25 January 2015
For the past two years, I’ve been ranking every film I see- just the new releases, from January 1st to December 31st. The rankings are subjective, based entirely on how much I enjoyed and/or connected with or appreciated the film rather than on some sort of objective artistic criteria. Basically, this is a list of 110 films released in 2014 ranked according to how much I liked them.
Read the Full 2014 List HERE.
51. The Lego Movie
This likely would have ranked much higher if I’d seen it when it first came out and let it easily surpass my low expectations. Instead, I saw it on demand in October after months of hearing that it’s the best thing ever, so I mostly thought it was just fine. Clever, cute, visually very impressive with great voice acting and an Awesome signature song (see what I did there?) but mostly just fine. My favourite part was the recurring Superman/Green Lantern gag with Jump Street bros Tatum and Hill. But then I hit act three and act three of The Lego Movie is near perfect.
This overly long biopic/war drama is very Hollywood-softened despite its harrowing tales of 47 days lost at sea and 2 years in a brutal Japanese POW camp. The former is by far the stronger storytelling with the simple but effective combination of steadfast star Jack O’Connell, the superb Finn Wittrock (whose cocky Iceman routine in act one fades reluctantly into a devastatingly pitiable shadow in act two to form the film’s best performance; shockingly only his second best of the year after AHS: Freak Show) and Domhnall Gleeson (a man unequaled in his ability to inspire empathy) alone in two ill-equipped rafts with circling sharks and inexplicably flattering facial hair. The latter half of the movie is plagued by simplistic villainy and Garrett Hedlund whose improbable voice and Captain America performance style make him seem like a transplant from an entirely different movie.
53. When the Game Stands Tall
A good old fashioned five-hankie sports movie. I cried like crazy during this emotionally manipulative tale full of tragedy and triumph and big inspiring speeches (three things that almost always make me cry, not in that order). The fact that it’s a true story helps with the fact that the plot feels a little over-stuffed with Big Moments and the cast features plenty of strong upstarts (I’m rooting for a great career for Alexander Ludwig). The sound editing is also fantastic here, making you listen to the crunch of every tackle, which is unpleasant but effective.
54. The Hundred-Foot Journey
I’m not sure why we’re supposed to believe that the addition of Indian spices to Western recipes is revolutionary but the intersection of curry, rom-coms and things starring the wildly attractive Manish Dayal is where my heart lives so this inevitably won me over despite being fairly preposterous. The story is entirely too by-the-book (Helen Mirren plays a frigid woman with sadness scars, because we’ve Never seen that before) and it goes a few steps past its natural conclusion (did we really have to venture into molecular gastronomy?) but it’s cute and fun and the food looks great and the father character is recognizably infuriating in just the right way. There are a million ways that this movie could have been made better but it’s totally charming nonetheless.
55. Only Lovers Left Alive
This moody, fun, inventive vampire tale oozes cool. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are the year’s most unexpectedly fabulous couple as Adam and Eve who have lived forever through everything and know everyone, only to settle into intolerable ennui in modern day. The plot could use more structure and I don’t usually like things based principally on vibe but this vibe is freaking cool (and nothing starring Tom Hiddleston can ever be ranked much lower than this; that guy is perfect).
56. A Million Ways to Die in the West
I love Seth MacFarlane. I don’t always think everything he thinks is funny is funny, but I generally think he’s smart and fun and just immensely likeable. A Million Ways to Die in the West sums up all those feelings pretty perfectly. There are a lot of jokes I think are simply idiotic and base (not sure collaborators Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild are helping on this front) but that oldschool Seth charm is there in spades and it’s awesome to see him translate that to an actual onscreen performance. There’s a lot that’s terrible about this film (that plot could stand to be a thousand times less predictable) but Seth onscreen bantering anachronistically with Hollywood’s coolest chic Charlize Theron was more than worth the price of admission.
I understand why people like this 12-years-in-the-making slice-of-life film from the great Richard Linklater (whose slice-of-life work I usually love) but I also firmly believe that this is a gimmick film and I whole-heartedly don’t approve of gimmick filmmaking. The plot is at once too dramatic and too dull to function on its own and the characters (the eternally captivating Ethan Hawke aside) are sort of purposely uninteresting. I honestly think that if this film had been made on a traditional timeline with different actors cast to play the titular boy at different stages of his life, but remained otherwise the same, almost no one would like it at all. If a film can’t stand without its gimmick, I have trouble finding a point.
The set dressing and location scouting brilliantly portray the mundanity of warfare in this stripped-down lost-boy saga set during the Irish troubles. It’s graphic, it’s grim and it’s 100 times more visceral than the Hollywoodified Unbroken, which also stars Jack O’Connell as a endangered soldier. If I didn’t find O’Connell so hard to connect with, this film surely would have ranked much higher but there is poignantly nothing for him to lean on here and he failed to capture me on his own.
