Monday, January 12, 2015

Film Year In Review--2014

Time for our eagerly awaited film wrap-up for 2014.  It's a bit later than other critics' because I see movies with regular folks at the cineplex. I did miss a few notable titles, but not so many that this list is pointless (I hope).

Overall, not a great year.  I had to scrape to come up with a top ten.  On the other hand, there was a lot of bizarre stuff out there--plenty of the films I didn't like were at least different.

Before we get to the fun, a few ground rules.  I discuss only feature films released or first made widely available in U.S. theatres in 2014.  No TV, no shorts.  I'll give out some awards, note some trends, tell you which films were good, bad or ugly, and then list my top ten.  You can rush to the bottom right now, but really, most of the best stuff is along the way.

Feel free to leave a comment, whether you agree with me or not--in fact, comments tend to be better when you don't agree.

2014 AWARDS:

Performance Of The Year: Edward Norton in Birdman.  In a film a clef, his performance, making fun of the serious actor known as Edward Norton, shows how good an actor he is.

Star Of The Year: Shailene Woodley, carrying two hits, Divergent--first in a franchise--and The Fault In Our Stars.  Three tied for second--Kevin Hart, who starred Ride Along, About Last Night and Think Like A Man Too; Chris Pratt, lead in Guardians Of The Galaxy and lead voice in The Lego Movie; and Bradley Cooper, a voice in Guardians Of The Galaxy and showing a new side in American Sniper.

Creepiest Performer Of The Year: Jake Gyllenhaal, who got to star in two very creepy films, Nightcrawler and Enemy. (This award does not imply Mr. Gyllenhaal is himself creepy.)

Most Distracting Supporting Role: Oprah Winfrey in Selma. Sorry, but she's one of the most famous faces in America, so every time the film cuts to her, you're thinking "what is Oprah doing here?"

Song Of The Year: "Hate The Sport" from We Are The Best!  Couldn't find a video of it, so let's watch runner-up "Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie.

Third place, "I Love You All" from Frank.

Best Sequel: A Trip To Italy

Worst Sequel: A very competitive category, and the winner is Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb--if you watch closely you can see Ben Stiller planning what he'll have for dinner.

Worst Reboot: Godzilla, just edging out Robocop.

Put It Out Of Its Misery Award: I don't see the point in any more Planet Of The Apes movies.

Weirdest Premise: Snowpiercer, where an attempt to fight global warming puts the entire Earth into a deep freeze, and the only people left alive are those aboard a train that travels around the globe.

Oddest Choice Of Director: In the tradition that brought us John Huston's Annie and Sir Richard Attenborough's A Chorus Line, we now have Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys.

Most Generic Title: Men, Women & Children (though quite descriptive in listing the people who avoided this film).

Trend Of The Year: Films with religious themes, both small ones that made good money (such as Heaven Is For Real) and epics (Noah, Exodus: Gods And Kings).

Worst Trend: Movies over two hours.  Maybe not a new trend, but it seemed this year that a whole bunch of films were longer than necessary.  Length does not equal significance.  Don't forget, Citizen Kane was under two hours.  Very few films over two hours wouldn't be improved by another trip to editing.

Best Opening, or How To Begin (Again) Your Movie: Begin Again, where down-on-his luck music producer Mark Ruffalo hears the bare bones of a song sung by Keira Knightley and imagines it with full orchestration. (Too bad the rest of the film didn't live up to it.)

Weirdest Part In The Middle Of A Film: Under The Skin.  Better to see the whole thing, but click on this link for the spoiler.

Most Memorable Ending: Enemy. This captures most people's reaction.

Here it actually is, but warning--it's a huge spoiler, and meaningless out of context (and, some would say, in context).

Film Hardest To Judge As A Film: The Interview

Worst Plot: Big Hero 6.  Teenage Hiro creates microbots that can form any structure he thinks of through a neurotransmitter.  Does he use this to become an instant billionaire, since it's a thousand time more amazing than any invention ever?  No, he just hopes it'll be impressive enough to get him into college.  But his invention is stolen by the villain, who fights Hiro with the awesome power of...Hiro's own microbots.  That's the best the villain can do?  Why doesn't Hiro build more of them, or just turn off the neurotransmitter--it's his invention, after all.  His friends help out, but they're worthless--the only real power they have comes from the weaponized costumes Hiro makes for them (with the help of a ray that Hiro created which is the only invention as amazing as his microbots).  Then there's Baymax--the inflatable health-care robot that's the big invention of Hiro's dear departed brother--who gets to join the fight because Hiro adds weapons to his design that would work just as well on an inner tube. The team finally wins and what's the upshot?  Hiro destroys the microbots, which could have been the greatest boon humanity has ever known, and keeps one copy of Baymax, rather than build a billion, which would provide the world with better health care as Hiro's brother intended.

