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Nicholas Laskin’s Top 10 Films Of 2014

Nicholas Laskin's Top 10 Films Of 2014

Around this time last year, cinemagoers no doubt felt blessed with an undeniable surplus of challenging, satisfying films. Any year where “12 Years a Slave,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Her,” and “American Hustle” come out within the same three-month span is a lucky time to be a movie lover. 2014 has been a bit different. Texas legend Richard Linklater unleashed his 12-year emotional epic “Boyhood” to applause heard ‘round the world, Michael Keaton headlined movies again, and the nation’s most politically controversial movie star was, suddenly, Seth Rogen. Some auteurs branched out in wildly different directions (Paul Thomas Anderson), while others kept to the winning formula, expanding and building upon it (Wes Anderson). Zach Braff used Kickstarter and failed to produce another “Garden State.” The year’s two most likeable screen characters were a talking raccoon and a sentient tree. And like any other year, there was good stuff, bad stuff, terrible stuff, average stuff, and a whole lot of stuff in between.

Another interesting aside: last year, it seemed to me that there were an emerging number of films that dealt with issues of American entitlement and the dream of material wealth. “The Wolf of Wall Street” was perhaps the most successful riff on this topic, although Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring,” Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” and Michael Bay’s “Pain and Gain” also mined the subject for dramatic potential. This year, my three favorite films were films that were undeniably about America: its past, its promise to its people, and its future. The characters of these three films are desperate, hungry, raging, and throwing themselves under the weight of their own destinies. These three films could also be considered traditional, classical American dramasand yet they all offer differing sets of pleasures, which I will hopefully illuminate for you in the list below. Enjoy. And see you in 2015.

10. “The Rover
I must confess that I had been looking forward to this one since it was first announced and before I knew a damn thing about the film. David Michod’s chilling “Animal Kingdom” remains one of the most startling and assured directorial debuts of the last decade, and my favorite from the current crop of gloriously pessimistic Aussie cinema that includes the films of John Hillcoat, Andrew Dominik’s “Chopper,” and Justin Kurzel’s “The Snowtown Murders.” And yet my already-colossal expectations were not just met, but exceeded by “The Rover,” Michod’s spare, brutal look at savagery and survival in a world abandoned and left to rot by the very people who once inhabited it. The film unfolds in the midst of a worldwide catastrophe called “The Collapse,” the causes of which Michod wisely declines to explain. Some have criticized the film’s leisurely pace and minimal plot, but when the mood and menace is this thick and gorgeous, it would be churlish to complain. Guy Pearcewho, in his whole career, has never been this feral or terrifying, even when he beat Shia LaBoeuf to within an inch of his life in “Lawlessplays Eric, a frazzled shell of a man whose single-minded pursuit of his missing automobile forms the crux of the film’s slow-burning narrative. As his traveling companion, Robert Pattinson is nothing less than a revelation. The actor has often relied on his striking good looks and air of affectless-ness in the recent films of David Cronenberg, where affectless-ness is a consistent stylistic choice. As Rey, the stammering, sweet-hearted simpleton whose wardrobe looks to be on loan from a 90’s rap-rock band, Pattinson reveals newfound dimensions to his screen persona. He is daft, childlike, full of wonderment and fear. He and Pearce acclimate themselves effortlessly to Michod’s hellish milieu, which strips its “Mad Max” futurescape of all action-movie chicanery and unnecessary exposition and reduces it to the bare essentials. Some have called the film “dystopian,” although that seems unfair and not quite accurateperhaps this collective misjudgment is to blame for the film’s performance at the box office. But any film that manages to successfully utilize Keri Hilson’s joyously insipid “Pretty Girl Rock” in its most emotionally charged moment has to be something pretty special.

