2014 in movies

Movie reviews about movies theatrically released in 2014. At the end of 2014, I wrote the following: “I feel like I saw a few less new movies in 2014 (and I have yet to get off my ass to see Interstellar), so this list is perhaps not quite as authoritative as last year’s. Alas.”

1. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater (10/10)

Unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. Read the review.

2. 99 Homes, directed by Ramin Bahrani (10/10)

This is a devastating portrait of the housing crisis and its affect on the average American. Bahrani sets us up for a typical American film, in the first shot, in which the protagonist and antagonist meet in a violent confrontation as the normal rules of society break down. But he doesn’t go that way and instead he gives a much more realistic portrait of what the financial desperation of foreclosure does to people and also what the crisis encouraged others to do.

There are two moments in the film that are perhaps slightly too preachy, when two speeches feel a little too much like op-eds than dialogue. But, as much I want to dock the film points for this “obviousness,” he’s right. And so, though I am struggling with my rating a little, I am really having a hard time not giving this a 10. Normally, I like to give a “10” to a film I regard as “perfect” or insanely influential, or something like that.

But though I have mild reservations about a few of the scenes, I think this is an incredibly important film and it is the best film I’ve seen in 2014 at TIFF. Both Garfield and Shannon are great – though I think Shannon is better, though he’s got arguably the “meatier” role” – and the film so expertly captures the problems that the merger of savings and investment banking and mortgage deregulation that I really think this is a must see film and a landmark American drama.

3. Birdman, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (9/10)

I have never been a fan of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.I find his films self-important, over-plotted, over-long, ponderous and so forth. They all contain moments wonderful, profound, beautiful and hysterically funny, but those moments are always surrounded by so much unnecessary crap and, usually, two narrative arcs too many. I have long felt the man needed a creative partner (or, perhaps, better yet, some kind of supervisor) to tell him to cut the most of the intricate plotting and focus on his strong characters.

Read the rest of the review.

4. Citizenfour, directed by Laura Poitras (9/10)

Essential viewing, even if you know about NSA surveillance.

Read the review.

5. Virunga, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel (9/10)

This is an important film that is slightly marred but it’s clunky approach but is nevertheless essential viewing and an important document, not just of one of the innumerable conflicts between conservation and natural resource development, but also of the bravery required to to do the “right thing” in the face of overwhelming pressure to the contrary.

Read the rest of the review.

6. En Chance til, directed by Susanne Bier (9/10)

This is a difficult film that I had trouble figuring out my thoughts about because of its hopeful and not-so-difficult resolution. Fortunately, the wife and I talked it out and I’ve come around.

This is a film about people pushed to emotional extremes by depression, loss addiction and the like and its about the bad decisions that people make when pushed to emotional extremes.

But it is also about hope – hence the title. As someone who has always found (Hollywood) films too hopeful, sometimes I have trouble dealing with hope when it is done well, simply because I have felt beaten to death by fantastical movie Hope for years and years.

But though this movie is hard to watch and really, really depressing, it’s also extremely hopeful and that message that, as long, as you’re alive, you still can change things, is an important message and one that resonates with you long after the film has ended.

An excellent film.

Second Thoughts: The more I think about this film, the more I like it.

7. While We’re Young, directed by Noah Baumbach (9/10)

I think this is Baumbach’s best film since The Squid and the Whale or perhaps even Kicking and Screaming (my favourite Baumbach movie). It’s certainly his funniest since the latter.

Baumbach has once again used hipsters for his subject, but this time instead of creating a tribute to the French New Wave like with Francis Ha, he has used this to deal with something that hits very close to home for me: what happens when you get old and you don’t end up where you imagined you would be.

Baumbach’s portrait of this mid-life crisis (for lack of a better term) is extremely hilarious – it might be his funniest movie ever – but also deeply affecting. And he works into this portrait a number of interesting elements: a critique of where documentary films are now, a “twist” movie red herring, and a build up to a big Movie-style climax straight out of Hollywood that is nicely subverted.

It’s a pleasure to see a film so entertaining that is also so astute about its subject. This is true of most of Baumbach’s films, but this one in particular seems to be more entertaining than previous efforts, while still having something important to say about its subject. (In this case, creative people aging.)


Second Thoughts: A lot of people are saying this is Baumbach’s most accessible film, and I guess that’s true. But despite that, I guess this film just speaks to me because of my age and where I’m at creatively and financially, in much the same way that Kicking and Screaming spoke to me when I watched it not long after graduating. I can’t really help that.

8. The 50 Year Argument, directed by Martin Scorsese, David Tedeschi (9/10)

Scorsese and Tedeschi’s film about the New York Review of Books is not a documentary about the magazine so much as it is a love letter to it.

