favorite films watched in 2014

My film-watching habits are erratic to say the least, and there are often long periods where I don’t watch any films. I cannot claim to be a particularly informed or sophisticated viewer. I don’t see many films when they debut in the theater, relying instead on Netflix to manage my film viewing. If a film catches my eye in the media when it first appears, I add it to my queue for when it’s released on DVD. Other than that, I watch older films as they randomly come to my attention, through books, other people’s lists, interviews, etc. Often I watch films based on a particular actor or director. If I find someone I like, I’ll at least flirt with completism (a few examples are noted in the list below). But I don’t spend nearly as much time researching films to watch as I do researching books to read. As a result, I sometimes experience lackluster periods in my film viewing. This year, for example, was not particularly inspiring, and it was actually a little tough to come up with the arbitrary 10 I’ve included here, especially since I separated out the documentaries. Except as noted, I’ve included links to trailers, although in general I have some ambivalence toward trailers. The Bergman ones are notably bad, but they at least provide a taste of the films. I would’ve linked to the IMDB entries instead, but the ads on that site are oppressive. But enough apologies, here’s the list:

(Organized in descending order of film release date)

1. The Imitation Game (2014) – Benedict Cumberbatch – One of my favorite contemporary actors. This film was inspired by the book Alan Turing: The Enigma. I haven’t read the book, so can’t comment on how much the film departs from it. Seen in the theater.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Wes Anderson [director] – I place this one above both The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Unlimited, but still not at the level of his finest work.

3. Ida (2014) – Dark subject matter filmed in black and white, atmospheric, i.e. the sort of film I tend to automatically like. Seen in the theater.

4. I Used to Be Darker (2013) – Matt Porterfield [Baltimore filmmaker] – I’m not sure how much I’d like Porterfield’s films if they weren’t filmed in Baltimore. That said, I liked this one more than his first two, and the Baltimore setting seemed less important this time. It was also fun to recognize someone in the film whom I wasn’t expecting to see.

5. The Iceman (2013) – Michael Shannon – Another favorite actor. This film is much more violent than most that I watch, but I made an exception because of both Shannon and Winona Ryder.

6. Dirty Pretty Things (2002) – Audrey Tautou – I watched this because I like Tautou, but Chiwetel Ejiofor is equally good here, if not better. The trailer is awful, especially the voice-over, so I linked to the film’s website instead. I don’t recommend watching the trailer if you’re thinking of seeing the film, as it distorts the storyline. Also, the film’s title is incongruous with its content.  I’m still puzzled by the title.

7. The Apostle (1997) – Robert Duvall – My film watching was especially sporadic during the 90s so I’m still catching up on the classics from that decade.

8. Persona (1966) – Ingmar Bergman – Still working my way through Bergman.

9. Winter Light (1963) – Ingmar Bergman – Ditto above. This is my second favorite of the Trilogy, the first being Through a Glass Darkly.

10. Last Year at Marienbad (1961) – Alain Robbe-Grillet [screenwriter] – Robbe-Grillet is known for his groundbreaking fictional work as part of the Nouveau Roman Movement. Some of his novels are favorites of mine and knowing he also wrote screenplays, I was curious about those. This is considered his masterpiece, and I found it to be deserving of that reputation.

Documentaries:

1. From One Second to the Next (2013) – Werner Herzog [director] – This link points to the full film. It’s only about 30 minutes long and is worth watching in its entirety, especially if you have ever used your mobile phone while driving. Herzog is a brilliant filmmaker whose other documentaries and feature films are also highly recommended.

2. Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012) – Harry Dean Stanton – Another favorite actor. This documentary is less about Stanton as a person, and more about his skills as an actor. It’s a somber portrait of a man who has made a career out of acting natural in his many roles, yet without giving much of himself away. In this age of celebrity, few actors anymore are known to the public almost exclusively through their work. Stanton has managed to be one of those rare exceptions, though likely not without exerting significant effort in maintaining his privacy.

3. Last Days Here (2011) – An often painful-to-watch, yet redemptive portrait of Bobby Liebling, the singer of cult doom metal band Pentagram, who spent decades struggling with drug addiction, to the detriment of his music career.

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