What is the best film of 2014?
It’s really nice to see comedies like “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” recognized by the Oscars. I’m incredibly glad “Whiplash” found its way into the Best Picture category. “American Sniper” is a controversial movie that two sides of the country seem to be taking very different messages from, which speaks to Clint Eastwood’s balance as a director and storyteller.
Yet how often does your personal choice for best film agree with the Oscars? What’s missing? The Academy gives what feels like a very cursory Best Picture nod to “Selma,” having forgotten it in every other category but Best Original Song, but that settles in as my No. 3 film of the year.
If you’ve followed my reviews this last year, you can probably guess it’s going to come down to “Interstellar” and something out of left field -- World War II epic “Fury,” dark comedy “Nightcrawler,” the experimental “Under the Skin,” Indonesian martial arts film “The Raid 2,” the brilliant science-meets-faith tale “I Origins,” or Australian post-apocalypse story “The Rover.” Those are seven very deserving films, but it really is all about “Interstellar” and “Under the Skin” for me.
This is what I’ve been wrestling with when figuring out the best film of the year. The sci-fi masterpiece “Interstellar” (rated PG-13) stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. It’s a movie that emotionally communicates to me in a way no other film does. It makes me feel like a little kid, like I’m going on a space adventure, but it talks about so much more along the way. Its tension and emotion are unparalleled for me as far as film experiences go. Of all the films this year, it will easily be the one I watch the most in my life.
“Under the Skin” (rated an R you should respect) is a mature, Scottish horror film starring Scarlett Johansson. It is a weird and sometimes frustrating movie that speaks about important issues of identity, and it goes to terrifying places that I’ve never been taken before. On a level of experiencing and understanding the unfeeling nature of sociopathy, of being tricked into inhabiting it for two hours, of being asked to experience the world both as predator and victim, it leaves me disgusted and aghast and yet -- seeing how it’s real, understanding all the better how that mindset operates -- it makes it so very much more terrifying.
So it becomes comparing apples to oranges, or comparing apples to the guy in that shady Buick parked halfway down the block all day. Do I choose the film that makes me feel best about the world, or the one that makes me feel worst? Truth be told, that answer’s going to change day by day. It’s going to change by the successes I have and by the suffering I see in the world. I might tell you “Interstellar” is one of the best adventures ever put to film one day, and I might insist “Under the Skin” is going to change your life the next.
I hope you’ll understand that I won’t choose, that I prefer to leave it a two-way tie. Film is about the stories we need to keep on going, and the stories we need to see to better help others keep on going. To me, it’s an odd poetry that my top two films this year come down to the opposite ends of science fiction. It might be frustrating to you, it might feel like a cop-out, but to me it feels fitting. It feels as if each film becomes more important by not winning out over the other, that one film can be the emotional heart and the other can be the intellectual reality into which that idealization walks every day thinking it can make a difference. I feel like choosing one would be denying reality, and choosing the other would be denying possibility.
Criticism isn’t just about ranking and choosing what’s best and what isn’t. It’s about finding the films that speak to you and using them to speak to others. The best films teach critics new words, new translations, whole new ways to communicate what’s inside them, to be memoir writers who point out new possibilities through the windows art gives us. These are the films that teach me the most, that make me feel like I can communicate so much more completely.
So go see “Interstellar.” It’s one of the best adventures ever put to film.
And go see “Under the Skin” -- if you’re old enough. It’s going to change your life.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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