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What's the first thing you do when you're contemplating watching a movie? Do you reach for the remote only to have Netflix suggest you a film list based on your 'watching preferences?' Perhaps you read a movie review to decide whether or not the film is worth watching. If you're the latter, you'll find the following review of 2014's top films helpful in deciding what you'll watch next.
The most difficult part of writing these reviews was not critiquing them but rather, it was narrowing down my contenders. With hundreds of movies released annually, at first, this task seemed near impossible. In 2013 alone, 698 films were released at the cinema (MPAA), making it very difficult for great works to get the screen-time they humbly deserve. This review does just that: it pays homage to what I have meticulously evaluated to be the top five cinematic masterpieces of 2014.
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At the top of this list, having won an Oscar for both Best Achievement in Film Editing and Sound Mixing (IMDb), Damien Chazelle's Whiplash blows everything out of the water. Whiplash is about an aspiring drummer with a musical conductor --played by J.K. Simmons, who also won an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, respectively (IMDb)-- that utilizes harsh and questionable teaching methods to help his students realize their full potential. Seeing this film win an Oscar motivated me to watch it. If the musical instructor's constant badmouthing and yelling doesn't keep you on edge the entire film, the frequent musical solos will surely do that trick. This film very bluntly suggests to its viewers that if they'd like to achieve something, talent isn't enough: hard work needs to follow. This is easily the best film of the year. After the closing scene, this film will stay with you for days.
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Second on the list, a daring cinematic marvel about a retired movie star whose discontent with his life achievements coupled with his schizophrenic tendencies push him over the edge. Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman not only features a lineup of A-list actors, such as Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts, but it does it in a single take. That's right. At the hands of fancy new cinematic protocols that allow seamlessly stitching together different takes, Iñárritu achieves what many filmmakers before him have failed.
"Inarritu, determined to maintain the illusion behind the $18 million film, has instructed his editors not to discuss how long each individual take was and how many cuts, in some cases disguised by ingenious visual effects, were stitched together to make it appear seamless." (The Hollywood Reporter)
Not only was the film shot in one take, but it was produced in only thirthy days. It centers itself on a Broadway actor whose split personality, a giant bird, is unsatisfied with his host's decision to squander and supress his super powers as a Broadway actor. This film peaked my interest not only because of its illusory continuous experience but also due to the plot's inception-like concept; actors acting in a play on top of being filmed for a movie. At some points throughout the film, the performances are so mesmerizing that you lose track of whether Keaton and Norton are acting for the Broadway play or simply for the film itself.
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The Giver is based on a 1993 social science fiction novel and takes place in a utopian society (arguably dystopian) in which races and feelings have been eradicated. There is no snow and there are physical proximity restrictions for individuals. The motive for this kind of society was created after a brutal war and the governing council deemed society to be better suited without the idea of diversity. As a result, citizens are given daily injections to stabilize their innate vitals and human instincts, which also rids them of their ability to see colors, to eliminate race conflicts.
The film is inspiring and conceptually daring in that it envisions a society with no war and complete peace, something every society has always hoped for. However, it shows how doing so has many drawbacks at the cost of human freedom. This film peaked my interest because, as a sociology major, both the precedence and repercussions sought forth in this fictional story demonstrate something, however frightening, entirely plausible.
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This film was definitely a favorite because of its historical significance in a society that arguably no longer ostracizes homosexuals. Set in the past and based on the life of Alan Turing, a pioneering computer scientist, this film depicts the real efforts of some of Britain's most brilliant minds. In 1939, Britain declares war on Germany, only to meet their demise several years later: Enigma, an encrypted telecommunications protocol that the Nazis used to communicate secretly. In their attempt to decipher Enigma, Alan Turing invents a machine designed to compute every possible setting of Enigma, as it changes daily.
What is so moving about this film is that despite Turing's brilliant contribution to helping defeat the Germans in war and further innovate the first computer ever built, he was later persecuted for being a homosexual. Seeing how this film is based on true events, this film had a greater impact on me. It's funny how that work, that the moment something crosses the line from fiction to fact, it becomes much more praiseworthy. One would almost argue that some filmmakers exploit that fact.
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Having won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects (IMDb), Interstellar was a last minute addition to this review set because it simply blew me away. Set in a different era, it tells the story of a retired aerospace engineer that has been selected by NASA to be deployed into space in search of new habitable planets, after learning of the Earth's impending self-destruction. Matthew McConaughey, who plays the astronaut, must face the harsh reality of leaving his ten-year-old daughter behind without knowing when he'll return or if he will return. Throughout their space travel, McConaughey's team encounters difficulties and remain trapped in a different galaxy longer than expected -a galaxy that for every hour spent within it, translates to seven years in their milky way. Due to these unforeseen circumstances, when McConaughey returns home he hasn't aged more than 2-3 years (which was the length of the journey) and yet he is now 124 years old. Consequently, his daughter is now ninety years old and has been cryogenically frozen.
While the film is a bit far-fetched due to its plot being centered on a scientific plausibility that has yet to be confirmed, the story and visual achievements make it a marvel to watch. Interstellar was a great film because it was unpredictable until the very last scene, unlike most films nowadays.
I hope that these reviews have helped you in deciding which film to watch next. The year 2014 gave us many great films and no matter what the genre, there's always something for everyone.