2014: The Best, the Worst, the Most Overrated and Most Underseen

There is a sense that 2014 wasn’t a very good year for movies. It’s an idea that I just plain don’t get. I think it was a splendid year for movies — so much so that I find myself unable to be content with a Top 10 list, and have instead gone with a Top 20. This was a year in which we got films from both Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson (we won’t mention that other Anderson’s — Paul W.S. — effort), Tim Burton, Michel Gondry, Jim Jarmusch, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen (of course), Alejandro González Iñárritu, Bong Joon-ho, David Fincher, Mike Leigh, John Michael McDonagh, and even the arch madman of the movies, Alejandro Jodorowsky. How something worthwhile couldn’t emerge out of this is hard to imagine. And this isn’t even factoring in newcomers and people who just aren’t on my radar. To me, 2014 was a terrific year. Even filmmakers I don’t normally care for — like Fincher and Iñárritu — made films I liked. I have little cause for complaint with 2014 overall, though, as always, the rubbish is inevitably with us.

One film you will not find on my list is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. While this will surprise no one who knows me personally, it is apt to wring some withers — or at least raise some eyebrows. Here’s the thing — I admire the film as a unique experiment, almost an insane one. Is it really “groundbreaking” and “game-changing?” Ask me again when filmmakers start adopting the approach as a matter of course. I am surprised by how relatively coherent and cohesive it is, given not just the time involved in making it, but the evolution (I’d call it maturation) of Linklater as a filmmaker during those 12 years. But whether I have any great fondness for it is another matter, and I just have very little. Strip it of the way it was made — which many will say is impossible — and is it really that remarkable as a movie? To me, no, it isn’t. Without the process, it just not outstanding. It’s an OK family drama/coming of age story with craftsmanlike, but not remarkable, writing, directing and performances. It is a film everyone should see, but its actual greatness eludes me. Many will disagree.

Not everything I thought had genuine merit is going to fit — even in a list of 20 titles. Movies like Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game, Justin Simien’s Dear White People, Craig Johnson’s The Skeleton Twins,and Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild were near misses, for example. (For that matter, there were a few others that also nearly made the cut that I’ll discuss in the “underseen” category, which also has some of my 20 best.) And there’s one film — Ava DuVernay’s Selma — that might have factored in if Paramount had bothered promoting it in the hinterlands. Oh, well, we can all find out about it when it opens here on Friday.

The Best

 

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1.The Grand Budapest Hotel. The first person who calls Wes Anderson “twee” can go sit in the corner. Even though I knew several members of SEFCA (South Eastern Film Critics Association) who might go for this — and who were not whelmed by Boyhood — no one was more pleasantly shocked than I when this year’s voting resulted in The Grand Budapest Hotel being named as the group’s best film. While, no, I do not think it’s Anderson’s best film, I think it may be his most perfectly crafted one. (Obviously, it has been his most popular one.) In a year marked with no shortage of cinematic creativity, Anderson’s multi-format (it uses all three basic screen shapes, depending on the era of the story) comedy — with, like all his films, an underlying current of deep sadness — is a film like no other. That it stars Ralph Fiennes in an amazing performance doesn’t hurt.

 

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2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Breathtaking filmmaking from Alejandro González Iñárritu — a non-stop surprise on so many levels — also cracked the SEFCA list (coming in at number three) and with good reason. The fact that Iñárritu — whose specialty has been peddling humorless, depressing movies about unlikable people — had such a movie in him is amazing. It has its dark side, but it’s also witty, playful and entertaining. Its greatness has less to do with its stunning sleight of hand of appearing to (mostly) take place in one unbroken take — or even the fact that it acts as a summation of Michael Keaton’s post-Batman career — than it is that it manages to be richly compelling and human to such a degree that you’re apt to forget those more obvious hooks.

 

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3. Snowpiercer. Bong Joon-ho’s first English-language film was a triumph of art over Weinsteinism. When Bong refused to let ol’ Harvey W. cut his film for U.S. release, the retaliation was to hand it over to the TWC-Radius side of the Weinstein empire. As predicted, that did hurt the film’s gross, but its VOD release more than offset that loss — and its foreign take pushed its total gross to near $100 million. (This was the biggest SEFCA surprise, coming in at number seven.) It’s intelligent science fiction — with a core allegory about our own class system — told with breathless style and often violent action. Probably the most visceral film experience of the year.

 

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4. Only Lovers Left Alive. It is purely coincidental (I think) that three of my top four films feature Tilda Swinton, but they do. Even so, Jim Jarmusch’s stunning vampire love story, Only Lovers Left Alive, is the one that truly showcases her — not that I think being showcased is high on her list of priorities. Is it a horror picture? Well, yes, it has real — honest-to-Stoker blood-drinking vampires, none of your Twilight rubbish here. But it’s much more than that. It’s a stylish, often very funny, ultimately romantic and rather somber story that creates something of its own mythology — complete with clever and slightly subversive bits of historical revisionism. A beautiful, almost hypnotic, and mostly underseen gem.

