THE BEST AND WORST OF 2014
By Peter Gray
Cinema in 2014; when it was good, it was great. When it was bad, it was awful. But, for the most part, it seemed to waver somewhere in between must-see and mediocrity. When looking back at the last theatrical year, I found it easier to pinpoint the worst of the bunch but once I dug a little deeper, it reminded me of just how many brilliant outings there were on offer.
The beginning months of the year were crowded with Oscar titles, both winners (’12 Years A Slave’, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’) and nominees (‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, ‘Nebraska’), meaning there was more quality on offer. Sequels were once again in heavy rotation, and apart from a few re-visits 9 years too late (‘Sin City: A Dame To Kill For’, ‘Wolf Creek 2’), most succeeded in outdoing their predecessors (’22 Jump Street’, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’). Last year’s darling Jennifer Lawrence continued her reign at the Box Office thanks to the latest in the ‘Hunger Games’ series, ‘Mockingjay Part. 1’, but her Oscar grab ‘Serena’ proved she’s not as unbreakable as we thought. Scarlett Johansson was arguably the queen of twenty fourteen with no less than 5 films on offer, all of which seemed to sit well with critics – two of which ended up on my personal Best-of list. Marvel continued their winning streak with ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ earning major points with crowds and critics, whilst their underdog project ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ flipped the genre on its head and brought us one of the year’s brightest stars – Chris Pratt.
The success of ‘The Hunger Games’ obviously sent Hollywood onto a scavenger hunt for the next young adult series to turn into a viable franchise, and though this past year saw ‘Divergent’ and ‘The Maze Runner’ emerge as the top candidates, other efforts ‘The Giver’ and, especially, ‘Vampire Academy’ fell by the wayside. Homegrown talents like Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman spent most of the year dodging critical bullets as respective projects like ‘Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Grace of Monaco’ were savagely targeted, only to find redemption at the years end with ‘The Water Diviner’ and, one of the biggest surprises, ‘Paddington’. The horror genre left much to be desired with ‘Annabelle’, the spin-off from ‘The Conjuring’, producing no more than a whimper, whilst Kevin Smith’s attempt ‘Tusk’ got everyone (well, those who saw it) talking for all the wrong reasons. Aussie movies were, once again, overlooked, a shame considering that the likes of ‘Felony’, ‘Predestination’ and the chilling bedtime story that is ‘The Babadook’ were far more quality projects than the international productions audiences favoured instead.
2015 is now upon us, and we can only hope the good outweighs the bad over the next 12 months. January already holds promise as we saddle up for Angelina Jolie’s sophomore directorial project ‘Unbroken’, the Disney musical ‘Into the Woods’, the Oscar-buzzworthy Stephen Hawking biopic ‘The Theory of Everything’, and Michael Keaton’s award-winning ‘Birdman’. And if that all sounds too heavy, there’s always Liam Neeson going for broke in ‘Taken 3’. Here’s to another year!
TOP 10 FILMS OF 2014
10. UNDER THE SKIN
Undoubtedly one of the films of 2014 to divide audiences and critics alike, ‘Under The Skin’ takes a basic plot – an alien in human female form trawling Scotland to lure men to her nest – and plays with it in a way that almost defies you to not enjoy yourself. Much will be made about the film for the fact that Scarlett Johansson appears nude but director Jonathan Glazer (who directed the similarly reviled ‘Birth’ in 2004) has handled the film with a distinct style and flavour that revokes any form of eroticism.
Though hardly a horror film in the traditional sense, ‘Nightcrawler’ is indeed one of the more unnerving cinematic experiences of 2014, with Lou Bloom (a stellar Jake Gyllenhaal) perfecting the archetype of a character designed to inflict an interrupted sleep. Allowing us a glance in to a sordid world that many of us are simply naïve to, ‘Nightcrawler’ is an intoxicating experience that you wish to look away from but can’t help be drawn further into its depth of depravity. Check your morals at the door and enjoy the ride.
