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My Top 20 and Bottom 10 Films of 2014

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This has been an interesting year. On one hand, there have been 18 **** films–far more than last year, and a comparable number to 2012, which was rather incredible in its own right. And my bottom 10 is far better than any year since I’ve been keeping track; my 10th worst film wouldn’t come close to any previous list, and if that’s in part because I haven’t sought out so many bad films, well…I’ll try and do better this year. There was still some real garbage that I sat through.

On the other hand, my #1 film this year would probably be #3 last year, and most of my **** films are 87s or 88s–the bottom end of my **** spectrum. That’s not to say my #1 film is any less of a great film or that I treasure any of those 18 films less, but I’m hoping that 2015 is a step up. I’ve got a lot of faith in this year’s releases (good and bad–I really want to check out Mortdecai), and I hope that, this time next year, I’m looking at a full list of **** films–maybe a top 25 will be in order?

But let’s not put the cart in front of the horse. Let’s count our blessings–and our curses.

20a. Too Many Cooks

Because when it comes to the future, you can never have…too many C.O.O.K.S.

Because it’s so brilliant. Because it packs so much madness into 11 minutes, from the Easter-egg cameos by the serial killer, to the random repeated shots of the mansion and falcon, to the personification of the credits themselves. It starts as a perfect reflection of the vapidity of sitcoms, and spirals beautifully out of control. I won’t say I like every second of it–the part where the girl is being chased through the warehouse feels more like cheap 90s/2000s horror than the 80s vibe the rest of it goes for–but that’s an exceedingly minor complaint compared to how incredible it really is.

And that theme song…talk about an earworm.

20. Foxcatcher

I had hoped this would rank higher. But something about the script isn’t 100% there. The ending particularly sort of feels…maybe not abrupt, but it doesn’t feel properly rounded off. But otherwise, it’s a superbly acted, incisively directed film, a tragic look at how privilege and zeal alike breed delusion, at two men who thought the country needed saving, and that with Olympic gold, they could save it. And it’s the story of a good, sensible man who gets pulled into their orbit and pays a horrible price.

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19. Whiplash

I maintain that it strains credulity at times (and honestly, I still think J.K. Simmons’ performance owes a little more to Full Metal Jacket than I’d like), but how many films this year have been this exciting? The editing, the ceaseless pounding of the drums, the descent into emotional chaos–it’s a tight, grueling film, and I definitely enjoyed it–and I appreciate how ambiguous the ending really is, how you can read it as either triumphant or horrific–or both. Miles Teller is great, Simmons will probably win the Oscar (and I really don’t mind at all), and a little low-budget film got to be a Best Picture contender. And that, certainly, is a triumphant ending.

18. Enemy

Would I still give this **** on a second viewing? Maybe, maybe not. I try not to downgrade films unless I’m really sure about it–I swapped this and the next film, but kept it in the **** club. Because it is, after all, a great little mind-bender of a film, a doppelgänger story where nothing is certain, where dreams and reality seem to have no distinction from one another. Many have read a kind of political subtext into it; on first viewing I confess that eluded me, but it adds an extra layer of intrigue to what is, already, a very intriguing film. Jake Gyllenhaal is superb, Sarah Gadon is poignant as the wife who doesn’t know what to believe, and the ending is just…beautifully audacious.

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17. Locke

I always appreciate a film which gives me a lot to think about. And Locke definitely qualifies. It’s a film which confronts the nature of responsibility and the tendency, at least of some people, to attempt to control their situations–and each other. Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy in a superior performance), from the confines of his car, tries to control his workers, his wife, and the mother of his soon-to-be-born child…and discovers, all too acutely, his limitations.

That it is set entirely in one car, and shows only one human being in the course of its 85 minutes, is not a gimmick but the foundation of its emotional power; isolated and alone, Locke grapples with the past and tries to sort out the future, but at a remove–which means he can only trust that others will trust in him, and that, he learns, is not always the case. But he is motivated by a desire to do the right thing, and there is a glimmer of hope at the end, a suggestion–as in some of the other films on this list–that we can learn and grow. And, like those other films, it seems less an inspirational bromide than a fundamental part of human nature.

