Anyone who felt “Boyhood” just didn’t get enough love at the end of the year can now rejoice. The Dissolve just named Richard Linklater’s passion project as the best of the decade so far, above other contenders like “Her,” “Holy Motors,” and “A Separation.” The two-part list can be found here and here, but these films made their top ten.
1. “Boyhood” (Richard Linklater/2014)
2. “Her” (Spike Jonze/2013)
3. “The Social Network” (David Fincher/2010)
4. “Certified Copy” (Abbas Kiarostami/2010)
5. “A Separation” (Asghar Farhadi/2011)
6. “Inside Llewyn Davis” (Coen Bros./2013)
7. “Under the Skin” (Jonathan Glazer/2013)
8. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Wes Anderson/2014)
9. “Frances Ha” (Noah Baumbach/2013)
10. “Holy Motors” (Leos Carax/2013)
And here’s Keith Phipps on their top pick:
“Boyhood” won this poll by a healthy margin, which raises a question: Why? Were we all still so dazzled by the consensus choice for the best film of 2014? Or was there something else at work in “Boyhood” turning up on so many ballots? Its structure makes it unique, but it might also have made it merely an interesting experiment. Ultimately, its everydayness is what makes it so compelling. Mason’s story is particular to his character—and to the corner of the world and era in which he grows up—but the passing of time is universal, as are many of the rites of passage he encounters along the way. Linklater almost goes out of his way to gloss past many of those rites of passage—Mason’s first kiss, his first drink, the loss of his virginity—leaving viewers to piece together what’s happened from the way he behaves. But they’re still felt. The drama comes less from individual incidents than what it’s like to live in the wake of change. Much of how we experience life is in that idea: Time is less a series of milestones passed than the long stretches between those milestones.
“Boyhood” probably wouldn’t have made my top 25, personally, but Linklater’s fascination with the small moments between milestones and his continued emphasis on making all of his characters’ perspectives understandable makes this a hard choice to complain about too much. “Boyhood’s” appearance on virtually every top ten list last year isn’t too far removed from the royal treatment “The Social Network” got back in 2010, and the film’s spot at number 3 here shows the enthusiasm for Fincher’s film still shining. Charles Bramesco wrote:
“The Social Network” is a confluence of so many elements going exhilaratingly right in perfect tandem. There’s hundred-take Fincher directing in full perfectionist mode; a towering script that deflates Aaron Sorkin’s signature histrionics until all that’s left is a bulletproof core; a host of fully realized performances, from one-scene-wonder Rooney Mara to double-dutied Armie Hammer to a too-cool-for-school Justin Timberlake, with Jesse Eisenberg’s nuanced, bitter nerd brooding above it all; even Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s sinister, sinuous score fits perfectly. It’s a morality play for the digital age, a geek tragedy without the divine comeuppance. It’s a slobs-vs.-snobs college movie. It’s the rare biopic that sympathizes with its subject, but never absolves him. It’s a crackling courtroom drama. It’s a work of entertainment that swings for the fences in its grand statements on the modern era, and clears it with yards to spare. Like the solitary piano-plinks within the misty strings on Ross and Reznor’s “Hand Covers Bruise,” a poignant irony hums at the center of “The Social Network”: Even as technological leaps appear to bring us all closer together, we feel more alone than ever.
It’s also nice to see Iranian cinema get some love in The Dissolve’s top ten. Asghar Farhadi’s gorgeous, Chekhovian drama “A Separation” is a worthy candidate for the decade’s best. Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy,” clocking in at number 4, is even better, as Phipps illustrates:
Maybe there’s a lot to unravel in “Certified Copy,” and maybe there’s nothing at all. The bulk of Abbas Kiarostami’s film concerns an afternoon journey through Tuscany taken by English writer James Miller (opera singer William Shimell) and a never-named French antiques dealer (Juliette Binoche). Fraught with nervous tension from the start, much of their conversation concerns the notion of authenticity in art, the subject of Miller’s latest book. Then, at a certain point, the conversation takes a turn that calls into question the nature of the couple’s relationship. From that point on, it becomes impossible to find solid footing in the narrative of the film, which Kiarostami shoots in long, immersive takes, using his signature driving scenes. Still, it’s easy to get lost in its emotions as the couple struggles to reach an understanding, and possibly save a relationship in desperate need of saving. Maybe who these people are matters less than what they feel—and what they make viewers feel. Maybe that’s as close to an understanding of how art works as we’ll ever get.
