Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Movies of 2014

Another year, another 'movies I saw in the theater' list. Actually, I'm starting this in August, so it feels weird to say that, but whatever. I have a crappy memory so I wanted to get a head start and I was bored at work.

I also have a lot to say about The Battle of the Five Armies, so sorry about that one. 

1. Frozen

I enjoyed this movie. I didn't love it like everyone loves Frozen, nor did I hate it like my friend hates Frozen. It was fun and I liked that it used over-used tropes in a way that Disney never uses those tropes. Did my inner feminist tear up inside? Yes. Have I seen this more than once? No. Probably because I'd still rather watch Brave

2. Saving Mr. Banks

I was torn about seeing this movie because of how inaccurate it apparently is. But the pull of Emma Thompson's siren call was too much for me. I can't say no to that woman. I can, however, say no to watching one of her movies a second time. I didn't dislike it...

3. August: Osage County

Hoo, boy. If you are in the mood for something heavy, watch August: Osage County. It was a fantastic film (with the double whammy of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, how could it not be?), but not one I'll want to watch again. Every other scene you're punched in the gut and while it may be a good learning experience for you (this is a bad analogy), you probably won't subject yourself to it again. 

4. Philomena

I just need to point out that Judi Dench (and Steve Coogan to an extent) is airbrushed to the point of being unrecognizable in this poster. I hate it. She's old. That's not a thing you need to hide with photoshop. That being said, this movie is great. I'm a sucker for adoption movies, and this one is going on the list as one of my favorites to date. 

5. Lone survivor

I saw this movie about a month after my brother was deployed to Afghanistan. I didn't think about that connection until a few minutes into the movie. Or if I did, I figured I'd be fine since I didn't see my brother as being in that much danger (turns out he was in just one fire fight this time around). Boy, was I wrong. I was in pretty bad shape during the movie (I don't know why the idea of leaving the theater didn't come to me) and I was failing to hold back sobs for a good 20 minutes after the movie ended. Big shout out to my boyfriend for being so nice about that. I was a wreck on that drive home. All that being said, I can pass no judgement on this film. 

6. Her

I've had months to think about this, and I honestly don't know if I like this movie or not. Samantha's development in the film was actually really cool, but it's still about a guy who falls in love with his computer...

7. The LEGO Movie

Pure, unadulterated, fun (unless you realize how few female characters there are, but I [grudgingly] look past that with just about every movie I watch). Luckily, as the directors have said, there will be more "female stuff" in the sequel. I do love me some female bricks, female chairs, female buildings, and female cars. Sarcasm aside, with the same creative team, I am looking forward to the sequel. 

8. The Lunchbox

This is one of those just flat out charming films. My favorite is the ending [SPOILER]. She leaves a bad marriage, even without the promise of another man waiting for her. I love it. 

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Loving every Wes Anderson movie for me is akin to loving waffles. It comes almost too naturally. This Wes Anderson film specifically is one of my favorites among his collection, if not THE favorite. Ralph Fiennes is having a blast, and it's great to see all of Anderson's regulars (including Goddess of All, Tilda Swinton). There are some surprisingly moving performances as well. All around I just freaking love this movie. 

10. Veronica Mars

This movie was nothing but fan service and I loved it. Opening day, sitting in the theater with all the other fans and Kickstarter backers was a blast. We whooped when Veronica made snarky remarks, we ow'ed when Logan came on screen, and we laughed whenever Dick was around. Watch the series (you can skip season 3 if you want - there's just one detail you'll want to get from me about that one) then watch the movie. It's the perfect love letter to fans. I'll say this though: Logan cleaning up and giving up his violent and jealous tendencies was mighty convenient. That irked me a bit, but I've always been on Team Logan, so I let myself enjoy it. 

11. Divergent

Sigh... Why haven't we retired the butt/boob pose yet? The movie itself was fine, despite having a horrible poster. I haven't read the books so I had nothing to compare it to, but it was an interesting, if simple, premise. Not my favorite YA flick, but not bad. Although I did expect it to be worse after reading all the reviews, so my low expectations may have played a role in how I felt.  

12. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel made a successful entrance into the spy thriller genre with this one (or as my mom called it, "a superhero movie with a good story") and I love how much screen time Black Widow and Falcon got. But just to be clear, Feige, Captain America: Winter Solder is not a Black Widow movie. You still need to make one. Oh, and by the way, Winter Soldier kind of sets up a BW film pretty perfectly. If you did that on purpose, get on that. If it was an accident, take it as a sign from the universe (and the literal hoard of people clamoring for a female super hero movie) that you need to make a Black Widow film (followed shortly thereafter by a Captain Marvel film that will oh so perfectly tie the Avengers in with the Guardians of the Galaxy).

