Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014 - Part II - There And Back Again

And now for the biggest time of year for my opinion, the official Top Ten Films of the Year.


The best part of seeing this for the first time was my complete indifference to it at first. Even walking in, I thought, “Why do I bother to see things I have no real interest in seeing”. The answer was “Because it’s 7 o’clock and you don’t have anything better to do”. Well, that was all I needed because I was completely sucked in and even got emotional during it. I knew that Paul Dini had been involved with a draft ages ago and he even said things were changed around but the tragic heart that made HEART OF ICE and MAD LOVE such painfully good point of views from the villain is well represented here. It was so cleverly spun that even when the more obvious things were happening I was still surprised by them and even the audience was guffawing with emotion they clearly weren’t ready to handle yet. Angelina Jolie was never my favorite but I can see why she has a mass appeal beyond stark attractiveness. She even steals the show from known show stealer Elle Fanning. There is a moment with them toward the end that I was literally embarrassed to be tearing at. And a Lana Del Rey cover to boot. I spread the word on this a lot over the summer and I’m glad people enjoyed it.


Marvel at it’s Marveliest. The Agents of SHEILD weaving. The Gary Shandling senator from IRON MAN 2. The mysterious Stephen Strange surveillance. The Russo brothers, who directed, know their stuff. And love their stuff. They effectively broke the modern superhero movie formula and turned it more into a comic book formula. The references were never glaring but fit fluidly inside a universe you are now familiar and comfortable in. The Winter Solider storyline they adapted wasn’t as great as the comics but it was still great for the movie. And again, like GUARDIANS, still leaves much more to be explored. Which I’m fine with. And it looks like they are going to properly go into the next phase of the storyline with CAP 3: CIVIL WAR which will probably overtake the Marvelness to levels where people are mad at how inside baseball (or Speedball, right mah nerds?) it is. But Marvel is wicked smart, and probably knows how to not alienate people by going full dork on a project. I remember going to a local theater the weekend this came out and seeing “CAPTAIN AMERICA: SOLD OUT” all over the box office and it felt good and that we had come a long way. I felt like Forrest Whittiker at the end of THE BUTLER. If you understood this, please consider us engaged.


In an effort to fully review all of the top films, I tried to watch all that I could this week and I only really made it out to WHIPLASH. But that’s fine because it was still as taught and engaging the second time. It has an escalating tension matched only by the top movie of the year, but in favor of this movie, this never doesn’t let go until you see credits. There is no brief respite as you decompress for an epilogue. It just mounts until the final sequence which is one of the most unique I’ve seen, and is a full testament to the talent of Miles Teller, who is my new dreamboat, and the director who had the balls to finish like that and somehow succeed. Both times, people had to catch their breath by the end and audibly went “wow”. JK Simmons will get a lot of attention for being yelly, but it’ the quieter moments that make him scarier. His scene where he tearfully recounts the career of a former student or when he legitimately lays out his teaching philosophy in a bar towards the end are why Simmons really has the goods. And if there was a special Oscar for best 3 seconds of a movie, it goes to Paul Reiser to apologizing to some good that hits him in the head with a popcorn tub while carelessly walking down the row behind him. The best part of this movie and kind of this year is how I end up seeing logic in the sociopathic tendencies of the lead characters in things. This actually made what seemed like a hollow goal seem reasonable to me. Who am I to judge someone for not wanting the comforts of love and affection from family and friends in favor of becoming the best he can be at what he loves? If he’s willing to bleed for it, he should have it.


I was very annoyed when people were surprised at how good this was. Phil Lord and Chris Miller made CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and 21 JUMP STREET. I know how good they are. I didn’t question it for a second and it was still better than expected. They were also the OTHER guys chose Chris Pratt as their hero lead and look how smart they look now? I also love how they present two completely different lines of thinking and make them both okay. In fact, make them seem equally as good. I even bought legos after this movie because now my brain is big enough to actually follow the instructions to make them properly. And when I walk into a toy store and buy a 70 dollar lego set, I proudly tell the 19 year old girl at the register that it is for ME, and if needs me, she’s gonna have to wait until I finish this Star Wars cantina set. That’s the kind of confidence you can’t buy, but is now the kind of confidence that will confound someone hard enough that it may seem appealing. Thank you, Warner Bros. for giving me the chance to be cool.


The original is one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen and this somehow tops it. A larger budget lets them go outside and instead of the back to basics small story of the first, it tells a larger epic one that features stunts that I can guarantee you killed some people. Poor Captain America came out a week after this, and while they had some good action in it, it looked like Ms. Tucker’s 9th grade stage combat class in comparison. In fact, the director of this should definitely be making Marvel movies. I suggest IRON FIST. It leads to a third movie, which apparently takes place DURING this one, BOURNE style. I fully expect them to top themselves once again.