Read the rest of the review.

Second Thoughts: Sometimes I worry people don’t truly appreciate well-made documentaries about hard to film subjects. Some subjects suit themselves easily to film, others do not. I am far more impressed by a non-fiction film about a hard to film subject that is very well made, that a clumsily made film about an easy to film subject (see below). I think that’s sensible.

9. Night Crawler, directed by Dan Gilroy (9/10)

Is this Gyllenhaal’s best performance?

I don’t know any sociopaths but I feel like this has to be one of the best portrayals – or more accurate, I should say – that I have seen, at least in terms of believability. Certainly this is much more believable than a serial killer.

It’s also a pretty riveting portrait of those aspects of humanity that would enable sociopathy/psychopathy. This could have been told with all sorts of modern narrative tricks, but instead Gyllenhaal’s character’s insanity, though always somewhat visible, is revealed slowly.

10. War of Lies, directed by Mattias Bittner (9/10)

Let’s get this out of the way: This is a student film. The director freely admitted last night that he made this as his graduation “project” for film school.  When he said that before the movie, my expectations lowered considerably. I am always wary of first time directors.

Read the rest of the review.

11. Gone Girl, directed by David Fincher (8/10)

This review contains some fairly serious SPOILERS. Read the review here.

12. A Most Violent Year, directed by J.C. Chandor (8/10)

Chandor’s skill is that he can take realistic situations that seem like might not have enough drama for film and turn them into gripping films. Like the best filmmakers of the American Renaissance, Chandor can wrest drama and suspense from something like minor corruption.

This is a film that unwinds slowly, so slowly that it is hard to see the descent at times, much like in real life. And instead of having a romanticized mob world of ’80s New York, we get a vision of the moral costs of doing business as usual.

This is a fine film and it’s worth sticking with it even when it seems like it might not be heading to where you would expect a film with similar themes to head. Subtlety isn’t a bad thing.

13. Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (8/10)

I haven’t read the novel, but this is a very funny riff on ’70s conspiracy movies, so I’m happy. Read the review of Inherent Vice.

14. Calvary, directed by John Michael McDonagh (8/10)

This is a strange film about the priesthood in Ireland, which starts with an extremely (basically ridiculous) high concept plot, spends most of its time in reveling in dark (very dark) comedy and then veers into deep pathos. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and does well.

The conceit feels like it was cooked up by a studio head or something, and there are wide tonal shifts but the entire cast is so good that both the comedy and drama work together – it’s one of those films where it doesn’t have to be one or the other, there can be a big, serious emotional climax to a film that has a lot of comedic lines in it. This film feels so accomplished it feels like it can’t possibly have come from the same man who made the mildly amusing The Guard.

Anyway, this is a unique entertaining then moving film which strikes a rare balance. Instead of reading about it more you should watch it.

15. Frank, directed by Lenny Abrahamson (8/10)

Frank has a premise like so many other recent indie dramedies: the premise is just a touch too wacky for belief and everyone is just a touch too eccentric. There has been a rash of these films in the last 15 years or so, and I have to say I’m getting sick of them.

Read the rest of the review.

16. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson (8/10)

It’s not often I call a film ‘delightful’, but I can’t really think of another word for this entertaining and absolutely wonderful experience.

I know nothing of Stefan Zweig but he and Anderson are a near-perfect match. Anderson has created a world that both seems inspired by and a tonic to Hollywood and European film versions of the old Eastern European resorts. Within that world, his usually kookiness operates and most of the time the tone and everything else work marvelously.

A few times I fond the entire thing a little too coy, too cutesy (too fey?), but on the whole, this story within a story within a story captivated and entertained me, much int he way Anderson’s early work did my younger self.

Like so much of Anderson’s work, it is self-contained to the point of inconsequence, but that is a part of its charm, I guess. This is a pleasant, diverting, entertaining and delightful film that will likely rub you the wrong way if you can’t stand Anderson, but will be everything you wanted from him if you love his work.

17. Merchants of Doubt, directed by Robert Kenner (8/10)

Read the review.

18. An Honest Liar, directed by Tyler Measom, Justin Weinstein (8/10)

This documentary begins as a puff piece on the Amazing Randi, the magician you may or may not have heard of (if you’re younger) who has dedicated himself to exposing frauds – psychics, mentalists, preachers, and so forth. He is perhaps America’s most famous skeptic. And, as a puff piece, it’s pretty interesting, if overly fawning. But then, well, things take a turn.

It’s quite a turn, and I would advise that, if you have any interest in magic, skepticism, the paranormal, or what have you, that you watch this movie without learning any more about it, and that includes looking a little too closely at the IMDB page.

