Mike’s Top Ten of 2014
2014 is kind of a patchwork year. There’s a small handful of films a lot of people will agree on, but past that it gets uneven. Though I think the great stuff does tend to rise to the top and the year does get weaker as it goes along. Which, I guess is kind of what one would hope for with any year.
Looking at my list for this year, every film in my top ten is by a director who has already had a top ten movie before (save one, which is by a director who would have later top ten movies, since this was his first major feature). Which, to me, marks it as one of the weaker years of the decade, with me going to the well of ‘old reliables’, knowing that the people who tend to make good films helped bail it out. Otherwise, it does tend to get thinner earlier than most other years do.
Mike’s Top Ten of 2014
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
A Most Violent Year
11-20: Babysitting, The Battered Bastards of Baseball, Foxcatcher, Frank, The Guest, John Wick, Locke, Nightcrawler, St. Vincent, Top Five
Tier two: American Sniper, Big Eyes, Blue Ruin, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, The Double, Enemy, Force Majeure, The Gambler, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Godzilla, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Imitation Game, Life Itself, The Mule, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken, Under the Skin, When Marnie Was There, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Tier three: ‘71, The Babadook, Bad Words, Before I Disappear, Boy and the World, The Dark Horse, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Drop, Edge of Tomorrow, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, A Most Wanted Man, Neighbors, The One I Love, Selma, They Came Together, Tracks, The Rover, What We Do in the Shadows, Wild Tales, The Zero Theorem
Tier four: 22 Jump Street, Begin Again, Calvary, Cas and Dylan, Comet, Draft Day, The Homesman, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Joe, Kill the Messenger, Laggies, Not Safe for Work, Obvious Child, Starred Up, Still Alice, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Trash, Two Days One Night, Two Night Stand, Welcome to Me
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1. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Once in a while — it’s rare, but it happens — you come out of a movie and you immediately know, “That was the best movie I saw this year.” Sometimes it happens in December. Sometimes it happens in March. But when you see that perfect movie, you just know, “That’s the one for this year.” That was my experience with this movie.
The film is, in many ways, a visual conceit. The entire film is shot to look as if it’s a single, continuous take. Which means that the film is heavily choreographed and designed to have the actors talking, walking and moving for long periods of time without the camera cutting away. And on that alone, this is one of the most stunning achievements of the year and the decade. But also, the film itself is great.
Michael Keaton plays a washed up actor who, back in the day, played a big superhero character. Now, he’s a drunk, he can’t get work, and he’s put all the last of his money into this adaptation of a Raymond Chandler play which he hopes will revive his career. And of course, the play is besieged with problems. His supporting actor gets injured and he has to hire a last minute replacement, which turns out to be Edward Norton, a prima donna method actor. His daughter is a recovering drug addict working as his assistant. And oh, he’s also kind of losing his sanity and seeing visions of the character he used to play. And it’s… it’s just fucking great.
Michael Keaton gives the performance of his career. Edward Norton and Emma Stone are incredible as well. And then you have Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis. To me, it’s hands down the best film of 2014. It won Best Picture, Alejandro Iñarritu won Best Director for it, it won Best Cinematography (obviously) and Best Screenplay, and it’s just a terrific, terrific film. Whatever your feelings about it, there’s no denying it’s one of the singular most unique experiences you will ever have with a film.
“Not quite my tempo.”
It’s rare to have a film as immediately and resoundingly loved as this one was. You knew instantaneously when this came out that it was a masterpiece. Even people who don’t pay attention to indie movies somehow managed to see it and love it. It launched the career of Damien Chazelle in a way that few careers get launched after a single film. It’s really something special.
It’s about a jazz dummer played by Miles Teller who joins an elite band, taught by J.K. Simmons. And he is determined to be great, even though Simmons is perhaps the strictest teacher you have ever seen. And Simmons gives a performance for the ages. He is beyond great here. You watch this performance and there’s not even a question about what the single greatest performance of this year is. This is probably one of the five best performances of the decade, he’s that good.
This movie is just pristine on every single level, and I’d be surprised to see a top ten list where this doesn’t feature prominently, let alone at all.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
“Keep your hands off my lobby boy!”
Wes Anderson. This is the movie where he almost started to self-parody, where it felt like he was doing things because that’s what Wes Anderson would do. And yet, somehow it all comes together in what some think might be his best film.
The film is a story within a story within a story (because of course it is). It starts with a young girl reading a book by a famous author recounting his time at a now-defunct hotel. There, he meets the owner, who recounts a story of how he became the owner, which is what the majority of the story is about. It takes place around World War II, and Ralph Fiennes stars as the concierge of the hotel, who takes the eventual owner in as a lobby boy. And then there’s just all sorts of weird and whimsical shit that happens. To explain the plot is to give away the magic. It’s Wes Anderson, you know it’s gonna be great.
The cast is insane, as Anderson keeps adding people to his troupe and they all have minor parts here and there. It’s just a wonderful film. There isn’t a bad Wes Anderson movie, and it always comes down to which ones people prefer over the others. Though I think this one in particular is one that most people would agree on as one of the best.
“Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”
I am very much on the record, and in the vocal minority, in believing that this is a better film than Inception. No point in hiding it. Those are my feelings. And it’s not that Inception is a bad film. There isn’t a single bad Christopher Nolan film. The weakest he gets (outside of his first film, which really doesn’t count because that was made on zero budget) is Insomnia, which is great, and only becomes his weakest because it’s based on another film and he didn’t have anything to do with the writing and seemed to take it as a for-hire job. So with him, it just comes down to personal preference. And this, to me, is one of his absolute best films.
It’s a space epic that takes place on a futuristic (but not too far off) earth that’s dying. Matthew McConaughey plays a former NASA pilot who is now a farmer who is recruited to travel to the far reaches of space to try to find a new home for humanity. And that’s the film. He goes into space, leaving his family behind, and we follow both his journey and theirs over the course of their lives. It’s beautiful, and epic and tragic and stunning and so many things. The thing that makes this work for me better than something like Inception is that it has the emotional element to it. Inception is all high concepts and visuals, but there’s really no element that makes me care about the people. I’m just watching a director make something cool and different. Here, I care about the character. It’s hard not to feel something after that scene on the water planet when McConaughey goes back to the ship and sees the messages from his family. And on top of that, it looks incredible. If you thought the visuals of Inception were great, here he makes space almost look practical. He has this amazing ability to make you unable to tell the difference between real and CG effects, even when you know they didn’t go into space for this movie.
I just love this movie. You ask me to list my favorite Nolan movies, and this is gonna be in the top three for me. It’s Dark Knight, The Prestige, this and Dunkirk as my top four. And then probably Inception at 5. That’s the list. They’re all great, but this one, to me, is special.
5. Inherent Vice
Possibly Paul Thomas Anderson’s most misunderstood film. It’s always when he makes the deliberate comedies that people don’t seem to get them. Punch-Drunk Love is the other one, though I think people generally think well of that one. This one, when it came out, I talked to people who hated it. They just couldn’t get through it, they didn’t understand it, and it just wasn’t for them. I saw this movie and thought, “This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen. This movie is amazing.”
It’s an adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel about a Los Angeles PI looking for his missing ex-girlfriend. That’s really all you need. It’s not a ‘plot’ kinda movie, even though there is, like all detective fiction, some big mystery going on that the main character is bouncing between. What makes it work for me — well, there’s Joaquin Phoenix, who is just amazing here as a dude who is just perennially stoned and just happening upon weird shit. Then there’s Josh Brolin, who delivers one of the funniest deadpan performances you’ll see. His final moment in the movie got one of the hardest laughs I’ve ever given inside a movie theater. And then there’s just a load of familiar faces popping up all over the place, most notably for me Benicio del Toro as a “marine lawyer.”
This is one of those movies where — either you’re gonna get it or you won’t. And I really hope you get it, because this is one of the most wonderful films of 2014 and one of the most underrated of the entire decade.