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16. CITIZENFOUR

It amuses me that, in the year of American Sniper, this portrait of Edward Snowden and his bombshell revelations–which have seen him branded as both a patriot and a traitor–may well win an Oscar. It’s deserved, though–it’s a somber, rather chilling look at the degree to which intelligence operations have invaded, or have the capacity to invade, our lives, and at one man who did what he could to expose that, even at tremendous risk (the magnitude of which is almost unknowable). That Laura Poitras was able to capture this moment in history on film would alone make this invaluable. That it packs such a punch is gravy.

He's happy. I think. Maybe "satisfied" is more like it.

15. Nightcrawler

Good as he was in Enemy, here is Jake Gyllenhaal’s real triumph of the year–a frightening, ferocious performance that should have been nominated for (and arguably won) the Oscar. As the enigmatic Lou Bloom, who finds his niche providing gory crime-scene footage to an L.A. news network, and begins using increasingly questionable means to satisfy the maxim “if it bleeds, it leads”, he is as eerily inhuman as any boogeyman; to quote myself, “whenever an obstacle presents itself to Lou, you fear for the obstacle.” At least Dan Gilroy’s gut-wrenching script was nominated; his sharp, punchy direction (the climactic car chase is one of the best I’ve seen in some time) complements it beautifully. If it weren’t for a moment or two towards the end that strain believability, however mildly, this would be a spot or two higher. As it is, that it only comes in at #15 says a lot about how good this year was.

groot magic

14. Guardians of the Galaxy

This, to me, is the best Marvel film to date. It has so much heart, so much wit, and so much fun to offer. It’s rare that I actually get choked up at a film, but “We are Groot” broke my damn heart. From the brilliant opening credits (which give us the first taste of that incredible soundtrack) to the delightfully subversive cutscene at the end, it’s a constant joy. The Writer’s Guild nominated the script, and it was richly deserved; it’s also smartly directed (James Gunn for the win) and perfectly acted by a top-notch cast–especially Dave Bautista, who’s so wonderfully deadpan here. The characters are lovable, the makeup (which had damn well better win an Oscar) is incredible, and it manages to set up a sequel without diminishing its own wholeness. And that’s not something you see every day.

In Bad City, love blossoms in the strangest ways. ()

13. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

I wish I’d gotten to see this a second time in theaters. Because, visually, this is one of the most beautiful films of the year. It’s a real testament to Ana Lily Amirpour’s imagination and skill that she made this film so well for what was, I assume, so little money. It would be intriguing simply for what it is–a vampire film, with Spaghetti Western elements, shot in B&W, with all the dialogue in Farsi–but it’s so beautifully made that its novelty is simply gravy. A lovely, low-key performance by Sheila Vand as the vampire–and a happy ending which feels completely organic–seal the deal. I’ll be looking forward to what Amirpour does next.

Not a screen-cap, unfortunately.

12. Nymphomaniac

I had wanted to see the Director’s Cut before writing this entry, but no matter. This is still one of the best and most important films of the year, a sprawling, epic account of one woman’s sexuality–and society’s reactions to it. It has the rich characters, idiosyncratic humor, and visual grace you’d expect from Lars the Immortal, to say nothing of the acting; this may be Charlotte Gainsbourg’s finest hour on screen yet, and Stellan Skårsgard is right behind her–but right alongside their marathon achievements lie one-scene wonders like Uma Thurman’s breathtakingly effective portrait of a spurned wife, and small but vital roles like Jamie Bell’s casually intimidating BDSM master. It remains to be seen if the longer version will resolve some of my complaints with the theatrical cut, namely the weaknesses of the last 30 minutes or so, but there’s more than enough greatness on display to secure it a place on this list.

engine scene

11. Snowpiercer

I love trains. Always have. And when I first heard about the premise of this film–if you don’t know, it’s set after a worldwide freezing (which, according to the film, took place this past July), where all that remains of humanity are the class-segregated passengers of an eternally running train; the lower classes, crammed in the back of the train, revolt and fight their way to the front–I was immediately on board with it. And it more than lives up to the idea. It’s fresh evidence of the power of science fiction to reflect the fundamentals of humanity in a fresh and exciting context, an exploration of the persistence of power structures and of the desire to be free of them. It’s also filled with badass action, quirky humor, imaginative world-building, and superb performances (Tilda Swinton…my God). On a purely subjective level, this is one of my very favorite films of the year. Objectively (and this list is a mix of objectivity and subjectivity), it belongs a little further down the list, but don’t think it won’t be a major factor in my awards. This is a truly special film.

