My Year in Film: 2014

I know you’ve been waiting for this.

Once again, I’ve reviewed all the movies I saw this year. I always aim to see at least one new movie per month. This year I barely met my goal with 13 movies seen.

There were definitely a few that I really wanted to see but didn’t. Those neglected pieces of cinema include: Foxcatcher, Interstellar, Obvious Child and Whiplash.

Overall, I had a lot of fun at the theater this year (and, yeah, I know; I say that every year). There were a couple notable disappointments, but I’m quite satisfied with my experiences.

Also, You know (or should by now) how the Internet works. There are spoilers.

The Lego Movie

This is ostensibly a kids movie, but I know a hell of a lot of adults who loved it. Believe me, I was surprised. The Lego Movie might be the one exception to the rule when it comes to movies based on toys. That rule being they’re terrible.

I’m looking at you Battleship. 

The movie is bright and flashy and well animated. It also has an infectiously fun theme song performed by Tegan and Sara. On the surface, it’s a pretty easy sell to kids.  Honestly, that’s probably all that was expected of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (co-writers and directors).

But they didn’t stop there.

Instead, they got an incredibly talented and funny voice cast with the likes of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, etc…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Poor Captain America.

This movie would have stuck with people more had Guardians of the Galaxy not been released the same year. With that in mind, this was a really solid entry for Marvel.

I liked it more than its predecessor because it was past the origin story (they’re a bit tired now), and there was a greater sense of urgency throughout the movie.

Pictured: Urgency.

I was particularly struck by the action sequences and stunts in Winter Soldier. The Russos handled them well, and the effects leaned more toward practical rather than CGI spectacles.

It’s amazing what a difference it makes compared to some shoehorned, green-screen bullshit (*cough* Green Lantern *cough*).

Also, hail HYDRA:

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Man, this movie bummed me out.

I genuinely love Spider-Man. My brother and I watched the FOX cartoon series regularly throughout our childhood, and I still think Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is one of the best super hero movies ever made.

This is not.

Wut?

The story was all over the place–crammed full of disparate parts. Three villains in one movie, it turns out, is generally not a good idea.

WHEN WILL STUDIOS STOP DOING THIS!?

The dialogue was so over the top and broad I was literally scoffing in the theater. I mean, Jamie Foxx is a good actor, but he’s best and most believable playing charismatic characters, not a Rain Man knockoff.

Totes Cas.

One thing that always bugged me about Spider-Man was very noticeable in this movie. I’ve always contended there’s no way Harry Osborn and Peter Parker would have been childhood friends. Harry would have been in the top private institutions, starting in pre-school. No way Peter was also attending St. Rockafeller’s College Preparatory for Silver Spoon Toddlers.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Days of Future Past was a nice palate cleanser after Spider-Man. 

No, officer. No steroids here.

This was an exceptional improvement on X-Men: First Class and a nice tie to Bryan Singer’s early X-Men movies (we shall not speak of Brett Ratner’s attempt). It took a fan-favorite, classic story line and imbued it with emotional performances and tense action sequences. Side note: I actually remember watching this story arch on the animated show as a kid.

It also contains what will likely go down as one of the best slow-motion scenes in recent memory, with Quicksilver but not technically Quicksilver because screw you Marvel Studios. 

Chef 

I just felt happy in the theater watching this movie. It was fitting that I saw it in Asheville, a little city with one of the best food scenes in the country.

I get that some people saw this movie as frivolous or overly precious about food. Really, I do. But that sort of thing can be good sometimes. It can be important sometimes. It made me think about all the times I spent with my family and how much of it centered around food and drinking and telling stories.

It wasn’t just the food, though. It made what I think is a salient point about the relationships that develop between parents and children. Jon Favreau’s character, who was somehow married to Sophia Vergara, which no, is divorced and has part-time custody of his son. When he has him, he takes him to movies and theme parks, thinking the only way they can bond is through superficially (and one could argue, frivolous) “fun” activities.

Only later, does it occur to him that just spending time with each other and teaching his son about something he loves is more fun than any roller coaster. Very sentimental but very true.

Also, I loved the soundtrack. It’s one of the few times I walked out of a movie wanting to buy a physical copy of it.

Jersey Boys 

I saw this while I was on a mini vacation at an Atlantic Coast beach house, so I don’t know if I was in any state of mind to analyze a musical period piece.

However, I do remember having three prevailing thoughts about the movie.

One: I couldn’t think of Vincent Piazza, who played Tommy DeVito, as anyone but Lucky Luciano–the character he plays in Boardwalk Empire. 

Two: my dad forced me to listen to a lot of the songs featured in the movie when I was a kid. I remember not particularly liking them back then, but now I love them.

Wat?

Three: It’s insane that the Four Seasons happened to be friends with Joe Pesci.

Guardians of the Galaxy 

I could probably skip this entry because what am I going to say that hasn’t been said? We can all agree that this was the most goddamn fun you had at a movie all year, right? I mean, what sort of monster didn’t like Guardians?

Bad ass.

Honestly, it’s kind of amazing that a relatively little known group that was on Marvel’s C-team turned into a smash hit. Initially, I was worried when I heard Chris Pratt would be playing Starlord.

