Two lists down, two to go. So, last year in film: it was OK. It started on a sour note with Monuments Men and ended on a bizarre one with The Interview, but there was plenty to smile about. I liked that more movies opted into online distribution, as it still seems like there are a bunch of great indie movies that never make it into theaters anywhere around me. So yeah, let me remind you that this is not a list of the best movies of the year, but simply my favorites of the ones I saw. And I didn’t see a whole lot! I wish there was a guide somewhere that told you what movies are going to be on most critics’ end of the year lists, it sure would make SIFF easier. As it stands, there’s still plenty of 2014 to be mopped up for me, but my immediate focus will be on movies from John and Colin’s lists that I haven’t seen such as The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Calvary, Still Alice, Listen Up Philip, and Under The Skin. And then maybe some of the Oscar bait? I don’t know.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Love is Strange
The audacity of abducting a childhood for the sake of a movie is inspiring. Richard Linklater took a few weeks from Ellar Coltrane every year since the boy was seven years old. Can you imagine? Growing up knowing that you were going to be a movie star someday. Imagine the pressure to take drama classes and not get super fat. To pretend you’re having a normal adolescence while by the very virtue of doing that pretending, you are not. Yeah, this whole project’s kinda fucked up… Anyway, to me the best part of Boyhood were the subtle touches that made it a period piece – the old technology, forgotten pop hits, and George Bush bashing that I remember from my own youth. I guess I’m lucky to have only been six years older than the boy, because at least I could relate to growing up around the same time as him. Us crazy millennials!
A lot of people are beefing on Birdman for being exhausting or telling a poor story. I didn’t have that experience. I really enjoyed Birdman‘s tense, continuous style and have the utmost respect for the craft put on display. And while the story of any artist overcoming one-dimensional critics in the name of his chosen profession may be a tired one, I prefer to think of this as a much better story about a crazy person who does crazy things with other crazy people. It’s far from a perfect movie but I’ll be damned if it’s not memorable.
This came out of nowhere for me, hadn’t even seen a trailer when I sat down in the theater that fateful night. First: the soundtrack sucks. Second: are people paying attention to movies like this. I’ll get into this more when I talk about Gone Girl, but I really hope more people watch movies like this that remind us how fucked TV news is right now. Any system that could allow the rise to power of a character like Jake Gyllenhaal’s in this movie is horribly broken. The fact that it seems somewhat believable is even more terrifying. Nightcrawler‘s great, go see it and spend a night with one of the most despicable people imaginable. Plus, Bill Paxton’s in it. That guy’s having a good year between this, Agents of SHIELD, and Edge of Tomorrow.
I’ll be waging a war against Interstellar in my mind for a long time, which is sort of a good thing? The parts of this movie that I think are dumb really bum me out because the rest of this is just so good. There are more sci fi movies these days, but no one ever really tries to take them seriously. Then Christopher Nolan comes along and makes one of the grandest sci fi epics there has ever been, a film spanning light years and decades (suck it, Boyhood) without resorting to firing a single proton torpedo. Interstellar might be thought-provoking in the wrong way, but I love what it is anyway.
The Edge of Tomorrow, or as it’s now apparently called Live, Die, Repeat, answers the question “what would Groundhog Day be like if it was a sci fi action movie?” That’s a good question. That’s the kind of question I ask myself all the time, right up there with “how much better would Apocalypse Now be with giant mechs?” There’s some definite magic to this movie, and I don’t know if it’s Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, director Doug Liman or some mix of them all. Whatever the case is, this movie based on a Japanese book I actually went back and read is punching weigh above its weight. Can’t wait to see it again. And again. And again. FULL METAL BITCH.
Can I confess something? I didn’t notice Ben Affleck’s dong in Gone Girl. It comes up in every discussion I can find about this movie online, so it must have been there somewhere and I just wasn’t looking. Hopefully that doesn’t mean I’m missing too many other details in this crazy mystery. Anyway, like I said in my review and above, what really made this movie a slam dunk for me is that way it absolutely skewers cable news. Why isn’t that what everyone’s doing all the time. It’s the worst! Fox, CNN, MSNBC – you all can suck Ben Affleck’s probably extant dick.
Did any other movie generate a best-selling soundtrack album in 2014? I’m genuinely asking, because I don’t know and don’t want to look it up. There was a Divergent movie and a Hunger Games movie last year, so maybe. But I bet that album wasn’t full of somewhat forgotten Seventies hits! I was so impressed with Marvel in the year of the horse, as Agents of SHIELD turned into a worthwhile show and their two movies both took big risks that paid off. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was more a spy thriller than a conventional super hero movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, I mean, who even knows who that is? Ain’t nobody read that shit, and yet James Gunn made it into something that frequently draws favorable Star Wars comparisons. Can Marvel keep it going in 2015?
Wes Anderson, you sly fox. After Moonrise Kingdom you could have made anything, and so you made a movie that stretched all the gimmicks you’re known for to their limits. I mean, come on, who uses aspect ratio as a storytelling tool? Who’s still using stop motion and miniatures more than CGI? Who else keeps casting the same people over and over – not even your brother-from-another-mother PT Anderson does it this much! And you gets away with it because you can make it work. You made another movie that is quirky, fun, and funny. Bravo.
This was my easy number one for the whole year, until literally New Year’s Eve, when I went and saw the movie that finally dethroned it. I think you can be cynical about Mistaken for Strangers and choose to believe the filmmakers knew what they were doing the entire time and manipulated everything – but don’t do that. Don’t live your life thinking like that. Take the movie for what it is, the story of a passionate, weird, lazy slacker with a famous brother who just so happens to be in one of my favorite bands. It’s a story about learning to take risks and finding how the love and support of the people in your life can help you achieve more than you ever thought you could do. I wish this movie had been there for me a few years earlier, but I’ll take it now.
The interesting thing about JK Simmons’ character in Whiplash, Schillinger – sorry, I mean Fletcher – is that I don’t think anyone could argue that he’s wrong. It definitely does take more than talent to be great. It takes hard work, dedication, drive… just ask any gym teacher. The question is how hard does someone need to be pushed? Can you push them too hard? In trying to grow a flame, can you end up stomping out that spark? I’m not sure Whiplash tells us one way or the other. The two lead performances are great, the music is amazing (I don’t know how basically listening to two songs over and over never got dull), and it’s one that’ll leave you thinking about it. That’s what I’m looking for. Say what you will about 2014 being a down year, there are cinematic endeavors ever as engaging as the last 10 minutes of this movie.