Third Way Movie Awards: Films for Your “Must See” List from 2014

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Over at Third Way website from MennoMedia, three Media Matters reviewers have just posted their individual “Top 10 Films” list for 2014 (inspired by Oscar and other awards season). Here, we’ve compiled these lists into one, for great options for your viewing pleasure anytime (from Netflix, Redbox etc.). You might want to share or favorite this post for when you or others need inspiration for what to watch next. Each of our reviewers look at media from an Anabaptist Christian value perspective, while not necessarily endorsing everything (not even close) in the films named! The ones with live links take you directly to our reviews on Third Way. Initials beside the synopsis indicate which reviewer wrote it. VT = Vic Thiessen. GH = Gordon Houser. MKS = Matthew Kauffman Smith.

Third Way Café Top Films of 2014

1 Interstellar. The only Hollywood film in my top ten, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic is one of the wildest rides in the history of film, an audio-visual feast for the senses that engages both our minds and (unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey) our emotions, though its underlying message that we should consider giving up on earth is a dangerous one. VT

2. Ida. This small Polish film by Pawel Pawlikowski, set in 1962 and stunningly filmed in black & white, tells the moving and compelling story (featuring exceptional character development) of a young woman, about to take her vows as a nun, who discovers her Jewish roots and the horrific history of her family during the Nazi occupation of Poland. VT

3. The Congress. Ari Folman’s partly animated (gorgeously so) sci-fi film is based on a 1971 novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. It stars Robin Wright as Robin Wright, an aging actor who is offered a form of immortality in this sharp satire of the Hollywood film industry, ‘celebrity’, the pharmaceutical industry and individuality/identity. VT

4. Locke. Tom Hardy is the only actor we see (and he delivers a wonderful nuanced performance) in Steven Knight’s film about a man whose life crumbles around him (despite his efforts to do the right thing) as he talks on the phone during a two-hour drive across southern England. VT

5. Selma.  (review to be posted by Jan 16, 2015) David Oyelowo is perfect as Martin Luther King, Jr., who, in 1965, led the campaign for voting rights for African Americans in the southern U.S. Focusing on a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, Ava DuVernay’s film is an inspiring, moving and gripping drama and a powerful depiction of a story everyone needs to see and from which we all have much to learn, even in 2014. VT

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Another of his trademark quirky, intelligent and surreal comedy dramas, this film may be Wes Anderson’s best yet. It’s full of superb acting, clever dialogue, gorgeous cinematography and pointed satire (of authority, governments and attitudes toward immigration). VT

7. The Great Beauty. This Italian film from Paolo Sorrentino won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013, but was not released in North America until 2014. A breathtakingly beautiful and thought-provoking satire about life in contemporary Rome, The Great Beauty stars Toni Servillo as an aging journalist looking for moments of great beauty in his pointless existence. VT

8. Only Lovers Left Alive. I’m no fan of vampire films, but Jim Jarmusch’s slow-paced, gorgeously-filmed (at night, in Detroit and Tangier) drama about the lives of a very old vampire couple (played wonderfully by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) provides a profound and unique perspective on the history of human civilization and the dangers we are facing in the 21st century. VT

9. Boyhood. Richard Linklater almost had my favourite film of the year for two years in a row with this amazing drama which he filmed over a period of twelve years. By allowing us to watch family members naturally grow and change over twelve years, as if we’re viewing a documentary, Linklater (one of the greatest filmmakers of our time) gives us an insightful cinematic masterpiece about everyday life. VT

10. Calvary. This small Irish film by John Michael McDonagh stars Brendan Gleeson in an Oscar-worthy performance as a small-town priest slowly losing the respect of his parishioners as the church becomes increasingly irrelevant to their lives. While this dark (but often funny) film is not for all tastes, Calvary is a sublime meditation on the future of the church, on violence, on forgiveness and on what it means to be faithful to Jesus. VT

11. Whiplash. This riveting film about a young jazz drummer and his emotionally abusive teacher asks, How much should one sacrifice for one’s art? But it goes beyond the creative arts. Is it good to push ourselves (or be pushed) beyond our perceived limitations in order to reach our full potential? J.K. Simmons’ performance as the teacher is outstanding. GH

12. Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). This intense film is about a washed-up actor who 20 years earlier played a superhero called Birdman and now wants to be recognized as a serious artist. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s satire skewers blockbusters and theater while presenting serious questions about our search for significance and recognition. The cast here is excellent. GH

13. Under the Skin. This science fiction thriller about an extraterrestrial (Scarlett Johansson), disguised as a human female, who drives around Scotland and tries to lure unsuspecting men into her van. This is not your standard thriller but an artistic, brilliant, stunning exploration of being marginal. This creature who preys on men to take their skin becomes, in the end, a sympathetic character. Not for everyone, this film stayed with me a long time. GH

14. The Imitation Game. Another historical film, this one is about Alan Turing, a British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist who led a team of cryptanalysts in breaking the Nazis’ Enigma code during World War II. Benedict Cumberbatch is especially good in capturing Turning’s tics and submerged emotions. The film is suspenseful and heartbreaking and opens up an era where men were put in prison for being gay. GH

15. The Immigrant. Set in New York in 1921, this film is a portrayal of spiritual and psychological struggle. Marion Cotillard heads an excellent cast as Ewa, who falls prey to Bruno, a pimp who forces her to become a prostitute in order to make enough money to gain her sister’s freedom from quarantine on Ellis Island. It is a powerful film about forgiveness. GH

