2014 Review Catch Up!

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So I didn’t post a lot on this blog in 2014. I don’t really have an excuse for that, because I saw a lot of movies, and if anything, my opinions on things become more and more polarized to the point where I should write about them, just as an exercise in getting pent up frustrations out. However, I did not, and as the Oscars are this Sunday, I figured I’d  take a look back at some of the films I saw in 2014 and didn’t review. Don’t fret–I’ll also be doing an Oscar breakdown at some point later, but I thought it was important to first get my feelings about these films out of the way, in chronological order. I’m also gonna leave out some of the smaller films I saw–we’ll just focus on the ones that got the most press this year.


The Lego Movie

I was so hyped for this film last year. I don’t even know where the hype came from, but it honestly didn’t disappoint me in the slightest. The only real negative thing that could be said about The Lego Movie is that story wise, it isn’t the most innovative (chosen one gets the thing to save the world), but in a way even that plays into how great it is. It’s one of the most meta animated films I’ve ever seen, but who could expect anything less from the creative minds of Chris Miller & Phil Lord. I’ve never really been disappointed with anything they’ve put out, and this only cements that. Witty, imaginative, and interesting to all audiences (I’ve had enthusiastic conversations about this film with 10 year olds and 50 years olds alike), The Lego Movie is the most heartfelt and hilarious ninety minute commercial you will ever witness.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

As a fan of Wes Anderson, I am very quick to see anything he puts out, and am seldom disappointed. And with The Grand Budapest Hotel, he managed to push his quirky envelope to the absolute limit. I’m 100% here for it. It’s as fun to watch as I’m sure it was to be a part of, with splendid performances all around. The man can really do no wrong. I saw a tumblr post once that said something along the lines of, “Wes Anderson is like Quentin Tarantino’s weird quirky brother who listens to vinyl and complains about Quentin stealing his library card.”

I’m not really sure what that has to do with my review of this movie, but I find it really fitting.

Point is, it’s refreshing these days to go into a movie and actually have fun. Maybe that doesn’t mean a lot coming from me since I am a cinema cynic, devoid of any part of me that is able to relax and not take movies 100% seriously, but I had a great time while watching Grand Budapest. It’s not my favorite Wes movie (Rushmore is unbeatable), but it’s one of the best.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

I once watched a Alejandro Jodorowsky film with my sister entitled The Holy Mountain.

To this day, I still don’t know what I watched–only that it was the pinnacle of the absurd, really really colorful, and, despite making two hours feel like five, bizarrely compelling.

Jodorowsky is somewhat of a living legend for his ability to encapsulate the odd in a combination of John Waters and Salvador Dali, and one time, he tried to make a film adaption of the Frank Herbert novel Dune–which ended up later infamously falling into the hands of David Lynch.

But Jodorowsky’s vision of Dune was so unruly, so fascinating, and such a beautiful disaster, that Frank Pavich decided making a documentary about how the production fell to pieces was a good idea.

Spoiler alert: it really, really was. Easily my favorite documentary of the year, and an honest to god shame it wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

Birdman

THIS SHIT WAS DOPE. PLEASE WATCH IT. IT IS SO ASTRONOMICALLY INVENTIVE AND PROGRESSIVE. And meta. If you didn’t know, I really like meta things. This film laughs in the audience’s face and it is amazing, the script is such a wonderful echo of reality both in the movie and outside. There aren’t enough words to describe my love for this wonderful movie. Easily my favorite film of the year.

Gone Girl

Another perfect storm of a film that somehow perfectly juggles feminism and sociopathy in a way that is offensive to no one. The titular character of Amy Dunne is a fascinating examination of a femme fatal, and the overarching themes of the effects of long term relationships is both soul-crushing and oddly liberating. Only David Fincher could take something that could be a TV movie on Lifetime and elevate it to this level of artistry and success, combined with one killer performance from a dark horse, Rosamund Pike. Also the soundtrack is elemental; please keep working forever, Trent Reznor. Definitely read my friend Kelly’s deconstruction of Amy Dunne.

Interstellar

There’s one thing to be said for Christopher Nolan, and that is the man knows how to create a theater experience. I have never walked into a Nolan movie, sat down, and not at least had a good time watching it. The unfortunate thing is that some of the time, I walk out of the Nolan movie, and that’s when it gets disappointing for me. Case and point: Interstellar. A beautifully shot film that pays homage after homage to my favorite filmmaker (Stanley Kubrick and his magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey), with production design like no other, unfortunately falls short on the writing end of the spectrum.

I mean, come on, Nolan. “Love Conquers All?”

