The Bestest 2014: Tunage

Listen while you read:
It is hard to tell whether the state of music in 2014 was more a tribute to the past than an expression of the future, or perhaps I am just getting older and my tastes are just a reflection of latent nostalgia. The many records that I loved this year tended to lean toward the folkie, the psychedelic, and rustic Americana. There were a few exceptions where synthesizers and thinly disguised electronica or new wave sounds cut through the acoustic guitars. I guess it doesn’t really matter why, what matters is that there was more music released this year that will age gracefully and never sound dated than usual. But in the end, when everyone has 35M tracks at their fingertips for $10 a month, there will forever be more than enough good music to occupy whatever time you manage to find. 2014 was a very good year.

 

  1. Sharon Van EttenAre We There (Jagjaguar)Along with Neko Case, Sharon Van Etten has one of the most powerful and hypnotic voices in modern music. Lyrically she mines her soul for that triumphantly broad range of emotions that comes with a broken heart and then, like shooting clay pigeons, picks them off with gorgeous but unsentimental detachment.“Are We Here” is an album of wonderfully varied styles, from the ethereal folktronica of “Our Love” to the rustic countrified Americana (think Emmylou Harris or Lucinda Williams) on “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” to the stinging, soaring rock of “Taking Chances.” Despite covering so much elegant ground there is nothing derivative about anything she creates. In some cases seeing an artist live creates the necessary context to fully appreciate the recorded music, and although one might imagine a dark and quiet show, Sharon Van Etten brings a relentless humor to her otherwise dark and contemplative music. There was no other record that moved me quite as much this year.
  1. War On Drugs Lost In The Dream (Secretly Canadian)Sometimes you just need to believe the hype and listen to the music and then separate yourself from the ancillary praise. I was too young to really understand the pre-MTV music of Tom Petty and the rest of the early 80’s post classic rock Americana, but with the silky smooth Lost in The Dream War on Drugs have recreated something largely forgotten over time.Led by the hazy understated vocals of Adam Granduciel, the band blends old timey guitar rock with modern synthesizers to create something that transcends the genre. This is mood music, recalling long summer days or cold winter nights. On “Eyes To the Wind” something that resembles a kind of forgotten anthem, the music just takes its time getting somewhere that feels like the kind of dream you remember only faintly. In an “albumless” era, this is a work that is much more than the sum of its parts.
  1. Nick Mulvey- First Mind (Harvest Records)Following in the recent onslaught of precocious brilliant young British folkies (Laura Marling and Michael Kiwanuka to name a few), Nick Mulvey has written one of lushest records of its kind in quite a while. With his intricate guitar fingering, and silky smooth vocals, Mulvey channels everyone from Nick Drake to Sweden’s Jose Gonzalez.His largely acoustic framework often builds to anthemic compositions filled with violins, and subtle electronica and steady percussive beats. Like most Mercury Prize nominees, his music somehow missed both the American hipster set, and the crossover landscape that has embraced Mumford and Hozier. Standouts like “Cucurucu” and “Meet Me There” would be legit singles if they had been released by Dave Matthews, but fortunately will be beautiful private secrets for a while longer.
  1. Future Islands – Singles (4AD)Funny how the modern hype cycle works: Ten year-old band, three records into their critically acclaimed but essentially niche career, perform their song “Seasons” on the David Letterman show (not even Fallon) led by a singer who looks like a young balding Marlon Brando, but sounds more like Fine Young Cannibal’s Roland Gift, dressed in pleated pants, and dancing like a new wave duck. The performance blows up on YouTube, launching them from 200 person live venues to 5,000 seat affairs. Couldn’t happen to nicer guys who seem so genuinely appreciative of the opportunity.Backstory aside, Singles is a great record from beginning to end. It’s 80’s synth-driven new wave pop, but unlike the icy computer music of the late 70’s and early 80’s, this music is rich with emotion. On “Sun In The Morning”, Samuel T. Herring wears his heart shamelessly on his sleeve and on “Seasons (Waiting On You)” you hear the sound of the band celebrating the pure joy of making music for its own sake.