Some people like to be special little snowflakes with their best lists. Show off what you don’t know and lord it over your mainstream ass. There’s a bit of that in me, but I take a genuine pleasure in spreading the word of small things that should have a big audience and find it rewarding when people trust that opinion enough to experiment and it actually works. But when everyone, including the powder wigs whom control the Oscars are all agreeing on the same thing, I think that the system is working. I’ve known about this movie for sometime and got to see it about a month early and really feared that it sounded too weird for people to even think about giving a chance. But Fox Searchlight knows how to get eyes in front of a screen, and luckily they are the people that gambled on this. It’s weird to see so many of my favorite actors in one place (and one take) and for every single one of them to be giving the performance of their career. Amy Ryan is one of my favorites, but I had to be reminded that she was in this because even her awesomeness was blocked behind 7 other bright stars. I failed to mention Naomi Watts’ performance in ST. VINCENT as being one of the highlights of that movie. She was completely not herself in it and I think she even gave up a little dignity to do it but she’s just as good here. And my beloved Michael Keaton reminding everyone of what us true MULTIPLICITY fans knew for years, that this guy could do it all and can still be the best thing in a room full of best things if given the chance to do so. I feel so immensely proud of this guy that was the first guy on a screen I ever idolized, that it feels strange to have these feelings for someone you don’t even know. But heroes are just that, a lot of the time.


Roger Ebert became the one of the only film critics you could trust because he wasn’t trying to convince you of his own intelligence while reviewing a movie. This is a problem with a lot of critics. It wasn’t always this way, as we see in this documentary about his life and eventual death. He earned this respect and that attitude even if he gave the occasional MUMMY sequel a pass. I have to admit to a bias because of being so enchanted by seeing someone else’s passion for movies was just too much fun that it felt like I was doing something wrong. It even has a good healthy portion about his relationship with Siskel and how it defined them both, Kirk and Spock style. Bias or not, this is my list and here it shall stay. Although it’s not like I’m defending HEARTBREAKERS or anything here, I think anyone that sees it will come pretty close to how I felt when watching it.


It’s kind of heartbreaking to see any sort of age on the people or things that you love. Noticing it implies that you weren’t there for a portion of it’s existence where it changed without you. This is how some of the vignettes in BOYHOOD felt to me because the big huge events in the life of young Mason’s life move like a strong river current onto the next thing because that’s how life actually works. We’re glad it he got through it but we care enough to want to see how. It’s not always shown, but in other ways is. Richard Linklater has been pretty prolific throughout the last couple of years and he even has managed to make the Top Ten list for his third year in a row. I guess he always has a place on this list and in my heart. The real star however, is Ethan Hawke who should be given an Oscar for playing Mason’s dad as a confused kind of barely there dad all the way to “Let’s have a beer” at his graduation. At that party scene even I was a little anxious feeling that it was all “over” like probably a lot of parents do. The mom thing resonated sure but it was weird how the dad thing did. I seem to avoid my dad a lot more these days after realizing how rocky our history actually is. But I saw him for Christmas and for some odd reason hugged him a second time, tight and for longer than you’d expect. I can’t explain it and don’t really see much use in trying to analyze why someone like me would do that. I just accept the mystery and rhythm of life.


It was really hard trying to choose what number one would be this year. The top five can practically be rotated any which way and it would still make sense to me. This one came with a soundtrack that was played often throughout the year and had musical sequences that were often viewed on YouTube. This one I kind of consider a bit of a failure because it didn’t really get in front of a lot of eyes despite my yelling from the mountain tops how much joy it brought me. Yet another bit about some young people starting a band. What came to me later is how much it represented friendship in your 20’s. By the time you’re 30 you’ve kind of lived 3 or 4 different lives with a different set of peers that came in each time. The short intense burst of creativity and energy that helped poor Eve out of her depression and onto the next phase of her life was great but of course all too brief. That doesn’t make it any less important than anything else she’ll do or what Cassie and James do either. Maybe on a smaller scale. Anytime things get too confusing for first time director Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian to articulate, a song comes on and it becomes crystal clear. I’ve never heard such catchy beautiful music fall out of mouths like it was effortless. This beacon of hope should maybe be the top film of year, I admit. But the truth is…


I have a dark side. Something about this movie called to me the second I saw the poster. I even refused to watch the trailer. Schedule did not permit a reasonable hour to watch the premiere of the film, so midnight on a school night it was and that’s kind of the only way to watch this movie. I had no idea where it was going to go as the tension built and built from the beginning all the way to the heart jumping climax. Jake Gyllenhaal had me completely spooked and constantly in awe of what his character was capable of in good ways and bad. It was a fantastic LA movie as the tagline suggests, some cities do shine brightest at night. It looks the best when you’re a ghost and you’re the only one around for blocks while driving around at 3am. I think that’s why I love COLLATERAL so much too. Having had several night jobs, I am well aware of the energy of what goes on in the dark and it’s my kind of energy most of the time. The power in the solitude of night is something you can kind of get drunk on and that happens to this character. I’d be a jerk to spoil any part of it so I’ll just say it’s flawless and endlessly fascinating and wish it was part of a larger world that I could check in on regularly. If Lou Bloom were a villain in the DRIVE universe, it would be my favorite thing ever. Someone make DRIVE comics, please. LA movies are another bias I am fully aware of as I love my dirty unsung mass of chaos. Most have adopted it, but I was born in it. I said early that it seems silly to expect scares in a movie when you’re an adult but this one had several. I was actually ready to barf right before the climax and I usually make fun of people like that but it made me feel alive so I want it always.

And that’s that for the year. 2015 looks to be a big bad catch match of crazy cool things, and hopefully it lives up to the hype. But 2014 earned a hearty pat on the back for having tons of great things come from nowhere. I hope there are surprises next year as well. Go to the movies more. Thanks.

- D

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