Another one of those highly lauded things I just didn’t like all that much, Foxcatcher tells a story you would think was outlandish and simplistic if it didn’t have the benefit of being true. Since I don’t think a film’s quality can be determined by a single sentence during the opening credits (“Based on a True Story”), I’m going to stick with my assessment of outlandish and simplistic. Also not very interesting (and pushing this contemporary “challenging pacing” concept WAY too far with an entire scene where two characters repeat the same three words for minutes on end). Channing Tatum’s oafish Olympic wrester Mark is hard to root for (which is not helpful because he’s clearly supposed to be the film’s emotional core) and you know from the get-go not to root for Steve Carell’s eccentric billionaire who’s given just one moment of actual humanity in the whole movie (Carell’s performance might just win him the Oscar but it felt really perform-y to me, like a sketch character in long form rather than a full person). Mark Ruffalo’s Dave is probably the most compelling character (and his relationship with Mark is definitely the film’s strongest storytelling element) but underneath all his physical transformations I could just see Ruffalo the whole time. It may have been a victim of high expectations but this was one of my the biggest letdowns of the year.
The amusing (if formulaic) tale of a courageous online critic whose dedication to truth, no matter how harsh, inspires creativity and changes lives for the better. I didn’t love this movie as much as I wanted to (the food porn was amazing but there wasn’t much more of great interest) but it also sort of validates my entire life so, for that, I love it.
This totally acceptable YA dystopian series-starter is totally acceptable and also totally unnecessary at this point. If you’re a huge fan of the book series, I’m glad they made you a film and I’m glad it’s competent and well-cast (Woodley! Teller! Winslet! Other People!), but at this point all these things are starting to look the same.
62. The F Word
This is the one film on this list that is ranked higher than it probably should be if we’re going strictly with how much I liked it. I HATED this movie. I didn’t think it was funny, the leads had zero chemistry, and I found the premise fairly irresponsible. If you’re attracted to your best friend, you obviously need to leave your boyfriend and be with that person right away. This idea that it’s common for people to befriend someone who would be their partner if they didn’t already have one is just going to cause more problems than it’s worth. This is essentially a movie about people who are wildly un-self-aware, or incredibly cowardly, which is a really frustrating premise. Also the dialogue is way too obsessed with its own contemporary cuteness and is therefore insufferable. HOWEVER, nearly 50 films ranked lower than The F Word, even though I hated it, because I’m very aware that the biggest reason that I hated it was that I was really really looking forward to it. The trailers made this look like my perfect movie- an alt-rom-com-dram set in Toronto with the star/writer of my favourite movie of the last 3 years (Ruby Sparks) and Adam Driver to boot? Yes Please. So the letdown that this was a fairly average, chemistry and insight-free trifle was pretty harsh. If my expectations had been lower, The F Word would have been fine. Still not good, but fine.
63. Bad Words
I don’t know how many more films I can see about arrested development (forgive the Bateman pun) among middle-aged white men with poor social skills, even worse manners and absolutely no boundaries except emotional ones. The premise here is too outlandish to function but Jason Bateman is at his best when playing someone who just doesn’t give a fuck and his adolescent sidekick Rohan Chand is weird and interesting and enough fun to make this movie work all on his own.
64. Labor Day
This Jason Reitman love story about an escaped convict who takes hostage then takes solace in then finds love with a damaged single mother is a little bit draggy and a little too schmaltzy, not to mention less romantic than it thinks it is on account of being foreboding and somewhat violent and definitely sketchy. But the man in question is Josh Brolin and that man can do no wrong, especially when unlocking Kate Winslet in her most refreshingly un-Oscar-grabby role in years. The parts that work Really work (sexy pie making!) but the rest is a little irksome.
65. The Best of Me
If it weren’t for the ridiculously cheesy (and totally over-explained) third-act twist, this Nicholas Sparks romance would have ranked surprisingly higher on this list. It’s one of his most melancholy, which I liked, and, when it comes down to it, what makes a Nicholas Sparks film great or terrible is entirely about casting (The Notebook aside; that one is perfectly cast and I still just really don’t like it). If I’m going to watch a sappy movie romance, there are few people I’d rather see play it than James Marsden. I’ve loved him for nearly as long as Amanda has loved Dawson (this movie, just in case you somehow missed the many trailers, is about high school sweet hearts Amanda and Dawson reunited after 20 years). He’s a quintessential Kelly’s-taste movie dreamboat (others include Corbett and Foley, to give you an idea). What surprised me most was that the younger versions of Amanda and Dawson, who take up half the screentime, didn’t annoy me at all (even though they were detracting from my Marsden time). They were enchanting, really, especially Luke Bracey who has an irresistible young Ledger-like thing going on with his face. It’s a pretty stupid movie, but it’s delectable in a way that Sparks has rarely been since his early-oughts masterwork A Walk to Remember.
