Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of 2014: Mockingjay - Part 1

A quick preface. I thought I was going to write about WISH I WAS HERE for the worst list because Zach Braff's directorial follow up to GARDEN STATE was utter garbage, but I have an upcoming podcast about that and seeing how it only made 3 million dollars in theater, I think you're safe from it's crime.s Ok, I saw about the same amount of movies I did last year (roughly 140) and I think this accurately represents the best movies I saw of last year. Let’s get start with some honorable mentions:



Black and white, I feel is something associated with pretense in an unfair way. I think it takes you a world that is just different enough to get lost in. Just real enough to believe and just imaginary enough to succumb to. This one is about an Iranian town (shot in California, actually. I was sitting there wondering why some parts of Iran look like the Valley) about a boy who meets and falls for a girl who’s dispensing her own kind of nocturnal and supernatural justice towards the people who are destroying the moral sanctity of the city. But her new found love is only conflicting her because she is a tool of revenge now and isn’t certain she deserves the love that’s coming to her. It’s a beautiful movie full of young angst and black and white views that are contested by reality and emotion. A better love story than any of the young adult crap that’s coming out of Barnes & Noble but something I think young people would find even more intense and even more poignant. It’s the first film from Ana Lily Amanpour and I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.


OKAY, SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP FOR A SECOND. I know you want to whine about this when you should have been whining about the last one but let me give you one last chance to redeem yourself about this. This has some of the best scenes coming out of any super hero movie, Marvel or otherwise and the only true legit Spider-Man story telling ever done on that silver screen you threw your medium icee at after this movie started to roll credits. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey made this movie great. Her relationship with Peter Parker finally had actual weight and chemistry and when her grim fate met her, it made it all the more heartbreaking. And that moment where the little boy in the Spider-Man costume tries to defend his city because that’s what Spider-Man taught him to do, and when the real Spidey tagged in and came at The Rhino, it’s everything you ever wanted out of your bedsheets and plastic dinette set. It’s what dreams are made of and what makes generations keep coming back to the same characters decades and decades later. Anything else kind of melts away because of it.


Found footage horror is mostly miss but this one came with some legit creepy vibes as a bunch of people go beneath the streets of Paris to the ancient catacombs that may hold the fabled philosopher’s stone. But what they don’t realize is that they are descending further and further into the ACTUAL hell and now have to find a way to escape eternal damnation and the prison of their own greatest sins. It’s found footage THE MUMMY if that was actual horror. Scary and suspenseful and you actually care about the characters. The horror bubble bursting has kind of made the cream rise to the top if you’re not a movie about a haunted armoire or doll.


This one wins the FRANCES HA award for the year. Speaking with some friends recently, they kind of scoffed at me saying that because it’s nowhere near the grace and elegance of FRANCES HA, and while I wanted to kiss them for thinking this, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s own place in the sun. That’s kind of the point of these movies. These little bursts of personality and emotion that get pushed to the side for what society seems grandiose or important. Two friends lives start to diverge when one gets serious with their boyfriend and the other one’s troubled life continues to be troubled and starting to not be as cute as it used to be. Coming from a life that is definitely the more unflattering side of that coin, I tend to deeply connect to stories like this. Wondering why romantic relationships have to mean more than platonic ones. If I’ll still think the same thing as I get older. If we romanticize this period in our lives too much or if it was the real deal. I guess the important thing is that this is the way we feel right now, and that we’ll take solace in the bond we have with everyone else who does.


Ah, the first in 2014’s fantastic journey of musicals about bands starting their band. Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightley are two music industry hopefuls that have found themselves disenchanted and emotionally drained from their endeavors, but when they meet each other and collaborate create something that’s worthwhile to the both of them. Their relationship is unromantic, which immediately makes it more interesting in how they help each other become the best of what they are and Ms. Knightley highlights yet another talent on her resume with her heartwrenching rendition of Like A Fool into the answering machine of an ex-boyfriend. Creating a whole mess of tracks for a great soundtrack and a great uplifting movie that doesn’t feel disingenuous or grating.