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10. Ida

I’m not totally sure what I feel about this film. At the time, I was hugely impressed by it. Since then, partially in the face of the lukewarm responses from some friends and family who’ve seen it, I’ve cooled on it a little, but I’m not moving it without a second viewing. After all, it moved me to say it was “as simple and poignant a film as you’ll see this year”. And it’s remained a force to be reckoned with throughout the awards season, even getting an Oscar nomination for its spare, monochrome cinematography. Plus, it’s led by two marvelous performances, and at a time when the lack of good roles for women in Hollywood is increasingly scrutinized, it’s refreshing to look to the international scene and see what could be.

Inherent Vice Ouija scene

9. Inherent Vice

I know not everyone liked this film–and the studio kind of fucked it over, release-wise–but I thought it was wonderful. I’m quite solidly a P.T. Anderson fan (I think The Master was the best film of 2012), and here, making the first-ever official adaptation of a Pynchon novel, he made a film that’s hysterically funny, sweet, and delightfully labyrinthine in the best noir tradition. The whole cast is magnificent, but for me, top honors go to Josh Brolin, who was just unspeakably amazing here. He was shamefully overlooked by the Academy, but Anderson’s script was not, and if he could somehow pull off a win, it’d not only validate his talents, but this lovely, underappreciated film.

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8. Selma

At least this got a Best Picture nomination, even if it got only one other nomination (for Best Song, admittedly well deserved in a weak year). It’s been somewhat overshadowed by the runaway success of American Sniper, but for my money, it’s by far the better film–a passionate portrait of a vital chapter in American history which takes great care in developing the personalities behind the Selma-Montgomery marches, most notably Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo, who’s tremendous). It’s a finely crafted, emotionally galvanizing film, thanks to Ava DuVernay’s direction and the exceptionally fine ensemble cast. Its reputation has been marred somewhat by a truly baffling controversy (which, watch the film and read up on LBJ, and tell me it isn’t a fair portrait), but when the dust settles, it will be still be there, waiting for us, and it will still be a great film.

force majeure family asleep

7. Force Majeure

Force Majeure isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; of the nine people I saw it with (on my birthday!), only one of them liked it. The rest of them disliked it for various reasons, but one complaint that cropped up more than once was that the characters were profoundly unlikable–and certainly, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is rather obnoxious, refusing to own up to his moment of cowardice and making his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), appear to be irrational, if not an outright liar. But the film not only skewers the human tendency to reject blame and rationalize our actions, but also it shows how we can, ultimately, learn from our failings and move towards a better future. And the ending of Force Majeure, for all the cynicism which has preceded it, is really quite hopeful. And getting there is a hell of a ride, as funny as it is incisive, and brilliantly made as a film to boot.

birdman riggan times square

6. Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Many would put this higher, but for my purposes, this belongs here. Because it’s so marvelous in so many ways. I first heard about the premise…sometime in 2013. And I thought it would be awesome, and I would enjoy the hell out of it, but I never imagined it would be a major contender for Best Picture. And then it came out and was hugely acclaimed and heavily awarded, and February 22 we’ll see to what degree the Academy enshrines it. Certainly it deserves it for its acting; Michael Keaton’s incredible comeback performance, by turns hysterical and pathetic, Emma Stone’s searing portrait of love and resentment wrestling inside one troubled person, and Edward Norton’s self-parodying take on a man who’s a genius on stage and something of a mess off it all deserve recognition. And Alejandro Iñárritu’s direction, wedded to Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography, is stunning to behold. It’s a masterful film in so many ways…and yet something about it keeps it just below the top 5. Maybe it’s the script; so much of it is incredible, yet there are moments (the dressing-room scene with Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough comes to mind) which feel misjudged, which feel just a little too broad or too…something. It’s still a fantastic film and one of the best of the year. But not quite the best.

