January 2, 2015

Top 5 Movie Discoveries in 2014

Museum Hours, directed by Jem Cohen

One of the biggest challenges for film fans is striking a balance between checking out the latest releases and catching up with past greats. A glance at my viewing history shows the push and pull of these two groups throughout the year. This blog's structure makes it easier to stay on track, but it's still a challenge. The benefit in looking back is discovering incredible movies for the first time. Some have received tremendous acclaim, while others are recent but less recognizable. I've looked back at 2014 and identified five choices that stand out from the crowd. These films made a huge impression right away and have stuck with me throughout the year. I've included a quote from my original post about each pick, and they've been listed chronologically by release year.

The Wages of Fear, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953)
Clouzot finds moments of humanity during the journey, but the end result leaves a hollow feeling about our future. The changes of the industrial age will destroy the world, and even determined individuals can’t stop their inevitable destruction.

Pierrot Le Fou, directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Pierrot Le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966)
Godard’s taking risks and pushing us out of the narrative, and that freewheeling style is enjoyable. On the other hand, his daring moves feel a little hollow since it’s all for show. It’s this contradiction that makes Godard interesting since we’re still in a recognizable film world.

The Battle of Algiers, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo

The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
All of this has happened before, and it will happen again. The cycle of war and upheaval is harder to understand here in the States, but it’s a common trend around the world. This story gives insight into the challenges facing any nation under foreign rule.

Museum Hours, directed by Jem Cohen

Museum Hours (Jem Cohen, 2013)
How many of our friendships revolve around adoring movies, music, or another pursuit? It’s this passion that makes us human and brings depth to every connection. That nuanced enjoyment rings true and builds an intimate connection with this intriguing film.

Drug War, directed by Johnnie To

Drug War (Johnnie To, 2013)
The bloodbath says plenty of the futility of pursuing the drug trade. The authorities are enforcing stiff penalties on crimes and doing everything they can, but the end result is a blitzkrieg of violence. Is there any point to the entire pursuit? To doesn’t give a clear answer, but it’s hardly an upbeat portrayal of this war.

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel

Favorite Posts


Beyond the movie reviews, I also wrote periodically about TV series and theme parks in 2014. Some of my favorite pieces were essays not specifically directed towards a certain film. I've included my two favorites below about the hate for Wes Anderson and the rise of contrarian thinking among film critics.  I've also included my post about one of the best pop-culture events in 2014, the release of Whit Stillman's pilot of The Cosmopolitans for Amazon. I'm hoping that we'll see more episodes from that series next year. It's been another great year for this site, and I have exciting plans for 2015. If you've read my writing, commented or the site, or just dropped me a line on Twitter, thanks so much for taking the time to connect in the past year.

Wes Anderson Hate and the Case Against Filmmakers
What irritates me about simplistic vitriol against Anderson and other filmmakers is that it disregards their ability to grow and evolve. The music world has similar artists like Belle and Sebastian that lost devoted fans because they weren’t following a certain path. Their reaction makes sense, but it also leads to one-note criticisms.

The Contrarian: Resisting the Urge with Film Criticism
Another factor is the impact of our expectations, particularly with older films. The best writers identify their biases and use them to craft their pieces about movies. There’s nothing less thrilling than reading a takedown of a classic from someone convinced they’re doing a public service to the dummies who love it.

Adam Brody in Whit Stillman's The Cosmopolitans

Whit Stillman’s The Cosmopolitans: Wit, Charm, and Loneliness in Paris
Stillman lived in Paris for years as a writer, so he understands the mindset of these characters. He’s certainly spent time at cafes discussing art and trying to make sense of the world with friends. It’s that personal connection that makes this show more than an exercise.

What were your favorite movie discoveries in 2014?

14 comments:

  1. Predictably for me, I've seen your earlier three and not your later two. :) But I've heard such amazing things about Museum Hours in particular that I really want to check it out. And it's on Netflix Instant, too, so no excuses!

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    1. I do think the first three are probably the best choices of the group, so I can't complain. Museum Hours was entrancing to me, though I tend to gravitate towards films (i.e., Russian Ark) shot in gorgeous museums. I really want to check out National Gallery for that reason.

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  2. I saw my first Johnnie To film last year in Vengeance which was awesome. I hope to see more of his films this year. There was lot that I discovered as among them were the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Douglas Sirk.

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    1. I still need to dig into Jodorowsky and Sirk. I have seen Written in the Wind, but that's it so far from Sirk. I feel like there's always so much from the past masters to see, but that keeps it exciting for sure.

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  3. I've only seen one of your discoveries, "The Battle of Algiers," and it is an amazing film. Glad you got to see that and enjoy it.

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    1. It's one of those movies that I'd been hearing about for so long, but the premise didn't sound as intriguing as it actually was. I felt silly for waiting this long once I started watching it.

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  4. Pierrot Le Fou is pretty much the greatest cinematic discovery anyone can make.

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    1. No arguments from me. The number of cinematic references is off the charts.

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  5. I didn't realise Whit Stillman had created a pilot for TV! I shall hunt that one down. I've followed the link to the film crit article ...

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    1. Simon, if you're a Stillman fan, you should definitely locate the pilot. It's basically the first 25 minutes of another movie. It's on the same level and really sharp! I'm hoping that he ends up getting a full season.

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  6. Another great year, Dan! And we even got to meet in Chicago. Keep up the amazing work.

    I've only seen The Battle of Algiers out of your list so I must check out the rest soon.

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    1. Thanks Jess! It was great to meet up, thought it went by way too fast. I'd recommend all the other picks, especially The Wages of Fear.

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  7. Oh man, Drug War was awesome. That's a film I caught up with last year as well, and it rocked my world. I really need to dig deeper into Johnnie To's work.

    I'm also a big fan of The Wages of Fear and The Battle of Algiers. Glad you enjoyed them, too!

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    1. I've seen five Johnnie To films (Election, Triad Election, Drug War, Exiled, and PTU), and I feel like that's nothing. I did a short marathon of his films last spring but wish I'd gone a lot further. He's really prolific!

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