Despite Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ being a relatively far-fetched idea, there is more truth laid here than in any one of the countless romantic comedies Hollywood has churned out over the last few years. A touching, and very accurate, portrayal of the challenges and frustrations that come with a romantic relationship, ‘Her’ may stretch the boundaries of believability having a man fall in love with an operating system, but in an era where we are so attached to technology and will happily converse with people we don’t know through various forms of media – who’s to say it isn’t possible?
The Spierig Brothers (the filmmaking duo behind the low-rent ‘Undead’ and the more polished zombie actioner ‘Daybreakers’) have certainly made their finest film here, blurring the lines of the science-fiction genre and creating something that’s simultaneously a thriller, an action film and a romance. Though it has evidently been made on a tight budget, ‘Predestination’ never showcases its restraints with its bold mentality thriving due to the more intimate canvas it has been painted on.
Whilst adverts for ‘Calvary’ will have you believe it’s a comedy, albeit a dark one at that, John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut ‘The Guard’ is a particularly tragic one. There’s humour peppered throughout, and quite often you’re unsure if you should laugh at the material, but it’s solely concentrated on a gloomy topic that is wisely never treated in a slight manner.
5. THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Based on the life of Jordan Belfort, an illicit stockbroker who scammed millions of dollars off of clueless clients and lived like a king buoyed up by every depravity imaginable, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ isn’t exactly a biopic (Belfort’s rags to riches tale is barely touched on) nor is it an apparent exercise in glamourizing his crooked exploits; above all else this film is uproariously funny and further proof that Martin Scorsese, even at 71 years of age, is in complete control of organising excessive chaos.
4. THE LEGO MOVIE
‘The Lego Movie’ is near-perfect in the sense that anyone who has played with LEGO in whatever shape or format should be pleased with any one of the creative aspects put forward. Warm and emotional, hilarious and kinetic, ‘The Lego Movie’ is simply a blissful celebration of childhood and imagination that knows no bounds in who it will affect. As the incredibly infectious song tells us ‘Everything is Awesome’ – and this movie surely is!
3. GONE GIRL
There isn’t really a foot stepped wrong in this story that acts as a somewhat social commentary on our media-obsessed society whilst at the same time concisely uncovering the pitfalls of a marriage. ‘Gone Girl’ is indeed a nasty little film that’s as entertaining as it is wicked, and though it perhaps runs a little too long, and many may find it’s crescendo a bit anti-climactic (a purposeful tact on Fincher’s end I suspect), you’re unlikely to be more affected by a thriller this year. And if nothing else, there’s always Rosamund Pike.
Regardless of whether or not you’re a jazz music fan, ‘Whiplash’ proves relatable to anyone who has strived for excellence and paid the cost of its inflated demand. A cinematic punch to the gut, this film deserves to be seen for Simmons’ terrifying performance alone – one that all but guarantees himself an Oscar nod come award season.
1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Though there are moments of unexpected violence and cruelty, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ stands as one of the most joyous experiences I had in the cinema last year. Tackling feelings of loneliness and regret amongst a constant pace of light-heartedness and pure fun, Anderson’s outing is simply beautiful and however you respond to the twisted elegance he’s created here, I dare say you’ll want to re-visit ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ as soon as possible.
WORST 10 FILMS OF THE YEAR
Made not long after Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper collaborated on ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, but before that film saw a release, ‘Serena’ is a bizarre cinematic experience that should’ve stayed on the shelf. Sadly, great deals of the film’s problems come down to Lawrence’s performance, the role seeming far beyond her range – at least at that point in her career – and as her character becomes unhinged, so too do we as an audience, laughing at her rather than becoming invested in her plight.
9. AND SO IT GOES
You can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu when watching ‘And So It Goes’, a supposed romantic comedy from director Rob Reiner who has clearly looked at features such as ‘As Good As It Gets’ for major inspiration. Managing to rope in another aging actor to play the cranky lead as opposed to the expected Jack Nicholson, Reiner (a filmmaker once capable of such gems as ‘Stand By Me’, ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘When Harry Met Sally’) utilises Michael Douglas and the predictable Diane Keaton to stage this geriatric romance that is often not very funny at all, and is only kept barely afloat due to the experience and talent of its leads – even when they’re slumming as they are here.
