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 new movies, even if unintentionally. Just take it as a call to watch them again, along with whatever you haven’t seen before, as a special sort of year in review of the most important movies of 2014 released before 2014.
Taxi Driver (1976)
Last year, I kicked off the list with another Martin Scorsese picture, Goodfellas. For such a leader of modern cinema, it shouldn’t be surprising if he continues to have his movies so prominently featured on these year-in-review posts. Especially if he continues to have something of his own out each year. For 2014, he co-directed the documentary The 50-Year Argument, which has nothing to do with this movie, and he executive-produced and appears in Life Itself, which also highlights the filmmaker’s work as recognized by Roger Ebert but never touches on this particular effort. But you can find explicit and implicit reference to Taxi Driver in a few other movies. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character in Nightcrawler is a Travis Bickle for a new era, the relationship between Denzel Washington and Chloe Moretz’s characters in The Equalizer is akin to that of Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster’s in Scorsese’s movie and most obvious of all is Zac Efron’s costume and impersonation of Bickle for a De Niro-themed frat party in Neighbors.
Another big pop culture reference in Neighbors involves Tim Burton’s original Batman blockbuster. Zac Efron and Seth Rogen’s characters do their best impersonation of and argue about whom was the better Batman, this movie’s star, Michael Keaton, or the more recent portrayal by Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises). Keaton, meanwhile, does his own meta reference to his Batman movies in Birdman, in which he plays an actor best known for playing a superhero in a movie series in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And then there’s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which many have said rips off Batman Begins with its villain plot to expose a whole city’s population to a dangerous toxin. But the scheme is also similar to the Joker’s plan in the 1989 Batman to poison Gotham from above. Maybe it’s best to just see all of the Batman movies? I likened the plot of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to Batman Returns (Electro=Catwoman), but others (at FSR even) compare it to Batman Forever.
I just included this on a “Movies to See After…” list last week, but that was for the 26-year-old Die Hard (which was on last year’s list). But I have also referenced its relevance to two movies that did come out this year. First there’s the new Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Sabotage, which feels a lot like a sequel to this earlier movie starring the action icon. Both have Schwarzenegger as a guy involved with some sort of special forces team whose child has or had been kidnapped by a Latin American leader of some kind and currently lives in a house in the woods. Then there’s The Equalizer again, a movie that starts out more like Taxi Driver then winds up closer to Commando in its one-man attack on a villain’s compound.
A Brief History of Time (1991)
I haven’t done a list of movies to see after you watch The Theory of Everything, partly because I still haven’t seen it myself. But it’s a biopic about the famous physicist Stephen Hawking, so obviously Errol Morris’s biographical documentary on Hawking and his work is pertinent and necessary. Especially because it finally hit DVD and Blu-ray this year thanks to the Criterion Collection. Less obvious, but almost as significant, is Hawking’s relevance to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, as he’s one of the leading theorists on wormholes, relativity and other real science dealt with in that science-fiction film.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Sci-fi movies of today tend to owe a lot to the work of Steven Spielberg, as he has made some of the greatest examples of the genre, including this epic drama centered around UFOs and a climactic visit by extraterrestrials. It’s one of my top five favorite movies of all time, so I’m happy to highlight it anytime I can. This year, there’s good reason, as Christopher Nolan has admitted it was one of the inspirations for Interstellar and it’s a part of the very recognizable influence of Spielberg on Gareth Edwards and his latest monster movie, Godzilla. Jaws is the more obvious Spielberg link as the protagonist’s surname is Brody, but much of the first act, including the opening, of Godzilla is right out of CE3K.
Any Movie by Robert Altman (1957–2006)
Take your pick of anything in Robert Altman’s filmography for this entry, as they all can be linked to Altman, the great biographical documentary about the filmmaker’s career that debuted on cable last summer. I do have some specific recommendations, though, as well: His breakout feature, 1970’s M*A*S*H, is an obvious influence on the Israeli comedy Zero Motivation, which is in turn the breakout for writer-director Talya Lavie, who hopefully continues to be a notable talent; his 1973 Raymond Chandler adaptation, The Long Goodbye, is an obvious influence on Paul Thomas Anderson’s new Thomas Pynchon adaptation, Inherent Vice; and his 1992 Hollywood satire The Player seems like it might have informed, at least with its opening scene, the continuous-shot style of the showbiz satire Birdman. Also, there’s This Is Where I Leave You, which probably means to pay tribute to the filmmaker by having a family ensemble with the surname Altman.
