Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Movies of 2014

The number of movies I saw this year went up again, from 61 last year to 69 (with a proviso or two, which I will get to), although the number seen in the cinema dropped slightly from 28 to 27. I’ve pretty much stopped seeing any film with my older son, and now the youngest is beginning to go off in his own direction as well. He has said he wants to see the last Hobbit with me, but life keeps him very busy. We shall see if I get to it in 2015. As for past years, click on the "movies" hashtag at the end of this and that will take you to see my past few entries.

Other numbers? Of the 69 I saw, 17 were documentaries. 16 countries were responsible for what I saw, although Spain is more than a stretch, and oddly (considering how much I enjoy South Korean movies), the only offering from South Korea this past year was Snowpiercer. But considering the Indonesian film was made by a Welshman, and last year I saw a German film made by an Australian, I suppose we truly are watching a global art form, so I counted them that way. The countries were: Australia; China; Denmark; France; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Japan; Morocco; Netherlands; Poland; South Korea; Spain; Sweden; UK; USA.

As usual, some of the movies are from other years, including a few from much earlier. I choose to list them if it was the first time viewed, but only 2014 or 2013 (if unavailable to me before then) films are eligible for the top 10 or for my newly-minted list of honourable mentions. I’m not a critic, I don’t get paid to go see movies, and time is often difficult to find, so there are lots of films I haven’t seen and wished I had (top of that list right now is likely Nightcrawler). As well, living in the boonies as I do means there are movies that haven’t made it here yet. I count The Babadook and Force Majeure among the tops of those, although I discovered to my pain that The Babadook did play for one measly showing here at the Broadway a few months ago as part of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Fest, as did a bunch of other good looking films. I must pay better attention in 2015.

I also, besides life with the family and work and writing and reading, try to find time for a few new TV shows, most of them these days also on Netflix, so that eats into movie time as well. Happy Valley was the best discovery of the year in that area, and if you have the service and haven’t watched it yet, do yourself a favour and check it out.

Netflix is a place I go see documentaries, a genre I mostly enjoy by myself in this family (although, contrary to what I said about my older son, Aidan did come to the theatre to see Jodorowsky’s Dune with me). Some I watch not out of anticipation of a great film, but rather to see something about a subject that interests me.

As well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Science and Interstellar. There were some complaints about the science in the movie, which struck me as frequently wrong-headed. Yes, you can have issues with something, but eventually you’re going to look like a one-noted special interest group if that’s your only reason for liking or not liking something. In truth, it’s become a common issue throughout film: there were complaints from the stage community this year about how Birdman didn’t properly portray live theatre, and complaints (apparently in a drumming magazine) about how Whiplash didn’t truly show jazz drumming. The film critic Matt Zoller Seitz had a great response on Twitter for this, and my own contributions, if I had chipped in, would have possibly been “Let me tell you about what Bringing Up Baby got wrong about Apatosaurus,” or “Let me tell you about what The Big Lebowski got wrong about bowling. And marmots.”

There were also complaints that Interstellar didn’t make sense, or was too metaphysical. That’s fine, but some of those complaints came from people who really like 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I don’t buy it. Perhaps I discuss Interstellar too much, since there were other movies I ranked above it, but those issues seemed to me to be especially prevalent with that film, maybe because as a SF author I find myself more often in those circles.

That’s enough preamble. Here’s the list of what I watched in 2014.

Jack Reacher (2012) USA - Actually pretty good, for what it was, and Werner Herzog was believably freaky as the bad guy. Also, a friend was an extra in one scene, so I had to watch it just to see her.

*Lone Survivor (2014) USA - Tense and exciting and more than a little gruesome. I was happy that not all Afghans got short shrift, and indeed, even the epilogue sings their praises in a couple of different spots. Not one to be seen if you’re sensitive to blood or extreme pain.

Rush (2013) USA - Decent but kinda typically Ron Howard movie. Follows all the notes that type of movie is supposed to.

