Sick of the End-of-the-Year hype? Over the Best-Of List? Done with being told how to feel about what is the interneteratti insiders say is Good and what is Bad? Exhausted by the feeling that you need to validate your interests by “liking” a thing? Tired of the need to feel that pinning a bunch of lists to the passage of December 31st into January 1st means anything more than March 31st to April Fools Day? Blame it on Amazon. Or the (sigh) NSA. Or better yet, God (who had so many bad movies put out about him that even L. Ron Hubbard is turning in his grave on Xenu), so why not click here and learn how to lose twenty pounds now!
The truth is that despite my own pretense to the contrary, this is a Best of the End of the Year List of Things That I Learned About on the Internet. How else does anyone learn about anything these days otherwise? TV is so last century. As the Buddha said, “Accept your fate, asshole.” or as another wise man once put it, “Don’t worry, be happy.” I will try not to repeat what Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes say with a whole lot better web design (sorry folks, my intern coders just quit!) and will attempt to be sincere about what 2014 threw in front of my cow eyes before the year spun so quickly past it resembled a Tornado in L.A. (yes that happened).
Read any other Year In Review pieces and you become instantly depressed at all of the shootings, beheadings, superstorms, diseases, institutionalized racists, police violence, poor voter turnout for U.S. elections, congressional gridlocks, bipartisanship, anything celebrity-oriented, and other entertainment-related “news”. Which is probably a large contributor to why gaming is the biggest global industry ever – escapism is justifiable when the world goes to shit. Look at the film industry, no top ten grossing film, except Maleficent or Interstellar, is not a sequel, part of a series based on a comic book, and all of them are easily Science Fiction, and most of them absurdly Freak Hero driven narratives (the eccentric in the room knows how to save us all from ourselves). Tolstoy apocryphally said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” And while these may more or less hold true to that axiom in wobbly general terms, there are stronger issues at play here – escaping from a reality which inundates you with mindless crap by escaping to more mindless crap.
Let me be clear, I have seen many of these films (and others like them, but not as financially “good” as these), for two reasons: 1) because I feel the need to be up to date in modern day lexicon of non-stop references, i.e. I want to get the joke, and 2) In a weird way, I kind of like them (except the Transformers series which is just absolute shit). Which does not mean that they are actual great films. It means that I am a monkey in terms of the very Kubrickian-based Doug Liman form of Bourne Identity editing–hand held camera, quick cut, disjunctive, point of view, with a very large (albeit somewhat fogged) window for self-interpretation (“What just happened?” “He killed him with the Sears Catalog.”). Which has two effects: 1) to desensitize viewers to the unwieldy and awkward feel that comes with long takes in well-thought out character-driven storylines (like Birdman) and 2) makes everything that came before unwatchable due to our collective digital-ADHD. These films are a bare minimum of on location shoots with most of the work in studio in front of a green screen and lots of post production.
Singular to this list is Interstellar which is a taut cerebral thriller set in space (a la Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris) that takes advantage of modern day viewers addiction to dis-reality in order to propagate very real issues at the heart of next generation global dilemmas. Christopher Nolan’s ability to maintain the suspension of disbelief in terms of the reality of his special effects (using as little CGI as possible) is paramount to the storytelling. And paramount to me believing that all character-driven drama has not been totally Michael Bay-ed into crap wannabe sentimental robot-based bullshit. But at this point Bay himself must be so robotic in his technique as to at least be able to transform into some sort of auto-felatio infinite machine…
I digress…into films that I actually liked. Here are 11 films from this year worth spending your time and money on that combined made way less than the last movie on the top-ten grossing list (recognize any of the production companies that made them?). And many of the are Science Fiction! I know, what a hypocrite, right, but at least we are seeing major Hollywood stars step out of the Cut & Paste Superhero money-machine for the sake of making movies that actually move you.
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, Film4 / BFI) – More than a decade since its inception, Glazer pairs reality television with haunting images of Scarlett Johansson as naïve and devastating alien being in search of a (human) meal, and perhaps a soul. Multiple breathtaking shots (both with and without nude Johansson), but the scene on the beach is particularly devastating in its reality.
Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, Moho Films) Writer / Director of The Host and the excellent Memories of Murder, it is refreshing to see this French Graphic novel get billed as an international release rather than for the South Korean domestic market (and then remade into a shitty thing no one remembers). Bong delivers his very unique stylized production, and creates a gory comment on society / touching tale of redemption all in one big weird Sci-fi thriller package.
Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, Film4 / Irish Film Board) Jon Ronson wrote about his experience playing with Michael Fassbender’s Frank in the fictionalized version of one small part of the life of Christopher Mark Sievey (1955 – 2010) the English musician and comedian who fronted The Freshies in the 70s and early 80s as Frank Sidebottom.
A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn, Demarest Films) – The director of Control segued from music video to espionage with The American and continues down the muted noir path with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a German Intelligence Agent in John le Carré’s spy novel of the same name. Following the opposite fork of the Bourne Universe sacrifices dollars for realistic portrayal of the small choices people in the middle of modern problems face maintaining and manufacturing war and peace.
Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, Plattform Produktion) – This film puts Swedish director Ruben Östlund in his comfort zone: directing a ski film about societal mores. Taking on big topics like nuclear family, gender roles, and avalanches makes for a comedy of errors reminiscent of Woody Allen & Roman Polanksi.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, American Empirical Pictures) – Perhaps Anderson’s finest collection of story-telling with the usual brightly colored diorama mise-en-scene surrounding a closet community’s private war against Fascism. Great acting by an ensemble cast of beautiful misfits.
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, Recorded Picture Company / Pandora Film) – Jim Jarmusch’s droll sense of humor is only matched by his ability to so slowly stoke the fire of narrative as to make the viewer think about his films for weeks after first watching them. So it goes in Lovers, a vampire story for literary vampires.
Venus In Fur (Roman Polanski, R.P. Productions / Monolith Films) – A retelling of David Ives’ revision of the novella by the infamous Leopold von Sacher-Masoch updated to modern day Paris, this film epitomizes Polanski’s recent obsession with cinematizing interesting bits of his own life–and everyone else’s– within the scope of popular Broadway plays. His wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, aptly stars.
The Rover (David Michôd, Porchlight Films / Lava Bear Films / Screen Australia) – David Michôd’s follow up to Animal Kingdom, The Rover spins a futuristic tale of Guy Pearce’s Eric, a man set on a path of death and destruction, but for what? Some purpose that is unclear, perhaps even to himself. Balanced and encumbered by Robert Pattinson’s simple Reynolds, this is a post-apocalyptic Of Mice and Men.
Coherence (James Ward Byrkit, Bellanova Films / Ugly Duckling Films) – Better known for Rango, James Byrkit has created a wonderfully nasty dinner party film for the dinner party gone to hell…in another dimension. It raises more questions than time allows to answer, so it’s best to sit back and relax with your wine while pondering who–or rather which–protagonist you’re following now.
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, IFC Films) – If you haven’t seen it, or at least heard of it, Richard Linklater’s epic work, that spanned more than a decade, charts the course of a boy’s winding journey through adolescence into young adulthood. It is spectacularly mundane in only the way Linklater ear for dialogue can deliver. Great performances make it more than watchable, but memorable and more importantly, relatable.
While the Hollywood media machine would have you believe that only superheroes (or God) can rescue humanity from the mounting problems we persist to whine about yet actively leave largely unsolved, the truth of these 11 films prove that the answers to all of life’s problems lie in interpersonal relationships–in talking it out. While the world may seem like Nicolas Cage’s acting in Left Behind, but, according to Our World In Data, the world is actually getting safer: Since 1950, Murder is down, Health and Education is up, Economic well-being (other than in the U.S.) is more widespread, and Political Freedom is gaining traction all over the world. There is reason to be optimistic and no better reason to believe that humanity–and film–can be rescued from the brink of destruction, or death by fascist film industry.