Biggest Moneymaking Film I Couldn't Force Myself To See, Not Even At A Sub-Run Theatre: Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Most Well-Reviewed Art Film I Couldn't Force Myself To See: Locke. I'm sorry, the guy is in his car the whole movie.

Jason Statham Award For Actor Who Appears In One Bad Film After Another But Still Manages To Be Appealing: Olivia Wilde in Third Person, Better Living Through Chemistry and The Longest Week, all disasters according to Rotten Tomatoes.

Bulworth Award For Most Undigested Lumps Of Political Blather That Stop The Movie Dead But Are Meant To Be Taken Seriously: Dear White People

Saving Mr. Banks Award For A Story With An Interesting Present That Spends Too Much Time Flashing Back So We Can Discover Why The Protagonist Is Such A Whiner: Wild

House Of Sand And Fog Award For Miserable People Doing Miserable Things That Ends Up In Misery: Foxcatcher

You Me And Dupree Award For The Film That While Nominally A Hollywood Comedy Is Actually A Surrealist Masterpiece Where Plot Points Are Introduced And Dropped For No Reason, Dialogue Is Unrelated To The Action, And Characters Do Things That Bear No Resemblance To How Humans Act: Adam Sandler wins for the second year in a row with Blended.

Worst Trailer For A Good Film: Guardians Of The Galaxy.  Looked pretty dopey to me, but it worked in the film.

Worst Framing Device: The Grand Budapest Hotel.  We had to go through an awful lot of nonsense to get to the actual story.

Lamest Enemy: Still the Orcs from The Hobbit.  They look scary, but I swear their heads come off if you just threaten to swing a sword at them.

Good Timing Award: Selma.  It came out just as there were street protests in the news, allowing critics across the nation to make facile connections.


Titles That Are Names: Ernest & Celestine, Veronica Mars, Joe, Ida, Lucy, Frank, St. Vincent, John Wick, Annie, Selma

Color My World: Mood Indigo, Blue Ruin, Dear White People

Canine Titles: Mr. Peabody & Sherman, The Rover, Foxcatcher, Into The Woods, The Dog

Not Very Bright: Nightcrawler, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Night At The Museum, About Last Night, Magic In The Moonlight, Moms' Night Out

What Global Warming?: Winter's Tale, Cold In July, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Snowpiercer

Powers Of TenThe Hundred-Foot Journey, The Grand Seduction, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Million Dollar Arm, A Million Ways To Die In The West

Villain Of Choice: The Russians--John Wick, The Equalizer, Let's Be Cops, The Drop and even the Russian film Leviathan

Cleverly Titled Sequels: Think Like A Man Too, Dumb And Dumber To (Dumb And Dumberer was taken),

Food Porn (aka The Hunger Games): Chef, Land Ho!, A Trip To Italy, The Hundred-Foot Journey, What If

City Of The Year: Detroit--my hometown--featured, not always happily, in Need For Speed, Robocop, Only Lovers Left Alive (where we even get a vampire tour), Lost River and Brick Mansions.

Country Of The Year: India, as seen in The Hundred-Foot Journey, I Origins and Million Dollar Arm, not to mention the crossover Indian hit PK.

Profession Of The Year: Tie.  Painter, as seen in Mr. Turner, Big Eyes and (sort of) National Gallery and The Monuments Men, and chef as seen in Chef, Le Chef and The Hundred-Foot Journey.

Actresses Of A Certain Age Get To Play Leaders In Teenage Dystopias: Kate Winslet in Divergent, Julianne Moore in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay--Part 1, Patricia Clarkson in The Maze Runner and Meryl Streep in The Giver.

When A Parent Dies It's A Good Chance To Go Back To Your Small Hometown, Meet Old Friends And Lovers And Take Stock: This Is Where I Leave You, The Judge, Are You Here

It's Safe To Go Out Again: The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies was released, putting an end to the trilogy, thus guaranteeing there's no chance any longer we'll walk into a theatre and see a Hobbit film by mistake.

Ghosts On The Screen: James Gandolfini in The Drop, Robin Williams in A Night In The Musuem: Secret Of The Tomb, Paul Walker in Brick Mansions, Chris Penn (!) in Aftermath, Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man, God's Pocket and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay--Part 1.

