Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume I

Hi. Told you I’d be back.

Welcome back (or, possibly for many of you, for the first time) to The Doctor Is In. I started this blog back in 2009 as a place to collect miscellaneous thoughts that didn’t exactly fit at The Digital Bits. It didn’t last long before I got busy with other work and essentially forgot all about this. It happens.

For now, this will be my temporary home until I can bring back the stand-alone Jahnke’s Electric Theatre blog. Or, it’ll be my permanent home until I get busy with other work and essentially forget all about this. We’ll see what happens.

Some of you may be wondering why I left The Bits in the first place. I’ll get into some of that later on, as well as what will hopefully make this different from what I was doing over there. But before Baby New Year turns into Surly Teen New Year, I’d like to take one more look at the movies of 2014.

I didn’t want to start this back up with just another top ten list. For one thing, there are so many 2014 movies that I haven’t seen yet that any attempt at a top ten would be ludicrously limited. According to The Big Checklist assembled by The Dissolve’s Scott Tobias, I’ve only seen 25% of the movies that matter in 2014. Granted, this is the internet and rock-solid opinions are established regularly on far less information but still.

Like a lot of people, my movie-watching habits have changed a lot in the last few years. I confess that I don’t make it to the cinema as often as I’d like. This is primarily due to laziness on my part but also because there are only a handful of theatres I can stand. If I didn’t live in Los Angeles, there’d probably be even less. I’ve been slow to embrace on-demand exhibition because I don’t have cable or satellite TV and I refuse to watch anything longer than 15 minutes on my computer. I did get a Roku this past year, so I’m finally catching up to the wave of the future. And unlike most other people who publish a top ten, I’m not a member of any critics’ association or guild that has year-end awards to bestow, so no screeners for me.

But if you’re doing a year-in-review thing, it’s kind of hard to avoid it becoming a list. Doesn’t matter if it’s 5, 10, 25 or 100, ranked by merit, release date or running time, a list’s a list. I thought about listing everything alphabetically but that seemed like kind of a dick move, so over the next few days, I’ll be writing about all of the 2014 movies I’ve seen, ranked in roughly my order of preference, subject to wiggling around depending on my whims. If you’re wondering why I left off Movie X, it’s because I haven’t seen it yet. Simple as that. (Now if you’re wondering why I haven’t seen Movie X yet, that’s a different story.) I’ll do ten a day to keep it manageable, so if you absolutely must have a top ten, you can stop reading after today’s entry.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
By now, most people seem to have a firmly entrenched opinion on the films of Wes Anderson. Either they find his style insufferable and swore off them long ago or they look forward to the arrival of each new movie like it’s a Christmas present from their most imaginative friend. I’m solidly in the latter camp but even I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. Beyond the usual, expected delights of Anderson’s sumptuously detailed sets, wonderful music and witty dialogue, there’s a surprisingly dark and even moving story. Anderson’s skill at assembling extraordinary ensemble casts hasn’t been in doubt for some time but he outdoes himself here, led by a superb comic performance from Ralph Fiennes. This might not be Anderson’s best film but it’s certainly one of his most enjoyable.

Guardians Of The Galaxy
It’s been a long time since the top-grossing movie of the year came within spitting distance of my personal top ten. But Marvel’s bold move out into the cosmos proved to be the exact right antidote to superhero overload. Kudos to Marvel (and their new corporate overlords, Disney) for giving James Gunn the keys to such a sweet ride and the freedom to drive it as fast and as far as he could.

Blue Ruin
I’d been looking forward to the second film from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier ever since I fell in love with his low-budget debut, Murder Party, five or six years ago. Macon Blair’s performance as a hapless loser whose life is turned upside down by an ill-advised quest for revenge is on par with William H. Macy’s in Fargo. This is one of the best neo-noirs of recent years.

A lot of folks seem to enjoy picking the logic of this movie apart, probably because it’s pretty easy to do. And sure, there is a lot about the last surviving members of humanity trapped aboard an eternally-moving, circumnavigating train that doesn’t make a whole let of sense. But guess what? There’s a lot about Fritz Lang’s Metropolis that doesn’t make much sense and nobody seems to complain about that one. Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi vision is wildly imaginative and thrillingly exciting. And if its central metaphor is a little heavy-handed, at least it has one.

The Babadook 
My vote for horror movie of the year goes to Jennifer Kent’s amazing slow-burn thriller. Essie Davis is brilliant as a single mother whose son and sanity are threatened by a smart-dressed boogeyman manifested from a disturbing children’s book. This one gets under your skin and lodges itself there for days.

Inherent Vice
Give Paul Thomas Anderson this much credit: over the course of his career, he has consistently and steadily increased his difficulty level with each new film. Most filmmakers have steered well clear of adapting the works of Thomas Pynchon to the screen but Anderson jumps right into the deep end, delivering a dense, funny and atmospheric movie that’s all but guaranteed to reward multiple viewings.

20,000 Days On Earth
If you’ve already decided you don’t like Nick Cave, this mythology-perpetuating sorta-documentary isn’t going to change your mind. But it may win you over if you aren’t familiar with him and if you’re a longtime fan, like me, it’s essential. Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard dig deep into Cave’s creative process. If you’re an artist or aspire to be one, this may be the most inspirational film you’ll see all year.

The Boxtrolls
The stop-motion animation wizards at Laika Entertainment continue their winning streak with this funny, gleefully gross concoction reminiscent of the works of Roald Dahl. Bonus points for what may be the best post-credits bonus scene ever filmed.

The Battered Bastards Of Baseball
I’m not much of a sports fan but I do have a peculiar fondness for sports documentaries. While the game is being played, it doesn’t mean much to me. But if a filmmaker can frame that event in the context of a larger story, then you’ve got my interest. Chapman and Maclain Way have got one hell of a good story in the little-known tale of Bing Russell’s Portland Mavericks, an independent minor league team that shook up the status quo of Major League Baseball. This crowd-pleaser is almost certain to become a Major Hollywood Motion Picture but don’t fail to check out the real deal first.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. II
I was surprised by the number of reviews I saw that felt the first part of Lars von Trier’s Trojan Magnum Opus was far superior to the second. I liked Vol. I just fine (more on that later) but Vol. II justifies the project and raises it to a different level. It’s a bold and provocative film and arguably one of von Trier’s most feminist statements to date. 

My magical mystery tour through the past 12 months continues tomorrow, so y'all come back now, y'hear?


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