Editor's Note: (Yes, I edit my own things) The Captain Marvel film is a go, but still no Black Widow. Boo, I say. Boo! (But many, MANY cheers for seeing Princess Sparklefists on screen in a few years.)

13. Only Lovers Left Alive

This was one of my favorite movies of the year. If you just put Tilda Swinton on a stool and had her stare into the camera for two hours, it would be one of my favorite movies of the year, but this one did so much more than that. It also had Tom Hiddleston who, as a skinny Brit, I sort of have to love. In an era of vampire over-saturation, this is a vampire movie that will stand the test of time. Mainly because of Tilda Swinton, but the movie itself really is fantastic. 

14. Locke

I saw Locke and Only Lovers Left Alive as a double feature and it was totally worth sitting on the horrible seats for four hours. Locke is freaking amazing. It's Tom Hardy driving a car and talking to people on the phone, trying to salvage his life that is falling to pieces as we look on. Few other people (Tilda Swinton among them) could have carried a movie entirely on their own, but Tom Hardy is perfect, as is this movie. 

15. Belle

Speaking of perfect movies... Belle has race relations, a coming of age, romance, gender politics, regular politics, and 17th century England. Seriously, what is there not to love?! I'm impatiently waiting for this movie to be released on DVD so I can make everyone in my family watch it, because everyone in my family will love it. Even my brother, who is as passionately against everything even resembling anything having to do with Jane Austen as I am pro-peanut butter and chocolate.  

16. Million Dollar Arm

I was actually pleasantly surprised by this movie. I'm of the opinion that if you've seen one inspirational sports movie, you've seen them all and I had seen two others before this (Remember the Titans and Invictus, in case you were curious). I had a girls night and there was little else to go see that someone hadn't already seen. That, plus the pull of Lake Bell and John Hamm (but especially Lake Bell) were too much for even this sports-hater. But I actually did enjoy this film. It was cute. It also had Lake Bell. 

17. Godzilla

Monsters and battles and worthless army dudes and monsters fighting and monsters laying eggs and monsters trying to fertilize those eggs and monsters destroying entire cities and monsters saving other cities and monsters spewing radioactive fire stuff and people clapping for the monsters and monsters killing other monsters and one monster almost dying but it doesn't so there's the promise of even more monsters. Also Ken Watanabe being all mysterious and nonchalant about mass destruction and Bryan Cranston yelling. Yeah, this movie was freaking awesome. Or it would have been had it had more monster screen time. As it is, this movie was just fun. 

18. The Immigrant

This is one of those films that is good, but I wouldn't watch again. I think what didn't appeal to me is that it is too realistic. No one is all good or all bad, it's about crappy things that happen to a young woman that absolutely would have happened given the circumstances, and would still happen today. I'm glad I saw it and I would recommend it, but I won't watch it again. 

19. X-Men: Days of Future Past

I'm not a fan of Bryan Singer. As a person (teenage sex ring, anyone?) or a director. The first two X-Men were okay, but after First Class I expected more from the franchise. When I found out Fox was bringing back Bryan Singer, I was not pleased. My expectations plummeted and continued to drop as the marketing continued (remember that awful Quicksilver/Carl's Jr. commercial?). I started to gain a little more faith when reviews came out, and the film itself surpassed my expectations. I just wanted more Kitty Pride because I always want more Kitty Pride. And a non-Halle Barry Storm. Also, this was the first X-Men movie to not pass the Bechdel test since the first X-Men, so no points there. 

20. Obvious Child

If you don't know Jenny Slate, stop right now and go look up something she's in. Her stand up, Kroll Show, Parks and Rec, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I don't care - just go watch her. She is brilliant and this movie is brilliant. 

21. How to Train Your Dragon 2

A perfectly enjoyable, if not predictable film. In the words of the great Forrest Gump: "That's all I have to say about that." Mostly because it's been a while since I've seen it. Not because I didn't enjoy it. 