Pratt’s role on Parks and Recreation as chubby goofball Andy Dwyer didn’t scream leading man. Boy, did I have to eat my hat on that one. He was funny, charming and touching without skipping a beat.

The movie did a number of other things well, too. A wisecracking raccoon with expertise in weapons sounds preposterous, but Guardians added subtle touches that really made Rocket a developed character. For instance, his relationship with Groot and the scene in which he explains his background really got me.

And where does David Bautista get off having such great comedic timing?

Sin City 2

I was blown away when I saw Sin City. Robert Rodriguez literally brought Frank Miller’s comic to life. I was not blown away by Sin City 2. In fact, it just blew.

It didn’t offer anything new. Afterward, I was forced to examine the possibility that, as a movie franchise, Sin City has nothing more to offer.

Gone Girl

Oh man, I’m not even ashamed to admit I really enjoyed this movie. This might be a bold declaration, but I believe Lifetime should just stop making movies. Gone Girl is the movie all Lifetime movies aspire to be. It’s the pinnacle of trashy entertainment (trashtainment?).

It was sheer brilliance casting Ben Affleck as the douchey, clueless husband. I’m truly not sure if it was art imitating life or life imitating art. Rosamund Pike was amazing as well. I’ve heard much of her subtext and inner monologues from the book were cut out, making her depiction more misogynistic. I didn’t read it, but that seems about right.

Oh, and how about Tyler Perry? He was great as the celebrity lawyer. Hey, Tyler Perry, stop making Tyler Perry movies and just be in other people’s movies!

Snowpiercer 

Man, I’m a sucker for post apocalyptic movies, especially improbably weird ones like Snowpiercer. I love this movie because, honestly, it’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to a Bioshock movie.

It’s an insane and improbable premise (most post apocalyptic movies are), but it’s really fun. The remainder of Earth’s population lives on a global train system after a cataclysmic event froze the whole world. The biggest problem with that being the record for public transportation functioning without issue is like three days tops.

I did learn something about myself, though. Mainly that I will do anything Chris Evans asks. He wants to overthrow the ruling class? You bet I’m rushing the front of the train. Tilda Swinton was amazingly weird per usual, and I hope she never changes.

St. Vincent

This movie basically seemed like an excuse for Bill Murray to be Bill Murray. Like the personification of the Internet meme he’s become in recent years. That being said, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie

I thought it was just going to be Bill Murray, Bill Murraying it up the whole time (that’s what the trailers made it look like). I was surprised by the emotional depth of it, though. Especially at the end when Oliver (played deftly by Jaeden Lieberher) has to pick someone he thinks should be a saint.

Predictably, he picks the rough-around-the-edges Vin, recognizing his true caring nature. You could see that turn a mile away, but that didn’t stop me from fighting back tears in the theater.

I thought Melissa McCarthy did a great job as Oliver’s mother. Hollywood doesn’t always do a great job portraying mothers (or woman in general). Her performance and the movie’s general depiction seemed grounded and more nuanced than what you get in most releases.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

I have to admit that Mockingjay (the book and movie) kind of lost me. I really enjoyed The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but my interest has started to wane. It doesn’t help that, following the lead of Harry Potter and The Hobbit, the studio decided to split the last book into two movies.

We’re talking about an easily digestible, 300-sum page book meant for teenagers. Yeah Hollywood, that screams two movies.

Anyway, I liked it well enough just not as much as the previous movies in the series. I guess I don’t have much more to say about it.

Birdman

It’s fitting that the last movie I saw was my favorite. I’ll brave the risk of being called an art house hipster doofus (in Kramer’s words) and say I loved Birdman. I know critics are tripping over themselves to praise it, and there are others who think the accolades are undeserved.

I don’t.

I don’t know how you could deny the acting in Birdman. Everyone, especially Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton, so fully inhabit their characters. In fact, Keaton isn’t too far removed from his character Riggan Thomson in real life.

Riggan was once Birdman, the lead in a massive super hero franchise, but he turned down a boatload of money to continue the series. You might remember that Keaton did the exact same thing with Batman. I imagine Keaton drew from his own experience to create Riggan’s constant doubt, self loathing and bitterness.

Even if you think the inward looking and self-deprecating nature of the movie isn’t as deep as it pretends to be, it’s still refreshing. It had to be said that the homogeneous and self-congratulatory nature of super hero movies is getting a bit ridiculous. And that’s coming from someone who loves them.

I very much enjoyed the comment on arts criticism as well, even if it’s a bit on the nose. Okay, a lot on the nose.

The scene with Riggan and the New York Times theater critic had me hanging on every word. It really affected me. I sometimes write about movies and music, and I’ve often times felt like a fraud. Like I should be doing something rather than writing about something. Unfortunately, writing is one of the few talents I developed, and I happen to consume a disturbing amount of pop culture.

Birdman is much more than it’s performances, though. The cinematography is amazing, shot in long takes that really accent the claustrophobic, tense nature of the theater. I had no idea that the soundtrack would be mostly instrumental jazz, but it worked well with Emmanuel Lubezki’s stellar camerawork.

If you didn’t like it, fine. However, you have to admit it’s the most wholly original movie released last year.

Oh, and Keaton should have won best actor…

Womp, womp.

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