Thursday, January 29, 2015

2014 Year in Review Part 3 - The Best Movies of 2014

Well Space Monkeys, it is now time to finally close the door on 2014.  Time for me to finally put out the Best Movies of 2014 list.  It was an interesting roller coaster of a year, lots of ups, just as many downs.  I wound up going to E3, I got to go to the New York Film Festival.  Blog posts hit a higher standard of quality than ever before.  But there have been post droughts, I spend the last year trying to find my voice and my purpose in life.  And unfortunately I am no closer.  So best thing to do is ignore my problems and focus on other people's problems.  Thus the magic of movies.

Every year I make one of these lists, and every year I have striven to make the list diverse and interesting.  However, most of the time the Top 10 or Top 15 or whatever number I come up with is essentially just the only great movies I saw all year.  If you read those lists, you read every single great movie I could think of.  2014 was different.  This year I saw more great movies than ever before.  This not only could have been a Top 20, it could have been a Top 30.  But in order to remain true to myself, I had to keep things limited.  There is a wealth of amazing movies in the world, too many for me to see, and far too many to fit on any arbitrary list.

Now as always, this is my list.  My opinions solely.  Therefore you may disagree.  The final ranking as to what made it on the list was what I felt was quality and genius for any reason.  Ultimately then I did not take into account certain other factors.  Like I did not do a count as to how many movies starred White males, how many took into account racial issues, and whatever other business people get mad about.  I did notice that four out of my fifteen films are animated, and you can read whatever immaturity you want into that.  Really all I care about is story, and quality of cinema.  If I am perpetuating cycles of inequality by liking a certain type of movie, I honestly do not care.  When there are movies this good, the world at large might as well not even matter.

Honorable Mentions:

"Jodorowsky's Dune"
"Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier"
"The Babadook"

The list after page break:

2014 Year in Review Part 2 - Unfinished Business and Accolades

Look, I know nobody cares about 2014 anymore. It has already faded away into myth and memory. But I didn't get a chance to talk about the year in depth, so we're doing it now.  This episode is two things 1) a quick review of six films that I never got a chance to review, and 2) my accolades for Best Performances, Best Trends, Most Entertaining Bad Movie, etc.  With a little bit of talk of the Oscar Race too.

Movies discussed in this episode, with their directors, are:

1. Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller
2. Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier
3. The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum
4. Enemy, Denis Villeneuve
5. The Normal Heart, Ryan Murphy
6. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Midnight, Ana Lily Amirpour

Accolades after page break:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

American Sniper - The Fake Baby Movie Is Not Very Interesting

The worst reaction for a critic to have to a movie is "meh", when there just is not all that much to say about a movie.  My goal here is to get exciting and energized, making great analysis.  I should have some kind of strong reaction here or there, good or bad, and then prove my points with a series of convincing rhetorical, humorous asides, and brilliant insights.  Instead I feel nothing.  I'm numb I'm not sure if I even saw a movie or took novocaine/

"American Sniper" is a horrifically okay movie.  That is exactly what I have come to expect from gunslinger movie star turned director, Clint Eastwood in the latter stage of his career.  Crushing amounts of apathy is his primary style even since stopped making cowboy films.  Eastwood has spent this century making high-concept personal dramas.  Or to put it more cynically, sniffing around for Oscar Gold by making dull period pieces or "actor movies".  Take the dreary Award-stompers "Mystic River" or "Million Dollar Baby", or the actively miserable "J. Edgar".  The last movie that Eastwood has made that actually had a sense of personality about it was "Gran Torino".  Frankly Eastwood in his last decade of work does not even feel like a passionate director anymore.  His work is by the numbers Oscarbiat:  solid premise, strong central lead playing a fantastic character - do you really need to put in any more work?