19. Impunity, directed by Jyoti Mistry (8/10)

This is like the South African, avant garde Badlands. If you like how that sounds, you should check it out.

Although kind of hard to fathom in its early scenes, and a little clunky in some of its attempts at Meaning / Symbolism, this film is, on the whole, an effective if overly arty examination of violence as a social problem in South Africa and, really, in any society with pretenses to being civilized. In certain circumstances, violence can come easy – too easy – for some people and once you’ve done something that society won’t forgive, there’s really no reason to go back.

This film is a little pretentious and, as I said before, a little clunky (though I think that clunkiness is deliberate) but on the whole we get to see the cycle of violence in a unique and thought-provoking way. As I noted at the outset, it’s a little like Badlands. (Though, in terms of its narrative, it’s like Badlands with a massive left turn half way through.)

It’s late, so I can’t really think of much else to say, but this is worth seeing despite how “avant garde” it is.

Second thoughts:  Way too artsy fartsy, but still a daring, provocative movie which poses more questions than it answers (always a good thing).

20. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, directed by Mark Hartley (8/10)

Hartley specializes in riotous, laugh-out-loud documentaries about low budget films and the people who make them, and this film is no exception. It’s almost a laugh-a-minute movie (when the protagonists tried to get serious the film also gets serious, briefly) and I can honestly say, having seen a couple of these movies all the way through, that it is more fun to watch this movie than to watch the movies this movie is about. It’s also way more educational and the story of Cannon is truly an incredible one. Hartley’s style will never be mistaken for great documentary journalism, but few people make more entertaining films about films in this day and age. A pleasure, as usual.

21. Altman, directed by Robert Mann (8/10)

Read the review.

22. The Battered Bastards of Baseball, directed by Chapman Way, Maclain Way (8/10)

Read the review.

23. Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger, directed by Joe Berlinger (8/10)

Read the review.

24. American Experience: The Poisoner’s Handbook, directed by Rob Rapley (8/10)

This is a fascinating history of both the emergence of forensic science in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, but also of homicidal (and accidental) poisonings in NYC. It’s a useful reminder about how much we take for granted in the criminal justice system but also in our food and other safety laws – we’re protected now, but we once weren’t, when people were able to sell radium-based “tonics” and cosmetics, for example. (Jesus tapdancing Christ.)

Anyway, it’s interesting stuff and it’s on Netflix.

25. Art and Craft, directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, Mark Becker (7/10)

This is a crazy story about a mentally handicapped man who is one of the greatest art forgers in US history, how he was exposed and, eventually accepted, if not outright celebrated. (Why was he never brought to justice? Well, I guess you’ll just have to watch the movie.)

It’s an incredible story and Mark Landis is an incredible character. The film itself is not all it could be and, without having too much basis, I suspect it’s the three directors. The pacing is a little odd, and the way the story unfolds, though engaging, could be told in a more compelling way.

But for the most part that doesn’t matter, because this is one of those stories that is more interesting than anything a screenwriter could have dreamed up. And the flawed film is still worth watching.

26. The Calling, directed by Jason Stonee (7/10)

A pretty good serial killer film. Read the review.

27. It Follows, directed by David Robert Mitchell (7/10)

A refreshing horror film which works more often than it doesn’t. Read the review of It Follows.

28. The Barkley Marathons, directed by Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane (7/10)

This is a very conventional documentary about one of the craziest races you’ll ever hear about. Not only is it insane – somewhere between 100 and 130 miles in 60 hours, over hills and through the woods – but is run in such a kooky way.

Part of the appeal of this film is the sheer accomplishment of these people – I could never do anything like this, I’d merely be able to complete 1 loop walking and then I’d be done like dinner. But the other part is the sheer kooky traditions of the race – the conch shell that gives runner an hour warning for the start, the cigarette that starts the race, the bugle that ends it for all but 14 people ever. This feels like a runner’s race, a race untouched by money or modern conveniences – even though the race is only 30 years old.

And that’s what makes the film fun. It gives you insight into extraordinary people doing extraordinary things in an interesting way in the middle of nowhere in Tennessee.

29. What We Do in the Shadows, directed by Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi (7/10)

This is an amusing parody of reality TV disguised as a vampire comedy. It’s pretty slight, however: the plot is basically an extended reality TV episode about what happens when the house gets a new member or two, rather than anything more compelling. But there are enough gags – and the now patented New Zealand style of humour these guys have been spreading around the world for a number of years now – that you mostly are not bothered by the absolute slightness of everything about the film (or its noticeably tiny budget).

I am perhaps too predisposed to enjoy something like this and overlook its flaws – lack of much of a plot or direction, a few gags that are out of place in the narrative structure, a very particular kind of humour that probably doesn’t work for some people – but this is the kind of comedy I can watch over and over again.

