Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Top 10 Films of 2014.

It's so tempting to Photoshop Nicolas Cage into the negative space.

After another five month hiatus, I'm back for the yearly staple. We have a record low of one Best Picture nominee gracing the top 10 this year, which goes to show that I have severely different tastes than ridiculously old white people. Turns out, most of the great films of the year were fairly divisive, and we all know that you can't win a Best Picture award if you leave people feeling uncomfortable. As always, documentaries and animated films are ineligible as I didn't make an effort to see all (or any) of them. Here are your honorary awards.

The Movie I Loved that Everyone Hated - THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU

If, at some point, a movie has a man and a woman lying on their backs talking about their feelings, you're probably going to have a good time. Yes, This is Where I Leave You has a pretty basic plot, some cliche narrative devices, and offers no great insight into the state of humanity; but it captures the pointed sarcasm of family banter that is usually only found in the occasional television drama, and that's enough for me. It's basically the version of The Skeleton Twins that doesn't try to pretend it's a drama. Now that I've mentioned it as being of note, you'll probably hate it.

A Free Netflix Suggestion For You - THE ONE I LOVE

I wouldn't call it the best movie from 2014 currently on Netflix, but we'll be discussing Snowpiercer shortly, and you probably wouldn't watch Ida after you found out that it isn't in color or in English. The One I Love is a small-scale, science-fiction romance in which a married couple go on retreat in an attempt to like each other again. That's all the synopsis you get. Take a break from watching The Office for the fiftieth time and try something new. Also recommended on Netflix: Frank, Chef, Joe, and Blue Ruin.

The Best Romantic Abortion Comedy of all Time - OBVIOUS CHILD

You may think I'm making a joke, but "romantic abortion comedy" is exactly how everyone should describe Obvious Child. It's a simple tale of girl meets boy, girl gets really drunk with boy, girl sleeps with boy, girl tries to ignore boy, girl finds out she's pregnant with boy's child. Amidst all of this, the girl realizes that she hasn't figured out how to take care of herself yet. The film plays out like Frances Ha, but with a pregnant Greta Gerwig. And yes, the abortion is romantic. No seriously, they make it cute. It's weird.

And now, to the list portion of the evening:

10. Only Lovers Left Alive
If you've been married to the same person for a few centuries, it's probably smart to live in separate countries. That way, you can show up and get your boo out of that funk he's been in, and you don't waste time bickering over the state of the toilet seat. Turns out, being a vampire is rough on the psyche these days. Adam's bummed out by all the ignorant humans (Zombies, he calls them) and their terrifying mediocrity. It's a film about getting old and understanding that everyone else is an idiot, and the realization that the only things that matter are great love and great art. Only Lovers Left Alive is one of the few films I watched twice this year, and it's interesting because neither time did I find myself blown away. However, out of all the films this year, I find it creeping around my brain the most. I'll chalk that up to the fact that I self-identify as an aging, hipster vampire.

9. Snowpiercer
I just realized this list has three Tilda Swinton movies in it; here's the second in a row. If you like the basic premises of Divergent and The Hunger Games, but want to watch a real movie, Snowpiercer is available on Netflix now. It takes place on the last vessel of humanity, a giant train repeatedly circling the globe amidst an iced over Earth. The train cars are divided by social class, with the poor at the back, until Chris Evans decides to go all Rosa Parks on everybody and lead a revolution to the front of the train. The societal tropes are heavy-handed, but the narrative plays out like an over-the-top, steam punk comic, so it all sort of works. It's essentially a smart blockbuster without a blockbuster release, blending humor and action in the right places and asking the question that Interstellar forgot to ask: At what cost is humanity worth preserving?

8. Starred Up
Going to prison with your dad is kind of like going to school when your dad is a teacher: if you get in trouble, he's going to know about it. Such is the case in Starred Up, in which nineteen-year-old Eric Love is transferred to grown-up prison for being exceptionally violent. His arrival quickly results in a bit of the ol' ultra-violence, the Clockwork Orange reference necessitated by the fact that it's easier to understand the characters in the Kubric classic than it is to decipher the slang and the accents here. Luckily, you can always use a logical guess or turn on the subtitles to learn that everyone in British prison calls each other "blood" or "bruv" continuously. Regardless of the verbiage, Starred Up is a very raw portrayal of systemic violence, the prison system, and familial love between morons. There are no Morgan Freeman voiceovers to simplify the emotions to you, but the film also spares us the non-essential details. It's just one pissed off dude trying to figure it all out.

7. Dear White People
It would have been easy for the creators of Dear White People to throw together a bunch of clever one liners about the stupid things white people do (I've got plenty) and call it a day. And while these one liners do exist throughout the film, they're not the focal point, and Dear White People ends up being a more effective examination of black culture than it does of ignorant white people (Whom most of us already have a pretty good understanding of). The most cutting deconstruction of white behavior comes from the subtle stereotyping, but it makes an exceptional, and mostly successful, effort to dissect the complex motivations of its main black characters. Of course, this wouldn't be such a feat if it were a regular cinematic fixture. As the film itself correctly advises, black character representation in cinema is exceedingly lacking. The climax of the film is a "black-face" party thrown by the white students, which is so seemingly implausible that it necessitates the citing of real world events as sources as the credits roll. Race roles are confusing, and Dear White People admits and embraces that. It's not the finger-shaking guilt trip your grandmother warned you about.

