By Tanner Smith
It’s that time of year! The time I feel like a true critic. The time to recap the films I saw this year. So let’s start off this wonderful time of the year with…my Least Favorite Films of 2014.
For starters, the runners-up (the films I can only give mixed reviews to)—(Divergent, Little Accidents, Magic in the Moonlight, The Monuments Men, Non-Stop and…Interstellar; I’m sorry, but the film just didn’t work for me very well)
5. Devil’s Knot—Probably the most redundant film of the year, a fictional narrative based on the West Memphis 3 trials. We’ve already had many great, hard-hitting, harrowing documentaries (the Paradise Lost trilogy and West of Memphis) covering this subject of three young men given unfair trials in the face of an angry public who cried out for blood after a grisly murder. This film doesn’t tell us anything we haven’t seen or heard before in a more compelling documentary.
4. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones—I had a little bit of hope for this current “Paranormal Activity” sequel, as its surreal terror was moved to a more interesting location (the ghetto rather than suburbia). But my hopes were dashed when I saw where it story was going. It’s one thing if it’s repetitive of the earlier films’ formulas; it’s another if the story has enough material to make you laugh rather than quiver. This “scary” film has: a Simon game that can communicate with spirits; gangsters going up against witches; and even time-travel.
3. That Awkward Moment—A dumb romantic comedy mainly from the perspective of the guys, but unfortunately, no matter what viewpoint it’s from, the film still doesn’t escape the typical romcom clichés I’m tired of seeing. And seriously, why would Zac Efron’s character wear that embarrassing costume to a party he knows his girlfriend’s family and friends are attending?
2. Life After Beth—A definite disappointment for me because I’ve always found Aubrey Plaza to be very funny and appealing. But as a zombified “angry girlfriend,” she is just flat-out irritating in this would-be comedy about a lonely guy (Dane Dehaan) getting another chance at his lost love. Despite the reliable cast (which also includes John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, and Anna Kendrick) and an engaging premise, the film is a mess. There are too many scenes of people either saying and doing things that hardly make sense, its attempts at broad comedy just result in awkwardness and everyone being loud and annoying, and even when it looks like there’s going to be a bright spot (supplied by Anna Kendrick who’s usually always lovable), and the script needed a lot of work as it clearly doesn’t know where to go and where to stay. I hope Joe Dante’s upcoming film with a similar premise (entitled “Burying the Ex”) is much better.
And my Least Favorite Film of 2014 is…
1. Men, Women & Children—Just thinking about this film makes me cringe. It’s well-intentioned about how society relies so much on social media but it’s handled all wrong in a heavy-handed way. Great acting from talent such as Adam Sandler, Rosemarie Dewitt, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, among others, can’t save this film from its laughable script and poor attempt at social commentary. It’s lame, tedious, pretentious, and about as effective and informative about society as “Reefer Madness!” Yeah I said it. I hate this film, and the sooner this cast and their director (Jason Reitman) can move on from it, the better.
I Liked It, You Didn’t: Horrible Bosses 2, A Night in Old Mexico
You Liked It, I Didn’t: Interstellar
Film I Didn’t Expect to Enjoy But Did: About Last Night, The Purge: Anarchy
Could’ve Been Better: Non-Stop
Best Musical Moment: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig’s dance to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from The Skeleton Twins
Funniest Scene: Groot’s smile from Guardians of the Galaxy (with Channing Tatum’s joyous reaction from 22 Jump Street and the chain-link fence gag from Horrible Bosses 2 as honorable mentions)
Most Overstuffed Story: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Creepiest Moment: The moment of truth in Oculus
Most Memorable Song: “Everything is Awesome” from Lego Movie
Best Performance of the Year: J.K. Simmons in Whiplash
Haven’t Seen Yet But Would Like To: Big Hero 6, Citizenfour, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Foxcatcher, Fury, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Inherent Vice, A Most Wanted Man, A Most Violent Year, St. Vincent, Top Five, Unbroken, and Wild
Special Mention #1: Mark Thiedeman’s Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls. This tender 40-minute coming-of-age comedy-drama is quite honestly one of my personal favorite films of this or any year, which is why it’s unfortunate that it only has one previous screening (so far), this past summer’s Little Rock Film Festival (where it received the award for Best Arkansas Film). Here’s hoping for more to come in 2015, because more people need to see it! I just can’t recommend this film enough.