Full Disclosure: I helped fund this movie in a very, very small way.

30. ’71, directed by Yann Demange (7/10)

This is a mostly stellar thriller set in Belfast in 1971. I think this would have been an exceptional movie had a surer hand with more experience directed it. Though tense, I can imagine a better (or more experienced) director making a more tense film. While I’m at my nit-pikcing, the framing device of the child feels incredibly inauthentic for 1971. (Were their single parent British privates serving in Belfast then? Maybe, but I doubt it. There might have been one.)

But otherwise this is a pretty great first film and I look forward to seeing what the director does next.

31. Edge of Tomorrow, directed by Doug Liman (7/10)

Read the review.

32. Children 404, directed by Askold Kurov, Pavel Loparev (7/10)

It’s terrible how some people are treated. Read the review of Children 404.

33. The Case Against 8, directed by Ben Cotner, Ryan White (7/10)

A very biased documentary, but worth your time if you care about human rights. Read the review of The Case Against 8.

34. The Clouds of Sils Maria, directed by Olivier Assays (7/10)

I don’t normally like Assayas, but I found this film more effective than the others films of his I’ve seen.

This is an affecting film about an ageing actress asked to play the opposite role in a play that launched her career, and struggling with it. Stewart is shockingly good – shockingly good because I can’t recall ever really seeing her in anything before where I actually really believed her – but Moretz is pretty wooden. Fortunately, Stewart has the larger role. Anyway, the film does a good job of getting us into the world of an ageing star and her struggles. The setting helps too, and the anticipation of “The Snake” helps create dramatic tension in a film that otherwise sort of lacks it.

The part that works less for me is the Epilogue, which gives a little too much closure to a film that I thought sort of wasn’t about that.

35. The Boxtrolls, directed by Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi (7/10)

Every so often I see a kid’s movie that’s really worth seeing and this is one of them. Like all modern stop motion animation, this is pretty incredible stuff. (I imagine seeing it in 3D would have been something else altogether, so that was a missed opportunity.)

This is endlessly inventive – though it feels a little inspired by the Minions, it seems like the source material pre-dates those folks – and has enough in it – in the animation and the production design and the odd joke – that an adult won’t be bored. It’s stuff like this that kids should watch. You should take my word for it. I don’t have children.

36. Im Labyrinth des Schweigens, directed by Giulio Ricciarelli (7/10)

This is a movie that starts off feeling like a conventional legal thriller – almost like a Grisham adaptation – only its a docudrama based on the first German investigation into the crimes at Auschwitz.

The film gets stronger as it goes along, though it does resort to typical legal thriller cliches in ways that grate on you. And the score doesn’t help. Fortunately it features universally strong performances and it ends on a strong note. And obviously the story itself is compelling.

But there are way too many legal thriller conventions for me to really like this a lot. I think it could have been told much better: the over-bearing score could have been muted, the romantic B story could have been eliminated or minimized, the lead prosecutor’s partners could have been turned into actual characters, and there is at least one part of the film which I am 90% sure couldn’t possibly have happened.

It’s too bad because I think this is a really strong story that could have been told without resort to Hollywood legal thriller cliches.

Second thoughts: I feel like my review sounds a little too harsh. This is mostly a pretty good film. I just wish the filmmakers had trusted their audience a little more as I believe the potential was there for a very good film, perhaps an excellent one.

37. The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum (7/10)

This is a conventional biopic that succeeds in spite of itself in part because it is so engaging – it is surprisingly funny and it is full of compelling committed performances. The film suffers from an unnecessary conceit – Turing is telling his story to a police officer investigating him for “indecency”, I mean why even bother with that – and from some parts of the film that feel like it is painting by numbers a little: interpersonal conflict here, a little self-doubt there. (As with the above film, the score is no help here.) I watched Enigma years ago and don’t remember anywhere near as interesting a story about the war, and that’s to this film’s credit. I think perhaps the film would have been better had it been constructed differently or done a little less conventionally. It’s still an above average biopic, but this is fairly standard stuff. No wonder it won the Viewer’s Choice Award.

38. X-Men: Days of Future Past, directed by Bryan Singer (7/10)

Putting the massive problems with time travel aside, this is still every enjoyable comparable to the other movies in the series; it combines a number of cinematic tropes to great effect which makes for an enjoyable film – time travel to prevent a dystopia, superhero, preventing an assassination, etc. The time thing is really ridiculous but what can you do? It’s comics.

39. Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller (7/10)

This is one of those off-beat dramas where major stars try to show a different side to their personas. Sure, Ruffalo – who is now, arguably, a major star – has taken on stuff like this many times in the past, but Carrell, Tatum and Miller have not – and Carrell and Miller are particularly unrecognizable (and Miller’s part is tiny). When someone goes through a physical transformation like Carrell does here, you always wonder how much is makeup and how much is acting, but anyway…

Everyone is committed. The story is utterly bizarre and worth telling. The pacing is a little off and, frankly, it’s not exactly surprising this is the director’s third feature. But I feel where the punch is kind of lacking is more in the script – this is an insane story. And something about it is off.

But that being said, everyone is good, and I can’t say it’s a bad or even average movie. I just feel like something was missing that I cannot put my finger on.

40. 1971, directed by Johanna Hamilton (7/10)

This is an interesting, albeit brief, look at a crime in 1971 that resulted in the first ever whistle blowing on the American government – to my knowledge, anyway. A bunch of radical hippies broke into an FBI office and released the files to the press and Congress.

The film is your standard talking heads + pictures documentary – with the exception of some brief reenactments – but its value is in the story which had never been told previously (at least on film).

Fascinating stuff, and relevant given the state of affairs today.

41. Anti-Social Limited, directed by Rosvita Dransfeld (7/10)

A brief but affecting look at an indigenous former criminal trying to go straight. Read the review of Anti-Social Limited.

42. Dod sno 2 aka Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, directed by Tommy Wirkola (7/10)

I know I should have watched the first movie first. But I’m not sure I care right now. Though this movie ruins the first with flashbacks, this is such an entertaining film, that I really don’t mind. Hopefully I’ll forget what I know by the time I get around to watching the first one.

The first film took an over-the-top approach to an Evil Dead type story – instead of a book of the dead, we get Nazi gold. This film is basically the Army of Darkness to the first’s Evil Dead, only it’s not the Middle Ages, it’s now, and we’ve not just got Nazis, but the Red Army, and a tank!

If this all sounds ridiculous, of course it is. But this is a silly movie that knows it’s silly, and it revels in it and the conventions of a done-to-death genre. It’s a testament to the filmmakers that they are able to find fresh comedic moments – as well as some creative gore – in the zombie horror comedy. And it’s even more of a testament that they are able to do this in a sequel.

Lots of fun and well worth your time.

43. Drone, directed by Tonje Hessen Schei (7/10)

This is a brief but compelling examination of the issues around the United States’ use of drones for “targeted killing.” It is a pretty conventional talking head documentary merged with a conventional documentary of the style where they follow people around, but the subject matter and a number of the interviewees are compelling enough that this conventional style doesn’t matter.

I for one haven’t seen the issues summarized in a better, more accessible fashion, so this film is appreciated.

44. Jim Jefferies: Bare (7/10)

Jefferies is a crude, crass comedian who expresses opinions I both agree with and disagree with. He is both funny and provocative and he definitely crosses the taste line regularly. I like that in my comedy.

This is a good special, as these things go. I laughed consistently and definitely felt at least a little offended at times as well.

It’s hardly life changing, but it’s a good time.

45. Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle (6/10)

I need to see hyped movies either right away or years later when I’ve forgotten about them. Inevitably, whenever I see a hyped movie after I’ve been inundated by hype but before I’ve forgotten the hype, I am disappointed. Read the rest of the review.

46. John Wick, directed by Chad Stahelski, David Leitch (6/10)

This is a revenge film that takes place in a bizarre universe in which all the hitmen I (and hitwomen!) hang out at the same hotel and club. That is a ridiculous conceit that would bother me if the movie around it wasn’t entertaining. I mean, why wouldn’t the police – virtually non-existent in this film  or the gangsters who want to kill the hitmen just blow up the hotel?

But this film is brief and to the point: once the action starts (which takes a little time), there aren’t too many pauses. The fight scenes are pretty good and are entertaining.

If you think about this too much, it’s a problem: the dialogue is sometimes terrible, there are numerous opportunities for Wick to die, as well as for Wick to kill the people he wants to, that would end the movie too early.

But if you don’t think about it too much, it’s enjoyable.

47. Cold in July, directed by Jim Mickle (6/10)

I’m not sure exactly what to say about this bizarre film that offers a new twist (or several) on the age old “redemption through violence” theme in American cinema. The plot goes a very different way than I would have ever expected which is to the novel’s credit, I guess. But that big left turn (which becomes significantly bigger as the film progresses) is hard for me to reconcile for reasons I cannot quite identify. I often like movies like this, but something about this left turn didn’t sit well with me for the whole film.

Hall and Sheppard are good, and so is Johnson once you get used to his character, but the vibe of the film – including a soundtrack that feels a little too indebted to Drive – feels off and, by the end of it, I was laughing at things I know I shouldn’t be laughing at. Something was wrong tonally.

But it’s certainly a unique spin on this overdone theme, at least.