“I may not do everything great in my life, but I’m good at this. I manage to touch people’s lives with what I do and I want to share this with you.”
The little indie that could. I remember seeing this and thinking, “Wow, that was really charming.” And then I got to the end of the year and I liked it so much it made my top 15. And deep down I kinda knew that it wasn’t gonna be long before it made it on here. I just adore this movie. As both a film and a personal statement by Jon Favreau. Favreau wrote this movie after he directed Cowboys and Aliens. And, in a way, it’s his metaphor for making movies. But you don’t even have to look at it as that. You can take the movie on its own terms and enjoy it just on that level.
He stars as a chef of a Brentwood restaurant that has been a fan favorite for decades. But he’s tired of just giving the people the same old dishes. He’s a chef. He wants to try something new and different. And his manager says to stick to what the people like, because that’s what they’re coming to the restaurant for. Then one day a famous food critic comes in and Favreau wants to change up the menu and serve some new stuff. But again, he’s forced to serve the same old stuff. So he gets a scathing review from the critic. That night, he gets drunk and, after his son teaches him how to use Twitter, he goes online and trash talks the critic, which gives him the kind of publicity he does not want. And eventually he decides he needs a change of scenery, so he takes his son down to Miami where he grew up, and the two of them start from scratch and set up a food truck.
Trust me when I say that this is one of the most charming movies you’ll see. It’s so good. Favreau reminds us that before he was the guy who made Iron Man and Cowboys and Aliens, he was the guy who wrote Swingers and made these really great indies that people loved. He’s just a great storyteller and to me, this is his finest hour. This is, to me, his best film (even if Elf is still my favorite). I cannot say enough great things about this movie and think everyone needs to go out and see it immediately if they haven’t.
7. Gone Girl
“You’re delusional. I mean, you’re insane, why would you even want this? Yes, I loved you and then all we did was resent each other, try to control each other. We caused each other pain.”
David fucking Fincher. One of the only directors who could take an airport kiosk kind of paperback and turn it into one of the finest films of its year. And you know how you know it’s because of him and not anything else? Because they tried to recreate the success of this movie in the years after this came out and every single one of those movies has failed because the direction just isn’t there and the movie comes across as generic or cheesy. But with him, every little twist and turn in this movie just feels delicious. They’re the kind of things that make you want to hit the person next to you on the shoulder and go, “Holy shit!”
This is a movie starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as a married couple. She is semi-famous for having been the basis for a very famous children’s character that her mother wrote in books. And he’s a local bar owner who charms her and falls in love with her. Then, one day, on their anniversary, she goes missing. And he, of course, goes to the police. But then, when the police start looking into it, all the evidence starts to point to the fact that she was likely murdered, and that he was the one who did it. And it’s a wonderful little mystery, where you’re not quite sure if Affleck’s telling the truth and what exactly he knows or doesn’t know. If you haven’t seen it, just watch it. You should know by now that with Fincher, it’s gonna be great.
Everything about this movie is great. Affleck is perfectly cast in this role and gives one of the best performances of his career, if not the best. And Pike also gives the performance of a lifetime, earning herself an Oscar nomination (for which I felt she should have won). And it features the film debut of Carrie Coon, who immediately took me (and I’m guessing, a lot of other people) by surprise with her wonderful performance as Affleck’s sister. And then there’s Tyler Perry! He plays a celebrity lawyer who decides to take Affleck’s case. And he gets some of the biggest laughs of the entire film. It’s so good, this movie. This is why we watch movies. This is pure cinema.
8. A Most Violent Year
“When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can’t do.”
It’s a damn shame how forgotten this movie’s been. It showed up on a bunch of people’s top ten lists for this year, but not enough, and unfortunately most people just sort of overlooked it even when it was. But it still holds up as one of the best films of this year.
It’s J.C. Chandor’s followup to All Is Lost, and is a New York 1970s… not quite crime movie, but crime adjacent. (And yes, it takes place in the early 80s, but it’s the 70s. Come on, now.) Oscar Isaac plays a guy who had to fight his way up from nothing and now owns a moderately successful oil company. Only on the eve of him buying property that will cement his status as a major player in his field, someone keeps attacking his drivers and stealing their fuel loads. So it’s about him trying to keep everything stable and keep everything he’s fought for from falling apart. Jessica Chastain is great as his wife, and it’s generally acknowledged that her not being nominated for this performance is one of the great acting snubs of the decade.
This is just a great film. It marked Chandor as one of the great American filmmakers. But apparently no one really got the memo, and he’s barely been able to get anything made in the years following this. But that still doesn’t diminish the level of achievement this is.
“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”
David Ayer makes a badass World War II tank movie.
That’s it. That’s the film.
You remember the movie Sahara? With Humphrey Bogart and a crew of guys tearing ass around the African desert? Well, this is Brad Pitt and a crew of guys tearing ass around Germany. And it’s just full of awesome war scenes and tank battles.
The rest of the crew is played by Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena Jon Bernthal and Logan Lerman (as the necessary ‘newbie’ to the group to give the audience an in to the story). And it’s also got Jason Isaacs playing the stereotypical ‘army captain from Brooklyn’. It’s got all the war tropes you’d expect, but also is just awesome because it’s not trying to be anything other than a tank movie.
I absolutely love this. It’s not gonna be for everyone, but if badass tank movies are your think, look no further.
“So what’s the point?”
“I don’t know, any of this. Everything.”
“Everything? What’s the point? I mean, I sure as shit don’t know. Neither does anybody else, okay? We’re all just winging it, you know? The good news is you’re feeling stuff. And you’ve got to hold on to that.”
This is one of those movies that almost merits placement on this list as an achievement alone. Almost.
What Richard Linklater did was film this movie in stages over the course of twelve years. He gathered the cast and they shot for a few weeks every year. And he built the story around the boy and what was going on in his life at the time. So what happens is you get a beautiful portrait of a kid between 1st and 12th grade, ending with him in college. And that’s both a gimmick but also something you’ve never seen before.
Ellar Coltrane plays the boy, Linklater’s daughter Lorelei plays his sister, and Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play their parents, who, from the start of the film, are divorced. And you get 10-15 minute chunks that give you each year in the life of these people. And it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s not just the gimmick of him having shot it over a dozen years. And the result is an utterly realistic portrayal of a kid’s life. It’s one of the finest films of the decade.
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Babysitting — A completely unknown (stateside) French comedy that is absolutely hilarious. It’s only about 80 minutes long, and it moves. And it changes gears every 10 minutes into something else. What makes it great is that it’s a movie you’ve seen before. And yet it feels totally fresh. Set up is a guy who works the reception desk at a French comics company (and has for about four years). He’s trying to get his boss to look at his stuff in the hopes of getting published. The boss, of course, doesn’t have time for this shit and blows him off. But then, on the eve of him going out of town to get a prestigious award, he finds out that the babysitter who normally watches his son got attacked on the subway. So he turns to our guy like, “Hey, buddy, how about you watch my kid this weekend and I’ll look at your stuff on Monday?” And the guy’s like, “Well, you see, it’s my 30th birthday…. my friends were gonna throw something… but okay.” So he tells his friends they’re not gonna celebrate like they’d planned and goes to the boss’s house to watch the kid. Only, his friends have other plans, and decide to bring the party to him. Cut to the next morning, the boss and his wife get a call from the cops. The house is trashed, the babysitter and the son are missing, and all that’s left behind is a videotape. So we watch them watching all the insane shit that happened that brought us to this moment. And it’s hilarious. I’ve shown this to at least a dozen people, all of whom had no reason to listen to anything I said about it. And all of them came back and said how funny it was. It’s in French but it translates perfectly to English. And the film is so well-written that it sets up and pays off jokes that you forgot about thirty minutes prior. Truly, if you can find this movie with the proper subtitles, you should see this, because it’s one of the best comedies of this entire decade.