My friend coined this film really well as, “The Best Episode of Doctor Who Ever.” Which is fine, I mean, Doctor Who is a good time. This movie was a good time. Not perfect, certainly no Inception and certainly no Dark Knight, but a good time. I do tip my hat to Nolan, though, for constantly coming up with (mostly) new sci-fi ideas while somehow managing to still be accessible to general audiences and film snobs alike, which is maybe the most difficult thing to pull off, ever.

The Book of Life

Can Maria become the new Elsa because my quality of life would improve tenfold. Please, parents, show your child this film, because it is splendid. No more words.

The Book of Life > The last ten years of Disney films.

Inherent Vice

With Paul Thomas Anderson being one of the top competitors for my #1 spot as “Favorite Living Director,” it goes without saying that I was excited for Inherent Vice. After the majesty that was The Master, I was also excited to see PTA working with Joaquin Phoenix again, and that, combined with my favorite trailer last year, just all stewed into my pot of hype deliciously.

And then I was disappointed.

Before anyone (Ott) says anything, no, it’s not because “Thomas Pynchon novels don’t make sense!!” or “I couldn’t follow it!!”. It was because it was maybe the least dynamic PTA film to date, with just a series of scenes of Joaquin Phoenix walking somewhere, saying some stuff, and then leaving. Examine any other PTA movie and that is not what you will see. Thomas Pynchon is a very ambiguous and complex writer–so maybe some ambiguous and complex scene structures might be nice. That being said, the film still looked beautiful, so Paul is still one of my favorite technical directors.

Nightcrawler

Great story, GREAT characters–I can honestly see Lou Bloom and Amy Dunne getting together. However, when I saw Nightcrawler my initial vibe was that they were going for a Drive type feel–it wasn’t nearly stylistic enough. However, the film still managed to keep me invested and interested all the way through, and the way the main character was written was so devious, sharp, and just plain interesting that I couldn’t get enough. Jake Gyllenhaal in my head has always been kind of underrated in Hollywood–he gives great performance after great performance and never gets much recognition for it. I’d give him an Oscar nomination for this over most of Leo DiCaprio’s nominations, just sayin’.

Boyhood

THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME. THE BEST THING TO HAPPEN EVER TO CINEMA–NAY, TO AMERICA. LIFE CHANGING. HAS CANCER CURING EFFECTS. DID YOU KNOW IT TOOK TWELVE YEARS TO MAKE IT?! TWELVE WHOLE YEARS. THEY DEDICATED THEIR ENTIRE LIVES, WITHOUT ANYONE EVER ASKING THEM TO. TWELVE YEARS!

Are the thought police gone? Okay, real review time.

I realize I’m in the dissenting opinion here, but I really, really didn’t like Boyhood. Before you get antsy, I will say that it is an amazing feat what they accomplished. I mean, filming something over 12 years… watching the actors grow before your eyes… that’s likeunheard of

Okay, okay. All snark aside. It was well shot, pretty, and Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette gave really solid performances. Unfortunately with a film titled “Boyhood,” the main focus is on… the boy. He is boring and I don’t care about anything in his life. All of the philosophical elements of this film have already been explored in previous Linklater productions–his Before trilogy is easily his best work, and it is painfully obvious that the writing process for Boyhood just blatantly borrowed ideas from those films.

Furthermore, Boyhood does the cheapest thing in the universe, which is uses nostalgia to make people feel things & think the film is Amazing. If this movie had not been shot over twelve years, if you took out all of the prolonged shots of things that will make me nostalgic (a Gameboy SP, for example), but you still used the exact same script, it would be an incredibly mediocre film.

When the only thing that elevates your movie to the next level is a gimmick, you’re not an Innovative Filmmaker. Linklater is just a patient one. Which is fine, but it’s so unnecessary to trademark him as a true progressive, when this script and characters are anything but. Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) is a progressive, and even though his film also has somewhat of a gimmicky quality to it, the script and the characters at least give the movie another layer completely. Boyhood completely lacks that.

Into The Woods

With the least accessible second act in musical theater history, I was really interested to see how the film production of Into The Woods was going to go. And, surprisingly enough, it went really, really well. It was imaginative, the production design was fantastic, the sound mixing was beautiful, and it was cast perfectly. It was also way more interesting and dynamic to watch than, say, Les Miserables, but maybe I’m just biased because I love the hell out of Stephen Sondheim.

I also found it beautifully ironic that Disney produced this film, considering the musical is literally making fun of all of their exploits. The live-action remake of Cinderella was one of the previews before I saw Into the Woods, which made me chuckle quite a lot.

