best film: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) from Alejandro González Iñárritu
- Birdman’s bold camerawork and visual high-wire act transcends a film that already had superior writing and acting. Like all of Iñárritu’s work, the multiple narratives (usually three characters) are intertwined. . With his long take work here, Iñárritu puts himself in the company of his countryman Cuaron, Hitchcock (Rope), Welles (Touch of Evil) Godard (Weekend), Scorsese, Murnau, Ophuls and Renoir. He even borrows from I Am Cuba and Kalatozov in terms of how actors are framed- this is a stunning achievement.
- Utterly astonishing cinematography in the Bordwell definition of cinematography—the camerawork—audacious— Iñárritu is a virtuoso— it is Rope, Russian Ark, I Am Cuba– Iñárritu talks about I Am Cuba and Ophüls but the hidden cuts here (16 visible edits) line up a bit better with Rope (even if I agree with him that the free flowing nature of the camera is closer to La Ronde or something). I actually admire how innovative each invisible edit is—whether they tilt the camera to the sky or use a blank canvas—each transition is thought out – some blending the passage of time.
- The camera creates momentum- it gives the narrative energy- it pushes open doors, follows characters down the street– floating down from the rafters and weaving in and out of rooms, down and upstairs —it is timing, blocking (a major cinematic triumph here).
- A brilliant drum score from Antonio Sanchez– it is a perfect match to the camera – movement—adds such immediacy, a hustle to each moment and scene. It is a dance- even the titles dance in with the score.
- Unlike Russian Ark there is a real engaging narrative here, unlike Victoria there is beauty here in the mise-en-scene (even more so than 1917) – the changes in lighting on stage (the blue day for night in one scene, yellow another, red lighting in yet another), the framing of the faces (again closer to Kalatozov’s work). Birdman is still the most picturesque of all the one-take or one-take simulated films in cinema history
- The screenplay and acting — passionate, clever and angry. A meditation on celebrity—both Michael Keaton and Edward Norton (as ex-Batman and well known difficult actor) riffing on their persona—one wonders if they thought about a Lindsay Lohan-type for the rehab daughter role.
- “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.” – the opening title from Carver
- Strong scene of Keaton losing it alone in his dressing room accompanied by the camera and genius musical score. It makes a good pairing with Leo losing it in his trailer with the whiskey sour scene in Once Upon a Time …in Hollywood
- Love the empty hallway show at the 77-minute mark with cheering from the stage- unfortunately the 86-minute liquor store chili pepper lighting mise-en-scene is lifted from Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void (2009).
- It is comedy (not that genre definitions are important when talking about a great auteur or work- which this is)- which is a change for Iñárritu, as are the dedication to camera moving and long tracking shots – but it still has a lot I common with his previous body of work. He is blending three characters here (even if Norton and Stone do not have as much of an arc as his split narratives in Amores Perros, Babel, 21 Grams) and it is gloomy—painful— Keaton telling the story to his ex-wife about how he got stung by jellyfish on his way to a suicide attempt is just about Iñárritu’ s incredibly bleak worldview in a nutshell—black comedy or not.
- We slide into diegetic vs. non-diegetic with the drummer in the film—Iñárritu is making loud choices ( this speaks to Keaton’s character’s psyche) – and all the choices land perfectly.
- For a film that is essentially a thoughtfully constructed simulated “oner” – there is actually a gorgeous montage at the 103- minute mark—drummers on stage, shot of the jellyfish
- There is more here- even after three viewings—flowers a big part of so many frame arrangements- a motif
most underrated: The two films that stand out in 2014 are Mr. Turner from the great Mike Leigh and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence from Roy Andersson. These are two of the best five films of the year- and they land at the #30 and #35 spot on the TSPDT consensus 21st list for 2014 films.
most overrated: Godard’s Goodbye to Language has managed to hijack the #2 slot on the TSPDT consensus list of the best films of 2014- so that is the easy choice- in reality it is nowhere near the second best film of the year. Timbuktu and Force Majeure land safely in the TSPDT top 10 of the year and they simply do not belong there either. Also, I was surprised to see both The Babadook and It Follows in the top ten of 2014 on the consensus list. I watch a disproportionally high amount of horror films and pride myself in being a decent student of the genre.- but having these two in the top ten feels like a stretch.
trends and notables:
- It does not fit nicely into a shorter time span like German Expressionism, the French New Wave or Italian Neorealism but the Nuevo Cinema Mexicano with Iñárritu leading the way in 2014 is a major ongoing story in the world of cinema. Emmanuel Lubezki is a part of this, undoubtedly, and he wins to back Oscars for his work here with Birdman and in 2013 with Gravity.
