OK friends. Here’s my list. Typical blah-blah shit: my favorites, not a best-of; still some stuff I didn’t see, but I consider this list pretty complete; didn’t get out to the movies as much as I wanted to this year again; other things that I’m sure are relevant and pithy. One relevant note: I fully expect this year’s list to be far more fluid in the future than most other years. I can see lots of changes here.
Last observation: lots of really terrific stuff in 2014 and lots of flotsam I couldn’t have cared less about with very little in between. Odd.
Anyway, here we go:
THE LEGO MOVIE; ABOUT LAST NIGHT; CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER; UNDER THE SKIN; WALK OF SHAME; NEIGHBORS; CITIZENFOUR; X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST; EDGE OF TOMORROW; 22 JUMP STREET; COHERENCE; DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES; BOYHOOD; GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY; STARRY EYES; THE GUEST; THE ZERO THEOREM; FORCE MAJEURE; FOXCATCHER; INHERENT VICE; AMERICAN SNIPER; THE INTERVIEW
A SPECIAL EXCEPTION
SELMA – I just need to see this again. Was on a handful of Benadryl when I hit the theater, and I know it’s incredible, but because of my antihistamine haze, it didn’t leave a mark. To be very clear: that’s not on the movie, that’s on me. I will rectify this soon and will likely have to update my list. Now leave me alone about it.
MOST DISAPPOINTING MOVIE
CHEF – First of all, a champagne problem this year: this is actually still a good movie that I mostly liked. But I don’t think it’s the movie it could have been. Jon Favreau is one of my very favorite writer/directors, and there were parts of this scrappy tale that made me so giddy to get him back from tentpole stuff for just a little while. But in the end, there was one major letdown: every problem in this movie is conquered SO EASILY. Yeah, Favs has a rough first act. But you know what? Make some sandwiches, dance a little, smile, and everything’s OK! Now your kid loves you, you’re making money hand-over-fist, you’ve revived your career, and your ex wants you back. ALL BECAUSE OF SANDWICHES! The hurdles in this movie are set up all over the place, but for some reason, instead of running the race and jumping them all, the story just hops in a helicopter and clears them by thousands of feet. While eating a sandwich. So there are no stakes, because everything is just sort of a bother rather than a real life challenge. Once the truck is purchased…nothing goes wrong. So two-thirds of the movie is basically a foregone conclusion and a celebration of overcoming very little. And it’s kind of fun, but also toothless and mundane. I don’t know. I just wanted more.
THE TOP TEN
10. LIFE ITSELF – My favorite thing about this movie, besides the wonderfully bloated section covering Roger Ebert’s partnership with Gene Siskel? The fact that it didn’t shy away for even a second from portraying the man as he once was: really little more than kind of a dick. Which is terrific, because it informs so much of his early diatribes about film AND makes you appreciate even more how he settled his shit down once he got married and unquestionably started writing better than he ever had in his life. Also, why isn’t Steve James considered our best living documentarian? It’s a mystery.
9. WHIPLASH – This wasn’t on my list until a couple days ago, and then I watched it again, and…I just can’t ignore it. I still have issues with the movie; I get taken out of everything at various points with Simmons, who is unreal in this role and should without question win an Oscar, but who I also think was written as just a touch too cartoonish, and that kept dragging me away from the reality of the story. Still, even with that…WOW. The last sequence alone is one of the very best musical set pieces ever put to film. EVER. I mean that. A remarkable feat in editing as well.
8. GODZILLA – I don’t know what the rest of you guys were looking for, but this is *exactly* what I wanted when I first heard this movie announced with this director. I enjoyed every single minute of it. The scale was note-perfect, the surprise appearance of the second monster was a terrific decision and the VFX were sensational. Don’t know what else to say other than it made me very, very happy.
7. INTERSTELLAR – Again…hard for me to fathom what some of you were looking for in this movie. OK, maybe it drags a little at the outset, but the eventual conversion of science and fiction rewarded us with something awe-inspiring. It felt, quite honestly, like a perfect companion to CONTACT, the last movie about “space” that filled me with such wonder and excitement. What you guys treasured so much about GRAVITY this year? That’s what INTERSTELLAR was for me. Imperfect for sure but vital without question.
6. JOHN WICK – Along with my #5 pick, the most fun I had at the movies at this year. This is not a prestige pick, and it’s not an artsy thinker, but it’s slick and it’s brutal and it’s unapologetic about being exactly what it is: about 90 minutes of revenge and mayhem and a whole lotta brass hitting the ground. Keanu is just the greatest.
5. THE RAID II – See #6. Where JOHN WICK is content on deploying brute force to get the job done, however, THE RAID series has shown itself to be sneakily concerned with detail of movement and economy of space in its fight sequences and as such has become an entirely unique property in the world of action films. It’s not often a sequel improves on its original, but this one unquestionably did. A perpetual rewatch, one of the highest compliments you can give any movie.
4. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – Remarked the other day that, while ROYAL TENENBAUMS will almost certainly never be eclipsed as my favorite Wes Anderson film, this latest may well be his best…and I think that, in a couple years of letting it season, it might not even be worth debating such. You get the feeling that this is the unequivocal masterpiece that he’s been building to his entire career so far. It is SPLENDID. Could see it rating much higher by the time the decade is over.
3. GONE GIRL – In my mind, hands down, the best script of the year and a stunning achievement from Gillian Flynn. It’s so wonderfully, wrongly mean, you guys. It is unabashedly a movie about bad people being very bad and doing very bad things, and it GLEEFULLY rolls around in that station like a pig in a mudpatch. If that’s right up your alley – and boy, is it ever up mine – it’s damn near impossible to come away from this not feeling giddy and satisfied. It made me so. Happy.
2. BEGIN AGAIN – And then on the COMPLETE other end of the spectrum from GONE GIRL in the Realm of Things That Make Geoff Happy, there’s BEGIN AGAIN. Look, I don’t know what it is that John Carney’s got, but it works on me like nothing else. The man chips away at my cynicism and my skepticism and whittles and hones stories that just simply fill me with joy. And he did it again here. It’s shaggy and meandering and unsure of itself and even a bit twee in certain moments…and holyfuckingshit, does it ever sing. It’s wonderful, and it left me absolutely beaming. And it’s not like I even need to point this out, but the music is soul-affirming. None of this should have worked on me, and yet every second of it did.
1. NIGHTCRAWLER – Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand we swing the whole way back in the other direction for the best movie of the year. You know what geeks me up so much here? There isn’t a single likable person IN THIS ENTIRE MOVIE. And while the majority of the denizens of GONE GIRL where black inside but squeaky clean on the surface, NIGHTCRAWLER dispatches with any of that. Lou Bloom is a virus. He tries to hide it, but there’s nothing you can do to mask that level of emptiness, and we all know that because we all know a Lou Bloom. This movie gets all the credit in the world for not only refusing to turn away from such darkness, but getting as close to it as possible with the brightest light and cackling wildly when it should probably back away. It’s mesmerizing and terrifying and you just want to scrub your insides when it’s over. That is BRILLIANT, and that’s exactly why it’s my favorite movie of the year.