Top 10 Films of 2014

The most wonderful time of the year has arrived: Award Season!! Okay, maybe not the MOST wonderful, but it sure is fun, isn’t it? I realize the Oscars (and the like) are basically 95% rich people patting each other on the back, 3% awarding actual talent, and 2% remembering who died that year…but it’s one of my favorite things to participate in every year. It’s mostly just because I love film so much and get emotionally invested in my favorite films of the year.

Without further adieu, here are my favorite films of 2014!

(One note: I watched a LOT of movies in the past 4 months, but I didn’t get to see The Theory of Everything. It may not have even made the top 10, but just thought i’d throw out that disclaimer)

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10. Gone Girl (David Fincher)

Nate (the fiance) pestered me to read this book, but i’m glad he did. Aside from the ending, I loved the whole thing. I love a good mystery and Gillian Flynn did a fantastic job with the plot and even better with the characters. Definitely a page turner. When I heard Fincher was going to be tackling the film adaptation, I was excited, primarily because he can do dark AND humorous in a severely interesting way. I personally think he nailed it. There was quite a bit missing from the characters in the book (for instance, in the book you REALLY hate Nick Dunn and you REALLY think Amy is a PSYCHO. Caps for emphasis) And they just didn’t really play that up enough in the film. But other than that, it was a fantastic version of the book w/ memorable performances from Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris.

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9. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)

What a seriously fun and fiercely edited/directed film. Basically, we are in an all-out war with alien forces and they posses the ability to re-start the day and therefore, know the future. An officer (Tom Cruise) is enabled with the same ability and when he figures it out, he teams up with a legendary warrior (Emily Blunt) to try and end the war. It is about as action-filled as an action movie can get, with the hilarity of a “Groundhog-day like” scenario thrown in. It also has the pacing and general sensibilities of a video game, which makes it all the more fun to watch. It may not be as “important” as some of the other films on this list, but it was about the most entertained I’ve been in a long while.

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8. Snowpiercer (Bong-Joon ho)

I feel like this film really had a polarizing effect: People either truly love it (me) or really hate it. The action-adventure/dystopic/sci-fi/anime themes and styles it had were totally up my alley. It brought a fresh idea to the post-apocalyptic genre (they’re all on a train?! Everyone on Earth??) as well as the allegorical haves-vs-have-nots (basically the 1% is at the front of the train and 99% at the back). Each train car represented something we have in our society as well as represented the different people we have in our society. Having the “have-nots” literally work their way from the back to the front created such an interesting film structurally. It also had one of the best performances of the year from Tilda Swinton (duh). It was a wonderfully dark fantasy with great humorous elements that was committed to itself the whole time. I mean, what a ride (literally!)

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7. Selma (Ava Du Vernay)

I only just saw this yesterday and it’s why I waited to do this list: I knew it would make it. This movie was incredibly powerful and it is shocking to realize its the first major motion picture made about MLK Jr. But I’m glad it’s the first because it did his legacy justice. David Oyelowo completely captures Dr. King as a person as well as the fact that he was one of – if not, THE – greatest orator of our time. I started crying many times during his speeches because I felt a tiny morsel of what it must have been like to have been in his presence. The film itself had some trouble with pacing, often switching from crawling to sprinting without much a transition. But that was really the only flaw. The music was wonderful, the writing was well done, and most importantly, they cast the most perfect person to become Martin Luther King, Jr.

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6. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)

An absolutely stand-out performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, coupled with some great cinematography and a weirdly fascinating storyline is what made Nightcrawler such a powerhouse. This creepy, psychological thriller is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen and explores a type of person I’ve never seen portrayed before either. It teeters on scary but never goes over the edge, which is perfect because you’re just left with an eerie uncomfortableness that lingers after the movie has ended.