Got A Problem?  Go Back In Time: Edge Of Tomorrow (they now wish they could go back in time and rename it Live Die Repeat), X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Interstellar, Predestination, Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Isn't Aging AmazingBoyhood, Interstellar, Captain America, Predestination

Counting The Days (Films Very Concerned With You Knowing What Day It Is): 3 Days To Kill, Into The Woods, Aftermath, The Gambler, Force Majeure (but not Two Days, One Night)

Frat Humor: 22 Jump Street, Neighbors

Searching For Parents Killed In GenocideIda, Chaplin Of The Mountains

Weird Science: Lucy, Transcendence, I Origins, Snowpiercer

Physics Lectures: Interstellar, A Theory Of Everything, Transcendence, Big Hero 6

It's Okay To Kill Kids: Fury, American Sniper, Annie (just kidding about the last one)

Musicians Breaking Down On Stage: Whiplash, Frank, Get On Up

Black Filmmakers Attacking Tyler Perry: Top Five, Dear White People

Crime Was More Fun When We Were Young: Rob The Mob, Inherent Vice, Life Of Crime, A Most Violent Year

Learn To Cut Your Wrist Properly Or You Won't DieThe Skeleton Twins, Calvary

Attempted Suicide With Pills: Men, Women & Children, The Skeleton Twins, Two Nights, One Day

Lee Pace Wants A Shiny Orb To Help Him Rule: Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

Nothing Is As Spooky As A Doppelganger: The Double (natch), Enemy, The Babadook

Swimming In Someone Else's Pool: Wish I Was Here, The One I Love

Major Musicians Of The Rock Era Like To Talk To The Camera: Jersey Boys, Get On Up

Start The Film With Drums: Whiplash, Birdman

There's Nothing Like Getting High With Those Close To You If You Want To Connect With Them: The Skeleton Twins, Are You Here, This Is Where I Leave You



The Wind Rises, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Captain American: The Winter Soldier, Finding Vivian Maier, Only Lovers Left Alive, Chef, Calvary, We Are The Best, Nightcrawler, PK, American Sniper


The Lego Movie, Ernest & Celestine, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Enemy, Cheap Thrills, Draft Day, Under The Skin, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Chinese Puzzle, 22 Jump Street, Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon, Chaplin Of The Mountains, Life Itself, Mood Indigo, Lucy, Land Ho!, The Rover, The Dog, What If, A Trip To Italy, Life Of Crime, Are You Here, Let’s Be Cops, The Maze Runner, Gone Girl, Whiplash, Harmontown, Fury, Interstellar, Listen Up Philip, The Imitation Game, Top Five, Walk Of Shame, Magician: The Astonishing Life And Work Of Orson Welles, The Babadook, Wild, Mr. Turner, Force Majeure, Annie, Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, Into The Woods, The Interview, Leviathan, Two Days One Night, Predestination
Not Okay:

The Monuments Men, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, About Last Night,  3 Days To Kill, Non-Stop, Ride Along, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Bad Words, Veronica Mars, Sparks, Divergent, Muppets Most Wanted, Rob The Mob, Robocop, Joe, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sabotage, The Double, God’s Pocket, Neighbors, Need For Speed, Transcendence, 300: Rise Of An Empire, Cold In July, A Million Ways To Die In The West, The Grand Seduction, Trust Me, Jersey Boys, The Other Woman, Million Dollar Arm, They Came Together, Obvious Child, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Begin Again, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Blended, A Man Most Wanted, I Origins, Wish I Was Here, Magic In The Moonlight, Get On Up, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Rich Hill, Frank, Maleficent, Starred Up, The Drop, The Skeleton Twins, This Where I Leave You, The Equalizer, A Walk Among The Tombstones, Men, Women & Children, St. Vincent, Guiseppe Makes A Movie, Dear White People, John Wick, Big Hero 6, Foxcatcher, The Giver, The Theory Of Everything, The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1, Horrible Bosses 2, No No: A Dockumentary, Winter's Tale, The Legend Of Hercules, That Awkward Moment, Aftermath, Inherent Vice, The Judge, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Exodus: Gods And Kings, The Gambler, Big Eyes, Selma, Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb, A Most Violent Year, Rio 2, Pompeii, Moms' Night Out
TOP TEN (In Alphabetical Order):


Inarritu has always been experimental, but he's so often been grim.  Good to see him spread his wings and have some fun.

Blue Ruin

It doesn't take a lot of money to make a good crime drama, just character and plot.

The Book Of Life

It wasn't a great year for animation, so who would have guessed this relatively unheralded film would work so well. It's got a vibrant look, a well-told story and emotional punch.


Could have been an intriguing experiment that failed. Instead, it works as a film even without the trickery.

Edge Of Tomorrow

Groundhog Day as an action film?  Why not.  Too bad it seemed to get lost in the shuffle.

Guardians Of The Galaxy

With all the tired comic book sequels out there, this showed how it's supposed to be done.


Not exactly the feel-good film of the year (even if it had been shot in color it would have felt like black and white), but powerful.

The One I Love

A mystery mix with romance.  I know it was low budget, but I'm surprised it didn't catch on.


It threatened to be a heavy-handed allegory. Instead, it was a sprightly action-comedy, and though you knew where they were going, you were never sure what they'd see along the way, or what they'd find when they got there.

