Here’s part 2 of my 2014 review of the Year. You can read the first part, listing my worst 18 movies of the year, here. From here on in, I’d at least recommend that these films are worth watching.
40. Goal of the Dead
Goal of the Dead could well be my biggest surprise of the year. I reviewed it for Blueprint: Review, accepting the disc because I’ve been known to enjoy a good zombie movie, and the notion of watching hoards of football fans and players being slaughtered by zombies had some appeal to my sport-loathing self. That’s exactly what I got, when an untested steroid-like injection is given to a player, which turns him into an uncontrollable, mindless, bloodthirsty monster (otherwise known as a football player) intent on killing one specific rival player. There’s not a great deal of originality, other than the setting, but I did highly approve of the infection method. Yes, biting will get the job done, but the preferred contagion tactic here is projectile spewing a vile, milky flood at the intended victim. I’m suddenly regretting writing this whilst eating my lunch.
39. Captain America The Winter Soldier
This gets my award for most over-hyped movie of the year. I heard so many great things, people describing this as being akin to the likes of The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back and every good movie made in the ’70s, that there was really no way it could live up, and it didn’t. It’s not a bad film – some scenes are actually rather good, particularly the innovative elevator fight and the early street battle, and I love the addition of Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, but everything else left me wanting. There was some nice banter between Chris Evans’ Cap and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, but I’d expected a lot more humour from Joe and Anthony Russo after all the work they’ve done on Community. A cameo from Abed just wasn’t enough.
38. The Zero Theorem
Terry Gilliam makes weird movies, this much I know. I’ve seen a few, like a few, but went into this hesitantly. Christoph Waltz is good as the slap-headed loner desperately trying to solve a program that will prove all life is pointless, whilst waiting for some kind of phonecall, fending off an annoying child and having a complex relationship with a call girl and her website. There’s maybe too much oddness here for me, but what I could get my head around I did enjoy. Also, David Thewlis is always welcome is anything.
Another unexpectedly decent film, Non-Stop delivers on being another mindless Liam Neeson action movie – this time on a plane! – where the gruff Irishman is the only guy who can save the day, despite also somehow being the prime suspect. The supporting cast hugely highlights the twists, but you don’t watch this kind of thign expecting to be surprised, do you?
36. The Wolf of Wall Street
UK Release Date: 17th January 2014
I tweeted at some point last year that “If you follow me, you follow someone who preferred Non-Stop to The Wolf of Wall Street”. Whilst this is technically true, I feel like Wolf is a better film, so for this list I need to place it just a smidgeon higher. I didn’t get on well with Scorsese’s latest, and well I wasn’t all that surprised, given it’s focus on debauchery and generally distasteful behaviour, and also I’m not necessarily Scorsese’s biggest fan anyway (I’ve got nothing against the guy, his films just don’t all appeal to me enough to label him as one of the greatest living directors like some people do). Seeing as I saw this almost a year ago there’s a lot I can’t remember, but it’s been added to the 1001 List so I’ll be rewatching it eventually anyway. Who knows, maybe I’ll love it. For now, I just thought it was a lot of watching other people have fun doing things I wouldn’t particularly find all that enjoyable, fronted by a highly over-praised performance from DiCaprio. And can people please stop setting Jonah Hill up for potentially Oscar-nominated roles? He hasn’t deserved either of his nominations so far. Leave him to be unfunny in comedies, stop inflicting him on me in dramas as well.
Godzilla is probably this year’s biggest disappointment for me, if only because whilst it was still good, it didn’t live up how amazing it was going to be in my head. It jettisoned the biggest names too early on (Juliette Binoche gets one scene! One!) and I still think a better film would be an almost remake of Jaws, but replacing Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw with Cranston, Watanabe and Strathairn. I’m biased, but I genuinely prefer the Roland Emmerich version to this one (honestly, it’s fun) if only because that one doesn’t have Aaron Taylor-Johnson in it. Also, it just pissed me off every time the action started to ramp up before the camera cut away to barely show a snippet of the scene on a small television.