The Battered Bastards of Baseball — One of the first documentaries Netflix ever put out remains one of its best. I saw this on a whim one day and it immediately became one of my favorite films of this year. How often does a documentary make it this high on my list? (Exactly.) It’s only about 70 minutes long and tells the story of Bing Russell, father of Kurt (and costar of Bonanza), who decides to go buy a minor league baseball team. The Portland Mavericks. Single-A. Major League Baseball had given up on Portland and let him do whatever he wanted. So he bought the team for like $20,000. And immediately he held tryouts like in Major League or something. Open tryouts. So people came from all out of the woodwork and they assembled one of the craziest rosters you’ve ever seen. And it’s ALL REAL. Kurt Russell was on the team for a season or two before his acting career took off. One of the pitchers was a former All Star who wrote the first tell-all book that got him blackballed from the league. Two of the guys on the team ended up founding Major League Chew. The batboy was Todd Field. AKA director of In the Bedroom and Little Children Todd Field. They had both an asian and female GM, which was the first time that had ever happened in the history of sports. And eventually they became such a draw because they’d do stuff like have full on conga lines during the seventh inning stretch with everyone in the stadium including the players that Major League Baseball tried to come back in and put a team there again. To which Russell said, “Nuh uh, fuck you.” And so he took them to court. Which… no one could ever win against a sports league in court. But he did! It’s the most amazing story you’ve never heard of. You see this and you think, “Why wasn’t this made into a movie yesterday?” It’s only 70 minutes and it’s one of the most entertaining documentaries you will ever see.
Foxcatcher –– Bennett Miller’s third film. Of all three — Capote was nominated for Best Picture and he was nominated for Best Director, Moneyball was nominated for Best Picture, and for this, he was nominated for Best Director. That’s kind of a Stephen Daldry run. This is based on the real life events surrounding John du Pont, heir to a massive fortune, deciding to sponsor the Olympic wrestling team. And the film is about two brothers, both Olympic medalists, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, who join the team and get pulled into this weird web of du Ponts. Steve Carell is fantastic as du Pont, and both Tatum and Ruffalo are spectacular as the brothers. All three were worthy of nominations, but Carell and Ruffalo managed to get them. It’s just a spectacular piece of work that, at first, you’re not sure why you’re watching, but yet you’re just completely drawn into the whole thing. It’s kind of a companion piece to Capote, even if the events are not as well known as those of In Cold Blood. Truly one of the best movies of this year and one of the essential ones for all film fans.
Frank — This is a movie that I did not expect to love as much as I did going in, and within five minutes I found myself weirdly fascinated by this movie and immediately excited for how good it seemed. And it only got better as it went along. It’s a film directed by Lenny Abrahamson, who would make Room the year after this. It stars Domhnall Gleeson as a musician who joins a band spearheaded by enigmatic lead singer Michael Fassbender, who always wears a giant fake head at all times. It’s based on a real guy who did this, but the movie turns out to be this beautiful story with a lot of hidden layers to it. I found myself going from enjoying the weirdness of it all to being surprisingly moved by the whole thing. Fassbender gives one of the better performances of the year despite being under a giant plaster head the entire time. Don’t sleep on this movie. It’s way better than you’d think based on the premise.
The Guest — Adam Wingard’s followup to You’re Next, and because of that, I was very intrigued to see this one. And then I started hearing it was great before I could see it, so I was really excited for this one. And oh my god. I love this movie so much. Now, it’s best if you know as little about this movie as possible going in. I’m assuming you haven’t seen it, because I find that a surprising number of people haven’t, though there are a fair amount of people who have heard of it, which is usually a good first step. But the world is full of movies that people have ‘heard’ of and heard ‘were good’ but never got around to watch and never will get around to watch without people like me screaming about how great they are. So here we go — this is a movie that begins like a thriller you’ve seen before about a dozen times: guy knocks on a grieving family’s door and says, “I knew your son. I served with him. I promised him that if I got out of there and he didn’t, that I’d come see you guys.” And so the family of course lets him in, makes him stay for dinner, gives him a place to crash for a while… and pretty soon he starts becoming enmeshed within their lives. See what I mean? You’ve seen it, you know where that movie goes. And this movie wants you to know where it goes. You gotta go with the fact that you know where it’s going. Because holy shit do you not know where this is going. Takes a good 40 minutes, but then this movie takes a turn… and then another turn… and then another turn… and pretty soon you’re nearing the third act, and it’s completely fucked up (hilarious, in a sick way) and you’re just thrilled about everything that’s going on. The climax of the film is great, and truly, this movie had me down to its final line, which is just an exclamation point on how amazing this movie is. I can’t say enough good things about it. If you liked You’re Next, see this one too. They’re both great. I think I prefer this one to that one, even though it’s close. This is one of my absolute favorite movies of this year and one of the absolute best hidden gems of the decade.
John Wick — Now you go back and of course John Wick is here. But you know what? I don’t think anyone had expectations for this movie at the time. I certainly didn’t. It felt like another generic action movie when you heard the premise. No one could have seen what this movie is coming. And then you see it and you go, “Holy shit, that’s amazing.” And they’ve now made three of them, and they’re all fantastic. Because it’s a movie that knows what it is, is having fun with what it is, and it’s got its own little universe built into it that makes everything even more fun. But also… it’s literally about a hitman who goes on a killing spree because someone stole his car and killed his dog. And it’s fucking great. People forget that Keanu kind of went away for the better part of a decade. He appeared in things, but largely kept a low profile after the Matrix movies. He’d pop up in a big thing or two once in a while, but even that stuff didn’t really work (Day the Earth Stood Still, 47 Ronin). Because of this movie, he’s become Keanu Reeves America’s Sweetheart. As, I’ll add, he should be. But, it is interesting the amount of impact this movie has had. And it’s given us one of the only action franchises that I truly look forward to. Kind of how people go crazy when a Fast and Furious movie comes out because it’s just dumb fun and car chases… that’s how I get when one of these comes out. More crazy gunfights. Bring it on. Love me some John Wick.
Locke — This movie is so good. The entire film takes place in a car. That’s the setup. Tom Hardy, in a car, alone for 90 minutes. That’s the movie. He is literally the only person on screen the entire time. And we slowly find out through a series of phone calls he has why he’s in the car, where he’s going, and what’s going on. And it’s great. Trust me when I say it’s great. It’s written and directed by Steven Knight, who wrote Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Allied… and also created Taboo, Peaky Blinders and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, of all things. Truly one of the best movies of this year, and while I can’t fully call it underrated, because there are a lot of people who will tell you how good this movie is, I can say it’s one of the most underseen films of the decade, which is certainly the case.
Nightcrawler — A movie that will appear on a lot of people’s top ten. It ends up at #11 for me due to lack of space, but it’s right there for me too. It’s Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut after years as a writer. And he specializes in making elevated B movies that deal with pulpy kind of stories in really high class ways. His other films (Roman J. Israel Esq. and Velvet Buzzsaw) weren’t as seen/liked as much as this one, but they’re still both good and both of a spiritual genre piece with this one. This one stars Jake Gyllenhaal (in one of the performances of his career) as a supremely creepy and unsettling man who is just trying to hustle his way into success, who stumbles upon the hidden job of freelance news cameraman. That is, people who get police calls about car crashes and murders and race over to the scene with video cameras and film the carnage and sell it to the evening news for profit. And pretty soon he’s become one of the best in the business at doing this, though eventually it leads him to start thinking about creating some of the news rather than just finding it. It’s a really great movie. It’s just a dark neo noir where almost no one is redeemable and it deals with the underbelly of a city. That’s the genre. And it’s great. Just an all around amazing film.
St. Vincent — I’m not sure what the prevailing opinion on this movie is. But I suspect that there’s a good amount of people that either dismissed it because it was looked at as an awards contender that didn’t pan out or they don’t like it because it’s the kind of movie you’ve seen before. But to me, that’s what makes it so good. This is one of the most watchable movies of the decade. It’s thoroughly entertaining. Bill Murray plays a curmudgeonly old guy living in Brooklyn who gambles and spends his days with Naomi Watts, his favorite Russian hooker, who befriends the young boy who lives next door whose parents have just divorced. And he becomes an unwitting father figure to the kid. It’s pretty fantastic. Murray is great, Naomi Watts is hilarious, and the kid is Jaeden Lieberher, who’s been in a lot of things, but most notably in Midnight Special and It. And it’s directed by Ted Melfi, who also did Hidden Figures. The beauty of this movie isn’t that it’s the most original thing you’ve ever seen, it’s the charm with which it’s done.