66. A Long Way Down
In which four lovely actors of ranging talent levels play suicidal people who aren’t quite believably suicidal because the film they’re in is a sort of feel-good comedy thing. Aaron Paul delivers a knockout moment in the climactic scene, Imogen Poots shows off that beautiful fragility thing she does so well, and the great Toni Collette is the great Toni Collette, slightly overplaying how much she’s underplaying her character’s quiet struggle. Also, Pierce Brosnan in what feels like his 472nd film of the year.
67. Obvious Child
I really really really wanted to like this movie. In her excellent review, Rachael pointed out just how important it is that there are movies willing to show the ugly, gross side of women (which feels like the last frontier of sorts) to match the breadth of male representations in Hollywood. I totally and completely agree with her. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to like them. In fact, it pretty much guarantees that I won’t. I don’t like the male gross-out flicks, why would I like the female version? As much as I sort of care about a movie’s place in social history (see where Gone Girl falls on this list), I don’t care about a movie’s place in social history. I couldn’t relate to Jenny Slate’s crass, irresponsible, juvenile character even a little bit (though I really liked her relationship with Gaby Hoffmann as her compassionate best friend) so, for the same reason I hated Superbad, I just plain didn’t like this movie all that much (I liked Jake Lacy, I guess, but that made it even more annoying because he felt so wildly out of place). I don’t, however, think this film is badly executed, which is why it falls towards the middle and not the end of this list. With the notable exception of Gone Girl, I tried not to let decent movies fall too far down in the rankings, even if I personally couldn’t appreciate them much.
68. Wish I Was Here
This sentimental search-for-happiness movie is just like Garden State but too many years after that film (and its copycats)’s zeitgeist-busting mix of emo absurdity saturated the market and forced our sensibilities away from sentimentality. In 2014, Wish I Was Here feels derivative, hokey and forced, though that doesn’t keep the inherent charms of Zach Braff’s trademark tone from making the film fairly likeable, even if you have to shout down your post-modern critical instincts to be able to enjoy it. Cameos from Jim Parsons and Braff bff Donald Faison are fun and Mandy Patinkin is equal parts frustrating and heartbreaking as Braff’s difficult dad. The most annoying thing about the film is that Braff’s struggling actor protagonist isn’t nearly as interesting as his rock-solid wife (Kate Hudson proving that’s you’ve long been underestimating Kate Hudson) or his lost, isolated, genius cosplaying brother (Josh Gad), both of whom would have made far more interesting leads. Also, that awesome kid from Looper (Pierce Gagnon) plays a fart-loving scamp and it’s amazing.
69. And So It Goes
I love Rob Reiner. He has my favourite directorial attitude, which is “if you’re looking at my shot, you’re not watching my movie”, and I’ll never forget the day I started exploring IMDB and discovered that three of my top five movies of all time were all directed by the same man (in case you’re wondering: A Few Good Men, When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride, in that order). The trouble with Rob Reiner is that he remains staunchly the man who directed those classics and thus his current work, like the vaguely titled And So It Goes, feels like throwback filmmaking (he’s even remained loyal to his composer Marc Shaiman and his lush, oldschool scoring style). With its ageing stars and 90s style (including As Good as It Gets screenwriter Mark Andrus), And So It Goes is dated upon arrival. But I loved the 90s and the sentimentality that permeated filmmaking in that era so, even though I knew exactly where it was going and how it would get there, I really enjoyed And So It Goes (though the title could not be worse).
70. Earth to Echo
I’m definitely feeling the found footage fatigue but this charming coming-of-age adventure uses the trope-y medium in neat ways to make a big budget concept into a coolly low-fi film. I would have liked the girl to be either more integral to the friendship dynamic at the centre of the movie or removed completely (as it is she feels like a strange “we need a girl” last minute addition) and I wanted to know a bit more about the big bad government guys chasing our heroes down, but the point of this movie is the sweetness of the three-dude friendship that’s about to be torn apart and the overwhelming cuteness of the robot alien thing that is either named “echo” or “beep” (found footage is so confusing sometimes, guys!). It’s ET for a generation guided by smartphones and Google, but if Elliott had more friends and less candy. Also, My Cinema’s very own Hollywood bigshot Rachael worked on this movie, which makes it the coolest.