We're getting close to New Years and it's about time I did some retrospective work. Two days from now I'll have been running this blog for a year, and what a year it has been. Now everybody's doing their lists of the best and worst movies they saw in 2014 and I've naturally got to get to work on mine. I'll have to see about whether I can get a solid list of the worst movies (right now I can only think of two) but I can list the good ones I managed to see.
I'll be honest and say that I've never managed to do one of these lists before, usually because I'm really bad at ranking things, but this year I'm going to give it a go. It is difficult because I am working completely from memory here. I can only speak for the movies I did see, and I have no solid record of every film I saw this year.
For some reason I have this tendency to always end up missing the one film that becomes the smash hit at the Academy Awards, and I end up having to watch it afterwards because it won best picture. So far that's happened with The Hurt Locker, The King's Speech, The Help (hey, I can't help it if the posters made it look like a generic and forgettable romantic comedy), The Artist, Argo, and 12 Years a Slave (which I still need to see). That's literally six years in a row I missed out on the Best Picture winner for one reason or another and only watched them afterwards because of their acclaim.
I suspect that same thing will happen this year. Whatever film wins Best Picture will probably once again be the one movie I never got around to actually seeing if only because it's subject matter didn't initially appeal to me. I also can't remember every movie I saw this year, and I probably missed a lot as well. One of the funny things about being a film student is that it becomes very hard to find time to watch any movies, letalone keep up with everything that is coming out. Still, I did manage to see some good ones, and here is my ranking of what I can remember seeing at the theatre in 2014.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in action in his third film since stepping down as the Governor of California. This one is a bit more intense than one might usually expect from his films, with betrayal and mayhem all over, but that does add a layer of suspense to it. The ending is also one I did not see coming, but it made perfect sense. I don't know if I would say this was Schwarzenegger's greatest film, but it was enjoyable enough.
11. Doc of the Dead
Alexandre O. Philippe's documentary about the role of zombies in modern popular culture provided a lot of interesting insight. Bringing out a huge number of zombie-associated names ranging from George A. Romero to Robert Kirkman, it looked at the origins of what we now call "zombies", the history and development of zombies on film, and the influence that malevolent reanimated human cadavers have had on our society as a whole. It also had a bit of fun with its subject matter, taking time to parody zombie movie conventions (it helps they managed to get some of the people from Shaun of the Dead involved)
10. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Out of Peter Jackson's entire The Hobbit trilogy, I would argue that The Desolation of Smaug was the best, but The Battle of the Five Armies still worked. Admittedly it makes a lot more sense if you watch it right after seeing The Desolation of Smaug (since otherwise you may lose track of the characters, particularly the dwarves) and it is a bit jarring to see so much focus on a small part of the book. On the other hand fans of The Hobbit often cite the Battle of the Five Armies as a crucial part of the story, so it makes sense to explore it in more detail rather than have Bilbo knocked out just before it starts and then only see the aftermath.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A suitable follow-up to Captain America: The First Avenger which follows our hero through the disorienting world of the present-day. I've enjoyed Mavel's recent line of action films and this one is no exception. Now it does help to watch this one alongside Agents of SHIELD as they both look at the same major developments (those of you who have seen both know what I'm talking about, I won't spoil it for those who haven't) but that's not essential to having a good time with it.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
This was certainly an interesting film that took the Marvel franchise in some new directions. With an interesting group of characters, some good humour, and plenty of action, it was a fun experience to be sure. The ending left me a bit curious as it suggests that Marvel is taking a huge chance by having another go at Howard the Duck (the last attempt is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made). Considering the success they've had so far there is a faint chance they could just pull it off.
7. Edge of Tomorrow
This was a fascinating movie in its approach. It is hardly the first movie to put a sci-fi twist on a Groundhog Day-esque premise (Source Code only came out a four years earlier) but it runs with it in interesting ways. Edge of Tomorrow took full advantage of its time-travelling concept, but also has some interesting characters to it as well. Tom Cruise actually does manage to give his character some depth and his co-star Emily Blunt gets to play a tough-as-nails action girl so what's not to love?
6. X-Men: Days of Future Past
After X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class, I had pretty much given up on the X-Men franchise. Then I got talked into going to see X-Men: Days of Future Past and it won me back. It helped that the film undid a lot of the questionable choices of X-Men: The Last Stand and brought back all the characters who got needlessly killed off. There isn't really an explanation for why Charles Xavier is still alive or why Kitty Pryde suddenly has time-travel powers but if it undoes the worst instalment of the series who cares? The time-travel stuff was pretty cool as well, and while I wasn't the biggest fan of X-Men: First Class I actually enjoyed seeing the mixture of actors.
5. The Fault in Our Stars
This was not a film I was originally planning to see, but when it came out everybody was talking about it so when I had some time to myself and needed to get out of the house for a while I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I'm glad I did, because it turned out to be a very emotional movie. The two leads both do a fantastic job in their roles and play off of each other splendidly, but there is also a great supporting cast (Laura Dern was also great) and it really makes you think about what it must be like to have cancer at such a young age. Even disregarding the general themes of mortality, it was still a very touching romance with a solid balance of humour, drama, triumph, and tragedy.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
This vaguely Fawlty Towers-inspired comedy was a lot of fun in just how many weird directions it could go. It starts as a story about a hotel concierge bonding with a lobby boy as he trains him and escalates into a convoluted political conspiracy involving murder and stolen property, all set against the beginning of World War II. Of course the heart of the film is the relationship between its two main characters, and that part has just the right balance of humor and drama. Some of the weird ways in which the film messes around with your perceptions of who is telling the story (which is literally a framing device within a framing device) were also interesting.
This film is irrefutable proof of my theory that Richard Linklater is the most patient man in the world. The fact that he managed to stay committed to making this movie over twelve years is remarkable, carefully timing each session of shooting to ensure the main character ages authentically. Even more impressive is that the whole cast managed to stay on board the whole way through, and Linlater even managed to find time on the side to make Before Sunrise and Before Midnight. The fact that he managed to remain dedicated is impressive enough, but that he still managed to pull off something wonderful is even better. It's a simple movie about the mundane difficulties of growing up. Most of us have been through something the protagonist has had to endure, and in that sense he is a very relatable character,
2. Under the Skin
This was an interesting little piece of work. When I heard about how strange this movie got I had to see it. I thought it was interesting how it actually managed to make its alien protagonist seem... well... alien. She was a character whose mind you can't really understand. She does these things we consider horrible not because of any active malevolence, but because she honestly does not understand how we see it. We also see her difficulty in understanding basic human activities that in any other movie (such as E.T. or Starman) would be used for comedic effect, with things like ordering cake as a main course and then struggling to use a fork. At the same time, what made the experience even more peculiar was that the human characters seemed even more alien, making the alien protagonist seem more human by contrast and keeping her as the one person we can relate to.
If I had my way, this is the movie that would be winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Sadly, I know from experience they would sooner give a belated award to The Garbage Pail Kids Movie than allow a science fiction film the dignity of being recognized by them. Interstellar was a movie that I was so hyped up about I even went and started a whole blogathon to celebrate its release. The visuals were amazing, and I loved the cast. Jessica Chastain is always great, and here Anne Hathaway gets a chance to try something new. I also liked the fact that this one included some actual science (it was nice to see a film that understood the difference between a black hole and a wormhole for once).
So there is my list. What were some of your favourite films of the year?
So there is my list. What were some of your favourite films of the year?