Features

2014_review_moviesbefore

Looking over the big movie titles of 2014, there aren’t a whole bunch of trends to be found. The most noticeable has to be privacy/surveillance in the digital age, which is the subject of a major documentary (Citizenfour), one of the top-grossing hits of the year (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and one of the worst box office duds (Men, Women & Children). Also, there are other ties related to great scientific minds, such as with the oft-acknowledged pair The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, plus how those relate to films as different as The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Transcendence, Particle Fever and Interstellar. And there was the surprising trend in truly good vampire movies, namely Only Lovers Left Alive, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and What We Do in the Shadows, although that last one hasn’t officially been released yet. One way to spot trends or at least connections between the year’s movies is to consider their influences, some of which are shared among various titles. We look at essentials of the past each week in this manner with our “Movies to See After…” lists, and occasionally the same oldies show up for multiple new releases. Those and other significant precursors relevant to this year’s noteworthy titles are now on the following list of movies to watch after you’ve seen the movies of 2014. Just as was the case last year, a lot of them are well-regarded and familiar classics that you probably should already have seen. But those are the kinds that most clearly inform […]

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20th Century Fox

Back in November of last year, our own Samantha Wilson dove deep on Hollywood’s newly revitalized and ritualized love for the big screen Biblical epic, as inspired by a fresh trailer for Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah. Sam pointed out a hefty number of new Biblical epics bound for the big screen, from Exodus and Gods and Kings (which, what, became the same film?) to Redemption of Cain and a new Pontius Pilate feature. By all means, it looked like the Biblical epic was back! It’s not. This weekend saw the release of Ridley Scott‘s Exodus: Gods and Kings, which earned a relatively paltry $24.5M on an estimated $140M budget. But it wasn’t just that the audience didn’t turn out for the film — the critics didn’t like it either, giving it a dismal 28% Rotten rating on the Tomatometer. The film certainly didn’t inspire much goodwill amongst most people — audiences or critics alike — thanks to continued commentary about its white-washed casting, which both director Scott and stars like Christian Bale failed to ever address in a respectful manner. Exodus is a big, glitzy Biblical epic that never seemed like must-see, blockbuster material. It’s a far cry from what the genre used to be, even as it desperately tries to fit that old mold.

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2014_review_horror

Great horror films were not hard to find this year, but as is usually the case the best ones didn’t open wide in theaters nationwide. The studio efforts were once again the year’s lesser genre entries, and while I had some fun with the likes of Annabelle and As Above So Below the fourteen films below offer far more when it comes to chills, thrills and creative atmospheres. And a quick note on some of the other titles you won’t find below… both Afflicted and Willow Creek were on last year’s list, and several movies — Black Mountain Side, Cooties, Creep, Cub, The Editor, It Follows, Spring, What We Do In the Shadows and Zombeavers — would have made this year’s, but they’ve only played festivals and have yet to see an official U.S. release.

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2014_review_comics

2014 was a banner year for the comic book. Those flimsy paper books have so thickly embedded themselves in Hollywood that a major piece of Marvel or DC news is dropping every week, to the extent that two full entries of this 14-part list burst onto the scene as recently as last week. Not every comic book movie was a masterpiece (one stunk so spectacularly that it may, along with a fair amount of cybercrime, threaten the very fate of Sony’s superhero output). But plenty of them were, and the general fervor around them has risen to a point where giggly anticipation of Avengers: Age of Ultron is practically as much fun as Age of Ultron undoubtedly will be. Because of that, this list isn’t just milestones we saw in comic book movies. It’s the 14 greatest moments — movie scenes, movie news, major studio announcements — from this ever-growing sect of comic book movie culture; a culture that will continue (barring any financial disasters or drastic changes in audience taste) to expand outward for the foreseeable future. When a comic book movie wins Best Picture (I’ll ballpark it and say, perhaps 2047 and Great Lakes Avengers 6: The Rebirth), we’ll know superheroes are here to stay. Next year and Age of Ultron will no doubt render all this obsolete, but for now let’s see what 2014 had to offer.

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2014_review_animation

2014 was a marvelous, thrilling year for feature-length animation. While such a good crop is never easy to predict, the early shot in the arm that was The LEGO Movie certainly set the tone. That the first real critical hit of the year was an animated feature, released in the dead of February amidst Oscar season, the RoboCop remake and The Monuments Men, is a significant thing. Just a cursory look at the 2014 films that qualify for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature should put a smile on your face, even if some were panned and others seem obscure. From the best of American studio fare to The Tale of Princess Kaguya, perhaps the year’s most evident masterpiece, there’s been a lot to celebrate.

