everyone in this new year!

Five worst films: Re-Animator, Donnie Darko, Aliens, The Last House on the Left, Natural Born Killers

Special Recognition: Eyes Wide Shut, The French Connection, Malcolm X, Wild Strawberries

25. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) ~ Sergio Leone

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The first of three in The Man with no name trilogy. This may have been the second legit western that I’ve seen asides from Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. When a man rides into a town torn between to rivals, The Rojo’s and The Baxters; He plots a scheme against the two sides, all while making money in the process. Asides from a killer performance from a younger Eastwood, I loved the direction from Sergio Leone, and the score was A+.

 

24. Blue Valentine (2010) ~ Derek Cianfrance 

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Blue Valentine is the debut film from Derek Cianfrance staring Ryan Gosling as Dean and Michelle Williams as Cindy. The film examines their relationship through present day where things aren’t looking to grand for the couple, and cutting back in time to when they first met. This doesn’t sound like something I would be too interested in but the characters are fleshed out very well and Cianfrance had a great balance between cutting between the two time periods. The film evokes an abundance of emotions that probably varies between each viewer but nonetheless it’s a great watch with appealing Super 16 cinematography.

 

23. The Wrestler (2008) ~ Darren Aronofsky

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Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) was always a massive star in the Professional Wrestling business, but after a brutal fight; the doctor and his body made him hang up his boots. This downtime has him working in a deli, and pursing two women. One of the women being a local stripper he gets along with, and trying to reconnect with his daughter that provides for some heartbreaking moments in this film. 2014 was definitely the year where I was sifting through Aronofsky’s filmography. I wasn’t too excited on watching this film, but his other films are so good, so I just blindly bought it. The Super 16 was so beautiful in this film, resulting in me rewinding just to watch certain shots again. Aronofsky is a true auteur in the business right now, and a main theme in his films are how his characters take a ride on a downward spiral into madness. It’s not as shocking as Requiem for a Dream’s ending, but when you realize what Randy does, man oh man does it leave you thinking. Asides from cinematography which always attracts my attention, I loved seeing an inside look at the wrestling business it was extremely interesting.

 

22. The Naked Prey (1965) ~ Cornel Wilde

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My father recommended I watched this film, and said it’s one of his favorites, so I definitely wanted to check it out! Directed by and starring Cornel Wilde as a man; While his group of men are on a safari, they encounter a tribe that is asking for a gift. The men refuse to give a gift which results in the tribe capturing them and gifting them with a gruesome death. The last man is placed in something called “The Lion’s Chance”. The tribe shoots a arrow out in the distance, and the man gets to run to that arrow, before being chased by members of the tribe. What makes this film so special is the authenticity of the real locations they shot at in Africa. The downfall of this film is said best by the late Roger Ebert “There are all sorts of gruesome scenes to lend authenticity. Wilde eats snakes and snails (but no puppy-dog tails) and has creepy, crawly Things fall on his face in the night. But the film itself remains pure fantasy. Sure, it’s nice to think you could outrun half a dozen hand-picked African warriors simply because you’d been to college and read Thoreau, but the truth is they’d nail you before you got across the river and into the trees.”

 

21. The Raid: Redemption (2011) ~ Gareth Edwards

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When I think about The Raid movies, all I can imagine is seeing some of the best fight sequences that I’ve ever seen. In Indonesia an elite police force decide to try to take down a ruthless drug lord who’s held up in a 30 story complex. The cops go undetected for 6 floors, until a kid spots them and relays the message up top. This results in the small police force becoming trapped in this building with a ton of mobsters trying to eliminate them. I can go on and on about how intense these fight sequences are and the incredible direction from the Welshman Gareth Evans. You don’t want to miss this film.