 

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5. Mood Indigo. High on the list of underseen movies is Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo. In fact, if I hadn’t badgered The Carolina’s booker, this very limited release of Gondry’s film wouldn’t have played here at all. That it lasted two weeks was remarkable in itself. (That the IMDb insisted that the theater was showing a 1968 film version of the same source novel probably didn’t help.) It’s based on Boris Vian’s novel L’Écume des jours or literally: The Foam of the Days. (Oddly, while the film often references Duke Ellington — even to him “appearing” as a character — and features some of his recordings, his famous “Mood Indigo” is nowhere to be found, though the title suits the movie.) While the film mostly follows the story, the results are pure Gondry — wildly inventive, stylishly fantasticated, very playful, finally sad and not to everyone’s taste. The film has been near the top of the list since I saw it. Since then I’ve seen Gondry’s original 131 minute version (the theatrical U.S. cut runs 94 [the original is on the DVD], and it’s even better — richer, deeper, more complex and more casually grotesque.

 

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6. Venus in Fur. Roman Polanski’s two person film version of David Ives’ play (adapted for film by Ives and Polanski) is one of the director’s most fascinating works. Emmanelle Seigner (Mrs. Polanski for the last 25 years) and Mathieu Amalric (who looks alarmingly like Polanski from about 30 years ago) are the whole show — along with the script and Polanski’s direction — but you’re hardly aware of it, or of the fact that only the opening and closing shots take place outside one location. A penetrating — and very funny — examination of life and art and gender roles.

 

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7. Inherent Vice. After finding The Master a crashing disappointment, I approached this latest Paul Thomas Anderson film with some degree of caution. But this marijuana-hazed neo-noir vision of Southern California in 1970 — a loopy detective story like a druggy take on The Big Sleep (which actually did involve drugs, though you’d never guess it from the 1946 film) — is nothing like The Master. Some people will not think this is a good thing. It’s a deliberately messy, endlessly convoluted sort of mystery with Joaquin Phoenix as a stoned Sam Spade-like gumshoe in sandals — and judging by the other characters in the case, being stoned seems a wise move. It’s based on a Thomas Pynchon novel that the film may drive me to read. A lot of people will absolutely hate this movie. You may be one of them.

 

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8. Mr. Turner. Mike Leigh’s biographical film on the English painter J.M.W. Turner is so far removed from most biographical films that the generally dismissive term “biopic” doesn’t suit it at all. Timothy Spall plays — I should say “inhabits” — Turner and conveys most of his thoughts in grunts, growls, and assorted noises of disapproval. He is man of few words, little patience and no social graces. I found this film on him mesmerizing from start to finish. Since it is so far removed from the typical Hollywood biopic, it will bore, baffle and even anger some viewers. It is, I fear, the sort of movie that critics love and audiences mostly … don’t. It has nothing that could be called a three-act structure. It is long — two-and-a-half-hours — and it is generally not “action-packed,” but it is a deep and deeply compassionate look at a difficult man who found communication awkward — or even impossible — and only seemed to understand his vision of art. It has not played here yet.

 

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9. Dom Hemingway. Richard Shepard’s (The Matador) film Dom Hemingway played here, but was — and remains — underseen. If ever a film needed critic’s screening to give it a little boost, Dom Hemingway is that film. And it was odd that it didn’t get one, since it came from Fox Searchlight. It didn’t, though, and it died. Could a couple of good reviews  have helped it? Well, judging by the fact that it did more the day after the review came out than it had all weekend, I’m saying, yes. But it was never going to be a big hit. This underworld comedy was just too violent, too dark, too loud, too hyper-stylized, too strange — really just too everything. A fearless performance by Jude Law, perfectly complemented by Richard E. Grant as his more level-headed and proper friend, was its great strength. It went where more timid films would never have dared to venture and with some of the most gorgeous cinematography of the year.

 

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10. Pride. This did play here and a lot of people got to see it and a lot of people loved it. When it snagged a Golden Globe Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) nomination, everyone was surprised — probably including the people who made it. Its director, Matthew Warchus, is a virtual unknown, writer Stephen Beresford was a first-timer. Though it technically stars Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West and Paddy Considine, Pride is purely an ensemble film. But it’s such a joyous, wonderful film — so brilliantly made and written — that it sweeps every concern out of its path. I do not know of another film that so carefully and effortlessly seeds its film with emotional high points through its entire length.

 

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11. Magic in the Moonlight. It’s been called “lesser Woody Allen.” It was savaged by many critics. In other words, the same tired old complaints. Personally, I thought this 1920s period romantic comedy with Colin Firth and Emma Stone was a badly needed breath of champagne on a summer night. I bought it the day it came out. I have yet to buy the much more acclaimed Blue Jasmine from last year.

 

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12. Calvary. John Michael McDonagh’s (The Guard) second film, Calvary, is a much harsher, more disturbing affair than his first. It’s also probably better. Brendan Gleeson — playing a good priest who has been told by a former abused child that he’s going to murder him as a statement against the Church — is brilliant. For that matter, so is everyone in this drama filled with dark, dark comedy.

 

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13. Big Eyes. Outwardly, this Tim Burton picture — at least once it gets past the opening credits and a scene in an Edward Scissorhands suburbia — is a very different proposition than anything he’s made. Inside, it’s pretty much Burton continuing his exploration of the world of kitsch and people obsessing over something no rational person would even understand. There’s more here than meets the eye, though some aspects — like the main character becoming a Jehovah’s Witness — are very much played down.

 

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 14. The Babadook. Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook is not only the horror movie of the year, it may just be the best horror movie of the century. Amazingly scary — and all done with practical effects — it’s that rare horror picture that’s also about something, yet never forgets to be a horror movie.

 

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 15. The Homesman. Tommy Lee Jones co-wrote the screenplay (adapted from Glendon Swarthout’s novel), directed and stars — with Hilary Swank— in this increasingly dark and darkly funny revisionist western about a claim jumper (Jones) helping (not by choice) a determined woman transport three insane women back east. It takes several very strange turns toward the end — yet they feel right.

