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Cinema 2014: Best & Worst - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Cinema 2014: Best & Worst
Below are the ten most satisfying and memorable films I saw in 2014:

nymphomaniac vol. 110. Nymphomaniac (Vols. I & II) A-

Who knew a movie about sex addiction could be so great? And a four-hour one, split into two parts, at that. This really works as one complete, albeit very long, film -- but it works surprisingly well. Viewers might want to be warned about the extremely graphic and often violent sex depicted in these films, but these films also serve as commentary on graphic sex in cinema and audience reactions to it. Nymphomaniac, told by a bloodied and beaten woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) found on the ground by a seemingly kind and nonjudgmental man (Stellan Skarsgård), is packed with layered challenges of exactly the sort that modern cinema begs for. It is neither for the faint of heart nor the simple of mind.

What I said then: Did Nymphomaniac need to be split into two parts, each two full hours long? Perhaps not. On the other hand, not one moment, not one shot, seems wasted, superfluous, or like filler.

Citizenfour9. Citizenfour A-

The best documentary of the year, Citizenfour challenges even the most loving of our current President and his administration. But even more importantly, with most of the footage featuring Edward Snowden holed up in his Hong Kong hotel room as the story of his leaking information about NSA surveillance breaks, it is surprisingly suspenseful. This film leaves much of the conclusions regarding the justifiability of Snowden's actions up to the viewer, opting instead simply to tell an incredibly compelling story -- a majority of which takes place in a single room.

What I said then: A lot of things are said in Citizenfour that make a deep impression, perhaps chief among them when Snowden says to reporter Gleen Greenwald -- the most key supporting player in this story -- "This is not science fiction. This is happening right now."

the way he looks8. The Way He Looks A-

Just a sweet, coming-of-age love story between two gay high schoolers in Brazil, one of whom happens to be blind. That's the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what sets this lovely film apart, doing all the things right that American films tend to do wrong -- particularly subtlety. This story adds a jealous female friend who has a crush of her own, making for potentially overwrought drama -- but there is none to be found here. This is just a simple and believably touching story about teens acting the way teens do, executed with rare finesse.

What I said then: Not only is Leo gradually discovering himself to be gay ... but he also happens to have been born blind. So much of how gay men are thought about is tied to not just sex, but sexual imagery, the lack of such an option for Leo gives his story a kind of sensuality not seen in other movies.

calvary7. Calvary A-

A memorable story of a victimized young man seeking revenge on Catholicism itself, and choosing a specific priest (Brendan Gleeson) as its sacrificial stand-in. Rarely is Catholicism, or religion for that matter, presented with such savvy modernity, from the many colorful characters in this small Irish town to the surprisingly permissive attitudes of Father James himself. The mystery here is which one of the townsfolk is the one who promised to Father James in confession that he will kill him, and whether he will succeed. This is a film with much to say about the travesty of unpunished pedophile priests, but none of it heavy handed. In fact it unfolds with some deliciously twisted humor, but with a healthy dose of provocative food for thought as well.

What I said then: Even we as viewers of the movie can see the twisted logic of this psychopathic thinking. This is what sets Calvary apart, as it's not just thoroughly absorbing; it's provocative in a way that transcends conventional entertainment.

the skeleton twins6. The Skeleton Twins A-

Kristen Wiig and Bill Heder are perfectly cast as adult twins who lost their father as a teenager, haven't spoken to each other in ten years, and meet again after an attempted suicide. Sounds like a real downer, doesn't it? But this movie is a delight, thanks in large part to the performances, and the thread of darkly comic undertones. The gay brother comes to live with the sister and her bemused but friendly husband (Luke Wilson), and they must work through some baggage. The scenario isn't all that new, admittedly, but the details, and particularly these characters, are. And you can't help but love them.

