Friday, December 26, 2014

2014: Movie Year-in-Review

Milan Paurich's 2014 Year in Review

This was a terrible year at the domestic box-office, and for movies in general. Since those two things (dearth of quality and dwindling revenues) aren’t mutually exclusive, perhaps audiences are finally developing more discerning tastes. Or not.

The dual summer announcements by Marvel and D.C.-Warner Brothers of dozens of comic book-derived super hero movies slated for release over the next decade spoke volumes about (a) the cynicism of Tinseltown, and (b) the lemming-like behavior of multiplex masses across the globe.

At times, it felt like every Hollywood movie released in 2014 was either a Marvel Comics demolition derby, a 3-D CGI ‘toon or a YA lit adaptation.

Here are some that weren’t.

Tellingly, my #1, #2 and #3 picks have all held those same identical slots since mid-August.

(1) “Boyhood” (Richard Linklater). Watching Ellar Coltrane grow up was among the most singular and privileged cinematic experiences of my movie-going life.

(2) “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Wes Anderson). Nobody else’s films give me as much pure, “this-is-why-I-love-movies” pleasure as Anderson’s. Long may he run.

(3) “Ida” (Pavel Pawlikowski). Even an agnostic like me found Pawlikowski’s austere, b&w Polish-language film an exquisitely moving affirmation of faith.

(4) “American Sniper” (Clint Eastwood). Another masterful meditation on mortality by America’s greatest living classicist. Along with Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” it’s one of the few truly essential Iraq movies.

(5) “Birdman” (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu). Who knew the director of “Babel” and “Amores Perros” could be so funny? As scathingly witty and remarkably insightful about Hollywood hubris as it is about Broadway/thespian vanity, it also featured the year’s finest ensemble acting.

(6) “Inherent Vice” (Paul Thomas Anderson). Not only is Anderson’s groovy Thomas Pynchon adaptation set in 1970, it felt like it was actually made back in the halcyon days of the New Hollywood Cinema.

(7) “Leviathan” (Andrey Zvyagintsev). A masterpiece by the greatest Russian director to emerge in the post-Soviet era. With intonations of Chekhov and Dostoevsky, Zvyagintsev’s Job-like parable set in Putin’s Russia sucks you in like a vise grip. I think I held my breath for the entire 141-minute running time.

(8) “A Most Violent Year” (J.C. Chandor). What price “The American Dream”? The answer isn’t very pretty in this bleak, brilliant 1981-set crime/domestic drama. After the promising “Margin Call” and problematic “All is Lost,” Chandor graduates to the ranks of America’s most accomplished under-40 directors.

(9) “Foxcatcher” (Bennett Miller). Because Miller’s frosty true-crime saga didn’t lead audiences by the nose and tell them what to think (or feel), some complained that it lacked a point of view. Of course, they said the same thing about David Fincher’s “Zodiac.” Yet it’s precisely the film’s purposeful ambiguity (and deliberately unanswered questions) that make it so disturbing and haunting.

(10) “Citizenfour” (Laura Poitras). An Edward Snowden documentary with the sweat-soaked paranoia and “This Really Matters!” urgency of a great 1970’s political thriller like “The Parallax View” or “Three Days of the Condor.” Snowden emerges as whip-smart, funny and, perhaps most damning of all, an idealist. In a perfect world, he’d be welcomed home with a ticker tape parade instead of threatened with imprisonment.

Runner’s-up (in alphabetical order):

“Big Eyes;” “Bird People;” “The Blue Room;” “The Dance of Reality;” “The Drop;” “Force Majeure;” “Get On Up;” “Gone Girl;” “Goodbye to Language;” “The Imitation Game;” “Into the Woods;” “Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian;” “Joe;” “The Last of the Unjust;” “The Lego Movie;” “Life of Riley;” “Listen Up Philip;” “Locke;” “Love is Strange;” “The Missing Picture;” “Mr. Turner;” “National Gallery;” “Norte—The End of History;” “Nymphomaniac, Volume 1;” “Persecution;” “The Raid 2;” “Selma;” “A Summer’s Tale;” “The Trip to Italy;” “2 Days, 1 Night;” “Violette;” “Whiplash;” “Wild;” “Winter Sleep.”


The 10 Worst:

(1) “America: Imagine the World Without Her.” Another faux-documentary by the troll-like Dinesh D’Souza whose only raison d’ĂȘtre is to spread Obama hate. D’Souza’s constipated reaction shots, however, are even funnier than Stephen Colbert’s.

(2) “God’s Not Dead;” “Heaven is for Real;” “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas;” “Left Behind;” “Moms’ Night Out;” “Son of God.” Pick your poison, Bible Belt.

(3) “Sex Tape.” Excruciatingly unfunny sex farce squandered the talent and charm of Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. The worst rom-com this century not starring Katherine Heigl or Kate Hudson.

(4) “Hercules.” The latest abomination from Brett Ratner, the least talented director routinely accorded $100-million budgets. Even Renny Harlin’s “Legend of Hercules” throwaway with Kellan Lutz was better.

