2014 is the year so nice Manohla Dargis Top 10ed it twice. The New York Times critic, who has long made a habit of flouting the conventions of year-end lists, not to mention the decimal system, and this year’s is no exception: Dargis’ unranked list stretches to 20 titles. (Considering Dargis admits she saw “less than a quarter” of the 1,000 (!) movies” the Times reviewed in 2014, that comes out to somewhere over 12 percent — not a bad batting average.”
Rather than hashing out what made her list and while, Dargis devotes most of her accompanying essay to a miniature State of the Cinema address, using Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “Beyond the Lights” as a case study.
I’m not sure why “Beyond the Lights” hasn’t found its audience. I like to think it isn’t racism…. Ms. Prince-Bythewood’s movie has received some strong reviews. But she has made a blissfully old-fashioned mainstream movie (if one with characters that make it a niche title as far as the industry is concerned) rather than an art film so it generally hasn’t been received with the same high-minded seriousness that a new film by a designated auteur like Mr. Almodóvar commands. It’s unlikely to pick up awards from critics’ organizations, and it isn’t being positioned as an Oscar contender, even though it’s superior to several titles in contention, including “The Theory of Everything,” the banal, sentimentalized and tear-jerking biopic of Stephen Hawking. When male weepies stir up strong emotions it affirms their potency; when female weepies do it’s just embarrassing.
You can quarrel with bits of that argument: Almodóvar was between six and eight films into his career before he achieved the auteur status he now enjoys — “Beyond the Lights” isn’t being positioned as an Oscar contender becuase its distributor reportedly lacks the budget to even send out screeners — but the larger point about Hollywood’s lack of diversity (and its bias against female-skewing modes like melodrama) stands tall. It’s not a complaint you can lodge against Dargis’ list, which includes thus-far unique titles ranging from “Interstellar” (sorry, haters) to “Manila in the Claws of Light,” a 1975 movie by the Filipino master Lino Brocka that got its first U.S. theatrical run this year. Also worth noting: Chris Rock’s “Top Five,” which takes a few shots at the New York Times and also made A.O. Scott’s also-rans, and “Selma,” in which a white Times reporter serves as a noble representative of the Fourth Estate.
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Manohla Dargis’ Best Movies of 2014
“Beyond the Lights”
“Manila in the Claws of Light”