8. LET’S BE COPS
The trailer pretty much showcases the funniest moments so the actual film is highly sporadic on genuine laughs, and the climactic shoot-out is played almost entirely straight that it’s a particularly jarring experience when the film tries to go back to being a goofball comedy. The chemistry between Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr is really the only thing the film gets right, and given how monumentally successful this film has been ($120m worldwide on a $17m budget) they could potentially share fruitful careers but ‘Let’s Be Cops’ is far from a highlight in either of their CV’s. Care to re-visit ’22 Jump Street’?
7. GRACE OF MONACO
Much like 2013’s ‘Diana’, ‘Grace of Monaco’ has the best of intentions and an impressive enough pedigree (from director to headlining actress) to induce faith from an audience but both fail to cohesively grasp their subject matter. Grace slightly wins out as admittedly it wasn’t the cinematic slaughtering I was expecting, but I certainly couldn’t recommend it either as it really comes across as nothing more than an attractive bore. There are elements introduced throughout that tease a promise of something mildly interesting but ultimately ‘Grace of Monaco’ is a frustrating watch, and one that fails to establish its subject as a princess or a person.
6. 47 RONIN
Like many overblown Hollywood films, ’47 Ronin’ had a troubled road to the cinema initially set for a November 2012 release before being pushed back to accommodate reshoots (without the original director) and 3D post-conversion (a wasted effort). With the final act of the film finally livening up, begging the question where was this relative enthusiasm in the 90 minutes prior, you can imagine at some stage there was something interesting or, at the very least, entertaining to be told but as it stands ’47 Ronin’ was the first big mistake of 2014.
It really is quite sad to talk so negatively against a film like ‘Transcendence’ as this really is a case of an intriguing idea executed poorly. To the film’s credit it looks good, and there’s some neat special effects on hand (although one of the most promising shots presented in the trailer of Johnny Depp disintegrating into nothing is wildly wasted when viewed in context) but they don’t even come close to being worthy points of recommendation. Not even bad in a “so bad it’s good” way, ‘Transcendence’ is just bad, bland and worthy of being shut down.
4. VAMPIRE ACADEMY
I’m not entirely sure how it happened but the brotherly duo of Mark and Daniel Waters (the former who’s credited with directing ‘Mean Girls’, the latter penned the delicious ‘Heathers’) have somehow managed to create something inexplicably dreadful in the guise of ‘Vampire Academy’, a movie so awful that I can only assume these two capable artists had their project pulled away from them during the post-production phase as this is surely not the work of those responsible for arguably two of the most notable films in the teen-aimed genre.
Lars von Trier will always be a filmmaker who divides an audience, and though I usually find myself quite open minded I found this an indulgent and unnecessary exploration into sex addiction. If it wasn’t Shia LaBeouf trying to convince us he can do accents (he can’t!), it was the off-putting sight of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s genitals as she was being whipped into subordination, and if I missed the point of this movie – please enlighten me, but my advice would be to stay far away from this wretched piece of film.
2. THE TRIP TO ITALY
One of the most frustrating films of 2014, ‘The Trip To Italy’ was either going to be wholeheartedly embraced by its audience or violently rejected, and though it clearly had a target audience in mind, it didn’t seem to bother reaching beyond that demographic. Too much self-indulgent wankery from Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, and not enough focus on the Italian sights and cuisines, which I expected this movie to at least shine a little light on.
I saw some truly terrible films last year but ‘Tusk’ takes the cake. It’s a real shame too as the premise held so much promise within a genre that is in desperate need of a shake-up. I’m sure there’ll be a group of Kevin Smith fans who will lap up everything the man does, and horror fiends might be drawn in out of morbid curiosity, and if you can survive Justin Long’s incessant dickhead behaviour the more power to you, but ‘Tusk’ is by far the worst thing I viewed in 2014.