Jake Disch

The Films of 2014, Part One

It’s that time of year again: the time when I pretend that people care about how much I liked or didn’t like all the movies I saw over the past year. As I did last year, today I’ll focus on some of my favorite (and least favorite) films of the year, while the next one will feature my top five most very favorite things I watched in 2014.

Remember, I’m not a professional film critic. I watch a lot of movies, but I didn’t watch everything, and there are some pretty gigantic holes in my roster this year. Some of these, once I’ve seen them, might get bumped up into my top five. So let’s start things off with my absolutely shameful…

TOP 7 MOVIES I DIDN’T SEE THIS YEAR

Why seven? Because it’s my blog and shut up, that’s why. Here goes.

7. Transformers: Age of Extinction

Why it’s on the list: If I’m going to bitch about how terrible it is, I suppose I’d better watch it. But make no mistake, I’m 100% sure this movie is terrible. I’m going hate-watch it someday when my brain can’t handle thinking. Maybe New Year’s Day. Actually, that’s a brilliant idea. Hey theaters, try this on National Hangover Day: screen all the Transformers movies back to back for the poor people who are too miserable to think and also hate themselves for what they did the night before and want to be punished.

Why I didn’t watch it: Because it’s obviously fucking terrible, duh.

6. Boyhood

Why it’s on the list: Topping many critics’ best-of lists this year and earning rave reviews from all of my friends who saw it, this seems like required viewing for me as soon as I get three free hours.

Why I didn’t watch it: Because it’s three goddamn hours of watching a kid grow up. That’s a lot of time to relive childhood.

5. Top Five

Why it’s on the list: Again, this one’s earning great reviews all around, and it’s awesome to see Chris Rock back in the limelight. He killed hosting SNL back in the fall, and by all accounts this is one of the funniest things of the year. Plus, who knows when we’ll get to see Tracy Morgan up there again? Poor guy. Fuck Wal-Mart.

Why I didn’t watch it: Time and money. Plus with so many huge movies out at this time of year, I have a hard time justifying fifteen bucks for a movie I’d probably enjoy snorting at more in the comfort of my own home.

4. Whiplash

Why it’s on the list: I loved Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now last year and my adoration of JK Simmons knows no bounds. Plus the reviews, and the intensity of the trailers. It just looks pretty great.

Why I didn’t watch it: Out of all the movies on this list, this one hurts the most. My roommate and I actually had tickets to go see this but were thwarted by a street fair that tied up all traffic in Sherman Oaks that day. We got stuck on a backstreet in gridlock for a half hour, missed the screening, and never got around to making a second attempt.

3. Selma

Why it’s on the list: Besides all of the reviews and spots on best-of lists, this is a movie that purportedly seeks to de-mythologize Martin Luther King, Jr. He’s been all but sainted by national memory, but he was a man with faults just like anyone else. This looks to be the rare true-life tale of a great man that doesn’t raise its subject up on a pedestal and turn him into a legend, but rather chooses to humanize him.

Why I didn’t watch it: I didn’t even know about this movie until I saw a giant billboard for it in Hollywood, and then I started seeing reviews and trailers. Another case of not enough time.

2. Inherent Vice

Why it’s on the list: The trailer had me laughing out loud. Plus there’s a P.T. Anderson movie out that I haven’t seen and that is just killing me.

Why I didn’t watch it: I almost went, but then I got lazy, which I feel like the hero of this stoner tale could totally get behind. This is one that I’ll be rushing to as soon the holidays are over and I have time.

1. Interstellar

Why it’s on the list: It’s a Christopher Nolan movie, by all accounts it’s pretty good, and the trailers looked absolutely spectacular.

Why I didn’t watch it: I don’t want my Christopher Nolan movies to be just “pretty good.” I want them to be great. He spoiled me with Memento, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight, and now when people say one of his movies is just “good,” my interest wanes immediately. Plus there was something about the trailers that reminded me of a stoned-looking Matthew McConaughey driving a Lincoln in those terrible commercials, and that was a huge turn-off.