  1. Real EstateAtlas (Domino)Real Estate makes some of the most pristine and oddly upbeat yet introspective music today. Shimmering, but steady guitars and drums create a kind of surreal canvas through which you can almost see time passing slowly before you, but it’s almost like you’re being drawn back into your youth. Like Luna, and fellow New Jerseyites The Feelies before them, the ten songs on “Atlas” are pure dream pop, escapist rock for the nerd set.There is nothing abstract lyrically, but merely perfectly crafted pop songs about people and places and states of mind. Tunes like “Hard to Hear” and “Talking Backwards” just kind of roll along towards some kind of ambiguous destination on the long road of life. Simplicity is the easily the hardest thing to accomplish creatively, but Real Estate make it look so .. well .. simple.
  1. Angus and Julia Stone Angus and Julia Stone (American Recordings)Great records occasionally fall between the cracks. They are too perfect and too complete as a whole to be consumed quickly enough in our attention-challenged world. Aussie siblings Angus and Julia combine rock and folk, are hip but not hipsters, and write songs that just take a little while to get under your skin before making a familiar kind of sense.Under the tutelage of Rick Rubin, this eponymous album is a groovy tribute to all that has come before, complete with jazzy keys and steady percussion. All that has come back in the form of modern guitar rootsiness. Julia sings in a kind of hushed smokiness (“My Word For It”), while Angus seems to take his time meandering through quiet jams like the sublime “Get Home.” That Angus and Julia still haven’t nailed the audience they deserve makes this record even more special.
  1. AsgeirIn The Silence (One Little Indian)Imagine an Icelandic Bon Iver–dreamy, ethereal songs filled with brass, jazzy drums and icy cool electronic blips. Imagine a singer whose smooth falsetto vocals just melts into the music and hangs quietly, the kind of atmosphere you assume defines a wintery island that is home to a volcano. That is what Asgeir Trausti’s beautiful debut album does. It transports you to some kind of peaceful place.On the sublime “Head in the Snow,” if you listen closely, you hear a quiet, fragile optimism that sounds familiar, but is actually quite special. This is not party music. This is not superficially cool, but points to a kind of precious confidence that just kind of works as the diamond in the rough you’ll be able to share with the small handful of people lucky enough to have found it.
  1. BeckMorning Phase (Geffen)When you have been making music for as long as Beck, for a large and both commercial and critical fan base, through many mutations, you have the freedom to make whatever kind of music you want. Although there have been a few Beck records over the years that veered off course for me, it was always the outliers that resonated the most: Mutations, Sea Change and the criminally under heard One Foot In the Grave.Morning Phase is the culmination of everything he has been working on since he started as a fixture on the anti-folk circuit in the early 90’s. It is a gorgeous experiment in mood and tone. It is music by which to watch clouds move across the sky, or snow fall, or suns rise. It is a waking dream of sorts – both melodramatic and mellow.
  1. Temples – Sun Structures (Fat Possum Records)I wasn’t old enough to read when the music that inspired Temples, a band of young Brits literally half my age, was making waves. On the surface Sun Structures shares more in common with bands like The Byrds and Hurdy Gurdy era Donovan than it does anything made in the past twenty years, but despite these older reference points, the music is aggressively modern. The breezy ten songs are a mix of psychedelia and pristine pop.Like Tame Impala and Artic Monkeys before them, what’s old is very much new again. On tunes like “Sun Structures” there are beautifully fuzzed out guitars and silky smooth vocals rising and falling like stars from the late 60’s. On the inevitably classic “Move with the Seasons” it is easy to forget you are living in the internet age, but more the age of Aquarius. Just let the record play.
  1. Yellow Ostrich – Cosmos (Barsuk Records)In a year without new music from Local Natives and Grizzly Bear, “Cosmos” was the album that neatly plugged that gaping hole. Yellow Ostrich plays moody, serious music that mixes soaring vocal melodies with steady drum lines and occasionally stinging guitars.The album drifts between rock jams like “Any Wonder” and dreamy percussive driven ballads like “Neon Fists.” Although “Cosmos” becomes more accessible with every listen, this is a dark experimental album that makes one contemplate the meaning of the relationships that we have and the ones that we wish we had.
