By any standard, 2014 was a pretty amazing one for films – I mean that was a pretty awesome summer blockbuster season, right?
As usual, I had guessed what my personal top movie would be right at the beginning of the year, and yet again, I saw something dazzling that changed my mind. My top five changed practically every time I saw a new film and sometimes again when I reappraised it on DVD several months later. You know, this makes figuring out a definitive top list a Herculean task of nightmarish proportions. What really helps me out is that in November, I’m called upon to submit my top 10 of the year list to Starburst magazine along with all the other writers, and that helps to clarify my thoughts. It also feeds directly in to this. (Unless, of course, I’ve seen something even cooler in the month of December.)
So – here they are, my Top 10 of 2014.
10) Nightcrawler – nope, despite the creepy title, it’s not a horror movie and it’s not a solo film about the X-Men member of the same name. This is a (so far) career best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as a morally ambiguous freelance cameraman, cruising the streets of night time Los Angeles, hoping to be the first on the scene for any accident or crime that he can film and sell to the TV news stations. It’s dark, it’s quirky and it’s compulsive. This one came from nowhere and wasn’t on my list originally.
09) Sin City 2: A Dame to Die For – Oh, how long have I waited for this? It’s been on, it’s been off – even more times than Ghostbusters 3, which incidentally, I’m dreading. I love Sin City, though I admit I haven’t read any of Frank Miller’s graphic novels. I love the Sin City soundtrack, though I believe I’ve proven without a shadow of a doubt that Rodriguez just rehashed the tenor sax tracks and recycled it to make a quick music track for his later Planet Terror.
But to get back to the film at hand, it was well worth waiting nine years for just to see what happens to Marv, Nancy, and Roark. Even Hartigan makes a kind of comeback. I still don’t see what all the fuss about Eva Green is about – she doesn’t strike me as being stunning, but then, who could possibly hope to outsmoulder Jessica Alba?
08) Dawn of The Planet of the Apes – For as long as I’ve been aware of movies, there has been The Planet of the Apes. Groundbreaking in its time (I was about eight) – those damn monkeys dominated sci-fi cinema in the late sixties to mid seventies. Tim Burton took a swing in the nineties and now we have photorealistic CGI apes fighting a war in San Francisco.
I wasn’t sure that the preceding Rise of the Planet of the Apes would generate a sequel, but I’m glad it did – and I’m glad that this one pays a kind of homage to the original sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes. I walked away happy, and hopeful for the third instalment, which should be breathtaking in scope unless I miss my guess.
07) Transendence – The trailers intrigued me, but somehow this came and went from the multiplex before I managed to see it, so I settled for the DVD release and cursed my tardiness. I like Johnny Depp as an actor. I have since I saw his big screen debut as the ill fated Glen in A Nightmare on Elm Street – that’s him who gets sucked in to his own bed, liquidised and poured out on to the ceiling.
In Transcendence, he gives what I believe is a career best performance as a genius scientist whose subconscious is uploaded to the internet – and he gradually takes over everything.
06) Frozen – Yes, there’s a Disney aminated feasture on my top ten list, and it’s rated higher than a Planet of the Apes movie – get used to it. I’m the proud owner of a complete set of all of Disney’s animated features, for the second time. (Um – yeah, second time. I had a full collection on VHS and they’ve all been upgraded to DVD, including all the later ones.)
What is it that makes certain Disney films huge hits and others falter, fail, and fade away miserably? I have no idea. Why does a Frozen hit all the high notes with audiences, but a Tangled (which is every bit as funny) doesn’t? I’ve long believed that hand drawn animation is Disney’s forte, and couldn’t understand why their last such film The Princess and the Frog met with such audience apathy. But Frozen is the one that convinced me that Disney can produce a CGI animated film that’s every bit as stunning as their best golden age features. Sadly, I didn’t see it on the big screen but the DVD was a huge hit with the Pierces – to the extent there were several purchases by several members of the family.