affleck gone girl

5. Gone Girl

David Fincher is a stone-cold genius. Gillian Flynn’s novel was fantastic, and she adapted it extremely well (that she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar is obscene), but it’s Fincher’s icy touch (aided by some of the best editing of the year) which brought it so perfectly to life. It’s a gripping story, even once you know the outcome, and populated with perfectly cast characters: Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck might as well have stepped right off the page, but one can’t overlook the tremendously underrated performance of Kim Dickens as the amiable detective, Carrie Coon’s tragic turn as Affleck’s twin sister, or Neil Patrick Harris’ brief but intensely memorable role as a creepy preppie. And Tyler Perry, who’s made some films I absolutely hated, shows just how good he can be with the right material. This incredible cast, and the sense of dark humor which pervades the entire film, make the horrific story of Amazing Amy and Nick into one of the most engaging films of the year. The discordant score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is the perfect complement to the unsettling narrative.

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4. Interstellar

I saw this again recently, but I was stuck sitting in the front row–which is not the way to see this film. Because this is a true epic, a real journey (over nearly three hours of screentime), a display of real cinematic spectacle from a director who, at his best, has crafted some of the best cinematic moments of the past 15 years. If his ear for dialogue is occasionally rather tinny (though the worst lines here are not as bad as the worst in his Batman films), his imagination and his narrative gifts are often awe-inspiring. This occasioned a rather mixed response, with some finding it dazzling and others finding it absurd. To me, it’s a look at the persistence of human nature, in both its positive and negative aspects. When two astronauts fight on an alien planet and the camera pulls back to reveal their tininess amidst the forbidding landscape, Nolan is showing in one image the scope of human achievement and of human folly. And as it pushes further and further into theoretical physics (ultimately going so far into abstract theory that it borders on fantasy, though physicist/producer Kip Thorne kept a watchful eye on the whole thing), one can reject or accept the journey Nolan is taking us on. I accepted it. And I’m prepared to admit that it’s a flawed film. But at the same time, it’s a film of such ambition and such achievement–and, in its portrayal of the central father-daughter relationship, of such emotional power–that it really is one of the very best of the year.

A good man against a doubting world. ()

3. Calvary

I want to see this again before I do my awards. I wanted to see it again before I did this list, but I don’t doubt that it would hold its place. It’s an incredible film, yet another McDonagh masterpiece (of their 4 films to date, the brothers are 3 for 4 with me–and I badly need to rewatch In Bruges). In 2012, Martin’s Seven Psychopaths was right at the top of my list. And this year, John Michael is #3. The Guard was great, but in retrospect, it felt like a drama disguised as a comedy. Here, the drama is at the forefront, and the comedy grows from it–and the result is a masterpiece. Brendan Gleeson’s performance is hard to judge because it’s so subtle, so guileless–but it’s a perfect example of his particular brilliance as an actor. He plays a genuinely good man, a man of true faith in a faithless world, and the film doesn’t come off as preachy or finger-wagging, but as a beautifully subtle exploration of mood and character (Gleeson is backed up by a superior ensemble), incredibly written, smartly directed, funny, poignant, and thought-provoking.

John Michael’s got another film on the way. I cannot wait.

brontis jodorowsky

2. The Dance of Reality

Like The Tree of Life on acid, yet profoundly satisfying in its own right, The Dance of Reality is an authentic feast of a film, hilarious and moving in equal measure, full of imagination, vividly directed, smartly written, and marvelously acted; Brontis Jodorowsky (director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s son) takes the surreal journey of the brutish Marxist father and translates it perfectly into emotional terms, while Pamela Flores, as the spiritual, magical mother, takes the gimmick of singing all her dialogue and makes it just one more facet of the mother’s mystery and wonder. Back in June, I asked, “Is it too easy to just say that I loved this film?”

It is not.

dwp at the movies

1. Dear White People

#1. Over so many more widely-known and acclaimed films. Over films which may be more timeless or more ambitious. And here’s why.