Top Five — Chris Rock wrote, directed and stars in this movie, which surprised me by being one of the best movies of the year. I would never have expected that. I might have expected funny and amusing, but not this good. It takes place in a day in the life of Rock, who plays a comedian turned actor on the eve of his wedding. He plays a comic who got into acting and is now trying to become a “serious” actor, so he’s made a giant epic about the Haitian Revolution that he’s trying to promote. Meanwhile, he’s engaged to a reality TV star who wants to broadcast his wedding. But the film is largely him back in his old neighborhood, being interviewed by Rosario Dawson, a local reporter, and sort of reexamining his life. And it’s fucking wonderful. There’s such good stuff here. There are amazing cameos up and down (including the single best cameo of the entire decade, which happens late in the film and I will not spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie). Cedric the Entertainer has a pretty unforgettable part in this too. It’s just a wonderful movie that almost no one has actually seen because it came out kinda quietly and didn’t get much fanfare. But it’s really good.
– – – – – – – – – –
- American Sniper
- Big Eyes
- Blue Ruin
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
- The Double
- Force Majeure
- The Gambler
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- The Imitation Game
- Life Itself
- The Mule
- The Theory of Everything
- Under the Skin
- When Marnie Was There
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
I’m gonna start with two films that make an unintentionally amazing double feature from this year: Enemy and The Double. Both revolve around essentially the same premise, but go to wildly different ends with it. We’ll start with Enemy, which is a Denis Villeneuve film and the film he made after Prisoners (or maybe before and they just released it after). It’s kind of like the Rescuers Down Under of the Disney Renaissance. Everyone knows Prisoners and Sicario and Arrival and Blade Runner, but they forget about this one, which is technically in there and part of it too. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a guy who watches a movie and sees his exact double in it, playing a small role. So he seeks out the guy and their lives become intertwined. It’s a very weird movie. The ending is… well, the ending is one of those that’ll make a lot of people go, “What the hell was that?” But it’s really good and features Jake Gyllenhaal playing two different characters. Plus it’s Villeneuve, and I think we know we can trust his skills to make a good movie. The Double, on the other hand, is a very dark comedy. Both films are abstract and surreal, but The Double plays it for the absurdity aspect more so than Enemy does. It’s directed by Richard Ayoade (who also did Submarine, which is great) and stars Jesse Eisenberg as a guy whose double shows up to work at the same place he does and seems to be slowly taking over his life, because the guy is everything he isn’t. This one is like watching Kafka. It’s awesome. But both films feel like two sides of the same coin. And they’re both really good and both worth seeing.
Force Majeure is quite possibly the best foreign film of this year. It’s so good. It takes place at a French villa during a family’s skiing trip. And while they’re out having breakfast one morning at the villa’s outdoor cafe, an avalanche starts coming down the mountain. And the people think it’s small and controlled, but pretty soon it starts coming dangerously close to the cafe, and people start freaking out. And the father straight up runs away and leaves the mother and kids alone to be potentially hurt or killed. And that just ruins the rest of the family’s vacation. Because everyone knows what happened and the father keeps refusing to admit that’s what he did, and things just deteriorate. It’s a darkly hilarious movie that I cannot recommend highly enough. Unbroken is a movie that I so wanted to be great that I basically forced it onto my top ten list for this year when I originally posted it just to pretend like it was. And it wasn’t. It’s a biopic of Louis Zamperini, Olympic track star who ended up in World War II, was shot down in his plane, was stuck on a life raft with a couple of guys for weeks and then ended up in a Japanese POW camp. It’s a crazy story, and there’s a book about it by Laura Hillenrand (who also wrote Seabiscuit). This sounded like it should have been a surefire top ten movie for me. But something about it doesn’t fully come together. Angelina Jolie directs, and I suspect it might be the fact that she’d only made one film before this that contributed to it not fully coming together. But Roger Deakins shoots it, and that part looks stunning. And the story is so good that it largely carries the film a lot of the time. But the movie’s just pretty good when it should have been great. And I’ll fully admit to this being the worst of my original top ten choices, that never should have really been there in the first place and was a compromise choice on a lot of levels. That said… it’s not an unworthy movie to watch. It still is very solid.
Big Eyes is a Tim Burton-directed biopic of Margaret Keane, who is famous for painting those portraits of people with… well, you see the title. Amy Adams stars as Keane and Christoph Waltz stars as her husband, who took credit for all her work for years. It’s awesome. I’d lost faith in Burton after he went full Disney with Alice in Wonderland and felt like he lived long enough to see himself sell out, but then this movie was quite good. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who write all the ‘weird’ biopics like People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, People vs. OJ and Dolemite Is My Name and wrote Ed Wood for Burton a decade before this), it’s the best Tim Burton movie to come out since Sweeney Todd (and arguably the only good one since that one too). Here’s hoping he’s got some more of these left in him. When Marnie Was There was almost the very last Studio Ghibli movie ever. (Technically Mary and the Witch’s Flower is kinda Ghibli, but it was produced by a different studio.) The film is about a young girl who is sent to live in the country for her health and befriends a mysterious girl who she meets with at an abandoned mansion and begins hanging out with her in secret. I really liked this one a lot. Every Ghibli movie is great, but this one was really nice. Under the Skin is the indie film of the year. A lot of people are gonna have this in their top ten or top 20. It’s a film that a lot of people like (you can gauge a lot about a person’s taste in film based on where this is on their lists, and what’s around it). It’s Jonathan Glazer, who made Sexy Beast and Birth. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who picks up random men on the street and… well, things happen. Better if you just see it. But it’s a fascinating movie. I’m not sure what the point of it all is, but it sure is great to watch. If one were gonna make a list of the most essential movies of this decade, this would be on it.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the culmination of the old and the new. Everyone loved that original X-Men cast with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen and Halle Berry and Anna Paquin, etc. And they never really got their proper sendoff, because the whole thing just imploded when Bret Ratner took over with Last Stand. So then they rebooted the whole thing with Matthew Vaughn and James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence and everyone loved it. So what they did was decide to adapt one of the greatest arcs in the history of the comics (and the animated show, which was my shit when I was five) and mix both versions of the casts together. And you know what? It really works. You get the best of both worlds and you get to give the old guard a proper sendoff. And even better? The person who ties it all together? Wolverine. The real star of this franchise. It’s great. The story is about a dystopian mutant future in which giant sentinel robots hunt down and kill any mutant who resists, while the rest are sent to internment camps and their powers taken away from them. And so what they do is send Wolverine (Bishop in the animated show and Kitty Pryde in the comics) back in time to the moment that led to them ending up in this future — when Mystique assassinated a government official. And it’s really fantastic. They bring back all the new people and introduce a few more, like Quicksilver, who has one of the most memorable scenes in the entire franchise — when they bust Magneto out of the Pentagon and he slows down time. This is one of the top three films in all of X-Men. It’s great from top to bottom. If you’re gonna watch the franchise, most people would say — the first one, the second one, First Class, this one, and Logan. Those are the best ones. And you gotta appreciate a movie that solely exists to put back together everything that Bret Ratner fucked up.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was, for a time, the finest Marvel UNIVERSE movie. Because Iron Man is the best, but it’s its own thing and the universe sprang from it. Since they established their whole universe, this was the best thing they had made. I’m partial to Guardians, but that also feels like it’s own thing in its own corner of the universe. Winter Soldier, though… that’s pure Marvel, to the point where they couldn’t even continue making these Captain America movies without basically also making them Avengers movies. They brought in the Russo brothers here for the first time, and they did such a good job that they made three more films with them, which basically amount to three Avengers movies (Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame). They, along with Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon third are the most responsible directors for shepherding this entire universe into what it became. What makes this movie work so much is the brothers’ use of practical action scenes as much as possible. There are sequences in this that are among the best that Marvel’s ever done. The elevator fight, the Samuel L. Jackson chase alone… I think that’s my favorite action sequence in all of Marvel. And the entire highway sequence. Hell, even the fight on the ship at the beginning. They got all the action stuff right in this one. And also, the story is kind of a mystery/noir/paranoia thriller kind of thing, which I really like. Legitimately, this is still one of the five best movies Marvel has made. And now Guardians of the Galaxy. Which, as I’ve said, was always one of my favorites. For a long time, this and Iron Man were the top two for me, and nothing else was close. Winter Soldier was probably third, and I loved the first Captain America movie too. Then later on, I’d say we added Homecoming and Ragnarok to that list, and now Endgame is there too. There’s a solid core of ‘best’ movies, but Guardians will still always be special to me because of how fresh and different it felt when Marvel was starting to get kind of formulaic in their universe building. This was its own weird little thing that perfectly captured the humor and tone of James Gunn as a filmmaker and remains one of the most popular things Marvel’s ever put out. Also, they make you get emotional over a fucking tree. So yeah, this is good Marvel. As is Winter Soldier. 2014 was a great year for them, quality-wise.
