2014: A Year in Movie Reviews

Well, here we are, the beginning of another year. Mere days into 2015. 2014 was an interesting year, both in the cinema, and for me as a film fan in general. New films aside, I watched some films that I’d been intending to watch for years. Classic movies that I had always had on the “one day I’ll watch it” pile. The Godfather and The Godfather 2 are at the top of that list. I was way too late to the party, but I’m glad I eventually arrived, because I loved both of those classic cinematic marvels. A lot. Apocalypse Now was another one that I finally watched in 2014, and though I had problems with the film and felt like the extended cut dragged on way too much, I enjoyed it and was happy to tick another cine-classic off my long list. That’s what 2014 was for me as a film-fan, finally seeing films, old and not-so-old, that I had been wanting to, and meaning to see, for a while.

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At the cinema though, I saw a bunch of really top notch titles. Compared to the previous two years, this was a slow year at the cinema for me, meaning that I didn’t go as often as I’d planned to for whatever reason. I did see some good stuff though. Boyhood is one of the standouts for me, the much-praised film from Richard Linklater that was filmed over a ten year period with the same cast. As a fan of coming-of-age films, and drama in general, I enjoyed Boyhood immensely and can’t wait to watch it when it comes to home release in early 2015. Alongside Boyhood are four really enjoyable comic-book films from Marvel. The Amazing Spiderman 2, which was slated by many and flawed in some ways, was entertaining. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a vast improvement on the first film and really did everything right, but it was X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy that truly floored me as a comic-nerd. I loved them both, and was blown away by the storytelling and the visuals of both movies. They were two of the best comic-book-based movies I’ve seen upto this point and they have surely set the bar very high. Brilliant.

Comedy has been a genre that hasn’t done a great deal in 2014 as far as titles I’m willing to watch. For my money there are two mainstream pure comedy films that stand out to me, and they have obvious similarities. Let’s Be Cops, which made me laugh a great deal, and 22 Jump Street, which was surprisingly as good as the first one. These cop-comedies felt like throwbacks and I had a lot of fun with both. Luckily, independent comedy, and comedy-drama, had plenty to offer and filled in the gap left by pure comedy. Obvious Child was a brilliant, moving and sad film that dealt with a difficult subject very well, and with compassion. Chef, with Jon Favreau, was one I didn’t think I’d be bothered about but ended up liking a lot too, it was charming, fun and made me crave a grilled-cheese sandwich for a few days afterwards. I wonder how many derelict food trucks were sold after this film was released?

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Horror, like comedy, when it comes to the mainstream level anyway, has also found itself in something of a slump. There were some lesser-known titles, like Honeymoon for instance, that mixed horror with other genres (in this case sci-fi) that were brilliantly done, but at the big screen itself there was very little to get excited about. There were a couple of gems though. The Babadook, an intense, dark and emotionally grinding film that put me on edge in the best way and offered a fresh idea and voice in a sea filled with repeated murmurs. Not-quite-horror-but-kinda-sorta, The Purge: Anarchy was a good one, much better than the first film. I did have some issues with the inconsistencies and plot holes, but it was an entertaining throwback of a film nonetheless. I didn’t see Annabelle (sequel to the enjoyable The Conjuring) but heard terrible things. Oculus went under my radar, as did other horror titles that seemed run-of-the-mill to me like As Above, So Below, Ouija and sequels to VHS and Paranormal Activity. Still, there were some strong non-cinema-shown films in the genre that did a lot for me. Faults, Life after Beth, Dead Snow 2 and others. Then there was the odd title that wasn’t really “horror” but had elements of it, like Horns, Cheap Thrills and Under the Skin which had plenty to offer. Overall, the mainstream of horror plodded, while there were some excellent voices to be heard beneath the surface.

Animation is a section of cinema that I always look forward to. Recent years have seen some truly astonishing animated films released and 2014 was no different. The Lego Movie shocked audiences with just how good it was. Hilarious, entertaining and full of colourful characters, the writing of this film made is as special as it was. However you slice it, it’s a great flick. How to Train Your Dragon 2 was even better than the first film, and looked beautiful. The makers of a couple of my favourites, Paranorman and Coraline, released The Boxtrolls, a film I’m yet to see, and we also saw the release of Guillermo Del Toro produced indie-animation, The Book of Life, which was amazing. 2015 looks set to be an equally impressive year for animated film, and I, for one, am excited about it. I’m still a kid at heart, so I can’t get enough of these films.

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I usually, in these things, try to look at what I consider to be the genre that seemed to stand out to me in a particular year. Previous years have seen “coming-of-age” films and “supernatural horror” mentioned. In 2014, it’s kinda difficult to put the old finger on. It could be Y/A (Young Adult) movies based on Y/A books. The Maze Runner, Mockingjay: Part 1, If I Stay, Vampire Academy, The Fault in Our Stars, Divergent and others all did big business in 2014, films based on best-selling Y/A fiction. It seems to be a trend that isn’t going to end any time soon with plenty more in the pipeline for 2015. Many noses will be turned to the sky about these titles, but many of them are excellent films with brilliant performances and amazing writing. It’s difficult to argue with results, and it’s difficult to argue with films that keep you entertained and interested for two hours, especially in an age when we aren’t exactly starved for content.

Indie drama and comedy is one of my favourite areas of film and has been for a while, and 2014 saw some impressive titles under those headings. The Skeleton Twins, with Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, was an intense, moving and brilliantly acted film that showed the true acting ability of two formerly unproven dramatic actors. I loved that one. The aforementioned Boyhood comes under this heading, but I’ve already spoken about that one. Obvious Child was great. The Double was brilliant. The One I Love, with Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss, was a weird and wonderful little movie that brought concepts and elements into the mix that I never expected. It was a fantasy-like film, yet done in a realistic and downplayed manner, which I really liked. Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin, a violent and edge-of-the-seat indie crime-thriller-drama hybrid was one that I was impressed by. It felt new and out of the blue. Only Lovers Left Alive, Under the Skin and The Grand Budapest Hotel, three movies I’ve mentioned numerous times on this website in 2014 all stirred something up in me. I have a lot of love for each of those films, each offering something truly unique and different, not only from one another, but from the rest of the landscape too. Brilliance. Swedish punk-coming-of-ager, We Are the Best, was a pure joy of a movie, making me smile and tap my foot in equal measure. I liked that one a lot. Nymphomaniac, the controversial Lars von Trier two-part film, was an intriguing, artistic and contemplative piece of work that many people loved and many hated, something that immediately makes it worth taking notice of. Joe, a film that saw a return to excellence from Nic Cage, was a real treat. There were also titles I didn’t get the chance to see in this area too, such as Nightcrawler, Mr Turner, Fox Catcher, Calvary, and there were some titles that some liked, but I didn’t, such as Locke with Tom Hardy, which I personally found irritating, pretentious and tedious. I could go on (and on and on) here, this specific genre offered so much in 2014, and will continue to as we go into a new year.

I’m not gonna go into the underbelly of cinema too much here, I can’t really because it has been a slow year for me in that respect. I saw plenty of festival horror titles in the Summer, and a bunch of indie flicks, but otherwise the mainstream was where my eyes were fixed for much of 2014. I know I will have missed plenty of mentions out here, but these are some of the standouts for me among the 350 films I watched. Which films stood out to you in 2014? Which did you hate? Which did you feel were under-rated and over-looked?

A solid year in film, in many ways, 2015 looks set to be possibly even better, and I will have my tickets in my hand for much of it. Happy New Year folks!

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