Song Of The Sea

It's a new story, but it felt like an ancient Irish folk tale


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good wrapup. Everything is awesome.

The worst plot was Draft Day, where Kevin Costner makes a stupid trade and then saves the day when someone else makes an even stupider trade to help him out.

11:52 PM, January 11, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to the next Planet of the Apes

4:06 AM, January 12, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I would like to know if ranking "The Interview" as Okay was a patriotic act, or there really is an okay movie there (I haven't seen it).

Also, "Intersteller" could also show up in your "Go Back in Time" Trand category. I'd say Intersteller was my favorite film of the second havlf of the year, but I haven't seen a lot of the Oscar-bait.

8:44 AM, January 12, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

My guess is I might have like The Interview more without all the baggage. And I'm going to add Interstellar to the go back in time category.

9:04 AM, January 12, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that short clip from What If ends "...or one Elvis". Got to go now to make some fool's gold.

9:25 AM, January 12, 2015  
Anonymous Todd said...

Before I get to The Big Praise, a couple other miscellaneous items:

1. I was more-than-I-should-be pleased that a certain movie involving Preadolescent Irradiated Martial Arts Terrapins was nowhere to be found in your year-end review. Cowa--! Er, thank you!

2. I'm surprised there was no category for Emily Blunt, such as Most Buzzable Actress Approaching A Bankable Apex, i.e., I seem to hear a lot about how she is often the favorite element of any movie she appears in.

And, finally, here it is:

3. THE BIG PRAISE: As always, year after year, this is not only an impressive feat (seeing so many movies in the theater) and an impressive list...'s quite an impressive piece of writing as well.

So much so that I'll say this: This blows away most professional movie critics when it comes to year-end roundups.

Just a LOT more entertaining to read.

Which leads me to wonder: Why aren't YOU doing this professionally?

Just sayin'...

9:27 AM, January 12, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

There were a few categories I cut at the last second, such as best actress with the worst year--it'd either have been Naomi Watts or Jessica Chastain, who weren't at their best. But maybe I could have contrasted it with Emily Blunt, who had a fine year, appearing in two good films. I don't think, however, that Hollywood feels she can carry something on her own, though.

It's true, I'm giving this away for free, but I do get paid for writing the occasional piece, so, if nothing else, the blog sharpens my skills.

10:58 AM, January 12, 2015  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Alas, Todd, you've identified a market failure, a serious one. I suppose the shocking thing is how often those happen, and the irritating thing is the one tool we have to do anything about it can't do anything except make it worse.

Of course for LAGuy the irritating thing is he isn't paid.

3:14 PM, January 12, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone once asked Richard Schickel how do you define a professional film critic. He replied anyone who writes on film and figures out how to get paid.

3:33 PM, January 12, 2015  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

There should be some kind of award for Peter Jackson, who now has a perfect record: six Tolkien movies, each of which was worse than its predecessor.

Even George Lucas wasn't able to maintain that level of consistency, although their second trilogies are pretty close in their levels of awfulness.

8:01 PM, January 13, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

Lucas almost has it:

Empire Strikes Back > New Hope > Return of Jedi > Phantom Menace > Attack Clones > Revenge Sith

But I didn't realize there was so much animus toward Peter Jackson's films here. I've been pretty happy with all of them, though unlike LOTR, in which the extended cuts are better than the theatrical release (at least for home watching), the Hobbit trilogy should have been two films at most.

Fellowship of Ring > Two Towers > Return of King > Desolation of Smaug > Five Armies > Hobbit There and Back

8:20 AM, January 14, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Empire is still not better than the original, and Phantom Menace is the worst in any case.

9:16 AM, January 14, 2015  
Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I sort of like Phantom. Most of the scenes with young Aniken are hard to watch, but otherwise I thought it created a full portrait of the galaxy before the Empire. I thought Darth Maul was a good villain, and the final duel was great. Phantom is the one of the prequels I will rewatch once in a while. Petulant Aniken in episodes II and III is too hard to live through again.

2:37 PM, January 14, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edward Norton was very good, but the performance of the year was
JK Simmons in Whiplash. Powerful, visceral, and real. Amazing.

How did you not love Whiplash?? Also I loved St. Vincent. What was your issue with that film???
-NJ guy

12:05 PM, January 22, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Sorry I'm so late in responding, NJ guy, but that's what you get for commenting once something is off the scroll.

JK Simmons was great. So was Mark Ruffalo. It's just too bad the three top performances of the year were all in the male supporting category.

As for the whole movie, I said Whiplash was okay--most films don't get ranked that high. It was certainly intense, but sort of a one-note movie (and not that believable).

I found St. Vincent very disappointing. Bill Murray can certainly be great, but he's far from his best in this half-baked tear jerker. We've seen this sort of plot before (gruff guy and young kid bond), and done better.

1:46 AM, March 09, 2015  

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