22. Edge of Tomorrow

What's this? An original sci-fi movie with two strong leads, one of whom is a woman?! Sure, movies like these are a bit easier to find than a unicorn, but not by much. I loved it. Emily Blunt is a god and Tom Cruise only gets better with age. This movie was fun, funny, suspenseful, and just down right awesome. And look! It's Tom Cruise that gets the but/boobs pose in this poster :D

23. 22 Jump Street

The hilarious sequel we didn't need of the hysterical reboot no one wanted. Guys, these movies just make me so happy. The second was not as good as the first, as is always the case (with the exception of Empire Strikes Back), but I still loved it and I'm still anxiously awaiting the third movie. 

24. The Signal

I saw this movie at Sundance, and it was different. I liked the twist, but almost the entire movie seemed to move excruciatingly slowly, there were a bunch of mysteries that were never solved, and the ending seemed rushed. All in all, I give it an 'eh'. 

25. Snowpiercer

If you have not seen this movie, stop reading this and watch this movie. Hands down, this is the best film I saw all year, and as I write this, the year isn't over. I don't even want to tell you what it's about because you should just go in blind. 

26. They Came Together

If I were to make a list of the funniest and most adorable actors in Hollywood, Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd would be at the top, so it makes sense that they would be the stars of a perfect rom-com parody. It's all there - You've Got Mail, Forget Paris, When Harry Met Sally, along with amazing comedic storytelling. Now, I can't say I'll watch this again any time soon, but I did thoroughly enjoy it. 

27. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Let me tell you a story about this movie. I saw it, LOVED it, and promptly told everyone to watch it. My sister and I are almost the same person, so I was surprised to hear that she hadn't seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes, nor did she have any desire to see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, even though the original Planet of the Apes was a classic in our home growing up. So what did I do? I essentially forced her to watch Rise. The result? We went to see Dawn shortly thereafter, per her request. This movie is amazing and the animation is phenomenal. It makes me wonder why The Desolation of Smaug looks the way it does when Apes-level technology is available. My only complaint: where are the lady apes? Judy Greer played Cornelia and was on screen for about 45 seconds (you do NOT underutilize Judy Greer like that!) and the director said he assumed Maurice was a female because the actor was a woman, but with a name like Maurice, that's not even a little bit obvious. I feel better cause some journalist called Matt Reeves out on it, but unfortunately I can't find the article. Maybe he'll fix that for the next one now that it's been brought to his attention. 

28. Guardians of the Galaxy


Minus the gratuitous Zoe Saldana butt shots (and let's face it, more women and minorities), this movie was damn near perfect. Guardians has two gratuitous butt shots and Avengers has none. However, Guardians passes the Bechdel Test while Avengers does not, so it's a tough call to say which one is my favorite. Winter Soldier is right behind those two, but I'm hoping Captain Marvel beats out all of them. Guys, I'm so freaking excited for that movie. Go read Kelly Sue DeConnick's current run right now. You aren't that far behind. 

29. The Drop

*Minor spoiler in this one. Tom Hardy and a puppy. You need no other reason to watch this movie, but there are plenty more. I didn't love the ending (a little too happy for the subject matter), but it was a great film overall. And watching the best looking man in Hollywood right now (the man is stupid hot) care for an adorable little pit bull is just the cutest thing ever. He does a lot more, but that's the cutest thing he does. Probably the only cute thing he does, though. 

30. Gone Girl

I highly recommend you see this movie, but I'd rather you read the book first. The movie pretty much is the book, save for one really important detail that didn't translate onto screen. Or maybe it didn't because I knew how it ended. Gillian Flynn did an amazing job shaping her novel into a screenplay and David Fincher (as always) does a beautiful job bringing it to life. Affleck is fine, but Rosamund Pike nails Amy. Pike is generally perfection, but she is stunning in this movie. 

31. John Wick

When I first heard about this movie I thought it was just another action flick. Then I saw more and more people online raving about it so I figured I would probably give it a chance. Then I saw the preview.

You know how in action-heavy movies/books/comics/shows there is usually some woman close to the protagonist who either gets kidnapped or murdered and that sparks the man to take his revenge/move the story along? It's called "fridging" a woman (or woman in refrigerator) when you do that, and it's done all the freaking time. Seriously, so, so tired of this trope. Taken, Taken 2, probably Taken 3, Spider-Man, Gladiator, The Mask of Zorro, Thor: The Dark World, Casino Royale, The Dark Knight, Amazing Spider-Man 2... And those are all just from the top of my head. I'm not saying this trope should never be used, but A) it should be used WAY less often (cause it is freaking everywhere) and B) there are far fewer examples of men in refrigerators. I can't actually think of a single film right now where the roles are reversed.