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2014_review_disappointments

Let me just say this right up front before you declare us legally insane and/or possessing of piss-poor taste in films — inclusion on this list doesn’t necessarily mean we think the movie is bad. Sure, that’s true of some of them (I’m looking at you Horns), but in most cases these are simply films we had reason to expect so much more from only to be let down — sometimes dramatically — in the end. 2014 was a spectacular year filled with great cinema, and there’s a lot that we absolutely loved (as evidenced by many of our other year-end lists posting this week), but these are the films that fell short. We walk into every movie hoping for the best, but sometimes our expectations get the best of us whether due to the talent involved or the power of a great trailer. We’re only human after all. So here are fourteen movies we had good reason to suspect we’d like more than we did.

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Honayn

Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is out this weekend. Yet the buzz remains about the casting controversy rather than the (apparently low) quality of the film itself. Rupert Murdoch tweeted that as far as he’s concerned, Egyptians have always been white. I wouldn’t begin to try to exhaustively explain the Australian media mogul’s unfortunate perspective. There is, however, something fascinating and troubling about the whitewashing of Egypt because of 1) its role in the Bible and 2) its place in ancient history. Not only does it belie a misconception of Ancient Egypt, it also tends to eclipse any acknowledgment of Egypt as an existing nation of 87 million people who possess a rich culture and who write in Arabic, not hieroglyphics. So, here’s a proposal. Don’t go see Exodus: Gods and Kings. Instead, take a few minutes and dive into the tradition of modern Egyptian animation. There isn’t much of it, to be sure, but what little there is can be quite fascinating and charming.

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Dr. No

Ho-Ho-Ho. ‘Tis the season to watch Die Hard, the classic Christmas-set action blockbuster that is also one of the most influential movies of all time. Not only has it spawned four actual sequels and a number of pseudo sequels, it’s also been copied, ripped off and practically remade over and over again without shame. And yet Die Hard was not even the first “Die Hard on a ____ ” movie. Nor was it a wholly original work, having been adapted from a book that was meant to be a sequel to another book and its movie adaptation. As much as this John McTiernan-directed breakout for Bruce Willis became a leader in its genre, it still owed a ton to movies that came before it. Some of those are indirect precursors in premise, others explicitly referenced. Die Hard is a movie that is, like its hero is said to be, an “orphan of a bankrupt culture,” informed by many movies its creators likely saw as children. That doesn’t make it bankrupt itself, because the borrowing from and alluding to earlier works has enriched masterpieces for millennia. Below is a list of movies that any Die Hard fan or newbie should go back and look at in order to be familiar with some great oldies as well as to better appreciate this 1988 hit through that familiarity. As usual, I’ve selected 12 titles, which is an especially appropriate number for a Christmas movie. Maybe watch Die Hard on December 25th and then watch one […]

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Paramount Pictures

There’s been a lot of bad Terminators in the past 23 years. And not “bad Terminators” like a George Thorogood, all-the-way-through-the-muscle-tissue kind of “bad.” I mean disappointing, weak, meandering Terminators. After 1991, when cinemas everywhere were graced with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, we’ve suffered through two mostly-unnecessary sequels and a bevy of video games, comics and novels that exist as filler. Also, admittedly, a TV show that was neat but hasn’t made any lasting impression on the films. Terminator Genisys, just by existing as a Terminator movie made in the 21st century, runs a very real risk of ending up in that same pile. But if you’ve seen the trailer for Terminator Genisys that dropped last week, you may have noticed something. Terminator Genisys is trying very hard not to be associated with the crummier films in the Terminator oeuvre, Terminator Salvation and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Instead, it’s trying oh so very hard to make you think of the original two; the two Terminator films that are undeniable sci-fi classics.

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The Flash CW

This was a big week for the small-screen spandex set. Three separate comic book series (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, The Flash, Arrow) wrapped for a long winter hiatus, and each mid-season finale dropped a bombshell with mass quantities of comic book significance. As well they should. TV superheroes shouldn’t be relegated to the small-fry stuff that characterized Agents in its early episodes (drawing on weighty comic lore like stuff left over from Iron Man 3, stuff left over from The Avengers and a little-known, little-cared for mutant named Scorch). Bigger is better, and comic staples like the Inhumans, The Reverse Flash and the Lazarus Pits are size XXXXXXL. But long are the days when you could make whatever Smallvilles or Blade: The Series and not worry about the larger ramifications. None of what we saw this week exists in a vacuum; even the CW’s output exists in the context of DC having two separate live-action expanded universes coexisting at the same time. So let’s examine how this week’s winter finales might effect the superhero films of tomorrow.