(5) “The Giver.” What an impressionable (and deeply pretentious) 15-year-old might have come up with after reading “1984,” watching “Pleasantville” and smoking their first joint. Seriously silly and unforgivably dull, it was the year’s absolute nadir in YA-spawned films.

(6) “Annabelle.” A crappy horror prequel to the equally crappy (if inexplicably overrated) “Conjuring,” it gave demon doll movies a bad name. (Producer) James Wan remains the worst thing to happen to the horror genre since Stephen King directed “Maximum Overdrive.”

(7) “Planes: Fire and Rescue.” There were worse animated movies this year (“Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” anyone?), but none as deeply cynical or utterly devoid of imagination or wit as this Mouse House cash-grab. You’re Disney, people; you can (and should) do better.

(8) “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Universal released plenty of rotten comedies this year, but Seth MacFarlane’s fiasco was the snarkiest. And snarky trumps stupid (“Ride Along”) or nasty (“Neighbors”) in my book any day.

(9) “God’s Pocket.” Proof that all rotten movies aren’t made by Hollywood studios. Even Sundance indies can be tone deaf, misconceived disasters.

(10) “Mood Indigo.” A rare misfire for the estimable Michel (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) Gondry. Whimsy with a trowel.



TO BRAD FROM ANGELINA: MERRY CHRISTMAS:

Was the sole purpose of Jolie’s WW II biopic dud “Unbroken” to make Pitt’s merely adequate WW II combat flick “Fury” look better in comparison?

MOST FAMOUS UNRELEASED MOVIE SINCE JERRY LEWIS’ “THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED:”

“The Interview.”


BEST USE OF SIMON AND GARFUNKEL MUSIC IN A MOVIE SINCE “THE GRADUATE:”

“Wild” with its haunting leif motif of S&G’s “El Condor Pasa.”


AWESOMENESS PERSONIFIED:

“The Lego Movie,” the year’s best animated film.


TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION:

“Foxcatcher.”


TRUTH IS MORE BANAL THAN FICTION:

“The Theory of Everything.”


TRUTH IS SADDER THAN FICTION:

“The Imitation Game.”


BETTER LATE THAN NEVER:

Eric Rohmer’s posthumously released 1996 gem, “A Summer’s Tale.”


BEST MOVIE TO GO STRAIGHT TO VIDEO (IN THE U.S. ANYWAY):

The late Patrice Chereau’s final film, 2009’s “Persecution.”


LONG MOVIES CAN BE GOOD (AND AVAILABLE FOR STREAMING ON NETFLIX):

“Burning Bush” (231 minutes).
“Nortre: The End of History” (250 minutes).
“The Last of the Unjust” (219 minutes).


BEST SHORT MOVIES:
“The Blue Room” (75 minutes).
“Goodbye to Language” (70 minutes).
“Ida” (80 minutes).


BEST HBO MOVIES:
“Olive Kitteridge” Lisa Cholodenko’s sublime miniseries would have easily made my top ten list if it had been a theatrical release.

“The Normal Heart.” It was a long time coming, but this Ryan Murphy-directed adaptation of Larry Kramer’s AIDS polemic was worth the wait.


MOVIE THAT FELT MOST LIKE A (PRETTY GOOD) HBO MOVIE:

“Still Alice.”


BEST SEQUELS (A TIE):

“The Raid 2” and “The Trip to Italy.”


FURTHER PROOF THAT “SEQUEL” DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A DIRTY WORD:

“Captain America: Winter Soldier;” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes;” “22 Jump Street;” “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”


MOVIES I WOULDN’T MIND SEEING A SEQUEL TO:

“The Equalizer;” “A Walk Among the Tombstones.”


WORST SEQUELS:

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2;” “Horrible Bosses 2;” “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”


CRITICALLY REVILED MOVIES I ENJOYED MORE THAN “THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING:”

“Annie” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”


WORST MOVIES TO SEE ON AN EMPTY STOMACH:

“Chef;” “The 100-Foot Journey;” “The Trip to Italy.” Foodie power!


WELCOME BACK:

The consistently undervalued Kevin Costner returned to the screen with panache in “Black or White,” “Draft Day,” “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” and “3 Days to Kill.”


LET THEM EAT CROW:

Speaking of undervalued, Jennifer Aniston gave the performance of her career in “Cake.”


BEST STAGE-TO-SCREEN MUSICAL:

“Into the Woods.” After two previous attempts (“Chicago” and “Nine”), Rob Marshall finally got it right.


MOST DISAPPOINTING STAGE-TO-SCREEN MUSICAL:

“Jersey Boys.” Clint Eastwood directing the great Four Seasons jukebox musical made about as much sense as John Ford helming “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1963.


IT WAS A GOOD YEAR FOR PHILIP ROTH FANS:

Barry Levinson’s Roth adaptation “The Humbling” and Alex Ross Perry’s Roth-inflected “Listen Up Philip.”


