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.


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.


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.


Bottom 30 of 2014

The annual tradition is back! Every year, shortly after January 1st, I put together a list of the best and worst film experiences from the past year, and then I write a blog about them, and then you read about them, and then we're all wiser and better people. Or something. Either way, here we go: We'll start with the worst....


30) In a World...

I wanted to love this movie SO much! Lake Bell is gorgeous, funny and talented, and I would love if she broke the mold and got a good directing career going. I even loved the premise, at least on paper; a young woman struggling to be the first female in a male dominated field - that of the trailer voiceover artists. But instead of a clever indie that challenged traditional gender roles we got Beverly Voiceover 90210. A self-obsessed, drama-queen dramady, which lacked both comedy, drama, and depth.

29) Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

What the hell happened?! Seriously! How could you guys screw this up!? Well first of all, you waited too long. The world moved on. That black/white, virtual CGI, film noir world had a part to play, but now that's over. Two: You didn't evolve. Sin City 2 is the same as Sin City 1, just more of the same. Different boobs, great boobs in fact, but ultimately the same. And finally, three: Sin City 2 has all the same problems the first one had, you didn't fix a single one of them. I suspect directors Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller were so convinced they're brilliant, they forgot to check if everyone else agrees.

28) The Equalizer

It looks good, and Denzel Washington is always solid, but this must be the least ambitious film of the year. It's so utterly predictable, and completely uninventive that it's hard to believe this is a real Hollywood film. Was that a joke? Yes. No. Well, sort of.

27) RoboCop

A remake of RoboCop made even less sense than the remake of Total Recall, unless of course you could come up with a bold new vision to rival Paul Verhoeven's original masterpiece. Random-director-for-hire José Padilha did not have a bold vision, sadly. RoboCop should have just stayed in the 80's, don't you agree Irvin Kershner?

26) The Grandmaster

I HATED this movie. I found it completely unbearable on almost every level. Now, I know there were different versions of the film for different markets, and perhaps I saw the wrong one, but unless the other versions told a different story, in a different way, about a different guy, it wouldn't chance anything for me. Damn, I hated that film! Why Isn't it higher on the list, then? Because Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi.

25) The Wolf of Wall Street

It's been 25 years since Martin Scorsese made his last masterpiece. It's been 10 years since he made a film I would even consider watching a second time. And yet, it surprised me how big a misfire this film was. It's an hour too long, it basically just recycles themes from Goodfellas, and it shows no empathy for the many lives its flamboyant lead character has destroyed. High-profile clueless film-making at its worst.

24) The Expendables 3

It was too good to be true. That massive cast, those spectacular guest stars, a weird choice of director, and sure enough, Expendables 3 collapsed under its own weight. We want to watch the good old action stars kick ass, when we see a film like this. We don't want a bland new crew, we don't want generic action-scenes, we want what you gave us in I and II. Don't tell me you don't realize why those films were good!

23) Drive Hard

A silly bit of fun, surely. Yeah, but unfortunately not quite silly enough, and ultimately not a lot of fun. Also, Thomas Jane should never ever appear with long hair again.

22) Pompeii

Paul W.S. Anderson has made some entertaining films, but here he's way out of his comfort zone. He's just not smart enough to make this kind of epic. He should stick to trashy, fun, action films. The drama here is utterly predictable, and the film feels completely inauthentic in every aspect, from the casting, to the production design, to the dialogue. When the big disaster finally hits PWSA gets a chance to deliver some impressive images. Unfortunately, volcano or no volcano, the characters remain as one-dimensional as ever. You'll spend the whole film snickering, which is why it's not further down on the list.

21) Når dyrene drømmer (When Animals Dream)

Valiant, but ultimately doomed, Danish attempt to make a werewolf film. Almost nothing happens in the film, no one talks about anything, and that's a pretty ineffective way to tell a story. It could have worked, they had everything going for them. Next time the director should just make a sculpture.

20) Escape Plan

Another Arnold film on the list? Boy, this isn't his year. At least Braunschweiger looked like he was having fun in this one, unlike his co-star Sylvester Stallone. Maybe Sly knew what a convoluted script he was working with? And another thing: Don't hire 50 Cent. Ever. For anything. Not even as wallpaper.

19) In the Blood

Hiring Gina Carano to kick ass makes sense. Hiring her to act? No so much. Hiring Cam Gigandet to do anything but clean the toilet? Downright moronic. So was the film.

18) Kvinden i buret (The Keeper of Lost Causes)

Deadly dull, Danish detective story, based on a popular book series. Everything about this film is too small: The budget, the story, the director's ambitions, the drama. In a world where we have Se7en and Silence of the Lambs, you have to try harder than this.

17) Frost

Utterly confusing, inconsistent found-footage film from Iceland, which leaves more questions than the shaky images answer. What happened on that glacier? Did something happen? Who did it happen to? When did it happen? These and other basic storytelling issues plague the core mystery of this film, which is so vague it could pass for gibberish.

Cool setting notwithstanding the movie quickly falls into the overly familiar trappings of the genre, and accomplishes less than The Blair Witch Project did 14 years ago, when the idea seemed fresh. The film descends into blurry-cam nonsense during the finale, before leaving the format for a straightforward wrap up, in an equally unsatisfying non-answer ending.

16) Kite (Live Action)

How do you make a full-length Hollywood film from a 50-minute Japanese, animated porn? You ignore everything but the lead character's name.