Anyway, the reason I go off like that is because I figured John Wick would be the same. Friends, it is not. Sure, his wife is already dead when the movie begins, but she died of natural causes. His motivation for going on a killing spree to get revenge? The bad guys kill his puppy. His puppy!


32. The Skeleton Twins

I love Kristin Wiig and I love Bill Hader, so I love this movie. It's a great story about tragically imperfect people, the horrible mistakes they make, and the consequences of those mistakes. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

33. Dracula Untold

Let me defend myself before you rush to judgement. My boyfriend's best friend got married the weekend this opened and they wanted to go see it with us before they left on their honeymoon. The newlyweds enjoyed it well enough, but boyfriend and I were not so thrilled. It was not a good movie and Dracula was not a bad guy, nor did he turn into one. I felt cheated. 

34. St. Vincent 

Bill Murray. So yeah, it was great. Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, and the adorable little kid were just icing on a beautiful Bill Murray cake. 

35. Interstellar

This movie, guys. So I know it's been getting mixed reviews, and I saw one film critic who said it was his least favorite Nolan movie ever (et tu, Eric Snyder?), and I guess I can at least try to understand that, but good grief is it fun. The bad: it may have dragged a bit in a couple of parts (though I didn't begrudge the almost 3 hour running time) and there were certain plot elements that were predictable. The good: first of all, it's just fun. It's filled with huge epic scenes accompanied by an epic score (heavy on the organ). You travel through space, through a worm hole, to the edge of a black hole... it's so much freaking fun! Second, this is probably the least problematic-lady film of Nolan's that I've seen. Of the four main characters, two are women (fully formed characters at that) and they both happen to be scientists. Neither has a love story that is central to the plot. That brings me to my third point, the main character, played by Matthew McConaughey, does not fall in love with the woman he travels into space with. Love is a powerful motivator in film (and life too), but in this movie it's his love for his children that pushes him forward, not his love for a woman. I'm generally just tired of love stories in my movies, so it's refreshing. Fourth, I know I already talked about the epic score (and I hate using that word, so you know it's a big deal), but this is my favorite score in years. The music was beautifully paired with what was happening on screen. Plus, organ! SO MUCH ORGAN! I love that instrument and you never hear it in film scores. It was brilliant. Hans Zimmer, I tip my hat to you yet again. Fifth, according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, a lot of the science is as accurate as it could have been, which is really very impressive. 

tl;dr, go see this movie if you love space adventures. 

36. Dear White People

It's not often (or never) that we get a film whose main cast is entirely black and talks about race so openly. This hilarious yet poignant film looks at an issue that I have never had to deal with, while some deal with it every day. This movie doesn't have any answers, and that's how it should be. This is one that gets you thinking, not tells you what to think. 

37. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Let me first say something to the screenwriters/directors of the last Harry Potter movies, the last two Divergent movies, Peter Jackson, and anyone else who wants to split a book up into multiple movies: THIS IS HOW YOU DO THAT. Add scenes that don't happen in the book, but probably would have happened in the background. Focus on character development, not getting minute details exactly the same. Don't include things that don't translate well on screen. And whatever you do, don't add three different plots that don't make sense to the overall story for the sake of justifying multiple movies (I'm looking at you, Peter). 

Now that's out of the way, I loved this movie. It didn't feel drawn out, and it ended in the perfect spot. Katniss' PTSD is on full display, her friendship with Finnick was sincere and telling, and we're already seeing the similarities between Coin and Snow. It's a war movie that focuses on the human cost of war, not the actual battles. Those are forthcoming, and I'm excited to see them too. 

Jonathan Danny Strong, you did a hell of a job writing that screenplay. 

38. Big Hero 6

Disney seems to be on a roll lately. Wreck it Ralph was amazing, Frozen was cute, and Big Hero 6 is a lot of fun. I cried, because of course I did, and guess how many white men were part of the super hero team? ONE! Asian boy, Asian woman, Hispanic woman, black man, white man. I'd say that's probably a good representation of a large metropolitan area like San Fransokyo, wouldn't you? 

39. Whiplash

I have finally seen a contender for Snowpiercer and it is Whiplash. The screenplay was included on the Black List in 2012, and for good reason. Let's just get two minor annoyances out of the way. First, the story they tell about Charlie Parker is wrong. In the movie the story goes that drummer Jo Jones threw a cymbal at 16 year old Parker's head, when really it was his feet. Second, practice alone does not create a jazz musician, and I felt like this movie downplayed that aspect a little. Sure, they talk about drive, but to be a Charlie Parker or a Chick Webb takes more than just drive and practice. It takes a Motzart-level genius that few jazz musicians have. 

