by Justin Tucker
The 10 Best Films of 2014
Everyone knows the Academy Awards ceremony is a sanctimonious, seemingly never-ending dog and pony show. Generally out of touch with audiences, the Academy will at times make questionable picks for Best Picture and ignore certain films altogether. I mean, does anybody actually believe Slumdog Millionaire is a better movie over The Dark Knight? Is Crash actually going to stand the test of time as a work of art?
I am here to cut through the crap and the pretentiousness to present the actual best pictures of 2014. They are as follows:
If experimental maestro Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi) and composer Philip Glass’ names ever appear together in the same credit sequence, audiences can surely expect to be immersed in a sonic, sensorial experience. The film, shot in stark black and white to be exhibited in the latest digital projection technology, is a nonverbal montage of faces, human and otherwise, flowing in a meditative stream. Like the Qatsi trilogy before it, Reggio and Glass skillfully combine image and sound, redefining cinema as a form of art.
9. Jersey Boys
American Sniper may be getting all the award nominations and box office dollars, but no one should lose sight of the fact that Jersey Boys is the best Clint Eastwood movie of 2014. Based on the Tony Award-winning musical, it tells the story of The Four Seasons from their humble beginnings in 1950s Belleville, New Jersey, to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Eastwood’s direction is deliberately old-fashioned, and the delightful performances by John Lloyd Young, who originated the role of frontman Frankie Valli on Broadway, and Vincent Piazza (“Boardwalk Empire”) as Tommy DeVito make for a mellifluous outing.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
One of the better entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this fun and hilarious superhero space adventure follows outlaws Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) as they blast their way through the galaxy. Their goal: keep a powerful orb from entering into the clutches of the maniacal Ronan (Lee Pace), hellbent on destroying the planet Xandar. Director James Gunn (Slither) brings the comic book to life on a scale that rivals Star Wars and Star Trek. Killer soundtrack as well.
Christopher Nolan’s first film since the conclusion of The Dark Knight Trilogy is a science fiction saga that takes cues from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact and Solaris, exploring how the intersection of science and spirituality shape how humankind views their place in the universe. Set in a future where civilization is on the decline amid ecological catastrophe, it stars the terrific Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut who leaves behind his son and daughter--joining a NASA mission to enter a wormhole to search for a new home for humanity. Nolan once again raises the cinematic bar, telling a stirring story based on the latest science featuring state-of-the-art special effects.
Miles Teller stars as drummer Andrew Neiman, member of an elite ensemble, who is abused and humiliated by jazz instructor Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) at a prestigious New York music conservatory. Neiman is driven to zealous lengths to prove his worth to the fierce Fletcher, obsessed with perfecting his skills to become a modern Buddy Rich. Simmons gives the most memorable performance of his career, and Teller continues to grow as an actor. Based on his 2013 short subject of the same name, writer/director Damien Chazelle emerges as a bold new storyteller.
5. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
It’s no wonder that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s well-executed existential comedy about tortured artists clashing with the egos of other tortured artists won Best Picture. The Academy eats that sort of thing up. Nonetheless it’s a darkly funny tale about aging action hero Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who hopes to stage a Broadway comeback in a dramatic role, reversing a stalled career after leaving a popular superhero franchise. He is berated by his Birdman persona, becoming increasingly consumed by his alter-ego as the pressure mounts to make his play a success. Keaton and Edward Norton, playing a maniacal method actor, give two of the best performances of the year. Iñárritu (Amore perros, 21 Grams) continues to wow.
4. We Are The Best!
One of the best things that can ever happen in one’s life is to get into punk rock. Unfortunately I wasn’t old enough to experience punk’s initial wave like the heroines of this 1980s-set Swedish coming-of-age story were able to, but the film is still a nostalgic joy. Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson (Together) and based on the graphic novel Never Goodnight by his wife Coco, it tells the story of three Stockholm teenage outcasts who form a punk rock band at their youth center to raise some hell and channel their adolescent angst, regardless of musical ability. This film is terrific because it teaches that it’s okay to be yourself —the central tenet of punk rock.
Director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) has been behind some of the most iconic and innovative movies of the past quarter century. His most ambitious film to date is the epic Boyhood, shot over a twelve year span, about the journey from adolescence to adulthood of Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), who becomes a man before our eyes. Also featuring knockout performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as his divorced parents, Coltrane’s rite-of-passage is an unprecedented achievement.
2. Life Itself
What better way to pay tribute to the memory Roger Ebert than a documentary from Chicago-based maestro Steven James? The Hoop Dreams director gives an insightful chronicle of the life of the legendary film critic, from humble beginnings and his fight with cancer through his relationships with his wife Chaz and partner Gene Siskel. A heartfelt and reverent homage to one of the great American men of letters.