Dear White People takes a profoundly sensitive subject, filters it through the tried-and-true prism of the campus comedy, and ends up with a mixture of farce and pathos that is well-night brilliant. Because it’s not just a film about white privilege manifesting itself in idiocy (though Kyle Gallner is the perfect personification of it), and it’s not just about using scathing satire to deflate said privilege (though the film does so, beautifully). It’s about the toll racism takes on the human soul–about how the young black women and men the film centers around are stifled by the racial paradigm they live in, and even by their own attempts to deal with it.

The heart and soul of the film is Sam (Tessa Thompson, who’s magnificent), a brilliant young woman possessed of a sharp wit and keen social perception, who tries to reconcile her love for a white man (Justin Dobies) and her own biraciality with her efforts to preserve black culture at her university–which are assumed to include forming a power couple with her male counterpart (Marque Richardson). Sam moves from campus firebrand (the title comes from a radio show she hosts) to winning the presidency of her residence hall (over her ex, the son of the dean, a handsome, clean-cut type who is expected to go into politics but wants to become a humorist (Brandon P. Bell)), to growing disillusioned with her capacity to make a difference, to “bring black back”, to training her camera on the climactic, horrific blackface party, transforming the grotesque footage into art for a class project, the response to which suggests that maybe, bit by bit, things are moving in the right direction.

But the whole cast is incredible, from Tyler James Williams as poor Lionel, who tries to reject labels in a world ruled by them, to Bell (and Dennis Haysbert as his father, who has the most perfect “take” in the final scene), to Teyonah Parris as the fame-seeking Coco, who like Sam is fiercely intelligent but tries to compromise with the demands of stereotype that her voice may be heard, all the way down to Malcolm Barrett as the TV producer who knows what sells, and knows just how to package everything, however complex, so that the consumers of trash TV will eat it right up.

It’s brilliantly written and directed by Justin Simien, whose first feature this is; it’s perfectly shot in tight, carefully posed tableaux which reflect the characters’ stifled, ceaselessly scrutinized existences. It’s sharply edited, balancing its stories perfectly, and it makes excellent use of classical music in building an atmosphere of mounting trouble. Like Spring Breakers, last year’s #1, it reflects the way we live–the best film of 2014–while also being a superbly crafted piece of cinema that, God willing, will endure. For my money, it’s the best of the year.

There are still a few films which need to be factored into the equation. I just saw A Most Violent Year, and while it likely won’t crack this list (I like J.C. Chandor, but he’s not 100% there yet), we’ll see what happens. And there’s a number of films I want to fit in before I do my awards. So we’ll see where we end up.

Now, on to the shite!

The Bottom 10:

10. Men, Women & Children

I still maintain that the trailer is incredible. A perfect choice of music to complement the characters’ shallow alienation. But the film itself…

Honestly, most of it is just boring. There are a few decent scenes and performances scattered throughout, but it fails to really explore the impact of social media–negative or positive–beyond a few satirical jabs (Jennifer Garner’s character) and some bits of grotesquerie (like what Judy Greer is doing to her daughter). Really, though, I think I’ll leave it at this: this is a movie where a guy drills a hole in a Nerf ball so he can fuck it, and it’s not clear if it’s supposed to be funny or not.

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9. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

This has its rewards. The Joseph Gordon-Levitt story is actually okay, all things considered, mostly because of Powers Boothe’s wonderfully malicious performance. The rest of it is by turns ridiculous, misogynist, and a little bit racist. If the hilariously limp “fuck you” line at the very end were the worst part of it, it’d still be pretty low on this list. But there’s the unfathomable stupidity of Josh Brolin’s character, Jessica Alba’s…whatever one can call her performance, the fact that virtually every female character is an actual prostitute or a figurative one, or the simple fact that no viewer can–at least, can’t–take the damned thing as seriously as it takes itself. All told, it’s a pretty grim piece of pulp.

