Tuesday 30 December 2014

The NUTS4R2 Review of 2014

Okay. I’m not one, much, for looking back at the year gone by. However, I’ve had the usual requests by various people who wanted to know what my picks were this year. So, for those interested in such things, here’s my Top Twenty, in ascending order, of the best new movies this year. Or at least, the best new cinema releases.

Now I have to clear up a couple of things first. There were two movies I saw last year, which made the 2013 list, that would have gone in this year’s list if I’d have had to wait until their official release dates. I’m talking specifically about The Strange Colour Of Your Body’s Tears (reviewed here) and Jodorowsky’s Dune (reviewed here). Similarly, if I’d have been able to get tickets to the various advance screenings last year, one of my picks for this year, Under The Skin, would also have made last year’s list. So, anyway, if you’re wondering why the two amazing movies I’ve mentioned above aren’t included here... that’s why. They were on last year’s list. They would have both been near the top of this year’s list too, I think.

So... I’ll start off with my Top Twenty in Ascending Order, up to the number one spot, followed by a quick list of Honourable Mentions and then a small section of my Most Disappointing films of 2014. Here we go...

Top Twenty 
Movies of 2014

20. Incompresa (Misunderstood)
This brilliant tale of a child “out of groove” with her problematic family, perhaps a semi-autobiographical film in some ways, was directed by Asia Argento, daughter of Dario. True to form, she proves herself at least the equal of her famous father and, in this one, tells a story of childhood incidents with a certain intimacy and deftness of touch. My review of this one is here. 

19. The Quiet Ones
This one’s pretty scary and I’m glad it’s one of the few, in my humble opinion, of the new Hammer branded movies which are any good. True, the end of the movie is a bit over-the-top and cheesy but, hey, isn’t that in keeping with many of the Hammer movies of days gone by. My review is here. 

18. Transcendence
Lots of people hated this tale of Johnny Depp dying and downloading his consciousness into a computer. I quite liked it and I don’t think he specifically lacked emotion in his performance, as many have claimed. He just plays the character in an appropriate way to the personality the script was trying to get across and I actually found his performance very interesting. This film tackles similar issues as those in Luc Besson’s Lucy but does so in a much more interesting manner, for my money. Morgan Freeman actually starred in both those movies... go figure. My review of this one is here. 

17. The Last Days On Mars
This is another movie which people seemed to either really hate or just plain ignore. Frankly, it’s a martian zombie movie. Seriously? What’s to hate? It would be fairly hard to screw that formula up and, as far as I could see, they certainly didn’t drop the ball here. This is a standard, B-movie horror movie and I enjoyed the hell out of it. My review is here. 

16.The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet
Jean Pierre Jeunet’s English language movie about a young, boy inventor, based on an equally amazing (from what I can gather) novel. Jeunet is absolutely right for this kind of material and his inventive approach to the source is exactly what it needed to be. My review of this one is found here. 

15. The Babadook
Scaryish horror movie from Australia that is as much about the horrors of trying to be a single parent as it is about things that go bump in the night. Effective and with an ending that not everyone is going to be enthusiastic about, it’s nice to have a horror film with more of an agenda than just to scare you silly throughout the running time. Reviewed by me here. 

14. Blue Ruin
This thriller feels very intense due to the understated acting style and matter of fact, coolly observing camera eye. It packs a punch by showing things as real as it can get them and it doesn’t skim over the issues of why things happen as they do or try to spin any real judgement on the chain of events and the people behind it. My full review is here. 

13. Birdman
Phenomenal experiment in observing a man living on the edge of... himself. Michael Keaton’s character tries to hold it all in as he directs and stars in a play based on a Raymond Carver short... but his alter ego of the successful film hero he used to play is always on hand to criticise his actions. My review of this little gem is here. 

12. The White Haired Witch Of Lunar Kingdom
Visually stunning tone poem based on a popular martial arts legend, this film is this year’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or, assuming it gets any kind of actual release in 2015, next year’s equivalent. It’s probably a bit of a cliché to say that this movie does everything that you’d expect that a movie like this to do... but that makes it no less potently true. My review is here. 

11. As Above, So Below
Again, and it seems to be something of a theme with me this year, this movie was not universally liked. I loved it though and it hit all the right spots for me... scaring me silly while giving me a lead protagonist who is easy for me to fall in love with. There’s also some clever sound design in this one and I don’t think people are giving this movie enough attention. I review this here. 

10. Captain America The Winter Soldier
Wow. This is so much better than the first Captain America movie in this series. It’s almost like a cold war thriller but with ridiculously costumed super heroes at it’s centre. This is probably my second or third favourite Marvel movie after Iron Man and The Avengers. Reviewed here. 

9. Edge Of Tomorrow
Hey, this is a really nicely put together movie. It’s kind of like Groundhog Day mixed into an alien invasion plot line but... it’s so well put together in the edit that it’s a bit of a mini masterpiece, with a nice analogy to the expectations found in most modern computer gameplay. Also, the logic of the plot mechanics aren’t contradicted at the end of the movie... so it actually all makes sense, for once. My review here. 

8. A Walk Among The Tombstones
Gritty, old school type of private detective thriller which, although set slightly later in period, comes across as a 1970s movie in tone and pacing. Very strong, raw approach to the subject material and I hope we get others from this series of novels brought to us in the same fashion. Review is here. 

7. 3 Coeurs (Three Hearts)
Beautiful French movie which highlights the dangers of having an extra-marital affair with the way it’s edited and scored. It also comments on the nature of how a person’s life can change from one kind of destination to another, just by being late for a rendezvous. This should get a proper release in 2015 and it’s definitely worth a look. A review is here. 

