Twelve months ago I doubted I would watch Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. I was half right, I actually watched all of Game of Thrones to date, and to be honest I wasn’t disappointed with any of them. But as you’ll see I found something I like even better on TV.
I couldn’t name a film I looked forward to at that time, and as it turned out the films I liked the most all came from new or unexpected sources anyway. I have the same fear at the moment. Nothing in movies scheduled for the next few months interests me, and I am presently looking forward to not one new release in music.
Given my pessimistic outlook for 2015, it might be surprising in retrospect that 2014 was a pretty good year in film. Some of the blockbusters came good, as always some smaller flicks transcended, and Guardians of the Galaxy is for mine the best superhero movie to date, but it was a tiny film that grabbed me most.
10 best in film
Chef – John Favreau writes, directs and stars as a headstrong boorish chef who loses everything he incorrectly thought was important and must rebuild himself and some key relationships. The story is simple and both cliché and sugar-free, the acting excellent and the characters well drawn. And I still can’t say enough about the soundtrack.
Above all, all I know is I have seen the film 4 times and counting, and I love introducing it to new people.
Guardians of the Galaxy – A film that didn’t fare as well with the rewatch. I left the cinema totally besotted and sure I had just seen something worthy of my All Time Top 10, I revisited the blu-ray and wondered where all the bits that cracked me up went.
Still, Guardians is funny regardless and more fun than any previous superhero film. You wonder how they will make a talking racoon and a tree with a single word vocabulary interesting characters and not annoying distractions, yet they integrate them so effortlessly and effectively.
The finale betrays a director more familiar with watching big budget films than making them, but Guardians is a pure popcorn flick that will leave most viewers happier than they were before it started – which to me is the point of superhero films.
Excruciatingly violent in the way films with realistic violence are, you fret as the pressure takes its toll and the net closes in, you cringe as the blood is spilled in the most awful ways, and you sweat as you await the only conclusion that can await a man so out of his depth.
You might like films where Neesons and Stathams lay waste to faceless bad guys, but it’s a rare film that makes you genuinely concerned about the fate of the ‘hero’, simply because he lacks all of the regular characteristics and traits of one.
Gone Girl – There are not too many popcorn films that begin with a beautiful wife going missing, presumed murdered by her husband. But despite the subject matter, Gone Girl is a popcorn flick. Anyone taking this stuff too seriously is a clown (who edited the security footage?), and there is way, way, wayyyy more to the film than a missing wife, but for two plus hours you will be engrossed, picking sides and glancing edgeways at your spouse…
The Raid 2 – The impossible was very nearly reality. There was no chance that The Raid 2 could trump the original, but Gareth Evans added scope (way more ground to cover than a single building), characters (Hammer Girl! Bat Boy!), and new and varied enemies, and had a red hot go at just that.
Perhaps a victim of too many ideas, Raid 2 is as exhausting to watch as it would be for Iko Uwais’ character to fight through. Nearly. The highlights are plentiful and soaring, the prison yard fight, the kitchen finale, the car-chase fight (seriously), the visual bruises cover bruises, and by the end you become a little numb to the barrage.
One of the rare action films where rewatching adds value, you realise the breadth and audacity of the venture, and the sheer number of huge setpieces crammed into a mammoth 150 odd minutes.
You might think The Raid franchise is already out of ideas, to my mind it has too many. That can’t ever be a bad thing.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Half way through Dawn of the Planet of the Apes my wife asked me how much of the ape action was real. It’s a testament to the film that none of it is, and regardless you allow yourself to become immersed in a new world where talking apes have the upper hand upon outmatched humans.
Perhaps the biggest feat across two films so far is that the viewing audience naturally sides with the non-human element – even though the apes have their share of dicks also.
As with Guardians of the Galaxy, the muddled finale can be explained by a director helming his first blockbuster, but this is easily forgiven. We’re now two films into a brave new world where apes will soon assume top dog status on this planet – and I couldn’t be happier with this development.
