Let’s get a little closure, shall we? I watched more films than I thought I did in 2014, and yet still not as many as I would have liked. Some, I reviewed for other sites (which I’ve noted) and others which I never even reviewed (and so for those I may write a little bit more here than for those I’ve already written about).
And, as everyone knows, I often see movies that I’m very excited about, movies I am pretty sure I’ll like, hence why I rate most things so highly (it’s not simply because I’m a pushover but because I’m on a budget– who wants to spend time and money on something that’ll probably be bad? I know my tastes and listen to other critics well enough to see things I’m almost guaranteed to rate highly.) However, this makes it very hard to judge these things against one another. For that reason, I’ve decided that I’m not going to be putting these things in too much of an order; I’ll do my best but for the most part, just assume the ranking is pretty close especially after the top three choices or so. And, I’m going to judge big budget blockbusters separately than independent and foreign films, etc, just to be fair and to make my life easier.
So without further adieu, here are…
My Eight Favorite Independent Films (Art House, VOD, Limited Release, etc):
1) Birdman: Wouldn’t complain if it swept up everything it’s nominated for this coming awards season. Amazing and haunting, like nothing I’ve ever seen before; both a spectacle and philosophical movie-marvel that does deserve its praise.
2) Snowpiercer: Upon second viewing, I realized just how much I loved this movie. Brilliant, creative, and endlessly entertaining, this film was a blockbuster like no other and it should, for many reasons, be necessary viewing.
3) Cheap Thrills: I couldn’t find a flaw in this horror/dark comedy. Smart, suspenseful, brutal.
4) The Grand Budapest Hotel: Another I found myself loving even more the second time. Wes Anderson’s most epic and grandiose film, this sweeping caper is accomplished and a lot of fun.
5) They Came Together: Not enough people talked about how smart and hilarious this movie is– David Wain adoringly skewers romcom formulas and it is just plain awesome, plus the cast is basically perfect.
6) Obvious Child (reviewed for The Film Chair): I loved how daring and truly funny this film was, and Jenny Slate is amazing in it.
7) The Babadook: Another female-directed feat, this horror movie is as good as everyone said it would be.
8) The Skeleton Twins: Simultaneously funnier and far more serious than I expected somehow, this film was really moving thanks especially to Wiig and Hader’s amazing performances.
What didn’t make the cut:
I thought Jason Bateman’s directorial debut Bad Words (reviewed for The Film Chair) was a bit messy and mediocre at best– some parts were amusing, but ultimately it tried too hard to be bad while also playing it too safe by the end. You can’t be perverse and sentimental at the same time– make up your mind.
The Immigrant was good– with beautiful, careful direction and absolutely amazing performances– but ultimately formulaic and thus forgettable in the grand scheme of all these other films, for me anyway.
V/H/S: Viral (reviewed for Audiences Everywhere), was a huge disappointment to me. Out of the measly three segments, one was amazing, one was just okay, and one was annoying beyond belief, and the frame narrative was pretty hit and miss itself, so even though that campy sense of fun was still there, it wasn’t consistent enough to save this anthology.
And lastly, Affluenza (reviewed for The Film Chair), was a teenage Great Gatsby wannabe that was just fine, nothing less and certainly nothing more, and overall it was just totally forgettable.
And Five Favorite Foreign Language Films:
1) Big Bad Wolves: An Israeli horror/dark comedy that exceeded my expectations.
2) A Coffee in Berlin (reviewed for The Film Chair): A jazzy, increasingly meaningful black-and-white journey through a Berlin twentysomething’s day, wanting a cup of coffee but receiving instead random, awkward encounters that just might lend him some direction. My love for Berlin was only a fraction of why I loved this funny, frank and subtly emotional movie.
3) Zero Motivation (not reviewed): An Israeli comedy directed by Talya Lavie about a group of girls in the Israeli army– bored, brash and often juvenile. The film itself is brilliantly broken into three chapters that flow flawlessly into one another; the connected tales of female friendships, goals and challenges are all hilarious and honest.
4) The Lunchbox: Heartwarming and whimsical, this Indian film is a treat.
5) Mood Indigo: Challenging at first and undeniably weird, but overall, this is a fascinating and of course visually splendorous narrative from Michel Gondry.
The Best of the Big Releases:
1) Gone Girl: Just as good as I prayed/hoped/knew it would be. Thank you, David Fincher, for making a compelling and faithful adaptation!
2) The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (not reviewed): Just rented this the other day. I’m so proud of Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) for making such a well-paced, visually stunning and wickedly intelligent sci-fi prequel-sequel. This film was gripping, technically amazing and aesthetically awesome, and like I said, actually intelligent, so I loved every minute of it.
3) Guardians of the Galaxy: I mean, what is there to say besides “I am Groot;” this was the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time; just pure and simple joy that sent a sonic boom through this summer’s box office.
4) Godzilla: This film was well-made and its characters no more one-dimensional than those found in far stupider blockbusters of recent years anyway, so can we just focus on the monster as a character and admit that this movie was great?
5) X-Men: Days of Future Past: I loved seeing both X-Men casts together, and for this narrative to not be confusing was really a feat.
6) 22 Jump Street: A laugh out loud sequel that is even crazier and more meta than its predecessor.
