Crystal’s Best of 2014: The Movies

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Oh the films of 2014, it’s safe to say that we got along quite well. I made 56 trips to 10 different movie theatres to see 47 different films: 41 new releases, 5 hold-outs from 2013 (Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, Her, the R-rated super-cut re-release of Anchorman 2 and Frozen) and a 10th anniversary screening of Saw. The rest of my 56 trips were comprised of one encore each of The Fault In Our Stars and 22 Jump Street, 2 return visits to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and an admittedly ridiculous 5 repeat viewings of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Thanks to the modern marvels of VOD, the ever-shrinking theatrical window and the fact that it’s March (ha), I ended up seeing 70 total releases from 2014. I was feeling extra opinionated this year, so alongside my Top 25 is some new categories. (Presented with jump links because we fancy now that we moved to WordPress!) (And all spoiler-free because I’m nice like that!)


The Best

The Disappointments

Special Achievement In Disappointment

The Surprises

The Forgotten

The Memories

The Best

Crystal’s Top 25 Movies of 2014

25. Selma (Dir: Ava DuVernay)
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It feels weird to call a movie so indisputably excellent “underrated” but that’s how things ended up. The direction and performances have been rightfully touted but for me, the unsung hero of Selma is the screenplay. A movie about MLK without any of MLK’s actual words should NOT work and yet his speeches crafted by Paul Webb and Ava DuVernay (who was weirdly denied a screenwriting credit) never feel fictional or out of place. I have no doubt that this film will continue to be discovered and be talked about for years to come.


24.
 The Grand Budapest Hotel (Dir: Wes Anderson)
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My initial review of this movie was “The most Wes Anderson has ever Wes Andersoned” – which could be seen as a slight or a compliment, depending on your taste. I happen to be a massive fan so I found The Grand Budapest Hotel to be charming and delightful. While this may look like more of the same from the auteur, I would actually argue that its distinct “Wes Anderson” qualities allow it to delve a little deeper than his past films; it’s like the style and spirit of “The Wes Anderson Movie” is such a distinct thing now, such a well-oiled machine that it gives him the freedom to be a little bit weirder and explore a little bit more within the world that he creates. I actually think this might end up as my second favorite Wes Anderson film (I don’t know if anything could ever replace The Fantastic Mr. Fox in my heart).


23.
 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Dir: Matt Reeves)
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2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a wonderful surprise: a popcorn blockbuster that was actually surprising, thrilling and unexpectedly moving. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the rare sequel that does exactly what a sequel should do: it provides enough expansion on the original story to justify its existence and yet it’s still an interesting and vital movie by its own merits. By now I’m sure you’ve heard it all: the effects are incredible (coughSHOULDVEWONTHEOSCARcough), the action is great and the story is surprisingly emotional. I won’t go into details for sake of spoilers (and this is a film that earns its surprises and revelations) so I’ll just say that for the entire length of the movie, I was sitting there either trying to pick my jaw up off the floor or trying to fight back tears.


22.
 The Raid 2 (Dir: Gareth Evans)
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When I saw The Raid in 2012, I was blown away; I consider myself an action movie fan but this was on another level entirely. The Raid 2 is a more-than-worthy follow-up; while the first movie went very light on the plot and put the focus on the unbelievable action set pieces, to my surprise (and delight), the sequel goes in the opposite direction. The fight choreography is still unlike anything I’ve ever seen but the film also delves deep into the world of organized crime in a very intricate, Godfather-esque storyline. While this move gives The Raid 2 a much slower pace than its predecessor, I found myself invested in the story and thought the literal break in the action made the combat scenes that much more impactful.


21.
 Enemy (Dir: Denis Villeneuve)

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I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen while I was watching Enemy and I couldn’t stop thinking about it when it was over. I can’t say too much about this film – yes because I don’t want to spoil anything but also because I’m not sure how much of it I actually understood- but you should know that the cinematography and direction are fantastic, Jake Gyllenhaal gives a (typically) great performance and this has one of the best endings in 2014 cinema. (Is that a spoiler?)


20.
 The Skeleton Twins (Dir: Craig Johnson)
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I am a big sucker for what I call “the sad clown syndrome” – when a well-known comedy star gives a startlingly great dramatic turn. (Classics here include Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine, Adam Sandler in Punch Drunk Love and Bill Murray in Lost in Translation.) So it’s probably not surprising for me to say: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are two of the greatest comedians of this generation but did you know they were also responsible for a couple of 2014’s finest dramatic performances? The story isn’t anything groundbreaking (a good indie but a standard one) but there are moments of pure brilliance that make the more cliched moments worth forgiving. Hader and Wiig have a chemistry that is easy for anyone to enjoy but if you’re someone (like me) who has a history with them as performers and knows their history of performing together, it makes their work here that much more powerful. I left the theatre feeling moved, entertained and weirdly proud.


19.
 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One (Dir: Francis Lawrence)
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I’ve had “Mockingjay” by Suzanne Collins sitting on my bedside table for a few years now; I keep meaning to read it, I enjoy the other two books in the series, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Thus, Mockingjay Part 1 was the first Hunger Games film I’ve gone into blind. And what an experience it was! I can definitely understand why the main complaint about this installment was that it’s clearly half of a bigger story and I can see the “nothing happens” arguments (and maybe if you know the “exciting” second half of the story, that frustration is increased even more). But here’s the thing: I totally disagree and am pretty sure I downright do not care. I care about the world of The Hunger Games, I care about these characters and I found these “unnecessary” 2 hours to be fascinating and rich with character insight. I’ve always thought The Hunger Games films most excelled when they played up the political aspects of their story and to see that part of the story take the forefront here was exciting to me. And while the franchise has never exactly been flowers and rainbows, I was still surprised and even impressed with the unsettling and dark places the story had gone by the film’s end. Just because there was a distinct lack of action scenes, doesn’t mean there wasn’t still plenty of badassery to behold. Bring on Part 2.