 

20. The Man from Nowhere (2010) ~ Lee Jung-beom

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Woooooo! This was one of the best blind watches of the year. I watched this film right after watching Old Boy because I was craving some more Southern Korean Films. Cha Tae-sik (Bin Won) is a quite pawnshop owner who befriends a young girl So-mi (Sae-ron Kim) from across the way. Unknowingly Cha Tae-Sik gets wrapped up in drug trafficking due to So-mi’s mother, which results in her and So-mi’s kidnapping. Cha Tae-sik agrees to help the gang in return for So-mi, but it proves to be a much bigger plot between to rival gangs. Cha Tae-sik is forced to reveal the ways of his past life that was buried deep away, in an effort to rescue So-mi. When my good friend Alec told me this has one of the best knife fighting scenes in cinema, I was skeptical, but man oh man was that sequence good. This was a little bit before the release of The Raid: Redemption which also has phenomenal action sequences, but what makes this one so special is the weight of what’s at stake. The dedication Cha Tae-sik has to rescue the little girl is moving, and as the film carries through you learn what happened in his past life which gives you the full circle on why he is putting his life at risk.

 

19. Shame (2011) ~ Steve McQueen

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Shame is beautifully directed film by Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave). Michael Fassbender gives another brilliant performance as Brandon, a man who lives a private life; where he can indulge in his sexual addiction. All seems to be going well for him until his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes and disrupts his life. I lost all my notes on this film, and can’t remember many details about the plot. Although I can say that the relationship between the two siblings was uncomfortable to watch. At moments it looks like they are in love and in other moments I thought they were going to rip each others head off. They both give there all for these roles which just further make this movie not a happy one, but unhappy films always tend to have great performances.

 

18. Blade Runner (1982) ~ Ridley Scott

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Blade Runner was a strange one for me. I love the genre of Sci-fi and considering this film was so influential I had to check it out. I expected a more complex plot here but it was pretty simple, essentially you have a special police unit which employs Blade Runners to hunt down genetically engineered replicants which are banned from planet earth. In this case it’s Harrison Ford hunting them down in a dystopian Los Angeles in the year of 2019. The visuals are definitely what attracted me to this film and they hold up pretty well despite being made in 1982.

 

17. Heat (1995) ~ Michael Mann

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Heat has some the greatest sound design when it comes to firing weapons. You are able to fully be immersed in that massive gun battle in the streets. There was no over-dramatic music playing over, just raw natural sounds of what’s taking place. The film stars Robert De Niro as a criminal mastermind who excels in heist operations. To match this level of excellence, Al Pacino is equally a mastermind but lieutenant for the police force. Surprisingly I expected to see one hell of a performance from De Niro, and while he still gave a great performance, but I was more surprised by Al Pacino. His character was quite eccentric, and some of those typical cop lines were delivered so well. I can easily see why people consider this their favorite film, quality stuff.

 

16. Casino (1995) ~ Martin Scorsese

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All De Niro everything basically. Originally I wasn’t the biggest fan of Goodfellas, but I grew to like it. This film is similar but it shows a different crime syndicate.  Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (De Niro) is a Jewish-American hired by the Italian mob to oversee the Tangiers casino in Las Vegas, while Nicky Santoro (Pesci) makes sure the money is collected for the mob and keeps everything in line. Sharon Stone is also delivers a stellar performance as Ace’s wife. You get a little bit of everything when watching a Martin Scorsese film; compelling dialogue, great outlooks into crime syndicates, brilliant editing from Thelma Schoonmaker, and exceptional soundtracks. I’m not sure if I can quite say this is a better film than Goodfellas considering i’ve only seen both once, but it’s definitely more memorable. The paranoia between De Niro and Pesci towards the end of the film made for a great watch!

 

15. Annie Hall (1977) ~ Woody Allen 

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I was able to put aside the personal life of Woody Allen and finally check out an older film of his, because I wasn’t feeling Midnight in Paris. The film stars Woody Allen as a New York comedian Alvy Singer, and Diane Keaton as Annie Hall. The film takes a look at the course of their relationship. This is definitely a feel good film, with a lot of great comedic moments. The two standout scenes for me are, firstly the brilliantly written sequence at the movie theaters, and how Woody breaks the fourth wall. The second scene would be the lobster scene. They are both incredibly dorky here, and it works so well. I only hope the rest of his films are as good as this one!