TOP 20:


Keanu Reeves kind of owns the title of the zen warrior. It’s hard to believe there were any before him but here he is. Stalwartly trying to be passing when he’s so good at the destruction of human beings, he can not possibly escape it. This movie also doesn’t treat you like a dummy in that life and references to the past weave in and out of it without having to sit there and explain them all to you. This is all unfolding for you in a realer time. A movie constantly in the moment, even when his main quest gets finished early on, there is far more to it than originally thought. And the action is just incredible. America can still dazzle when it wants to. And it’s good to see the old school show you how it’s done after it’s been gone for too long. Kind of the whole point of the movie, really.


Not only is this a great movie. Not only does it right a sinking ship. Not only does it weave old and new into a triumphant celebration of a franchise but it’s like if BATMAN BEGINS weaved in and out of the Tim Burton universe. They’ve kept this continuity for 14 years now and Hugh Jackman has been the perfect Wolverine for 7 films now, even when the films were bad. The original director is back to reclaim his former glory and the glory of a franchise and they both help each other succeed. And they are using the original storylines of the comics to do it here (and beyond) in their own unique ways that are kind of better than the source material anyway. It also waves a flag that signals things to come which are far more exciting than they’ve ever been. Marvel is actually making their non-owned entitys step up to keep up with the rising quality of comic book feature adaptations and I just wish it would rub off on DC Comics.


Everyone agrees that Bill Murray is great but he hasn’t been at his best in quite some time, usually taking the back seat in some indie movie where he barely gets to say anything because I think all the greats come to a point where they don’t think they have anything left to give anymore. Well, ol’ Bill tries again here in a comedy that he should have made several times over the last couple of years to hold us over. He has successfully transcended into our modern Walter Matthau where he gets to be the surly old man but still uniquely and bitingly funny and maybe with some more of the sweetness that he’s been hinting at for years now but never really gave into. That what this is mostly. A funny, still slightly edgy good time that will make you look back and think fond thoughts. A movie fit for the king (Murray, Murray being the king, you guys).


More music from fresh talent. This time in the form of adolescent Russian girls are tired of not being taken serious and tired of conforming to a life that doesn’t suit them and isn’t much interested in having them in it. What does suit them is fucking up someone else’s band practice, which leads to them forming their own band with a sure fire hit single about how gym class can go fuck itself. If someone truly doesn’t take you for granted, then they know that being 13 grants you a little leeway. When you discover things at 13, chances are it’s well tread territory but for them it becomes a new way of life. It’s easy to be patronizing to this kind of spirit because it’s already been killed in yourself, which is well represented here, but if you look back and cheer on a hopeless dumb dream that doesn’t even have the dignity of talent, you may find it again in your stone heart, you awful awful person.


This movie is great and is a perfect summer film, that just so happens to be an arthouse blockbuster, that for no reason shouldn’t be a big 3000 theater opener at your local Regal Entertainment theater. It stars Captain America, and has great action, and compelling story from a great director and you can point to many members of it’s cast and say “Hey, I know them”. Is it because Hollywood is actually too afraid of non-existing properties when it comes to throwing the big summer dollars at them for wide release or is it because these characters have large sins on them that they are working on atoning for and that the average movie-goer doesn’t have the capacity in their heart or mind to consider a three dimensional character that is flawed to the point of changing what you think of them halfway through, maybe for the worse? Maybe it’s because people have already let go of the reality of rail travel. WHO KNOWS? I just like that it’s here for us to have and enjoy. It took a little bit work to find it, but it proves that you really can’t say “They don’t make movies like this anymore” because they do and they will always be waiting for those willing to find them.