18.
 Interstellar (Dir: Christopher Nolan)
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I’ve always enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s films but none of them had ever affected me emotionally until Interstellar. Regrettably, I’ve only seen the film once so I haven’t yet had a chance to totally reconcile my feelings about the film as a whole, especially the last act (somehow I found it both random and obvious?) but for now, I can definitely say that Interstellar was a singular theatrical experience. Visually and technically, it was a marvel to behold and it goes without saying at this point that Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain are fantastic. Beyond the pleasant surprise of Nolan being able to strike an emotional chord in me for the first time, I thought this film was great because I genuinely had no idea what could possibly happen next and that is a rarity these days.


17.
 Neighbors (Dir: Nicholas Stoller)
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Neighbors didn’t exactly break new comedy ground but I always enjoy Seth Rogen, I’ve been waiting for Zac Efron to have a Channing Tatum-esque breakthrough and while I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Rose Byrne is absolutely everything in this film, the entire supporting cast is filled with familiar faces that know how to make the most out of their screen time from Dave Franco and Hannibal Buress to Carla Gallo and Ike Barinholtz. But seriously, Rose Byrne is everything.


16.
 Inherent Vice (Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson)
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Inherent Vice absolutely confounded me and for some reason, that is one of my most beloved film reactions of all. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about this movie except that it is superb. It is coyly obtuse every step of the way and it has every right to be pretentious but somehow never is; it makes jokes about itself before you have a chance to. Super weird but also weirdly funny and most importantly, masterfully shot and performed.


15.
 Life Partners (Dir: Susanna Fogel)
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I watched this movie on a whim; I liked the cast yet I’d never heard of it (and it is hard for a movie to slip under my radar) so I assumed it was going to be standard, unremarkable indie fare, mildly enjoyable at best. To call Life Partners a “pleasant surprise” is a radical understatement: I was essentially floored. Within its first few moments, it won itself a place on my list of “movies that absolutely get how female friendship works” (other recent entries include Frances Ha, Bridesmaids and For A Good Time, Call…) and I was delighted to find that its main plot dealt with an interesting, relatable yet weirdly unexplored aspect of friendship: the bizarre adulthood milestone when you realize that your best friend suddenly isn’t the most important relationship in your life anymore – or you realize that your best friend suddenly has someone in their life that they love more than they love you. Structurally, I could see every beat coming but it didn’t matter because it was hitting those beats with more heart and more real feelings than the average comedy would ever dare. Such a great discovery. (Streaming on Netflix starting April 2!)


14.
 Top Five (Dir: Chris Rock)
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I admit, I’m a sucker for “one crazy day (or night)” movies, I’m a sucker for movies set in New York and I’m a sucker for movies about comedians (yes, I’m a Funny People apologist) so this movie falls right into my very specific wheelhouse. Thank goodness, it did not disappoint. Less knee-slapping and more heartstring-tugging than I expected, Top Five plays like a Chris Rock routine by way of a Richard Linklater film; lots of walk-and-talks filled with romantic and philosophical ideas with plenty of assplay jokes to make sure you get your R-rated money’s worth. The cast is uniformly great, the dialogue is smart and while the set pieces can be a bit much, the heart at the center of the story makes it all worthwhile. I saw the ending coming a mile away and yet it still made me smile.


13.
 The Interview (Dir: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg)
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I was lucky enough to get to see The Interview at a test screening in May, long before the era of e-mail leaks, altered endings and movie theatre threats. Free from any hype, expectation or symbolic statements about free speech, I was one of the few who was able to judge the film solely based on its own merits – and I was quite honestly blown away. While it’s decidedly not the masterpiece that This Is The End was, it’s still absolutely a worthy follow-up for Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; it carries on the crazy, biting, absurd, daring and just plain weird spirit that made that film such a revelation. I left the theatre excited about movies and happy (and weirdly proud) that Rogen and Goldberg are allowed to produce content like this. I honestly think years from now, the public at large will discover that this film has actually been grossly underrated.


12.
 Edge of Tomorrow (Dir: Doug Liman)
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I would definitely consider myself a Tom Cruise fan but I was not looking forward to this movie. The trailer was dull and uninteresting and I worried that Cruise’s non-Mission Impossible action schtick was wearing thin. (Oblivion was derivative and disappointing to me. I didn’t see Jack Reacher, calm down.) So I was shocked when Edge of Tomorrow started getting a lot of pre-release buzz and actual rave reviews upon its release. I decided to see for myself and I loved it even more than I was told I was going to. This is such an interesting and charming and weirdly funny take on a sci-fi story; the gimmick of movie somehow never gets old and even though you’re technically sitting through the same set pieces over and over again, they’re exciting every time. And for whatever reason, the “video game-y” aspect of it with the “die and repeat” gimmick just works and is really fun. Tom Cruise is really good at movies, you guys. And how thrilled am I that someone finally gave Emily Blunt something to do in a movie? (#EmilyBluntForCaptainMarvel)


11.
 Begin Again (Dir: John Carney)
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John Carney’s 2007 film, Once, was a big deal for me; I both anticipated and dreaded his follow-up. When reviews for that follow-up started hitting the web and featured unfavorable comparisons to Once, I prepared myself for disappointment. But after much reflection, I’ve concluded I actually like Begin Again a lot more than Once. One of my favorite aspects of Once was that it followed the same beats as a love story but it eventually became clear that the film wasn’t about the love for each other that a man and a woman share but about the love for music that a man and a woman share. Begin Again beautifully expands on those themes, as it follows a young songwriter on her way up, a has-been label executive on his way down and their adventures trying to record an album together. Of course the music brings them together and of course they form a bond that changes their lives for the better. While that portion of the story is interesting, what’s even more compelling is the ways in which the film portrays the music helping these characters find themselves – either for the first time or simply leading them back to who they once were.