 

14. La Jetée (1962) ~ Chris Marker

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Yes, technically La Jetée is not an actual feature film, but a short film. Although this film is absolutely a masterpiece from the late French Director Chris Marker. This short film is composed of black and white photographs, yes a bunch of photos to tell a 28min story! It’s incredible how mesmerizing these images are, and a specific moment in this film will leave you in chills when you notice it. The film is set in a post-apocalyptic WIII world. Scientist are working on ways to help the present situation via time travel in hopes that the past or future can help them out. They send a prisoner to the past and future where interesting things happen and he falls in love with a women he’s told to observe. What’s special about this prisoner is that he’s able to withstand the mental pressures of time travel despite the horrifying incident that’s haunted him since his childhood.

 

13. Se7en (1995) ~ David Fincher

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When I think about David Fincher’s psychological thriller Se7en the first thing I always say is “damn good film”. Veteran Cop Morgan Freeman is paired with a ready and raring to go rookie cop played by Brad Pitt; as they hunt down a serial killer whose murders correspond with the seven deadly sins. The killer’s identity is concealed which also means the actor who plays him his concealed so when you finally see it is, you very may well be blown away. I’m not quite sure if Fincher kept the actor’s identity concealed back in 1995 during the filming, most recently done by Christopher Nolan in Interstellar. This film has a very dark look to it which completes the consistent pounding of the rain and the content of the plot which makes for a depressing look at this city. Thanks to the internet, the ending of this film can prove to be hilarious for many. I mean i’ve seen the What’s in the box meme far before I ever knew what Se7en was, however if you can focus on what’s actually happen and ignore Pitt’s acting right here.. man is it gut-wrenching.

 

12. City of God (2002) ~ Fernando Meirelles

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This film was a visual pleasure to watch. Fernando Meirelles brings so much style to this film, with a great choice for cinematographer and editor. The style of this film is enough to watch on it’s on but the story of three kids and how their lives take different paths but strangely enough end up crossing paths in the most dangerous of ways. The film starts off with so much energy and is able to maintain it throughout most of the film. The only thing that was a little hard for me believe about this film was all these little kids running around the streets killing people. It reaches a point where it becomes unrealistic but if cops are really that absent/corrupt in Brazil, then they handled those sequences quite well. Despite how fun the film is to watch there are a lot of disturbing moments when these little kids are forced to do things that no children should be doing particularly the scene when Lil’ Ze decides to teach a lesson to a disobedient group of children.

 

11. Once Upon a time in America (1984) ~ Sergio Leone

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Coming in at 11 is Sergio Leone’s crime epic Once Upon A Time In America. Robert De Niro and James Wood play as two lifelong pals who grew up in the same Jewish Ghetto in New York City. As they grow up in and make there stake in the crime world. A story that revolves around death and corruption as you follow them from childhood to adults. Usually films like this that show characters in their younger age are uninteresting until they are older and where you get to see stars like Robert De Niro shine. However here I loved when they were kids, and to see a younger Jennifer Connelly was cool. As they grow up and move through the crime world themes of love, betrayal, greed, loss, and much more are all present. Something I didn’t expect to see was all the violence that was present here. I thought it would be like two scenes, and more so just children growing up or something. Leone definitely gave some great sequences consistently through the 229min runtime. Lastly before this comes into an even bigger paragraph, I bought the blu-ray copy of this film that came with twenty-two minutes of never-before-seen footage, that went through a delicate film restoration process. They found film that was thought to be lost, the scenes were noticeably different in quality, and perhaps didn’t effect the film overall asides from the scene with the chauffeur, but it was great to see them bring Leone’s vision alive.