6. The Zero Theorem
The Zero Theorem wouldn't have even been on my radar if it weren't directed by Terry Gilliam, as it got middling reviews and I was busy watching a billion mundane biopics. Luckily, I have faith in the man who made Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 12 Monkeys, and Brazil (Shame on you for not knowing who Terry Gilliam is), so the Tilda Swinton triple feature is complete. The Zero Theorem's major critics blast it for being an overstuffed rewrite of Brazil, and my question to them is, "Why wouldn't you want to watch that?" It's a long established fact that I love ambitious trainwrecks (See Southland Tales), and the rule applies here. There are some strong future jokes, an over-exuberant display of set design and cinematography, and computer programming is apparently now exactly the same as hacking the Gibson in Hackers. It's a delightful tale of a man waiting on divine intervention, while attempting to disprove the meaning in everything, and accidentally finding and missing the meaning he so desperately seeks. Working from home really is the best, isn't it?

5. Whiplash
If you haven't seen Whiplash yet, it's exactly what you think it is: J.K. Simmons yelling and throwing things at people trying to make them better at jazz. What you'll likely find surprising, is how much you enjoy watching it. The main takeaway from the film is summed up in the trailer, so we might as well cover it here: "Is telling people that they're doing a good job, when they have room for improvement hindering their shot at greatness?" It's a simple theme, but the film doesn't pretend otherwise, and J.K Simmons gives an extremely effective character study on the balance between motivation and bullying. The film does make a few groan-inducing narrative choices, but it's all in the interest of making way to the excellent finale, so I suppose I forgive it.

4. The Guest
I kind of love tongue-in-cheek films that feature badass dudes just being badasses. The Guest is the story one such badass visiting the family of his departed military comrade, and then just generally being awesome while synth music plays. If you watched Drive and wished it were a comedy, you'll find exactly what you need here. There's not a lot to unravel, the motivations behind the titular David are explained only briefly, but exposition isn't needed. The Guest is simply a funny, action-packed thriller so self-aware that you can regularly imagine the director giggling from behind the camera. It gets exceedingly violent in its later stages, and leads us towards the final confrontation—which results in one of the greatest 'thumb's up' ever given onscreen.

3. Why Don't You Play in Hell?
So, here's the thing. Shion Sono (maybe more accurately—and for lack of a better term, Asian shock cinema) movies are my Hollywood blockbuster. The first time I watch them, I get lost in them and forget to put on my critic glasses. Until ten minutes ago, Why Don't You Play in Hell was, without a doubt, the number one film on this list. In the interest of second-guessing myself, I watched it again—and I still loved it, but for all the campy facial expressions and pure passion pumped into it, it's a bit tedious in it's overall construction and lasting relevance. That may sound like some film school bullshit (especially to those of you reading this list and wondering where the hell Guardians of the Galaxy is), but artistic relevance is important. Why Don't You Play in Hell is a hilarious love letter to cinema, in a Martin Scorcese meets Jon Waters sort of way, but it's pure entertainment. There's nothing wrong with that, as great entertainment is greater than better-than-average art, but there were two films this year that provided a greater blend of both. But if you want to watch two Yakuza clans do battle while a group of filmmakers and a guy in a Bruce Lee costume film it, this one is for you. And the toothpaste song is the best.

2. Gone Girl
The first rule about Gone Girl is that you don't talk about Gone Girl until you're sure everyone in the room has seen it. This is coming from someone who absolutely hates it when people cry about spoilers. Most things do not have spoilers; Gone Girl has spoilers. Remember when the main character died in Psycho? That was a major narrative transition formerly unheard of. While not nearly as groundbreaking, Gone Girl's narrative transitions exist on that level and are navigated incredibly well. While you may not be a narrative junkie as much as I am, the film also offers up some delightful black comedy, a bit of violence, and some food for thought in the ever-raging battle between husband and wife. Extra credit has been applied for the sadly realistic portrayal of the American media. The only bad thing about Gone Girl is that I can't post a detailed report of everything that's great about it in my spoiler-free synopsis.

1. Nightcrawler
At some point, I swapped Nightcrawler with Gone Girl, so let's call it a tie. They're both thematically similar; Jake Gyllenhaal being our operative psychopath in this adventure. Both films were undoubtedly America's strongest major releases (with credit to Birdman and Whiplash), unless you bought into the distilled concept art of Boyhood (shame on you). But as previously mentioned, zombies people don't like feeling uncomfortable. And uncomfortable they shall feel as Gyllenhaal transforms himself into a nightmare seeking the American dream. Nightcrawler would have been acceptable as a character study on Gyllenhaal being deplorable, but there's also a well written thriller here, which makes it that much better. Gyllenhaal is terrifying and marvelous as he lies, cheats, and sabotages to get what he wants; all under the guise of hard work and motivation, making him even more sinister. 