The Iron Giant (1999)
The image of a boy and his robot in Brad Bird’s modern classic is one that popped into my brain during a few movies this year. Most obvious, perhaps, is another animated feature, Disney’s Big Hero 6, which literally focuses on a boy and his robot, which similarly can fly. Slightly less obvious is Transformers: Age of Extinction, which has multiple robots and a guy played by Mark Wahlberg who is sort of a boy at heart. Most strikingly reminiscent, though, is the image of Rocket Raccoon sitting on the shoulder of his pal Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. And both Groot and the robot in The Iron Giant are voiced by xXx star Vin Diesel.
Probably the least popular movie I’m including on this list, this spy movie with an extreme sports angle is something I’ll always champion as being terrific at what it aims to be. It showed up on two of my “Movies to See After…” posts this year, both of them due to one of the movie’s best assets: Marton Csokas. He makes appearance in two 2014 movies, first as a scene-stealing mad scientist in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and later as one of the main bad guys in The Equalizer. He’s inarguably the best part of both.
American Promise (2013)
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has a documentary aspect in the way it shows us the actual growth of its actors over the course of 12 years. It’s enough to have earned the fiction film special recognition by the doc community as a nominee for the Cinema Eye Honors’ Heterodox Award. Its achievement is not that big a deal, though, if you’ve followed a long-running TV series or seen a number of nonfiction films. The Up series has come to many minds as related, but that’s a bunch of films, not a single work made over the 50 years of its subjects’ lives. More apt is this recent documentary that was indeed made over the course of a dozen years, following two real boys (one of whom is the son of directors Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson) from first grade through high school graduation, just like Boyhood does with one.
I Will Follow (2010)
Two movies this year almost literally urge you to seek out this debut fiction feature written and directed by Ava DuVernay. She appears in Life Itself to tell of her connection to Roger Ebert, whom she met as a kid and then whom championed this movie inspired by her own relationship with her aunt. DuVernay also directed Selma, which is one of the best and most significant movies of the year. It will be most audiences’ introduction to her work, and I expect it will lead a lot of people to her past work, including this, her follow-up feature, Middle of Nowhere, and her documentaries.
The Hours (2002)
While we’re on the topic of likely Oscar nominees, here’s a 12-year-old movie that I’m reminded of while considering other awards contenders of 2014. This was a part of the last time Julianne Moore was recognized by the Academy (she was nominated for this and Far From Heaven that year), and now she’s set to finally win an Oscar for Still Alice. The Hours also starred Meryl Streep in one of her rare non-nominated roles, and her latest, Into the Woods, should share that distinction this year. And most notably it’s a movie that garnered so much buzz for a role many saw being honored mainly for the honoree’s transformation via prosthetic nose. Then it was Nicole Kidman, who won Best Actress; this year it’s potential nominee Steve Carell in Foxcatcher — or maybe, without the buzz and due to a minor moment, it’s certain nominee Michael Keaton in Birdman.
Any Robert Redford Movie From Late 1975 to 1977
I’m being rather specific and yet totally specific for this entry, which counts three movies starring Robert Redford. First up, and qualifying by its release date where another of his 1975 releases doesn’t, is Three Days of the Condor, a paranoia spy thriller that had an obvious influence on the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Redford’s role in that superhero sequel. The following year, Redford starred as journalist Bob Woodward in the Watergate-based drama All the President’s Men, of which I was reminded during much of Citizenfour. Woodward, with his collaborator Carl Bernstein, won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973 for the Watergate coverage, which is depicted in the 1976 film. Citizenfour director Laura Poitras, with Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Barton Gellman, won this year for their coverage of the Edward Snowden leaks, which is depicted in the new doc. Finally we have to just add 1977’s A Bridge Too Far (directed by Richard Attenborough, who died this year), in spite of how Captain America: The Winter Soldier erred in its Easter egg of an allusion to the World War II movie.
The Rape of Europa (2006)
If you’ve already forgotten about the existence of The Monuments Men, that’s fine because you’re better off just watching the doc option, this Joan Allen-narrated feature about the Allied efforts to recover and/or minimize destruction to art works stolen or occupied by the Nazis. The story told in the documentary is a tragedy for art lovers, who would recognize it as one of the only things more damaging to the legacies of specifically the artists Leonardo Da Vinci, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo than the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
Groundhog Day (1993)
It’s not often that we see a movie’s premise copied as much as this sci-fi comedy’s was this year. There have been plenty of similar movies in the 20 years since its release – I listed all that I was aware of earlier this year – but then suddenly 2014 brought about a whole slew, including those easily branded “Groundhog Day as an alien invasion action flick” (Edge of Tomorrow), “Groundhog Day as a coming-of-age/teen movie” (Premature) and “Groundhog Day as an Australian sci-fi romance” (The Infinite Man). I’ve also seen Predestination compared to the 1993 movie, but I haven’t seen it and I guess technically it’s now a 2015 release following its festival debut this year. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the “Groundhog Day as a…” movies, either. It’s becoming its own subgenre, similar to the “Die Hard on an x” classification.