6. Sin City - A Dame To Kill For
I loved the original Sin City movie and I loved the comics. This partial adaptation, partial new story, is just more of the same. While not quite as quirky or interesting as the previous movie, it’s still a solid and vastly entertaining watch, albeit with a slight "casting VS prosthetic" mis-step towards the end of the movie. My review is here.

5. The Raid 2 - Berandal
While this film doesn’t retain the single minded, focussed plot line of the first movie (just get to the top of the damned tower block and then survive), this is still a blisteringly entertaining action movie... again made by a Welsh man living in Indonesia. If you like martial arts movies then you should probably check this one out. Reviewed here.

4. Under The Skin
Scarlett Johanssen’s turn as a predatory alien in Scotland is an extremely interesting watch and will hold your attention throughout. I’ve more of a handle on certain scenes now than when I first saw it and it’s definitely something you can go back to and watch again. It also has an amazing score which is worth flagging up to people. A review here.

3. I Origins
Totally amazing film which starts off as a romantic movie and then evolves into something way cooler. Although the science-babble couched premise is actually quite simple, getting there and sharing in the wonder of discovery with the characters is a very satisfying feeling. Can’t wait to grab this one on blu ray when it’s released and you can read my review of it here.

2. Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch is a key director in late 20th/early 21st Century American cinema and this is probably the most accessible movie he’s made since Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a vampire husband and wife, surviving in a time when the world has stopped believing in their kind, is a sheer delight and one which I could watch over and over again. My review of this one is here.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Once again, Wes Anderson gives us one of the greatest movie experiences ever committed to celluloid (or whatever they’re using these days). A star studded cast about a romp with the concierge of a hotel, his bell boy and the deadly trouble they get in revolving around a painting. One of the most mesmerising and enjoyable films I’ve ever seen and a worthy successor to such Anderson masterpieces and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Moonrise Kingdom. Easily the best film of the year in my book... reviewed here. 

Honourable mentions

Actually, there were a surprising amount of good movies out in 2014. There are many more films deserving an honourable mention rather than just these few... but here are some of my other favourites from the year gone by. Click on each title to get to the original review...

The Anomaly 
Deliver Us From Evil 
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Canon Films 
Godzilla 2014 
The Grandmaster  
The Guest 
The Keeper Of Lost Causes 
The Monuments Men 
The Purge: Anarchy 
Three Days To Kill 
Yurusarezaru Mono (Unforgiven) 

11 Most Disappointing 
Films of 2014

I should probably throw The Hobbit movie in here somewhere but, to be honest, all the so-called Tolkien-based movies have been pretty dodgy adaptations so far so, films like The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, didn’t exactly disappoint me because I had low expectations anyway. However... here are some of the ones that really did disappoint, in chronological order of their release as opposed to any kind of order...

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
This movie is a terrible addition to a normally very good franchise and I think it’s a shame the movie company in question saw fit to carry on the series in this direction.
Review here.

Devil’s Due
Hot on the heels of the worst of the Paranormal Activity franchise to date, we have another not-so-hot found footage horror movie. At least, it tries to be found footage... the logic of this piece is sadly lacking. Reviewed here.

I, Frankenstein
Despite having the title character portrayed by the wonderful Aaron Eckhart, this film seemed to be trying too hard to make something out of nothing at all. Slick but ultimately there was no logical or emotional core to hang things from. Reviewed here.

The Zero Theorem
Honestly, I love the artist that is Terry Gilliam and he’s working here with one of the most interesting actors of our time, Christoph Waltz. That being said, this film is just an awful slog to get through for me and the obvious creativity on display in the movie falls rather short for the ending. Reviewed here.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
If you divorce the new Spider-Man films from their comic book source then the first one of this latest batch is at least watchable. While there are a few interesting things about this sequel, it’s mostly quite dire. Reviewed here. 

X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Honestly, if you’re going to have a film which is supposed to clear up the awful, awful continuity errors created by the previous films, you need to at least start it off from a point which is not already falling victim to those same errors. Because of where it starts off from and, compounded by the way it tries to reference back to a point where it could never have reached, this film is an absolute waste of time and, on top of that, has a deadly dull second half. This one isn’t even close to being the X-Men movie the paying audience deserved. Reviewed here.

Genuinely disappointed that this Karen Gillan starring horror movie wasn’t actually scary and that the ending was so obvious right from the start. Reviewed here.

Transformers - Age Of Extinction
The first live action Transformers movie was, frankly, surprisingly brilliant and a classic movie. Why then with pretty much the same creative force behind the sequels, are the follow ups so terrible and inconsequential? I’ve no idea why either but my review is here.

Guardians Of The Galaxy
The least you can say about this movie is that it wasn’t too terrible and it didn’t feel out of tone with the other Marvel Phase Two movies. That being said, however, the least I could say about this one is also, sadly, the most I could say about it. Reviewed here. 

I have always been hugely supportive in my appreciation of Luc Besson as a creative force in French cinema and I was excited that he was reteaming with his regular composer from his early films, Eric Serra, on this one. The trailer for Lucy was spectacular but, when the film was released, it seemed to be quite laboured, dumbed down and... well... it was spectacular... spectacularly bad. My review here. 

Before I Go To Sleep
All I can say about this really is that I wish I’d seen this one after I’d gone to sleep. At least then I wouldn’t have had to be conscious through it. Reviewed here. 

And that’s a wrap, as they say, on my picks on the highs and lows of 2014. It’s unlikely many people would agree with my picks... and I suspect some of my most dissapointing movies of 2014 are going to rub some people the wrong way... but if it was a list everybody agreed with then that would just be dull. Anyone wanting to know how they did in this years cryptic quiz, which is still running here, can watch this space sometime on January 2nd, where answers will be revealed and winners announced. All the best to you and... normal reviewing service will be resumed as soon as possible.

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