OVERRATED (just-okay movies that fell short for me thanks to an excess of advance hype and/or praise):

“The Babadook:” “Beyond the Lights;” “The Boxtrolls;” “Calvary;” “Edge of Tomorrow;” “Fury;” “Guardians of the Galaxy;” “How to Train Your Dragon 2;” “John Wick;” “Lucy;” “Nightcrawler;” “The Rover;” “Snowpiercer;” “Top Five.”


UNDERRATED (movies that deserved a better shake from audiences and/or critics):

“Bird People;” “The Blue Room;” “Draft Day;” “The Drop;” “Get On Up;” “Hateship Loveship;” “The Homesman;” “The Immigrant;” “Jimmy P.: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian;” “Joe;” “Labor Day;” “Locke;” “Men, Women and Children;” “This is Where I Leave You;” “The Two Faces of January;” “Tusk;” “Wish I Was Here.”


MOST UNEVENTFUL “EVENT” MOVIES:

“Exodus: Gods and Kings;” “Godzilla;” “Noah.”


MOST DISAPPOINTING YEAR-END AWARDS BAIT MOVIE:

“Unbroken.” Angelina Jolie’s obnoxiously ballyhooed “labor of love” felt like Richard Attenborough Lite. (Runner-up: “The Theory of Everything” which did absolutely nothing for me.)


WHY REMAKE A MOVIE UNLESS YOU’RE GOING TO DO IT BETTER?:

“Endless Love.”


NOT ALL REMAKES ARE TERRIBLE:

“About Last Night” and “Robocop.” Although neither could hold a candle to the original(s), both were perfectly acceptable Saturday night entertainments.


GUILTY PLEASURES:

“The Expendables 3;” “Pompeii;” “Sabotage;” “Winter’s Tale.”


SINCE WHEN IS “LIGHTLY LIKABLE” A BAD THING?

“And So It Goes;” “Blended.”


BEST ABORTION-THEMED ROM-COM:

“Obvious Child.”


BETTER FIRST FILM BY A FEMALE DIRECTOR THAN “THE BABADOOK:”

Eliza Hittman’s “It Felt Like Love.”


BEST GALLERY INSTALLATION MOVIES:

“Manakamana;” “Under the Skin.”


BEST LOVE STORY:

“Love is Strange.”


BEST SUBTITLED ACTION FLICK:

“The Raid 2.”


BEST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR:

Tom Hardy, “Locke.”


BEST BROTHER:

Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher.”


BEST SISTER:

Carrie Coons, “Gone Girl.”


BEST POSTHUMOUSLY RELEASED PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN MOVIE:

“A Most Wanted Man.”


BEST POSTHUMOUSLY RELEASED ROBIN WILLIAMS MOVIE:

None. “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” and “A Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” were both pretty lame.


BEST “FEEL-GOOD MOVIES” (REMEMBER THEM?):

“Begin Again;” “St. Vincent.”


BEST 2014 SHAILENE WOODLEY MOVIE:

Woodley’s YA blockbusters (“Divergent” and “The Fault in Our Stars”) made serious bank, but neither could hold a candle to Greg Araki’s “White Bird in a Blizzard.”


BETTER PERIOD BRITISH BIOPICS THAN “THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING:”

“The Imitation Game;” “Mr. Turner.”


BEST MOVIE ALMOST RUINED BY ITS CLOSING CREDITS SONG:

“Selma.” By referencing Ferguson, John Legend and Common’s “Glory” trivializes Martin Luther King by conflating him with media-generated hype.


MOST DISAPPOINTING MOVIE THAT SHOULDA/COULDA BEEN (A LOT) BETTER:

George Clooney’s listless “Monuments Men.”


MOST AGGRESSIVELY UNPLEASANT FILMS:

“Cheap Thrills;” “Nothing Bad Can Happen;” “Nymphomaniac, Volume 2.”


IT WAS SUCH A LOUSY YEAR FOR HORROR MOVIES, NO WONDER “THE BABADOOK” WAS OVERRATED:

“As Above, So Below;” “Deliver Us From Evil;” “Devil’s Due;” “Dracula Untold;” “Grand Piano;” “Oculus;” “Ouija;” “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones;” “The Pyramid;” “The Quiet Ones;” “Stage Fright.”


5 BETTER HORROR MOVIES THAN “THE BABADOOK:”

“Honeymoon;” “Proxy;” “The Sacrament;” “The Signal;” “Tusk.”


GRRL POWER:

“Belle;” “Big Eyes;” “Maleficent;” “Veronica Mars;” “We Are the Best!”


MORE PLEASE:

Melissa McCarthy finally toned it down a notch (or twelve) in “St. Vincent,” giving a human-scaled, touching, deeply empathetic performance. And she didn’t fart, belch or say “f**k” once.


GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS:

Hollywood is planning an all-female reboot of “Ghostbusters.”
But they’re letting low-brow vulgarian Paul (“The Heat”) Feig direct.
I guess that means the Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman will have a diarrhea attack in Times Square.
(P.S.= Here’s an idea: why not give Feig his walking papers and hire Lena Dunham instead?)


BEST BET FOR A SPOT ON MY 2015 TOP TEN LIST:
Noah Baumbach’s “While We’re Young.”

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