 

Film Review Gone Girl

 16. Gone Girl. Normally, I don’t even like David Fincher movies. They seem as arrogantly and self-consciously hip to me as Fincher comes across in interviews (and even still photos). But this twisty, dark — almost gothic horror — thriller that takes on American marriage at its worst extreme, the media, and our sense of entitlement is just right. Maybe it’s just a perfect match of filmmaker and material.

 

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17.Locke. This sounded like the worst idea ever — 80 minutes of Tom Hardy driving from Birmingham to London while talking on his cell phone as his life crumbles in the process. Could anything sound worse, more deadly dull, or inherently uncinematic as that? Turns out that writer-director Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things writer) knew what he was doing — except for one thing: How to get people to go see the movie. That quandary remains unsolved.

 

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18. Love Is Strange. Ira Sachs’ Love Is Strange is essentially a modern day variation on Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) — a story about an aging couple forced to separate when none of their family can (or will) take both of them in after they lose their home. In McCarey’s film the couple was played by Victor Moore and Beaulah Bondi. Here they’re played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. It works just as well with a gay couple, and that even adds an interesting wrinkle since the loss of their income and home is tied to them finally being allowed to marry — an event that causes the Catholic school where Molina teaches to no longer be able to pretend they don’t know he’s gay.

 

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19. The Lunchbox. This Indian — yes, it’s partly in Hindi with subtitles — comedy-drama romance starring the always wonderful Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire) is from a first-time writer-director Ritesh Batra. It’s also one of the year’s most charming films and moving films with its unlikely story of a kind of romance between a 50-something accountant (Khan) and a neglected young wife (Nimrat Kaur) — all of which is predicated on the somewhat silly contrivance of Khan accidentally receiving the lunches she’s prepared her husband in an attempt to regain his interest.

 

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20. The Dance of Reality. Last — and probably least, if I’m honest — is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality, which also qualifies in the realm of Damndest Thing I Saw All Year. That’s hardly surprising since its Jodorowsky, the 85-year-old Chilean madman of the movies, making his first film in 23 years. This startling — and sometimes off-putting (it’s Jodorowsky) — blend of autobiography, political allegory, fantasy, and poetry didn’t play here. (Whatever chance it had probably curled up and died when the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune — about his never filmed version of the novel Dune — underperformed.) Too bad. It’s certainly one wild — and unique — ride.

The Worst.

 

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1. Force Majeure. Force Majeure — or as I think of it, Forced Manure — is the sort of thing that probably belongs on a list of overrated movies. It certainly is that. In fact, it took first place as Best Foreign Language Film with SEFCA. (I assure you I didn’t vote for it.) I was more bored by this dumb marital drama—  about what happens when a husband tries to run away from an avalanche (that really poses no danger) rather than protect the wife and kids  —than anything I saw this year. That people enthuse over its profound look at marriage and its brilliant comedy (I never saw any comedy worthy of the name) completely baffles me.

 2. Obvious Child. Another overrated one. This is an abortion rom-com starring someone named Jenny Slate (who I’d never seen before and hope to never see again) and written and directed by Gillian Robespierre (a first-time offender) is hands-down the most obnoxious, unfunny, tedious film I saw all year.

 

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 3. God’s Not Dead. The review for this low-rent “persecuted Christian” drama turned out to be the most-viewed movie item on the Xpress website of the year, which is a singularly depressing thing. For that matter, the review seems to have lost the good will of a friend of mine. It is probably the most-commented-on review of the year, which is less surprising. (Though its 78 comments fall shy of the 88 comments on 2008’s right-wing Ben Stein creationist “documentary,” and don’t even come close to the whopping 246 comments on 2011’s Atlas Shrugged Part One, but that one riled up our resident Ayn Rand supporter.) Such an awful lot of fuss over a lousy movie with dubious theology.

 4. Devil’s Due. Giving equal time to the Loyal Opposition, there is the semi-found-footage shaky-cam offspring of Satan horror picture Devil’s Due. And, yes, the title basically does refer to a pregnancy — of the Rosemary’s Baby knock-off kind. Here I can go with my proposed original review — “Trust me, folks, this thing sucks a moose.”

 5. Dumb & Dumberer To. The mere fact that there was a sequel to Dumb & Dumber pretty much says it all.

 6. A Million Ways to Die in the West. Even people who find Seth MacFarlane funny and/or appealing didn’t seem to much like this witless western spoof. Blazing Saddles it ain’t. Hell, it’s not even the Three Stooges in The Outlaws Is Coming (1965). And it goes on forever.

 7. Night Moves. I cut this some slack when it first came out. Upon reflection, I can’t think why. It’s a dull thriller made for a buck and a quarter that doesn’t even show the eco-terrorist act of blowing up a dam which is the point of the terrorism. This exercise in art house glumness wastes the talents of stars Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. I suppose I should note than an awful lot of critics found its mumbling inertia suspenseful.

 

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8. Into the Storm. This is basically Twister (1996) with a whole lot of cartoonish CGI and an even dopier plot and a bunch of actors you never heard of.