What I said then: This is not some typically mopey indie movie about fucked up people. Maggie and Milo, even as they both struggle to overcome their disappointment in the way their lives turned out, still manage to find moments of joy. This is particularly refreshing, adding extra dimension to their characters.

the lunchbox5. The Lunchbox A-

The rare movie released all the way back in January that makes it onto this list -- this is thus technically a 2013 film, but was released locally this year, so here it is. And you totally need to find and watch this utterly charming film, about a mismatched lunchbox couriered through a real-life, famously intricate (and 99.99% accurate) Mumbai delivery service. A young housewife (Nimrat Kaur) is getting little attention from her husband, and cooks a stunningly delicious lunch for him -- which in turn gets delivered by mistake to a curmudgeonly and near-retirement office worker (Irrfan Khan), who devours the lunch completely. There's a bit of Indian food porn tot his movie, as it always looks amazing, but that's not the focus here; the mistaken identity is, and the subsequent notes that get passed back and forth within the lunchbox. These two, who are of different generations and seemingly ill-matched, form a connection that is both subtle and sweet, which can also be said of this uniquely heartwarming film.

What I said then: There is a peculiarly comforting atmosphere to The Lunchbox, even as it follows people through the overcrowded throngs of Mumbai, and focuses on the hopes and insecurities of just two individuals among them.

birdman4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) A-

Few films this year have such thrilling immediacy, thanks to easily the best cinematography, as Birdman is presented mostly in just two very long, seemingly continuous shots. The camera follows an aging actor (Michael Keaton in his best performance in ages), who was once famous for playing a superhero, through the stage and back hallways of the theatre where he is directing and performing in a play, as well as occasionally following him and other characters both outside through the crowds of Times Square and even up to rooftops. This, plus the unusual percussive score (completely with a couple of winking appearances of the drummer himself in the background), make for a thrilling movie-watching experience. The story covers the entertainment industry and the narcissism of movie stars (including Edward Norton sending up his own reputation as a difficult actor), covering nothing particularly new as far as that goes, but in this case, presentation is everything. Not since Children of Men has the modest but finely tuned technical achievements of a film made the story so riveting.

What I said then: What this movie does have is a singularity of vision and presentation, offering nuance and layers to the bruised and self-absorbed psyche of longtime celebrity actors unparalleled by other films that only think they offer such insights.

boyhood3. Boyhood A-

This film is arguably the most extraordinary cinematic achievement released this year, but, contrary to many others' opinions, that does not alone make it quite the very best film of 2014 -- I say it's third best. Many will disagree, but I don't care! There's no escaping the narrative limitations of editing together footage shot over twelve years, which are felt in the final product, however subtly. And it is indeed subtle -- so much so that it's easy to ignore in this deeply affecting film chronicling (and documenting) the formative years of both the central character, Mason, and the young actor who plays him (Ellar Coltraine), ages 7-18. There is no conventional narrative arc here, by virtue of its method; we simply watch the highs and lows of Mason's life and his relationship with parents played wonderfully by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. We watch them getting older onscreen too, in sort-of real time, without the need for aging makeup. It brings an authenticity to the film never quite achieved in cinema before, and is perfectly married to the incisive script, making this easily writer-director Richard Linklater's crowning achievement.

What I said then: This is a movie that will touch people of all ages, or at least anyone old enough to be capable of nostalgia or wistfulness. The characters are specific, as are their struggles, but in the aggregate the very process of coping with the passage of time as the kids grow up is universal.

wild2. Wild A

It's not always easy to see how vital editing is to effective storytelling in film, but Wild makes it very clear, with perfectly timed and effectively executed flashbacks of memories of a beloved and deceased mother (played with warmth and ease by Laura Dern). Reese Witherspoon plays the daughter struggling in her grief, who decides to walk a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail by herself as a means of working through it. Flashbacks and voice-over narration is easy to do badly, but director Jean-Marc Vallée, who also did last year's excellent Dallas Buyers Club and had it shot with the same method of using natural light, does it flawlessly. This is a very compelling, true story perfectly assembled into one of the two best films of the year. I could not find any fault with it, which is rare, and this film well deserves any award nominations it gets, whether for technical or acting achievements.

