2014 is a bit of an odd year in film. For the first half, I was convinced this was a down year with very little offer, but then releases (and we’re not even talking Oscar season stuff) started to trickle out and catch my eye and in the end, I think this was a very, very good year with a lot of standout films. With that said, join me after the jump for the best and worst of 2014.*
*Note that my way of dealing with release dates is that I count it as a 2014 release if it had it’s United States theatrical or direct-to-DVD or VOD release in 2014. Hence why there are a couple of releases on here that were released in their country of origin in 2013.
#43: Jersey Boys
OK, there may very well have been demonstrably worse movies released in 2014, but none was more disappointing. How Clint Eastwood, a director of some skill, managed to turn a by all accounts enjoyable and exciting stage musical into this parade of boring biopic pieces that tries to disguise it’s musical origins at every turn is simply beyond me. Dull characters, wildly-miscast actors who look too old when they’re playing the young versions and then get put into the worst old-age makeup since Mr. Saturday Night, indifferent song performances...this thing is a terrible clunker
#42: I, Frankenstein
Or as I like to call it if you translate it badly into Spanish, “Yo! Frankenstein!” A complete waste of time for the viewer and for everyone involved in making this movie. A senseless plot, terrible CGI and even poking fun at Jai Courtney’s incredible lack of charisma in this movie can’t help it. Come for the inane Underworld knock-off, stay for the last line of the movie being, yes, “I, Frankenstein.”
#41: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Jesus, where to start with this thing. A missed opportunity all around every time they get back to the superhero stuff, which you figure would be the one thing they could get right in a Spider-Man movie. What makes this movie really frustrating is that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great onscreen chemistry every time you have a Peter & Gwen scene, which means every time we’re in a punchy-punchy scene I kept wishing we could get back to them. Someone just get Marc Webb away from these movies and do a good romantic comedy with the two of them and stop with this horrible mess.
Of course, it’s a completely unnecessary remake. But I do appreciate that the filmmaker tried to make it about something and weren’t just repeating the beats of the original movie. Sadly, it’s still not especially good and has a complete blank slate of a lead actor in Joel Kinnaman. Fun Michael Keaton villain role though.
Could have been better, could have been worse. I enjoyed the novel for what it was, which is pretty standard dystopian YA by the numbers (she’s The One, fairly chaste romance with brooding boy (played by a tall drink of boredom), big secret, dystopia, etc) and the movie is pretty much all of that slapped on the screen. Shailene Woodley is an appealing young actress and I hope to see her in better movies, but all the boys in the movie could be from the CW lead actor factory and I wouldn’t be surprised.
#38: The Sacrament
I’m a huge fan of Ti West’s previous work in House of the Devil (the best 1982 horror movie made in the 2000s) and The Innkeepers, so this was a bit of a disappointment in how it’s just kind of average. It’s good, but just not that good. I can’t help but wonder if it might have been better as a) not a found footage film, though technically it’s not found footage but a documentary crew, and b) if the central horror wasn’t patterned so closely on Jonestown. There’s a lot to like in this movie but it just didn’t particularly push my buttons. Which could also be said about…
#37: The Immigrant
A movie I certainly wanted to like a lot more than I did. There’s a lot of good work here from Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner, but the movie is just standard and not as sweeping or important as it wants to be.
#36: Veronica Mars
Did you like the show? Well, here’s a longer episode with some swearing. This is a good thing, just not enough to kick it higher up the list. I had the luck to see it without having seen the third season of the show, so I was in the dark as to which of the new characters might be the killer, which was nice. So, if you saw all three seasons this might be less interesting of a mystery to you.
#35: Batman: Assault On Arkham
My demarcation is that this is where the actively good movies are (sorry, VM). The title of this movie is a bit of a cheat by DC animation, as this is not a Batman movie but a Suicide Squad film (speculation was that DC was testing the waters to see if anyone was interested in a live-action SS movie). The nutbars and villains of SS are charged by Amanda Waller to invade Arkham Asylum, and it’s a really well done (and surprisingly adult in it’s tone and action) heist movie, but with people who are only out of prison because they have bombs in their heads to control them. Bloody, fun and acted the hell out by some very good voice actors (Neal McDonough, in particular, does some very nice work as Deadshot). If you like the superhero movies and are looking for something a little more offbeat, this should be right up your alley.
#34: Finding Vivian Maier
What could have been a great documentary about a fascinating subject (Vivian Maier was a Chicago street photographer whose work was pretty much completely unknown until a man named John Maloof bought a bunch of boxes of her negatives, sight unseen, at a storage space auction. Sadly, what could have been a very interesting look at Maier’s life and why she never apparently tried to publish her excellent work (and there is still good material here) is hijacked by Maloof directing the documentary, which is of necessity partially about him, and the story becomes more about him and his archiving the work than it does about Maier. There’s a distasteful tone of self-congratulation here that unfortunately tinges the parts of the movie that are about Maier and it’s a shame.
#33: Stonehearst Asylum
I didn’t even know this existed until it hit DVD toward the end of the year, but this is a really good little Poe adaptation with James Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale, David Thewliss, Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine that’s really worth a look. There’s good acting that’s well directed in this tale of madness and betrayal and has just enough twists and turns without actually going cuckoo-banana pants in the end. It also helps that the movie looks great; I like to poke fun at the parade of video cheapies that get made in the former Eastern Bloc, but this uses Bulgaria in a really nice, cold and isolated way. It’s directed by Brad Anderson, whose Session 9 is a modern classic of psychological horror and this film explores a good amount of the same self-identity horrors.
#32: How To Train Your Dragon 2
Not as good as the first, but that’s not a bad thing. Entirely acceptable. (But it being nominated for best Animated Film is a crock; it’s just not in the same league as the others.)
#31: The Raid: BerandalAnother sequel that could possible be considered more of the same, but this movie really ramps up the action and provides a surprisingly excellent and touching police corruption and undercover story. As Patrick Bromley at F Thiis Movie said, it’s one of those movies where you yell, “Holy Shit!” at something and then five minutes later the movie tops it with something even more Holy Shit. Really, really enjoyable and a damn good use of Iko Uwais (and if you haven’t seen him in Merantau, why not?)
Tomorrow: A lot of science fiction, a family comedy with food and a musical theatre horror comedy.