2014 was a good year for me as far as seeing movies; I saw a lot of them between going to the theatres, VOD and just catching up on classics that I’ve missed over the years via Netflix and Amazon Prime. I saw a lot of mediocre junk (NEED FOR SPEED, NON-STOP), disappointments (MONUMENTS MEN) and new favorites (THE GODFATHER, MS.45). On the season finale of the Drinks On Monday podcast, Dan, Pat and I talked about some of our favorite movies of 2014. It’s worth a listen if you enjoy this list. It wasn’t hard picking out ten favorites for the year and here they are…
10. JODOROWSKY’S DUNE
A truly engaging documentary. Alejandro Jodorowsky is still so passionate about a project that he never got of the ground forty years ago. Jodorowsky really makes you wish that you saw this DUNE even if it would have ended up a spectacular disaster. I don’t think it would have been feasible to produce back in the early 1970’s but why hasn’t a modern, full-length animated feature been pitched? Mick Jagger could voice an animated version of himself, circa It’s Only Rock N’ Roll. In a perfect world, Jodorowsky’s DUNE would have been produced and audiences would have been treated to David Lynch’s RETURN OF THE JEDI also.
9. THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS
Absolutely intoxicating. Even as a fan of 1970’s horror films, the Giallo sub-genre largely bores me. There is a glut of throw back horror and retro terror being released that usually have a great poster, a good concept and a lackluster execution. THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS, on the other hand, gets everything right. The filmmakers take all of the classic Giallo elements and turn them up to eleven. It feels very modern, while retaining the tone of the films that influenced it. The plot is secondary to the style of the film and that’s a good thing. This is cinema in its purest form, and there hasn’t been a movie that made the sound and look of black leather gloves this sexy in thirty years.
8. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
I was reluctant to jump into the PLANET OF THE APES reboot, because CGI chimps were not what I wanted out of an APES movie. I was wrong to judge so quickly. Much like last year’s GRAVITY, the simple story of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is so good that you forget you’re watching what is basically a rotoscoped cartoon with some pretty good human actors thrown in for good measure. The performances of Andy Serkis as Cesar and Toby Kebbell as Koba are transcendent, and a testament not only to the actors, but also to the special effects artists who are doing excellent work in the realm of CGI animation. We got apes on horses with machine guns but next time out I want green tunics and apes who sound like Roddy McDowall when they speak.
America finally got the big green guy right. There was a little bait and switch as the marketing for the film portrayed Godzilla as a villain; a threat, but Gareth Edwards and his team gave audiences the heroic Godzilla that I personally really wanted to see. This new GODZILLA can stand tall (much taller, really) with any of the Toho films. In the negative column, the lead Aaron Taylor-Johnson is dopey, Bryan Cranston is wasted and as much as I understand what Edwards was doing with the slow reveal, one more big monster brawl with Godzilla getting beat up by the MUTOs would have made this a perfect film. However, the moment when Godzilla’s back lights up and he breathes that fire again is now a classic of the modern summer blockbuster.
6. COLD IN JULY
The indie-action-revenge thriller sub-genre has been making waves over the past few years. COLD IN JULY mines a lot of the same territory as another critical darling this year, the enjoyable BLUE RUIN, I think COLD IN JULY just edges it out. Whereas BLUE RUIN features a more serious turn on the story, COLD IN JULY features Don Johnson in red cowboy boots and a big, cool car chewing the scenery around every cornet. This clever little thriller with just a hint of neon noir is very fun, and in a perfect world, White Lion would be experiencing resurgence due to the inclusion of “Wait” during the climax.
I almost skipped TUSK. I had already seen plenty of mediocre horror films this year (OUIJA, DELIVER US FROM EVIL, THE QUIET ONES) and outside of CLERKS, Kevin Smith has never really done much for me. My Drinks On Monday co-host, Pat O’Sullivan sold me on it and changed my mind and I’m glad he did. TUSK is far from a perfect movie, the whole thing almost falls apart the minute Johnny Depp shows up, but overall it’s the kind of slow burn, mad scientist monster movie that doesn’t get made anymore. It’s bonkers enough that one might wonder how it even got released, and it doesn’t miss an opportunity (Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” is featured prominently during the climax). Watch it as a double feature with 1973’s SSSSS.
4. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
I’m not a blind member of the cult of Wes Anderson; I don’t think he’s ever really topped RUSHMORE. Like most of Anderson’s films, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL relies on the charms of the cast, which the film has in spades. The film features that distinct visual flair that Anderson and his team are known for, which never distracts the viewer but in fact brings them into this world. It’s a very enjoyable film. I usually go to the movies with my dad, and he really liked this one.
3. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
One of the best space fantasies since the original STAR WARS. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, even with its big money, summer blockbuster budget comes with all the charms of the Lucas-ploitation knock-offs of the late ’70s and early ’80s. That’s no doubt due to writer/director James Gunn having risen through the ranks over at schlocksters headquarters, Troma. This is the most entertaining summer blockbuster we’ve seen in years. If I was a kid, my Christmas list would have consisted of nothing but GUARDIANS toys. The movie crosses all generations with it’s wit and sense of style and even with its nostalgia-steeped soundtrack, it never feels like a throwback as much as a look to the future as to what a summer blockbuster can be. The third act falls into the Marvel cliché of having a giant spaceship crash to the ground but the real climax of the movie is based around the team of new friends Peter Quill, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Drax and Gamora coming together to defeat evil. GUARDIANS is all about the characters. The spectacle takes a back seat, and that’s a good thing.
Desperate times make for excellent periods in filmmaking. NIGHTCRAWLER stands side by side with the bleak character studies of the films of the 1970s, with its cynical portrait of disillusionment in the modern age. Jake Gylenhall shines as Louis Bloom, a lost soul who finds success as a “nightcrawler.” Nightcrawlers videotape criminal activity and gory car crashes and sell them to the news team that bids the highest. Bloom finds his niche in this morally ambiguous industry, and through Machiavellian tactics, he rises to the top. As an audience we should want to see Bloom fail, but Gyllenhaal portrays him such a weird, innate charm that you find yourself rooting for him. The film is also stunning to look at — L.A. at night with neon noir flourishes provided by cinematographer Robert Elswit. James Newton Howard also turns a wonderful synth-drive score that accentuates the tension and dread.
1. THE GUEST
When turning in a best of list at the end of the year, there is a tendency to try and find something transcendent as your number one; something big. I know I felt that way as a younger man. My favorite movie of the year is a very simply told action-thriller; THE GUEST. To say it’s simple is perhaps not giving it as much credit as it deserves. Directed by Adam Wingard, who brought us the excellent YOU’RE NEXT a few years back, THE GUEST is pure cinema and just so entertaining. It is cut from the same cloth as BLUE RUIN and COLD IN JULY, with its visual style and violent gunplay; it also shares the charming anti-hero archetype with NIGHTCRAWLER. THE GUEST takes all these elements and throws in a touch of John Carpenter-influenced tension and James Cameron-styled technical skill and action. The combination of all these elements is topped off with what should be a charming, star-making performance by Dan Stevens as a solider that returns home to help out the family of a fallen comrade, or so it seems. The movie doesn’t spell everything out and it allows the audience to think and draw from it their own conclusions on who these characters are and what their motivations are. Stevens really sells the movie as a character who is both charming and dangerous; an anti-hero in the truest sense of the word. As exciting as all of last month’s SPECTRE news was , nothing will be as exciting in a year or two when Dan Stevens is announced as your next James Bond. You heard it here first.
For all the movies I saw, there were plenty I missed, as we discussed in a previous article on the site, but I suppose that’s one of the wonderful things about film, perhaps even more so today, with all the avenues that we can watch movies. There’s always going to be something new and exciting that you haven’t seen yet. I’m looking forward to 2015.