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Selma

The end of any calendar year is traditionally marked by a glut of biopics, the kind of true-life tales that frequently pack an emotional wallop, particularly the “inspirational” kind. It’s easy to feel compelled to action — some action! any action! — after sitting in a theater for two-plus hours, having your heart broken by a story that’s both cinematically rich and personally touching, but it’s far harder to turn that into actual movement. Let’s put it this way: when was the last time you walked out of a movie theater and felt like you’d had the crap kicked out of you? If you’re keeping up with 2014’s staggering rash (not that kind of rash, unless you’ve been tempted to imitate Wild) of dramatically upsetting biopics, it was probably mere days ago. But how can you fix that movie-sized hole in your heart after watching genuine human beings go through terrible, terrible things on the big screen, purely for your entertainment? What if you’re too busy feeling sad about said biopics to get your holiday shop on? Open up your pocketbooks, buddy, ’tis the season!

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Emerging Filmmakers 2014

This post is in partnership with Cadillac This summer, Cadillac and the Producers Guild of America launched Make Your Mark, a short film competition that challenged producers to create compelling content with limited resources. Contestants made a short film over a single weekend in late June, and you can watch the semi-finalists’ films at the Make Your Mark website. The 30-second Cadillac spot featuring the grand prize winner’s film will air during the 2015 Academy Awards. Luckily, we’ll be speaking with one of the semi-finalists, Alvaro Ron, whose short film To Kill or Not to Kill earned him one of the top spots and a chance to compete for the grand prize. He’ll share his experience as a filmmaker, the challenges of the competition, and how he overcame those obstacles. Plus, Geoff and I will offer up four directors, four screenwriters and four actors who broke through this year, delivering the kinds of movies and performances that get us excited about the future. As a bonus, William Fichtner drops by to add a gorgeous dose of zen to the show. You should follow the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis. Please review us on iTunes Download Episode #79 Directly Or subscribe through iTunes

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Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is slowly unleashing itself in a few theaters to sneak into the 2014 awards race before its wide release next year. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Doc Sportello, a strange, drug-taking private eye investigating the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend and finding himself in the middle of an insane mix of missing persons, police investigations and strange business ventures. This is the first Thomas Pynchon novel to the make it to the big screen (save for “Gravity’s Rainbow” inspiring the German docudrama Prüfstand VII). It’s a film that will never be a blockbuster success, though it boasts a cast ranging from Jena Malone and Owen Wilson to Jeannie Berlin and Eric Roberts; it’s just too weird. It is, however, a breath a freakish fresh air in a film landscape that’s gotten oppressively predictable. If this could start a trend where Hollywood embraces weird texts, there are no shortage of possibilities ripe for the picking – ones that evolve from our obsession with post-apocalyptic worlds, the dangers of multi-national corporations and scientific experimentation, and worlds where a can of pork and beans can set off on an epic journey to salvation. Here are seven delightfully unique tomes that should be made into movies. Success or failure, at the very least they’d give our eyes and mind some new cultural food to graze on.

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A League of Their Own

Like her fellow Happy Days veteran-turned-director Ron Howard, Penny Marshall makes good but not exceptional movies. Unlike Howard, she hasn’t made very many, her last at the helm being Riding in Cars With Boys, which came out 13 years ago. In the meantime, she’s done some television, behind and in front of the camera, and a decade back she produced a few films, including Howard’s Cinderella Man. Now she’s ready to return to movie directing with the biopic Effa, about baseball Hall of Famer Effa Manley, and this is something we’re pretty excited about. For those who don’t know of Manley (and I admit I didn’t before hearing of the project), she was the first woman inducted into that honorable shrine to sports greats and she did so by being the co-owner and business manager of the Negro league team the Newark Eagles in the 1930s and 1940s. Women and baseball? Those two words should remind you of another movie that Marshall happened to also direct: A League of Their Own. We’ve shared our love for that 1992 period-set sports dramedy before, and now I’m really hoping that Effa will have a lot in common with it — besides just when it takes place and what American pastime it deals with, that is. Although Manley is an important figure in history, her movie needn’t be terribly serious. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see a rare great movie by Marshall, but when I think of serious biopics I think of Oscar-bait stuff, including those that don’t […]

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Transformers

What’s the easiest target in Hollywood? Simple. Transformers: Age of Extinction for Best Picture of the Year. Awards season is upon us, and like every other studio in existence, Paramount has been sending out a bevy of “For Your Considerations” — polite requests that you consider their year’s fare for a crop of Oscars. Among that crop is Age of Extinction, a film with a sickly 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, that managed the unconscionable sin of having a giant robot wielding a sword and riding on an even giant-er robot that’s also a T-Rex that can breathe fire…and still being a thick grey slab of dullness. Check out the “For Your Consideration” here if you’d like — it’s probably worth a look, if just for Stanley Tucci’s “running in slow-mo” face. And, as you can expect, this move is the current laughingstock of the Internet, prompting a stream of pointing, giggling and the occasional middle finger from both online publications and regular Joes on Twitter. Let’s get something straight. You and I and people who’ve never seen a single Transformers film and even the Pope, probably, all know that Age of Extinction will never be nominated for Best Picture. It’s probably safe to say that Paramount knows it too (hell, if they’re savvy enough to steer this clunker to more than a billion dollars worldwide, they’re savvy enough to know how Oscars work).