"From an economic standpoint, what you're asking is problematic, to say the least..." (Source)

8. Exodus: Gods and Kings

The white-washed casting is aggravating–especially in the case of Joel Edgerton’s Rameses, who’s thoroughly ridiculous in every way (and Sigourney Weaver’s crisp New England diction is laughably out of place). In a way, the attendant controversy might have been the best thing for the film–without it, it would be even more forgotten than it’s already likely to be. It’s a shockingly unengaging film, a film which betrays little trace of why anyone involved wanted to make it, or why anyone would have compelled to spend $140 million on it. There’s some decent spectacle, good sets and costumes, and an intriguing idea in personifying God as a willful young boy, but it’s still a long, dreary, forgettable film, another sad sign of Ridley Scott’s decline as a director.

downey and duvall

7. The Judge

And I have to call this damn thing an Oscar nominee? Robert Duvall does a good job here. He always does. But the nomination feels gratuitous–and the fact that the film itself is so mediocre only makes it worse. It’s just a bloated, inconsistent mess, a courtroom drama which touches of weirdly grotesque humor (well, the director did make Wedding Crashers and The Change-Up), clichés out the ass, ridiculous characters (including a portrayal of a mentally handicapped character which I’m shocked wasn’t more widely criticized), and a rather questionable message. I expected corn. But this is the kind of corn that you find in your stool.

mood-indigo

6. Mood Indigo

This ranking only applies to the American theatrical release. I actively want to see the longer original cut (longer by a good 35 minutes), which my research suggests resolves some of the issues of the shorter version. It may still be overly cutesy and I may still find Romain Duris a rather blah lead, but the disastrously choppy final act of the shorter version apparently flows much better in the original cut. There’s a fair amount I liked in the film; Omar Sy’s warm, likable performance, Audrey Tautou’s perennially winsome presence, and the imaginative production design, on top of the air of romantic melancholy. But the version I saw felt scattered and remote, felt like (I’m guessing) a decent *** hacked down to **. I feel better about having 11 films on this list, since this will probably come off once I see the full version.

5. 300: Rise of an Empire

Fuck, this was boring. And it’s an action movie. It’s not inept, per se–the acting is adequate for what it is, the writing isn’t laughable, the action is reasonably well staged…but it’s just so fucking dull. I really did not care at all about what happened, and it was only the fundamental competence of the film that allowed it to be a ** film, albeit at the very bottom of that spectrum. I don’t even have anything else to say about it, other than…fuck it.

Mark_Wahlberg_On_Set_Of-8e70e5d5bec3b6f10093aaed91fe16a1

4. Transformers: Age of Extinction

Do I need to explain why a Michael Bay film is on this list? That this is less actively offensive than Pain & Gain doesn’t make it good, and when your human protagonist is played by Mark Wahlberg at his most obnoxious, you know you’re in for a long ride.

165 minutes, to be exact.

Fuck this movie.

3. Winter’s Tale

I hate this word, but if there’s ever a time to use it, it’s now.

LOL.

This movie…this is a gem of shit.

The story is ridiculous, even when it’s coherent (and it is not often that–it was condensed from a very long novel and shows), the cast is defeated by the ridiculous material (Russell Crowe in particular is meant to be menacing, but his character is so inept–and so arbitrarily limited–that he’s just laughable), and despite a relatively sizable budget, it looks cheap and feels underpopulated and undernourished.

From the absurd beginning–a healthy, seemingly affluent couple being turned back at Ellis Island because of TB–to the absurd middle–with Will Smith phoning it in as Lucifer, a magical white horse that appears for no reason, and a tubercular heroine who’s perfectly robust and healthy right up to her abrupt, “tragic” death, and more–to the absurd end–where’s it’s not at all clear if Colin Farrell stepped through time or has gone 100 years without aging, where Jennifer Connelly is given a monumentally thankless role and everything ends idiotically–it’s a fascinatingly bad piece of work.

And to top it off, the poster says, “This is not a true story. This is a love story.” Because you can get away with a story that makes no fucking sense as long as you make it a romance, right?

Absolutely, totally hopeless, assuming this isn't a production of The Ruling Class. ()

2. The Identical

Ah, yes. The least inspirational inspirational film ever made.

It’s really quite staggering how much this film misses the mark. There’s something like an okay premise in there–that Elvis’ stillborn twin was actually given up for adoption and went on to become a talented musician in his own right–but it’s lost in a script that meanders endlessly and seems to actively avoid exploring the dramatic potential of its story. And the Messianic Jewish overtones, on top of the baffling casting (Seth Green is so out of place here), only add to the numbing effect.