The Imitation Game is a story of Alan Turing and his machine that helped crack Enigma during World War II. The film is largely his story, dealing with his homosexuality and how he had to keep it a secret, but also how he and a group of codebreakers found through a secret ad in a newspaper crossword puzzle worked together to break the Germans’ code and basically win World War II. It’s fantastic. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as Turing, and Keira Knightley is great as well. It’s a lovely movie. Nominated up and down for awards, winning for its screenplay, it’s one of the most solid films of this year and one of those movies that everyone will tell you is good, even if it’s not in everyone’s top ten for the year. The Theory of Everything is a biopic of Stephen Hawking. That’s it. Eddie Redmayne stars (and won an Oscar for it) and Felicity Jones plays his wife (she was also nominated). It’s just a really solid, really good movie. It’s not gonna blow you away, but it’s gonna be a solid, dependable movie that does everything you’d want it to do and is every bit as solid as it ought to be. And there’s never anything wrong with that. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an Iranian horror movie, but like, a cool horror movie. Admittedly though, this is like what your pretentious hipster film friend makes as their senior thesis. Some people are really not gonna like this movie. But also, it’s kind of awesome. Because it’s so different. So what I’d suggest is — and I hate just doing this and absolving myself of trying to sell it to you. But in this case I think it’s warranted — watch the trailer. You will know for sure from the trailer if this sounds like something you would be interested in. Watch that, have your opinion, and then know that I think this movie is really awesome, even if it is maximum hipster bait. And then go with god.
The Mule is not the Clint Eastwood movie where he plays the senile dude running drugs across the border. This is a very different movie that I recommend so much more than that one. It’s an Australian… yeah, comedy… about an Australian guy who smuggles some drugs in his butt from Thailand and gets stopped by police at the border. Now, they can’t prove that he’s got drugs inside him, but the law allows them to hold him for seven days to make sure. So the film is this guy locked in a hotel room with a cop, completely unable to shit because if he does, they’re gonna find the drugs and arrest him. And man, is it fucked up. But also very funny, in dark kinda way. I highly recommend this one. If you like watching a movie and simultaneously turning away while also laughing your ass off, this is one for you. Blue Ruin is such an awesome movie. It’s the debut of Jeremy Saulnier, who also did the slightly better-known Green Room. Both are very terrific films of a similar type. This movie is about a guy whose parents were murdered twenty years prior. And is basically messed up his life. Now, he is told the guy who did it is getting out of prison. And so he decides what he needs to do is take matters into his own hands. Which only brings about more violence, and so on and so forth. It’s really realistic, and kinda brutal. I love this movie. It’s one of the best indies of the decade and one of those slow burn action movies that really just keeps you riveted the entire time. If you like Green Room, go see this one too. They’re both great.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a movie that I really loved at the time because of how they told its story. It’s the story of a couple that was originally told in three versions. One was “Him,” one was “Her,” and then they edited into a single film called “Them.” That, to me was thrilling, and because of that, I absolutely loved it. It’s the story of a relationship told from both the man’s and woman’s perspective. Now, in a single film, that’s not so novel. It’s the fact that they gave you the full puzzle told entirely from his side, entirely from her side and then together to really show you how each piece looks separate and then against the other half. The movie is just pretty solid, but the way they told it, I thought, was an incredible way of trying to do something new. Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy play the couple as well, if that does anything for you. Godzilla is the first American Godzilla movie in 16 years, after the disastrous Roland Emmerich version. Japan kept making them, but America had to wait a while before it came back. This was… I was sold on this movie from the trailer. The trailer and the visuals made me think this was gonna be great. And I watched it the first time and I loved it. I absolutely adored it. My opinion cooled over time, as I started to notice the flaws, but I still think it’s a fun movie. The plot doesn’t even matter. It’s almost a movie about Aaron Taylor-Johnson being perpetually in the wrong place at the wrong time. Literally everywhere he goes is where the creatures attack. But the movie’s fun, it looks great, the score is terrific, and it’s just fun blockbuster filmmaking. For Godzilla purists… probably not great, since Godzilla is only on screen for something like eight minutes. But as a movie, I enjoyed it. So there.
Life Itself is a documentary about Roger Ebert. And that’s all you need. It’s a documentary about the greatest film critic in the past century. And it’s lovely. One of the top five or ten documentaries of the decade and one everyone needs to see because it’ll just make you happy and make you remember why you love the movies. American Sniper is perhaps, the greatest film for ‘obvious use of a fake baby’ in the history of cinema. And also it’s a war movie directed by Clint Eastwood that made a shit ton of money, got nominated for Best Picture and a bunch of other Oscars. But that fake baby though… holy shit. I love it because it’s clear Clint could not give a fuck. That dude is two takes and out, and a baby does not help him do that. That’s how shit like the J. Edgar makeup happens. “Fuck it, shoot it.” Anyway, this is based on the biography of an army sniper who has like the highest number of confirmed kills or something. And Bradley Cooper plays the guy. It’s a more solid movie than it ought to be, even though I have real problems with what it does to a guy who has kind of been shown to not be a particularly good guy in real life. But if you take that out of it, Cooper gives a fantastic performance, and he makes the movie worth watching. The Gambler is a remake of the 1974 James Caan movie. Different, but generally similar. This one is written by William Monahan, who wrote The Departed and is directed by Rupert Wyatt, who did the first Planet of the Apes movie. Mark Wahlberg plays a college professor who has a terrible gambling problem and keeps having to borrow money from his rich mother and a loan shark. And on top of that, he starts sleeping with one of his students, played by Brie Larson. So the movie is him digging himself further into debt with really mean people and thinking he’s going to gamble himself out of it. It’s a very solid movie. One I quite like a lot. Though I understand it’s got very mixed reactions from other people. But I’m only here to tell you my opinion, so there we are. I like this movie. John Goodman as great as the loan shark, and you get Jessica Lange as Wahlberg’s mother. I’m a fan of this one.