48. Black Sea, directed by Kevin Macdonald (6/10)

Read the review.

49. Backcountry, directed by Adam MacDonald (6/10)

Read the review.

50. Shes’ Beautiful When She’s Angry, directed by Mary Dore (6/10)

This film gives an overview of the rise of the feminist movement in the United States. It’s a film that both attempts to show accomplishments of the movement and focus on some of the players who may not get as much acknowledgement.

It’s an important story. But I found the scope of it to be perhaps a little too broad – or the film not detailed enough, I’m not sure which – and the focus on movements in four American cities to be kind of myopic. But it’s worth watching.

51. God’s Pocket, directed by John Slattery (6/10)

This is a directionless, slice-of-life crime dramedy full of great, believable performances but which leaves one with the definite impression that something was lost in translation between the novel and the film.

This film is much more about a place – in this case a place that doesn’t exist but representative of the dying lower class neighbourhoods in many northeastern cities, no doubt – and the characters in it than it is about the hi-jinks that occur during the film. It might be a commentary on more heavily plotted novels and films of this ilk, but if it is, we’re not let in on that as an audience.

Instead, it feels like character study of a place and it’s reasonably effective but, as I have noted already, we are left with the felling that something is definitely missing.

52. Obvious Child, directed by Gillian Robbespierre (6/10)

This is a reasonably edgy, reasonably funny “abortion comedy” that is weakened somewhat by the obligatory love story and a lack of constant laughs.

Maybe it’s because I’m male, but some of the jokes did not land with me at all. And though I appreciated the edge this comedy has – more of an edge than most, especially given the subject matter – I thought it could have been nastier, not in a gross way, but in a satirical way, especially given what happens.

Too much heart for me. But I laughed fairly regularly.

53. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (6/10)

I think I like this more than the first movie, though I can’t necessarily identify why. One thing that differentiates it from so many other current super hero movies is that the enemy at the end of the film isn’t some ridiculous, world-destroying force or space monsters, or whatever. So that’s something.

But there are difficulties:

I agree about the criticism regarding Black Widow – she sure feels dependent on the Cap’n and some of the other male characters a lot of the time. Also, the dating talk… for fuck’s sake.

This movie is already so long but it needs a montage to help wrap things up.
Some other nitpicking:

  • That is one ridiculous congressional hearing…that’s not what it looks like.
  • Mumbai is near Pakistan? Google tells me it’s 800 km away.


That revival is bullshit, also. I was so proud of them for doing that and then they couldn’t follow it through.

Still better than some of the other movies in the “series,” though.

54. Still Alice, directed by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland (6/10)

I don’t think it’s wrong to criticize Hollywood films for their lack of connection to the real world.

There is nothing wrong with this movie per se; there are some good actors doing good work and even Kristen Stewart is decent.  But this film doesn’t exist in the world that I live in. Maybe once a successful (and gorgeous!) linguist got Alzheimer’s at 50. Maybe that happened. I doubt it, but maybe it happened.

An alternative might be to tell a story that many people throughout the world are experiencing – that is, the onset of Alzheimer’s for a normal, older person and how their normal family copes with it. In fact, I know of a few movies that tell that story and I’d rather watch one of those. Nothing against Julianne Moore and her performance. I just don’t need the Hollywood version when it comes to something that affects so many people’s lives.

55. En duva satt pa en gren och funderade pa tillvaron, directed by Roy Andersson (6/10)

This is the third of Andersson’s trilogy about “being human” or something like that. I haven’t seen the first film. I have seen the second, You, the Living.

I feel like Andersson is a “Love him or hate him” director. Having just said that, I didn’t love or hate this movie. I understand why people love him, but having now seen two of his films I feel like if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. His shtick is unique, but it still feels like a shtick to me: odd, exaggerated tableaux – some of which are quite funny – put together in a way that sometimes feels structured and sometimes feels arbitrary, which ostensibly offer comment on human existence in our modern era, but also with the past looming over us. (One of Andersson’s favourite tropes appears to be having soldiers from the 1700s enter into modern life.)

When I say exaggerated, I mean it. Speech and movements are deliberate (i.e. slow) and makeup is overdone. And when I say tableaux I mean it. Andersson’s camera never moves during a scene.

I quite liked You, the Living but I felt like I was living it all over again this time out. And this one felt like it was paced less well and structured less well (not that these films are really in need of much structure, since they are non-narrative).

I would recommend this for Andersson virgins – only if you’re curious – and Andersson fans, but not for anyone else.

55. Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by James Gunn (6/10)

This is an entertaining and deliberately silly comic book film that still managed to not entertain me as much as it should.