  1. Elbow The Take Off and Landing of Everything (XL)For some reason Americans just don’t get Elbow. Perhaps it is that to really appreciate what they are doing takes patience, and Americans are not patient people. More than any band I can think of, they write songs that often start off slowly before exploding like time-lapsed flowers into beautiful walls of sound.On “My Sad Captains” (perhaps my favorite song of the year) there are lyrics that could have been lifted from a Dicken’s novel: “I’m running out of miracles / and the streets alive with one man shows / the corner boys were moved along;” vocals sung by a hipster choirboy, Elbow transports you somewhere else completely. Their music is always grounded in a steady percussive backdrop, but Elbow garnishes each song with a small orchestra of brass and keyboards adding another layer of beauty and complexity.
  1. Sturgill Simpson Metamodern Sounds In Country Music (High Top Mountain Records)This might be the most purely “country” album I have fallen for this hard since discovering the classic Gram Parsons records in college. Metamodern Sounds is cut from a much different cloth than the increasingly popular modern country music that is popular today. It taps into older musical themes like religion, booze, and love lost and found, but lyrically sounds somehow strangely contemporary.This is an album is filled with old-timely outlaw country jams like “Living the Dream” but also meanders between warmer acoustic stories like “Voices” and more 70’s hippie country ballads like the desert island classic “Turtles All The Way Down.” Blues and Country are America’s most original musical inventions. Sometimes you just need to go back in time to understand the present. This is really something special.
  1. Mac DeMarco Salad Days (Captured Tracks)This is a slithering melodic ramble through some sort of hazy modern dreamscape. For all its apparent whimsy, DeMarco (not his real name), hailing from Brooklyn (by way of Montreal) and sounding stony (despite the fact that he claims he doesn’t) is a serious (or seriously good) second album by a guy who wants us to believe “it was no big deal.”Salad Days is part Beck, part Brian Wilson, part something that used to come on late at night at the local college radio station played by some reclusive music nerd. There are weird pop songs like the exquisite ‘Blue Boy’ and jazzier numbers like ‘Brother’ that feel more like Steely Dan than something out of Williamsburg. This is a weird and wonderful concoction.
  1. Hospitality Trouble (Merge)Another infectious 90’s retro throwback album alluding to Luscious Jackson by way of something else strangely contemporary. This is a pop record filled with conventionally standard guitar and drums, but also with endless catchiness and wonderful songwriting. Led by the relentless upbeat vocals of Amber Papini, the band’s second album is a minor masterpiece, pulling no punches but hitting all the right chords.There are a few songs that probably just miss hitting the same main street vein that Haim or MS MR hit last year like the infectious “I miss You Bones.” Unlike many of the more serious records that I loved this year, ‘Trouble’ is 100% fun. It asks only that you enjoy the music, and get lost for 38 minutes in a sea of shiny pop.
  1. Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks – Wig Out at the Jagbags (Matador)Once a Malkmus fan always a Malkmus fan. There will never be another indie rock run as perfect as the one he cut with Pavement in the 90’s. In some ways it reminds me of what the Grateful Dead did in the 70’s which is why Wig Out’s homage to the Dead seems so perfect. Alternating between straight up guitar riff lifting like the opening strums of “Cinnamon and Lesbians” that channel “St. Stephen,” and the lyrically brilliant “we lived on Tennyson, and Venison and the Grateful Dead” from “Lariat.”Still the cleverest lyricist on the planet, Malkmus seems perfectly comfortable settling into his middle 40’s a hunkered down family man living in the Portland, no longer concerned with keeping up with the cool kids – if he ever really did? He has always managed to infuse a kind of academic whimsy into his music, but this time around we get two great tastes that taste great together.
  1. TV on the Radio – Seeds (Harvest Records)For over a decade, TV on The Radio has been making some of the most challenging, genre bending albums on the planet. Punk, funk, electronic, and new wave – it’s all weirdly there. The band’s earliest records were discordant difficult efforts, hard for me to connect with emotionally, but oddly compelling.Seeds is the bands most accessible, most purely pop record yet. Still edgy at its core, and driven by the soaring vocals of Tunde Adebimpe, the band packs a kind of urgent intensity into increasingly compact pop songs. ‘Careful You’ and ‘Trouble’ are two of the best songs they have ever written, but dark and light and filled with some of their own unique brand of passion.

