#30: X-Men: Days Of Future Past
I wasn’t as down on X-Men: The Last Stand as many people were and still are, but I understand the problems people had with it in terms of messing around with the tone and with (and this I’ll agree with) just killing off Cyclops in the middle of it for seemingly no reason. This movie acts as both a correction to that and as a very effective sequel to X-Men: First Class. Time-travel movies are a dime a dozen but this is a nice adaptation of what is still the greatest X-Men comic, though we can all be annoyed that they changed the hero of it from Kitty Pryde to Wolverine. (Yes, Hugh Jackman is the star of the series, but Ellen Page didn’t deserved to be sidelined in this movie like she is.) But overall, this is a very well done adaptation that uses it’s time travel gimmick quite effectively. Also deserves a lot of credit for Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as a very torn Mystique, still not quite sure of how much she’s on the side of Magneto or her former comrades.
#29: The Machine
It’s always hard to assign a theme to a year’s movies because, a) it’s a stupid exercise based on trying to categorize movies based on the near-randomness of their coming out in the same year and b) the theme gets far too overreaching as you try to cram every movie in there. That said, I’m going to be totally hypocritical and say if you want to armchair-muse a theme about 2014, the idea of self identity seems as good as any to note that it’s a theme that cropped up in 2014. One of the movies that examined this was The Machine, a surprisingly effective low-budget film that deals with artificial intelligence and the idea of a machine trying to become a human. It’s actually fairly simple in terms of it’s plot, a government program that is trying to perfect artificial intelligence to make warrior cyborgs for Britain’s cold war with China. Yadda yadda, the program has horrid consequences for the soldiers involved and then one of the intelligences takes a giant step by being merged with a human intelligence. It’s well-made and touching in terms of the theme of what makes an intelligence “intelligent”, makes the best of it’s low budget and is very worth checking out for the performance by Caity Lotz (who fans of genre TV have seen as Black Canary on the CW’s Green Arrow).
A sneaky entry into this list; while the commercials made this look like it was simply a Scarlett Johannson shoot-em-up directed by Luc Besson, this movie has much crazier things going on. Practically a superhero reverse of The Machine, this is Lucy (Johannson) moving from human to machine as her brain becomes more and more efficient (the movie uses the stupid myth about humans only using 10% of their brain, but it’s such a hand wave to movie science that it’s a, “we know it’s silly, accept it and move on” aspect to the plot) and it’s a really interesting, good performance as she actually knows and accepts what’s happening to her but is also trying to keep in touch with a bit of her humanity. Also, there’s just a shitload of fun action sequences that get crazier and crazier as the movie starts to get really weird. If you liked the odd humor and feel of The Fifth Element, this movie will be right up your alley.
#27: The Normal Heart
Yes, it’s a TV movie. I don’t care. This is a really good piece of work and an example of the kind of work that Ryan Murphy can do if you give him some good material and don’t allow him to fiddle too much with the script. It’s only this far down on the list because there are a few monologues that are still a bit too stagey and not adapted quite perfectly (look to Wit and Angels in America for examples of how to do this almost perfectly). but there is one internal monologue performed by Jim Parsons that is simply incredible. Toss in some other great performances by Matt Bomer, Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts (of all people, stepping outside of her annoying goody-goody comfort zone finally) and it’s just damn fine piece of work.
#26: Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons
Like I’m not going to give a positive review to a nutty Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer) movie involving martial arts, romance and fighting a monkey demon who’s been cursed by the Buddha.
What could have been yet another movie about a man trying to find out what being a man is really about is instead a delightful little father-son movie that’s also about the joys of food. It’s a little heavy-handed in terms of dealing with critics, but besides that it’s very enjoyable and a nice reunion of half the cast of Iron Man 2.
#24: Jodorowsky’s Dune
While I ended up wanting more about Jodorowsky and less about his fascinating and unwieldy ideas for adapting Dune to the big screen, this is a highly entertaining documentary about a very interesting and quite possibly crazy director. Pay close attention to the scenes involving his son, who seems have developed a rather bemused attitude towards his fathers idiosyncrasies.
#23: Stage Fright
The world really does need more horror movies set at summer musical theatre camps, doesn’t it? It sounds like a weird Funny or Die mashup of a movie, but this is actually a quite well done horror movie that doesn’t skimp on the horror while also plumbing the humor you can get out of a musical theatre camp. Toss in a surprisingly effective supporting performance by Meat Loaf, of all people, as the camp director and a really good lead performance by Canadian actress Allie MacDonald, who performs the always difficult trick in a horror movie of screaming while not being a moron and running right into trouble and you have a fine little gem of a movie that I hope more people will discover as time goes on. (Also, the songs are pretty good, which is always a stumbling block when you run across a movie that’s not a straight musical.)
This was far higher on my list earlier in the year, but that doesn't mean it’s not still a very effective and touching movie about a whole raft of things, from technology to class warfare to Octavia Spencer cracking an egg on a child’s head. Some people thought the whole thing simplistic and more than a bit overwrought, but I think that comes down to whether you thought such things in a movie like this to be a feature or a bug. Myself, I liked how the movie used a “get from one end of the train to the other” format for a series of bizarre vignettes and storylines (the schoolroom performance by Alison Pill is really one of the best scenes of the year, no question). I really did like how the Chris Evans performance in this is a much more dialed down and despairing/angry version of him; it’s nice to see him try different things.
#21: The One I Love
Mark Duplass has almost quietly been building up an interesting and varied film career separately from his role as one of the fantasy-football assholes on The League, and this is a continuation of it. I hesitate to say anything about the actual plot, besides that it involves Duplass and Elisabeth Moss as his wife going on a couple’s retreat to work on their marriage; suffice to say that like how Safety Not Guaranteed goes off in unexpected and rewarding ways, so does this movie. Duplass and Moss are very good together in a surprisingly real-feeling relationship; this isn't one of those movie marriages that is either perfect or everyone hates everyone , but one where they obviously still love each other but they’ve simply developed some issues they need to work on. How those issues might get worked out and the...circumstances under which that might happen, well that I leave for new viewers to discover. But definitely worth checking out.
Tomorrow: time loops, paying people to do horrible things and Will Arnett's best performance ever.