05) Transformers: The Age of Extinction – After the city levelling original trilogy, where do you go next? How do you top what we’ve already seen? Well, add Mark Wahlberg into the mix. Here’s a controversial statement – I like Michael Bay as a director! I didn’t watch Transformers on TV when it was shown, I had no intention of watching the first movie because I thought it would be a glorified toy commercial – seeing the trailer back then convinced me that I’d be missing out on a great movie about giant robots which I’d regret not checking out. Transformers movies aren’t there to educate, illuminate or inspire – they are knock you on your ass action movies with mega tons of property damage and wholesale destruction on an indescribably epic scale. They entertain, and that is all. (“Lens flare” my ass. Most people who complain about lens flare wouldn’t know one if it bit them on the leg.)
I’m not the only one who sees this – Transformers: Age of Extinction is the highest grossing film of 2014 according to official sources. Seems there are a lot of people who’ll lay down their cash to see a giant robot ride on the back of a giant robot dinosaur. (And just writing that has made me want to watch the disc again)
04) Interstellar – I associate this with a totally gross per-movie pig out at Pizza Hut where we ate so much ice cream, the machine ran dry. It was a competition between three of us and a kids’ birthday party. They lost. Consequently the film was seen through a haze of sugar rush and brain freeze.
Much anticipated, shrouded in pre-release mystery and it was a great looking film. Loved the tidal wave (as I’ve said, I’m a sucker for tidal waves in films and this one was epic) and it’s a film I’m anxious to see again, because I’m not certain I “got” all of it. The plot veered away from its promised hard science basis, to the point that I’m sure Disney’s The Black Hole of 1979 may well look better by comparison and the notion that true love of a father for his family can defeat even the galaxy swallowing power of a black hole is a tough one to accept. But damn, having seen it once, I want to see it again. I’m convinced it’s a slow burning future classic that takes a couple of viewing to fully appreciate very much in the same way Contact is. As it stands, it blew my mind – apart from the bookshelf.
And here are the top three films I saw in 2014
03) Captain America: Winter Soldier – Seen on the Sunday of the Sci-Fi Weekender, there was no better way to round off a perfect weekend of geekery. The film works on so many levels, the paranoia of governments keeping us under 24/7 surveillance under the guise of protecting us from terrorism, it had the spy thriller angle of HYDRA taking over SHIELD from within, an angle that continued in Agents of SHIELD on TV, and it had the comic book action of Captain America, the Falcon and the Black Widow facing impossible odds. SHIELD helicarriers over Washington, superb action set pieces – a stunning attack on Fury, this film had everything, topping the spectacle of The First Avenger and setting the scene for the beginning of Civil War, which if you haven’t read the source material, trust me – your jaw will be hanging open. I was convinced that this would be the film of the year – until I saw……
02) Godzilla - This is the one I had my hopes pinned on. This is the one that could’ve gone either way, but I was praying to the movie gods to please, please let not suck. I spent the summer of 2013, armed with my multi region DVD player, collecting the entire series of original Toho Godzilla films. No one country or region has the whole set – so the collection is a weird mix of Australian, American and European releases. Then I spent quite a bit of time in the late spring writing an 8000 word retrospective that was published in Starburst 400 and 401.
I loved it. It was paced exactly like the Toho originals with Godzilla himself coming in at around the halfway mark, and successfully wiped the bitter aftertaste of the previous Hollywood effort away completely. (My opinion of the 1998 film is that it’s a perfect “giant monster on the loose” film, but as a Godzilla film, it plain sucks.)
It was responsible for my favourite high five moment in the cinema this year – Godzilla being beaten down in San Francisco, his face shows the mood is changing – he’s getting angry, the scales along his back begin to blow and out of his mouth comes the signature radioactive blast.
Not everybody in the screening “got” that – one dope, not too far away, sadly within earshot asked his equally clueless friend “what’s THAT all about?”