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5. Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)

Nolan gets a lot of (undeserved) flack for a variety of things, but one of the biggest is that he doesn’t have enough emotion in his films. But I think people are looking for the most common depiction of “emotion”, and in Nolan’s films it can be drummed up in different ways. I find space and the concept of of our place in the universe to be very emotional and Nolan’s Interstellar really dove into a lot of that. There were so many moments of wonderful tension, literally awe-inspiring shots, and a very honest message about our Earth and our future. The story may not have been perfect but I think it was some of Nolan’s best directing to date. And that score!!

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4. Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

Much like Boyhood, Alejandro González Iñárritu managed to give me a film I had never seen before. Dizzying, playful, in your face, tense, and often self-consciously meta, Birdman aims its fingers at deconstructing the pretensions of nearly everyone involved in the entertainment world (here it’s on the stage, but it’s just as much about film actors, too). The film was almost like watching a poem of the Beat Generation; like it had it’s own iambic pentameter (the drum score helped with that). But it also helped that Emmanuel Lubezki, of Children of Men fame, was the cinematographer and designed the film to look like it was done in one, unbroken take. It really feeds the pace and attitude of the film perfectly. It’s sort of hard to describe this film, which I love, because then I can just say “You have to see it for yourself!”

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3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)

Oh my dear Wes Anderson. I have loved him for a long time, falling for him first when I saw Rushmore and many more times after that. But I was highly disappointed by Moonrise Kingdom, worried he had finally become a parody of himself, his movies looking more “in the style of Wes Anderson” than by Anderson himself; The Grand Budapest Hotel has saved me from my worries, as it is one his best films – maybe THE best – to date. It was an adventure film, a thriller, a caper, a romance, a comedy and a story-within-a-story (within a story, perhaps?) … and done so seamlessly. And Anderson’s set design/directon is always the best, but this one may be the best of his entire filmography. Intricate and beautiful.

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2. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

You’ve heard about how Linklater made this film by now, but that doesn’t make it less impressive. Linklater committed 12 years to this project,which deserves an award all by itself. It’s hard in this day and age to do something wholly unique and different in the world of film, but Linklater pulled it off – and with flying colors. It was so touching and incredibly moving to almost literally grow up with these people – who we know are actors – that felt like family at the end of the film. So many movies try to achieve this and fall short. Because you feel so close to these people (its hard to call them “characters”), you are actually emotionally invested in their lives, their futures. The writing may not have been perfect, but the direction, the ambition and the heart make it an incredible achievement.

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1. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

Without wasting one second of it’s 107 minute runtime, Whiplash (which is only the second film from director/writer Damien Chazelle), is an absolute edge-of-your-seat drama about what it means to be a legend and how hard you will push or be pushed to achieve that. This film is acted with precision and purpose, both by Miles Teller and JK Simmons, but Simmons is the absolute standout, taking his villainy band teacher to a whole new level. I have loved him for a long time, but this pushed him into the mesosphere of great actors. And Chazelle’s directing/writing is spot on, but the editing and the cinematography is where this filmed soared for me. There were moments so taut with anxiety and tension I thought I was going to pull the armrests off the seats in the theater. Chazelle and Co. successfully keep that tone throughout the film and push it only where necessary. Oh, and that last scene? Holy. Shit.

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On Serial

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Serial is a podcast that took the pop culture world by storm this year. It has been an interesting experiment; both in its effect on the real-live people involved and the reactions and involvement of the people listening. If you are (somehow) unfamiliar with what Serial is, the podcast was a new addition to the NPR family and it was put together by “This American Life” producer Sarah Koenig. It was a week-by-week podcast chronicling the murder of a Baltimore-area teen back in 1999. Adnan Syed, the man put away for the murder, maintained his innocence not only throughout the whole trial, but throughout the entirety of this podcast. Serial doesn’t say outrightly that they are trying to prove Adnan did or didn’t do it but that is clearly what the podcast turned into. Each week evidence is presented and Koenig and her team go through it with a fine-toothed comb, looking for holes and contradictions. They find many and it made for a criminally addicting podcast experience (pun intended).