Now that that little bit of embarrassment is over, let’s get on with a happier topic. My…

HONORABLE MENTIONS FOR MY FAVORITES OF 2014

The Awards Contenders

There are a whole lot of movies jostling for awards right now, and a lot of them seem like viable contenders. Out of the ones I’ve seen, The Grand Budapest Hotel has got to be my favorite (that I’m not saving for my top five). As usual for Wes Anderson, it’s an impeccably-detailed dollhouse of a film, but Anderson fills his scenery with a story of twists, turns, absurdity, and a great deal of sadness. The horrors of war are always lurking just out of view, but they can be felt. Oh, and Ralph Fiennes gives one of the best performances of his great career, able to get a laugh with the turn of his head.

Gone Girl might not end up winning a ton of awards, but damn if David Fincher didn’t elevate this dark, cynical, pulpy tale of love gone horribly wrong into something that feels like vital satire. In a year in which the American media finally (if briefly) took notice of how much American men and the internet in general is terrified of women (see: Gamergate), Gone Girl plays like all of white straight male America’s nightmares come manifest. It’s ugly, it’s brutal, and for a minute there it might fool you into thinking it’s the most blatantly sexist mainstream movie in years, but once it all comes together it reveals itself as a take-no-prisoners condemnation of male American attitudes toward women.

The Blockbusters

Animation had a banner year all-around, and there were three standouts. While I enjoyed them all, they were deeply flawed if wildly entertaining. In a year that saw Big Hero 6 deal with the grief children feel at the loss of a loved one in a meaningful way, we also saw How to Train Your Dragon 2 teach kids the world over about how if you just try really hard your divorced parents will totally see that they loved each other all along, you guys. But then again, Dragon 2 was packed wall-to-wall with spectacular visuals and a palpable sense of joy that left a smile plastered on my face, while Big Hero 6 dragged in spots and made the mistake of ending with the classic Marvel movie sky battle/portal-to-another-universe gambit that we’ve seen a lot of in the last few years (The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World, to name a couple). Then there’s The Lego Movie, which might have been the funniest movie I saw all year but had a hard time creating female characters that had any impact or agency. But honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed all three and would gladly place them side by side by side on my shelf.

As far as the live-action stuff goes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes had an absolutely incredible first half. Right around the time Matt Reeves showed off that shot of the fire – you know the one, if you saw it – I was getting chills and thinking about how this was definitely a top fiver. I was also thinking that we were heading into the final third of the movie when we were barely past the halfway point. Still great, and a big improvement over the first one, but the insistence on extended action beats in the third act made the overall movie take a hit. Captain America: The Winter Soldier had a similar problem. I absolutely adored this movie’s characters, relationships (wait, a platonic friendship between the male and female leads? HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS!), and the way it systematically dismantled both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the flag-waving rah-rah nature of its protagonist’s very concept. And I absolutely lost my shit when that computer fired up and… but those are spoilers. What I’m saying is, these two movies had brilliant first and second acts, and then merely good third acts. That’s what relegates them to the honorable mentions category. But seriously, they’re still really fucking good so don’t yell at me.

The Underseen

Let’s start with the ones you probably know about. Snowpiercer had a rocky road to American multiplexes. The Weinstein company decided it was probably too long/weird for general audiences and wanted to cut a whole lot of the movie before releasing it. Director Bong Joon Ho balked, and as a result this one got a limited theatrical release. In retrospect, the Weinsteins were probably right. This one was too weird for general audiences. But it is exactly the right amount of weird for me. Bong Joon Ho seems to be attempting marry the off-kilter tone of his brilliant monster flick The Host with the haunting atmosphere of his equally brilliant Mother, and while the two bump up against each other occasionally, on the whole the result is winning. A massive fight in a cramped train car that pauses whenever the train shakes is a major highlight, as is Tilda Swinton’s impossibly weird matriarch. This is some seriously bonkers stuff, and it’s not for everybody, but I loved every arm-shattering, baby-munching minute of it.

Then there’s Edge of Tomorrow. Let’s all just pretend it never underwent a title change and keep calling it All You Need is Kill. I considered throwing this up with the blockbusters, but it bombed so hard and I heard so many people trash-talking it that I figured it belonged here. There are two schools of thought about All You Need is Kill star Tom Cruise: he’s crazy, but his movies are good so who cares; and he’s crazy, so therefore I hate all of his movies. If you fall into the former camp, All You Need is Kill brings you Tom Cruise in all of his witty, monster-slaying glory along with an impossibly badass Emily Blunt. If you hate Tom Cruise, you get to watch him die over and over and over, sometimes at the hand of an impossibly badass Emily Blunt. Just go watch it.

