This past year, while I didn’t read nearly as many books as I usually do, I did see a fair number of movies, both in the theater and at home. If there was an overriding theme to this movie watching, it was probably modern love, whether in the realistic relationships presented in Enough Said (for the mature daters out there) and The Spectacular Now (for the teens), the quirky adorableness of Austenland and Safety Not Guaranteed, or the relative dysfunction of Afternoon Delight, Gone Girl, and Upstream Color. Perhaps it is fitting then, that one of my first (and favorite) home selections was Frances Ha, which includes this scene, a rather blatant rip-off of Leos Carax’s Mauvais sang (1986).
Anyway, on to the films of the year. Note: Except for Oscar blitz selections, the film’s release year is provided for any film not seen in theaters in 2014.
Best of the (Oscar) Blitz: Her. Except for Gravity and Dallas Buyers Club, I saw most of the Oscar-nominated films from 2013 in 2014. While I quite enjoyed Nebraska, Her is the one that has most stuck with me. See above re modern love.
Favorite Film Seen in a Theater: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I loved the look and music of this so-called Iranian vampire western. So-called because it’s not really a western, or made in Iran (although it is in Farsi). For a vampire film, it’s not gory, so if horror films aren’t your thing, don’t worry.
Best Theater Experience: Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm. I’ve wanted to see this film again on the big screen since doing my Spielberg series. This film is ridiculously long, but it flies by. I was hoping that 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I also saw at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, might be redeemed by the big screen, but I still think it could lose most of “The Dawn of Man” and “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.” Sorry, Kubrick fans.
Best Directorial Debut: John Wick. Obviously I went for the Keanu, but I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a well-crafted action pic. The film is paced well and I found myself saying over and over, “Ooh, great shot!”
Ed Wood Award: A Visit to the Underground Cities of Mars. Words cannot describe the weird badness of this 1977 film that I saw at the Cinefamily “Welcome, Space Brothers” Unarius cult special event in Los Angeles.
Pedro Almodóvar Award: La danza de la realidad (The Dance of Reality). Bright colors? Check. Spanish? Check. Too bizarre for words? Check. A fun, but very weird, semi-autobiographical Jodorowsky performance piece.
War Games Award: Colossus: The “Forbin” Project (1970). If you liked the 1983 Matthew Broderick-Ally Sheedy classic, seek out this “mathy” forerunner on DVD.
Most Heartwarming: Chef. I feel like this script must have sat around a bit because the plot of this film seems a bit dated (What chef these days wouldn’t be hip to social media and food trucks?). However, it is an adorable family film with tons of food porn.
Most Fun: Guardians of the Galaxy. As I am generally not a fan of the comic book superhero films that seem to have taken over the summer season, I went to this with very low expectations. And, while I don’t agree with many fans that this film is the best thing since sliced bread, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride while watching.
Most Fun (DVD/Streaming): Austenland (2013). This film about a modern-day woman obsessed with Pride and Prejudice who travels to a sort-of Fantasy Island for Austen fans is quite fun. I watched it with my French cousin who has never read Austen and even she thought it was delightful. Of course, anything might seem that way after being forced to watch The Last Bolshevik (see below) the night before.
Best Documentary: CitizenFour. I can’t imagine this documentary about Edward Snowden won’t be nominated for an Oscar, but it is worth watching regardless. Laura Poitras gets so much out of what is essentially one man talking in a hotel room.
Read the Book, SKIP the Film: Gone Girl. I thought this film adaptation was perfectly fine, but it really lacks the punch and, more importantly, the balance of the book.
Skip the Book, SEE the Film: Divergent. I had not read the YA novel before seeing the film but did read it afterward. I think they made good adaptation choices and the film is a perfectly good substitute for the book.