Anyway, this movie was still amazing. J.K. Simmons was incredible and the musicians in the film were actually playing their instruments. I always appreciate that because it's oh so distracting when an actor is blatantly faking it. The movie showcases one of the most complicated relationships I've seen on screen in a long time and it's just a generally brilliant film. And of course the music is fantastic. So go see it. 

40. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

My thoughts on this movie could probably be a blog post on its own.

Two years ago I wrote that I enjoyed An Unexpected Journey. I was wrong. I only saw that movie once, and I honestly don't remember liking it so that feeling must have been brief. It left me with no desire to see The Desolation of Smaug, and I didn't until September of this year. I had zero desire to see The Battle of the Five Armies, but work bought out the theater and let us play hookie for the afternoon, so who was I to say no?

I feel like I shouldn't have to warn you about spoilers below since the book has been out since 1937, however there are no major spoilers for things that happen in the movie that don't happen in the book (which is almost everything).

This one was probably the least infuriating of the three, but only because nothing that happens in this movie happens in the book. Well, not nothing, but the moments in the movie that are shared with the book probably total about 15 minutes of the movie. The Battle of the Five Armies in the book is a fairly short affair since the book is mostly from Bilbo's perspective and Bilbo was unconscious for much of the battle. But they still managed to turn 5 paragraphs into 2 hours of ceaseless battle sequences and contrived drama.

Now for some specific annoyances:

First, if you're going to put an awesome female warrior elf in the movie who wasn't in the books because Middle Earth is in DIRE need of more than 3 women with names and who speak, don't make her need saving multiple times by two different people. It gets old. Also don't contrive a stupid love story for the sake of making sure the ladies come see your movie. They will, love story or not. Seriously, not a single moment of the Tauriel/Kili storyline was interesting or felt genuine. Probably because that was literally the only reason Tauriel (and therefore Legolas) was there.

Second, Jackson has gone the way of George Lucas, and I fear he will never return. I mean, what the hell was the point of making Dain ENTIRELY CGI?! The fact that the orcs aren't actual people anymore was bothersome enough, but Dain? DAIN?! Your movie has 13 freaking dwarves played by actual actors with prosthetic and makeup but you feel the need to make Dain CGI?? Was Billy Connolly that unwilling to put a fake beard on? Seriously, Jackson. WTF?!

(okay, some movie spoilers here) Third, the only thing I was looking forward to in this movie was seeing Galadriel lay Dol Guldur to waste. I saw her carry an unconscious Gandalf (which was a nice break from the alternative of seeing the male hero carry a lifeless woman) and I saw her banish Sauron (which was admittedly pretty cool to glimpse how powerful she really is), but there was no laying to waste.

Fourth, we get it. Thorin has dragon sickness. You don't need to keep dwelling on that fact. Over and over and over again.

Fifth, we get it. Thorin is having an existential moment that brings him out of it. You don't need to spend 5 minutes on it and repeat every single line about how Thorin has dragon sickness.

Sixth, I know this is an issue with the second one too, but I'm still annoyed that Smaug had no jewels encrusted into his hide.

Now I know it doesn't seem like it, but I'm really not a purist. I generally like it better when movies stay more faithful to the book, but I can also appreciate changes made when adapting a book to screen if they're done well and with good reason. For example, adding Tauriel was done for good reason, but not well. I like her, I don't like her story line. Most of the additions and changes were made for no good reason and/or were poorly executed, so yeah, I'm going to pine for a more direct interpretation.

Ultimately, my issue with The Hobbit movies is the fact that Bilbo gets lost in everything else that happens. The book is about him, the movies are not. It's about his adapting and changing and that transformation is buried beneath 8 hours of B plots. The Hobbit isn't about the hobbit. He just happens to be there sometimes.

tl;dr see the bolded sentences above.

41. The Interview

I'm really glad I didn't end the year on The Battle of the Five Armies.

With all the craziness surrounding this movie (the Sony hack, the terrorist threat, North Korea denying involvement but saying 'good job to whoever did this', the North Korean Internet going down and the US neither confirming nor denying involvement, etc.), I became more and more excited for this film. However, I never took it for anything other than a stupid comedy, and that's exactly what it was. It was adolescent, pretty racist, kind of sexist, but super funny.

And that's all. I keep breaking my record, so this is a good trajectory. This year may not continue on that though, since I no longer have a free movie pass to The Broadway.