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A bunch of other stuff that you must hear below the fold…

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The Bestest 2014: Filmmage

Every year the release of the really great films seems to be compressed into a shorter window. Yes, studios optimize Academy consideration, but also risk not finishing in time and missing the whole thing (“Selma” appears to have been just too late to reap what it deserved). But despite the dismal market for serious films in 2014, as kids continued to trade theaters for Instagram and Snapchat, there was an epic slate of films to choose from. Although this list seems like the most predicable I have ever written, I suppose there is a reason why everyone tends to agree this year on what was best.
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1)    Whiplash – Dir. Damien Chazelle (Miles Teller, JK Simmons)

There were certainly bigger films this year, laden with special effects, greater social importance and higher production values, but for me this smaller more intimate tale combined everything thematically that I think makes a film truly great: the will to succeed beyond anything else, and the often flawed techniques and circumstances that seem to inspire greatness.

On the surface the film is about jazz, one of our finest cultural creations, and each frame hums with a silky smooth groove that masterfully hides the pain and anguish that is necessary to survive and thrive in the modern world. JK Simmons, best known for his Allstate ads, masterfully plays the sadistic genius music teacher whose questionable technique makes you wonder whether success if the psychic price  his students pay is really worth it. But ultimately it is Miles Teller whose performance as a drumming prodigy carries the viewer to the deepest, darkest places. This film makes you feel uneasy from the very first scene, but I guess “feeling” anything this deeply validates the magic of the Whiplash.

2)   Birdman – Dir. Alejandro Inarritu (Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton)

Although we toss the word ‘masterpiece’ around too often for it to have any real meaning, Birdman is one. It is everything you need a film to be. It’s impeccably acted and features perhaps the finest performance of Michael’s Keaton’s career, not to mention a few of the best monologues of the year from Emma Stone and Ed Norton. It’s a true visual feast beginning with a gorgeous, impossibly long, opening take. The lushness of the cinematography is trumped only by the most incredible sound design, featuring jazz drumming and an audible richness that  becomes a leading character in almost every scene.

And then there is the story: an ironic, intricate exploration of art and its impact on the human soul. At its core, the film unpacks the superficiality of celebrity in the digital age, but does so in such a graceful yet absurdist way that it never feels like anything less than entertainment, which I suppose is what makes it so special. Although Alejandro Inarritu has more than established himself as one of the most important active directors, this time around you see something both truly modern and seriously grounded, only seen  in the very best of films.. I’m not sure there has ever been one quite like this.

3)   Nightcrawler – Dir. Dan Gilroy (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton)

 Although Nightcrawler is a “dark” film, somehow that description undersells how gloriously entertaining it is to watch. This is a story about ambition, deceit, drive and the harrowing consequences that our emotionally callous and short attention-spanned society craves. On the surface this is about what has happened to the news business since Sydney Lumet foreshadowed its moral demise in his 1976 epic “Network.” In it we watch as Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) backs into a job as a freelance cameraman selling crime footage to a desperate local news producer played beautifully by Rene Russo.

But the film is really a character study in how ambition corrupts. Gyllenhaal has never been better, transforming himself into one of the most complicated screen characters since Travis Bickle. He goes from naïve loner into one of the most menacing villains of this decade. It is easy to get sucked entirely into Gyllenhaal himself, but the film succeeds in making some profound statements about modern media and our collective indifference to the shocking state of the world today.

4)   Selma – Dir. Ava DuVernnay (David Oyelowo, Common, Oprah)

There is a fine line between historical films that manipulate the audience into experiencing the collective guilt of our forefathers and those that use film to tell a story without overt judgment. Selma is a triumph of both because of the impeccable performances (David Oyelowo is magnificent as MLK) and the accomplished craft by which Ava DuVernnay captures time and place without being preachy or condescending.

Like Lincoln, this film also benefits from focusing on one small chapter of King’s life, rather than trying to tell an entire but necessarily diluted life story. In this specific fragment we see a microcosm of everything King managed to accomplish during a period filled with irrational hate and violence. But more than anything else this is a wonderful film, polished, tense, emotional, but also artistic. It’s also impossibly hard to believe that the Civil Rights movement took place only a half-century ago, and sadder still that there are the remnants still left unresolved today.

5)   The Trip To Italy – Dir. Michael Winterbottom (Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon)

Great comedies never really receive the credit they deserve. Comedic sequels receive even less consideration, but occasionally the pattern breaks. There wasn’t a funnier film released in 2014 than this delicious romp through the Italian countryside where two old friends reunite to eat, talk and lead each other through some of the best impression-based conversations imaginable.

Like an old comfortable tweed blazer, Coogan and Brydon shroud what is really the kind of friendship everyone aspires to have in a typical male detachment. Although the film is really about the banal pains and realizations of middle age, it manages to keep things as light as the foamy foodie dishes the travelers are served accompanied by witty esoteric film banter. In the end this is a movie about the gradual cloying decay of aging,  and the simple pleasures that compensate and make life worth living along the way.