Carney shows off his directorial skills a bit more here (the $8 million budget vs. Once‘s $150,000 probably made a difference as well) and there are a few scenes in this movie that I would count among my favorite in all of 2014’s cinema. (The scene where Mark Ruffalo first hears Keira Knightley sing and starts producing her record with his imagination is downright magical.)

As a movie-lover, I found Begin Again to be charming, engaging, funny and moving; I spent the majority of its run-time with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes.. As a music-lover, Begin Again stirred something deep within me, it felt like it was speaking to my soul. (And the original songs in the film are pretty delightful as well!)


10.
 Boyhood (Dir: Richard Linklater)
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To say Boyhood was eagerly anticipated would be a hilarious understatement. My brother and I discovered the IMDB page for this movie over a decade ago (I believe we were IMDB-ing Richard Linklater after watching School of Rock. AH, youth.) and thought it was hilarious that a film could possibly have a projected release date of 2014. It became something of a running gag between us so the fact that we finally got to see this film we’ve been talking about for all these years -together, as grown adults now- is mind-boggling to me. Thankfully, it was worth the wait.

There’s a lot to unpack with this movie and I’ve still only seen it once. At first I was worried because I was responding to it on a more intellectual, critical level rather than an emotional one – like I was so busy admiring the technique and the artistic choices that I wasn’t really connecting with the story. But then the third act came along and I was DESTROYED with a single line, a single beat, a single moment. I, of course, won’t reveal that moment for the sake of spoilers but if you’ve seen the film, you definitely know what I’m referring to. A lot has been said about Boyhood, plenty of hyperbole has been thrown around but I really feel like this is an instant classic. As long as there is filmmaking, this film will be discussed.


9.
 22 Jump Street (Dir: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller)
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21 Jump Street had absolutely no right to be as good as it was. A comedic “reimagining” of a tacky ’80s drama? Pish posh. But its ingeniously absurd blend of self-reflection, self-deprecation and originality made it one of the best cinematic surprises I’ve ever encountered. (I’ve even been known to call it perfect.) Making a sequel to such a film should’ve been a recipe for disaster; lightning doesn’t strike twice, especially when it comes to comedy sequels. But like its predecessor, 22 Jump Street was far better than it should’ve been. That same blend of self-reflection, self-deprecation and originality is back and brings along with it a wonderfully meta commentary on sequels. Who could’ve guessed that the Jump Street franchise would not only be a franchise but be delivering some of the smartest and most subversive comedies the studio system has ever seen? (And dat end credits sequence!)


8.
 Snowpiercer (Dir: Bong Joon-ho)
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There was a LOT of anticipation and hype surrounding Snowpiercer and I was responsible for quite a bit of it. I followed the saga of Bong Joon-ho vs. The Weinstein Company with bated breath and cheered when it was announced the film was getting a rightful (yet scaled down) release. To my shock, the film played locally and I actually got to experience it with a fairly full theatre. It was absolutely worth the wait, absolutely worth the hype. It’s the perfect mix of original/refreshing and interesting variations on standard sci-fi themes and despite its seriousness and bleakness, it still manages to be a lot of fun. It was kind of exhilarating to go to a movie theatre in the middle of summer and see a film that felt wholly unlike anything I had seen or would see the rest of that movie season. It took chances during a time of year when we explicitly ask our movies not to take chances. (Transformers 4 was playing next door!) Also Chris Evans owns people with an ax. Why haven’t you seen this movie yet?


7.
 Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Dir: Joe Russo & Anthony Russo)
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I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe but I’ll be the first to admit that they don’t always know how to make a sequel deliver on the promises made by its predecessor. (Thor: The Dark World is enjoyable but weird and disappointing coming off of ThorIron Man 3 is great but it’s not hard to out-do Iron Man 2. We don’t talk about Iron Man 2.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not only Marvel’s greatest sequel, it’s in the running for their best release to date. (And you know The Avengers was like every dream I’ve ever had come to life, so I do not say this lightly.) I’d also go as far to say that it’s one of the best superhero movies I’ve ever seen, period. Interestingly, what makes the movie so successful as a “superhero” movie is that it rarely feels like one. Instead of hidden lairs, cartoonish villains and secret identities, there’s shady politics, conspiracy theories and characters facing complex moral quandaries. It’s the best Bourne movie that never was and it’s not until you notice everyone’s in silly costumes that you realize it is a superhero movie. Winter Soldier also features some of the most impression action choreography I’ve seen in a major film in a long while and fantastic direction by The Russo Brothers with shots that evoke the framing of a comic panel without ever calling attention to itself, Zack Snyder-style. Marvel had a banner year in 2014 (more on that later, wink wink) and with Winter Soldier as the direct narrative lead-in to The Avengers: Age of Ultron(!), 2015 looks to be in excellent shape as well.