9. “The Grand Budapest Hotel
While I’m not of the opinion that Wes Anderson’s last two filmsthe flimsy, teenage-lovers-on-the-run picaresque “Moonrise Kingdom” and this year’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” a shimmering, Lubitschian jewel box of a caper comedyare as devastatingly funny and pure of heart as his golden run from “Bottle Rocket” to “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” any new film from the auteur is reason enough to get excited. There hasn’t been a year where one of Anderson’s films HASN’T made it into my top ten, and 2014 is no exception. And yet the emerging consensus seems to be that with this most recent film, as well as ‘Moonrise,’ Anderson has turned over a new leaf, creatively speaking. His more recent pictures have drawn more widespread praise then some of his earlier, more divisive efforts (‘The Life Aquatic’ and “The Darjeeling Limited” being the most obvious examples), even though his rarefied dollhouse aesthetic appears to be more overtly artificial then ever. That same arch theatricality doesn’t prevent “The Grand Budapest Hotel” from being one of the year’s sweetest and funniest cinematic pleasures. But Anderson’s picture is also a melancholy love letter to a lost golden age of good manners, fine dining and unabashed romantic chivalry. The film, which is briskly paced and immaculately realized down to its tiniest detail, would not work without the generous and wonderfully witty performance of Raph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave H., an esteemed concierge at the film’s namesake hotel who is also a shameless womanizer, self-styled raconteur, and a bit of a bastard. In other words, a prototypical Wes Anderson protagonist. Like your standard Anderson hero, Gustave has managed the Grand Budapest to be just so, a flawless, meticulously micro-managed aesthetic recreation of his own obsessions and priorities. It’s hard not to see a big of Wes in Gustave himself. Our hero is an obsessive, well-dressed dandy who uses his sincerity as a weapon with which to combat the forces of barbarism. All the actorsa roster of familiar faces from Anderson’s films that includes Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, and, of course, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murrayzip in and out of the film’s pastel-colored fantasy world, contributing in various capacities to Maestro Wes’ screwball symphony. It’d be nice to see Anderson come out of the dollhouse, just for a second, and maybe do something about real people, but for now, his visual imagination is as fertile and surprising as it has ever been. As always, the Wonderful World of Wes turns out to be a magical place to spend time.

8.”The Double
There were two disturbing doppelganger movies in 2014 (the other being Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy”), and while both were excellent, something about Richard Ayoade’s “The Double” stuck in the back of my mind in a special kind of way. Images from the film came back to me like bad dreams, and the picture’s peculiar marriage of dread and whimsy stayed with me for days afterward. Ayoade is a lively, energetic filmmaker, and also apparently a bit of a chameleon. There are threads of continuity that run from his first film, the terrific “Submarine,” but the similarities are mostly surface-level. If “Submarine” was tender, deeply earnest, and full of longing, then “The Double” is a cold, dank plunge into a nightmare world. Borrowing the feverish dystopian imagery of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” the morass of illusive realities that constitutes David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” and the cruel comedy of perversion and humiliation from Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant,” “The Double” is the story of Simon, who exists, more or less, as a day-to-day statistic. His co-workers either taunt him or ignore him outright. The girl of his dreams (played by Mia Wasikowska, rounding off a terrific year) barely acknowledges his existence. He even gets his suitcase caught in the subway doors on the way to work. It’s when Simon’s doppelganger Jameswho is as cocksure and arrogant as Simon is meek and timidsteps into the picture that the film kicks into high gear. Ayoade’s stylized world of grim subway cars, ghastly industrial factories, kitschy restaurants, and ominous cityscapes is breathlessly garish and evocative. Jesse Eisenberg, who has been saddled with some undesirable roles in the last few years, gives his most committed performance to date with this acutely sensitive portrayal of social invisibility. “The Double” may have just been too plain weird for multiplex audiences to swallow, but the power of its images and ideas are undeniable.