 

10. Winter light (1963) ~ Ingmar Bergman

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If I could sum up my overall film experience for 2014 in one word it would be Bergman. Winter Light’s locations are on the level of Reservoir Dogs, but much like RD, the dialogue will win you over. Bergman is always able to translate his thoughts and feelings into some of the most profound and compelling dialogue. Winter Light is no different, Gunnar Björnstrand is a pastor who has his own troubles with faith, and he receives a visit from Max Von Sydow who plays a local fisherman that has massive fears of Nuclear Annihilation. Which i’m sure a lot of people were feeling in the year of 1963 with the Cold War going full steam ahead. It’s a great film and fits well into Ingmar Bergman’s Silence of God trilogy. A definite highlight of this film is the six minute monologue from Ingrid Thulin. You can read my full review here,

 

9. Take Shelter (2011) ~ Jeff Nichols

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Michael Shannon plays Curtis LaForche, a husband to wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain, and father to Hannah (Tova Stewart). Curtis begins to experience life-like nightmares and increasing implications of a storm coming causes rifts between him and everyone around him, however he is the only one who is noticing the unusual events. Michael Shannon delivers such a great performance here, that propels the film forwards. For the most part the film is drama, but there are a few moments were horror mixes in with the subtle filmmaking which allows it to be effective. I love the slow build that writer/director Jeff Nichols (Mud) allows to happen. Definitely a film you don’t want to miss. You can read my full review here.

 

8. Autumn Sonata (1978) ~ Ingmar Bergman

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Ingmar Bergman’s film Autumn Sonata shows the complexity of relationships mainly between the mother Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman) and her daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann). Charlotte is a great pianist who was absent for long times due to her concerts leaving Eva to stay with her father, to further the frustration for Eva; Charlotte alienates her affection for her daughter and judges far to strongly. Thus results in a build up events over a course of a day and night where all the harbored frustration and anger is released and many words are exchanged between the two displaying all the pain, anger and regret. Most notably this is the only film that the two Bergman’s have made a collaboration. From the little I’ve seen on the behind the scenes of the film, ego’s definitely collided between the Ingmar and Ingrid, but overall they were able to get through it. The two greatest things of this film are the great Sven Nykvist cinematography with the Harvest colour palette, and Liv Ullmann’s tour-de-force performance.

 

7. The King of Comedy (1982) ~ Martin Scorsese

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I don’t know why this film by Martin Scorsese always seems to be never spoken about, but it’s actually superb in direction. Robert De Niro plays an aspiring comedian ‘Rubert Pupkin’ who wants to make it in the show business, much like his idol Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis); it reaches the point where he’s stalking Langford and creepily sitting in his office building for over-extended periods of times. The film is considered a black comedy, but man can it be quite depressing at times. Pupkin’s obsession with making it doesn’t display hard work and dedication, but the persistence through idolization is a sad look on society. Scorsese eventually has Pupkin team up with his Langford obsessed friend to try and kidnap Langford. I could only imagine how many people there are in the world right now that idolize all these “artist” on mainstream radios in America, that would go to the lengths that Pupkin does here in order to stand in the stoplight.

 

6. Shaun of the Dead (2004) ~ Edgar Wright

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Much love to this whole cast and crew behind this film and the other two films apart of ‘The Cornetto trilogy’ (Hot Fuzz, The World’s End). Shaun (Simon Pegg) makes the decision to make things right in his life and attempts to win back his ex. Although in the midst of this decision him and his best friend Ed (Nick Frost), are completely oblivious the impending doom of a zombie apocalypse that happens right outside their door. Director Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg wrote such a brilliant comedy; the banter between Shaun, Ed, and the rest of the group is timeless. All of the witty responses can provide laughter no matter how many times you watch this film, and the parallels between Zombies and Humans was brilliant. The zombies here aren’t terrifying, meaning they don’t come running at you all savagely, but they are essentially brain dead just craving some human flesh. This makes for a lot of funny moments between the humans and zombies, but much like the other two films in this trilogy it goes from funny to dead serious real quick. I have to say this film does it best of all three.

 

5. Mulholland Drive (2001) ~ David Lynch

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Originally intended to be a television show, but was rejected by the studio. David Lynch thus decided to turn this neo-noir mystery into a feature film which earned him the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival. IMDb has the plot as “After a car wreck on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman (Laura Harring) amnesiac, she and a perky Hollywood-hopeful (Naomi Watts) search for clues and answers across Los Angeles in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality.” Though asides the adventure of those two, there is many stories of people that often are unfinished and left open to interpretation. The film is one big mystery that can easily leave you confused and trying to sort everything all out. Inside the DVD box that I have for it, there’s a little checklist in there to try to keep you on track with the mystery and solve it. I’ve yet to revisit the film but much like Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin, this film left confused, but in awe by what I just watched, mainly due to trying to differentiate between fantasy and reality.

