Okay maybe not the “best”. I’m not really qualified to pick the “best” movies of 2014. So how about the ten movies that to use a vulgar phrase, stuck in my craw, in 2014. Some of these movies I’ve only recently seen, some of them I saw months ago, but they all still pop into my mind at odd moments and I imagine they will for years to come.
James McAvoy is Bruce Robertson, a thoroughly despicable and corrupt Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh. Already beyond redemption he sinks to new lows in an effort to discredit his fellow officers and secure a promotion, which he believes, will entice his estranged wife and daughter back into his life. Filth is a dark comedy that lives up to its name and while it’s not really all that funny the cinematography is great and McAvoy is amazing. You can’t even call McAvoy’s Robertson an antihero, he’s just a conniving monster, but underneath it all there is a river of pain that McAvoy let’s you glimpse here and there. Halfway through the movie you find Robertson not only sympathetic but that you’re rooting for him. And then there is the ending “same rules apply.”
9. The Interview
I’ve long suspected that I have no taste and The Interview may be the proof. I loved this film and I really do find it difficult to comprehend how anyone other than megalomaniacal dictators would find it anything other than hysterical. Yes, much of the humor is low brow, okay let’s say low, low brow, but beyond the innuendo and ass jokes there beats the heart of a clever farce that pokes fun at not only the leadership of North Korea but American foreign policy and popular entertainment too. I’m surprised I didn’t have an aneurism watching this. I even watched it again the next night just to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke. I enjoyed it just as much the second time around. Some of Rogan and Franco’s partnerships have felt kind of flat to me. You could tell they were having a good time but the funny just didn’t seem to leave their immediate orbit. But here Rogan is the perfect foil to Franco’s delicious Dave Skylark. I want to see more Dave Skylark. Maybe he can interview Robert Mugabe or Raul Castro next.
I love L.A. Maybe it’s because I’ve never actually stayed downtown or bothered with any of the touristy stuff but the couple of weeks I got to spend on the outskirts of the city were fantastic even if I did have to work most of the time. I love the yellow air, the miles of strip malls, the canyons, and all the twisty roads you can be on just thirty minutes out of the city. I love Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, Chandler’s Marlowe stories, and the insanity of Ellroy’s twisted L.A. tales. Nightcrawler takes a little bit of all of that and rolls it all into one tiny tight twisted little vehicle for Gyllenhaal to act his ass off in.
7. The Missing Picture
The whole concept of a documentary is interesting to me. The conceit that you can capture the truth through something as small and limited as a camera lens is ridiculous if you think about it, but at the same time I’ve seen many docs that seem to be balanced and evenhanded but there is always the tiny little skeptic’s voice whispering that that is all it is. Seeming to be balanced and evenhanded. I’m more comfortable with docs that admit to a point of view. Though there is a fine line between admitting to a point of view and banging you over the head with it. The Missing Picture definitely has a point of view, but it does not bang you over the head with it.
The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. It was going to usher in a new age of man in a communistic utopia and it was going to film and document the process. Instead, after four years nearly a quarter of the population had been executed or starved to death. Rithy Panh was one of the survivors and found himself searching through the Khmer Rouge archives looking for the picture that he remembered of those harrowing times, but search as he would through piles of moldering film pulled out of rusted film cans he could not find it. So he took it upon himself to make it. Using hand carved and painted figurines he tells his story of surviving the Khmer Rouge in detailed clay dioramas and with archival footage and a hypnotizing voice over by Jean-Babtiste Phou. He tells the story of being forced from his middle class home and being settled on a communal farm, and the horror of living under the Khmer Rouge. Somehow The Missing Picture manages to be harrowing, heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.
6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I’m nearly out of fingers when I count the films in the Marvel/Disney universe and none of them are bad. Some are better than others though and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best. Kevin Feige the godfather of the Marvel/Disney movies has managed to keep the franchise fresh by playing around with the genres of the movies. You could pull the helicarriers and a certain tri color shield out of the film and it would still be interesting. Leave them in and it’s amazing. The Winter Soldier is the best political thriller I’ve seen in years. Beyond the intrigue though it takes the time to let us get to know the characters and is an amazingly personal film. The villains are fantastic and the ending is satisfyingly climatic but at the same time leaves you yearning for the next installment.