Though I laughed out loud a few times (4? 5?) I also watched a few scenes thinking “I know this is supposed to be funny, but I am not laughing.” I am not sure whether it was the timing or the direction but some jokes fell flat. Particularly most of the music-cue jokes.

Now, usually I would be just happy to see a non-serious comic book film, but I had been led to believe by the hype that this thing was uproarious and it is definitely not. That being said, it’s still more entertaining than most other recent comic book films that I am supposed to like but don’t. I think my expectations were just a little too high.

57. Cut Snake, directed by Tony Ayres (6/10)

Cut Snake is an interesting but flawed attempt to update classic Hollywood film noir with more modern characterizations (for lack of a better word). We’ve got some classic tropes:

  • a mysterious man “without a past” so to speak,
  • a femme fatale (only, in a neat twist, this one’s a man!)
  • and bad decisions.

Unfortunately, the film sticks too much to the traditional formula. It would be nice if the ’70s Australian setting and the more modern love triangle were paired with an ending that didn’t reek of White Heat or The Public Enemy.

The film is also over-scored and the omnipresent score competes with a busy soundtrack. The filmmakers could learn a few lessons from certain filmmaker’s use of silence.

Additionally, there are a couple of really stupid errors, such as the first time Merv is driving, he is turning the wheel while driving straight, like he was in an old Hollywood film trying to show the audience he is Driving. (Maybe it was intentional but I don’t know what it adds to the film beyond homage.) And at another point, they emphasize that a record is being put on and then seemingly 90 seconds later the song is faded out for some scoring. It’s issues like this that make me feel like these filmmakers were in a rush, or something.

One more thing on the positive side: Alex Russell is fantastic in this film.

(On the negative side: Stapleton, in the more demanding, femme fatale-ish role, is to opaque. But that could have been deliberate.)

Nice ideas but pretty mixed execution.

Second thoughts: I get the idea of trying to update a genre, but when a classic genre has already been revived and updated, it’s probably better to go with tropes from the revisionist era – i.e. neo-noir in this case – than the original era, since the flaws with the original style are well known. For me the ending really did weaken what was otherwise a fascinating attempt are reinventing noir.

58. Iris, directed by Albert Maysles (6/10)

I struggle to view fashion as a true art. I don’t wear clothes so people will look at me or think about me. I wear clothes because of social convention and because I live in Canada.

But as I get older I recognize that a substation section of the population does view clothes as art. And some of these people have interesting things to say. One of these people is Iris Apfel, New York “style icon.”

She’s an interesting woman and I can see the appeal. The film around her is kind of directionless, like so many of these movies that follow their subject around attempting to give a portrait of the subject’s day-to-day life.

That being said, Iris is enough of a character that the film is not boring, even for someone like me, who doesn’t understand clothes-as-art and, when I’m at my most cynical, views fashion as an elitist method of differentiation us from them. (It certainly seems like Iris herself does not do this.)

Of more interest to people into fashion, I suspect.

59. Cathedrals of Culture [omnibus film] (6/10)

2 pretty great shorts, and some far less successful ones.

Read the review.

60. Natural Resistance, directed by Jonathan Nossiter (6/10)

I thoroughly enjoyed Mondo Vino and so I guess I was looking for more of the same. Well this is a very different film (as well it should be).

Read the rest of the review.

Second thoughts: I have been toying with the idea of reducing my rating of this movie to 5, as it really was a mess. On the other hand, the content was so compelling that it’s hard for me to really be that hard on the film, even though it is so rough.

61. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, directed by Kenneth Branagh (5/10)

This seems to me to be an attempt at making an older style of spy movie, and when I say older I mean of the original “Jack Ryan” type – like a Hunt for the Red October or Patriot Games. I say that because the twist that you know is coming – that comes in practically every one of these (Hollywood) spy movies made in last decade or so, never comes. And that is a wonderful thing.

The problem is that the movie itself really isn’t very captivating – particularly, the relationship between Pine’s and Knightley’s characters is kind of ridiculous in how underdeveloped it is for playing such a fundamental role in the picture.

I’m glad Branagh learned a little Russian (that’s commitment) and I’m glad he’s making money, but on the whole this doesn’t really grab me on any level. I feel like I’ve seen this movie a million times over and, when rebooting this franchise, I wonder why they couldn’t have just made The Cardinal of the Kremlin into a film, or something like that. (That one was my favourite back when I read the books and cared about such things.) I just feel like the storyline would have been better developed if they had taken a novel instead of trying to create a new scenario vaguely inspired by the Great Recession.

62. The Monuments Men, directed by George Clooney (5/10)

Hugely inaccurate and tonally confused but mildly entertaining. Read the review.