- It is far from his best work but, tragically, 2014’s A Man Most Wanted would be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last archiveable film (22 films in the archives). He would leave us far too early at age 46 (about the age like Nicholson was in 1983 and think of all he has done since then and PSH is as talented as Jack). It seems inevitable that PSH would have 30+, maybe even 40+ archiveable films with decades more of work to give us… sad.
- The Marvel movie dominance at the box office continues- Guardians of the Galaxy wins 2014 as far as money goes- with Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I in the second slot. It was released at the back of 2014- but American Sniper is a non-IP box office smash and makes Bradley Cooper one of the biggest stars working.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel is clearly Wes Anderson on a roll- even for him. This is this third top ten of the year film in the last six years.
- It is mentioned above in the underrated section but Swedish auteur Roy Andersson finishes his trilogy- The Living Trilogy- here in 2014. Andersson has been one of cinema’s greatest auteurs of the 21st century.
- Xavier Dolan’s incredible run since his debut in 2009 continues with 2014’s Mommy. At the age of 25 in 2014 this is Dolan’s fifth archiveable film. Unfortunately, now looking back- it looks like Dolan’s run is sort of over in 2014 as he has not made anything else especially noteworthy since to speak about.
- Richard Linklater may not be the visual master Iñárritu or Wes Anderson are- but Boyhood is a landmark in cinematic realism. Just like the Before trilogy marks a realistic relationship over time, Boyhood’s attempt to realistically capture the youth of a single young boy is unparalleled in cinema history. Boyhood is Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy via Richard Linklater.
- Damien Chazelle storms into the archives for the first time with Whiplash-a certainly remarkable accomplishment for an auteur still on the sunny side of thirty years old in 2014.
- Elisabeth Moss is a a very gifted actor- and her first archiveable film is 2014- Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip. Timothée Chalamet
has a small part in Nolan’s Interstellar as his first archiveable film.
gems I want to spotlight: Auteurs have been releasing work on television since at least Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Ingmar Bergman in the 1970s and 1980s- and Cary Fukunaga’s True Detective is piece of cinema worth of spotlighting here in 2014. Sadly, nobody is watching the work of Peter Strickland and The Duke of Burgundy released here in 2014 is his best work to date. Strickland has great aptitude and technical skill. Oscar Isaac appears in two very worthy films that just barely missed the top ten of 2014: Alex Garland’s Ex Machina and J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.