6.
 Gone Girl (Dir: David Fincher)
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2011’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was the rare misstep in the David Fincher canon but within the first moments, perhaps even seconds of Gone Girl, I was able to forget that misfire even happened. I devoured Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel and was amazed at how effortlessly the structure, the tension and the reveals translated to the screen. (This would’ve proved a rare feat for any screenwriter but the fact that this was Flynn’s first screenplay makes it even more extraordinary.) As an adaptation, the screenplay is daringly faithful. The whole cast is aces and makes the movie a living, breathing entity apart from the source material. On its own merits, the film is great in all technical aspects (in typical Fincher fashion) and strikes the exact tone it needs to: creepy, disturbing and darkly amusing.

5. The Lego Movie (Dir: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller)
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I don’t even remember hearing about The Lego Movie being in development – it was not on my radar at all until a teaser trailer was released and looked just charming and bizarre enough to pique my interest. Upon its release, I found it to be everything the trailer promised and more: so weird, so funny, so creative, so YES. Without giving too much away, I was already loving it and just having a blast and then the third act happened and I was FLOORED. It is a masterful balance of absurdity, clever humor, charming silliness and unexpected yet earned emotion. And it looks great and the voice cast is excellent. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, man.

4. Whiplash (Dir: Damien Chazelle)
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I’ve never felt downright exhausted after watching a film; when Whiplash‘s credits rolled, I felt like I’d just finished running a marathon. It’s one of those rare movies where you actually forget that you’re watching a movie, you forget that anything else exists besides what’s happening on the screen in front of you. It’s almost impossible to describe how this movie makes you feel: it’s a wonderfully strange combination of your soul being uplifted and yet stomped on repeatedly. The last act is masterful, the last scene an instant classic, the final moment an all-time great ending. (Not to mention the all-time performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.) When the film is over, you don’t know if you want to leap out of your seat out of joy or lay back and take a beat to calm down.


3.
 Nightcrawler (Dir: Dan Gilroy)
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How does one even begin to talk about Nightcrawler? It’s one of those movies I feel like I could watch over and over again but I know I probably shouldn’t because it is so delightfully disturbing. It says more about the current state of media, the failings of modern journalism and TV news agendas in the first act than any of the preachy internet think-pieces that were published in the entirety of 2014; it’s Taxi Driver meets Network in the age of TMZ. And on top of all this satire and commentary, it’s a darn good psychological thriller as well. It’s crazy that this is Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, this film is expertly crafted. Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the best performances I’ve seen on film in years. Seriously. You probably haven’t seen this movie and you absolutely must. It is kind of perfect.


2.
 Under The Skin (Dir: Jonathan Glazer)
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Probably the most criminally underseen movie of 2014 and even then, among those who did see it, it was probably the year’s most criminally misunderstood. The fact that I saw Under the Skin in a multiplex is ASTONISHING to me: it is so weird and bleak and defiantly obtuse. It’s up to you to break down what is happening AS its happening and up to you to decipher if it means anything – there are very few hand-holding moments. Superficially, it’s beautifully, dreamily shot; technically, the score is EVERYTHING and I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be reminded that Scarlett Johansson is a wonderfully talented actress.

The whole thing feels like a dream or like you’re in some sort of trance and when you start analyzing the events and relate them to the journey of a young woman learning about her sexuality, coming into that power and trying to control it while dealing with the pressures and limits that society puts on it, it’s truly something. The final 5-10 minutes are wonderfully dissonant from the rest of the film; they are shocking and bizarre while still managing to be totally heartbreaking. Like last year’s Spring Breakers (my #1 film of 2013), it’s a film so weird and begging to be mocked or misunderstood and yet speaks so earnestly and beautifully about women and sexuality that championing it feels like my own personal mission of the year. Is the film about feminism, is it about sex, is it just about humanity? Maybe all 3. No matter what, I haven’t stopped thinking about it.


1.
 Guardians of the Galaxy (Dir: James Gunn)
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One of these days, my #1 movie of the year will be a surprise. 2014 is not that year. (Sorry not sorry?) If you talked to me even in passing anytime during or after summer 2014, you already know that Guardians of the Galaxy was hands down my favorite movie of the year. I saw it SIX TIMES in theatres and every viewing made me love it even more. It is a joyous experience to watch this film. It is so rare for a movie to not only meet ridiculously high expectations but to exceed them and actually turn out to be EXACTLY what you wanted it to be. This is one of those movies. Guardians of the Galaxy is every movie I loved as a kid, it’s every movie I grew up to love. It’s Star Wars, it’s Indy, it’s Goonies and Serenity yet somehow it still manages to feel refreshing and new and is patently part of the Marvel canon and unmistakably a James Gunn film. It’s REALLY funny and REALLY weird and as much fun as you’re having you still find yourself incredibly moved by the film’s end. (A tree made me cry. A TREE. This movie is singular.) I’ve seen it enough that it feels like an old friend and yet I’m still noticing new things about it. Props to Marvel for having the guts to try something a little out of their comfort zone and for having the savvy to execute it pitch perfectly. I am absolutely beside myself that this studio and these films are happening during my lifetime.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Dir: Alejandro G. Innaritu)
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While I didn’t connect with it as much as I would have liked (more on that later), Birdman was undeniably a technical marvel and a fascinating film to watch. A real movie-lover’s movie.