– – – – – – – – – –
- The Babadook
- Bad Words
- Before I Disappear
- Boy and the World
- The Dark Horse
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
- The Drop
- Edge of Tomorrow
- The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
- A Most Wanted Man
- The One I Love
- The Rover
- They Came Together
- What We Do in the Shadows
- Wild Tales
- The Zero Theorem
They Came Together is a David Wain movie, and, I’ll say this off the top — if you like Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models, you’re gonna love this. This is a straight style parody of rom coms, but playing them off in that dumb way that Wain and company do. In spirit it’s closer to Wet Hot American Summer than anything. It’s Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler as a couple tell the story of how they met, and it’s… just watch it. It’s one of the funniest movies of the entire decade. It’s so goddamn funny, and holds up among those other two films of Wain’s I’ve already mentioned. Highly, highly recommend this one. ‘71 is a great little thriller that is the second film in the year of Jack O’Connell, where he burst onto the scene with a bunch of great performances and yet somehow didn’t turn into a leading man from it. This is Yann Demange’s first film, and made him a really hot ticket director for a while (and then he made White Boy Rick and everyone immediately forgot about him, sadly). This movie is… have you ever seen the Carol Reed film Odd Man Out, with James Mason? He’s an IRA soldier hiding out in a small village and trying not to get caught, even though the walls are closing in around him. This film is like that. Jack O’Connell is a British soldier on the streets of Belfast trying not to be found and killed. It’s terrific. I highly recommend this one. Bad Words is one of the great premises of a comedy you’ll see. Jason Bateman plays a former child spelling prodigy who decides to go back and compete as an adult just as a fuck you to everyone. And so really the movie is just him swearing around little kids. And it’s hilarious. Trust me, you want to see this movie. It’s really funny. Bateman directed it, even. Also, one of the great posters of the decade too. I rarely say that, but I love that poster.
The One I Love is like watching a feature length Twilight Zone episode. It’s wonderful. I always struggle about whether or not to tell people the set up, but I’ve realized that telling people the set up is what gets them to watch the movie. So I will. There are really only three people in the film: Mark Duplass, Elizabeth Moss and Ted Dansen. They’re a couple whose marriage is on the skids and he’s their marriage counselor. He tells them they should get away for the weekend and use his beach house. Maybe rekindle the flames. So they go. And pretty quickly they realize that there’s something weird going on in the house — whenever they’re in the house alone, either the main house or the guest house, another version of their spouse shows up. More specifically, the ‘ideal’ version that they’d want the other person to be. So there’s this magical realism thing going on, and it really functions like a Twilight Zone where they give you this reality and ask you questions about life and human existence without ever really going too nuts and making it overly twisty. It’s a film about expectations in one’s partner, and it’s really quite wonderful. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. It’s one of the smarter films I’ve seen this decade. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the sequel. All (or most) of the humans are dead and the apes are taking center stage as the main characters. There are humans, but mostly there’s a small pocket of good ones and then the ones that still wanna kill the apes. It expands on the world introduced in the first one and then also does an ape vs. ape power struggle thing. It doesn’t really matter what the plot is, because this trilogy is really solid and all the films in it are very good. This was, for a few years, one of the most dependable franchises out there for delivering the goods every time. The Dark Horse is a New Zealand chess movie. That’s right. New Zealand chess. Cliff Curtis plays a bipolar former chess champion who is now basically homeless and ends up turning his life around by tutoring underprivileged students and teaching them how to play. It’s very likable and Curtis is amazing here.
Wild Tales is a crazy Argentinian dark comedy anthology film about shit just going wrong for people. You get the vibe of the movie from the opening story, which I will not spoil, because it’s quite good. But it involves strangers meeting on a plane and discovering they both know the same person. Another story is about a chef who discovers she’s cooking a meal for a criminal who did something to one of her family members and questions whether or not she should poison his food. Another is about two people having an escalating road rage incident. Another is about a guy who gets his car towed because he parked in the wrong spot for literally a minute and is now fighting it out with bureaucracy. Another talks about the bad after-effects of a hit-and-run incident, and then the finale is about a just-married woman who finds her husband fucking a bridesmaid at her wedding reception. It’s… trust me on this, it’s awesome. You’re gonna enjoy the shit out of this movie. It’s so good. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film this year and is one of the best foreign films of the decade. The Babadook is one of the best horror movies of the decade. And anyone who knows my taste knows I don’t say something like that lightly. (Mostly because I hate 90% of horror movies.) My favorite types of horror films are ones that don’t really have a supernatural element, or if they do, have one that can be explained as a metaphor for something else. And here, to me, it’s about mental illness. It’s about a single mother raising a child (a pretty awful child, which you’ll find out from the film’s opening scenes) who comes across a story book about the titular character. And basically, once you let him in, he never leaves. And he stays in the dark corners of the house. So he of course shows up and things start going bad, no matter how badly the woman tries to destroy the book. And you can read it as literal — this character is there and causing ill on these people’s lives — or read it as I do, a metaphor for mental illness, and either way, it’s wonderful. Essie Davis is fantastic as the lead and Jennifer Kent makes one of the most vibrant debuts a filmmaker has in this decade. It’s a really wonderful film.
Before I Disappear is a feature-length version of the Oscar-winning short film Curfew, which is terrific. That short is about 20 minutes long and begins with a guy about to slit his wrists in his bathtub. And then his sister calls and says it’s an emergency and she needs someone to watch her daughter for the night. And so he does. And it’s him watching this precocious young child for the night and slowly finding the will to live. And it’s great. I’m sure the film is online somewhere and findable, but it’s really terrific. And so of course what they did was expand it into a feature. Which it didn’t really need, but the film acquits itself pretty well. It’s not nearly as good as the short, because they had to fill in a lot of the gaps the short didn’t need to and also had to flesh out more of what’s going on, which doesn’t always work. But there’s a lot of good here and it’s a nice little gem of a film that no one knows about. And also what it does is allow me to talk about the short, which is one of the best of the decade. Neighbors is just a dumb comedy that’s really fun. I didn’t expect to enjoy this as well as I did, given the set up. But it’s directed by Nic Stoller, who did Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, so he knows a thing or two about making these comedies that are better than they ought to be, given the level of most of the other stuff within the same realm. It’s the story of new parents Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne who finally move into their dream house… only to discover that next door is a campus frat house that’s constantly throwing parties. So of course the film devolves into them pulling pranks on one another and feuding and all that. And it’s fun. It’s not high cinema, but it’s amusing and has a lot of moments that will make you laugh even if you’re trying not to. Boy and the World is a Brazilian animated film that got nominated for Best Animated Feature this year. It’s gorgeously animated and follows a kid going on a journey to find his father. But the plot doesn’t matter. Go watch a trailer for this and see how gorgeously it’s animated. That’s the draw here.
A Most Wanted Man is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final film. Granted, it’s not the last one that got released (because he’s in the last two Hunger Games movies), but in spirit this is the final one. It’s directed by Anton Corbijn, who did Control and The American, and is based on a John le Carré novel. And it’s awesome. It’s about a Russian-Chechen immigrant who shows up in Germany, all the intelligence agencies begin to look closely at him. Is he who he says he is? Is he a terrorist? And that’s the film. International politics in the 21st century. Hoffman is great in this, as are Daniel Bruhl, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Vicky Krieps and Willem Dafoe. Strongly recommend this one. This one’ll get you going. It keeps you all the way to the ending (which is great, by the way). The Zero Theorem feels kind of like Terry Gilliam making a ‘Terry Gilliam’s greatest hits’ kinda movie. Or like, you know when bands put out their greatest hits compilations and then there’s always like, one new song on them that sounds almost exactly like all the rest of the stuff on it, only with them being older? That’s how this movie feels. Not that it’s bad… it just feels derivative of all his other stuff. Christoph Waltz plays a computer programmer who lives in a weird Brazil-like, Terry Gilliam world and is told to prove the titular theorem, which basically posits that all life in the universe is meaningless. So he’s setting out to prove that everything is bullshit, even though he himself hopes that it’s not and that there is some meaning for it all. It’s a solid movie. Because Terry Gilliam makes likable movies. There are loads of people you’ll recognize sprinkled throughout it. My personal favorite is Tilda Swinton playing a computer psychiatrist. And by that I mean a literal computer program designed to be a form of therapy. She even raps at one point. Which, aside from the fact that it’s Terry Gilliam, shouldn’t ‘Tilda Swinton raps in this’ be the best selling point for any movie?