Interstellar - Another messy train wreck that is fun to watch but too easy to forget.
Obvious Child - It's not your mother's romantic comedy.
Ida - A beautifully photographed film filled with nuanced themes that I'll never watch again.
The Drop - Tom Hardy plays a big oaf who loves dogs and protecting his own.
The One I Love - If Being John Malkovich were a romance.


This is Where I leave You - I could watch Adam Driver mock people all day.
Guardians of the Galaxy - Just like the Avengers, as good a superhero movie that you'll ever get.
Begin Again - Reads like the American Once, wrapped in a little Hollywood bow.
Birdman - Keaton and Norton are splendid, but I couldn't embrace it thematically.
Joe - Nicolas Cage made his own version of Mud. It's not as good, but it does have Nic Cage.
Edge of Tomorrow - Tom Cruise dies over and over again and everybody is happy to see that.
The Imitation Game - It's got enough humor and intrigue to overcome the usual biopic humdrum.
Maps to the Stars - A funny, messy, Hollywood satire with—you guessed it! Julianne Moore.
Chef - Jon Favreau makes food and clearly eats a lot of it. I'm not fat shaming, I'm envious.
Selma - A very well constructed biopic that focuses on one event rather than giving us another MLK origin tale.


Magic in the Moonlight - Basically a less funny Whatever Works, but it's still delightful.
Boyhood - The method doesn't justify the blandness or the inclusion of two drunk stepfathers.
We are the Best - A cute, forgettable Swedish film about 13-year old female hipsters.
Frank - Fassbender wears a paper mache head and sings songs. What's not to like?
Blue Ruin - A homeless dude starts a war with a hillbilly family.
Kill the Messenger - J. Renner exposes government corruption and they take him down. Just like today.
Leviathan - We get it. Power corrupts, God is dead, and the everyman suffers.
A Most Violent Year - It's okay to do bad things as long as you try to be nice.
What If - What if you liked a girl and she had a boyfriend?! OMG life is so hard.
The Skeleton Twins - If you sing with your sister, she stops being sad.
Pride - Gay people hanging out with miners results in plenty of easy jokes.
White Bird in a Blizzard - A meandering mystery that is intriguing but anti-climactic.
American Sniper - Has hints of social commentary, but it comes in a glamoured up package.
In Your Eyes - Joss Whedon wrote this, so I watched it.
Nymphomaniac - I want to spend the next ten years trying to edit this into a great movie.
Noah - I love the lunacy of this film. If it weren't based on a biblical tale, it would be crap.
Neighbors - Getting old and hating teenagers is kind of fun.
The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson made another movie just like the last three.
God Help the Girl - A musical that needed a little more fun, a little less brooding from the lead.
22 Jump Street - We get it, guys. C Tates and Jonah Hill are gay for each other. Ease up.
St. Vincent - Unfortunately more saccharine than funny. But still funny and a little weepy.
Captain America: Winter Soldier - The first one was so bad.


Force Majeure - A couple bickers uncontrollably and irrationally. It's annoying.
Fury - A war gets fought. Shia Labeouf is a weirdo.
The Interview - Not as offensive as I thought it was going to be.
Listen Up Phillip - Jason Shwartzman is a pedantic jerk who hangs out with an older pedantic jerk.
Men, Women and Children - The internet is ruining everyone and everything.
Cold In July - A mystery never gets answered and instead the characters kill some bad people.
Premature - A Groundhog Day high school comedy that repeats itself after...well.
Laggies - Old people watched this movie, shook their fists and grumbled, "Millenials."
Starry Eyes - A Hollywood starlet tries to get a role, whines about it, and then a horror movie.
X-Men: Days of Future Past - I liked the JFK jokes and Quicksilver, that's about it.
The Babadook - This was probably good but I can't stand horror movies that have annoying children.
Wish I was Here - Zach Braff puts every groanable indie flick cliche into one movie.
Wild - Reese Witherspoon walks and cries about her mom.
Big Eyes - Christopher Waltz yells a lot.
The Immigrant - Welcome to America. Home of exploitation.
Under the Skin - ScarJo seduces men and dips them in black goo.
Night Moves - Damn vegans.
A Million Ways to Die in the West - Fart jokes with the occasional witty history joke.
Le Weekend - Old people grumbling at each other in France.


The Theory of Everything - You have to like it because he's in a wheelchair.
Foxcatcher - Two morons mumbling nonsense at each other.
A Most Wanted Man - Phillip Seymour Hoffman being dull for two hours.
Inherent Vice - Incoherent Vice. Not that I mind incoherent things if they're actually interesting.
If I stay - This actually wasn't that bad for a movie that didn't try to be good—At all. She stays.
Into the Woods - I could handle the rapy vibe for the first hour or so and then it went south.
Fading Gigolo - I've wiped this from my memory.
The Double - I can't even handle one Jesse Eisenberg.

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