What I said then: One might be hard pressed to find an "Oscar clip" of Witherspoon's performance here, and yet she commands attention in every scene. She's understated in exactly the right way for this part, about a woman who loses grip of her own life in the wake of losing her mom, from reckless promiscuity to heroin use.

whiplash1. Whiplash A

Rare is the film that it actually occurs to me in the middle of my watching it: I think I'm watching the best film of the year. Some people are put off by the amount of drumming in it -- there's a lot -- as well as the implausible scenarios and the unchecked homophobia of the antagonist, a nasty jazz teacher played unforgettably by J.K. Simmons. But as always it's all about presentation and, particularly, context. This is a film that challenges the viewer in uncomfortable ways, but ways that enhance the quality of the story, and manages to be completely engrossing. Not a shot or line is wasted. Miles Teller plays the 19-year-old obsessed with becoming the best drummer in the world, sacrificing relationships in the process -- and maintaining a rather dysfunctional one with his abusive and equally obsessive teacher. How far across the line is it acceptable to cross? Anyone who dismisses this as a "jazz movie" and therefore not worth a look is completely missing the point. Perhaps they don't deserve something this great anyway. No other movie this year has such electrifying immediacy. You can't look away, because this is cinema done right.

What I said then: This movie ends with an important question: is it, is Fletcher himself, worth it? The fact that writer-director Damien Chazelle keeps us considering after the credits role is the mark of great film making.

Five Worst -- or the worst of those I saw

As always, it should be noted that indeed a whole lot of worse movies were released this year than these five. But I don't get paid to review movies, so why should I go to movies I already know are even worse than the crap on this list? This just represents some of the few films I misjudged and thought I might actually enjoy -- and was wrong.

22 jump street5. 22 Jump Street C

A sequel that tries to send up pointless sequels and still manages to be pointless, this could have been a lot more fun if those involved had bothered to make a real effort. Instead, they just waste our time -- I'd say they wasted their own time as well, but for the surprisingly strong box office it pulled in. So much for giving general audiences any credit. I hardly remember the plot, which hardly matters; it was deliberately constructed as a retread of the far superior 21 Jump Street, meant as one of the many in-jokes that don't really work because it still manages to be witless rather than effectively satirical.

What I said then: 22 Jump Street is for lazy movie goers content with lazy movie studios greenlighting projects based on lazy writing that panders to lazy expectations.

the fault in our stars4. The Fault in Our Stars C

This movie seemed to speak to a hell of a lot more people than it did me -- particularly those who had read the massively popular novel on which it's based, which I did not. Shailene Woodley shines as usual, but she can't brighten the terrible script, or even Ansel Elgort, who plays the blandly perfect friend Gus. Both of them have or have had cancer, although Gus is in remission; he exists to be the emotionally supportive friend to Hazel, who carts an oxygen tank around everywhere she goes. This movie is manipulative sentimentality at its gloppiest, especially when it reaches a pivotal, terribly executed scene in which they visit the Anne Frank House. To say this movie lays it on thick would be the understatement of the year, and I remain mystified by audiences who enjoyed it.

What I said then: Director Josh Boone has done a great disservice to young movie audiences with The Fault in Our Stars. The beloved novel on which it's based was intended for young adults, and thus so was this movie adaptation. It stands to reason -- unfortunately -- that young adult viewers will very much enjoy this movie, which therefore puts them under the misguided notion that movies like this are actually high quality cinema. This is a travesty.

tusk3. Tusk C

Here's a misguided detour if ever there was one. Kevin Smith has talked about how his recent foray into the horror genre is the result of running out of things to say in his earlier, more characteristic comedies, and it shows. The premise is just bizarre enough to be intriguing: a podcaster (Justin Long) answers an ad that sounds promising for an interview, and winds up kidnapped, drugged . . . and turned into a walrus. You read that right. This could have been fun if it included any wit or humor that actually worked, but no: Smith resorts to hackneyed "humor" about Canadian accents. Why even setting the story in Canada was necessary is anyone's guess, but then, the same could be said of why this movie was made at all.