The Drop is James Gandolfini’s final performance. Based on a short story by Dennis Lehane (The Town, Shutter Island, Mystic River) and is a Brooklyn crime movie. The title refers to money drops at local bars and stuff, giving money to the gangsters. And Tom Hardy plays a regular guy who gets caught up in a robbery gone wrong, and it begins to tear at all the little dirty secrets of his neighborhood. Gandolfini plays his cousin (and is great) and Noomi Rapace plays his love interest. Highly recommend this one. It’s one of the great underseen crime movies of the decade. Selma is Ava DuVernay’s Martin Luther King film about the Selma march. I’ve never really loved this movie. I thought it was kinda bland in a lot of ways, though David Oyelowo is very good as MLK. And the film does sort of touch on his personal indiscretions and flaws as a human being, but because it’s licensed by the family (who I think had to give permission to use all the speeches, which means people had to play by their rules), it’s never gonna portray him as anything other than a saint. So that, mixed with the fact that it all felt kinda by the numbers in the way it told the story, means that it’s just nothing more than solid to me, even though some people think this is one of the best films of the year. I think they could do better for a Martin Luther King movie, but if this is the one we get… it’s fine. The Rover is David Michod’s second film, after Animal Kingdom. And it’s pretty great. It takes place in a Mad Max kind of world, but not as heightened as that. It’s more realistic. And it’s kind of a Mad Max meets John Wick but if it were made by say, John Cassavetes. Guy Pearce is a guy who goes on a journey of revenge after some guys steal his car, which is all he has left. And that’s it, that’s the film. Robert Pattinson plays the slow-witted brother of one of the thieves who Pearce kidnaps and takes with him. It’s really solid. Definitely recommend this one. The ending when everything comes together about what he was doing and why he was doing it is terrific.
Tracks is a movie that I just adore. It’s directed by John Curran (who had previously directed We Don’t Live Here Anymore, The Painted Veil and Stone and went on to direct Chappaquiddick after this) and stars Mia Wasikowska as a woman who decides to trek the Australian Outback alone with some camels and her dog. And that’s the movie. It’s about an individualist who decides she’d just rather do her own thing and just does it. And it’s awesome. Really riveting movie. You’d be surprised at how interesting this movie is. Oh, also, Adam Driver shows up at one point, if that interests you. Edge of Tomorrow is Groundhog Day but with an action movie. Tom Cruise plays a soldier in a futuristic war with aliens who keeps going into battle and dying… over and over and over again. And that’s the film. Him doing this and trying to close the loop. It’s pretty awesome. This went through a lot of development hell and I kept sort of following it over the years because the script was known to be great and the premise was fantastic. And then apparently it was kind of a disaster as they filmed it and there were problems there, and then there were reshoots, and then they chose a cool-sounding but bland title that even they are now distancing themselves from (all the video releases for this use the title “Live. Die. Repeat” in bigger, bolder letters than the actual title of the film). So much pointed to this being a disaster… which seems to be a trend with Doug Liman movies. And yet… major hit, Tom Cruise wins again, and everyone loves it. Go figure. It is pretty awesome, though.
What We Do in the Shadows is a Taika Waititi comedy, and I’m so glad I can sell a movie on just that now because people know who he is and seek out his stuff. This one seems like it caught on almost immediately as a cult favorite. It didn’t do well in the initial release, but people definitely found it in the months and years right afterward, to the point where they turned it into a TV series. So that’s good. The film is a documentary-style comedy about a crew following a group of vampires who have lived together as roommates for centuries but are now finding it tough to live in the modern, digital age. But mostly it’s just a comedy about roommates bickering. Roommates who just happen to be vampires. It’s a lot of fun. The latter half goes places I’m not quite as in love with as the first half, but everyone who’s seen Taika’s movies knows how funny they all are. This is one of the best comedies of the decade. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is the last one. And I’m gonna be honest… couldn’t really tell you what happens for most of this movie. The dragon shows up, dies within the first fifteen minutes. Then there’s petty squabbling like at a rich guy’s will reading. The dwarf who was our co-main character for the other two films suddenly turns into an asshole out of nowhere, and then pretty soon everyone’s having this full on giant battle for like, no reason. And so basically we get like, an hour-plus of straight fighting and no one’s really sure why. And that’s it, really. And then they wrap it up by cringe-worthy setups for the Rings trilogy, which the movie will have you believe happens like, immediately after the events of this movie, even though Bilbo has to age like, sixty years before those events start. But you know, whatever. It’s the worst of the three, but I’ll take Middle Earth over most stuff.
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- 22 Jump Street
- Begin Again
- Cas and Dylan
- Draft Day
- The Homesman
- The Hundred-Foot Journey
- Kill the Messenger
- Not Safe for Work
- Obvious Child
- Starred Up
- Still Alice
- Transformers: Age of Extinction
- Two Days One Night
- Two Night Stand
- Welcome to Me
Draft Day is one of the better scripts I’ve read in the past decade that I wish turned into a better movie. As such, it’s fine, but the script is just so good and so tense and one of those subjects that is made to be turned into a film. The film takes place, as the title would suggest over the course of a single day during the NFL Draft. Kevin Costner plays the GM of the Cleveland Browns, whose franchise has been mired in mediocrity for so long that he really needs to make a splash to turn things around. And on the morning of the draft, another GM calls and offers him the #1 overall pick. Which could potentially be a game changer for him and the franchise, as there’s a quarterback that everyone looks at as a sure thing at #1 and it would definitely make a splash if he went up and took him. So the film is him wrestling with the notion of mortgaging his team’s entire future to go up and make this move, versus taking someone he’s not sure about, jettisoning his current stalwart QB, who is coming off an injury, and not going with his gut, which says that the choice he originally was going to select might be the right one either way. And everyone around him — his mother (Ellen Burstyn), the team’s owner (Frank Langella), his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner), his coach (Denis Leary, clearly playing a version of John Gruden) all besiege him and ask what he’s gonna do, which only adds to the pressure he’s under to make the right call. It’s… the script is terrific. It really is. The movie doesn’t fully come together, even though Ivan Reitman directs. I highly recommend the story and I do recommend the film because maybe someone will take the idea of a film (or series) based around the NFL (or NBA) Draft and turn it into something great. Also, one thing to point out — yes, all the trades and things that happen in this movie are insane and would never happen in real life. But it’s like Rounders… the hands have to be straight flushes and four of a kind otherwise it wouldn’t be interesting. No one wants a movie where a guy lucks out on two pair and beats a Queen-high power bluff. So you gotta accept that part. But still, I think there’s really good material here and the film is ultimately worthwhile because of it.
Joe is a David Gordon Green movie with Nicolas Cage, and is one of the few Nicolas Cage movies of this decade that doesn’t involve some crazy or generic plot and him acting insane or not acting at all. This is actually one of the good performances that reminds you of what a great actor he is. He plays an ex-con working as a tree poisoner in a rural forest who befriends a 15 year old boy who works for him and has a rough home life. So it’s him becoming a father figure. And it’s really good. It’s one of David Gordon Green’s best movies and is just a really solid indie. Trash is the first Stephen Daldry film that didn’t get him nominated for Best Director. In fact… no one really knows this movie exists. Because it’s kind of a Slumdog Millionaire knockoff. A bunch of kids living in the slums of Brazil find a wallet among the garbage of the local dump… and it turns out to be kind of important. It’s kind of a weird film, tonally. There are City of God undertones, but it’s also trying to do the slightly whimsical Slumdog thing (even though that movie wasn’t particularly whimsical and this doesn’t have the ‘Millionaire’ element to cut away to). Kinda weird, on the whole. But I did like it a lot when I saw it. I’d say it’s solid, because Daldry makes solid movies, but it’s not something most people are ever gonna care about. 22 Jump Street is the sequel. Not as surprising as the first, because no one expected the first one to be what it was, but still a lot of fun. They clearly had full Cate Blanchett to do what they wanted with this one, and it turned out to be a respectable sequel, which is rare in the comedy world. Obvious Child is a great little indie that will appear on a lot of lists for this year because of Jenny Slate’s performance. She plays a comedian who ends up getting pregnant after a one night stand, which makes her have to confront the state of her life and make some tough choices for the first time in her life. It’s really solid.