Foxcatcher (Dir: Bennett Miller)
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Foxcatcher is a weird, bleak film that is downright unpleasant to watch. But it’s also kind of darkly funny and Channing Tatum straight up ACTS, y’all. And he’s GOOD. We have come a LONG way from G.I. Joe and Nicholas Sparks movies, my friend; I feel weirdly proud. Overall, the movie definitely suffers at times from its slow pacing but when it’s got you, it’s got you.


– They Came Together (Dir: David Wain)
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They Came Together is an intensely silly, aggressively surreal satire; it’s not for everybody. I know that because when I saw it, there was about 10 people in the theatre when it started and within the first 20 minutes the only people left were myself, my brother and one other patron. But the 3 of us laughed our weirdo little heads off. (Streaming on Netflix starting April 17!)


– Veronica Mars (Dir: Rob Thomas)
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I hesitated to include this movie in my Top 25 because I knew there was no way I could be objective about it. I watched Veronica Mars the series back when it was on TV (remember UPN, kids?) and I contributed a nice chunk of change to the Veronica Mars movie Kickstarter campaign. This was a film that I needed to see and I’m so glad I did. But I honestly couldn’t tell you if it’s any good or not. I’m too invested. But as a fan, it was worth waiting for. (And not just for that shot of Logan leaning against that car Jake Ryan style.)


– X-Men: Days of Future Past (Dir: Bryan Singer)
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2011’s X-Men First Class was a mess but an enjoyable one that gave me hope for the franchise’s future. Days of Future Past, while still imperfect, might be the first X-Men movie I can say I actually walked away from feeling satisfied. I can’t say exactly why this movie meant so much to me (oh, the spoilers) but just know that with this film, the franchise has righted all the wrongs (and there have been SO very many wrongs) and by the film’s end I was so darn happy I almost cried. Seriously. It got weird.

The Disappointments

Crystal’s Top 5 Most Disappointing Movies of 2014

5. The One I Love (Dir: Charlie McDowell)
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The festival buzz surrounding The One I Love was exciting, with praise for both lead performances (Elisabeth Moss is one of television’s finest actresses and the fact that she doesn’t get more film work is baffling to me. I love Mark Duplass as a filmmaker, I like him as an actor, so this was encouraging news), praise for the film’s apparent marriage of romance and science fiction and warnings of “don’t let anyone spoil you, don’t even watch a trailer!” So it was incredibly disappointing when I finally sat down with this movie and found that the film has a great premise that is completely squandered in execution; sci-fi components are quietly introduced and then swiftly ignored and the supposedly revelatory twists are boneheadedly obvious. But that’s not my beef here. My whole problem is that none of this would have mattered if all of the twists and sci-fi tricks MEANT anything. The whole time I was assuming these complex plot devices were going to be revealed as some sort of metaphor or statement on marriage… and the reveal never came. These were twists for the sake of twists – and not particularly well-explained ones either. Apparently Mark Duplass and sci-fi romances are my cinematic nemesis. (Yes, that’s a jab at you, Safety Not Guaranteed!)


4.
 Annabelle (Dir: John R. Leonetti)
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That poster is a thousand times more terrifying than anything in Annabelle‘s entire 99 minute run-time. I know it was silly of me to expect anything from this movie but I loved The Conjuring so much I was hoping this film would be a nice companion to it. I was wrong.


3.
 Big Hero 6 (Dir: Don Hall & Chris Williams)
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In a lot of ways, Big Hero 6 was a lot better than I expected – the pacing, the humor, the visuals. But I was immensely disappointed that I was able to to guess every major plot point – and I’m not one of those people who sits there and actively tries to predict the next story beat, it was just all telegraphed SO obviously. I found it hard to be moved by the emotional beats when the only emotion I was feeling was annoyance at how basic and unoriginal everything felt. This world and these characters deserved a lot better.


2.
 Obvious Child (Dir: Gillian Robespierre)
Obvious Child, Sundance Film Festival 2014
As I discussed earlier this year, I am a Saturday Night Live junkie. I was thrilled that Jenny Slate was starring in a film that not only was finally garnering her some critical recognition but was also being touted as re-imagining the romantic comedy for the 21st century. Unfortunately I found Obvious Child to be remarkably unremarkable. Slate remains an indisputable talent but the film is a paint-by-numbers “quirky” indie romance, stuck in that no-mans-land of “not funny enough to be a comedy, not substantial enough to be a drama.”


1.
 Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
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I wish I liked Birdman as much as Birdman likes Birdman. I can’t deny its singularity, I appreciate the craft that went into it, I marveled as I watched it unfold on the screen before me. But it meant absolutely nothing to me; when it was finished (that’s a deliberate word choice, this movie wasn’t over, it was finished), I was left with such an overwhelming feeling of “That’s it?” For all it was doing, the capital-A Acting, the meta-narrative hoop-jumping, the technical cartwheels – it just feel so empty and inconsequential to me. Doing all that should have made me feel SOME kind of something. But I remained unmoved. Emotionally, it gave me nothing. Technically, it’s a masterpiece. From the performances, to the score, to the camerawork; but again, if it all doesn’t add up to anything, is it really all that impressive?

 

Honorable Mentions:

– This Is Where I Leave You (Dir: Shawn Levy)
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It would be near impossible for me not to enjoy family dramedy starring (among others) Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Connie Britton, and Kathryn Hahn. I liked this movie well enough and then I left the theatre and promptly forgot it existed. Not ideal.