That said (*ahem*), the two films that’d be fighting neck-and-neck for my top spot both fell outside the top ten. Terrence Malick’s magnum opus “The Tree of Life” (#14) is almost certainly the most ambitious film on the list, while Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” (#13) features two of the best performances and the richest characters of any film in recent memory. Here’s Vadim Rizov on the latter:
Much was made of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” being shot on 70mm, and for good reason: Those lucky enough to live close to a theater projecting the film in that format had a much different experience than other viewers. While some puzzled why Anderson would use a format traditionally associated with epics for a film dominated by conversations captured in close-up, an optimal format viewing quickly clarified this reasoning: There are strong lights behind the characters, and in 70mm, viewers are positively irradiated by dazzling levels of whiteness…Both lead actors are at their rhythmically idiosyncratic best, justifying Anderson’s confidence in paring back his visual fireworks. The film’s investigation of male bonding through bad behavior is one thread in a rare film that wonders, without snickering, how trauma and asocialization are shaped and expressed through sexual dysfunction. If it’s not as memorable a spectacle viewed at home, that just means Anderson made his point about the glories of shooting on and projecting celluloid. Even stripped of that factor, “The Master” is typically dense, unexpectedly funny, and predictably unpredictable, an actor-fueled installment in Anderson’s ongoing portraits of 20th-century American history.
The back-half of the list allowed some more divisive but idiosyncratic picks to make the top 50. At number 43, Tim Grierson writes about Shane Carruth’s gorgeous mind-bender “Upstream Color.”
Cinema didn’t radically transform after “Upstream Color,” but the movie did change how people think of Carruth. Rather than making another “Primer”-esque puzzle movie, Carruth (previously a software engineer) delivered what is, essentially, a big, fat, beautifully sentimental story about loss and recovery. There are complicated color schemes and riddles within “Upstream Color,” but its beating heart couldn’t be more visible. It’s a love story about two people: Kris (Amy Seimetz), who is brainwashed and gives away all her assets to a nameless thief; and Jeff (Carruth), a former broker who was put under a similar spell. The complications of what happened to them and how they go about uncovering the truth is handled wondrously by Carruth, who plays with time and repetition in such a way as to suggest the trauma of losing one’s identity. “Upstream Color” is the process by which these characters reclaim theirs. Before “Upstream Color,” Carruth was regarded as a mysterious, deeply intellectual filmmaker. But this movie revealed a newfound streak of deep tenderness, which includes his own strongly felt performance. It’s funny: “Upstream Color” is a movie he wrote, directed, scored, co-edited, co-produced, and co-financed—but this dazzling one-man show is dedicated to a story that argues we can’t go it alone.
Finally, the list had its fair share of populist movies, from “Gravity” to “Guardians of the Galaxy” to “Toy Story 3,” but here’s Genevieve Koski’s case for the Kristen Wiig-vehicle “Bridesmaids” as one of the decade’s best.
The strong critical and cultural response to the Paul Feig-directed, Kristen Wiig-starring 2011 comedy Bridesmaids had the unfortunate side effect of resurrecting the “Are women funny?” question. But the film at least had the brass to answer with a resounding “Yes, dammit, now stop asking!” A few years on from the deluge of thinkpieces it inspired, “Bridesmaids” is more easily appreciated as what it is: An often-sweet, frequently vulgar, wall-to-wall silly story about female friendship. Wiig’s go-for-broke performance as depressed, unemployed baker Annie was overshadowed slightly at the time by a name-making performance from Melissa McCarthy—a performance that’s influenced most of her subsequent projects. But Wiig’s chemistry with co-star and former “SNL” compatriot Maya Rudolph, playing Annie’s altar-bound best friend Lillian, is what gives “Bridesmaids” its heart, revealing the insecurities that drive Annie to act out in her role as the world’s least-capable maid of honor. “Bridemaids” is often spoken of in terms of its memorable comedic setpieces, of which there are many—Annie’s airplane freakout, her bridal-shower tantrum, and of course the infamous food-poisoning incident—but the sum of those parts is a remarkable, screamingly funny account of the many, many ways in which women can indeed be really damn funny.