15) Under The Skin

Everything that's wrong with so-called "art films" gathered in one neat package! Meandering, almost non-existing plot. Silence presented as substance. Nudity in lieu of honesty. Too bad that awesome ending doesn't belong to a better film. Speaking of which, if Scarlett Johansson wants to get naked I'm all for it. But couldn't she do it in a real film?

14) The Counselor

Poor senile Ridley Scott. He's just lost it. If Prometheus wasn't proof enough, this one should convince you.

(full review here)

13) Transcendence

Wally! Tell me you didn't pull a Mikael Salomon (he of Blue Lagoon: The Awakening fame) and traded a stellar career as cinematographer for a mediocre-to-non-existing career as a director? Tell me you'll go back to shooting, please. To be fair Transcendence's major problem is the script. It just doesn't work, it's incompetent nonsense, and the film itself is too dull and too constrained to be unintentionally funny. This is just a big, dozy, dying beast.

12) Maleficent

This is a genre now. The CGI-barf-bag genre. Last year we had Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer. I blame Tim Burton. It started with Alice in Wonderland making $1 billion. Oh well, Maleficent is another film in a long line of big-budget Hollywood fairytales drenched in CGI. They are ALL terrible. They never work. Put some damn effort into THE STORY and don't worry so much about the look.

11) Sabotage

Wait, wait... this is the THIRD Arnold film on the bottom list? What are you doing, big guy? What's happening to you? You have to pick better scripts. It started so well with Expendables 2 and The Last Stand, but three shitty films in a row? What, are you trying to follow Seagal down the drain? Try less hard.

10) Transformers: Age of Extinction

Stop it, Michael Bay. No, I'm serious, stop it! Are you listening? PUT that camera down, pull that robot out of your ass, and pay attention! Are you paying attention? Here's what I want you to do: STOP IT! And get a fucking editor.

9) I, Frankenstein

If you squint, this almost looks like a movie! This is a stupid Underworld-like ripoff, which uses the name Frankenstein to get some street cred, but here's how incompetent this film is: Even the title is nonsense. This is about Frankenstein's monster, which is called Adam, there is no Frankenstein in the movie, so the proper title would be "I, Adam". Hilarious. I suggest this film should go away and die on the North Pole.

8) Vampire Academy

This is not a film. This is a ragged collection of random clips tied together without the slightest regard for a coherent narrative. Every scene makes references to events or concept it seems like we should already be familiar with, as if we're dumped into the middle of a series of films, and someone forgot to tell us this is number 8.

It's full of insultingly weak exposition ("Can you believe it's been two years since we ran away, do you think the vampire academy is still looking for us?"), and seemingly insurmountable problems are clumsily introduced only to vanish in a puff of rosy words three scenes later. Too obvious to be cool. Not cheeky enough to get away with being uncool. At least the chicks were hot. Oh, and I think the guys were too, if you're into that.

7) The Act of Killing

This Oscar-nominated documentary is a morally questionable abomination, both in inception and execution. It may have started with an interesting idea, but somewhere along the way it went horribly wrong, and rather than initiating some sort of personal awakening, by having former Indonesian death-squad thugs confront their past transgressions, it turned into an endorsement of genocide and an ad for gangsters. There are worse films on this list, but none of them are as misguided as this one.

6) Lucy

Much was made of the total BS "we only use 10% of our brain"-myth, which form the base of this story. I was fully expecting to hate the film because of this. I did NOT expect that the 10% nonsense is the most sensible and coherent part of the film. Scarlett Johansson is drop-dead gorgeous, but she's SO bad here, and the film spirals into brain-numbingly stupid garbage almost instantly. What happened to you Luc Besson? You were a contender once.

5) The Other Woman

Why would anybody want to make a shoddy, predictable, unfunny, unambitious pile of crap like this? And why would they put so little effort into it? Then again, when you can make close to $200 million, why would you try harder? The tone is all over the place, it takes the film forever to get to the point, and you can write the ending verbatim just from the poster. The casting of the vile Nicki Minaj isn't even the worst thing, nor the juvenile fart jokes, the complete unimaginative revenge plot, or that they can make Kate Upton in skimpy outfits seem dull. It's that every single person connected to this film should have tried harder in every aspect of their work.

4) Machete Kills

That's twice you make it to the bottom list Rodriguez. Time to take a look in the mirror and consider a different profession.

(full review here)

3) Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

How the HELL can you guys mess up the Jack Ryan concept AGAIN?! This is the third time in a row! And with Kenneth Branagh at the helm, no less. How is that possible?! And you guys made me hate Chris Pine too?! What are you doing to me?!

(full review here)

2) Tarok (Catch the Dream)

Cuntish bullhorn Anne-Grethe Bjarup Riis "directs" this Danish period piece, which should have painted a portrait of the country, by telling the story of the most winning racehorse in history. Unfortunately the incompetent Riis and her tone-deaf producer Regner Grasten have so little talent that everything they touch turns to a rotten pile of shit, regardless of the good intentions of the original concept.

1) Raze

To quote myself: "The first thing you need to know about this film is that Rachel Nichols dies in the first scene, before the opening credits. Yes, the very Rachel Nichols whose name they wrote above the title. They did this to con you into seeing the movie and that's not right."

On top of that this is a piece-of-shit film.

(full review here)


Phew! That was rough! But not to worry. 2014 had plenty of great films too. We'll get to those in the next post.