2014 at the Movies: The Best, the Worst, and Everything Else - PART 1
How will 2014 at the movies be remembered? On the surface, it might look like any other year: a mixed bag in the early months, followed by an energetic summer season, an intellectual fall festival circuit, and a final blast of Oscar contenders in the closing weeks. But that summary glazes over a lot of 2014’s cinematic achievements, including game-changing works like Boyhood and Birdman, smart crowd-pleasers like Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy, and contributions from some of our favourite filmmakers (David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan and Wes Anderson).
As you may know, I’m not the only reviewer contributing to this site. So I asked Jason Chen to collaborate with me on a year-in-review piece, in the tradition of many of our favourite film sites. Over the past two weeks, we’ve been talking back and forth about some of the more notable movies from 2014, including what we loved and what we hated. Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing that conversation in a multi-part series, presented for your reading pleasure. Don’t forget to tell us in the comments which movies we might have missed, and what you thought of the year’s movie offerings!
Here we go! Before we make any big statements about the themes that have emerged over the past year, how about we list some of the movies we liked the most? Just to get it started, some of my favourites include:
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- John Wick
- The Guest
And here’s a few I really didn’t like:
- 300: Rise of an Empire
- American Heist
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Monuments Men
- Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
How about you?
Full disclosure: I've been terrible this year with movies and didn't get the see a lot of the ones I wanted to. Richard Linklater's Boyhood, specifically. Part of the reason is that 2014's roster of films just weren't particularly strong as a whole.
I can't really list favourites or dislikes like you, because even in some of the best films I tend to find things that annoy me (if only a little bit) and in awful films I (sometimes) can find one or two things that I really liked or found really funny.
I am still supremely jealous that I missed out on a lot of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) stuff, though I did catch Foxcatcher and it was very good.
I'm usually pretty good at picking movies at the theatre, so I don't really regret paying for any of them, but I'll agree that 300: Rise of an Empire was easily the worst, though like the original 300 it ranks quite highly on the unintentionally funny scale. It's not like you went into Rise of an Empire with high expectations though, so I think that has to be a factor.
I'm sure there were worse films this year than the 300 “prequel-sidequel-sequel” (a compound term that hurts my soul), but it's definitely at the bottom of what I watched myself. Granted, we shouldn't expect much from the series, but I was still disappointed by how they managed to remove the one thing that made the first 300 watchable: the quotable, cheesy one-liners! No amount of Eva Green topless scenes can make up for that.
I will play along and tell you the five films I enjoyed the most, or at least exceeded my expectations: Foxcatcher, Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Nightcrawler.
Rather than tell you which ones I didn’t like (if I had to pick, it might be Transformers: Age of Extinction) I’ll tell you which ones I think are completely overrated: The Lego Movie and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
While I appreciate the animation, voice work, premise, etc. of The Lego Movie, I didn’t really feel like it was a movie for all ages. It was still clearly targeted towards kids, and it’s not something I would go see with my 20-something male buddies. I didn’t like the ending, when the humans just kind of appeared out of nowhere, and preaching individualism is a lesson I outgrew in high school.
Don’t tell me you're going to play a "Lego Movie is for kids" card! I felt that going in to a movie about toys, you have to acknowledge that we're not dealing with adult themes, and just try to lose yourself. That's also why I appreciated the live action bit at the end - for me, it was a subtle reminder to all the adult fans of Lego out there who spend hundreds of hours obsessing over detailed models, and won't admit they're playing with a toy.
I will allow, though, that by introducing that angle suddenly at the end is problematic. Up until that point, it seems like everything we've seen is happening in some sort of self-contained Lego universe, but then with the live-action kid, the movie seems to be saying that the events of the story were all happening in his imagination as he was playing. And if that’s the case, why does the Emmett figure (voiced by Chris Pratt) "come to life"? Unlike Toy Story, it wasn't totally clear what was real and what wasn't.
I am going to play the "Lego Movie is for kids" card because there are so many other movies that capture kids and adults more effectively, including most of the Pixar films. But you really hit the nail on the head - I didn't like that the movie wasn't in its own self-contained universe. Very few films can pull off mixing animation with live-action. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Space Jam are two that pop into mind, but those were films that began with a human universe and introduced cartoon characters rather than vice versa.