Big Hero 6

SPEAKING OF Disney movies, the winter season’s vehicle! With Marvel and Disney now being fully synergized, it was only a matter of time before an animated superhero film. And thus, Big Hero 6 was born, and this time, it not only integrated every single Disney trope in the book, but every single Marvel trope in the book as well! Isn’t life fun? Aren’t cliches still enjoyable after the 700th time? Ah, yes.

I feel like Disney is just run by a robot now. I get no sense of individual artistry in any of their films; no voice other than the big, corporate, “I want all your money, sheeple” voice. The other two animated films I reviewed are so stylish and perceptible to the individuals who made them. There really isn’t any of that going on at Disney anymore. The AI just makes movies that everyone on earth will see and think is nice. I guess their AI works, because Big Hero 6 was a nice movie. I laughed, I cried, I got excited, I felt for all the characters.

“So what’s wrong with that, Maddison?”

A ROBOT MADE ME FEEL THIS WAY. THEY ARE TAKING OVER. SLOWLY BUT SURELY. SKYNET IS SOME REAL SHIT.

Selma

This movie was everything Spielberg’s Lincoln should’ve been: pointed in on one specific period in a famous person’s history, without cheaply foreshadowing to future events nor rehashing things that already occurred in the film’s canon. With sharp performances all around, this is easily the best biopic of the year, as well as the least Oscar Baity, which gives it a standing ovation in my personal opinion. The direction in this movie is sharp, the writing is as excellent as the performances… it’s a well crafted biographical movie that still somehow manages to be progressive in the art of filmmaking, unlike…

The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything

…which are, by definition, “well crafted movies.” And yet I was bored by them, not because the characters were underdeveloped or because the direction was flat, which they weren’t. They were Good Movies, as there always are in every Oscar season. These stories might be important to be told; the main focus of both films are absolutely men to be honored. But in 5 years, I don’t see these in any “BEST FILMS OF THE DECADE” lists. I do, however, see them in high school history classes.

Benedict Cumberbatch was good. Eddie Redmayne was good too. They were good movies. But I don’t really care about them all that much. Neither of these films are The Social Network or A Beautiful Mind. That’s all there is to be said.

American Sniper

Remember when Clint Eastwood talked to a chair on national television, pretending it was Obama? Yeah, that crazy ol’ bastard still makes movies. Here’s one of ‘em. Think… “Birth of a Nation,” but instead of demonizing black people, we’ll demonize Middle Easterners! Let’s make a movie that will only intensify White Fear! I think that will be really good for society, because there aren’t enough hate crimes against Muslim folks in America already!

If you’ve seen Inglorious Basterds, take this moment to remember that one Nazi that Daniel Brühl plays. The sniper who killed a bunch of people in that watchtower. Remember how the Reich Minister of Nazi Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, makes a biopic about him and all the Nazis celebrate him and his accomplishments, despite the fact that he’s actually a horrible, egotistical womanizer, and a damn NAZI?

That’s actually 100% what American Sniper is. Chris Kyle was not a nice dude. Please stop celebrating him. And please stop saying that he “protected our freedoms” because straight up, killing people in a country that is 1/22 the size of ours and is half a globe away does not do shit to “protect our freedom.” Thanks.

Also, this movie was really really poorly directed. It looked like a Call of Duty sniper montage on YouTube. Except it was less fun to watch, because Chris Kyle hardscoped the whole time and didn’t even do one 360. Bradley Cooper was good, only because he’s a good actor, not because this role was written well. The nobody who played his wife was a bore. And then Jonathan Groff showed up for 2 minutes just to confuse me with his role choices, or maybe just to prove that Clint Eastwood is at least cool with gay dudes? I don’t know. It was a lame movie, is the point I’m trying to make.

Clint Eastwood, you were really really amazing. Once upon a time. That time is over. Please stop making films now, because your filmmaking ability has already peaked and it’s all downhill from here. I’d like to remember you with some fondness but you’re making it hard.

Whiplash

What a film. Wow, just thinking about this movie gets the bad taste of writing about American Sniper out of my mouth. What. A. Film. This is the kind of movie you go in to watch and you can just feel the energy and drive that went into making it. It’s love that is palpable; hell, you could stir it with a spoon. The direction is so aggressive, much like the script and the characters and the performances, and all of it  blends to make a film that just goes BAM! CRASH! POW!

Pun intended, because Whiplash is about a drummer, hohoho. And actually a really nice way to close out the cinematic year of 2k14, which was underwhelming in some parts, and overwhelming in others. In a film society that is plagued by remake after remake, sequel after sequel, it’s invigorating, inspiring, and liberating to know that there are still truly original passion projects being pursued.

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