Mothra and King Ghidorah to appear in a sequel, they say? Count me in. Toho to resume making their own series? Count me in.
I was convinced on the way home, listening to the soundtrack CD (and I never usually buy a soundtrack unless I’ve seen the film) that I’d never see a better film in the year.
But then, there was the dark horse. And it just rocked on every conceivable level.
01) The Guardians of the Galaxy
I was going in to this film blind. For the first time ever, I went to see a Marvel film based on a comic book with literally no knowledge at all about the comics or the characters. I’ve never read a Guardians of the Galaxy issue or graphic novel. The whole set up and concept was new to me. This was Marvel’s biggest gamble – and boy did it pay off.
Seeing the line-up consisted of humans, aliens, a talking raccoon with a bad attitude and a walking tree I had assumed (wrongly) that the Guardians with their grandiose title were the Marvel equivalent of DC’s Legion of Superheroes. Nope, they’re more an interstellar Dirty Dozen. The film plays into the established Marvel movie universe with Thanos still manipulating in the background and what a payoff that’s going to be when this story arc reaches its conclusion in a couple of years.
It’s a film I enjoyed so much, I went to see it twice – and have since enjoyed it on DVD. At the time, in my review, which was unashamedly gushing, I stated it was the most fun I’d had watching a sci-fi movie since Star Wars back in 1977 – and that stands. It’s a rare treat of a comedic action film with way, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay out characters and a supremely cool soundtrack in the Awesome Mix.
Wow – it really was a hell of a great year to sit in the dark, eyes transfixed on a big screen.
Now, how about the other side of the coin – the flip side? Those wretched hours wasted?
Well, there aren’t too many of those because I really am quite picky about what I watch, so I’ve limited my list to three – or to use the title of an old, silent Lon Chaney horror film……
The Unholy Three
3) The Conjuring 2: Annabelle – When I saw The Conjuring, I disliked it. It was a dumb possession movie that relied on sudden loud noises and blasts of music to startle an audience rather than deliver a genuine atmosphere of mounting unease. And that’s a lazy way to make a horror movie. The script was dull and derivative – I’d seen that whole movie in bits and pieces of other films. And what was with the ugly doll in the glass case? Why make so much fuss about how dangerous she was then not have her in the film?
They were saving her for the sequel, see? Except she doesn’t actually do a great deal. The story about the doll and the student nurses STILL hasn’t been shown. So, it’s back to having an ugly doll sitting around doing nothing, while there are more loud noises to try and keep the audience awake.
Make a Conjuring 3 if you must, you won’t be Conjuring my presence in the audience – I’m done.
2) The Lego Movie – Oh, what the hell? A movie about LEGO for crying out loud? Despite my misgivings about this, I was told by a lot of people that it was really good and I should watch it. There were a lot of in-jokes. I relented when it premiered on Sky Movies. Yes, I liked the Millenium Falcon sequence, but you can only watch stop motion and CGI Lego for so long before, you become aware that you’re watching Lego and it begins to grate. Fine for a single watchI guess, but if this movie ever comes near me again, I’ll slap a restraining order on it.
I don’t really want to see Tetris made in to a movie either.
1) Noah – As I mentioned earlier, I love movie tidal waves, so how about a Noah movie? Best deluge EVER, am I right? Oh boy – where do I begin? It made one of the Bible’s most spectacular stories kind of dull. Where was the spectacle? I was hoping for something epic, well, not just epic but EPIIIIIIIIIIC, worthy of Cecil B De Mille.
Okay – it added giant rock monsters to a Bible story, which for the life of me I can’t remember appearing in the version I was told as a child – if they’d been there, it would’ve made religion a hell of a lot more interesting and I might have grown up to be a Christian, but there ya go.
A total failure of a movie on every single level (apart from the giant rock monsters – hey, maybe Hollywood can work Optimus Prime into the creation myth for an encore)
And that was 2014……
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