Which leads me to wonder.  How am I supposed to get invested in this movie when it does not feel very invested in itself?  "American Sniper" is not really a movie about anything.  It is a drama based on the life of real-life sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a veteran of the Iraq War who became the deadliest sniper in American history.  Kyle is a plain old American patriot - loyal to his brothers in arms, fearless, and apparently beyond all issues of politics.  Eastwood attempts to create in "American Sniper" a classical hero tale, after a career of deconstructing that very concept in films like "High Plains Drifter" and "Unforgiven".  No wonder it feels so hollow.  "American Sniper" is the first attempt at an apolitical movie on the Iraq War, simply about men on the ground and their families.  Eastwood winds up making a movie without greater context, and unfortunately, without much other than a single very good Bradley Cooper performance.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Into the Woods - Not the Disney Movie You Were Expecting

Disney probably should have thought twice before adapting "Into the Woods".  This is a company that has built it's entire reputation on family-friendly adaptations of fairy tales.  When you think Disney, you think of loopy cursive font, beautiful pure princesses, and happy simple endings.  "Into the Woods" is a deconstruction of all of those things.  Stephen Sondheim essentially wrote an anti-Disney musical.  True Love does not exist, endings are never simple, Prince Charming is a prick, and the Wicked Witch is the voice of reason.  This is a dark show.  What on Earth is it doing being rated PG and being sold as family-friendly entertainment?

On the surface one can see what Disney was thinking:  "musical, fairy tales, princesses, this is our genre!"  The plot of "Into the Woods" is what happens if somebody takes a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales, puts it in a blender, then tapes the book back together, mixing the stories up into random order.  Then a depressed nicotine-addicted misanthrope finishes the story with a bizarre coda.  Since blockbusters based on fairy tales are inexplicably popular among studios lately, one can describe "Into the Woods" as a crossover of "Red Riding Hood", "Jack the Giant Slayer", "Tangled", and Disney's own upcoming "Cinderella" in one giant movie.  I can almost feel the heat coming off a studio exec's genitals as they imagine the profits.  That being said, either the Disney corporation is run by true lovers of American theater or none of them have ever actually seen "Into the Woods", because they really should know better.

Because it is bitter and dark, I happen to be a fan of "Into the Woods" (full disclosure, after all).  Soundheim wrote a difficult, complex musical, full of well-developed characters and ambiguous morals.  It is not the usual kind of Broadway fair that gets adapted into films:  either song and dance fun like director Rob Marshall's earlier "Chicago" or romantic period pieces like "Les Miserables".  Live-action musicals in the 20th century are always a gamble.  None more so than a morally ambiguous show breaking the rules of childhood fantasy to create a nightmare out of bedtime stories.  "Into the Woods"'s metafictional disturbing moments moments are toned down weakening the tone of the film.   Yet despite sacrifices, Marshall creates a quality love letter to Sondheim.

Friday, January 23, 2015

2014 Year in Review Part 1 - The Worst Movies of 2014

New Freelancin'!  Two more will be coming up over the weekend, as I begin my grand epic trilogy of 2014 Posts.  Yes, it is nearly February, yes I am late.  Whatever agony my shame of missing deadlines might be can hardly compare to the agony of the films below:

Here is the list, for those too dull to listen to the video:

10. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Peter Jackson
9. Transcendence - Wally Pfister
8. America: the Movie - Dinesh D'souza
7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Jonathan Liebesman
6. Jauja - Lisandro Alonso
5. Pompeii - Paul W. S. Anderson
4. Altus Shrugged Part III: Why is John Galt? - J. James Manera (some random dude)
3. God's Not Dead - Harold Cronk
2. Vampire Academy - Mark Waters
1. Left Behind - Some Asshole

So there. I saw a lot of really bad movies last year for your entertainment. And I have no regrets (other than Jauja, nobody ever heard of it and it still sucked). Hope you enjoy me suffering to what may be even worse films in 2015! Thanks for a great year, Space Monkeys.

2014 Accolades are coming next, followed by the big one - Best Movies of 2015.