Godzilla (Dir: Gareth Edwards)
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I’m not one of the “Godzilla wasn’t even in it!” people, I just thought it was fairly boring. And I’m not just referring to Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

 

Special Achievement in Disappointment

“Wasted Opportunity: The Movie” 2014 Edition

– Let’s Be Cops (Dir: Luke Greenfield)
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I can’t even begin to describe how maddening I found this movie to be. (In fact, I don’t have to describe it, transcribed it on my Tumblr.) I enjoy Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. every week on New Girl but even my pre-existing affection for the duo could not save this atrocity of a movie.


– The Other Woman (Dir: Nick Cassavetes)
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On the one hand, I want to give props to Cameron Diaz for continuously proving not only that a woman can successfully open a major studio comedy but she doesn’t have to be 25 to do it. On the other hand, this movie was supremely unfunny, mildly offensive and kind of hateful. All three leading ladies (especially Leslie Mann but yes, even Kate Upton!) deserve so much better than this and the largely female demographic that gave this movie nearly $200 million worldwide deserve so much better. How is it Bridesmaids was already almost 4 years ago and this is still the type of female-driven comedies we’re getting?!


That Awkward Moment (Dir: Tom Gormican)
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Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller are three of the most charming and talented young actors around. Their easy chemistry in That Awkward Moment is sorely under-utilized and the scenes that feature the trio simply hanging out and clearly enjoying each other’s company prove that the film could have been a worthwhile endeavor if only the material were up to par. Don’t even get me started on how little Imogen Poots is given to do.


– Walk of Shame (Dir: Steven Brill)
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I don’t know why Elizabeth Banks isn’t a gigantic movie star, she’s been a solid comedic presence for well over 10 years now. Which is why it saddens me so that Walk of Shame is her first real starring vehicle. Banks does everything she can to make the film’s idea of comedy work and I admit that her efforts made the movie much more tolerable than I ever expected it to be. But the few laugh-out-loud moments are not worth the 90+ minutes of inexplicable, nonsensical character decisions and bizarrely misogynistic and racist humor (I cannot believe some of these jokes were written in this decade). This movie is depressing not because of what it is but because of what it could have been. DO BETTER, HOLLYWOOD. 

The Surprises

Crystal’s Top 5 Most Surprising Movies of 2014

5. Guardians of the Galaxy
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Sure it’s a Marvel movie but even I, Queen of the Fangirls, have doubts sometimes. Guardians of the Galaxy was absolutely a risky move for Marvel – relatively unknown comic, edgy director, no “stars” to guarantee an audience, August release date, talking trees and raccoons and it’s the first Marvel movie to not take place primarily on Earth! Once trailers and buzz started making the rounds, its biggest challenge arose: my expectations. How could this movie possibly live up to the crazy high expectations I now had for it? Spoiler: it did.


4.
 Lucy (Dir: Luc Besson)
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Fascinating nonsense. Captivating gibberish. I’m still not entirely sure what exactly Lucy was but I do know it was completely engrossing. It thinks it’s a whole lot smarter than it is and it makes SO little sense and yet I can’t figure out why I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. There’s some interesting ideas here that are at times -surprisingly, quite frankly- interestingly presented but as a movie it’s kind of a mess. But the ending seemed to piss my audience off quite a bit and that’s always a plus in my book. A memorable experience, which I was not expecting.


3.
 Edge of Tomorrow
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Tom Cruise gives good blockbuster. I know that, I’m a fan. But after the bore that was Oblivion, I needed convincing why I should invest in this year’s entry in what I affectionately refer to as “the Tom Cruise running” genre. I’ve never been more glad to be proven wrong.


2.
 The Lego Movie
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Don’t act like you weren’t shocked by its quality too! All hail Lord and Miller.


1.
 Into The Woods (Dir: Rob Marshall)itwsocial3What a shocker: this movie/music/TV nerd is also a musical theatre nerd as well. Stephen Sondheim is a badass and “Into the Woods” has fascinated me for many years now. For the uninitiated, “Into the Woods” is a super dark, thematically mature musical that co-opts the stories of several fairy tale characters (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.) in a morality tale of sorts about wish fulfillment, sexuality, responsibility, parenting – all the fun stuff. So obviously I prepared for the worst when it was announced that a PG-rated, Disney-produced adaptation would be releasing on CHRISTMAS DAY. Into the Woods is on this list because… it was honestly not as bad as I thought it was going to be. While I would still kill for an unabridged adaptation, the edits Disney made were not as extreme as one would assume (and in some cases strangely made the material a bit darker than originally intended) and I found myself taking it all in and enjoying it rather than sitting there nit-picking. The cast is excellent (surprisingly in some cases, unsurprisingly in others – you figure it out), the production design is fantastic and honestly, the source material is so great even if this movie weren’t this watchable, it would be worth a viewing just to see this story and hear these songs again. Even Disneyfied, Sondheim is boss.

The Forgotten

The 5 Movies Crystal Straight Up Forgot She Saw Until Letterboxd Reminded Her Right Now

– Horrible Bosses 2 (Dir: Sean Anders)

I forgot about a movie with Chris Pine. That’s how bad this was. I honestly think the original Horrible Bosses is one of the most under-appreciated comedies in recent memory. And because of this horrid sequel, it will probably stay that way.


– Muppets Most Wanted (Dir: James Bobin)
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I actually thought this was fairly good and fun so I don’t know what the cause for my amnesia is. Tina Fey is a Russian prison guard! How could I forget that?!


– Non-Stop (Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra)
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Again, not necessarily bad. Just decidedly unmemorable apparently. (But how do you forget a movie where Liam Neeson fights a dude in an airplane bathroom?!)


