Friday, January 16, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume III

Who’s ready for another round? Let’s see what ended up in slots #21-30 on my personal ranking of the various kinetoscopes and peep shows of 2014.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Critics may have gotten a little bit carried away when they started comparing this Marvel sequel to the great conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good. It just maybe isn’t Parallax View-good. Regardless, this is a superior follow-up and a terrifically entertaining superhero movie that did an excellent job broadening and shaking up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And Chris Evans deserves a lot of praise for his work as Cap, taking what could be a one-dimensional character and instilling it with a great sense of purpose and soul.

It may be hard to believe these days but the Academy did not hand Nicolas Cage a Best Actor Oscar as a prank. David Gordon Green’s rural drama reminds us what Cage is capable of when he actually gives a damn. He’s remarkable as an alcoholic ex-con who just wants to be left alone until he becomes a reluctant mentor to a teenager who’s even worse off than himself. Green captures the low-income environment extremely well and it’s a little scary how seamlessly Cage blends into it.

Expectations for another Americanized Godzilla movie couldn’t possibly have been lower, which certainly helped make this a nice surprise. But Gareth Edwards delivered an extremely fun kaiju movie with a solid (and arguably overqualified) cast giving the proceedings gravitas. I’m looking forward to a return trip to Monster Island.

Nymphomaniac: Vol. I
Like I said in part one of this series, this movie doesn’t really stand on its own merits without its companion piece. It’s an interesting journey but you don’t discover the destination until Vol. II. But it’s definitely a compelling set-up that makes you want to see the rest. And Uma Thurman deserves some sort of MVP award for her brief but unforgettable appearance in this.

Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan’s most famous character comes to the big screen in this somewhat disposable but often hilarious adventure (titled Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa everywhere in the world except here). The good news is that if you aren’t familiar with Partridge, this is a pretty decent introduction to the character that’ll probably make you want to track down his TV appearances. It’s no classic but it’s a much better TV-to-film transition than, say, Ali G Indahouse.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past
First Class was the kind of reinvigorating fresh start that gives reboots a good name. Bringing all the X-Men, past, present and future, together into one super-colossal epic was an ambitious move that mostly paid off. It offers some of the year’s best superhero setpieces and entertaining character bits. The movie’s biggest flaw may be that its mythology is getting a little too convoluted at this point. It doesn’t seem like you should have to do so much homework just to enjoy an X-Men movie.

An orphaned girl raised in a convent is forced to postpone taking her vows when she learns her real family history from an aunt she never knew she had. Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski and shot in stunning black and white, the film takes you on a journey into the heart of identity and family. It’s an impressive work, deserving of its recent Oscar nominations.

Ernest & Celestine
A lot of the most interesting animated movies these days are coming from overseas. This gentle French movie about the unlikely friendship between a bear and a young mouse pairs lovely hand-drawn animation with a clever, imaginative story. The movie gets dangerously close to being too soft-spoken for its own good but at its best, this is a winning and engaging family film.

Seth Rogen certainly had an interesting year, didn’t he? I wasn’t really expecting much from this raucous comedy about a war between would-be cool dad Rogen and frat boy Zac Efron. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get some big laughs out of this. Rogen and Rose Byrne are a believable and very funny couple and Efron (who honestly I knew more by name than his actual work prior to this) is a terrific foil.

The Missing Picture
On the opposite end of the fun spectrum is this Cambodian documentary from director Rithy Panh. Using carved figurines and miniature sets, Panh tells the harrowing story of growing up under the regime of Pol Pot in the 70s. It’s an innovative, dark but compelling film worth seeking out.

I’ll be back on Monday with ten more that I liked but didn’t love, then it’s on to the year’s disappointments and stinkers. Stick around, the worst is yet to come.

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