 9. If I Stay. Gooey teen romance with Chloë Grace Moretz at her Corey Haim Mouth Breather School of Acting worst as a budding cellist (thanks to CGIing her head onto a real cellist’s body!) hovering between life and death following a car crash that killed the rest of her family. She pads around the hospital in an ethereal-appropriate beige limbo ensemble while trying to decide to die or hang around for her hunky rock’n’roller boyfrend (Jamie Blackley). I think it aims to be the really dumb teen equivalent of Powell and Pressburger’s Stairway to Heaven (1946), but it only gets the dumb right.

 10. Last Weekend. I still do not believe that this is an intentional outburst of overprivelged entitlement, but this dithering clueless, tone-deaf mess is pure “Rich Folks’ Problems” hooey. The whole thing hinges on whether or not filthy rich Patricia Clarkson and Chris Mulkey should sell one of their vacation homes — and how to break the idea to their visiting children. (The home they’re selling is Liz Taylor’s lake house from 1951’s A Place in the Sun, which just happens to belong to co-director Tom Dolby’s family.) We should all have such problems. It’s boring and insulting and they finally sell the damned thing, which was pretty much a foregone conclusion from the title.

The Overrated.

 

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Well, three of the movies on my “worst” list — Force Majeure, Obvious Child, Night Moves — certainly qualify for this list, too. But let’s not overlook Under the Skin, a meandering — and very slow — movie from Jonathan Glazer (Birth) in which Scarlett Johansson plays some kind of (I think) artificially-created space creature who lures men to their doom in a pool of black oil. Some found it “mindblowing.” I didn’t. I can’t say it’s exactly bad (others have), but I was mostly bored by its deliberate impenetrability. (That was an accidental choice of word, but considering the scene where Ms. Johansson’s “character” discovers she has no female part, it’s strangely apt.) And what of Jon Favreau’s Chef? This played for what seemed like an eternity locally. People kept telling me, “Sometimes people want a movie that just makes them feel good.” (Fine. Go see The Hundred-Foot Journey.) I understand that. What I never understood was why this pleasant, but unremarkable and dramatically neutered movie made people feel good.

The Underseen.

 

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Of course, several titles from my “best” list fit here — Mood Indigo, Venus in Fur,Only Lovers Left Alive, Mood Indigo, Dom Hemingway, Locke, The Dance of Reality — belong here, but what of Ned Benson’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them? Granted, this was the combined version of two films (that never played as separate entities — The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him — here when the combined version tanked), but the combined version was seriously good on its own. It had such actors as James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Ciarán Hinds, Isabelle Huppert, and William Hurt — and still it grossed under a million dollars worldwide. Why, I will never know. Maybe the upcoming DVD/Blu-ray release — containing both versions — will help it find an audience. Also worth checking out is Daniel Stamm’s overlooked horror thriller 13 Sins, which deserved more attention than it got.

The Unclassifiable.

 

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As a major admirer of Jean-Piere Jeunet (I even like Alien Resurrection), I finally got fed up with waiting for Weinsteins to do … well, anything with his The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (they sat on it for over a year), so I ordered it from Amazon UK. I would probably have found a spot for this on my “best” list, but that seems unfair, since it hasn’t played in the U.S. at all. I understand that it’s a hard-sell. Apart from Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, and Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon, it’s notably shy of recognizable names. But, hey, it’s in English to soothe the subtitle-phobic. It’s also every bit a Jeunet film — clever, quirky, cinematically playful — and it’s a special delight. However — and this is not a criticism — it is also one of the most pervasively sad movies I’ve ever seen. Oh, it has a happy ending and all that, but nothing dispels its deep undercurrent of melancholy. I pretty much loved it and wish the Weinsteins would do something with it.

Final Remarks.

 The thing that most strikes me about 2014 is the lack of much in the way of mainstream releases of genuine merit. Take Interstellar and Gone Girl out of the mix and what are we left with? Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and what? I can come up with some OK movies, but nothing exciting in any sense of the word. It was a terrific year for art titles. For everything else, it appears to be a different story. And there’s an inherent problem with such a great year for art titles. What about 2015? Of course, there’ll be a new Woody Allen film (it’s already in post-production) and Pedro Almodovar has something in the works, but a great many — maybe most — of the filmmakers who made these 2014 films won’t release anything in 2015. That means that 19 of the 20 filmmakers responsible for my 2014 top 20 year won’t be contributing to the new year. That’s kind of sobering.

Justin Souther’s Picks

The Best

 

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1. Inherent Vice. Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice was a movie that — after my first viewing — I wasn’t exactly sure I liked. But it’s stuck with me and grown on me since then and only gets better with subsequent viewings. While I think that Birdman will be the more revered movie in years to come, and while Snowpiercer was my favorite movie for the bulk of the year, my gut tells me that Inherent Vice is the one that will stick with me the longest and will be the film I revisit the most. It is a stylish, strange, quirky mix of hippie noir and the kind of heartfelt search for human connection that’s been a staple of Anderson’s work.

 

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2. Birdman. If you want to be quantitative here (a dangerous path to tread in something as subjective as a Top 10 list), Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is probably the “best” movie of the year. It’s hard for me not to give it the top slot, honestly, which is certainly no knock on the movie itself. An expertly conceived, emotionally weighty film (with a perfect cast) about art and legacy and a man simply, slowly going nuts, it’s the kind of intelligent spectacle that the movies are supposed to be.

 

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3. Snowpiercer. Like I mentioned, this film was my top movie for most of the year, and I still have reservations about not putting it up there (we can consider this 1a, 1b and 1c if that makes it any easier). Bong Joon-ho’s nasty dystopian sci-fi adventure was the most enjoyable time I had in the movies all year, partly because there’s something wholly idiosyncratic and almost iconic about it’s imagery, concept and construction. The kind of monumental self-indulgence that’s lacking from a lot of movies these days.

