2014 Leaman Awards - The Part-Time Critic

Monday, January 16, 2017

2014 Leaman Awards

*Last Updated: 12/17/2022

2014 Films Seen: 88
Number of Films with 'A' or 'A+': 2
Key Films Still to See: n/a

“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.” –Robert Ebert in Life Itself

Brief Summary: It doesn't hit the heights of other years, but 2014 features a lot of strong films that I greatly enjoyed. It has a deep run of strong action films (John Wick! Raid 2!), documentaries. and  cynical genre entries like Fury for the war genre,  The Homesman for the western genre, A Most Wanted Man for the spy genre, and Calvary for the drama genre. There's an interesting introspection and moral weariness that hangs over most of my favorite films of the year that is nicely balanced out by such fun blockbusters.

Not a "best of" list or a "favorite" list - but a list of the films and sequences (action, drama, comedy, & musical) that I think represent the best the year had to offer. So think of it as a strange mixture of favorite, best, and defining. Once you get to the top ten films, it definitely becomes more defined as a Top Ten list of the year. The number one film is my favorite of the year. 

Honorable Mentions: American Sniper, Boyhood, Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies, Nightcrawler, The Raid 2, 

25. Noah (B)
24. The Imitation Game (B)
23. Guardians of the Galaxy (B)
22. Edge of Tomorrow (B)
21. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (B)
20. Life Itself (B+)
19. Gone Girl (B+)
18. Song of the Sea (B+)
17. The Grand Budapest Hotel (B+)
16. Birdman (B+)
15. Force Majeure (B+)
14. Locke (B+
13. Chef (B+)
15. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (B+)
14. Snowpiercer (B+)
13. A Most Violent Year (A-)
12. Last Days in Vietnam (A-)
11. Interstellar (A-)

THE TOP TEN
10. The Overnighters (A-): 

9. Selma (A-): 

8. Whiplash (A-): 

7. Labyrinth of Lies (A-): How far should the officers of German death and concentration camps be prosecuted after the war? What about those who've burned their uniforms and become upstanding citizens? The film begins in 1958 as a survivor from the Auschwitz concentration camp recognizes that the teacher at an elementary school is an SS officers from the camp. When a journalist brings this to the attention of the local attorney general's office, he is essentially laughed out of the room...except by one young prosecutor who finds the claim curious. He doesn't understand why everyone seems so quick to dismiss it. He does some research, finds it to be true, but finds resistance in his own ranks. The more resistance he meets, the more he pushes and wonders, "What happened at Auschwitz and won't people address it?" In his naiveite, he and many others think that Auschwitz is just another camp like all countries had during the war and the more outlandish stories are just victor propaganda. The young prosecutor Radmann operates as the audiences perspective, so as he learns that the horrors of Auschwitz extend beyond the normal prison camp, beyond a couple of bad apple officers, and was in fact systematic genocide, we learn it as well. He wants to push for more and thankfully he finds support for it from the attorney general. The rest of the film recounts the building and trying of the case against the officers at Auschwitz and the obstacles and excuses for resistance encountered all seem reasonable: It's a nonstarter; They were soldiers just doing their duty; Everyone was a Nazi; If aliens came down you'd turn alien; You'll just be digging old wounds; Hitler is gone, the Russians are the new enemy. This is all well executed stuff and it doesn't shy away from the tough questions and the brutal realities. In the end, I'm on the side of truth - and I think the best healing and moving can't move forward without as much transparency/clarity as possible. I'll remember for a while this exchange between a cynical lawyer and the hopeful Radmann: "Are you aware of the consequences? Do you want every young German to ask if their father was a murderer?!" Radmann responds, "Yes, that's exactly what I want. I want these lies and this silence to end." Turns out, when Radmann investigates his own father, he finds what he does not want to. The film says it's worth knowing, even if it will be devastating to come to terms with. I agree. *Commentary taken from my WWII Film Guide Overview

