25.1.15

Top 30 of 2014

Weirdly enough it's always harder to write about the movies you love, than the ones you hate, but when you've done a worst-of-the-year list, you must do a best-of list too. That's how it works. Yes, the hard-knock life of an amateur film-critic is full of hard work and impossible choices, as you can imagine.

Anyway, lets get on with it. Here is the list featuring the 30 best movies I saw in 2014.

THE LIST

30) Non-Stop

Liam Neeson doing what he does best: Kicking ass and taking names! I was a bit worried, because Taken 2 was shit. Had he lost whatever groove he had going in the first Taken? Nope. Non-Stop was a great little thriller. And by 'great' I mean complete, utter nonsense, but hilariously entertaining.


29) The Taking of Deborah Logan

Yes, it's another found-footage horror film, but this one sure worked on me. Gave it the best shot - saw it late at night, in complete darkness - and it creeped me the hell out! Don't watch it if you've already OD'ed on found footage films, but it's worth a shot if you still have patience for the genre.


28) Saving Mr. Banks

I did NOT expect to like this little, based-on-a-true-but-quite magical story, crowd-pleasing, Oscar-wannabe film, but lo and behold, it worked its charms on me! Much like the real life P.L. Travers was charmed by the evil corporate genius Walt Disney!  And I swear I had a little tear in my eye by the end. PS: Another solid, low-key performance from Colin Farrell.


27) Locke

One man in a car. That's not a film! Except it IS. And a bloody good one, with a great performance from Tom Hardy. Sounds like an experimental film, doesn't it? But don't worry, this is good, old-fashioned, storytelling at its finest. No bells and whistle on this one. That's nice sometimes.


26) The Signal (2014)

I'm getting tired of these awesome science fiction movies I can't talk about or review, because it's almost impossible to avoid spoilers. I wouldn't trust a random stranger who just said "trust me, watch this," but this is the position I find myself in. So if you haven't caught it already, trust me. Watch this.


25) The Returned

A zombie movie with a different spin. Basically it's about a world were there's a drug that can keep the zombie infection at bay and let people live a normal life. But guess what: Supplies are running low.

Claustrophobic, desperate and dark. A gorgeous movie, with great performances, and it took the genre more serious than we're used to, by drawing lines to real life epidemics like AIDS or Ebola. A rough ride, not a funny, shoot-'em-in-the-head, action film.


24) Lone Survivor

You gotta get through the BS macho first half hour, and you gotta accept the fact that the ending is spoiled just by reading the title, but once you do that, you're in for one exhilarating ride. And it hurts every time we lose one of the key players. That means it's doing something right.


23) Odd Thomas

Funny and inventive fantasy movie, with the always likable Anton Yelchin in the titular role, cleverly directed with great energy by Stephen Sommers (The Mummy). It's better than most movies with $100 million bigger budgets. Should have launched a new franchise.


22) I Will Follow You Into the Dark

True, pretty much everything about this film is too slow. And yet somehow this love story with a supernatural twist got to me. The scares worked, the emotions worked, and Mischa Barton was surprisingly perfect in a potentially throwaway role.


21) Cheap Thrills

Outrageously simple, outrageous concept: Rich guy will pay you to do crazy things. What's your limit? Leads Pat Healy, Ethan Embry and David Koechner ride this sucker further than you think a real-world movie would be able to.


20) Last Passenger

A classic catastrophe setup gets new life in this modest British actioner that still manages to compete with big budget Hollywood films, with 20 times the budget. Forget that it sounds like cheap, direct-to-video crap. This is an engaging, exciting thriller, full of good characters that just gets better and better along the way.


19) Calvary

A small town priest learns that a member of his less than God-fearing congregation plans to kill him in a week, for crimes committed by the church. While the central mystery is a tad contrived, the exploration of the town and its citizens, who have little use for religion, and regularly taunts the priest, is fascinating. I'm no fan of religion, but the core of Calvary is a stunningly complex and subtle performance from Brendan Gleeson and that is the reason to watch this.


17) Gäten Ragnarok & Earth to Echo

We have a tie here. I don't want to pick between these two great family films, so I pick them both.

Gäten Ragnarok is a great Indiana Jones-like, old school, Swedish adventure movie, while Earth to Echo is a found footage, Goonies-inspired, science fiction movie, which puts all our ubiquitous tech-products to great use. What I love about them both is the innocent sense of adventure they represent, which most modern, $200 million, calculated, corporate, computer-dependent movies have lost. And I love the fact that both films can be watched by both grown-ups and kids, side by side.



16) The Borderlands

Another found footage film makes the cut? Whaaaaat? This one, about the investigation into a possession was creepy as all hell. It doesn't have any blind spots, or require any overly laborious explanations to work. I wish this was the first found footage film I ever saw, it would have worked far better than Blair Witch ever did.


15) The LEGO Movie

Everything IS awesome. You won't believe how good this film is before you see it, because it sounds like it shouldn't work on any level. Spoiler: It does.


14) Fury

Good, old-fashioned, grimy war film, full of great characters and intense situations, but little brains or historical perspective. Which is just fine. Brad Pitt is such a fucking rock star, as is Logan Lerman, who stars as the young, inexperienced soldier, joining a seasoned Sherman tank crew. It's the best job he'll ever have, don't you know.