– Oculus (Dir: Mike Flanagan)
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Literally no memories. I vaguely remember thinking how much better Karen Gillan deserved and being pissed off at the ending.


– Sex Tape (Dir: Jake Kasdan)
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My brain is clearly trying to erase all memories of this unfunny atrocity so that my love affair with Jason Segel can continue. We’ll get through this, buddy.

 

The Memories

Crystal’s Top 5 Most Memorable Moviegoing Experiences of 2014

5. The Fan Experience: Veronica Mars and Guardians of the Galaxy
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At this point I probably don’t need to reiterate that I’m a huge Marvel fan. Also I’m a giant TV nerd. As mentioned above, Veronica Mars rose from her 7-year-slumber in the TV graveyard and became a fan-funded major motion picture in 2014, something I never could’ve imagined happening. I also never let myself dream that I would see such a film playing at a multiplex to a sold-out house on opening night. And there’s a good chance that every other person in that theatre felt that way too, which made for a memorable, electric experience. The cheers (for surprise cameos of beloved B-characters!), the gasps (plot twists!), the giggles (inside jokes, callbacks!), the sniffles (emotional beats!) – everything resonated that much more because I was experiencing it with a few hundred stranger-friends.

Similarly, the first time I saw Guardians of the Galaxy was at an advanced screening I won passes to from a local radio station. I was already beyond excited, borderline obsessed with this movie so getting to see it an entire week before release had me bouncing off the walls. Waiting in line for hours was somehow equal parts unbearable (I was too excited!) and fun (the people in line behind me were arguing over whether or not to fire somebody from their podcast!) and by the time we were let in to the theatre, I was practically floating to my seat. Watching that film for the first time was always going to be a special experience for me but it was even more magical because I was in a room full of people who were just as excited as I was. Gasps, cheers, laughs, applause and sniffles in all the right places. And a rightful boo as the credits finished and everyone discovered that Marvel had omitted the trademark post-credits scene for the sake of spoilers. We even secretly got free T-shirts from the event organizers (we were leaving the auditorium at the same time as them and they had a box of shirts they had decided not to give away since they didn’t have enough for all the attendees so they said we could have some if we kept it on the DL.)

And while that first experience is perhaps most memorable because it was under such special circumstances, each and every screening I saw of Guardians of the Galaxy ended up being pretty extraordinary and wonderful. The Thursday night “midnight” (in quotes because it was actually 8PM) screening was obviously filled with excitement and like-minded diehards. Later that weekend when I took my parents to see it, the theatre was positively buzzing with excitement – you could tell there were people there (like me) who had seen the film multiple times already and the people who were there for the first time couldn’t wait to be in on all the fun they’d been hearing about all weekend. My parents loved the film so much that we went back the following weekend and that same joy and exhilaration was still in the air. I went twice more over the course of the theatrical run and every time the electric current in the theatre just grew stronger and stronger – not just for me but for the entire audience. People like me who couldn’t get enough and people who couldn’t wait any longer to see what all the fuss was about. The last time I saw Guardians was in its 8th week of release and even though I’d seen it 5 times previously and it seemed like a lot of the (still quite full) audience had seen it as well, it was no less thrilling, no less of a party atmosphere in the theatre. Memorable times indeed.

4. The Silent Treatment: Nightcrawler, Snowpiercer and The Raid 2
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It seems like a weird thing to say but a crowded movie theatre is one of my favorite places to be. Sure, there’s the occasional texter or talker or howling child but there’s nothing like the communal experience and hearing that instant feedback of approval or disapproval. I saw THREE films last year that elicited a response I don’t think I’d ever experienced before in a large audience: complete silence. Whether it was from total engagement in the film or total bewilderment (or perhaps a healthy mixture of both), NightcrawlerSnowpiercer and The Raid 2 were all met with unwavering stillness in the audience. It was cool but it was also kind of eerie. While I saw The Raid 2 in an “art house” theatre, where it’s not completely unusual for audiences to view a film with a sense of reverence, I saw Nightcrawler and Snowpiercer in legit multiplexes, filled with everyday moviegoers who were ostensibly just hoping to chill with Jake Gyllenhaal or Chris Evans for a couple hours and instead were met with one of the most intense moviegoing experiences they’ve (and I’ve) ever had.


3.
 The Test Screening: The Interview
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As previously mentioned, I was part of a test screening audience for The Interview back in May 2014. I’d never been involved with anything like that before so that process in and of itself was fascinating. Anticipation and excitement always builds when you spend a couple hours waiting in line for an event (I went with my brother and two friends and we were overexcited dorks who were the second group in line) and in a now-hilarious anecdote, we spent the majority of our time in line mocking the half-non-disclosure agreement, half-waiver we had to fill out before we were allowed entry. “We’re liable for up to $5 million in damage if we reveal any details about the movie?” “Sony Pictures is not responsible for any harm that comes to us during the screening? What does that mean?” (Months later when the hacking/threats began, my brother joked that the hackers probably had our information now and we should probably go on the lam.) Once the paperwork was sorted out and we were searched for recording devices (Marvel just asked us to turn in our phones at the door, Sony denied entry to anyone who entered the building with a phone), we were split into groups (I’m not certain but I think they may have been testing 2 different cuts of the film?) and let in.