6. A Most Wanted Man (A-): 


5. The Lego Movie (A-): 

4. Wild (A-): 


3. The Homesman (A-): What is sanity in a world as perilous and trying as the Old West? I know this is an unconventional pick as a top ten Western, but it’s one of the few films in the genre that has continues to force me to reflect on its story and characters - in other words, I couldn't get it out of my head. How the weariness and heaviness of life’s trials can traumatize us differently sits on this film and the viewer like few I've seen. Usually, with such a theme comes a mind-numbing crawl of a plot, but this two-hour film moves along briskly from sequence to sequence. Beautiful sweeping prairies open the film up with Marco Beltrami’s melancholy score playing above it. We are introduced to Mary Bee Cuddy (played by Hilary Swank) working hard in the Nebraska territory on her property. It’s clear she is productive, plowing, cooking, and taking care of her property. She’s alone, unmarried, and is visited by a town bachelor, where she wines and dines him. After dinner she sings a song (which the man falls asleep for a moment) and then she proposes a match between them. He is offended and calls her “too plain.” It’s a sad moment – she’s done everything she can it seems to be an attractive pairing and yet she remains alone and by herself. This sequence is followed by a montage of three wives who have each gone insane for different reasons, driven that way by a wearisome life on the prairie. The women need to be taken back East to Iowa to be taken care of, but when none of the men are willing to do it, Mary Bee steps up. She is joined by an untrustworthy claim jumper named George Briggs (played by Tommy Lee Jones). The rest of the film is about the journey and the obstacles they encounter along the way. The film is also directed by Tommy Lee Jones and I’ve never felt more connected to the positives of the “Old West” embodied in the natural landscapes and the goodness/perseverance seen in the character of Mary Bee Cuddy. However, behind that is the ugliness of the “Old West” – the harsh life of the plain, the thin veneer of religion hiding the fact that everyone is scared, and the swirling vultures of humanity looking to sweep down selfishly on any prey that shows weakness. Yes, the plot is about ferrying three women whose minds have been broken by life back to the East, but the movie argues that we’ve all been traumatized by life’s trials and not everyone handles the burdens equally. The entire film is affected by the trauma of life that ripples through every character; we all feel ashamed by it, we all try to hide it, but we are all affected by it. I think the thing that makes this theme sting so greatly is a kind of surprise turning point the film takes (I won’t spoil it here) with about thirty minutes left in its runtime. There are things we are just not able to bear and I’ve never felt that heaviness like I have in this film – especially given the film’s narrative twist. What moral compromise and what level of selfishness is necessary to remain sane in a world with this much random and purposeful suffering? In a way, this film does a better job at revising the myths of the “rugged individual” West than most explicitly revisionist ones. It’s a healthy antidote to the romanticizing of the Old West and I think it’s one of the most essential Westerns ever produced. *Commentary taken from my Top Ten Essential Westerns post.



2. Fury (A): This is my favorite tank centered movie I've ever seen. The story takes place towards the end of the war in Europe, stars Brad Pitt as the commander of a Sherman tank squad in the American army, and sees a young replacement played by Logan Lerman join Pitt's squad. The tank action is excellent with assaults that are nearly all practical and simple in their layout. The visual presentation is clear and the sound design (mixing orders, chatter, tank noises, guns, and score) is excellent. Pitt shines here as the physically and morally exhausted tank commander trying to achieve his orders and keep his squad together. The "loss of innocence" as soldiers experience the horror of war is a war film trope, but it feels freshly and organically presented. There is a dramatic sequence in a small town where the tank squad find a lovely apartment lived in by a mother and her daughter that bring physical and moral conflict to an unnerving point. *Commentary taken from my WWII Film Guide 