7) Neighbors: Nothing special, when you think about it, but this film had me cracking up and that’s what counts.
What didn’t make the cut:
I am the only person I’ve ever met who didn’t love The Lego Movie. I get it, at least I think I get it, but it just didn’t resonate with me like it did everyone else and I almost wish I got it more so I didn’t feel so lonely over here in the minority. I really did find it brilliant but just too annoying for me to enjoy; maybe my head was too in it, but nothing was tickling my funny bone, so the frenzied nature of it all just wore me down and got on my nerves. I did love aspects of it (including the live-action scene toward the end) but the sum of its parts just didn’t do it for me, sorry all!
And The Interview, which was hilarious and smarter than its stupidity would have you believe, is hard to categorize due to its distribution, but even besides that, it wasn’t one of my favorite films of the year– I loved it, genuinely enjoyed it beyond its mere hype, but not quite enough to make it my number 8.
Interstellar was okay, but wanted to be more than it was and that ended up being its downfall; I enjoyed it, but it was not the life-changing experience it felt like Nolan wanted it to be.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was enjoyable to me but a big fat flop to many (okay, most) others, so I ultimately decided it didn’t actually belong in my top spots (maybe that’s me caving under pressure in a way that I just couldn’t with The Lego Movie… at any rate, I’ll still defend this Spider-Man installment and say it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone made it out to be– I had a lot of fun with it and had a lot of arguments as a result of that opinion, too).
Maleficent, which I rented but didn’t review, was mediocre, a word I seem to be using a lot in this post (along with synonyms such as “okay” and “fine”). It was visually awesome but all those effects were balanced precariously upon a paper thin story– a whole lot of nothing that looked like something amazing. And though Angelina Jolie was great and definitely made the film somewhat worthwhile, everything around her performance just felt like fairy tale fluff.
The Best in Horror:
1) Cheap Thrills: See above. This movie shocked me and delighted me in disturbingly equal measure.
2) Big Bad Wolves: See above. If torture porn had a sick sense of humor and was gorgeously stylized, you might end up with this film.
3) The Taking of Deborah Logan (reviewed for Audiences Everywhere): A true Netflix hidden gem, this found footage film wasn’t anything too new in terms of that form, but it was truly scary; it turns the proverbial wheel surprisingly well.
4) Oculus: One of the coolest mainstream horror films I’ve seen in a while– this is the kind of terror that comes from not knowing what is real, not being able to accurately perceive what we see, and not being able to control what we do.
5) The Babadook: See above. Dreary and dreadful.
What didn’t make the cut:
V/H/S: Viral, like I said before, was too much of a disappointment to me, as someone who loves the first two films in the series. Deliver Us From Evil (reviewed also for Audiences Everywhere) was good up to a point and then it simply wasn’t. Ironically, many critics seemed to like the parts that I liked least while they disliked the parts that I felt were the film’s strongest. Oh well. Also, let’s be honest– the cast was kind of awkward: Olivia Munn and Joel McHale, what?
And the worst of the worst was definitely As Above, So Below. Rented it the other day and couldn’t even finish it (My horror-movie lovin’ mom: “I’m waiting for something amazing to happen” Me–“Yeah, the credits.”) What a boring found footage mess this film was. Too much editing, cam was TOO shaky for its own good and, oh yeah, NOTHING happened and nothing really ever made sense. Too much switching POV’s and, again, no coherence whatsoever– who died now, what’s going on? And at a certain point I realized I was annoyed by all of that but that I didn’t actually care anyway as far as the film’s characters or conclusion were concerned.
And the Worst of the Rest:
And So it Goes (reviewed for The Film Chair) was an annoyingly sentimental melodramedy starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton. It had its moments, I suppose– I actually didn’t actively hate it consistently, while watching– but overall, it was a forgettable, laughable film from Rob Reiner (note my word choice: laughable like, what are you doing, Rob Reiner).
And Noah (not reviewed) was mind-numbingly frustrating to watch: overdramatic, loud, self-righteous and stupid, you can still see Aronofsky’s talents here, and maybe what he was going for was admirable and interesting, but the execution was too ridiculous and just in general missed its mark.
So, as we head into 2015…
I just want to say that 2014 was a pretty good year in film, for me, but then again, I find myself avoiding things that I think will be bad (or that I simply won’t enjoy) and so I tend to miss a lot, for better or worse. Thank goodness for Redbox rentals and Netflix. And as far as 2015 goes, there isn’t a whole lot that comes to mind immediately when I start to ponder what films I’ll be excited for. I’m definitely looking forward to Jurassic World and Pitch Perfect 2. And The Avengers: Age of Ultron will hopefully be as great as the first film, though I must admit I’m always a few steps behind in terms of the other Marvel movies (and have been ever since they’ve proliferated in recent years- too many, too little time, and not enough motivation for a select few of them anyway). I also hope that my foreign film project helps me remain as egalitarian in my viewing choices and behaviors as it always had when I was in college, and I really want to do more VOD viewing as well. And another resolution is to watch more documentaries, which shouldn’t be hard because I do work for a documentary distribution company after all. Anyway, thanks for reading and here is to a happy, movie-filled 2015!