 

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4.The Homesman. Looking back, I’m not sure I ever expected Tommy Lee Jones to have this kind of movie in him. A strange revisionist Western about, basically, the general misery of most human existence shouldn’t be this enjoyable. Infinitely sad, occasionally beautiful and perfectly cast: Something I never thought I’d say about a movie starring Hilary Swank.

 

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5. Top Five. I’ve long been a fan of Chris Rock (full disclosure: like Ken, I saw Pootie Tang in the theater, but only one of us paid American currency to do so), and I’ve long known he had at least one really, really good movie in him. He’s just too smart not to. Top Five is the kind of funny, astute, raunchy and even romantic movie he was supposed to be making all along.

 

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6. Noah. Yes, it has its problems (especially in its final third), but Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is pure ambition. While people like to kvetch about the state of modern film and its franchises and sequels and reboots, here’s a director putting something on screen that’s overly ambitious, imaginative and not quite like anything else to play multiplexes this year. It’s a raging spectacle in an age that looks down on that sort of thing.

 

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7. Mood Indigo. Michel Gondry’s filmography is filled with over-the-top, stylish movies. Mood Indigo is his most aspiring movie yet, packed with both whimsy and sadness, pulling from everywhere, from French New Wave to Cronenberg of all things, yet being a wholly singular work from perhaps our most imaginative filmmaker.

 

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8. A Walk Among Tombstones. This is about the point in these Top 10 lists where I struggle with whether or not I should put movies that are, objectively, “good,” or the ones that I simply enjoyed the most. In the past, I’ve often gone with the former and immediately regretted it, so this year, I’m putting the movie I actually liked watching here instead. I’m not sure there’s much originality in Scott Frank’s A Walk Among Tombstones (besides making Liam Neeson a viable performer after a string of meatheaded action roles), but as a hard-boiled detective story, it’s hard to beat. A welcomely stylish, intelligent and thankfully self-aware movie that also manages to be simply entertaining.

 

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9. We Are the Best! I’ve struggled with the idea of putting Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best! on here. I’m not sure I’d call it a great movie, but this tale of three Swedish teenage girls starting a punk bad is so simple, sweet and — above all — charming that it’s basically perfect inside of what it wants to accomplish. It feels authentic and uncomplicated and intimately human — and that’s more than enough.

 

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10. Only Lovers Left Alive. Innately beautiful and internally sad, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is gorgeously constructed and wonderfully elegant story about love and immortality. And I’ve got a feeling that it’s reputation will only improve as the years go by.

The Worst.

 

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 1. Under the Skin. I have friends who love this movie. That’s fine. It’s a basic human right to like whatever dull, pretentious garbage appeals to us on a personal level. I will say the two-and-a-half minutes of interesting imagery that’s in the movie makes for a really great trailer.

2. Sabotage. It was 2014 and this kind of macho, sweaty, dunderheaded action picture’s still getting made. Arnold Schwarzenegger was famous a quarter decade ago; he’s not anymore. Put him on an ice flow, and let’s get a move on.

3. Fault in Our Stars. I’d probably ignore this schmaltzy teen romance if people would stop trying to convince me that Shailene Woodley is a star (though this kind of movie-of-the-week material is right up her alley) and if there wasn’t a scene where these teens are encouraged to make out in the Anne Frank attic. That’s all I’ll ever remember about this movie. I’m forever burdened with the memory of that movie where teens make out in the Anne Frank attic.

4. Tammy. I don’t really know what to write about Tammy, mostly because that includes having to think about it again. Those couple years where people thought Melissa McCarthy was funny were pretty weird.

5. 3 Days to Kill. Kevin Costner rides around France on a bicycle wearing a wispy scarf and trying to kill people. It sucks.

6. Draft Day. 2014 was the year some people blew a ton of money thinking they could make Kevin Costner into a star again. The studio sent out promo packages for the film that included a towel, t-shirt and coffee mug. I took the mug to work as a joke and promptly lost it, while my wife wears the shirt sometimes. Millions of dollars were spent, and there’s Draft Day’s legacy.

 

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7. The Other Woman. I keep a running list of all the good and bad movies I watch to make compiling this list a little easier at the end of the tear. I got to The Other Woman and thought, “What the hell was that movie?” There’s a blank spot in my memory where this movie hides, the same kind trauma victims get, so I had to include it.

8. Transformers: Age of Extinction. I try and include movies that are more annoying than simply bad on this list. That’s why you won’t find, say, A Haunted House 2 or Blended here. It’s too easy. So is, to an extent, another Transformers movie, but it’s here as a tribute to all those bad movies that are just bad and nothing more. God bless you and your stupid robots.

9. Left Behind. Again, another by default pick. Nic Cage in a low budget fundamentalist propaganda piece? Destiny.

10.Wish I Was Here. I went to my mother-in-law’s home for Christmas and got to flip through one of her celebrity gossip magazines and was astonished at how many people who I no longer consider famous are still hounded by paparazzi. Like, people still take Katie Holmes’ picture when she’s coming out of Walgreens. Anyway, this corny movie is the cinematic version of that phenomenon for Zach Braff. It’s OK to let go sometimes, for all our sakes.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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80 thoughts on “2014: The Best, the Worst, the Most Overrated and Most Underseen

  1. Betty Cloer Wallace

    As each year winds down and I realize I have missed pert nigh all the films I had intended to see, I print out Ken Hanke’s year-in-review lists, highlight in day-glo lime marker the films he likes, and tape the lists to the wall behind my computer, whereupon I am always a year behind in my viewing, but I have yet to disagree with his choices. It works for me. :)

  2. Me

    Lock didn’t sound like the worst idea ever, it sounded great to me, it was just too bad they couldn’t pull it off. Glad to see Venu in Furs on made the list, I liked Night Moves and wouldn’t have put it on a worst of.