It’s a little too boring to be a great bad movie, but if you’re willing to devote the time to breaking down its badness, your patience will most certainly be rewarded.

Would you let this man rebuild the world? ()

1. Atlas Shrugged III: Who is John Galt?

I wonder how bad it is if you haven’t read the book.

Would you be even more confused by the apocalyptic mangling of the story, or would you actually be less confused, since you might not know what’s missing?

I read the book. I envisioned the kind of film you could make from it (and I think there is a good film to be made from this material, if it focused on the story and let the message handle itself). I know that filming this properly would require a massive budget, and I get that the people behind this trilogy didn’t have that kind of money at their disposal.

But this is not the best they could have done. There’s no way in hell this represented a dedicated effort on anyone’s part. I could have made a better film than this with my phone. Hell, if I acted out all the fucking parts, it’d still be better than this damned thing!

The actors clearly aren’t even trying. Kristoffer Polaha has all the charisma of a potted plant; he knows how to deliver dialogue, but as John Galt, the man who stopped the motor of the world? Please. His performance is effectively a joke, since it falls so far short of what the role require. Laura Regan isn’t a terrible Dagny, but she too is cripplingly bland. Ayn Rand traded in melodrama; these performances aren’t even at the level of soap opera.

And the writing…oh, God, the writing. There’s adapting, there’s cutting, and there’s mangling, and this is a rank mutilation of the material, padded to death with stock footage and devoid of dramatic charge. The last third of the film is one of the most inept, underfed 30 minutes of cinema I’ve ever seen, with a torture scene that would be kinky if it weren’t laughable and an ending that would enrage the novels’ fans and confound the rest. If it’s not the worst film of the year, I hated it more than any other.

0. Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas

This might be the actual worst film of the year. But I put it at #0 rather than #1 for a very good reason.

That reason being, I had more fun with this film than with almost any other this year. I had an absolute blast with this movie. But it is completely fucking insane.

I didn’t write a review of this yet, possibly because…how do you review this movie? How can a review encapsulate the sheer insanity on display here? If this turned out to be a joke, I might well give it ****. From the very beginning, from that cheesy intro from Cameron, I really had to wonder…has he been pulling our leg all these years? Because it only gets crazier from there.

It’s about him (playing himself), helping his brother-in-law (director Darren Doane; if he isn’t in on the joke he sure fooled me) get his Christmas spirit back. See, BIL thinks that Christmas has grown too commercial, that people have become materialistic and idolatrous, and lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. So, what does our hero do to save Christmas and his BIL’s soul?

Why, he tells him how the supposed commercialization of Christmas is actually totally in the spirit of the holiday. How Christmas trees are symbolic of the cross. How Santa Claus began as a badass, staff-wielding defender of the faith. How Christmas presents around the base of a tree are like a fucking city.

Oh, and some guy goes around talking about government conspiracies like HAARP. And there’s freestyling, a dance-off, and more–all in the space of 80 painfully padded minutes!

From the BIL’s bizarre speech about the corruption of the season to Cameron’s eerie, smirking presence, it’s such an ironic blast that I can’t fairly call it the worst film of the year. It’s too much fun. And, honestly, while it’s not especially well-made, I’ve seen far worse.

But I can’t leave it off this list either. It’s so far beyond the pale of anything approaching quality that it must be grouped with the dregs of the year. But it’s a very special kind of bad film, the kind of bad film that brings more joy than most good films. Atlas Shrugged III is a painful mess. This is a joyous disaster.

#0 it is.

Well, that wraps up that–but there’s one more big thing left to do before we close the books on 2014.

My film awards.

Tomorrow, I’ll lay out just how it’s going to go down. And I’m telling you now, it won’t be what I initially planned. But I think it should work out extremely well.

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2 thoughts on “My Top 20 and Bottom 10 Films of 2014

  1. Pingback: Conflating My Nominees | If you want the gravy...

  2. Pingback: 2016 Rising: Actus Primus | If you want the gravy...

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