What I said then: Smith doesn't bother to go for broke on any of its mishmash of aspects. He even admits in interviews how he smokes weed while directing and is just relaxed about it. It shows on screen. This guy could use some discipline.

Helicopter Mom2. Helicopter Mom C-

Some movies are just uncomfortably bad. This one's heart is in the right place, but that's about all it's got going for it. Not one thing in this ridiculously contrived movie rings true. What teenager talks openly to his parents about what gives him an erection? In this story, the kid doesn't know if he's gay or straight. That alone is plausible enough, I suppose, but no part of how he and his family deal with it is. This is meant to be a fun story, and maybe it is for those who don't care if any part of the movie makes any real-world sense. I am not one of those people.

What I said then: I'd be tempted to say it's perfectly harmless, but for how aggressively, oppressively corny it is. It's like its massively misguided "cutesiness" is crushing the audience with the full force of an auditorium-sized chunk of lead, forcing me to cower in my seat under its weight. I left the theatre feeling genuinely tense as a result. I feel like I need a massage.

lucy1. Lucy C-

Easily the dumbest movie I saw all year, not even the usually wonderful Scarlett Johansson could save it. Humans use "only 10% of their brain's capacity," did you hear? Well, Johansson's character has a little accident with a new drug she was forced to carry in her abdomen. It gets into her blood stream and increases her brain capacity! We even get title cards with incremental percentages (40%, 60%, etc), so the movie's audiences, which apparently we should infer only use 10% of their brains, can understand. Much action ensues in the meantime, as this woman basically becomes superhuman, eventually achieving the likes to telekinesis and mind control. She's "evolving" -- in the most laughable way possible. Spoiler alert! She turns into a flash drive.

What I said then: Lucy has one thing going for it. Scarlett Johansson can do other movies for less money that are actually interesting (Under the Skin, Her), and still be rich.

And now, below, the perennial film log . . .

