Life Itself

The Best Films of 2014

(and by “Best” I mean my favourites)

2014 was an amazing year of movies for a number of reasons. There seemed to be more quality films than any other recent year – perhaps since 2007 or even 1999 – and more surprising still was that they weren’t all released in the fall and winter, but rather spread out across a whole year of cinematic richness (for proof check out the Best of Summer 2014 Arthouse and Blockbusters, many of which appear here). (more…)

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Best of Summer 2014: The Arthouse

This past summer turned out to have a surprising amount of quality blockbusters (read that here), but how fared the more limited releases? If the below list is any indication, then the answer is remarkably well as there was a wide variety of fantastic flicks being released in what’s typically the critical dead zone of summer.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll consider April 4 the start of summer.  That means stellar efforts like Grand Budapest Hotel, Nymphomaniac Volume I and The Raid 2: Berendal were all spring releases and will have to settle for appearing on a slew of end-of-year lists.  Without further ado, the cream of the arthouse crop:

Under the Skin

Scarlet Johansson has had a banner year and Under the Skin is a big part of that. Eschewing larger films for an esoteric sci-fi thinker helmed by Jonathan Glazer should win over the last few film fans in the world not already under her spell. Minimal almost to a fault and equally haunting, Under the Skin evokes an unnerving mood that stays with you long after the end credits roll. Utterly unique and uncompromising, the film rewards those who can stare at it long enough to unlock its pleasures. Full review here.

Secret Weapon:  Johansson commands the screen in a lead performance that asks a lot of her, but let’s call out the sound design and score for their key roles in the movie. So much of the oddness and alien nature of the character and the story itself is conveyed through sound and repetition, that without the keen audio much would be lost.

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Blue Ruin

Emerging filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier wrote and directed this striking thriller that wraps suspense and bloodletting around a meditation on revenge that stands tall with classics from The Coen Brothers and Chan-wook Park. Macon Blair stars as a bearded vagrant living a meager existence with seemingly no purpose to live. That purpose is found when the criminal who tore apart his family is released from prison and he sets out on a mission for vengeance. The initial storyline, which would be a complete narrative in other films, (more…)

Life Itself Review

Life Itself (2014)

Dir: Steve James

Roger Ebert – that towering personality who dominated popular film criticism for pretty much the entirety of its television heyday and beyond that into the early 21st century – gets the documentary treatment from fellow mid-Westerner Steve James in Life Itself.  Friends, colleagues, filmmakers and family, along with Ebert himself, look back upon his life and legacy in this comprehensive, poignant and frequently funny film.

Adapted from Ebert’s autobiography of the same name, Life Itself traces Ebert’s life from childhood to his death in 2013.  Every American Icon needs a worthy origin story, and Life Itself ably provides.  A precocious child with a passion for the written word, Ebert’s gifts were encouraged by his immigrant parents who foresaw a better life for their son. Fun anecdotes from Ebert’s time as editor of his college newspaper, The Illini, foreshadowed his passion for journalism and eventual career path.  His quick rise to Chicago Sun Times film critic in 1967 is crosscut with ribald tales of his drinking and carousing (more…)