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay (2012) USA - An interesting if not anywhere close to groundbreaking documentary about the magician and card player.

Good Ol’ Freda (2013) UK - Enjoyable doc about the woman who was the Beatles’ personal assistant.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008) USA - Took a long time to see this very upsetting doc about murder and suicide, precisely because I knew what was coming. But still worth watching.

The Woman Who Wasn’t There (2012) USA - Another doc, a strange one about a woman who claimed to be something she wasn’t.

Veronica Mars (2014) USA - Not sure why I felt the urge to watch a movie based on a TV series I never watched, but I did enjoy it. Nothing extremely marvelous, of course, but fun enough.

*The Room (2003) USA - One of the worst movies ever, and very proud of it. We saw this with the director/writer/star and the co-star, and it was everything I wanted it to be. A fun evening.

*Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) USA - Aside from the “Hail Hydra” moments and the great big explosions at the end, this was a great superhero movie, more of a spy thriller than a bombastic comic book movie.

The Intouchables (2011) France - A lovely film about friendship. Highly recommended.

*The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) USA - As usual, Wes Anderson has created a great movie full of quirks and quirky characters, presented on film with rigorous formality, as if on a stage.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (2012) USA - A fine documentary about one of the greatest bands most people have never heard of.

*Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) USA - A mind-blowing doc about a movie that never was but perhaps should have been.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) USA - I was surprised I enjoyed this as much as I did. Not great, but affecting, and as a former photographer and photo clerk I have to say I appreciated the final cover photo.

*The Wind Rises (2014) Japan - As usual, a marvelous film from Studio Ghibli. Who would have thought the story of the creator of the Japanese fighter plane the Zero would be so affecting and lovely?

The Family (2013) USA - A minor halt in Robert De Niro’s career slide. Also, a bit of a wink to Michelle Pfeiffer’s role in Married to the Mob. Fun, if slight.

*The Raid 2 (2014) Indonesia - Not as balls to the wall as its precursor, but still a great action movie with some of the most insane fight scenes anywhere. I’d love to see the director get his hands on a superhero property and mess with it.

Zaytoun (2012) Israel - A good if rather ordinary-feeling film about an Israeli fighter pilot and the Palestinian boy who rescues him from his captors in Lebanon.

Elysium (2013) USA - I had high hopes for this, but it was at best an ordinary SF film with loftier goals than ability to attain them.

*Godzilla (2014) USA - A decent and enjoyable monster movie, far better than the Matthew Broderick iteration, and it does a nice job of teasing us with the monster.

The Iceman (2012) USA - Michael Shannon, as it seems he always is (even when he plays a nice guy), quite disturbingly on edge in this one.

*Edge of Tomorrow (2014) USA - A thrilling military SF film, and so many of us couldn’t argue with seeing Tom Cruise buy it in so many different ways. That said, he was very good in this movie.

The Monuments Men (2014) USA - Might go down as my biggest disappointment of the year. “Hey, let’s make a movie so we can all get together and hang out and crack lines at each other!”

*X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) USA - Time travel in a superhero movie done well.

Best Worst Movie
(2009) USA - A mildly fun doc about the people who were in Troll 2, which was neither the sequel to Troll, nor about trolls. Especially interesting when you see George Hardy finally realize how he’s letting this all get away from him.

Frankenstein’s Army
(2013) Holland - The coolest practical creature effects I’ve seen in years. Not a perfect movie, but definitely worth seeing.

Dear Mr. Watterson (USA) 2013 - A decent doc about the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.

Jesus Camp (USA) 2006 - Another older and disturbing doc I finally caught up on.

The Lego Movie (USA) 2014 - Well, this was everything I was told it would be. An absolute blast.

The Lone Ranger (USA) 2013 - Actually better than I expected. But honestly, I expected only the worst.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (China) 2014 - There is a scene involving blood in this Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle) movie where I laughed harder than I’ve laughed in years. Overly long and a little diffuse at some points, it is still funny and exciting and worth seeing.