The Babadook – I only watched this a few days ago, and only after it ended on so many year end Best Ofs. I thought it would be about some sort of indigenous legend, but it turns out to be a guessing game of which reality is which. Is the monster in the cellar born from a macabre children’s book real, or is the most over-worked and mentally drained single mum on film creating it?
The truth might be out there, but it is never revealed, and this film is all the more disconcerting for it.
Oculus – Annabelle, The Purge 2, Ouija and Paranormal Activity 37 all made more, but the film about the haunted mirror had a better set up and better scares than all of them. And it isn’t even close.
But while teenagers continue to like what other teenagers like, and films like Oculus and last year’s The Pact don’t pander to them, then the best horror film of every year will struggle to crack the Top 100 box-office results.
Maybe put some pretty teens on the poster and apologise for the misdirection later…
Her – The best pure sci-fi of the year is about a quiet man falling for his computer program. Her is startlingly original yet strangely familiar, a romance with an awkward male lead and a disembodied Aniston, Hudson, Lopez type. Perhaps this is what makes it better, though Scar-Jo’s sexy voice would make most things better.
Joaquin Phoenix gives one of the performances of the year, and Spike Jonze does it again. Perhaps the most original director in film at the moment.
Nightcrawler – Just caught this one in time. Jake Gylenhaal builds a CV with an intriguing decision to play an ambitious and opportunistic news footage cameraman catering to the macabre and disturbing. Crime scenes. Accident victims. He’s TMZ for the bloodthirsty.
Of course he eventually bites off more than he can chew, but even then his blind confidence and the ethics of a sociopath help him find a way. The Nightcrawler is an awful, abhorrent man, but his tale is a compelling one.
10 more meritorious films
Upstream Color – Would have made last year’s 10 but I caught it too late. Like watching a lava lamp Upstream Color will leave you feeling woozy and warm, and perhaps a little confused. The plot is irrelevant (but involves bugs and pigs) and the action disjointed, but this is a film like no other from a filmmaker in Shane Carruth who is fiercely original.
Locke – One man with a horrible secret drives a straight line towards his destiny, wiping his sniffy nose and making the calls that will change his life forever all the way.
Tom Hardy plays across no-one but the hum of the tyres and a series of voices. His is a thankless role in a difficult yet rewarding film. Many will resent the simplicity, but in an era where films are over-complicated messes full of banal dialogue and dull events, the simple things should be applauded – especially when it is carried out so well.
A Walk Among the Tombstones – The best Neeson film of the year is still not great, but better than the snoozy Non-Stop and (I can see the future) Taken 3. At least this one tries to give a story to the killing and the violence. Not a great story (yet; Matt Scudder is supposed to be a franchise), one that establishes a gritty world full of scuzzy characters, helpless innocents and guys that could go either way. I’d rather a sequel to this than anything else in the recent Neeson cannon.
Cuban Fury – The story is familiar; man unfit for one world summons the determination and grit to succeed in an unfamiliar world – this one the land of tango. But Cuban Fury is full of rich characters and pleasing setpieces, and largely avoids the usual clichés and bland stereotypes. This film just wants to be liked, and is happy to meet you half way to facilitate.
Edge of Tomorrow – Tom Cruise’s best film in a decade while because it delivers what we want; him dying again and again and again…
But I digress from easy jokes. Edge of Tomorrow might have found a bigger audience if it wasn’t eerily similar to Source Code and didn’t have a bunch of killer robots to scare off his middle aged housewife fanbase. If Tom Cruise makes a decent movie for a change and no-one is around to watch; do we have to give him credit?
Snowpiercer – It didn’t grab me like it grabbed the critics – I felt the concept of a train where every carriage seems ‘themed’ distracting – the first half of Snowpiercer is high concept drama full of interesting characters and brilliant production. I appreciate the craft of the film, I just think it was a little too inconsistent to be dubbed great.