7. “Only Lovers Left Alive
Perhaps in a career full of films about eccentric, fringe-dwelling weirdoes who only come out at night, it was inevitable that the “Pope of Cool,” Mr. Jim Jarmusch, would make a movie about actual vampires. The set-up sounds unusually esoteric at the outset and yet Jarmusch’s smoldering, sensual, lingeringly powerful ode to nocturnal bonhomie fits in perfectly with the rest of his catalogue of cinematic tone poems to marginalized outsiders. Like Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Jarmusch’s film yearns for a bygone past, one with vintage guitars and good books standing in for priceless paintings and ivory hairbrushes. Indeed, many of the director’s preoccupations are present herethe comedy of cultural confusion, the perennial beauty of good art, deadpan cool above all elsebut this is undeniably Jarmusch’s warmest, most romantic film to date. “Broken Flowers,” his beautiful, laid-back Bill Murray road movie, was also unexpectedly poignant, but if ‘Flowers’ felt like nostalgically looking back on an old broken relationship, ‘Only Lovers’ is like being in the three-year stretch of a really fucking good one. It’s full of erotically charged passion, subdued intellect, and real wit, and as usual, Jarmusch’s tastesin everything from music to clothes and carsis impeccable. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton’s rapturous romantic tangle recalls the droll, deeply felt alliance between Willie and his Hungarian cousin in Jarmusch’s breakthrough “Stranger than Paradise,” with Mia Wasikowska acting as the Roberto Begnini surrogate, a.k.a. the spark of cultural chaos. The dreamlike, lute-heavy score by Jarmusch and Dutch composer Josef Van Wissem gives the film a druggy, slow-riding allure and the tuneseverything from Wanda Jackson’s raunchy “Funnel of Love” to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s fuzzy blues number, “Red Eyes and Tears”are perfectly chosen. ‘Only Lovers’ turns out to be an intoxicating, languorous crawl through a gorgeous alien landscape as only this incredible filmmaker could have imagined. See it with someone you love, or with an Anti-Stratfordian.

6. “Guardians of the Galaxy
2014 was, all things considered, a reasonably good year for blockbuster movies. First there was Gareth Edwards’ better-than-it-should-have-been “Godzilla,” then Matt Reeves’ gritty entry in the re-imagined “Planet of the Apes” franchise. “Interstellar” managed to successfully marry the colossal scope of a typical Christopher Nolan mind-bender with some unexpected and very real human emotion. Sure, we had to suffer through “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” but we all knew that was coming (as Michael Bay said himself, “let them hate”). No amount of righteous big-budget spectacle, however, could have prepared me for the hellzapoppin’ space party that was “Guardians of the Galaxy.” A never-ending series of cinematic desserts dreamed up by movie brats whose imaginations are as engorged on “Star Wars” and “Flash Gordon” as they are Elvin Bishop and the Jackson Five, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was, quite simply, the most pure and unadulterated fun I’ve had at a movie this year. It successfully reduced me to a state of delirious, child-like awe and glee, my mouth agape in bugfuck joy at the wooly perversion of Hollywood filmmaking to which I bore witness. ‘Guardians’ is more than just a clever, emotionally engaging space opera, it’s a shot of genuine weirdness into the increasingly stale Marvel formula, and it’s also smart enough to never take its silly storyline very seriously. The film also rockets director James Gunn into the stratosphere of real-deal geek auteurs like Edgar Wright and Guillermo Del Torowhich is something of a surprise, following the nifty, purposefully slight creature featureSlither,” and “Super,” a dismal black comedy that tried, and failed, to milk yuks from vigilante brutality. Like mainlining Fruity Pebbles while rocking out to Blue Oyster Cult in your parent’s basement, ‘Guardians’ was everything a summer movie should be: smart and dumb, genuinely thrilling without being assaultive, emotionally satisfying and a damn good time from start to finish.

5. “Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
I was lucky enough to see “Birdman” towards the beginning of the year, and I was fairly certain the film would make a big splash upon its release. What I did not expect, having seen the film twice now, is the multitude of ways in which Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu’s flighty, high-minded philosophical farce can be interpreted. On one hand, it’s a blunt allegory about the idea of life as a stage, of our own identities as artificial constructs, and the people in our lives as players with exit cues and lines to read. But the film is also a genuinely moving observation of an artist striving, desperate to impart some kind of legacy, however misguided his intentions may be. Michael Keaton’s performance as bitter thespian Riggan Thomsonsardonic, knowing, deeply imbued with frustration and live-wire intelligenceis the anchor on which this far-out, unrestrained dream movie rests. Also, not for nothing, the movie is just fucking funny. Seriously, if Innaritu wants to make a full-bore shift from his intense, weighty dramatic features purely into comedy, I doubt I’d mind. Rounding out the cast are Edward Norton, doing his best work in years as a preening Broadway star given to child-like hissy fights and changing the script on a whim, Emma Stone as Riggan’s long-suffering adult daughter, and an unusually subdued Zach Galifianakis as the depressed actor’s well-meaning best friend and agent. And then there’s the technique, the glorious, dazzling technique, a head-spinning synthesis of Innaritu’s unruly direction, Emmanuel Lubezki’s fluid one-take cinematography and the violent, churning drum score of Antonio Sanchez. The result is a portrait of artistic daring that’s an off-the-wall classic from the opening shot of the cosmos forming to its jaw-dropping denouement, and one of the most surreal mainstream films since Fellini made “Juliet of the Spirits.” “Birdman” isn’t just one of the weirdest and least predictable movies of the year, it’s also the reason why we GO to the movies in the first place. To be surprised, shocked, wowed, exhausted, and finally, moved.

