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.

Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: The Skeleton Twins

30 09 2014

The Skeleton TwinsCasting Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, two recent products churned out by the “Saturday Night Live” star-making factory, definitely leads to a certain set of expectations about what antics should follow.  So when “The Skeleton Twins” begins with two very serious suicide attempts by its leads, who play long-estranged siblings, all assumptions fly right out the window.

Yet that’s only where the reversals begin since co-writer and director Craig Johnson refuses to let his film devolve into angst-ridden or melodramatic clichés.  He charts a tricky tonal course but manages to navigate it seamlessly.  “The Skeleton Twins” is thus hard to categorize since it so effortlessly defies the normally clean-cut division between comedy and drama.

To label it a dramedy seems to miss the mark, too.  The serious and the sardonic do not merely coexist in “The Skeleton Twins;” they are interwoven to the point of being nearly indistinguishable.  The film’s closest blood relative might be 2007’s “The Savages,” which also concerned two acerbic siblings trading barbs over grave family issues.  Johnson finds humor not merely a relief to the film’s drama but rather a means for exploring its repercussions more thoroughly.

But really, to compare “The Skeleton Twins” to anything at all does it a disservice.  Johnson fashions something wholeheartedly organic with his film.  It is not beholden to any pattern or formula but rather to capturing the truths of existence.  With his detailed and nuanced portraiture of the two leading characters, Milo and Maggie, Johnson allows their specific aches and struggles to illuminate those that hit closer to home.

Read the rest of this entry »