63. Bird People, directed by Pascale Ferran (5/10)

This film tells the stories of two people who accidentally meet. In that sense, it is much like numerous other films that tell individual stories and combine them with chance meetings. Only this one has a fantastical twist hinted at in the title. Why it has that twist I can guess at but I’m not sure one story having the twist and the other not adds anything to the film. Rather, why have both stories, when you can just have the one? This film is just over two hours but is deliberately paced and feels considerably longer and, when you get to the story with the twist, you are left wondering why it took so long to get to this point.It’s a metaphor (an obvious one). But I’m not sure it’s helpful. Did we need the first story to understand the metaphor? Do we need the second story’s metaphor to understand the first story?

64. The Interview, directed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen (5/10)

I always have the same experience with bombs: when I see them I always wonder why everyone hated the movie so much. This happened to me with Gigli, with John Carter, and with numerous other movies. I think hype, both positive and negative, feeds back on itself. And people get carried away.

Read the rest of the review.

65. The Drop, directed by Michael R. Roskam (5/10)

Are there not crime movies with Protestant or Jewish small time criminals? (Actually, I can think of some Jewish ones, but not Protestant). Or maybe some atheists? The Catholic gangster/criminal thing is a little done to death at this point, no?

The characters aren’t likable or compelling and, until the twist, there’s not much compelling about the plot either. Tom Hardy does voices! It’s part of his shtick!

66. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, directed by Francis Lawrence (5/10)

It’s now customary to get whatever you can get out of a franchise. I guess it’s to be expected. But, not knowing the source material, it sure seems like they are milking the final Hunger Games novel for all its worth.

This is the weakest film in the series so far; it feels like table-setting for the climax to the series yet, somehow, that table-setting is 2 hours long. A lot of this movie just feels like Katniss doing propaganda for the rebels instead of for the capital. Sure she spent a lot of time doing that the last time out but at least when she was (unwillingly) shilling for the capital, we knew it was going somewhere. Here, the climactic moments are utterly anticlimactic – and not to any effect or course, but just because the climax is coming next film.


67. The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent (4/10)

Read the review.

68. Frontera, directed by Michael Berry (4/10)

The term “liberal propaganda” has always made me laugh for many reasons, such as: it only exists in the States, it’s often just fair or truthful storytelling, etc. As a man once said, the reason Wikipedia has a liberal bias is because the facts have a liberal bias.

Read the full review.

69. Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky (4/10)

I have long been a fan of Aronofsky’s, even of his misses (though I have yet to see The Fountain) because he has always made me think. His films provoke thought and discussion, and are also usually full of inventive direction and cinematography.

I am not sure I can think of another example of a Great or near-Great director exceeding his grasp like Aronofsky does here. (Though, again, I have not seen The Fountain.) This is a film that is so overdone, so self-serious and so unsubtle in its allegory (while at the same time, confused) that whatever neat little aspects of his filmmaking that have made it into this film are hard to get excited about.

Read the rest of the review.

70. The November Man, directed by Roger Donaldson (4/10)

Too much plot, not enough motivation. Read the review of The November Man.

71. Killer Legends, directed by Joshua Zeman (4/10)

I remember sort of enjoying Cropsey, finding it kind of frustratingly made, but compelling enough to give it a pretty decent rating. I didn’t write a review, so I have no idea exactly what I liked/disliked about it. But watching this film, which could be called Cropsey II, I worry I was far too generous.

Read the rest of this review.

72. Big Game, directed by Jalmari Helander (3/10)

Read the review.

73. Non-Stop, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (3/10)

This is one of those Liam Neeson action movies. It’s also one of those thrillers set on a plane. And like so many of both of these types of movies, if you think about it for a moment, everything falls apart. I can’t tell you how many things are wrong with the plot of this movie because there are so very many. It’s one of those films where so much doesn’t make sense, from the plot, to the motivations of everyone beyond a couple of the characters, to the responses to the absurd plot, which are equally absurd.

But the cast is excellent.

74. Exodus: Gods and Kings, directed by Ridley Scott (3/10)

Read the review.

75. The Maze Runner, directed by Wes Ball (3/10)

Read the spoilerific review.

76. As Above, So Below, directed by John Erick Dowdle (3/10)

In addition to being dumb, this found-footage film is hard to follow and boring. Read the review.

78. Tokarev, directed by Paco Cabezas (2/10)

Somewhere in this movie is an interesting comment on these mindless revenge thrillers starring middle aged men rampaging through American or European cities, usually because a child was killed or abducted. I can see the germ of that idea. And it’s an idea I love. I want to see that movie!

Read the full review.


“Too Many Cooks”, directed by Casper Kelly (9/10)

One of the great viral shorts, I remember the first time I saw this and being utterly delighted. Having seen this multiple times now I think I can say that it does have a flaw or two but is still a great parody of opening credits.