4. “Listen Up, Philip
Jason Schwartzman has played a lot of self-styled, self-satisfied men of the world in films ranging from “Rushmore” to “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” but he’s rarely displayed the compelling blend of toxic self-loathing and remarkable self-regard that he does in Alex Ross Perry’s “Listen Up, Philip,” a brilliant, brittle comedy about the intellectually curious and socially maladroit. Mr. Schwartzman is a kind and considerate man in real life, and it’s a testament to his skills as a comic performer that he makes this world-class jerk such interesting company for two or so hours. Shot on grainy 16mm film stock and set in an arch, conspicuously retro unnamed past bereft of cell phones, social media, or those annoying text bubbles that are becoming more and more ubiquitous in American film, “Listen Up, Philip” is not only an exciting showcase for it’s creator’s dry, elegant writing style and sophisticated directorial hand, it is the most acute and perceptive comedy of the year, one whose insights cut so deep as to draw blood. Perry pays loving homage to his stylistic forebearers, including the raw, enervating early films of John Cassavetes and the picaresque novels of Saul Bellow, but “Listen Up, Philip” is its own strange brew. The filmwhich focuses on a narcissistic, successful young novelist (Phillip), his lecherous mentor, and drifting girlfriendis full of perfectly messy moments that hum with the wavering emotional implosions of real life. Memorable sequences include the cross-cutting between Phillip’s girlfriend Ashley reveling in his absence by celebrating with her friends and seeking the company of an alarmingly large cat, a bleak detour where Phillip and the older writer he admires try partying with some local women, and a montage of book covers that would make Wes Anderson green with envy. At the long, dark end of Philip’s journey, there is no hope for redemption. Unlike the creators of so many white male anti-hero entertainments, Perry would rather not phone in a “eureka” moment for his pitiful protagonist, and we as an audience are all the better for it. This is smart, serious comic filmmakinga film that elicits an unexpected belly laugh in one moment then hits you with some honest-to-goodness pathos a moment later.

3. “The Immigrant
The Weinstein Company’s piss-poor handling of James Gray’s “The Immigrant” remains one of the year’s most profoundly depressing conundrums. Perhaps because beneath the gorgeous veneer of this moody American tragedy there lies something darker, something more primal, something that didn’t jive with the Weinstein company. Speculation aside, the film was given a thoroughly lackluster release here in the states. Everything about the marketing felt phoned-in, and it’s a real shame, because the film in question is Gray’s finest accomplishment, a jewel in an already intimidating filmography. Abandoning the postmodern fervor that has often characterized the works of peers like Paul Thomas Anderson and David O. Russell, Gray treats “The Immigrant” like a Greek tragedy, and he handles the big and small momentsfrom Joaquin Phoenix, as a cowardly pimp and showman, giving a heart-shattering monologue with his face swelled up and covered in blood to the awe-inspiring final diptych, a haunting nod to the unknowable futurewith the ease of a master craftsman. His work evokes nothing less than the peerless world-building of mid-1970’s Francis Ford Coppola at his peak, and the grand, romantic myth-making of Elia Kazan. Indeed, there is also a touch of Sergio Leone’s “Once upon a Time in America” in the film’s brutal empire of whores, nickel shows, and cramped apartments, but “The Immigrant” is its own beast. There has not been another film this year so far that has stayed with me like a ghost, like a feverish dream, and refused to release me from its clutches. You could call it hyperbole, or you could call it a masterpiece. “The Immigrant” is an American masterpiece, and sufficient reason to look forward to James Gray’s next picture.