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Kevin Spacey in NOW

Another year of Golden Globes nominations, another year of documentaries being excluded from this prominent awards event. Whatever your feelings about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, they still make a big splash every January with their star-studded televised ceremony, and such a widely watched show would still be a great platform for the recognition of nonfiction films that could use the attention. The Golden Globes did honor docs in their own category way back in the 1970s (specifically from 1973 to 1977), but since then it’s been very difficult for such films to be nominated. Unlike the Oscars, which could but never has, the Golden Globes can’t really recognize a doc in their best picture categories, which are specifically either for comedy or drama. It’s not impossible for films to be nominated in other areas, however, as we saw Waltz with Bashir not only nominated for best foreign language film in 2009 but actually win the award. Of course, that isn’t a traditional doc, and it’s actually the only time the HFPA has honored a nonfiction film in any category since doing away with the doc award. And docs could qualify in a couple other categories. Chasing Ice and An Inconvenient Truth were both Oscar-nominated for best song, for instance (the latter also won), but neither was recognized for the equivalent Golden Globe. Outside of the HFPA’s retired, short-lived doc category, the only other doc to win a Golden Globe was in 1954 when A Queen is Crowned was given a special award for […]

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Guardians of the Galaxy Kiss

This summer, director James Gunn led Marvel Studios onto a new path with the cinematic gamble Guardians of the Galaxy. That gamble paid off, making the film the highest domestic grosser of 2014 and introducing the world to bizarre characters like a talking tree and an outlaw raccoon. Gunn, who is best known for his work in low-budget filmmaking after getting his start in Troma films, took some time to watch his blockbuster film for the DVD and Blu-ray release of the film. Looking ahead to both The Avengers: Age of Ultron and the 2017 release of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Gunn dissects his movie with stories from the set and how things changed from the film’s inception to the final cut.

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Birdman

Hello, and welcome to another installment of “look, awards nominations!” Everyone knows the end of the year is just lousy with list-making, from best-of lists to nominations for awards that might as well be dictated on to scrolls, they read on for so long. But we are starting to get a little bit of a light at the end of the list-making tunnel, thanks to this morning announcements of the Golden Globe nods. No, it’s not the Oscars (snort, snort, definitely not the Oscars), but the Golden Globes are a big gun, a glitzy (and televised!) affair that both the Hollywood elite and fair-weather movie fans pay attention to. A Golden Globe means something. A Golden Globe nomination means something. (Presumably, that you might need to make some room in your home, because those damn globes are big.) But what does it mean to you? Well, how about a quick and dirty rundown of the “best” films of the year that you might have previously passed off? Consider it a crib sheet of can’t-miss offerings, or at least the kind of stuff you should watch in order to help hold a conversation with the rest of your family this holiday season. Bonus points for correcting them on “that Angelina Jolie movie.” If you’re looking for some recommendations as to fresh programming to load into your eyeballs, today’s Golden Globe nominations certainly have some ideas for you.

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Scrooged

Christmas is on the way! I’m not a yay, rah Christmas! kind of guy, but I’m not all bah humbug, either. I can’t stand Christmas music, but I do love egg nog and gift-giving. I get by, is my point. I’ve seen some Christmas films, and probably more than you’d expect, considering the nature of this column. I may have grown up without cable or much of a video collection, but Christmas films pretty much always turn up on broadcast TV somewhere in the month of December. I actually had to hunt a bit to find films to watch for this month, believe it or not. Let’s start out with Scrooged, a Bill Murray take on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which, with a meta angle, actually features a production of said classic tale within its plot. (Weirdly, they only refer to it as “Scrooge” throughout the film.) And that’s as good a place to start as any…

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Pixie Dust

Just to be clear, I’m about to suggest you consider giving money to a film project with no recognizable stars, a director you’ve probably never heard of, and a plot that involves zero billionaires who dress up like bats to frighten criminals. But Damon Colquhoun’s Pixie Dust does involve a superhero of sorts. The story involves a teenage girl whose mentally ill mother stops taking her medication. It’s a real-life issue that becomes injected with magical realism when the girl discovers a family secret that can save everyone, but that can also potentially kill her. On the face of it, it feels a bit like Pan’s Labyrinth by way of 125th Street, but here’s Colquhoun explaining (and pitching to you) why he wants to make it:

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published: 12.18.2014
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