6)   Boyhood – Dir. Richard Linklater (Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke)

More than almost any modern director I can think of, Richard Linklater has always been  dialed into the cultural zeitgeist of my generation. From Slacker and Dazed and Confused to the ‘Before’ trilogy, he makes small films built on dialogue and supported by incredible collaborations between a staple of core actors. In Boyhood he just kind of lets the camera roll as young Ellar Coltrane matures from a six year old to a college kid, shooting for a few days every year for a dozen years.

As a film, Boyhood is a solid story well told, but its true genius lies in the vision and discipline required to tell that story bit by bit over a dozen years while watching people grow into themselves without manipulation.  Like the brilliant 7 Up series, Linklater lays out a framework, but also lets the spontaneity just  happen. There is a magic that transpires, and reminds you that everyday things change ever so slightly within yourself and the broader world around you.

7)    Obvious Child – Dir. Gillian Robespierre (Jenny Slate, David Cross, Gaby Hoffman)

 Unlike the romantic comedies of the West Coast, this one, set in Brooklyn is both grittier and quite a bit funnier. Jenny Slate is a much better looking female version of Louie CK, and has appeared in a series of killer cameos on such underrated shows as House of Lies, Hello Ladies, and Bored To Death, but Obvious Child officially validates her as a legit leading lady.

In it she plays a struggling standup comic who recently lost her bookstore job, her boyfriend and her overall sense of how to proceed. A drunken rebound one-night stand leaves her pregnant and an emotional mess. As much as the film is littered with these otherwise mundane clichés, somehow the film never feels trite – mostly because of Slate, who like a younger Sarah Silverman, has that raunchy but endearing way. This is a date night film for people who hate date night.

8)   Under The Skin  –Dir. Jonathan Glazer (Scarlett Johansson)

This is one of the weirdest, most abstractly sexual, and occasionally scary films, in quite a while. In it the always-beguiling Scarlett Johansson plays an alien sent to earth to … well … good question. She roams the streets of Glasgow picking up a series of random men and then most often lures them into bizarre and occasionally beautiful ends.

Beyond ScarJo’s icy cool and sometimes brilliant performance, the film is a chilling experiment in mood and pace always moving toward an ambiguous end. It looks at modern urban humanity through the observant eyes of an outsider, and catches many of the details about nature and our daily lives that we ourselves seem to have managed to lose interest in. This is not a film for everyone, but it is one  for those who like strange, dark, and sensual sci-fi.

9)   The Grand Budapest Hotel – Dir. Wes Anderson (Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody)

No one makes, or has ever made, films  like those of Wes Anderson. He is a miniaturist, who loses himself in the very details most filmmakers can’t even see. He is the grandmaster of style, but never chooses it over substance, and always extracts particularly nuanced performances from his consistently great casts.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is set in the 1930’s in a fictional Eastern European town, in an elegant hotel that is very much a product of a bygone era. It is an old fashioned caper largely revolving around Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the philandering concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, and his apprentice, the young lobby boy. The kooky plot involves an inheritance, a dead body, and the silly antics that ensue. This is a story within a story, told in flashbacks by Jude Law who we learn had met Gustave many years before as a young man. Anderson’s films always make me wish I could climb into these odd landscapes for a few hours (or days) and bathe in the colorful quirkiness that seems one standard deviation outside of our imperfect world.

10)   Citizenfour – Dir. Laura Poitras (Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald)

A great documentary film often has as much to do with being at the right place at the right time as it does  with the importance of the subject itself. Citizenfour manages to possess both of those aspects. Although no one could have predicted exactly how things were going to unfold, Edward Snowden had probably thought as much about how and to whom he would break his news as he did about whether he would share his secrets with the world. It was almost like he was directing this film from the start of his career.

In many ways this documentary unfolds like a classic spy novel, with recorded phone conversations setting the stage for the seminal meeting in a Hong Kong hotel room. Both filmmaker Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald create a kind of calm urgency as they begin to unravel the information Snowden is sharing. But the film is mostly about trying to understand a bit more about a man who is either a hero or traitor. In the end you are left  to decide for yourself while Snowden remains in Russia,  waiting …

11)    The Babadook – Dir. Jennifer Kent (Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman)

I love good horror films, and every few years someone manages to take this typically schlocky canon and create something new and different. Like the twisted offspring of The Shining and The Exorcist, Aussie director Jennifer Kent has created a wonderfully stylized tale about a children’s book character who prods at the core of the emptiness experienced by a boy and his mother after the loss of their father and husband.