34. The Past
UK Release Date: 28th March 2014
The Past is not a happy film. It does not tell a heartwarming tale of a loving family spending time with one another and enjoying their company. No, as with Asghar Farhadi’s previous film A Separation, this is a thinly veiled argument against families splitting up, protracting the potential hardships far beyond anyone could predict, but which are all started by a couple ending their relationship. As with A Separation the performances are all great, but it gets a little too melodramatic and soap-opera-y for my liking. Still, as kitchen sink dramas go you’d be hard pressed to find a better one from last year.
Frank‘s premise is odd to begin with, which is probably what drew me to it. Domhnall Gleeson plays a musician/songwriter struggling to find inspiration and live out his dreams, but when he stumbles his way into an avant garde band with an unpronounceable name he may have found the potential to see those dreams come true, regardless of how odd his new band mates may be, how much Maggie Gyllenhall’s character seems to despise him, and why the leader of the band, Michael Fassbender’s Frank, always wears a giant papier mache Frank Sidebottom head. The trailer billed it as an out-and-out comedy with added music, but in reality this took a sharp left turn into an exploration into mental illness. I wasn’t expecting that direction, but it led to what resulted in a more interesting film. I’d have liked more Scoot McNairy and less Gyllenhall, and Gleeson’s reveal as perhaps not the nicest guy in the world, regardless of whether he knew it or not, was a good one.
This is a tricky one. Technically, Snowpiercer wasn’t released in the UK in 2014. It played at the Edinburgh Film Festival but, seeing as I’ve never been further north than Suffolk I definitely didn’t see it there. I watched it via *cough* questionably legal methods *cough* but that’s only because otherwise I’d have had no way of seeing it, as there still isn’t a scheduled UK release date in Snowpiercer’s future. I really enjoyed most of it, but I can’t place it any higher simply because I missed out on a lot of the ending. You see, a couple of the main characters don’t speak English, so most audiences will know what they said via subtitles. The copy I watched was not privy to such luxuries, so everything they said was lost to me, including a large speech near the end. Frustrating isn’t the half of it, but that’s my punishment for not paying for this movie. As it is, this is a film built around a concept that cannot withstand a great deal of scrutiny, but accepting it for what it is – a videogame played out on a train, carriage by carriage – is fun, through-provoking, occasionally nauseating and, in the end, pretty entertaining, with a great cast to boot.
There’s something about films involving one person trekking across an unknown wilderness that appeals to me. I like Into the Wild (despite how depressing it is) and am looking forward to Reese Witherspoon in Wild later this year, but in 2014 it was Mia Wasikowska in Tracks, which saw her crossing Australia with four camels and a dog. The story didn’t take a lot of turns I wasn’t expecting, but I liked her central performance, and the scenery was beautiful. Plus, I’m beginning to appreciate Adam Driver just cropping up in stuff like this. He’s fun here.
30. Under the Skin
It’s been a few months, and I’m still not quite sure how I felt about Under the Skin. Jonathan Glazer’s movie tries its best to hide it’s science fiction notes until it can’t conceal them any more, but unfortunately I went in knowing this was the Scarlett Johansson alien movie. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d been asking questions right up until the credits, but alas I knew too much to go in blind. Even still, this kept me engaged. That beach scene was absolutely brutal, possibly the most devastating thing I saw all year.
29. August Osage County
UK Release Date: 24th January 2014
Sometimes all you really need is a decent script and an amazing cast to throw it at. Streep, Roberts, Lewis, Cooper, Mulroney, Martindale, Cooper, McGregor, Cumberbatch, Shepard et al do stellar work here – I didn’t even mind Roberts getting an Oscar nomination, and I’m normally not much of a fan of hers. It may be two hours of people arguing, but as long as it’s not me arguing with my family I’ll watch that any time.