5. Edge of Tomorrow
I’ve got a love/hate relationship with time travel movies. Even some magnificent movies like Back To The Future can be annoying when they try to setup time travel paradoxes. Another thing I find annoying is celebrities who become so notorious it is impossible to ignore their personal life. So Edge of Tomorrow had a couple of likely strikes against it from the get go. The time travel explanations could have been rubbish and every time Tom Cruise walked on screen I might have been reminded of what religion he belongs to or some detail of his marital status I would rather not know. Neither possible issues turned out to be a problem. Other than the ending, the time travel bits actually made sense and I didn’t think of Scientology once while watching Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise is as charismatic as ever as he gets killed over and over and over while trying to save the Earth from an alien invasion. Edge of Tomorrow is a fun, smart, action filled, sci fi thriller that doesn’t require you to forget how smart you are to enjoy it.
Interstellar had a lot of hype to live up to. I’ve come to expect a lot from Christopher Nolan and the trailers were just so good. Matthew McConaughey’s haunted voiceover and the sparse imagery had me dying to see this movie from the first few frames. When the release date finally came around I was not disappointed. Interstellar is a triumphant combination of science and emotion. It’s a piece of hard science fiction with the relativity of time and the mystery of gravity being prime movers of the plot. Ultimately though the movie is about the overwhelming and redemptive power of love. Of course the story can’t move you if the players can’t sell it and McConaughey, Caine, Chastain, Hathaway, Affleck, et al, sell it.
3. Grand Budapest Hotel
One of the things that fascinates me about Grand Budapest Hotel is how the look and style is an evolution of the look and style from Anderson’s previous movie Moonrise Kingdom. In Moonrise Kingdom Anderson is playing with the dead center composition and triptych imagery but in Moonrise it seemed, to me at least, to be affected and distracting. Those same conventions pervade Grand Budapest but here they fit perfectly with the story. Maybe it’s because Grand Budapest is set in what is obviously an alternate universe to ours. There are so many images from Grand Budapest that are seared into my memory but maybe my favorite is the Wily Coyote inspired fall of William Dafoe’s leather clad henchman. Complementing the imagery is a story so bittersweet it will fill your dimples with tears. The movie has several Anderson alumni but new to the Anderson world is Ralph Fiennes who is simply wonderful as the M. Gustave one of Anderson’s greatest creations.
2. The Lego Movie
It’s a bit humbling that when I first heard about the top two movies on my list I thought they were both really really bad ideas, a movie about Lego’s, ridiculous. Of course if I had thought a little bit about the sheer number of licensed properties that Lego produces I might could have imagined how epic a Lego movie had the possibility to be. Of course that doesn’t mean that the movie would be epic but magically it was. As a jaded middle age man watching it was amazing the sheer number of different properties that the producers got permission to squeeze in. How often does a movies success depend as much on the skill of the legal team as it does the screenwriters? The sheer chaotic exuberance of the story is breathtaking and the Matrix like plot twist at the end of the movie caught me totally off guard. Leaving the story aside the animation is spellbinding and comes across as the smoothest stop action animation you have ever seen. For a movie that could be described as a two hour commercial it simply explodes with creativity.
1. Guardian’s of the Galaxy
I’m not entirely ignorant of the Marvel universe, but I don’t remember ever coming across the Guardian’s before the first rumblings about this movie. I couldn’t believe that Marvel was going to make a movie with a character that not only was called Rocket Raccoon but actually was a raccoon. Every time somebody brought the film up I would quietly hum Rocky Raccoon which may have been funny the first five or six times I did it but was more than a bit old and obvious before I stopped. When James Gunn signed on as director I became slightly interested and when the first trailer came out I stopped feeling the urge to hum a certain Beatles song when the film came up. I tried to keep my expectations low but the trailers were just so good that when I entered the theater they were unreasonably high, but it didn’t matter. I have not been this amazed by a movie since 1977. Yes that’s right I’m comparing Guardian’s to Star Wars and Guardian’s is actually edging Star Wars out. It’s one thing to blow a six year olds mind but I’m forty three and Guardian’s made me feel that same wonder and amazement as I did when I was six. Everything about Guardian’s is great but it is the world building that I think makes it so special. You’ve got a universe that’s big enough to contain the utopian Nova Empire but with a grungy underside that allows characters like Quill, Drax and Rocket to survive and magical enough to contain characters like Groot. When Peter Quill first appeared on the screen dancing through the ruins of Morag to Come and Get Your Love till the Milano blasted off into the sunset to the opening beats of I Want You Back I was transfixed. Still not convinced? Only Guardians could have made the Piña Colada song cool.