1. Calvary (A): This film tells the story of a good but tired and beaten down Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson at his best) ministering to his small Irish seaside parish under the knowledge that someone in his parish plans to kill him. The very first scene features the mysterious killer revealing his plans to Father James in the confessional. The killer figures that killing a bad priest won’t get attention or the kind of retribution he desires (he was molested by someone in the church as a youth), but the killing of a good priest will get him exactly what he seeks. He gives the Father a week to put his life in order. Rather than alert the police or confront his soon to be killer (he knows who it is), the threat sends Father James into a reflective mood. The film plays out over the next week leading up to the foreshadowed moment. We meet various people in the parish (wondering who the killer might be) as Father James goes on rounds and each person is angry, bitter, broken, or just plain mean in their own ways. Although the parish (some at least) attends the church, they all openly live their life in disdain and opposition of the church and its teachings. At one point someone sets fire to the church and slits the throat of Father James’ dog. Even Father James’ co-priest and church overseers seem disconnected and unaware of just what’s happening in the real world. I found myself completely caught up in this bitter pill of a mill that forces Father James to ask, “What good is there in trying to minster to people who openly mock you, deride you, and insult you? What good is there in trying to minister in a church that feels out of touch, disconnected, and is full of past sins?” I’ll admit, as a former minister and current Christian educator, it’s a thought I’ve often been arrested by. I won’t spoil the powerful ending, but I’ll say that I found the films response to be moving and inspiring. It’s a message found also in 2021’s Mass and it’s a thoroughly Christian one, both earning their titles the hard way. Along with Silence, this just might be my favorite film with Christian priest/minister in the leading role.


FAVORITE ACTION SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Opening: Hostage Operation Against Batroc on a Ship" -Captain America: Winter Soldier (Commentary)
  • "Kyln Prison: Guardians Bust Out" -Guardians of the Galaxy (Commentary)
  • "Battle of Five Armies: Mayhem at the Mountain & Dale" -The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Commentary)
  • "Brother Ma and Gang Leader Long Qi Fight While Cigarette Burns" -Once Upon a Time in Shanghai
  • "Jakarta Chase: Transporting Rama Turns Sideways" -The Raid 2 (Commentary)
  • "Magento Breakout: Time in a Bottle" -X-Men: Days of Future Past (Commentary)
The Great:
  • "Highway Battle: Winter Soldier vs. Captain, Widow, & Falcon" -Captain America: Winter Soldier (Commentary)
  • "Four Shermans are Ambushed by a Tiger Tank" -Fury (Commentary)
  • "Tank Assault to Rescue Pinned Down Platoon" -Fury (Commentary)
  • "Shootout at the Red Circle Nightclub" -John Wick (Commentary)
  • "Home Invasion: Wick Repels Gangsters" -John Wick (Commentary)
  • "Prison Yard Mud Melee" -The Raid 2 (Commentary)
The Best: "Fight Finale: Loading Bay to the Kitchen" -The Raid 2  
Commentary:  "I love how Gareth Evans has given the over 20 minute finale to his crime saga The Raid 2 the structure of a Jackie Chan/Hong Kong martial arts/video game finale. The hero, in this case Iko Uwais’ Rama, must go through three distinct phases to complete the finale. Each phase represents a unique physical challenge for Rama." *This excerpt is from my commentary on Iko Uwais Action Scenes. For full commentary on the sequence click here and scroll to first.


FAVORITE DRAMATIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR

The Very Good:
  • "Father James delivers the last rites and prays with the soon to be widow" -Calvary
  • "Finale: Meeting on the Beach" -Calvary
  • "Forced to Shoot the German Prisoner" -Fury
  • "Returning for Fiery Revenge" -The Homesman
  • "Discovering Mary" -The Homesman
  • "Watching Messages from Home" -Interstellar
  • "Noah Tells the Creation Story" -Noah

The Great:
  • "Line of Civilization: Playing House with Kraut Women" -Fury
  • "Cooper Docks with Endurance During a Spin" -Interstellar
  • "Praying a Kaddish Over Two Graves at Auschwitz" -Labyrinth of Lies
  • "Finale: Tradeoff is Ambushed" -A Most Wanted Man
  • "Not My Tempo" -Whiplash
  • "Finale: How Wild To Let It Be" -Wild

The Best: "Catharsis on the Trail: Red River Valley" -Wild
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE COMEDIC SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
*Didn't keep great track of this category initially

The Very Good:
  • "Drug Meeting: My Name is Jeff" -22 Jump Street
  • "Credit: Jump Street Sequels" -22 Jump Street
  • "Good Morning Routine: Everything is Awesome!" -The Lego Movie

The Great:
  •  n/a

The Best: n/a 
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE MUSICAL SEQUENCES OF THE YEAR
The Very Good:
  • "Giants in the Sky" -Into the Woods 
The Great:
  • "Agony" -Into the Woods
The Best: "Opening: Star Lord Dances on Planet Morag" -Guardians of the Galaxy
Commentary: n/a

BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:
  • David Ayers Fury
  • Damien Chazelle Whiplash
  • John Michael McDonagh Calvary
  • Phil Lord and Christopher Miller The Lego Movie
  • Christopher Nolan Interstellar
  • Jean-Marc Vallee Wild
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE FILM ENSEMBLES
Nominees:
  • Birdman
  • Calvary
  • Fury
  • Gone Girl
  • The Homesman
  • Interstellar
  • Wild
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE MALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Riz Ahmed Nightcrawler
  • Brendan Gleeson Calvary
  • Tom Hardy Locke
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman A Most Wanted Man
  • Tommy Lee Jones The Homesman
  • Michael Keaton Birdman
  • Edward Norton Birdman
  • David Oyelowo Selma
  • Eddie Redmayne The Theory of Everything
  • J.K. Simmons Whiplash
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE FEMALE PERFORMANCES
Nominees:
  • Patricia Arquette Boyhood
  • Jessica Chastain A Most Violent Year
  • Laura Dern Wild
  • Lisa Loven Kongsli Force Majeure
  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw Belle
  • Emma Stone Birdman
  • Meryl Streep Into the Woods
  • Hilary Swank The Homesman
  • Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer
  • Reese Witherspoon Wild 
Commentary: n/a


FAVORITE SCREENPLAYS
(original or adapted)
Nominees:
  • Calvary
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Fury
  • The Homesman
  • Interstellar
  • Labyrinth of Lies
  • The Lego Movie
  • A Most Violent Year
  • A Most Wanted Man
  • Whiplash
  • Wild
Commentary: 


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Nominees:
  • Citizenfour
  • Last Days in Vietnam
  • Life Itself
  • Mitt
  • The Overnighters
Commentary: n/a


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Nominees:
  • Big Hero 6
  • The Lego Movie
  • Song of the Sea
Commentary: 
BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:
  • Birdman
  • Fury
  • John Wick
  • The Raid 2
  • Snowpiercer
  • Whiplash
  • Wild
Commentary: n/a


BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nominees:
  • Birdman
  • Force Majeure
  • Fury
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Homesman
  • John Wick
  • The Raid 2
  • Whiplash
  • Wild
Commentary: n/a


BEST ART DIRECTION
Nominees:
  • Fury
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Interstellar
  • The Lego Movie
  • Snowpiercer
Commentary: n/a


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees:
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Exodus: Gods and Kings
  • Godzilla
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
  • Interstellar
Commentary: n/a


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees:
  • Birdman
  • Calvary
  • Fury
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Homesman
  • The Imitation Game
  • Interstellar
Commentary: n/a


BEST SOUND DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Fury
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Whiplash
  • Wild
Commentary: n/a


BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Exodus: Gods and Kings
  • Fury
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • The Homesman
  • Snowpiercer
Commentary: n/a


BEST MAKE-UP & HAIR DESIGN
Nominees:
  • Exodus: Gods and Kings
  • Fury
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Snowpiercer
  • The Theory of Everything
Commentary: n/a

BIGGEST GUILTY PLEASURE



Nominees:
  • Non-Stop
  • A Walk Among the Tombstones 
Commentary: 

MOST SURPRISING FILM
Nominees:
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • The Lego Movie
  • Wild 
Commentary: n/a


MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM
Nominees:
  • Inherent Vice
  • Journey to the West
  • Unbroken 
Commentary: n/a


MOST UNDERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • Fury
  • A Most Wanted Man
  • Noah
Commentary: n/a


MOST OVERRATED FILM
Nominees:
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • The Fault in Our Stars 
  • The Theory of Everything
Commentary: n/a


WORST FILM
Nominees:
  • Iceman
  • Maleficient
  • Neighbors
  • Special ID
  • Transoformers: Age of Extinction 
Commentary: n/a


BEST COMPILATION OF WORK

Performances/Accomplishments (that I saw anyways):
  •  
Commentary: n/a  


ERIC BANA AWARD
*Given for the best performance in a bad film (See 2004's Troy)
Nominees:
  • Bryan Cranston Godzilla 
Commentary: n/a


THE END!


“It was my life - like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.” -Cheryl Stayed Wild


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