300: Rise of an Empire – I am old and fat and slow and grumpy, but films like this somehow tap into my teenage testosterone years. Rippling abs, glistening weapons, incongruous rock music and ridiculous over-the-toppery, but dang if 300 2 isn’t nearly the equal of the original – despite the fact that neither of them should be remotely interesting or entertaining.
Fury supplies the hell and the men, it neglects though to give them a story beyond ‘approaching doom’.
The Lego Movie is fast, quick and witty. It doesn’t take things seriously. Actually it takes nothing seriously. It is cool for kids and enjoyable for adults, all of the things required to make a family movie day worthwhile.
Lucy – Luc Besson’s recent movies have a familiar feel but remain interesting even when they miss the mark. When Lucy finds that she has unlocked her full mental capabilities, the journey to 100% is probably not as astonishing as it should be, yet the film remains eminently watchable and accessible for a wide audience – even the one that saw Limitless just a couple years ago…
Still another 10 interesting or noteworthy
Muppets Most Wanted – The Best sequel (of course the best was really The Raid 2, and I suppose Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a sequel), but this was the only way to get the Muppets in here, if only because of the sheer ridiculousness of the concept of there being a ‘most dangerous frog in the world’… this is only a middling muppet movie, but there is always room for muppet movies.
Also How to Train your Dragon 2 could argue I am being totes biased…
Godzilla – He came. He saw. He stomped some cities flat, and then he buggered off. It takes quite a bit to get Godzilla to emerge from his no doubt comfy domicile beneath the sea – in this case space monsters – but the results are always the same.
By now he’s like the grumpy old guy who trundles out to tell the damn kids to get off his lawn before muttering their way back indoors. You wonder why they bother, but they always bite.
47 Ronin – I was one of the 99.9% who contemplated John Wick but didn’t get around to it (yet), so 47 Ronin was my total Keanu experience for 2014.
On the evidence here I’ll bet he wishes that wasn’t the case.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – The care and effort is evident in Ben Stiller’s passion project.
But while it is full of meaning and (slightly forced) feeling, Walter Mitty too often comes across as the world’s longest vodka commercial.
The Wolf of Wall Street – I don’t get what’s funny. I didn’t get what was compelling. All I saw was a bunch of greedy dicks winning at crime, and taking full advantage by drinking, drugging and bedding things. Sure it was interesting at times, but I think the ‘lovable rogue’ element more than the entertainment value was what won the film admirers.
The ‘Black Swan’ award for the most over-rated film of 2014.
As Above, So Below – Of course it’s silly. It’s about explorers who find a portal that might lead to an alternate reality – a red hued one. But when the goal of a horror movie is raising the hairs on the arms, for long stretches this film delivers. The found footage element is overdone and in this case pointless, but there are a few decent scares and moments where this really works.
Totally wrong director.
Is it too soon to propose a green light with Robert Rodriguez or James Gunn in charge?
Mr Peabody and Sherman – I must be the only guy who abhorred the casual way this film continually sought to denounce the value of the relationship between a single father and his loving son? I feel like I’m on crazy pills.
Worst films of 2014
Anchorman 2 – Ten years on from an over-rated original, and apparently volume, botched and tired catchphrases and casual racism and stereotypes are STILL funny.
Tusk – Kevin Smith talks shit about a man-made walrus in a podcast with a mate. His various delusional acolytes demand said film. Kevin lazily makes it. It is more an abomination than the concept of a man turning another unwilling man into a walrus.
Sex Tape – This year’s wannabe American Pie takes the needy Cameron Diaz, and the eager to please Jason Segal, and churns out a grab bag of ‘sexy’ and ‘dangerous’ clichés – none of which satisfy the either definition.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill for – I know it was mentioned above, but this less a misfire than a franchise killer.
It seems it is a fine line between ‘cult classic’ and ‘stupendous misfire’…
The chick on the poster is only making that face because they forced her to sit through the film.