Thought to be a boring Weinstein awards grab, this is actually one of the best character pieces of the year. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the real life Alan Turing, who is recruited by the British government to help break the Nazi Enigma code and end the war. His methods are crazy at first but even his genius has consequences in this funny, captivating and ultimately sad portray of real life heroes and the toll it took on them. It’s also very super hero in the modern sense where their gifts and responsibility to humanity weigh heavy and it takes a lot of humanity to endure. Perfectly acted and written, and I think the tone will surprise you with how refreshing it is for this kind of movie. This is one of the few actual Oscar contenders that actually deserve it.


The pendulum swings both ways, truly as this was a perfectly orchestrated hit, even if no one knew it at the time. In fact, they definitely didn’t. They took the good will Marvel has already earned and gave audiences something completely different with it but with the same great characters, fantastic action, genuine relationships and colorful imagry. Their genre-izing has really worked so far, and take it from a fan of the comic series in which this was based on, they really did a great job of making it thematic experience. And also, they just scratched the surface of what they could do. It’s the most popular movie of the year, and deservedly so and you all should actually pat yourself on the back for at least giving a talking tree and raccoon a try. This time you were rewarded for your efforts and next time you may not be. But remember it’s always important to try. It’s hard to expect Marvel to keep the momentum much less top itself but it looks like in the next few years, they are going to try very hard to.


Again, horror is getting better and better. This is another first time female filmmaker that kicked open the door and showed everyone in the room how to do it better. I always argue with people who say that this or that horror movie was “scary” and I counter with “How can any movie really scare you? We’re adults. What can scare you?” Well, the poor single mother who’s relentlessly tormented by some evil children’s book character as an allegory for what she’s going through in her life with her poor manic son is actually scary to me because it’s something a lot of people probably deal with. But it’s not worth knowing unless something flashy or scandalous is happening along with it. This woman and her son’s battle with their demons is presented in a way where they could very well lose and that’s what was truly horrifying about this. The stakes were “real” in a sense and the ending which I won’t spoil here, is maybe the best horror ending I’ve ever seen as it doesn’t rest on a single laurel or trope that is usually reserved for filler for this type of movie. This was a real achievement.


When I first saw Jenny Slate’s one woman show at the UCB theater in Los Angeles, I kind of fell in love with this quirky new personality and wished that I had any sort of creative juice so that I could work with her. She had a quick and uneventful season on Saturday Night Live and I feared that she’d be another one of those one season darlings that never got to live up to her full potential. Which is why I was so excited to see her star in a movie. It could have been another one and done week like forgettable run at the local indie theater but it found it’s audience and I feel like it took a minor miracle. Another first time female director (a lot of great debuts this year) Gillian Robespierre saw what I once saw and actually got it done and put her in a movie about a girl who’s one night stand ends in pregnancy and she actually makes use of one of her options and decides to go through the emotional process of getting an abortion. Oh, also it’s a silly comedy. Not only is she hilarious in this but she’s a fantastic actress. There is a moment where she hast this silent bit as a doctor is asking her a question that’s heart shattering and perfect and I couldn’t believe she had it in her but was so glad that she does. Hopefully, this continues a long and fruitful career for all involved and hopefully people keep taking chances and spreading the word on those indies.


I described this as the German porno version of AMELIE as it exists in a hyper realistic world of whimsy and complete and utter filth. The second time I saw this, I saw it with friends and actually thought I was overselling the gross out factor but no. The movie really delivers on that end. And it’s in this world that somehow exudes a charm and innocence from a girl who’s family unit no longer exists, and she starts feeling like she shouldn’t either, being a product of that family. She accidently shaves a fissure into her poor butthole and uses this HIGHLY traumatic and painful and embarrassing experience to try and get her parents in the same room together again. I really related to this and even her uniquely self-destructive nature. The broken toys always seem like the most appealing to me. I wonder if it’s because they are the ones that are most ignored or the ones with the most genuinely interesting history. I generally don’t try to make myself seem more interesting because of these weird little bits about me but the finding parts of yourself you didn’t realize were there, in a grubby toilet that anyone with sense would avoid is kind of the meaning of life to me.

Annnnnnnd, come back tomorrow for the final part! The top ten of the year!!!

- D

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