Special Mention #2: Taylor Feltner’s Man Shot Dead is a terrific documentary I also noticed at the LRFF (it also screened recently at the Indie Memphis Film Festival). I really hope it moves on to even more screenings in 2015 because, again, this is a film more people need to see!
Five Terrific LRFF-Selected Short Films (in alphabetical order): Tara Sheffer’s 13 Pieces of the Universe, David Bogard’s A Matter of Honor, Caleb Fanning’s Origin, Bruce Hutchinson’s Sidearoadia, John Hockaday’s Stuck
But wait! Shouldn’t I list my favorite films of the year already?
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): 22 Jump Street, Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Joe, Lego Movie, To Kill a Man, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Oh, and I liked these as well: About Last Night, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Before I Disappear, Big Eyes, The Book of Life, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Fault in Our Stars, Godzilla, The Heart Machine, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Muppets Most Wanted, Neighbors, A Night in Old Mexico, Oculus, The Sacrament, The Signal, The Skeleton Twins
Okay, enough stalling. There are my Top 10 Favorite Films of 2014.
10. Locke—Not the most exciting concept (a man goes on a long drive alone in the dark, making decisions through cellphone calls that will ruin his life) but nonetheless brought to life with much dramatic tension put into its writing and a top-notch performance by Tom Hardy, leading an effective one-man show.
9. American Sniper—In my opinion, it’s Clint Eastwood’s best film in a long while and Bradley Cooper’s best work. I can’t say enough about how good Cooper is or how riveting the war-action sequences are in this film. What’s a true relief about this film is that, like the more subtle war films, it doesn’t have an interest in politics; it makes every scene personal and lets you decide for yourself what you’re supposed to feel. A gripping picture.
8. Nightcrawler—A compelling, disturbingly effective character study and a well-made, tense thriller, as well as a fitting satire on news media. Great leading performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy—This Marvel-superhero film was definitely one of the most fun times I’ve had at the movies this year. It’s action-packed, it has solid characterization, it’s full of heart, and arguably more important, it has a sense of humor. Instead of going for an epic story, it’s more in the spirit of “why not” with its giddiness. This may just be our generation’s “Ghostbusters,” and that’s a compliment indeed.
6. Whiplash—This was a riveting, intense film about striving for greatness, being pushed too far to achieve it, and the conflict of hardly knowing when to draw the line. The film is less of a sports formula drama and more of a tense thriller. J.K. Simmons, as a tough jazz instructor, gives the performance of a lifetime.
5. The Imitation Game—All in one, this film is an intriguing film about a previously unsung hero, a WWII tale told not with fighting strategy (nor does it even take place on the front) but with intellectual thought, and an unnerving portrait of how ignorance based on a person’s offbeat personality/behavior can blind the fact that that person’s activities saved millions of lives. Great screenplay and a top-notch performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing.
4. Birdman—A truly fantastic film that takes us behind the scenes of a difficult Broadway production and through the mindset of a hard-working, washed-up actor looking for redemption. Remarkable cinematography, excellent acting, and an environment that sucks you in—a film that definitely deserves to be checked out.
3. Rich Hill—I’ve seen films try and truly capture what it’s like growing up in the South, but this documentary shows the real deal in a hard but sensitive journey into the lives of three teenage boys who live in Rich Hill, Missouri. The result is one of the finest films of this or any year.
2. Life Itself—It was fascinating to find out all the things I didn’t know about one of my late heroes, film critic Roger Ebert, through this documentary based on his memoirs. It gives us a talking-head approach with interviews from people from his life before giving us a fly-on-the-wall perspective to see just how much Roger suffered during the final months and years of his life; sometimes it was hard to watch. The commentary near the end, by Roger’s wife Chaz, is one of the most heartbreaking I’ve heard in any documentary. Four stars for the story of Roger Ebert.
And my favorite film of 2014 is…
1. Boyhood—This is like the ultimate slice-of-life picture: presenting little moments in the arc of a boy growing into a man. I’m aware of its history and that it took a few days a year for 12 years to get that genuine chronological feel, but I would never label “Boyhood” as a gimmick film. It’s a moving, intimate epic about coming of age. There were times when I felt like I knew this kid or even was this kid. It spoke to me, touched me deeply, and is the absolute best film I’ve seen all year.