Fright Night 2 – Just… awful.
It’s bad enough when remakes and reboots suck, worse still when they try to do it with a budget less than the cost of a supermodel’s lunch…
Some mediocre efforts make millions.
Some mediocre efforts that rely on ‘nut meaning testicle’ puns, do not.
Thor 2 – Not really deserving of ‘Worst’ status, but the first Marvel film that left me wondering why I bothered.
Oh Canada, a land where special effects guys stand around with buckets of fake blood next to no name starlets willing to get naked, all while a few bland filmmakers try to brainstorm a title catchy enough to convert into a dull film…
Even the best year in movies has its share of crap.
The best in Music
Another year of sporadic new music, 2014 was a relatively dull year with only a few highlights. As always there are the ones I shilled for and the ones I Spotify sampled.
Run the Jewels / Run the Jewels 2 – the first was a match made in heaven with super-producer (and under-rated rapper) El-P and the grittiest and most consistent rapper out there in Killer Mike. Alas the music seemed hurried and largely unfinished.
But with this, the second album in just over 12 months, they are hitting their stride. The production is more creative, the rhyming duties more evenly shared, and the lowpoints match most of the first album’s better bits.
This is grimy, fast paced, and often profane stuff. And the best album of the year.
Like many artists the Whigs only have about three or four ‘core’ track types, but they have mastered them all and easily slide back into the groove here. This is superior hard rock with a brain.
Ron S. Peno & the Superstitions / Anywhere and Everything is Bright – A short (9 song) album with some amazing tracks and zero filler. While the album works better if listened to from beginning to end, there are a half dozen tracks that would make any artist pleased.
And it sold approximately no copies.
People under the Stairs / 12 Step Program – Best described as a ‘party album’, 12 Step is consistently OK but never anything more. Featuring some of the more obvious and less clever samples that I can remember PUTS settling for (maybe they aren’t digging in the crates nearly as much? ), a few listens help build appreciation, but that’s it.
The BEST bits of A Better Tomorrow tease you, but the tease is never followed up. And the song that samples Son of a Preacher Man is the most embarrassing thing I listened to this year outside of my wife’s car…
Time to pack it up Wu. The clan will be Forever, but efforts like this only damage the rep.
David Gray / Mutineers – Another disappointment. Pre-ordered through his website and devoured the first day out of the package, Mutineers can be summed up in one statement; ‘Mutineers is the only album with less than 50% worthwhile tracks, and ZERO 4 or 5 star tracks’.
If you buy Mutineers at least purchase the version with 2 bonus CDs of live music – at least you’ll have 2 discs worth listening to…
Buck 65 / Neverlove – Purchased after he proved a live revelation a few months ago, Buck has described this as his ‘break-up’ album in the wake of his divorce, and as you might expect given the subject matter this is a painful and stark album. It is also the album where Buck brings in some female artists to bust out some radio-friendly hooks, some of which seem incongruous when you consider that the themes are disillusion and remorse.
It doesn’t help that the best song from the live set ‘A Case for Us’, is rendered lifeless by sterile production.
Spotified, not Spent on…
Ghostface Killah / 36 Seasons – I am as surprised as anyone that Ghostface has emerged as clearly the best solo artist from the Wu-Tang., but his concept albums are very much a mixed bag. His sexed up Ghostdeini from a few years ago was patchy but often hilarious. His serial killer effort was bland and lifeless, and this… this… this is just boring.
A whirlwind dozen or so three minute tracks that link together to tell a (frankly dull) story. The two or three tracks where the pace picks up are OK, but the rest ranges from trite to tedious.
Once an automatic purchase, on the back of two duds Ghostface has entered the Tricky ‘buyer beware’ zone.
This is a concept album where I simply don’t get the concept.