This is not a film filled with blood or easy scares, but one that slowly builds into a crescendo of dark high tension. Both mother (Essie Davis) and her six year old son (Noah Wiseman) draw you into the dark recesses of a real or imagined ghost story where the light at end of the bleak tunnel seems almost too far away to reach, but also accessible if they can just hold their ground. But then again, while every voyage is filled with dark passages, this one  approaches that blurry destination bit by dreamy bit.

12)   Chef – Dir. Jon  Favreau (Jon Favreau, Bobby Cannavale, John Leguizamo)

Call this a guilty pleasure without much guilt. Chef is the kind of feel good mid-life crisis film that combines the inevitable struggle between purist passion and commercial success with the tension between freedom and familial obligation. This is also a return to the kind of character-driven performance that Favreau achieved so effortlessly in Swingers, nearly 20 years ago.

Although it uses our  ironic and easy-to-mock foodie culture as a narrative vehicle, it very convincingly celebrates this current obsession as something that is actually  good . As Favreau’s once high-flying celebrity chef star begins to fade, he is forced to reinvent himself after inadvertently discovering the power and peril of social media. His voyage to self discovery leads him back to a better place, but even in its mile away predictability, this film is too good not to just lean in and devour.

13)    The Theory of Everything – Dir. James Marsh (Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones)

Stephen Hawking is a rare genius not just because of his mind but also because of his relentless drive to remain productive despite cataclysmic constraints. Eddie Redmayne is a chameleon cut from the same cloth as Daniel Day Lewis before him, and transforms himself so completely, both emotionally and physically, that it is hard to imagine anyone else playing this role.

But what makes the film even more satisfying is that it manages to explain some of Hawking’s impenetrably challenging theories, making them “almost” accessible to a broad audience. The life of this man neatly mirrors the acceleration of technology which both makes it possible for him to live a fulfilling life, and for us to better understand what he alone was able to understand about the universe before we had the advanced tools to prove it.

A few more that are very worthy …

14)   Gone Girl – Dir. David Fincher (Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike)

Fincher remains in a beautifully dark groove these days, banging out bleakly compelling popcorn fair, and teasing out nuanced performances from big brand name players in this head trip of a caper.

15)   Nymphomaniac Vol. 1&2 – Dir. Lars Von Trier (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard)

An ultra-bleak, graphic look at pain, sex, and emptiness told in gritty flashbacks – as you’ve come to expect from the Danish master von Trier.

16)   One I love – Dir. Charlie McDowell (Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss)

A trippy, impeccably acted romantic comedy that taps into the alternate universe that is part of every relationship.

17)   St. Vincent – Dir. Theodore Melfi (Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy)

What could have been a horrible cliché (crotchety old man finds salvation through a friendship with  lonely kid) is a genuinely lovely, almost family friendly, story about redemption.

18)   Foxcatcher - Dir. Bennett Miller (Steve Carell, Channing Tatum)

An unrecognizable Carell plays the disturbed DuPont scion obsessed with wrestling and an unfulfilled desire to please his mother. What follows is a slow and steady descent into madness.

19)   The Imitation Game – Dir. Morten Tyldum (Keira Knightly, Benedict Cumberbatch) 

A perfectly constructed story about one of the first genuine technology pioneers who was trapped in a seemingly “civilized” society committed to stopping evil abroad while committing it at home.

20)    Snowpiercer – Dir. Joon-ho Bong (Ed Harris, Jamie Bell)

What could have been just another post-apocalyptic hybrid of “Blade Runner” and “The Polar Express” is actually an ironic look at how history continues to repeat itself.

21)  A Most Violent Year – Dir. J.C. Chandor (Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain)

A beautifully acted period piece set in the early 80’s capturing the gritty crime-infested NYC of days gone by through the lens of one family caught walking on a razor’s edge.

22)  American Sniper – Dir. Clint Eastwood (Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller)

Another rock solid piece of elegant, patriotic filmmaking from one of the very best, who manages to avoid the sentimental in favor of a story that doesn’t need editorial to make its point.

23)   Inherent Vice – Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson (Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin) Although it could have been called “Incoherent Vice” this stony, retro caper is a textured moody romp, that deserves an A for effort, even if you get lost from the very first frame.

I’ll leave you with a great moment from The 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival:

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