But what fascinated me even MORE than the case itself, was Serial’s effect on the general public and also, what NPR was looking to do or accomplish with the podcast. Obviously they wanted it be successful, which happened, but what else, if anything, did they want to do? What did they hope would happen? I know Koenig wanted to tell a story, but as the podcast unfolded, it definitely seemed to me that she really wanted to solve this case somehow. I’m not saying she assumed she would, by a long shot, but that she definitely wanted to. Either for the podcast’s sake, Adnan’s sake, for her own curiosity’s sake – or for all 3 reasons. Because of this, I don’t feel that the podcast approached telling this story with the most unbiased way, which is generally how investigative reporting should be approached. She did have another driving factor – she had to make it enticing. She had to make people want to keep tuning in.

I’m not surprised that Serial became so popular – there’s a reason there are 100 different CSI shows and that Law & Order has been on TV since the Dawn of Time – but I am a little surprised the fervor with which people have responded. The subreddit for this show is insane. It’s so interesting (and maybe, kind of messed up) that, 16 years after the fact, millions of people think that they can solve this crime based off a podcast that is filled with primarily interviews and random bits of facts and evidence. Like, I know people who would literally say “I 100% know that Jay killed Hae.” Oh, so you were there? You can’t know that 100% unless you were. If this case were that much of a slam dunk, this podcast wouldn’t exist. But because everyone loves to be right, people felt the need to throw in their two cents so later on they could say “See, I was right!”

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On Turning 30

The rumors are true: tomorrow I will celebrate 30 years on this planet. I shall leave behind the uncertainty, recklessness, and excitement of my 20s and enter into a new era. Over the past year, I’ve been feeling decidedly anxious about the idea of turning 30. I can’t really figure out why, other than it makes me feel “officially” old. No matter what section of your 20s you are in, most people (except little kids, as I’ve learned) will consider you pretty young. It’s that TWO in front of the 2nd number that really solidifies your youth. But now I will be a three, a thirty-year-old, a thirty-something, and it’s had me feeling…strange. I’m in a new age bracket. I have to check a different box when filling out forms. I have to start getting new and different kinds of checkups at the doctor. I have to watch my cholesterol. I have to use under eye cream (actually, I already do. Being preventative helps!). I have to think about a 401k. I have to exercise more. I have to think about THE FUTURE. These are all things grown up women do, not Sarah Doyle’s. Not me, no way.

I think one of the reasons getting older has been difficult for me is because there isn’t anything I can do about it  – Time marches on regardless of how you feel. I find that comforting and unsettling at the same time. Rich, poor, black, white, male, female…we all age. It unifies us, in a way.

If I’m being honest, what I’ve struggled with the most the past year is feeling like I haven’t done enough in 30 years. Like, 30 years! That’s a lot! I know, the first 5-10 are really out of your hands, accomplishment-wise, but it still feels like a heavy amount of time. And while I don’t have any regrets about how I’ve lived my life up until this point, I can’t help but feel (sometimes) that I should have done more, or should be doing more. It’s pointless and silly to compare your life to others, but it’s also hard not to. When you’re the same age as (or older than) people with families, babies, houses, cars, vacations, wardrobes, and successful careers, but none of that matches up with your life, it can make you feel behind. Everybody has their own timeline, but we all also live in the same society, and society can force you to feel like you are “supposed” to be at certain place at a certain age. I’ve accepted that its ok and totally normal to feel that way from time to time, but to not let it consume you to the point of feeling sad or regretful. Regret is a terribly pointless emotion.

So in the spirit of celebrating where I am in my life at 30 years old and getting excited about the years to come, I’m doing two lists (I love lists): My 15 moments or accomplishments I’m most proud of, and 15 things I still want to do in life.

I have accomplished a lot and I’m proud of that! (a list in 15 parts)

1. Moving to Chicago

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I decided to move to Chicago for a pretty classic reason: I needed a change. I was bouncing around from Jr. College to Jr. College and didn’t really know what I wanted to “do” with my life. I had only been to Chicago twice, but the first time I was there, I felt like it was where I belonged. I felt at home. I really only had one friend there, no job prospects, and moved in the dead of winter. But it ended up being the best adventure I could’ve gone on. I met SO many amazing people, got to attend a great college, and learned a lot about myself. I miss living there a lot, but even if I never move back, I’ll always be proud of myself for taking a chance.

