Sarah’s Top Ten of 2014
Sadly, 2014 was a bad movie year for me. I barely got to the cinema this year and caught most films on Netflix and On Demand. I missed some big contenders this year but I made my list based on what I saw and I have to say I’m quite pleased.
It took me forever to finally see Interstellar in the theater mostly because of the time commitment. Once I finally did I was glad to have seen it in the theater; much like 2013’s Gravity, Interstellar feels like a film that will not have the same impact on the small screen. I found myself questioning a lot of the science and major plot points but ultimately the holes (sometime huge holes) didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the film. Interstellar falls firmly between Inception and The Prestige on my imaginary-Christopher-Nolan-plot-forgiveness scale. Admittedly the second act is the strongest part of the film and it would have been better if they focused more on the science-fiction than the family drama. Interstellar was action-packed and exciting, emotional and dramatic, and just fun to watch. Accompanied by Hans Zimmers’ excellent score I found myself on the edge of my seat throughout a majority of the film. I also have to give kudos to Nolan; he managed the “C3P0 effect” of making me care about a robot. Well done, sir!
9. After the Dark
After the Dark is far from a perfect film, but I find it endlessly watchable. A philosophy class at a private boarding school in Jakarta on the last day of high school debate human survival in the face of an apocalypse. James D’Arcy leads his students in a mental experiment, giving them all a job and an attribute in an apocalyptic setting and makes them decide which ten students get a place in a bunker. You then see what happens in the year they are in the bunker. There are three iterations of the experiment with three different results. I tend to really enjoy films based on thought experiments and After the Dark falls solidly in this category. It also hits a sweet spot for me of being a film about group dynamics, which I find fascinating. Granted, all the characters are a little heightened and a little pseudo-intelligent in After the Dark, but that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the film. My high school psychology class actually did a similar exercise; it was considerably less dramatic, but it was interesting to see it acted out on the big screen.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
I went into Guardians of the Galaxy with a very dubious attitude. The trailer was interesting but strange, and I had never even heard of the comic book. The result was one of the most fun experiences I had at the theater this year. The characters and story were surprisingly fun. The film even managed to make me fall in love with a sentient tree and a talking raccoon! The cast brought these wacky characters to life with surprising depth under the direction of James Gunn. I also really enjoyed the world building; things like the space ship and costume designs were inventive and really fleshed out the reality of the film. Unlike one of the worst movies of 2014, Transformers: Age of Extinction, the action in Guardians of the Galaxy was purposeful and compelling while still being dependent on CG and green screen. Are you taking notes, Mr. Bay?
7. Edge of Tomorrow
There is so much to like about Edge of Tomorrow. There is the cast, the fantastic special effects, a clever and often funny script, and a time travel plot that makes sense (for the most part). Tom Cruise does what he does best: fully commits to a role, giving it both depth and humanity. Emily Blunt, one of my favorite actresses working today, pulls off the role of bad-ass-with-a-heart. Another thing that I really like about the film is that it only gives you as much explanation as you need. It doesn’t feel the need to go into a bunch of fake science to convince you that what is happening is real; it’s blue go0, we got it. The film sets up the rules and the stakes and then commits to them. I hope this is a film that has a bigger life on video; sadly, good science fiction often goes overlooked.
6. Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars was always going to be on my list this year. Like so many rabid fans, I supported the Kickstarter campaign and waited with bated breath for it to finally come out. To my great relief and joy it lived up to the memory of the series that I loved. Kristen Bell reprises her role as the petite and plucky Veronica returning to Neptune, California after being absent for nearly ten years. Many of the same ghosts still haunt her but some new faces appear as well. Veronica Mars pays tribute to its fans while also telling a compelling mystery story. It was obvious from every frame that the people making the film were happy to be back and telling a story they love.
5. Gone Girl
I think my viewing of Gone Girl was benefited by my having not read the book and staying spoiler free. Since I went in blind every twist and turn was a surprise and it kept me on the edge of my seat. I tend to enjoy David Fincher’s films and Gone Girl was no exception. Using his meticulous approach to film making, Fincher managed to weave the tangled storyline into a dramatic, suspenseful, and sexy thriller. Director of photography Jeff Cronenweth gave the film a look that is both other-worldly and beautifully off-putting. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross capture the film’s tone perfectly with their score, which kept me constantly questioning. The cast is really strong including some real surprises, most notably Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens, and Patrick Fugit.
Diplomatie was one of those fantastic gems that I get to review for Battleship Pretension that I never see coming. Diplomatie is about the last 24 hours under Nazi occupation before the Allies liberated Paris. More specifically it is about the Nazi General ordered to set and detonate explosives across the city, destroying it rather than let it be liberated, and the French Diplomat that convinces him to spare Paris. The film is an adaptation of a stage play and, while it is a showcase for the two lead actors, it never feels stagnant or dull. Diplomatie humanizes the German General von Choltitz while never making him blameless or a complete monster. The Frenchman Raoul similarly is not flawless but is genuine. Diplomatie also maintains a real tension throughout, even though viewers know the ultimate fate of Paris. While I think some dramatic liberties were taken at the very end, it never lessens the power of the film.
3. Obvious Child
I’ve been a Jenny Slate fan for a long time now and Obvious Child just served to cement my admiration for her. Contrary to what its title would suggest, this film is far from obvious. It takes the sensitive subject of abortion and wraps it in this romantic, funny, serious movie. Slate’s character is a New York stand up comedienne who doesn’t pull punches in her act about the funny realities of being a woman and about sex. After a drunken one night stand she finds herself pregnant and unprepared to be a mother. Obvious Child is funny, and awkward, and touching in a way that many films about similar subject matter wish they could be. I have to applaud the writer/director Gillian Robespierre for writing dialogue that authentically captures the way people talk about sex, relationships, and abortion.
2. The Guest
Last year, You’re Next was on my list and the team of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are 2-for-2 with me. I went in knowing nothing about The Guest; not even that it was another film by Wingard and Barrett. It wasn’t as scary or intense as You’re Next, but it was equally as engaging. The Guest pays tribute to the horror films of the 1980’s while still being fresh and surprising. There are a lot of layers to the main character played by Dan Stevens. He very subtly manipulates/seduces everyone he meets in the film in order to attain his goal. I also really like the MacGuffin that Wingard and Barrett set up and how beautifully it plays out at the end while keeping true to its roots in 80’s slasher films.
1. The Trip to Italy
The Trip to Italy was the most fun I had at the theater and the hardest I laughed at a movie this year. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back and this time they are traveling around Italy in a Mini-Cooper convertible, eating food and doing impressions. Within the first few minutes, the idea of a sequel is addressed and acknowledged, so it was out in the open right away. In a lot of ways The Trip to Italy is the perfect mirror reflection of The Trip. Coogen and Brydon switch places in a lot of ways. Coogen is reconnecting with his family and is content his career and Brydon is straying from his marriage and fretting his career for the first time. There are so many delightful moments between the two comedians, like singing along to Alanis Morisette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ album, the dueling Banes, and the James Bond-off, just to name a few. The Trip to Italy was much less focused on the food but it has stunning scenery. It is equal parts comedy and living post card.