best performance male: Not to take anything away from the actors themselves, but through the six films in the career of Alejandro González Iñárritu, ten (10) of his actors have received Academy Award notations. Birdman has three of them and Michael Keaton is where you have to start for this category in 2014. Keaton has had a fascinating career. He is Batman in Tim Burton’s smash hit Batman (1989) of course. He had a career trajectory that paralleled Tom Hanks (and comic everyman talent oozing for both) in the 1980s. Keaton fell hard in the early 1990s- so by 2014 this is a full blown career resurrection like Tarantino has become so famous for doing. The camerawork adds to the immediacy and spontaneity of Keaton’s performance. Extremely close behind Keaton in 2014 is Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fiennes gives a comic performance that at least the equal of his dueling dramatic turns during the 1990s in Schindler’s List (1993) and The English Patient (1996). Some critics actually thought Edward Norton gave the best performance in Birdman and although I would disagree, it is not an uninteresting debate- so he has to be third here. Timothy Spall as J. M. W. Turner needs a spot here as well. Spall in the lead and he won the Best Actor award at Cannes. This is more of a one-man show than any Mike Leigh film since 1993’s Naked. Spall’s accomplishment cannot be overstated either. He is making choices, spitting and grunting, the penguin-like scowl and hobble. Turner is a dream character- he is contradictory—he is terrible to his child and ex-wife, he denies his daughter to a colleague— but he is great with his father and others. Whiplash is a film that deserves two slots here. The film is one long epic battle with between JK Simmons’ character and Miles Teller’s character. This is sorcerer and apprentice, cat and mouse, or The Duelists. Undoubtedly one could draw a directly line from Whiplash to Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket with Simmons as R. Lee Ermey’s Sgt. Hartman and Teller as D’Onofrio as the Pvt. Pyle. Though he won the Oscar for Dallas Buyer’s Club and stole scenes from Leo in The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013, 2014 marks the peak of Matthew McConaughey as an actor to date with tremendous work in both Interstellar and True Detective. The final mention of 2014 goes once again to Ethan Hawke for his performance in Boyhood. Hawke plays Ellar Coltrane (as Mason)’s father. It is Hawke and Patricia Arquette that do the heavy lifting in the film as far as the performances go and by 2014 here it is time to start talking about Hawke’s four films with Linklater among the all-time great auteur/actor pairings.
best performance female: Four actors stand along at the top here in 2014. Anne Dorval is back in this category again and back with Xavier Dolan- this time in Mommy. Emma Stone starts an incredible five-year run and three-headed monster of big performances in masterpieces here in Birdman. Rosamund Pike is as good as anyone here in this category in 2014 for her work in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Lastly, Patricia Arquette is, in many ways, the heart and soul of Boyhood- and you have to admire the foresight of her and Hawke for taking on this ambitious project.
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Mr. Turner
- A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
- Gone Girl
- Horse Money
- Two Days, One Night
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Most Violent Year- Chandor||HR|
|A Most Wanted Man- Corbijn||R|
|A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence – Andersson||MS|
|American Sniper – Eastwood||R|
|Birdman: or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance -Iñárritu||MP|
|Black Coal, Thin Ice – Yi’nan Diao||HR|
|Calvary- John Michael McDonagh||HR|
|Clouds of Sils Maria – Assayas||R|
|Cold In July- Mickle||R|
|Dawn of the Planet of the Apes- Reeves||R|
|Ex Machina- Garland||HR|
|Force Majeure – Östlund||R|
|Foxcatcher – B. Miller||R/HR|
|Gone Girl- Fincher||MS|
|Guardians of the Galaxy- Gunn||R|
|Horse Money – Costa||HR/MS|
|How To Train Your Dragon 2 – DeBlois||R|
|Inherent Vice – P.T. Anderson||HR|
|Interstellar – Nolan||HR|
|It Follows- Robert Mitchell||R|
|Listen Up Philip- Ross Perry||R|
|Love and Mercy- Pohlad||R|
|Love is Strange- Sachs||R|
|Maps to the Stars- Cronenberg||R|
|Mommy – Dolan||MS|
|Mr. Turner – Leigh||MS|
|Nightcrawler- D. Gilroy||HR|
|Phoenix – Petzold||R/HR|
|Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – F. Miller, Rodriguez||R|
|Still Alice- Glazer, Westmoreland||R|
|The Babadook – Kent||R|
|The Drop- Roskam||R|
|The Duke of Burgundy – Strickland||R/HR|
|The Grand Budapest Hotel – W. Anderson||MP|
|The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies – Jackson||R|
|The Imitation Game- Tyldumm||R|
|The Theory of Everything- Marsh||R|
|Timbuktu – Sissako||R|
|True Detective- Fukunaga||HR|
|Two Days, One Night – Dardenne||HR|
|While We’re Young- Baumbach||R|
|Whiplash – Chazelle||MS|
|Wild Tales – Szifron||R|
|Winter Sleep- Ceylan||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence gave us the best film title for Charades since the Unbearable Lightness of Being.
It’s the best title for any occasion since movie titles were invented.
@Georg- haha- indeed. This is a colossal name.