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Needle in the Hay

People are always asking me, “Sarah, what’s your favorite word?”

I’m kidding, no one has ever asked me that.

I’ve never really thought about what my favorite word is; I know what my favorite two words are : open bar.

There are so many weird and interesting words out there (and that’s just in the English language) I don’t think if I could narrow it down to just one. But I know that one of my favorites is phlebotomy. What’s funny about the fact that I love that word, is that it represents something I absolutely despise in this life: getting my blood drawn.

I’ve always been afraid of needles in general. I recall being young and bringing my Walkman with me as something to distract me when I went to the doctor’s office to get a shot. My mom would try to make me laugh, telling me it would “be over soon.” But it was never over soon enough. The preparation of the shot seemed to drag on endlessly. My heart beating with desperate anticipation. Then the doctor telling me to hold still, the stinging prick of the needle breaking my skin, and the slow, smooth pressure as the liquid filled my body. Such agony. After all that came the wretched soreness of the wound. No, dear mother, it was never over quickly.

The first time I had my blood drawn I was nineteen, which is pretty late in the game for your first blood removal, I was told. I was inconsolable the day of the event. I was so terrified, in fact, that I had to go to the doctor’s office before they opened and they had to get the baby nurse to do it. Yeah, the one who gives shots to babies. Why? Because I was acting like a total baby.

A few years later I was living in Chicago and about to start college. One minor detail I was unaware of is that you are required to have all your immunizations before you start at said college. I,of course, figured I was all good because you get that done when you’re little. And I suffered through the shots once, so once is enough for me. Apparently I was missing one (no idea how I got away with THAT for so long, but that’s another thing altogether), so I had to find a new doctor in a new city.

When you become a new client at a doctor’s office, one thing you have to do is get a complete physical. And what comes with a complete physical? Say it with me now…getting a blood sample.

This caught me completely off guard. I was naive to think it wouldn’t happen, but I had been so focused on the damn immunization shot that I hadn’t entertained the possibility that while I was there they would try to stab me with a variety of other needles. I didn’t have the time to mentally prepare as I did before. A nurse came and took me over to the nurse’s station and sat me down in a chair. Was there anything I could do? I couldn’t stop her, could I? I opened my mouth but only a small whimper escaped. Our eyes locked and she smiled.

“Afraid of needles, huh?”

I nodded.”Really afraid. Like, pathologically afraid.”

She gave me a little stress ball to squeeze for when…you know what? I can’t go on. I can’t keep writing it because then I have to think about it and I’m actually getting nauseated right now. I’m sure most of you have had blood drawn; you know what happens.

When it was all over and I opened my eyes, she looked at me and said “You did much better than most grown men that come in here.” I laughed. Even if she was lying, it made me feel a lot better and much less like the baby I considered myself to be.

However, the first time I ever have to have an IV, well, that’ll be another story.

Till next time…thanks for reading.

Dear Ray: An Essay Tribute to Ray Bradbury.

I walked slowly down Belmont Ave towards the tattoo parlor, taking my time with every step. It was two days after Christmas and unnaturally warm for winter, so I was enjoying the muggy air and the soft breeze. When I arrived at the Chicago Tattooing Company, I loitered around outside, staring in through the big window like a poor, orphaned child. The shop was empty and I knew once I went in I would be able to get my tattoo right away. I paced around the front for another five minutes or so before finally walking in the door. When I got my first tattoo – a small comic book speech bubble on my wrist that took about five minutes to do – I had a friend with me. Now, I was alone and, even though I wasn’t afraid of getting a tattoo, I wished I had someone there to share the moment with.

I walked up to the girl at the front and just stood there, staring at her, almost afraid to make the first move. She looked up slowly from her book with an eyebrow raised.