 

4. There Will Be Blood (2007) ~ Paul Thomas Anderson

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Daniel Day-Lewis everyone, Daniel Day-Lewis. This was the first film that I’ve seen of him, and oh my was he brilliant. “It tells the story of a silver miner-turned-oilman on a ruthless quest for wealth during Southern California’s oil boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries” Paul Thomas Anderson direction here may be the reason why I expect so much from all his films yet am left disappointed, because of this film. That may be a unfair to expect so much from his other films, but that’s what always happens unfortunately. Lewis plays Daniel Plainview who is a Charles Foster Kane-esque man who thrives to become extremely wealthy. The clashes between Plainview and Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) are such a great aspect of this film especially the exhilarating performances in the Church Healing sequence. I’m probably going to have to watch this film a few more times to better understand the overall meaning of it all asides from capitalist conquest and greed because the cinematography of this film is masterful. Every shot in this film is done so well with all the vast landscapes or the dreamlike scene on the beach. Whatever film stock they used here was also beautiful which furthers pushes me to want everything shot on 35mm rather than digital.

 

3. Apocalypse Now (1979) ~ Francis Ford Coppola
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Man oh man, this film embodies cinema at it’s best. Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of epic-ness, Apocalypse Now carries you on an adventure through one of the most controversial wars America has been involved in. In the midst of the Vietnam War Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent on a mission through Cambodia to find renegade Green Beret Colonel, Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who they believe has gone insane. During the mission Willard’s unit experience battles, causalities, and overall the horror of war. This film’s scope is massive, thanks to a run time of 153 minutes to fit it all in. Never before have I seen a war film where the death of the opposing side has affected me so much. The violence in this film is brutally honest and most shockingly is the boat massacre scene, that was definitely hard to watch. Overall the performances are all great, and to see how this war has affected the mind states of these soldiers was eye opening, because it’s never really capitalized on as well in other war films. Thank you, Francis Ford Coppola. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

 

2. Oldboy (2003) ~ Chan-wook Park

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Finally I urged up enough strength to watch an Asian film, and this definitely changed my whole perception on Asian cinema post-2000s. In 1988 Dae-su is kidnapped and placed in a strange hotel like prison. Soon after being there he sees on the television that his wife was murdered and that he is the prime suspect. This results in him planning revenge, shadow boxing, and going a little insane all because he’s left in there for 15 years. One day he’s finally released and receives a call from the man who placed him in there but doesn’t explain why he placed him in there. The film then turns into this big mystery that slowly unravels, leading up to the most twisted plan of revenge I’ve ever seen. I think one of the best things in this film asides from the complex story is that Dae-su isn’t some karate master. He’s just a normal man, who drinks too much beer and has a family. I can’t remember how many fight sequences are in here but the most impressive is the long take in the hallway where he fights everyone with just a hammer, man was that a sight to see. I’ve yet to see Spike Lee’s remake of this film, but I do know that the end is different, and that’s enough for me to say watch the original one first.

 

1. Persona (1966) ~ Ingmar Bergman

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At last the best film I watched in 2014 is Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. While watching this film I was so transfixed on the monologues delivered by Alma (Bibi Andersson), and on the mute Elisabet Volger (Liv Ullmann) who’s performance was equally intriguing despite not speaking hardly anything throughout the film. As I mentioned before Bergman has a knack for compelling dialogue and I must say this is my favorite by far. The provocative story given by Alma that recounts the events taken place on a beach one day was written so well, one can think back and believe that it was all shown visually in Persona. The film features little moments that shine light on the history of cinema, and film itself, in the most beautiful/violent of fashions that completely blew me away from the opening moments. Sven Nykvist brings in what my opinion is the greatest composition for a film shot in black and white. The lighting and clothing of the film brought out stark contrast between between blacks and whites which provides for beautiful images. I love this film, and so far it’s my favorite film from Ingmar Bergman and undoubtedly the best film I watched all year. You can find my full review here.

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