13) Mud

Perfect little coming-of-age story, with a soulful performance from Matthew McConaughey. I thought I'd have to go back to the 80's to find something like this - to Stand By Me for example - but I guess not. They don't make 'em like they used to. Except when they do.


12) The Anomaly

I love small science fiction movies that make you go "I could have made that, if only I had that clever idea"! This story is about a guy who can only stay conscious for 9 minutes and 47 seconds before he passes out, and the next time he wakes up days or even weeks have passed, and he finds himself in a completely unfamiliar situation. Full of good ideas, and with enough talent to make them work! Don't follow the brain-dead masses into the next Transformers film. Check this out instead. Because you're worth it.


11) Penguins of Madagascar

Madagascar is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I estimate I've seen it roughly 600 times. Roughly. I didn't think this stunt would work, though. The penguins seemed better suited for a supporting, comic relief role, I had a hard time imagining them carrying an entire film on their tiny tuxedo'ed backs. But they did it! By golly, it worked. I shake my tail-feathers in your general direction, filmmakers who came up with this idea. You pulled it off. You managed to tell a funny story, relevant to the penguins we love, without interfering with or being dependent on the Madagascar universe.


10) You're Next

Pure, unadulterated, fun horror movie of the kind we rarely get these days, with a star-making performance from Sharni Vinson. This is just a freakin' cool movie. And if you're not watching it, you're not cool. Can you live with that?


9) Coherence

Friends gather to a dinner party, while a comet flies across the sky, and then shit happens. Once again, you can't sell this movie without spoiling it. Damn you clever filmmakers!


8) All is Lost

I love beautiful, simple ideas. This one is a simple as they come: One man, alone on a boat. The narrative is even more stripped down than in Locke, but J. C. Chandor (of Margin Call fame) still manages to create a complex experience, full of ups and downs, and of course there's the deceptively simple performance from Robert Redford, who has to carry the entire film alone, without speaking to anybody. Fascinating stuff.


7) The Scribbler

There were a couple of minor flaws in this film - most notably the completely superfluous bookend story - but besides that it's got breathtaking visuals, a mind-bending mystery, a fascinating lead character, played by the gorgeous and talented Katie Cassidy, and too many WTF moments to count. Just writing about it makes me want to see it again. That earns you a spot on the top list for sure.


6) Predestination

I'm not going to pretend this film is flawless either. As I already pointed out when I reviewed it in my podcast, there's an inherent problem with telling almost an entire story as a flashback montage with a narration. However, the paradoxical knot this movie ties on itself, telling the story of a time-traveling agent, trying to prevent a massive bombing, is so fascinating I can't shake it. And Ethan Hawke is endlessly cool.


5) Nightcrawler

A tight, little, dark thriller, with a must-see performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. You can watch this and merely revel in the sociopathic lead character and his journey through the world of crime-scene paparazzi photographers, or you can ponder the ramifications of his actions vis-a-vis the fast-paced, ratings-obsessed, heading-for-the-abyss, modern news-media landscape. Whichever way you chose to consume it, the film leaves any judgement entirely up to you. Which is kind of a relief.


4) Snowpiercer

Maybe we get too few science fiction movies each year, but with this level of quality, when 8 films (depending on how far you stretch the sci-fi genre) make it into the top 20, it's hard to complain.

I had been looking forward to Snowpiercer since I first heard about it. Futuristic vision, Korean director, snow, trains, this film had it all. It delivered in spades, but it also delivered something I hadn't expected: A sense of melancholy. It's easy to present a grim story, full of horrific death, as mankind puts up a final fight, before the inevitable end. It's a lot harder to deliver that side-by-side with a delicate sense of beauty and loss. Snowpiercer has scenes of complete and utter terror and hopelessness, but also quiet, pensive moments. It's a feral roar, but also a soft whimper.


3) American Hustle

I'm not fan of David O. Russell, so I had very little faith in this film. What little faith I had was due to the actors. I was in from moment one. What a ride! A crazy, wild, raw, funny, sexy, deceptive, depressing, delicious ride. Man, we need more films of this kind.


2) Edge of Tomorrow

It's. Just. So. Fucking. Good. What a great science fiction spin on Groundhog Day, why can't all Hollywood blockbusters be this good? Great use of effects, another great Tom Cruise performance, Emily Blunt is great as always. Great, great, great! Hold on, I gotta watch it again.

(The only thing that didn't work about this movie was the title. You messed up big time on this guys, but you already know that.)


1) Interstellar

I was expecting Interstellar to land somewhere between the brilliance of Inception (Best Film of the Decade©), and the dreadful, clunky The Dark Knight Re-craps Himself. Luckily it was closer to Inception than the Batman thing. This is the movie that proves Hollywood isn't completely lost. It's almost hard to fathom that Tinseltown can produce such a smart piece of work. It's a bit too long, I admit that, but regardless, Interstellar was a shining moment in 2014. The most stunningly bold and intelligent vision committed to film last year.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Sometimes people need to put a label on the year in film. "it was good" "it was bad" "it was better than 1990". Whatever. That kind of rating is as meaningless as putting 30 good films in some sort of semi-arbitrary order and call it a list.

I saw some great films in 2014. Period. And this blog is not so much about finding out which one is the best, as it is a way for me to remember the good ones for future reference, and perhaps alert you to one or two you may have missed.