I'll concede that older audiences will find The Lego Movie enjoyable, but it really just wasn't for me. The Lego universe itself should be diverse and creative enough to not have real-life Will Ferrell come and ruin it. You made a great point about how it felt like the movie was just a part of Finn's imagination (he is the Master Builder, after all), and I have to point out that this was exactly the same point that sank St. Elsewhere.
I also couldn't stomach the preaching - Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) as the villain? Yeah, what better way to endear yourself to an audience by bashing big business (the flavour du jour of the 21st century) when the movie is an advertisement vehicle for a private for-profit company that's worth close to $15 billion? That's not even mentioning the old trick of having the no-fun adult be the villain. The film was really meta and certainly took time to poke fun at itself, but “big evil corporation” is just too easy a target. It’s been like this since the Occupy movements and the financial crisis. Though, admittedly, I love Lego and it's one of the best toys out there.
As for The Grand Budapest Hotel, it was your typical Wes Anderson film, and I’m positive I’ve told you this before, but he really hasn’t shown much range beyond his quirky narrative and visual style. It works for him, but I wish he’d show a little more range or take a few more risks, and this film absolutely pales in comparison to The Royal Tenenbaums, which I still think is his best film by a wide margin. Moonrise Kingdom was also superior.
I'll always be an apologist for Wes Anderson, as you know, and I do remember talking about The Grand Budapest Hotel with you when it came out. I'm fine with Anderson continuing along his current course. He's one of those voices in film who, yes, has an established style, but I find it refreshing when he delivers another dose of his signature work every few years - his films really help break up whatever else is in theatres at the time. I'm curious, though: when you say range, do you mean you'd rather see him do something with a small cast or some big, sweeping themes? What kind of thing would you most like to see Anderson tackle?
Don't you get tired of Anderson’s same static camera angles and pastel colour palettes? Unlike you, I don't find anything refreshing about it. It's the same angles, the same edits, the same characters and the same children's storybook feel. As for what I'd like to see him tackle... hmm, good question. It's hard to say, but I'd like to see him move the camera around a little and everything about his films seems so choreographed (from dialogue to simple movements) it feels almost unnatural. I like to see characters go through some sort of progression, much like Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums. Zero (Tony Revolori) and M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) just didn't pull at the heartstrings as much.
I think I see Anderson as refreshing when you take him in alongside everything else. A lot of people compared the effect of The Grand Budapest Hotel to those colourful pastries that M. Gustave likes so much: they’re like intricate dessert movies that we sample from time to time amid all the other cinematic "food". You're right, though: Gustave doesn't have much of an emotional arc: he always has the same outlook on life, and is just subjected to a series of wacky events.
Yes, Anderson’s style has jelled around specific camera angles and colours, but there's something about the level of detail, the pacing and the deadbeat humour that appeals to me every time.
I would probably say I get bored a little more easily than you, but I like going into the movies and being presented with something fresh. When directors become too predictable it generally turns me off. The same goes for sequels, which is why I generally dislike them. Don’t get me wrong, I think Anderson is quite brilliant, but unlike Christopher Nolan pushing the boundaries of IMAX, or Alejandro Iñárritu attempting to make movies with one continuous shot, or Ridley Scott showing off his versatility, Anderson is perfectly comfortable sticking to his specialties.
Anderson hasn’t made anything that’s made me throw up my arms in anger, but I wouldn’t say Grand Budapest was refreshing. You know how some kids have that one storybook they HAVE to listen to before going to bed, and no matter how hard you try to introduce something new they only want THAT particularly storybook? That’s Anderson. (Admittedly, I was that kid once). Yeah, he’s very different from all the other directors out there, I’ll give you that, but he’s not the only one with a distinct visual style.
That does it for this first part of our conversation – in the next post, we move on from bright colours of the Lego universe and the majestic Grand Budapest, and consider some of the films we didn’t like from the spring, and then dig into some summer blockbuster talk. As always, join the discussion in the comments section, and if you like this series, share it with your friends and followers!