2. “A Most Violent Year
Visual poetry and restrained agony run through the veins of J.C. Chandor’s somber, mesmerizing crime drama “A Most Violent Year.” Chandor, who previously directed the riveting, almost dialogue-free peril picture “All is Lost,” is shaping up to be quite the auteur, and he layers this sumptuous, deeply thoughtful film with references to his favorite movies (there’s a breakneck on-foot chase scene that’s as good as anything since “The French Connection”) while at the same time cementing his status as a young filmmaker of tremendous vision and originality. The first time we see Abel Moralesplayed by Oscar Isaac, who, after the double-whammy of this and last year’s “Inside Llewyn Davis,” should immediately be considered one of the most remarkably gifted actors in his age grouphe’s running. And that’s what he stays doing for most of the rest of the movie, if not always literally. Abel owns and operates a trucking business in New York City, 1981still the most violent year in the city’s history. He transports all over the city, but when he finds that more and more of his trucks are being knocked over by armed goons, a lockstep narrative clicks into place and a noose tightens around our hero’s neck. Chandor’s sober examination of faith and ambition, America, and the promise of easy money and a good life is, like “The Immigrant,” the modern-day equivalent of a Greek tragedy. Every fate is sealed, every horrible loss foreshadowed. Isaaca wry, intuitive performer who can project a dozen or so complex emotions without uttering a single wordcaptivatingly becomes Abel and refuses to make him into a clichéd antihero, instead portraying him as a decent, reasonable man trying to do the right thing in a world where everyone is trying to do the wrong thing. As his female foil, Jessica Chastain falls back on mob-doll affectations a bit too often, but when she’s called upon to do the heavy hitting, she proves to be a magnetic opposite for Isaac’s soulful, slow-burning fire. Featuring stellar supporting performances from David Oyelowo as a deeply skeptical district attorney in bed with Abel, Albert Brooks as Abel’s beleaguered mentor, and Elyes Gabel as a nervous young truck driver who, when cornered, makes a terrible, unchangeable mistake, “A Most Violent Year” is a sensuous display of impeccable cinematic craftsmanship and I cared more about Abel Morales then almost any character that I’ve seen in a film this year.

1. “Foxcatcher
Bennett Miller cements his place as one of our most gifted and unique working directors with “Foxcatcher,” a probing, sinuous drama that peerlessly examines an unusual relationship between three very different men. As he proved in his last picture, the captivating jock procedural “Moneyball,” Miller is fascinated by how our national identity is reflected through the world of competitive athleticism. He’s also got an uncanny eye for the cramped, sweat-stained locker rooms, cluttered offices, hemmed-in gymnasiums, and frumpy number-crunching that comes with the territory. “Foxcatcher” is Miller’s most gripping and unsettling work to date, and for me, it was the film to beat this year. No other movie so effortlessly disarmed me, silenced me, reduced me to a state of nerves on edge. “Foxcatcher” is an agonizing work, depicting the mental and physical deterioration of two wounded beta males with a filmmaking grace previously unseen in big studio pictures this year. Miller is the real deal, and his understated, almost funereal style betrays an almost anthropological insight that chills to the bone. The drama examines the fragile and tangled bond between delusional millionaire John Du Pont and the two middle-class Olympic wrestlersDave and Mark Schultz, brothers in real life as well as on the matthat became ensnared in his web. Much has been made of Steve Carell’s transformative performance and with good reason: he truly becomes DuPont, in a note-perfect performance that sees him not as a monster or a remorseless psychopath, but rather as a sad, delusional little man who probably never heard the word “no” in his life. That being said, the cold-blooded act of violence that caps this masterful film will knock the wind right out of you. Mark Ruffalo imbues the role of Dave with his effortless ability to be natural in any milieu, and a scene where he is coerced into labeling John his “mentor” is simply jaw-dropping, a master class in the kind of subtle, suggestive underacting that Ruffalo does better than almost anyone. And yet I’d go as far to say that the film belongs to Channing Tatum. He brings such innate empathy and humanity to this broken husk of a man that we are able to read the character’s entire personal history without having him say so anything eloquent. There is a clarityof image, of narrative purpose, of mood and tone—in “Foxcatcher” that is unlike anything I’ve seen in a film this year. “Foxcatcher” is the crown jewel of 2014, and Bennett Miller just became one of the most exciting names in American cinema.