Grand Piano (Spain) 2014 - A deliberate homage to Hitchcock (even the main character’s name is a giveaway), this is a taut, fun thriller, a little preposterous but well worth watching. All American, but the director is Spanish and the film is listed as thus.

*Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) USA - I enjoyed this much more than the first remake. Exciting and with believable characters, human and ape.

*Tracks (2014) Australia - A moving true story about a young woman who has not a lot of room in her life for human interaction, and her trip across the desert interior of Australia with camels and her beloved dog.

Enough Said (2013) USA - One of James Gandolfini’s last roles. He’s good in a light little romantic comedy like this, but it won’t go down in the annals of time as one of his great roles.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014) USA - A Netflix original doc, about a Single A baseball team owned by Kurt Russell’s father in the 1970s. Good fun.

*Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) USA - Epic and hilarious and peopled with characters you care about, this was everything a superhero movie should be.

Milius (2013) USA - A doc about a Hollywood screenwriter of a different stripe. An interesting enough story, if you already have an interest in such things.

Snowpiercer (2014) South Korea - What a weird and wonderful SF movie. And Tilda Swinton absolutely ruled in it.

Alan Partridge (2013) UK - A very funny Steve Coogan movie, albeit another one in which he plays a rather insufferable individual.

*A Most Wanted Man (2014) UK - One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films, this spy thriller very much sits in the same category as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (both were from books written by John le Carré) or The American (both were directed by Anton Corbijn). It’s slow and thoughtful, and Hoffman puts on a master class.

Horses of God (2013) Morocco - A very disturbing and sad fictionalized account of terrorist bombings in Casablanca in 2003, of how children and young men turn to fundamentalism and ultimately to killing because of the circumstances surrounding them.

*Boyhood (2014) USA - I found this quite affecting, and proof that you don’t need the finest actors in the world to tell a moving story.

Blue Ruin (2013) USA - A tense indie thriller. Lots of blood and violence, but unlike so many other movies of this type, the violence here has real impact and truly doesn’t solve anything.

*Calvary (2014) Ireland - Much more tense and disturbing than I expected (the ads made it look like a typical Irish black comedy), with a remarkably moving ending.

*The Trip to Italy (2014) UK - Very funny, again, and I enjoyed the meta part when they discussed how sequels usually aren’t as good as the first time around. Also, I desperately want to go there, stay where they stayed and eat where they ate.

Ender’s Game (2013) USA - First off, the opening narration set me off, completely unnecessary since the same thing is gone over later during training. It’s a lazy cheat. Otherwise, as odious as Card’s beliefs are (I ensured I wasn’t paying to watch this movie, aside from the premium cable price for the movie channel it was on), I suppose it was OK. But not a lot of wonder in the movie, I found.

*Gone Girl (2014) USA -  Tremendous and tense and I’m very glad I didn’t read the book. Also ludicrous in many ways, but Fincher pulls it off with ease.

Terror at the Mall: The Nairobi Siege (2014) USA - An excellent and gripping documentary from HBO about the terror attack in Nairobi. Makes great use not only of CCTV footage (and there was a lot) but also still photography shot in such quick bursts it almost looks like film.

*Fury (2014) USA - A tremendous war movie with great performances. Some tropes are dipped into, but they are still put to good use.

Hours (2013) USA - One of Paul Walker’s last films, this is a fine little thriller/drama, quite tense and smart.

*The Phantom of the Opera (1925) USA - Another part of the Silence is Golden series at the Roxy, one of my favorite movie theatres anywhere. Seen with musical accompaniment by about 20 members of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra as well as a pianist/organist from LA. A marvelous evening.

*Interstellar (2014) USA - Remarkable and emotional, even as it maintains its adherence to rationality. This is SF with an immense sweep and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find. Some minor problems, yes, but it sucked me in and moved me a whole lot.