Smashing Pumpkins / Monuments to an Elegy – The only thing reminiscent of the Pumpkins’ glory years is the pretentious title. The rest sounds like a bunch of Drive soundtrack outtakes, with a dozen or so short songs all built around one flaccid hook and none of the musical ingenuity and genius that Billy Corgan was once known for.
Single of the Year
Courtney John / Lucky Man – It isn’t a single (as far as I know) and it wasn’t even from a 2014 album, but the wonderfully sweet and smooth Lucky Man arrived on the Chef soundtrack, and since then it has been played more than any song for years, to universal acceptance. I have played it at work, at barbecues and multiple times recently at Christmas gathering.
What a beautiful and simple song. I just wish I had a hundred as good in my collection.
The Year in TV
I realised this year that I watched every episode of The Walking Dead and not once did I wonder what will happen next.
The goriest kill award seems a redundant prize to be planned for and issued weekly just to satisfy expectations, but the hospital subplot was dull as dishwater, and the cannibal encounter seemed unfinished.
In fact I think I’m ready to declare myself done with the show. Aside from Daryl, Rick and Glen – none of whom they will kill off anytime soon – I don’t care who lives or dies, or even how.
Just re-reading last year’s Best of showed that I was bored with the show even then. There’s every chance that I will continue watching the show just because I always watch the show. Maybe that makes me the mindless zombie…?
I also watched every episode of Game of Thrones released through the year, and I was never disappointed that I did. Which brings me to a new discovery and my current favourite;
The Best Show of 2014 – The Wire
Of course it isn’t from 2014. In fact I missed the boat by a mere decade, but The Wire is a modern day Game of Thrones. Showing all sides of the Baltimore underworld, The Wire introduces literally dozens of characters, the police, the criminals both small time and big time, and the people on both sides of the law that are impacted by them.
Small peripheral characters become major characters, some major characters are killed off with little fanfare or warning. And the plot continues on regardless without building to crescendos or episodic highlights. It is an intricate world with a myriad of individuals toiling away within it, and very rewarding to a viewer who appreciates craftsmanship.
There are only five seasons. I have so far watched two, and I am very much looking forward to the final three over the coming weeks.
In fact I should be watching them now…
Coming in 2015
Harry Potter is all grown’d up. The Twilight Saga is mercifully sparkling in heaven. The Hunger Games has one more course left. The Hobbit is now – some would say over – done. The Divergent series only has Resurgent and Detergent left, probably.
Many other kid friendly franchises have fizzled and wheezed. Liam Neeson put a leash on your damn kid. Hot Tub Time Machine 2? Did we need the first 6 Fast and Furious’ preceding Furious 7 (the jury is out). Do we need a Transporter 4? (We don’t)
All that is left is superheroes and sequels. Hollywood has rebooted all of yesteryear’s mediocrity and fixer-uppers with negligible benefit to society. Now all that is left is desecrating things that could not possibly be improved upon.
Mad Max. Terminator. Jurassic Park. Star Wars.
That’s the list I looked forward to as a teenager – a loooong time ago. Does anyone think that the four films listed above will be improved on with the new releases? Mayyyybe Jurassic Park. I have so much trepidation about 2015 cinematically. I look forward to nothing, I worry about everything.
For most of the above that a best case scenario is something nearly as good as a film that already exists.
My music appreciation has switched to live acts. I’d pay a hundred bucks to see David Gray, People Under the Stairs, The Roots live, their 2014 albums… not so much. (That said David Gray has taken the Living Colour route and tacked himself to a mediocre festival, meaning I must pay twice as much for a set half as long at a venue full of people very different to me – won’t happen. Looking forward to Lamb next month. Then gig season seems to reopen around October.
In lieu of live music I am dabbling in live comedy. I saw Jimmy Carr earlier this year, and can’t wait for Bill Burr in late January. The problem is that there are a million stand-up comics, and maybe a dozen brilliant ones. I’ll tick them off as I can, but it might take a while. We’ll see.
Let’s go 2015 – prove me wrong. Until then, Stay off my Lawn!