Worst Movie of the Year:Tusk
The more I thought about it, the more I really hated Kevin Smith’s gleefully annoying, juvenile, unbearable gross-out “Tusk,” although it’s certainly better than any film he’s made in the last five years. Smith’s films used to carry with them a crude, but modest and undeniably real charm, now it seems that he’d rather waste valuable time and money on a dreadful lark of an idea that he dreamt up while stoned. If you’ve ever wanted to see two grown men in walrus costumes battling to the sounds of Fleetwood Mac, well then I guess this here’s the movie for you.

Honorable Mentions:
David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” was just sick and ludicrous enough for me to enjoy it, and Fincher admittedly has an ability to take even the most potentially uninvolving subject and make it interesting. His tenth film was an unabashed pulp melodrama that lacked the patience and nuance of “Zodiac” or the verbal fireworks of “The Social Network,” but, as was the case with his adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Fincher’s masterful, gloomy direction ultimately redeems the pulpy nature of the source material. As a professed non-fan of Christopher Nolan and his icy, prismatic films about shifting identities, I have to say I was bowled over by his remarkably confident and emotionally expensive space epic “Interstellar.” The British filmmaker hasn’t cut down on his annoying knack for relentlessly explaining every fathomable detail of the plot, but “Interstellar,” in addition to its jaw-dropping depiction of the farthest reaches of space, also worked as an affecting story of a father and his childa rarity in Nolan’s emotionally chilly films.

Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy” was a deeply fucked-up and engrossing tip of the hat to the two “Weird Davids,” Lynch and Cronenberg, as well as a disquieting and horrifying tale of identity lost and found again. Chris Rock, just in time for Christmas, cemented his reputation as a genuine filmmaker with “Top Five,” a hilarious, heartfelt, and wonderfully vulgar walk-and-talk comedy that owes as much to Richard Linklater as Louis C.K.

Bong Joon-ho silenced the grumbling of The Weinstein Company with “Snowpiercer,” his daffy dystopian train movie, which contained some breathtaking imagery and spectacular violence, as well as the unforgettable performance by Tilda Swinton as a sniveling, snaggletoothed plutocrat named Mason. The film came undone near the end, when Bong’s eccentricities overwhelmed his narrative good sense, but “Snowpiercer” is still a bleak, ghoulish, fun ride that touches upon some trenchant philosophical notions along the way. One of the year’s biggest surprises came in the form of Stephanie LaFleur’s sparkling “Tu Dors Nicole,” a portrait of young womanhood that had almost more heart and genuine narrative invention than any Hollywood movie this year. It’s an intoxicating, low-key treat, filmed in black and white and recalling both Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha” as well as the chatty cinema of Eric Rohmer.

David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars,” which technically won’t get a release by Focus World until February of 2015, seemed to me an enjoyably evil return to the roots of Canada’s reigning body horror maestro following the doddering period fluff of “A Dangerous Method” and the airless “Cosmopolis.” Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” was one of the more ravishing visual experiences of the year, but the film’s sluggish pace and commitment to its protagonist’s repulsive behavior kept me from loving it in the way I wanted to.

I’m still trying to get my mind around Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice,” a screwy love-in of a movie that tangles with stoner detectives, flatfoot cops, the Aryan brotherhood, something called the Golden Fang, Martin Short, and chocolate-covered bananas. While there are images, scenes, lines, and jokes that have stayed with me since I first saw it, I can’t honestly recommend it enough to include it in my top tenwhich is a shame, since Anderson’s films usually rank near the top for me. “The Raid 2: Berendal” was the best pure action movie of the year, with special runner-up recognition going to the unexpectedly enjoyable “John Wick.” An improvement upon its predecessor in every conceivable way, ‘The Raid 2’ contained some of the most imaginatively-staged fight scenes in recent memory and is less feature film then live-action, blood-splattered cartoon.

Nick Broomfield’s troubling “Tales of the Grim Sleeper,” which I was lucky enough to catch at AFI Fest in Hollywood, is the British documentarian’s most subtle and emotionally affecting work, a distressing and prescient examination of those we consider to be socially invisible, and how the members of an insular and marginalized community deal with a series of unthinkable crimes.

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