1. 1/7 Anchorman 2: The Legend of Ron Burgundy B-
2. 1/11 Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom B
3. 1/18 G.B.F. B-
4. 1/19 Gloria C+
5. 1/20 The Lunchbox A-
6. 1/28 Monty Python and the Holy Grail A- ***
7. 1/29 The Invisible Woman B
8. 2/1 Labor Day B+
9. 2/4 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Animation B
10. 2/9 Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live Action B+
11. 2/11 The Past B+
12. 2/16 The Lego Movie B-
13. 2/20 Like Father, Like Son B+
14. 2/22 The Rocket B+
15. 2/25 Harold and Maude A- ***
16. 2/27 In Secret C+
17. 3/8 Non-Stop B-
18. 3/9 Omar: B+
19. 3/11 Stranger by the Lake B
20. 3/13 Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me A-
21. 3/15 Maidentrip: B+
22. 3/17 Particle Fever B
23. 3/19 The Grand Budapest Hotel B+
24. 3/25 A Birder's Guide to Everything B+
25. 3/27 Nymphomaniac: Vol. I A-
26. 4/1 Enemy C+
27. 4/5: Nymphomaniac: Vol. II A-
28. 4/7: Anita B+
29. 4/10 Ernest & Célestine B
30. 4/12 Only Lovers Left Alive: B
31. 4/15 Under the Skin B
32. 4/17 Ilo Ilo: B+
33. 4/18 Finding Vivian Maier B+
34. 4/22 Le Week-End B+
35. 5/5 Jodorowsky's Dune C+
36. 5/7 The Fifth Element B+ ***
37. 5/10 Neighbors B
38. 5/11 Fading Gigolo B-
39. 5/16 The Skeleton Twins A- **
40. 5/18 Regarding Susan Sontag B **
41. 5/19 Locke B
42. 5/21 Godzilla C+
43. 5/24 The Double B+
44. 5/25 X-Men: Days of Future Past B+
45. 5/27 The Immigrant B+
46. 5/29 Me, Myself and Mum B- **
47. 5/30 The Way He Looks A- **
48. 5/31 Rhymes for Young Ghouls B+ **
49. 6/1 Boyhood A- **
50. 6/4 Helicopter Mom C- **
51. 6/5 Dear White People B+ **
52. 6/7 Obvious Child B+
53. 6/9 Edge of Tomorrow B
54. 6/12 Chef B+
55. 6/17 22 Jump Street C
56. 6/19 Ida A-
57. 6/22 The Rover B+
58. 6/23 Cold in July B+
59. 6/25 Hard Eight B ***
60. 6/28 Belle B+
61. 6/28 Madonna: Truth or Dare A- ***
62. 7/1 Snowpiercer B+
63. 7/5 Life Itself A-
64. 7/6 Magic in the Moonlight B+
65. 7/6 The Fault in Our Stars C
66. 7/9 Magnolia A- ***
67. 7/10 A Hard Day's Night B ***
68. 7/12 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes B+
69. 7/16 Punch-Drunk Love A ***
70. 7/19 Violette B-
71. 7/23 There Will Be Blood A ***
72. 7/24 Lucy C-
73. 7/28 Visitors C+
74. 7/31 A Most Wanted Man B+
75. 8/3 Guardians of the Galaxy B
76. 8/6 Mood Indigo C+
77. 8/9 Get on Up B+
78. 8/9 Love Is Strange A-
79. 8/14 The Giver B
80. 8/16 Boyhood A- (2nd viewing)
81. 8/19 Calvary A-
82. 8/21 The Hundred Foot Journey B-
83. 8/24 Land Ho! B
84. 8/26 To Be Takei: B-
85. 8/29 The Trip to Italy B+
86. 9/2 Frank B-
87. 9/3 The Congress C+
88. 9/6 Jimi: All Is by My Side C+
89. 9/12 God Help the Girl B
90. 9/18 The One I Love B
91. 9/19 This Is Where I Leave You B-
92. 9/23 The Skeleton Twins A- (2nd viewing)
93. 9/24 The Drop B+
94. 9/29 Pride B+
95. 10/3 Amélie A ***
96. 10/4 Tusk C
97. 10/5 Gone Girl B
98. 10/7 Last Days in Vietnam B+
99. 10/12 Advanced Style B+
100. 10/13 The Two Faces of January B-
101. 10/16 Tracks B+
102. 10/17 Altman B-
103. 10/17 The Player B+ ***
104. 10/18 M*A*S*H B+ ***
105. 10/19 Popeye C- ***
106. 10/20 Gosford Park A- ***
107. 10/21 John Wick B *
108. 10/24 Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) A-
109. 10/25 Fury B+
110. 11/5 Interstellar B
111. 11/6 St. Vincent A-
112. 11/8 Whiplash A
113. 11/10 The Theory of Everything C+
114. 11/13 Rosewater B+
115. 11/15 Nightcrawler B+
116. 11/18 Citizenfour A-
117. 11/24 Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) A- (2nd viewing)
118. 11/30 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 B
119. 12/6 The Homesman B-
120. 12/7 Point and Shoot B
121. 12/10 Force Majeure B
122. 12/11 Top Five B
123. 12/18 Wild A
124. 12/19 Foxcatcher B-
125. 12/22 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies C+
126. 12/27 The Imitation Game A-
127. 12/28 Into the Woods B
128. 12/30 Big Eyes B

*SIFF advance screening
**SIFF festival screening
***Re-issue (no review)


1 comment or Leave a comment
fatpie42 From: fatpie42 Date: December 31st, 2014 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, some films on this list I've never even heard of! Am looking forward to "Wild" since it comes out in the UK this January.
1 comment or Leave a comment