16. Alive Inside. Music has always been therapeutic for me, but this documentary about how music soothes, inspires, and jogs the memories of Alzheimer’s patients offers emotional and scientific proof that music can heal. MKS

17. Pride. Even though it is over-dramatized at times, the true story about the unlikely bond between the gay rights advocates and the striking miners in mid-80s United Kingdom is an entertaining feel-good underdog story. MKS

18. Skeleton Twins. Saturday Night Live alums Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader prove their dramatic chops in this dark comedy about troubled siblings who re-connect with each other as their other relationships crumble. MKS

19. Chef. Jon Favreau’s portrait of a acclaimed chef/not-so-acclaimed father at a career/personal crossroads is witty and heartwarming. MKS

20. Next Goal Wins. American Somoa was the worst soccer team in the world and holds the dubious distinction of suffering the worst defeat in international soccer history, losing 31-0 to Australia. This documentary chronicles the team’s attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Cup and reverse their historic bad fortune. MKS

21. Snowpiercer. The first half is much more violent than I can normally tolerate, but the second half of the movie is compelling. Yes, the premise of the last of the earth’s humans living riding an eternal train around the world is far fetched, but its Speed-meets-Children of Men juxtaposition makes for a highly entertaining film. MKS

22. Ernest and Celestine. OK, you can get me on a technicality because this was nominated for an Academy Award last year. However, this animated tale about an unlikely friendship between a bear and a mouse, didn’t receive a major release stateside until this year. My daughters, age 10 and 8, loved it. MKS

23. We Are the Best. This Swedish-Danish film about three 13-year-old girls who form a punk band to perform their song “Hate the Sport” may seem like a film about rebellion. But at its core the film is about finding joy and acceptance through music. The band is loud and terrible but their happiness is undeniable. MKS

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What would be on your list of favorite films from 2014??

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You can get an even bigger list (best 100 movies from the last 10 years), according to Third Way reviewers, which we shared last year. Go here.

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Original art illustration by Josh Byler for MennoMedia.

100 Best-of-the-Best Films from the Last Ten Years

100 Best of the Best Films from the Last Ten Years
(Reviewed from a Mennonite/Anabaptist perspective)MennoBytes_SelfPortrait(Illustration courtesy of Joshua Byler, resident movie buff at MennoMedia, and yes, alert readers will remember you saw this before, here.)

Did you watch the Oscars this past Sunday? Did you enjoy drooling as hungry celebs pretended they were normal peeps grabbing pizza slices from a delivery man (who just happens to be the owner of an L.A. pizzeria chain), and taking selfies?

If you are a movie fan, or are a teacher or leader who has ever grasped for materials to use with youth, young adults, or any small group in search of something fun and different to discuss, keep in mind the hundreds of movie reviews Third Way Cafe has published for you with an eye towards Anabaptist/Mennonite/Christian values and viewpoints. Our reviewers are all Mennonite/Anabaptist writers—good writers too; the reviews are often entertaining to read in and of themselves. You’ll also run across movies you do NOT want to see, as well, and our guys (and one gal) will steer you clear. Or not.

Sample these fun reads from our current writers:

Jerry Holsopple, Gordon Houser, Vic Thiessen, Matthew Kauffman Smith, Michelle Davis Sinclair (soon returning from a maternity leave).

Here are ideas about how you can use Third Way movie (or other) reviews to prompt an awesome discussion:

  1. Think of or find a movie your group is talking about anyway. (What were the youth discussing last week??)
  2. Do a search at Third Way Café to see if we’ve done a review.
  3. Read the review, pick up the movie from Redbox or Netflix, preview it, then jot down a few study questions.
  4. You’ll likely have material for 2 – 3 weeks of youth sessions. (Or homework for homeschooled kids. Or family night popcorn and movies. Or date night on the cheap.)
  5. You can also use Third Way to update your queue or come up with your own “must see” list. Peruse Third Way Café’s “Top 10 Movies” of each year, going back to 2004. I’ve made it easy with links below (our reviewers pick their favorites from a wide field, not just Oscar nominees). Note that the shortie reviews included in these summaries are just one or two sentences, good for getting the gist of a movie and whether you might be interested. Then use the Search box right on the page to see if a particular movie has a full review on Third Way. Or do a Google search for any film using “Third Way Café Media Matters” + the title of a movie and you should come up with a good link. Or, from here, use the “find” tool on your browser and plug in the name of a movie and if it has been reviewed on Third Way, it should come up.

Here are the short summary lists, by years.
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2013
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2012
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2011
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2010
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2009
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2008
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2007
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2006
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2005
Media Matters Top 10 films of 2004

Want to get a fresh review every week? You’ll have a constant supply of sermon illustrations, attention grabbers for youth group or Sunday school, conversation starters at your break or dinner table. I should mention that we also review music, books, TV, advertising and other media as they pop onto the cultural radar. I remember with some amusement my daughter’s attempt (currently our lone female reviewer) to explain blogs back in 2006. She said “blog” sounded like a “collection of nasty stuff in a drainpipe. Or maybe what a cat does after eating something it shouldn’t.”

Blogs didn’t suffer any lag in popularity for her description. But our main diet on Media Matters is movies.

So it is with the reviews found at Third Way: they’ll probably never catch the notice of stars or critics or major media, but for your own homegrown thumbs up or down on hundreds of movies from the last ten years, there’s no better place to go than right here. And tell your friends, family, colleagues: speak it, blog it, tweet it, Facebook it.

Thanks!

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Melodie Davis
Managing editor, including Third Way Cafe.