LISTFUL THINKING: Top 10 of 2014 (The Self-Aware One)

31 12 2014

Boyhood stillAnother year gone by, and what an odd and largely unremarkable one (at least for me).  That’s not to say, however, that there were not plenty of good movies to see.  Between two years – this and last – packed with film festivals as well as a summer living in Los Angels, I have racked up a shamefully high film count for 2014.

The final tally: 154.  That’s a gain of over 50% from just two years ago.  And, mind you, I still have many left to see, although only “Selma” and “American Sniper” would likely have ended up on this list.  Impressively, I have actually managed to review all of them (including one for “A Most Violent Year” which irksomely has to be held another month).

I usually try to tie my year-end top 10 list around a theme or a unifying idea, and this year is no different.  At the beginning of the month, my films were essentially set (sadly), but I could not for the life of me find a correlation or angle.  Then, I read a rather snarky piece by Anne Thompson of IndieWire called “How to Make a Ten Best List in Five Easy Steps.”

Thompson is a highly regarded entertainment reporter, and I value her insight on industry news that provides more thorough coverage than the click-bait titles.  At times, though, I find her writing contains a certain aura of superiority that verges on haughtiness.  In this reductionist list, which I believe is meant to be in jest to some degree, here are some of her suggestions for top 10 building:

“1. Include a selection of brainy consensus critical faves of the sort that are likely to be Oscar contenders.

2. Add a few popular hits as well to show that you click with the mainstream.

3. Add at least one wild blue yonder arcane title, either foreign or up-and-coming indie, that will leave readers scratching their heads, impressed with your erudition. This proves that you saw way more movies than they did.”

Pike Affleck Gone GirlI dismissed the piece at first, and then I told myself that such blind herd mentality was something to which I was not susceptible.  I don’t normally drink the Kool-Aid and tow the critics/bloggers party line – I picked “Win Win” and “The Queen of Versailles” as my favorites of their respective years, for heaven’s sake!

Yet I could not shake Thompson’s piece off, for whatever reason.  I kept thinking about it and realized that my top picks for the year might not match up with a ton of external validators, but they did meet a certain set of internal criteria.  As it turns out, I do have a couple of favorite “types” that rear their heads in my annual top 10 list.  These are not necessarily genres or styles of filmmaking so much as they are experiences.

So, without further ado, my extremely self-aware top 10 films of 2014.  I hope no one is incredibly offended by me reducing these films to merely what they meant to me, but if you want to read a pure assessment of their merits, click on the title to be taken to my original review.

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REVIEW: Citizenfour

24 11 2014

Citizenfour“I love my country but fear my government” is the kind of trite maxim that mostly belongs on bumper stickers, yet it ought to express the reaction of any sane American to watching Laura Poitras’ exceptional documentary “Citizenfour.”  In her able balancing of both the conveyance of dense, important information with the telling of a personal, human narrative, she exemplifies all the best that cinema can offer as a platform for journalism.

“Citizenfour” does not merely provide an ex post facto documentation of the events; its production is deeply embedded in the unfolding of the events themselves.  Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, her print media colleague, were the first points of contact for the mysterious Citizenfour.  This mysterious whistleblower reached out to them in early 2013 through sporadic, encrypted communication.  He only hinted at a trove of explosive information in his possession, telling them little other than that the information would be worth their time.

When they traveled to Hong Kong to rendezvous with their informant, the duo had no idea that these documents would reveal massive illegal NSA domestic surveillance programs that were kept off the books.  After some careful maneuvering, they meet the source – Edward Snowden (who actually prefers to go by “Ed”).  His identity comes as no surprise, though his words and what they reveal about his personality and motivations provides a gripping, enlightening watch.

While Poitras is intimately involved with the events she portrays, her “Citizenfour” manages to keep a healthy distance away from the proceedings.  Even with her relative neutrality, the film both engrosses and enrages.  As she unspools the story behind the story, Poitras also manages to provide the most in-depth portrait of Snowden.  Clad in plained-colored T-shirts, he speaks of a convincing candor and conscience as he relays sophisticated technical knowledge into intelligible terms.

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