Best Soundtrack (tie): A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Inside Llewyn Davis
Best Soundtrack (DVD/Streaming): The Broken Circle Breakdown
Best Use of a Song (comedic): “Cherry Bomb” in Guardians of the Galaxy
Best Use of a Song (dramatic): “Summer Wine” in Stoker (2013)
Best Sequel: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I’d be hard-pressed to decide whether I prefer the first or the second film in this clever reboot of the original Planet of the Apes (1968) series, which was a childhood favorite. I recently rewatched the original film on DVD and it really holds up quite well. If you haven’t yet seen Rise or Dawn, watch the original first.
Best Sequel (DVD/Streaming): 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984). I think this was chosen for me as a streaming selection late one night in order to tempt me back to the theater for the original. It may be heresy, but I much prefer the sequel. Terrific cast and far better plot and pacing. Sorry again, Kubrick fans.
Worst Sequel: Muppets Most Wanted. As I wrote earlier in the year in Holy Bechdel, Batman!, boy, was this ever a disappointment.
Most Overrated Film: The Lego Movie. I just don’t get the undying love for this one. It was okay, but it was not as funny or smart as people made it out to be and it really suffers on a Bechdel level.
Standout Performance (Male): Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler
Standout Performance (Female): Eva Green as Artemisia in 300: Rise of an Empire
Favorite “New to Me” Classic: Network (1976). While I had seen snippets of this, I’m glad I got to see the whole thing fresh before watching Nightcrawler, which is partly a creepy update of Network‘s “media gone wild” plot.
Favorite “New to Me” Science Fiction/Horror (tie): Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and They Live (1988). No lover of science fiction or horror films in general, it’s odd I saw both these modern classics this year as they have so many similarities; however, I enjoyed them more than I thought I would.
One reason I watched so many films this year is the Math Greek, who lives in L.A. and with whom I have both local and long-distance movie dates. As he seems to have seen almost everything under the sun, I am in a constant state of catch-up. To remedy this, one gift I gave him last Christmas was a blank list of ten slots where he could fill in any movie he chose and I would watch it before the end of the year. Of course, he didn’t give me his choices until late August, so it was a bit of a rush there at the end to cram them all in (hence the slight delay in this 2014 post).
Here are the films ranked at a very personal best-to-worst:
On the Beach (1959)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Broken Flowers (2005)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
Boy Meets Girl (1984)
La dolce vita (1960)
My Winnipeg (2007)
The Last Bolshevik (1992)
Best Opening: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The opening perfectly sets the very Malicky mood of this piece. Gorgeous cinematography (Deakins, natch).
Best Ending: On the Beach. The stilted acting made me really dislike this movie through most of the first viewing, but then I got to the end and was so moved I went right back to the beginning to see what I missed. And then I loved it.
Favorite Scene: Mireille tap dancing in Boy Meets Girl. This first film of Leos Carax feels very much like a New Wave rip-off, but it has some really great moments, like this one.
Best Film to Watch Over and Over: Phantom of the Paradise. This Phantom of the Opera/Faust mash-up really grows on you upon rewatch, especially the music. Would be great on a double bill with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Most Fun: Broken Flowers. With Bill Murray, it would be hard for this not to be. However, it is more the people around him that make this film a delight to watch. Okay, okay, I’ll watch more Jarmusch.
Most Disappointing: La dolce vita. I saved this until last because I wanted to end on a high note and I was sure I would like it. Instead, I realized about halfway through that it was a celluloid Catcher in the Rye with a privileged main character I had no sympathy for. Yes, it is pretty to look at and has some high points, but, clocking in at three hours, it’s just too damn long.
Film I Can’t Recommend Under Any Circumstance (tie): The Last Bolshevik and Lisztomania. These just didn’t work for me at all. I would never have finished them if they weren’t on the Math Greek’s list.
Finally, I watched a number of films from 2012 and 2013 that were on best-of lists last year. If you missed these in theaters, I recommend catching them on DVD or streaming: Afternoon Delight, Enough Said, Frances Ha, Safety Not Guaranteed, Side Effects, The Spectacular Now, Stoker, Upstream Color.
What were your favorite movies of the year?