The Hunt (2013) Denmark - A very difficult movie to watch, about false accusations of child abuse and the tragic affects on the accused, his friends and family, and the entire community. The buildup of the accusations just in the few sentences the head of the kindergarten speaks is mind blowing and frightening. Tremendous.

*Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) USA - Absolutely marvelous, a serious indictment of the pop culture/comic book scene that’s taken over so much of movies and more these days. Great acting, amazing cinematography, and a wonderful ending.

Ida (2013) Poland - Some of the most arresting cinematography I saw this year, with a brilliant use of negative space, this is a quiet and uneasy film with two powerful central performances and an offhand shock that comes with little or no time to think about it. A great meditation on faith and family and the horror of loss.

*Whiplash (2014) USA - Powerful and disturbing with some amazing acting. Hard to like what happened in the film, but not hard to be blown away. And wow, what a finish.

*The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) USA - There were some highlights for me, including Katniss visiting the wounded and a reasonably tense extraction mission, but that second one is also a small example of why I’m having some problems with this series. Katniss has very little agency, and generally when she acts it’s because she is forced or coerced to, either by someone on her side (Plutarch) or the other (Snow). The extreme example of course is the end of the last movie, when they took her to District 13 but couldn’t tell her for fear of giving it all away.

*John Wick (2014) USA - A pretty decent thriller, much more existential and slow-paced than most of its ilk. There comes a point in the film where I was sure, absolutely positive, it must have been based on a comic book, but no, it’s original. And quite clever, I might add.

Altman (2014) USA - A decent documentary about the director Robert Altman. I thought the narration, by his widow, was quite enjoyable.

We Are the Best! (2013) Sweden - A delightful and somewhat meandering film about three young girls (all about 13) in 1982 who - despite two of them having no musical experience at all - decide to form a punk band. The essence of innocence and fearlessness lies in these girls, and it’s wonderful.

*Foxcatcher (2014) USA - Outstandingly creepy, a mood aided by some phenomenal sound design. This is a remarkably quiet movie, many of the conversations just a hair beyond the audience’s ability to hear, which makes it feel like we’re watching something on the sly, illicitly. A trio of great performances as well.

The Equalizer (2014) USA - I liked it. The tells McCall’s character gave, all the OCD moments, really helped build who he was in my mind. And yes, the big set piece at the end was a kind of Home Alone for grown-ups, right down to the torch on the doorknob, although that was of course used in a different fashion.

*The Imitation Game (2014) UK - Mostly excellent, and of course Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as Turing. The coda to the ending bothered me a bit: I knew by the reactions of people around me in the theatre that many don’t know about Turing and what happened to him, but still, the titles at the end feel a touch didactic and pedantic, and overlaid atop images of the group burning their papers and drinking beers felt a tad like the end of a TV movie. Some of it was perhaps unnecessary as well. But still, I really liked it.

7Up, 14Up, 21Up and 28Up (Various years) UK - Finally getting to the brilliant Michael Apted documentary series following English children from a broad cross section of society, every seven years. Still to watch: 35, 42, 49, and 56Up. At that point I’ll feel more equipped to talk about the project as a whole. But for the moment, I’m counting these as four movies, but accepting they fall into the “Yeah, but” category for the year.

And so on to the top ten and honourable mentions. This list could change order any day (Boyhood in particular could slide up), and I could see a couple of the movies on the outside muscling their way in (Snowpiercer, A Most Wanted Man), but for the moment I’m satisfied with my placement.

1. Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
2. Ida
3. Blue Ruin
4. Whiplash
5. Interstellar
6. Grand Budapest Hotel
7. Boyhood
8. The Hunt
9. Horses of God
10. We Are the Best!

Honorable Mentions: Jodorowsky’s Dune; The Wind Rises; Edge of Tomorrow; The Lego Movie; Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons; Tracks; The Battered Bastards of Baseball; A Most Wanted Man; Calvary; Snowpiercer; Foxcatcher; The Imitation Game


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