Slowing things down a bit, we’ve got The Guest, a methodically-paced thriller from Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, whose brilliant horror deconstruction You’re Next was similarly overlooked last year. The Guest features Downtown Abbey‘s Dan Stevens as a soldier who visits the family of his squadmate who was killed in battle. Then he sticks around, slowly becoming a part of the family. Slowly corrupting them. I don’t want to ruin anything, but the writer and director have referenced Halloween, Terminator, and Drive as their primary inspirations. And they do a damn fine job of living up to those references. Oh, and the soundtrack rocks, too.

Finally, there’s Under the Skin. This is the movie I’m probably most thankful for having seen in a theater this year. It is very, very slow and very, very strange, and had I been sitting at home with a wealth of options around I might have given up on it twenty minutes in. But as it unfolds, it slowly draws you in as you attempt to piece a story together from its quiet, restrained, mostly dialog-free scenes. This came very close to making my top five, and if my top five had a sixth slot this is what would be in it.

Okay, enough of all that gushing. Time for the fun stuff. Here are…

THE ABSOLUTE WORST FUCKING MOVIES I SAW IN 2014

I don’t like saying the word “worst,” because that implies that somehow have authority and am able to dictate what is and isn’t good. But I also can’t say that these are the movies I enjoyed the least, because those are the movies I’ve forgotten about and will never think of again. No, these are the ones that I will revel in making fun of in 2015, at least until I see something worse.

3. Pompeii

Hahahahahaha! Ohhhh, man. You guys. This is some grade-A bullshit right here. Jon Snow stars as a gladiator who falls in love with a woman betrothed to Jack Bauer and then he fights a bunch of dudes in bloodless PG-13 arena battles and then stuff explodes. The end. If Titanic and Gladiator made a baby together, but that baby was abducted by the guy who brought you the Mortal Kombat movie, that baby would grow up to be Pompeii. This movie is the best and worst reason to watch Starz when you’re hung over on a Saturday morning.

2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I hoped. I hoped for so long, even through the rumors about the filmmakers changing the turtles’ origin so they were aliens, even through the reveal of the creeptastic designs, through the casting of Megan Fox, I hoped that by some miracle we might get a good Turtles movie. Boy, did I learn my lesson. There’s so much wrong here, from the boneheaded decision to make April the lead and then have all the male characters stare at her ass and make comments about how hot she is, to the decision to tie the turtles’ origin to April herself for no reason, to the overabundance of CGI that signals that perhaps this franchise should remain in the realm of cartoons. But nothing hurts more than the twenty minutes right smack in the middle when this movie inexplicably clicks and becomes almost… good. When Raph rushes to a mountain compound to save his brothers, the resulting chase down a mountainside, complete with avalanche, is so awesome, so well-scripted, so perfectly Turtles (aside from Will Arnett staring at Megan Fox’s ass) that it actually pissed me off. Why couldn’t you make a whole movie like this, dammit ( aside from Will Arnett staring at Megan Fox’s ass)?

1. The Amazing Spider-Man 2: YOU’RE A FRAUD, SPIDER-MAN!

This entire movie is encapsulated in that single moment when Spider-Man jumps out a window, leaving Harry Osborn alone. Harry turns his back, kicks a table, and the worst line of 2014 is uttered through the most obvious ADR I’ve ever seen in a professional film: “You’re a fraud, Spider-man!” It’s such a stunningly terrible moment, and the rest of the movie isn’t much better. Dubstep Electro, last-minute Green Goblin (whose origin is, “Hey, what’s that glider-looking thing over there?”), the absolutely useless crap about Peter’s parents: it’s all just so tragically misconceived. Any movie that manages to make Emma Stone unlikeable is either trying (again, see my top five) or just plain doing it wrong. But hey, we finally have a movie with another blue-headed villain to pair with Batman and Robin as a heavy-drinking double feature, so at least there’s that.

Oh man, I can't believe we wore the same thing!

“Twinsies!”

That’s a wrap on part one! Stay tuned for part two, the one where I gush about how great stuff was in 2014!