Hope you liked my list of Top Ten Indie Films of 2014. Now for the Hollywood output.
I’m very disappointed that I couldn’t in good conscience include THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES on my list. I’ve tried to always have a spot for every Peter Jackson Middle-Earth film, but this time there just really isn’t enough to say about this film. So, here goes:
This relationship drama, referred to as this generation’s MY GIRL, brought everyone to tears. But even more than that, it legitimized Shailene Woodley as a serious lead actress, and turned Internet-personality John Green into a bestselling author and blockbuster powerhouse.
For obvious reasons, this film, whether intentionally or not, raised awareness of the human rights violations occurring in North Korea and became the subject of an act of cyber-terrorism. Ironically, I’m not really a Seth Rogan & Evan Goldberg fan, but after helming THIS IS THE END, which was one of my favorite films of last year, and now this, they really could be emerging into a notable directing team.
Once again, this is a case where the backstory overshadows the film itself. Twelve years in the making, this is not only a very special film but a special use of film, capturing the relationship between child and parent and Tolstoyan in scope. Watching the film, you can imagine it turning out no other way than how it did.
PT Anderson returns to his character-driven roots in this BIG LEBOWSKI-style comedy full of great performances, retro-pop fashions, stylized touches, and a killer soundtrack. In other words, it’s BOOGIE NIGHTS 2.
The biggest surprise of the year and a new direction for animated films, entering a meta universe. You really have to hand it to Warner Bros.; even their non-superhero movies still manage to star Batman. No matter who is behind the cowl, he is clearly their biggest name.
This rebooted series has to be one of the greatest surprises in recent cinema. Whereas the original 1968 film is a masterpiece, it was followed so unnecessary sequels, a short-lived TV series, and a terrible 2001 remake. Then came RISE which is one of the best reboots/prequels of recent years. But this film manages to top that one. What’s remarkable is that so little actually happens in this film plot-wise, but its tension, tone, and moral ambiguities make it the most emotionally resonant of the series. As some critics pointed out, this film asks the question of why do we fight one another other. You could replace the apes with any other force and the same philosophical questions would still be there. Now this is good science-fiction and the best motion capture-driven film made thus far.
The year’s highest grossing champ at the domestic box office was Marvel‘s greatest home run to date. I know many liked THE WINTER SOLDIER, but this was an old fashioned popcorn adventure film with great characters and a great soundtrack. It was also great to see James Gunn graduate to mainstream filmmaking. My only criticism of the movie is that it was made in my adulthood; I’d have enjoyed it so much more if only I were 14 years old.
I already wrote a longer, in-depth review here, but to sum it up: this was a nice exercise in style and atmosphere, as well as love letter to SLEEPING BEAUTY with elements of LA BELLE ET LA BETE. It’s surprised me that a lot of people have criticized the plot as it was obvious to me that the point of this movie was never the plot. This is a film for hardcore fairy tale lovers!
Wes Anderson’s best film and also the first one since ROYAL TENENBAUMS to really break in to the mainstream. On the surface, this is just a simple whimsical screwball comedy in the same vein as Anderson’s previous films. But the film resonates because of its layer of sadness and melancholy. Similar to MOULIN ROUGE!, we are told a happy story within a sadder context and are constantly reminded of this inevitable outcome. The cast feels like a collection of all of Anderson’s greatest hits: from Adrien Brody to Willem Dafoe to Owen Wilson to Jason Schwartzman to Bill Murray to stop-motion animation. This film will make you laugh, and then make you want to read the works of Stefan Zweig.
…and the best Hollywood film of 2014 was…
Who’d have ever thought Edward Norton would end up being in my top two favorite films of the year?
There has never been a film like this before. Never has there been a work that so seamlessly combines cinema with theatre. Yes, it consists entirely of long takes, but unlike something like RUSSIAN ARK, which uses this as a novelty, here it enhances your appreciation for the world of these characters and their frame of mind. Michael Keaton and Emma Stone both give Oscar-worthy performances. But the real star is the directing, and specifically, the moment in time this film captures. This film is about today, about 2014, about the state of art, the state of superhero movies, and more than anything else, this film is 100% about theatre. While still feeling like a film. If you were always disappointed with BLACK SWAN, as I was, this feels like the completion to that film.
…and the worst film of 2014 was…
I had many options to choose from here. First I thought I’d pick on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2; not only was it considered a disappointment, but it’s the polar opposite of BIRDMAN: a cynical piece of merchandising that infantilizes its audience. Then I thought maybe I’d pick on all Kirk Cameron Christian films that came out, though that felt like a cheap shot. In the end, I chose this because this trilogy is such a bizarre production. Based on Ayn Rand‘s controversial book with an economic worldview hijacked by the political Right, this book has been turned into a trilogy. The first film was considered poor, but was generally forgotten. Then we were all shocked to somehow see a second film with an entirely new cast. And now, a Kickstarter-funded third film with yet another entirely new cast? Does this franchise not realize that it’s a joke at this point? I don’t know a single person who saw this film.
Have a great 2015, everyone, and be sure to check back in once the Oscar nominations are announced!