The screening took place at my local theatre, a place I’ve spent countless hours in, but the auditorium looked almost unrecognizable with “reserved” sections roped off (because we’re nosy, we sat next to some of the “reserved” seats and my brother later told me that Evan Goldberg had been sitting next to us taking notes for the majority of the film. A Twitter search later revealed that Seth Rogen had been taking notes in the other auditorium), tables with stacks of surveys to hand out and microphones and cameras set up to capture every audience reaction from every possible angle. Once the film started, however, none of that was on our minds as we were thrilled to not only get a months-ahead look at a film by some of our favorite creators (this was back when the movie was scheduled to come out in early October) but to be some of the first people to see the film (this was apparently one of the -if not the first- non-industry screening) and to be part of its creative process. The film had little score, few music cues and a few shots of unfinished green screen backgrounds but for the most part, it was the movie that ended up being released in December. (Save for, of course, the much-discussed Kim Jong-un death scene which was much longer, much gorier and yes, much funnier in its original incarnation.)

After the film, we were asked to fill out a two-page survey that asked us in great detail about our thoughts on the film. Favorite parts, least favorite parts; were we already fans of these actors? Did this movie change our opinion of these actors? And, again in a now-hilarious anecdote, reallyreally specific questions about the film’s violence and whether or not the degree of violence would prevent us from recommending the film to someone. At the time, we of course had no idea that The Interview would turn into one of the most controversial films in recent memory but even if things hadn’t gone that way, it was still a memorable and exciting thing to be a part of a film’s journey like this.


2.
 The Ice Cube Meltdown : 22 Jump Street
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Watching comedies with a full house is always a fun experience and opening night crowds are even better. As I said above, there’s nothing like that instant feedback. There was no doubt in my mind that seeing 22 Jump Street on opening night was going to be a memorable experience but I had no idea how memorable. The laughs were already loud and consistent when a plot reveal involving Ice Cube resulted in the biggest explosion of hysterical laughter I have ever heard or been a part of. People were laughing so hard they were straight up screaming. I don’t think I’d ever heard an audience laugh that hard for that long at anything in all my moviegoing days. That is, until a few scenes later when Channing Tatum’s character discovers said plot reveal (spoiler courtesy even though the film made over $300 million, you’re welcome.) and an even bigger uproar broke out. Screaming, shrieking, clapping, people throwing themselves back in their chairs – it could really and truly only be described as a laugh riot.

Assuming that had to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime, “only on opening night” kind of experiences, my brother and I decided to take advantage of our local theatre’s $5 Tuesday special and see 22 Jump Street again. Sure, it was only a few days later but we loved the film and thought we’d be able to catch up on dialogue we missed the first time around because of the brouhaha. THE SAME THING HAPPENED. ON A TUESDAY AFTERNOON. It was unreal, the commotion seemed even more extreme the 2nd time around. And to make things even stranger, it appeared that this was also an encore viewing for a good percentage of the audience (people were laughing in anticipation of the jokes rather than at them). The opening night free-for-all was something I’d never experienced before and never thought I’d experience again so to have it happen in almost the exact same way only a few days later was nuts. And amazing.


1.
The Teenybopper Takeover: One Direction: Where We Are – The Concert Film (Dir: Paul Dugdale)
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I am a recovering teenybopper but sometimes old habits die hard. Thus, I found myself inviting my mother (I inherited my boy-band tendencies from her) to join me for a free screening of One Direction’s new concert movie. (I emphasize free. I wasn’t going to pay $16 or whatever the current “event screening” charge is to embarrass myself. I have limits, guys.) I expected to hear some catchy songs, secretly lust after a couple of age-inappropriate Brits (hey Harry and Liam hey), maybe giggle at some overzealous fans. I did not expect the SHEER PANDEMONIUM that I found myself in the middle of. We arrived at the theatre a good 40 minutes before the showtime and the theatre was already packed, we somehow nabbed the last stadium seats in a side alcove in the top row. When the regular in-theatre pre-show started, it was met with
hysterical screaming. When the regular in-theatre pre-show featured an ad for the movie we were about to see? ALL THE SCREAMING AND STRAIGHT UP PANTING. If I wasn’t so unnerved, it would’ve been hilarious. (OK, it was still pretty hilarious.) I was woefully unprepared for this weird alt-verse I had stepped into, as evidenced by some tweets I submitted to document my demise:

The evening somehow found a way to take an even more horrifying turn when the lights went down at 7PM as scheduled and… nothing happened.

45 terrifying minutes spent on the brink of teenage mutiny later, the film started. As you could probably surmise, this development did nothing to calm my fellow moviegoers. Think of the loudest sound you’ve ever heard and now make it 1001 times louder and raise the pitch to an ear-piercing decibel. Imagine that noise coming out of at least 200 people all around you and you’ll have an idea of what that auditorium sounded like. This was Beatlemania revisited IN A MOVIE THEATRE. There was screaming and crying and waving at the screen DURING A MOVIE. By the end of the film, there was literal dancing in the aisles. It was a baffling, nerve-wracking, alarming night at the movies. But dagnabbit, it was fun. I’d never experienced anything like it and while I ultimately enjoyed myself, DEAR GOD I hope I never experience anything like it ever again.

Bless your kind heart and your surely tired eyes if you made it all the way to the end. Comment below or tweet me @talentedwreason to congratulate me for finally finishing this entry (or condemn me for taking so long) and you can find my reviews of all these films (and more!) at my on-going film diary at Letterboxd.com

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One thought on “Crystal’s Best of 2014: The Movies

  1. Pingback: Crystal’s Best of 2015: The Movies – Talented With Reason

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