Begin Again is John Carney making a mainstream music movie. Once was a cult favorite, and then he made this, which is designed to get a wide audience and has major stars like Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley. Problem is, it doesn’t have the charm of something like Once does. And you can tell, because when he went back to small and relatively unknown again, we got Sing Street. Which is not to say that this is a bad movie. But there’s something about his style that doesn’t fully gel when he’s got big actors. But anyway, here, Mark Ruffalo plays a music exec on the skids who finds Keira Knightley, a talented singer-songwriter who he decides he’s gonna manage and turn into a star. Hailee Steinfeld plays Ruffalo’s daughter, Catherine Keener plays his ex-wife, Adam Levine, Mos Def and CeeLo have parts in it, and James Corden is in there to. Big star-studded cast, and the movie’s just pretty solid. I’d definitely tell people to see Once and Sing Street before they saw this, but if you have seen those two, this is a perfectly decent movie to add to them. Transformers: Age of Extinction is the fourth one. About three hours long, almost totally incoherent, but hey, there are dinosaurs. Granted, the dinosaurs don’t show up until the last 20 minutes or so, but they’re there. As insane as this franchise is (and this one is particularly insane. It has an actual scene where a dude explains why it’s okay for him to have sex with an underage girl and even has a laminated card explaining such), I enjoy the robots blowing shit up. I’m a simple man sometimes (all the time). Comet is a Sam Esmail film. I knew him as a great writer who wrote really fantastic offbeat script that would never get written. Most people would know him as the creator of Mr. Robot and Homecoming. This is a beautiful little love story with Justin Long and Emmy Rossum that’s nonlinear and set in parallel universes. It’s kind of like a cosmic 500 Days of Summer. It’s not gonna be for everyone, but it’s a beautiful little movie that is truly just unknown by most.
The Homesman is the second movie directed by Tommy Lee Jones after The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. It’s another western, and another revisionist western. This one is about the plight of women. It’s about three ‘crazy’ women who are to be taken to an asylum that can care for them. And the person who agrees to do it is Hilary Swank, a ‘spinster’ who can’t find a husband. So she goes and takes a man’s job because the ‘men’ in the town don’t want to do it. Along the way, she meets Jones, a man about to be hanged when she intervenes and decides to take him with her. And it’s a really solid film. Takes an interesting turn about 60% of the way through, which one wouldn’t expect, but otherwise it’s just a solid western that looks great. It’s also got a great cast of people you know that pop up all throughout — Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, John Lithgow, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld, Tim Blake Nelson, Jesse Plemons, William Fichtner and even Meryl Streep shows up. It’s worth seeing if you like westerns, though I do admit most people wouldn’t know what to do with a movie like this. Cas and Dylan is a Canadian road trip movie with Richard Dreyfuss and Tatiana Maslany. And also directed by Jason Priestly, which I truly had no idea about until just this moment. But I found it because I will (and do) watch anything that Richard Dreyfuss is in and then I saw Tatiana Maslany was in it (and this was not long after I discovered Orphan Black), so it became appointment viewing for me. It’s exactly what you expect it to be, but the real joy of the film for me is watching these two actors and watching them act together. That’s it. That’s the recommendation. Either that sounds like it’s for you or it doesn’t. Laggies is a fun little indie. Keira Knightley stars as a woman who just refuses to grow up. Her boyfriend proposes to her and she freaks out and runs away. She then meets a group of teens who ask her to buy them beer. And then she befriends one of the girls and ends up moving into her house for a bit with the girl and her single father. And, well, you can imagine where things go. It’s a fun little movie. I really like it. But I’ll also watch anything with Keira Knightley in it. So I’m predisposed to it. Still, it’s likable.
Two Night Stand is a really sweet little rom com that no one knows about. It stars Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton as two people who hook up, intending for it to be a one night thing. But then they get snowed in during an overnight blizzard and have to spend the entire next day together. Which forces them to interact and makes them realize they might actually have a connection. I really like this one. It’s a mature little indie that most people would almost never come across. Not Safe for Work is a great little contained thriller no one ever saw. It’s technically a Blumhouse movie, but it’s more thriller than horror. And directed by Joe Johnston too, which is cool. It’s basically the end of Collateral but for an entire movie. Dude stays late at work and ends up trapped on the same floor as a hitman who he just saw murder someone. That’s it. That’s the film. I mean, there’s more… figuring out who hired the guy and so on and so forth, but it’s mostly just a cat and mouse thriller with a hitman stalking a guy across the floor of an office building. I liked it. It’s nothing particularly special, but a nice little watchable contained thriller? Sign me up. The Hundred-Foot Journey is a fun little movie. It’s Lasse Hallstrom, who seems to excel in this blandly likable family fare movies. It’s about two restaurants that open across the street from one another. One is a fancy French restaurant that is one of the most notorious in France and the other is a family-owned Indian restaurant. And so a bit of a rivalry builds up between the two, so it’s very much in that ‘oh, we’re gonna buy up all the fish so you can’t cook with it!’ kinda thing. It’s likable. Don’t judge the movie on that. It’s a very likable movie that is for sure one of those you stumble upon when it’s on cable and go, “Yeah, that was fine.”
Starred Up is a David Mackenzie film starring Jack O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn. And it’s awesome. It’s about a father and son in prison together. Mendelsohn is a lifer and O’Connell is just entering adulthood and about to follow in his father’s footsteps. And the film is about the prison (and Mendelsohn) trying to convince O’Connell to not end up the way his old man did. And it’s really good. Both actors are fantastic and this is the movie that got Mackenzie Hell or High Water. It’s definitely worth seeing. Prison movies are always interesting, but this one in particular is really solid. Two Days One Night is a Dardennes brothers film starring Marion Cotillard that got her a Best Actress nomination. She plays a factory worker who learns that she’s going to be fired. Basically, the factory has x amount of workers and can’t afford to keep them all and pay them their annual bonuses, which are like, a grand each. So they’re basically given the weekend to decide whether they want the bonuses and Cotillard gets fired, or no bonuses and she stays. And now she’s got the weekend to convince everyone that she should stay. It’s a strong film. She’s great here, and if you’ve seen the Dardennes brothers’ stuff, they’re very vérité and make things feel down to earth and real. So you’re basically watching this woman fight for her livelihood, and it’s kinda brutal. Still Alice is the movie that won Julianne Moore her Oscar. She plays a woman who learns she has Alzheimer’s, and the film is basically us watching her slowly deteriorate. The film is just pretty good, and she’s very good in it, as she usually is. It’s not as good as it sounds on paper. It’s a Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer film, and if you’ve seen their other work –Quinceañera, The Last of Robin Hood and Colette — this is in line with those. Very solid, but just kind of okay.
Kill the Messenger is one of the more underseen films of this year. It’s weird that this got no notice whatsoever. Jeremy Renner stars as a journalist who started looking into the CIA helping distribute crack to black communities in the 80s so they could help raise money for the freedom fighters in Nicaragua. And it’s a political thriller. It’s really good. Journalist tracking down the story and being intimidated from shadowy government groups. It’s really good and Renner is terrific in it. Calvary is John Michael McDonagh’s followup to The Guard. Also starring Brendan Gleeson. He plays a priest who, during confessional, is told by a parishioner that they’re going to kill him in a week. And so the rest of the film is Gleeson dealing with this and trying to keep doing what he does, which becomes increasingly difficult as the week goes on. It’s a really strong film with a great performance by Gleeson. Welcome to Me is a very, very interesting movie. Kristen Wiig plays a mentally ill woman who wins the lottery and decides to buy her own talk show. That’s the movie. She goes off her meds, goes to a TV station and says, “I want a talk show.” And they say, “But that costs money.” And so she literally writes them a check. And her only demand is that she wants to enter “on a swan boat.” And that’s the movie. It’s supremely weird, but also very unique. And the uniqueness is what makes me remember it better than most stuff that came out this year.
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