Monday, January 19, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume IV

Last week, we focused entirely on movies that I either flat-out loved or liked very, very much. Hey, 30 very-good-to-great movies in one year is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you consider how many are still out there that I’m looking forward to catching up with (especially Whiplash, Birdman, Big Eyes and Selma, so if you’re wondering when they’re going to show up, they’re not going to).

This week is going to be a little different. Don’t get me wrong, I liked all ten of today’s movies to varying degrees. But in some cases, I didn’t love them the way a lot of other folks seemed to. So if I spend more time talking about what I didn’t like about them, forgive me. These are all fine movies and don’t let me discourage you from checking them out. But don’t be mad if your favorite movie of 2014 wasn’t my favorite movie.

Dom Hemingway
This was fun. Jude Law is excellent and is clearly having a good time as a washed-up, egomaniacal safecracker trying to get back on his feet. And it’s been way too long since we’ve seen the indispensible Richard E. Grant in a role this good. It may be a little too indebted to Guy Ritchie’s early movies but it’s still entertaining.

The Lego Movie
Although I ended up enjoying this movie, I never entirely got over my initial negative reaction to the mercenary nature of this project. This is absolutely the best-case scenario for a movie that is, let’s be honest here, a feature-length commercial for Legos. It really is. At the end of the day, it should be placed at the opposite end of the spectrum of Mac And Me (representing the worst-case scenario of a feature-length commercial). Exceeding expectations doesn’t impress me much when those expectations were less than zero.

Jodorowsky’s Dune
It may surprise some people that this documentary didn’t rank higher on my list. It’s extremely well done and the story of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unmade version of Dune deserved to be told. In this case, it’s not the movie, it’s me. I already knew a lot about this project and the movie didn’t really reveal anything I hadn’t heard before. And it’s great to see the artwork and hear from the people involved but I could have done with a bit less talk from people who weren’t directly associated with it discussing its influence.

When American actresses complain that there aren’t enough good roles for actresses over 40 or 50, this is the kind of movie they’re saying they’d like to see more of. Naturally, it comes from Chile, not the US. Paulina Garcia is excellent as the title character, an over-50 divorcee who spends her evenings at singles mixers. The movie is occasionally a bit slow-going but the final scene is transcendent.

Stranger By The Lake
A secluded gay cruising spot is the ideal setting for a Hitchcockian thriller. Everyone in this movie could be the title character. Anonymity is the whole point. Franck falls for a handsome guy named Michel but Michel’s current boyfriend is extremely jealous. After Franck witnesses the boyfriend’s maybe-maybe-not-accidental death, he hooks up with Michel anyway, despite (or because of) the danger. Writer/director Alain Guiraudie takes his time but succeeds in creating a sultry and dangerously atmospheric film.

Obvious Child 
Indie dramedies about struggling twenty-somethings trying to find their place in the world can often remind me of the worst parts of going to college. And Gillian Robespierre’s movie about an aspiring stand-up (Jenny Slate) coming to terms with an unplanned pregnancy occasionally comes close to disappearing up its own navel. But by the end, the movie reveals itself to be a sharply observed and level-headed portrait of a talented and funny young woman and I had been won over.

Gone Girl
I think David Fincher is a fairly overrated filmmaker in general, so it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that this one didn’t exactly wow me. And I thought Gillian Flynn’s novel was an OK page-turner (up until the ending, which I really disliked). To me, this was just an OK adaptation of an OK book, really no more remarkable than 80s and 90s thrillers like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. Although I do have to give it up for Kim Dickens, who I thought was great as Detective Boney, and this is by far the best Tyler Perry movie I’ve ever seen.

Tom Hardy is one of the most magnetic actors to hit movies in a long time. I doubt many other people could have carried off Steven Knight’s daring drama, which is just Hardy driving a car for 85 minutes, on the phone trying to put out a wide range of fires on what may be the most trying evening of his life. Knight and Hardy can’t quite sustain the premise entirely but the fact that the movie is compelling at all is pretty impressive.

Under The Skin
I was hoping to like this a lot more than I did. Scarlett Johansson gives an impressive performance and director Jonathan Glazer creates an impressively eerie, otherworldly mood. Some have likened it to Kubrick but it struck me as more of a Man Who Fell To Earth vibe. But the movie’s glacial pace worked against it, at least for me. I feel like I got the point about halfway through and while I kept expecting there to be more to it, at the end, there was just no there there. Not bad but pretty disappointing.

The Interview
After all of the sturm und drang surrounding the release of this movie, it would be nice to report that Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and James Franco had really upped their game and crafted a biting satire for the ages. Of course they did not. I like Seth Rogen and I feel bad that his goofball little movie caused such a fuss that it could never possibly live up to. I got some laughs from this but not as many as I’d hoped. I’ll give Rogen and Goldberg one thing, however. I admire them for continuing to develop their own unique visual style. A lot of comedy filmmakers go their entire careers without even thinking about it. I appreciate that Rogen and Goldberg are making comedies that don’t look like comedies.

We’re down to the last two entries! Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the disappointments and meh’s of 2014. Then come back Wednesday for the movies I simply did not like. That’s always a fun one.

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