    • Ken Hanke

      I thought they did pull Locke off. Did you ever enlighten us as to why it doesn’t work and what those plotholes you say it has are?

      Of course, you liked Night Moves.

      • Me

        Well knowing a little about the industry that Locke is in, not concrete specifically its totally implausible. I can’t remember them now, but a couple of them were he’s asking his associate on the phone to schedule something after business hours during the night and why does he tell him to run, wouldn’t a taxi be faster I don’t think it specifies how far he had to run though does it? The woman who is his mistress is having complications with the birth and they’re on the phone talking to each other are just a few.

        • Ken Hanke

          You’d have to know where the fellow is as concerns even getting a taxi. I’m not sure why something couldn’t be scheduled after business hours — it depends on who you know and how connected they are. Small note, but the woman isn’t really his mistress and I don’t see the issue with them talking.

  3. Me

    I don’t really do lists, but I think Enemy was my favorite movie of the year.

  4. Mr.Orpheus

    I think what impresses me most about 2014 in film is just how good all of those movies are. Just thinking about my own list as it stands now, I feel like any one of my top five could have easily been my favorite of movie of any other year, which makes trying arrange what I’ve seen into any meaningful order fairly confounding. (I don’t necessarily envy your position in this situation.) I do think there is a tendency for any freshly finished year to be looked at somewhat negatively in certain critical circles, but such a stance seems especially wrongheaded in light of 2014’s surfeit of treasures.

    Anyway, my attempt at a top ten currently looks like this:

    1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
    2. CALVARY
    3. MOOD INDIGO
    4. SNOWPIERCER
    5. BIRDMAN
    6. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
    7. THE BABADOOK
    8. VENUS IN FUR
    9. THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA
    10. THE RAID 2

    … which immediately makes feel guilty for leaving MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT, GONE GIRL, and LOVE IS STRANGE OUT. Add to that the fact that there’s a load of things that I haven’t seen yet that will likely significantly alter my list (namely, your 7th-10th choices), and I think you’ve got the right idea as concerns list size.

    And I’m glad to hear that THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET is apparently as good as I hoped it would be. Now there’s just the matter of watching it.

    • Ken Hanke

      As you can see, I couldn’t limit it to ten. And I certainly can’t fault your list, though I didn’t see Princess Kaguya and wouldn’t quite include The Raid 2 — a film the failure of which I continue to be incapable of understanding.

      • Edwin Arnaudin

        I don’t see the big fuss over Princess Kaguya. Yes, freeze each frame and you have a beautiful painting, but that look quickly becomes homogenous and the story is molasses fast. For die-hard Studio Ghibli fans only?

      • Sorry, I missed one. I’ve seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, Pride, Magic in the Moonlight, The Babadook and Gone Girl from your list and We Are The Best! from Justin’s.

        Unfortunately, The Babadook got a fleeting and extremely limited release in Australia, so I didn’t get a chance to see it in the cinema.

        • Ken Hanke

          Kind of ironic that The Babadook got the shaft in its own country.

  5. DrSerizawa

    You are fortunate to have the number of art theaters you do. We have only one and it’s hard to get to for me and so I don’t get the opportunity to see so many of these good titles. So for me 2014 was pretty blah. Not as bad as 2011 though. Who can forget a year when Drive Angry was in the top 10?

    In any case thank God for Netflix. I’ll be sure to thank Her in my prayers.

  6. Steven

    I gotta say it’s nice to see Justin’s list isn’t just a repeat of Ken’s with a different order. It often seems like you two are the same person when it comes to taste. Mainly, it’s just surprising to see that Justin doesn’t have Ken’s top choice.

      • Ken Hanke

        It occurs to me that my no. one film last year wasn’t on his list either. He is, you see, gradually sinking into depravity of some sort.

  7. Ken Hanke

    So Mr. Souther and I aired our views, Mr. Orpheus gave his, “Me” doesn’t really do lists…but what about the rest of you? Are there no other Ten Best lists floating around?

  8. Xanadon't

    I have a list, though it’s a bit shameful. As you may have guessed, Ken, from my absence from these parts this past year, I’ve also been largely and regretfully absent from the theaters. Luckily I have seen Birdman and one Birdman is worth the top three films combined from some years. Anyway, my swiss cheese list:

    1. Birdman
    2. The Babadook (2 watches for me and I’m still trying to figure how you’ve given it three looks and still held onto that final 1/2 star– I suspect by the time it plays a Thursday Night Horror Show you’ll have come around. What could this gem possibly NOT have done that you’d like it to?)
    3. Snowpiercer
    4. Mood Indigo
    5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (It feels good having Wes Anderson back on my list)
    6. Locke
    7. Filmage: The Story of Descendents/All (Sad that I need to throw in a doc to beef up my list. But hey, it’s really good as far as documentaries about quasi-seminal punk rock bands go.)
    8.. Boyhood (I figured on this ranking higher but then realized… I’l NEVER watch it a second time.)
    9. Magic in the Moonlight
    10. Lego Movie

    Under the Skin (needs a revisit), Wild (will probably never revisit), The Skeleton Twins, Starred Up, and Top Five miss the cut.