1. The Lego Movie
It’s not hard to speculate why this masterpiece was snubbed. The Oscars are all about the craft of cinema and not the commercial aspects. The film proved that a 101 minute advertisement for toys, comics and video games can not only be fun and exciting, but also a carefully crafted work of high art. Set in the Lego world, it tells the story of Lego construction worker Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) as he teams up with the Lego likes of Batman, C-3PO, Han Solo and Gandalf to battle the menacing Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the 21 Jump Street series), this dazzling, subversive work of animation stands head over shoulders against Best Animated Feature nominees Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2. And who wouldn’t want to see Star Wars and DC Comics together in the same movie? I am happy to see Warner Bros.’ animation wing spring ferociously back to life. Without a doubt, one of the best movies of the new millennium. If only Sergei Eisenstein were alive to see it.
Honorable Mentions: Big Eyes, Cesar Chavez, Draft Day, Finding Vivian Maier, Gone Girl, The Imitation Game, Locke, Nightcrawler, Selma, X-Men: Days of Future Past
The 3 Worst Films of 2014
Bad movies seem to be everywhere these days. Quality, originality and innovation continue to be lacking, and as a result, Anno Domini 2014 proved to be another showcase of shitty films.
It’s no secret that the major studios aren’t making movies as great as they used to. But if you get off on terrible moviemaking, let me present the most gruesome of 2014.
(Note: I have not seen Saving Christmas with Kirk Cameron yet, because I had no means to see it. I’d much rather spend my time trying to watch good movies.)
3. I, Frankenstein
Bill Nighy’s status as one of the most distinguished actors in the world today has been thrown into question thanks to this POS. Aaron Eckhart stars as Frankenstein’s monster, who is still alive and living among us today. He has also allied with angels, who are protecting Earth from demons such as Nighy’s character. And then the angel and demons fight and stuff. The plot of this Underworld offshoot is as thin and fragile as a single strand of angel hair pasta, and the special effects are even worse. If this movie is any indication, Eckhart was seemingly displeased that Harvey Dent died in The Dark Knight and he felt entitled to play another character with a crazy scar for an entire movie. Selfish asshole.
2. Left Behind
Unfortunately “Duck Dynasty” exists. Why is there so much attention given to these redneck derelicts? What’s even more unfortunate is that “Dynasty” co-star Willie Robertson has decided to enter the movie business as a producer and star in order to poison the cinema. His first credit as executive producer is the fucking horrible Left Behind, the reboot to the fucking horrible 2000 original with Kirk Cameron. Starring the increasingly pathetic Nicolas Cage, the film takes place on his pilot character’s plane during the Rapture, a prophesied Biblical event where believers are instantly taken to Heaven before the Apocalypse. Also pathetic is the acting, most notably Lea Thompson and Cassi Thomson, as well as the special effects. The most unfortunate part of his movie is the film’s intended audience actually believe an event like the Rapture is imminent. Don’t encourage these freaks; avoid this movie all together.
1. Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?
Who cares at this point? As a fan of Ayn Rand, I am very disappointed in how the Atlas Shrugged trilogy played out. Part I was no masterpiece, but it thankfully helped thrust Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) into the spotlight as heroine railroad tycoon Dagny Taggart. That film failed; rejected by the very free market the novel championed. Against conventional wisdom, producer John Aglialoro recast all the characters and released Part II the following year to even less fanfare. Now we’ve got the third and thankfully final Who Is John Galt?, easily one of the worst films of the new millennium. Again completely recast with an even smaller budget than its predecessors, the film continues the story of Taggart and her fellow industrialists as they continue their strike against a tyrannical United States government. The rotten script, co-written by Aglialoro, takes the second half of Rand’s novel and distills it to whatever they could afford to shoot. It addition to being anti-climactic, it completely breaks the flow of the first two films, halting character and story arcs that have been developing over the series. Worse than the acting and chemistry of the leads are the cameos by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, both of whom I’m sure Rand would have fucking hated. The cast and crew of this turd must atone for their sins.
Bad But Good — God’s Not Dead
In terms of story, character and technical merits, this Christian drama from director Harold Cronk is bad by any standard of measure. It stars Shane Harper as a Christian freshman college student who must debate the existence of God with his atheist philosophy professor (Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo) after he refuses to deny his existence in class. Also some of his fellow students consider getting saved despite objections from their families. With paper-thin characters, a melodramatic flair and made-for-television aesthetics, this cinematic piece of Christian apologetics is amusing because of its unintentional camp and extreme earnestness. I couldn't help but root for the characters to be saved. Oh! And Willie Robertson has a cameo!
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Top 10 Films of 2013
Happy New Year, friends!
I am certainly hoping that 2014 is a much better year at the movies than the generally dismal 2013. Though it seemed most films released last year were garbage, there was luckily a handful that didn’t suck, and out of those, even a few genuine works of art.
In accordance with the New Year’s ritual, I’ve compiled a list of films of 2013 that I felt were the best. Here’s what I came up with...