“May I help you?” she asked, as if I had disturbed her. Her arms were covered in tattoos, in all different colors, and she had long blonde hair with streaks of purple all over the place. She had a small ring in the middle of her lip which made her lips pout a bit more than normal.

“I’m sorry.” I finally muttered. “I wanted to get this tattooed around my wrist.” I laid the sentence that I had printed off my computer out in front of her. She picked it up and read it, her facial expression never-changing.

“And how big do you want it?” she asked, without looking at me.

“That’s how big I want it.”

“Okay, well let me make a copy and we’ll see if it fits around your wrist.”

“Actually, I already made sure it did.”

She finally smiled a bit and went to the copy machine behind her and turned back around, asking me to hold out my wrist. I did and she wrapped it around; Sure enough, it fit perfectly around, just like a bracelet. She laughed a little bit and I was relieved to have broken her wall.

“Perfect. You really thought this through, didn’t you?” she asked.

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Hunger Games left me starving.

They all look so happy and fashionable!

I am a recent addition to the Hunger Game fanaticism. My boyfriend and a bunch of my friends were urging me to give the books a chance. Admittingly, I was apprehensive about reading them as I figured they were young adult books and probably not any better than Twilight. I read the first Twilight book and was shocked at how bad the writing was, so I was thinking it would be something similar to that. I was dead wrong. The story was engaging, the protagonist was strong, and the world Suzanne Collins created  – a dystopian, fear-based world in the not-so-distant future – was fascinating. I’m sure by now you know the premise, but if you don’t, The Hunger Games is about the world of Panem, where the citizens live in different districts; and each district is responsible for a different trade or industry, like mining or technology. Every year, as a penance for a previous uprising against the Capital, each district must send one boy and girl into an arena where they kill each other off until one is named the victor. These are the Hunger Games. There are 3 books, and this movie is based on the 1st.

It is my belief that all creative avenues should be judged separately. So, if a movie is based on a book, then that movie should only be judged based on its merits alone; not judged on whether or not its an accurate representation of the book or “does it justice.” When you are a diehard fan of something I totally understand how it’s hard to divorce yourself from the source material (I’m very much this way with movies based on comic books), but I think its important to remember that the creative process is so different for writing a book and creating a film. Because of this, the outcomes will inevitably be different in some way. I kept that mentality as I went into see the Hunger Games film.

I thought it was a great representation of the book, but not a good film on its own. I felt like the filmmakers had a checklist of things they knew they needed to include from the book and just filled in the rest, without a lot of finess. Some parts they did very well (The reaping was chilling and when the tributes are being raised up in the tubes was perfectly nerve wrecking), but the rest they seemed to move too quickly through, not really allowing it to resonate with the audience. In the book we are always in Katniss’s head, so it’s easier to become attached to her and her feelings. It’s much much harder to do personal narrative in film, but since Katniss was still the protagonist, we lost a lot of the connection with her, I felt.

I do wish the filmmakers had taken this opportunity to tell the story just slightly different. Not leave anything out, but give us some perspectives we couldn’t necessarily get in the book because we were always with Katniss. My boyfriend made a great comparison between this and The Truman Show. One great thing about that was that as Truman was figuring out what his whole world was made of, we were getting the reactions from the people watching it. Granted that film was much different from The Hunger Games, but they both dealt with different kinds of voyeurism. I would’ve like to have seen more of Gale and how he was reacting to everything between Katniss and Peeta. Katniss wonders to herself in the book what Gale would think of it all, so why not shoot back to Gale in District 12 and SEE how he feels about it.

The 2nd book starts with some nefarious shit going down in the capital at the hands of President Snow, and they kind of dropped the ball on building any suspense at the close of the film. I already know they are making the 2nd book into a film and I wish they had built that up a bit more. Overall, it felt like they knew people would come no matter what (it’s now the 3rd highest grossing film OF ALL TIME), and probably like it as long as it was ‘faithful’ to the novel, so maybe it didn’t have to be spectacular.

Till next time…may the odds be ever in your favor…and thanks for reading.