    Most everything else of note remains to be seen (how have I not yet gotten around to Jarmusch? ) excepting Gone Girl which simply didn’t do much for me except fascinate me slightly more than Interstellar.

    • Ken Hanke

      My God! You’re alive! Your absence has been noted and felt. (Though I am still holding your “Vengeance” trilogy hostage, so I figure I’ll see you some day…) I can’t comment on your no. 7 since I haven’t seen it. The only documentary I’ve watched in years that I didn’t have to watch (that is usually more than I want to see) is Beware of Mr. Baker. I have no real argument with the rest except The Lego Movie, which to me is…clever, before it loses me entirely with the live-action stuff.

      I do wish you were around more — both in real life and on here.

  9. Xanadon't

    Oh, and I’ve got the straight out of Michael Haneke School of Comatose Filmmaking Force Majeure on pause and will only go back to it to see if the final 40 minutes offer up anything in the way of humor that you may have missed.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      First off, hello again!

      There is more unintentional humor in the final 40 minutes, but nothing that seems intentional.

  10. Big Al

    I have been unusually home-bound this year, especially this Fall and Winter (SADD?), so I have only seen 3 from Ken’s “best” list and none from Justin’s. Thankfully, I have seen NONE of those on either “worst” list. I am kicking myself for missing “Last Lovers..”, and while I don’t care that I missed Polanski’s version of “Venus In Fur”, I am sad that I could not see the live play when it was in Asheville only a few weeks prior.

    Most of the films that I did see fall into the category of “light-hearted films to make ya feel good” (maybe I do have SADD after all). I loved “Chef”, “Begin Again” and “My Old Lady”, none of which seem to have made any impact on the critics, paid or otherwise, so it is best that I keep my day job. “Faded Gigalo” and “Inside Lleweyn Davis” had some worthy moments as well.

    • Ken Hanke

      Technically, Llewyn Davis is last year (it was on my list), but that often happens with limited release films. For that matter Inherent Vice only opens here this Friday. Mr. Turner won’t open here till probably February.

      Aside: I really doubt the local production of Venus was superior to the Polanski film.

      • Big Al

        I find live shows to be far braver than film. No edits, no re-takes, just raw, get-it-right-the-first-time acting.

        And “Venus…” (the film) already has two of my turn-offs: subtitles and Polanski.

  11. Xanadon't

    I miss it around here and while I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, getting back into a regular dialogue ought to be a painless enough exception.

    Oh wow– you guys mean to tell me that the “Daddy’s sad” group hug didn’t send your hearts and souls soaring to untold heights?! Or how about the pure cinematic poetry in motion when we discover on Final Ski Day that indeed one CAN run in ski boots! You fellas are tough.

  12. With the caveat that this list may shift substantially as I catch up with many of the releases of Ken and Justin’s lists, here is my top cinematic choices of 2014:

    10. THE BABADOOK
    9. THE IMITATION GAME
    8. THE CASE AGAINST 8
    7. THE LEGO MOVIE
    6. WE ARE THE BEST!
    5. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
    4. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
    3. FRANK
    2. WHIPLASH
    1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

    And this is leaving out a lot of films I really enjoyed like PRIDE, EDGE OF TOMORROW and MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT.

    • Ken Hanke

      I’ve only seen 9 of those, but I only have serious objections to one of the nine, though I was obviously keener on Pride and Magic in the Moonlight than I was on most of your choices.

        • Ken Hanke

          Yes, that’s my objection. And, yes, I’ve seen Frank (which I thought was mostly just okay) and We Are the Best! (which I reviewed and liked a lot).

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            Both are now streaming on Netflix, as is the underseen Better Living Through Chemistry, featuring a Sam Rockwell performance that reminds us why he’s a national treasure.

          • Ken Hanke

            Great pity that Better Living Through Chemistry is mostly so-so and would be even more so-so without Rockwell.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            Without Rockwell, I don’t know that Chemistry would work.

          • Ken Hanke

            One might say that Chemistry would have no chemistry. Just imagine if it had starred Jeremy Renner as originally planned.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            No, thanks – and as you know, I typically like Renner.

          • Ken Hanke

            I am at best pretty indifferent. What was that Oscar-bait we sat through?

          • Ken Hanke

            No, it was something mediocre…Kill the Messenger?

  13. Son of Rufus

    Snowpiercer looks interesting but I’m worried because the trailor makes it seem too obvious with its point. I guess ordering on demand will mean I’m not out that much money, only like $8.

    • Ken Hanke

      I only know one way of finding out, but I think I even said in the original review that the film isn’t subtle.

  14. Mike

    I’m surprised to see you mention that some have felt 2014 wasn’t a good year, as I’ve experienced almost the complete opposite.

    No list on my end until I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with some of the 2014 foreign and independent releases, but my favorite of the year thus far has been The Grand Budapest Hotel. Its position isn’t likely to change. Others include Nightcrawler, The Babadook, Birdman, Enemy, and Frank. I liked Noah, Boyhood, The Rover, Captain America 2, and The Double, but probably not enough that they’ll make the final cut.

