A Uniquely Theatrical Experience Top 10 List

It’s that special time of year at Northwest Film Forum when our staff shares their “Top 10 Lists” from the past sun-round.  Some are styled on the more traditional Top 10 Best Films lists we see regularly in the media at this time of year. And some push the boundaries of the Top 10 format. From our film loving hearts to yours: happy holidays, and here’s to a film-filled 2015.

Once again, here are my Top 10 favorite uniquely theatrical experiences, both new and renewed cinema, of 2014.  (And yes, I too loved Boyhood, but haven’t we heard about that one enough already?)

No particular order this year:

The Boxtrolls
The Laika team stepped into its own with this film, a significant improvement in every possible way over Paranorman. The level of detail here continues to be just astounding, and here we have a narrative that, while simple, certainly matches the exuberance on display. Now can we make the next one a runaway hit please? I’d really like Laika to have some firm financial grounding to play around with.

Fantastic Planet
My hat is tipped to Kingdom of the Holy Sun: I consider Alain Gorageur’s original score to Fantastic Planet to be one of the most perfect ever committed to film, and thus had an initial knee-jerk reaction of “blasphemy!” to the prospect of a re-score.  Not only did they provide their own vision for the film without ever feeling derivative of the inimitable original score, they may have even found some unexpected elements that were previously hidden.

The Fifth Element
Sometimes you just have to throw the notion of being objective out the window, and love the bloody hell out of something. I’ve now seen this film in a theater more times than any other in my lifetime, and I have no intentions of letting that number rest if given the chance.  Seeing this again on 35mm wasn’t just a trip down nostalgia lane; it was a reclamation of a not-too-distant time when Hollywood was weird, and Euro-trash was embraced with open arms.

And I mean, c’mon, even Bruce Willis looks like he’s dangerously close to having a good time…

Force Majeure
In 2011, Julia Loktev made one of the most brilliant films in recent memory with The Loneliest Planet, a uniquely terrifying film about the psychological and social consequences when one’s instincts fail, and how a moment like that can be suspended in time and cast itself upon a relationship so fruitful only moments before.  Ruben Östlund’s equally incisive Force Majeure takes a moment like this, and instead of finding the funereal in such a moment, seeks instead the most acerbic observations about gender roles and the nuclear family unit.  And most importantly, no one is spared in this tale, no one rendered more heroic than the other.  This is a film that plays like Bunuel’s late masterpieces, constantly finding the surreal and the pathos in this crumbling unit of idealized perfection, then takes a larger step out to question the whole notion of the masculine/feminine expectations in society, even in a vista so remote.  Force Majeure is indeed dense at its core with so many layers to unpack, but trust me when I say, this was the funniest film of 2014.

Level Five
Chris Marker takes us through the process of grieving in a way only he could, as a cross-section of history and technology (in this instance via the programming of a video game), speaking together as if time and space were merely a construct.  Level Five is one of the more inscrutable Marker works I’ve yet seen, but perhaps the most devastatingly emotional.

Mauvais Sang
Many films celebrate the irrepressible joy of movement. But not many can convey the necessity of movement quite like Mauvais Sang.

Sherlock Jr.
No one reading this needs to be reminded of the genius of Buster Keaton.  But everyone needs to be reminded on a regular basis that watching Keaton should not be a private act.  Sit in a room full of adults and it’ll play wonderfully, but add children laughing hysterically to the mix, and you’ll get to the core of what Keaton, and film itself can offer.  You’ll want to throw all of your scholarly debates on Keaton/Lloyd/Chaplin out of the window and just let the gag man do his thing.

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
The Fata Morgana of black metal.

A Touch of Sin
Every viewer will come to this film loaded with their own preconceptions and baggage regarding everyday violence, but what’s remarkable about this film is how it delicately implicates the viewer to approach those loaded morals head-on. Jia Zhangke’s film is a thoughtful and nuanced approach to this, as opposed to the sledge-hammer that, say, Michael Haneke might make with the same content, yet it’s never above direct confrontation when the moment is right.  And really, this is a film that plays directly into our expectations of a never-ending lineage of revenge films as well, and asks: why would we weigh one act of violence as more valid than another?

The Wind Rises
Miyazaki’s swan song is as breathtaking as we needed it to be, but instead of a grand opus that pulls out all stops, he crafts a fable that at many turns feels as peculiar and personal as his Porco Rosso.  Amongst so many other details, something I fear won’t translate quite as vividly outside the theater setting is the spectacularly innovative sound design.  The earth does so much of the talking in this film, as sounds of the elements encompass the soundtrack, and each emits sounds of breathing both in great peace as well as great fury.  It’s a stunning effect that only adds to the personal touch we’ll be missing in his supposed retirement.  Yeah, I’m still skeptical that he can walk away.

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