28. Bad Neighbours
Massively popular American comedies usually aren’t my thing, but there were two this year that I enjoyed far more than I expected. The first was Bad Neighbours, which was hardly ground breaking, but was a lot of fun. Zac Efron has successfully escaped his High School Musical roots with a character who could often be described as this movie’s antagonist, at least to the Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, the couple he and his frat house have moved next door to. Some scenes didn’t work for me – Efron and Dave Franco’s rhyming sequence, Rose Byrne being milked – but I loved the fight at the end.
27. 22 Jump Street
The other comedy that worked for me was one I was expecting not to like at all. When 21 Jump Street was rebooted back in 2012 I seemed to be the only person who didn’t like it all that much. It just didn’t gel with me, and I’d heard the sequel was a lot of the same, only more so. Well, I don’t know what happened, but I really liked this. Maybe it was beefing up the role played by Ice Cube, the epitome of angry black police chiefs, and reducing the involvement Rob Riggle had. Maybe it was adding a little more Nick Offerman, which every film should do. I know it wasn’t the end credits sequence, because despite that being funny, hilarious and cameo-laden, I’d decided I liked this even before that rolled around. Whatever it was, I’m thinking maybe I should go back and give the predecessor another shot after this.
26. Dallas Buyers Club
UK Release Date: 7th February 2014
I don’t know what to say about Dallas Buyers Club that hasn’t already been said. The performances are phenomenal (though I’d have given the Best Actor Oscar to Chiwetel Ejiofor by a nose) and the story is interesting and not utterly devastating, as I’d assumed by the trailers. Granted I saw this immediately after watching the RoboCop remake, so anything was going to be good by comparison.
25. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Can visual effects actually get any better at this point? I’m not sure, because those on display here are unbelievable. This didn’t quite do it for me as much as Rise of the Planet of the Apes did, but then that film has had a few more years and many more viewings to settle into my head. Also, the human characters there were a lot more enigmatic than here, where equal time is given to the storylines of the apes and humans, which in this story is exactly how it should be, but it left me a little cold at times. That being said, there were some amazing scenes, most notable of which is the tank shot, which I loved. Toby Kebbell is this film’s unsung hero as Koba.
24. Edge of Tomorrow
Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers, with Emily Blunt being a badass? Hell yes. The ending was a bit weak, but everything prior was so much fun. Bill Paxton was a joy to behold, and yay for Noah Taylor appearing in big budget movies!
23. Begin Again
I got the soundtrack for Christmas. It’s great. I loved Once, and whilst this didn’t live up to John Carney’s calling card romantic musical, it still made a decent stab. It’s had some criticism for the scene where Mark Ruffalo’s record producer first sees Keira Knightley’s reluctant singer in a bar and “produces” her performance, but I think that was my favourite scene in the film. And seriously, when did James Corden become a thing? Do Americans know about him? I thought he was ours!
UK Release Date: 14th February 2014
I ranked this list a little while ago, and I can’t for the life of me remember why Her is down at number 22. I’m pretty sure it should be higher, but it’s late and I want to get this finished so I’m afraid it’s staying here for now. This was a great movie (double feature with The Lego Movie, that was an awesome Valentine’s Day spent in the cinema on my own) with terrific production design, a wonderful lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix and an equally great purely vocal performance from Scarlett Johansson as the voice inside his phone, who he falls in love with. I loved the directions it took, and I was completely with the guy with the emotions he felt towards this inanimate object.
21. The Pretty One
Rounding out the mid-section of this list is a film I wasn’t sure whether it would be any good or not. Zoe Kazan played identical twin sisters, one of whom appeared to have gotten her life all sorted whilst the other still lived with her parents and couldn’t quite get her act together. When the “pretty” one dies, the “plain” one secretly took over her life and attempted to thrive. It’s sweet, a little quirky and more than a bit unpredictable, with an adorable lead performance from Kazan, who is rapidly becoming someone I’ll watch in anything.
Come back soon to find out my Top 20 of 2014!