    • Ken Hanke

      I think the bitching I’ve heard and read has more to do with mainstream films. And I think Gone Girl and marginally Big Eyes are the only things on my list that weren’t The Carolina and Fine Arts (one or the other or both) titles.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Well, in a very short while now, I will know if Selma would have changed my list…

    • Ken Hanke

      It’s an extremely good film — perhaps more an important or relevant one than anything — but, no, Selma would not have changed my list.

      • Steven

        I can agree with this, although I think it’s easily the best out of the Oscar season biopics (haven’t seen Mr. Turner.) It wasn’t the bait I was expecting. If anything, it’s worth seeing for Oyelowo’s performance.

        • Ken Hanke

          Whether it really is a biopic seems debatable to me. It’s a little slice of history (however subjective) covering three months. It never even attempts to fill in the backstory blanks and assumes you know who the players are (that is perhaps not 100% a good thing). It’s very much history on the fly. It is in any case, miles and miles ahead of Unbroken or American Sniper. (I leave Big Eyes out of this because its aims are so very different.) Regardless, Selma is worth seeing for Oyelowo’s perfomance, several others, and for quite a few other reasons.

  16. Edwin Arnaudin

    There is a sense that 2014 wasn’t a very good year for movies. It’s an idea that I just plain don’t get.

    Any year where Melissa McCarthy (St. Vincent) and Chloe Grace Moretz (Laggies) are tolerable in just one movie each is a good year for movies.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Much as I am underwhelmed by some of the Oscar nominations, I admit to a certain pleasure in seeing Force Majeure and Under the Skin being snubbed.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      The only thing I thought Under the Skin had a shot at netting was Original Score. Force Majeure‘s omission, however, is a major surprise…and gives me great delight.

      • Ken Hanke

        Indeed. I am, however, chagrined — but not surprised — to see Inherent Vice snubbed for Best Picture in favor of Theory of Everything, Whiplash, and American Sniper.

        • Edwin Arnaudin

          I did not expect Whiplash to get more than Supporting Actor and Editing. Theory of Everything and American Sniper are boring, predictable choices, though I’m glad Felicity Jones was nominated.

          Inherent Vice being overlooked in numerous categories is reminiscent of Inside Llewyn Davis getting similar treatment last year. Carell and Cooper over Phoenix (and Fiennes in Grand Budapest, the bigger snub) for Best Actor? Duvall over Brolin for Supporting Actor? Plus direction, cinematography, editing, score, production design…lots of squandered possibilities.

          • Ken Hanke

            Having just seen Inherent Vice again, the snub is even more galling. I won’t complain about the others on my list, because they never stood a chance.

    • My biggest complaint at this year’s list is that once again AMPAS seems to think that a movie – in this case SELMA – directed itself.

      • Ken Hanke

        They also think American Sniper directed itself. And Whiplash and Theory of Everything. Plus, we have the case of Bennett Miller being nominated for Best Director, but his movie wasn’t good enough to nominate. It amazes me that you aren’t expecting this. The minute they made the number of movies flexible, but not the number of director nominations, this was inevitable.

  18. pelin23

    The babadook is one of the worst films of the year. Underdeveloped characters and subplot, badly written script and tons of plot holes. The babadook was not only the worst but it was also the most overrated film in 2014

  19. Fran

    I absolutely would have put one of: The Imitation Game or The Skeleton Twins over Gone Girl. Help me see……

    • Ken Hanke

      My God! A voice seldom heard around here. Funny thing is I almost told a joke about you dragging me to The Sound of Music last night in the Oscar conversation thread, but decided against it. I doubt I can make you see why Gone Girl made it and those didn’t, especially since I liked both of the other films, esp., The Skeleton Twins. It’s mostly a filmmaking thing. Gone Girl is beautifully crafted. Imitation Game feels…well, on the parochial side, while Skeleton Twins — much as I love most of it — is uneven to me and sometimes even a little amateurish.

  20. Fran

    I actually was following last night. That is to say, I wasn’t watching the Oscars, but checking in with your postings every now and then from my iPad. I fell asleep long before the last of them and I didn’t gather the energy to reply. But….I did wonder if the Sound of Music story was going to be about me. As I was thinking about jumping in and asking, I fell asleep.
    Okay, I get the movie-flow-ness of your choice of Gone Girl. But does the story never play in the final process? I mean, deciding to tell that story? I guess I let my emotions get too much into the whole thing. I just know I really enjoyed both the movies I named a LOT more than Gone Girl.

    • Ken Hanke

      It was going to be about the reason you were ga-ga over Sound of Music, yes. I actually don’t think I have any other Sound of Music jokes.

      Of course, the story or the decision to tell the story factors in, but by itself it’s not enough — for me. This gets close to confusing the importance of the subject with the importance of the movie. Is it important to make a film about, say, civil rights? Sure. Does that guarantee the film will itself be important. Watch Crash (the Paul Haggis one, not the Cronenberg one) and you can probably answer that for yourself. I can’t say I enjoyed watching Gone Girl more than The Skeleton Twins (I probably did enjoy it more than The Imitation Game, but that has more to do with the Masterpiece Theater-ishness of Game). I can say, however, that I think Gone Girl is a better film. I also don’t think it is an unimportant film just because it’s bitter and unpleasant. On the contrary, that’s why I think it is important. Unpleasant? Yes. Did it depict — in thriller terms — some uncomfortable truths about modern American life that needed depicting? Yes, I think it did. As a bonus, it presented Tyler Perry actually giving a performance that didn’t make me cringe. But that’s just a bonus.

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