Appreciate that you still value Birdman and Boyhood a lot – it seems some people kinda forgot the immense qualities of both films as time went on. Especially Linklater’s, unfortunately some people took it for granted as a “cool gimmick but realisticaly boring film”. Such a shame, it is so much more than that.
I think Gordon Green’s Joe deserve a R or maybe even a HR. But I’m not complaining, this is a great list. I definitely need to check Mike Leigh and Xavier Dolan’s work though.
@Gabriel Paes- Thanks for the comment here- appreciate you. Well, those detractors on Boyhood would be in the minority- it is far and away the #1 ranked film from 2014 on the consensus critics’ list.
Yeah, sorry for not making myself clear. I meant among critics and cinephiles among where I live (Brazil). Most of them did not seem to like it very much – or have lowered their praises to it. That’s what I meant with people forgetting the immense qualities as time went on. It still stands as a MP to me. By the way, while we’re at it, do you pretend to do some sort of Linklater study in the near future?
Also, Joe was released in 2013. My bad.
@Gabriel Paes – Agree on Boyhood. I admit to being one of those people who thought it sounded like a gimmick, but that was before I watched it. It really surprised me even though I love Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993). Boyhood blew me away and I caught a viewing about a year ago and my opinion has not changed.
I watched one of the special feature segments from when it was on Criterion Channel, apparently Linklater was very hands off regarding the scheduling and shooting. Definitely a risky endeavor; what if there is a falling out with actor or actress? What if someone passes away unexpectantly? So much can happen in a single year let alone 12 years. Linklater is apparently a very laid back guy. I feel like someone like David Fincher would never be able to pull off something like this, him or any other auteur who is an intense perfectionist/highly controlling as they would probably have a panic attack.
Drake, what is the difference between shot composition and mise en scene?
Also, on a more personal note, i wondered if there were any film critics you like or despise. I know you are an Andrew Sarris fan, and maybe not so much of a Pauline Kael fan, but i wondered if there were any others
Thanks again for the post, great work as always!
@Big chungus- as I understand it mise-en-scene is more all-encompassing. Shot composition is part of mise-en-scene. I found this helpful. https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/mise-en-scene-elements/#mise-en-scene-elements-composition
I really like reading Justin Chang. I find myself reading David Sims from The Atlantic a lot. I enjoy reading my film comment. I like Jeffrey Anderson from Combustible Celluloid and for podcasts I’m a big fan of The Rewatchables.
Thanks for the comment
Let me chime in here. I discovered a great podcast about films recently – it’s very, very specific but it’s very fun to hear it. It’s called “Precinct 13: The Movies and The Music of John Carpenter”. So, it’s really just worth a shot if you’re either a Carpenter fan or if you’re doing a study about him. I was doing the latter, but I really became a fan of him very quickly – and the podcast really boosted my passion, as it became sort of a hangout place, haha.
TSPDT has been updated for 2022!
Looks like Color of Money(1986) got a huge boost. Went from being in the 5000’s for 5 years and now moved up to #3487.
@Zane- thanks for the cleanup help
@Harry- thank you for the help here
The Banshees of Inisherin was spectacular
I think I asked this question on St. Patrick’s Day last year or maybe the year before but what are some great Irish films? My aunt told me to check out Calvary.
@James – Definitely Calvary, The Wind That Shakes The Barley, Ryan’s Daughter (an underrated masterpiece), Hunger, In The Name of the Father, The Dead, The Boxer, My Left Foot, The Dead, then obvious ones like The Quiet Man and Barry Lyndon
@James Trapp @Harry- great lists- add Belfast to this unless you did already and I missed it
@Harry@Drake – thank you for these, Barry Lyndon is # 11 on my top 100 list and The Quiet Man was very impressive, I have not seen any of the others
I just rewatched Fury directed by David Ayer and I thought it was a solid R. Great acting, gorgeous cinematography and the breakfast scene was really good. Do you plan on watching it again and do you remember why it didn’t make the archives?
@George- I have seen this once twice actually- once in theater, and then again in 2021. Nothing against it – it is not a bad film.