Friday, January 2, 2015

The Movies I Saw in 2014

It’s been a long year. I can’t recall a point this year when it felt like things were moving along quickly. Time slowed down in 2014. While I was more busy than ever, the months never seemed to zoom by.

This was actually my first full year span spent working full-time. Gradually my distaste for this obligation has faded as I’ve learned to accept its inevitability. It’s also a very good situation to be in, relatively speaking. In a notoriously traffic-clogged city, my commute is 15 minutes, with no highway travel. The office environment is mostly relaxed, my coworkers are cool people, it’s extremely rare that I work more than 40 hours, and it’s a gig that pays the bills. Plus, the nagging 9-to-5 didn’t hold me back from traveling to Europe for two weeks, finding and moving into a new apartment with my girlfriend, playing in a hockey league, playing in tennis leagues, writing dozens of blog posts, socializing, watching a ridiculous amount of baseball, leading a bi-monthly Finnegans Wake Reading Group, lounging aplenty, and indulging all the other luxuries a working class person tends to afford. 

More importantly for the purposes of this blog, I consumed many, many movies, read a bunch of books, and absorbed a handful of new hip hop albums. Here I would like to present a little rundown of each of those, starting with film.

In the year 2014 I attended more movies than any other year of my life. My girlfriend and I live in an apartment that's within easy walking distance of two high-quality, meal-serving cinemas so it was something we did almost every other week. Four years ago, as I mostly documented on this blog at the time, I lived within walking distance of Petco Park in San Diego and got to attend something like 20 baseball games that year (when the Padres were a surprise contender all year). This current situation feels sort of like that. World class entertainment is only a short trek away, so I may as well take advantage while I can.

Here are the films I watched in 2014...

Saw it twice in theaters and would love to see it again. While it’s received a pretty broad range of reviews, I tend to side with those who consider it one of the best movies of the 21st century. The deep themes resonate, the suspense consumes you, the intricately designed plot invites analysis (and I don’t mean the “here’s what Christopher Nolan got wrong” kind), the soundtrack mesmerizes, and the father-daughter relationship at the heart of the film rattles your emotions. I think it’s Christopher Nolan’s best work, an admirable homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film you must see in theaters, and a movie I know I'll still be talking about ten years from now.

Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
As I’ve written before, when it comes to art, style rules. With its narrative-threading jazz drums, unbelievably long takes, snappy dialogue, and extraordinary usage of special effects, Birdman has a style all its own. A fast-moving, impressively shot, unique masterpiece from Alejandro González Iñárritu that thumbs its nose at the outlandish explosion of comic book films, this was my second favorite film of the year behind Interstellar.

Gone Girl
A film I'd like to see again. One of the premier pop auteurs of our era, David Fincher renders this thriller novel in gripping, tense, confounding fashion. It had me on the edge of my seat throughout and, as with most of Fincher's films, I sensed a smorgasbord of subtextual themes. So much going on in this film, I'd love to see Rob Ager take a crack at analyzing it.

A special film from young director Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is so extremely intense that I was sweating by the end of it. An ambitious drummer in a prestigious music school clashes with an abusive, sadistic and unfortunately powerful teacher/composer. They both strive for musical greatness at the expense of everything else in life, and their showdown is viscerally entertaining.

A subtle, slow-moving and lengthy flick that follows a Texas boy and his family over 12 years. There's really only one scene that provides any kind of emotional jolt (if you've seen it, you know what I'm referring to) but this is a film whose themes and images slowly seep into you. I thought about it for many weeks afterward. It's probably one of the most ambitious films ever made and for that Richard Linklater deserves all the accolades he's received, but I wasn't as head-over-heels for this film as most people were.

The Immigrant
A dark, somewhat depressing drama that I was surprisingly in love with. In beautifully rendered 1920s New York City, a Polish woman named Ewa (Marion Cotillard) arrives to Ellis Island with her sister who is ill and thus quarantined for her disease. Pouncing upon an opportunity, the slick swindler Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) offers to help Ewa but he's actually a pimp and coerces her into working for him. The film follows Ewa's struggle to overcome these obstacles and free her sister from Ellis Island so they can settle into a life in America. It's a story of sacrifice, determination, brotherly conflict, and redemption. It was one of the year's best films, in my opinion.

Jodorowsky's Dune
Never got to see this one in theaters, sadly, and only watched about 75% of it on an online stream. Have to seek out a DVD of it because this was one of the films I was most intrigued by during 2014. I read just about every review out there. The film is a documentary telling the story of enigmatic director Alejandro Jodorowsky's preparations to create an epic cinematic space opera, an adaptation of the sci-fi novel Dune, in the 1970s. The film never happened, but some of its planned elements and innovations did find their way directly into later sci-fi hits like Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, and Terminator. Interviews with the ebullient 80-something-year-old artist/director/"spiritual warrior" give this film its pulsating vitality as he passionately describes assembling a team of "spiritual warriors" (many of whom he encountered through synchronicity) including starring roles for Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine, and Salvador Dali with art design from the likes of H.R. Giger and music from Pink Floyd. Jodorowsky's script would have resulted in a film 10 hours long. Its exorbitant costs led to the project being shelved just before filming began. This engrossing doc brings the legend to light.

A nice little comedy flick that highlights the struggles of a top-notch chef as he decides to quit the restaurant business (because of an overbearing owner) and open up a food truck. He learns some important lessons about fatherhood and generally makes the movie-going audience salivate with each meal he cooks. Thankfully, I watched this one in an Alamo Drafthouse where food is served. Months later, the mere mention of the scene where the chef prepares a crispy grilled cheese sandwich for his son had some friends and I seeking out a local grilled-cheese-specializing food truck to fulfill our immediate cravings.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
This franchise has produced some spectacular films. This latest one is a time travel thriller mostly focused in the 1960s as Wolverine, commandeering the mind of his 1960s self through the telekinetic powers of Rogue, tries to reconcile a young Professor X and Magneto and prevent the beginning of a chain of events that will eventually lead to the extermination of the X-Men mutants in the distant future. If that doesn't sound like a badass superhero movie, I don't know what would.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The latest from Wes Anderson features all of the actors, camera shots, and pastels we've come to expect from this predictable-yet-awesome filmmaker. This one takes place in Europe during the interwar years, following the spontaneous adventure of a dedicated and elegant concierge for a mountainside hotel and his young protégé. Harvey Keitel has a great role in this film as an old hardened jailbird. Could be Wes Anderson's best film yet.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I didn't get to see the previous film in its entirety but had always heard good things about it. When I saw the previews for this one, it didn't look appealing at all. A film filled entirely with CGI-crafted talking apes couldn't possibly be good. And yet I enjoyed this film very much. San Francisco was the star of this movie, as far as I'm concerned. It was rendered beautifully here as the film's main setting.

The Skeleton Twins
Despite starring two comedic actors known for their roles on Saturday Night Live, this was a pretty dark, depressing movie that brought me down without any counterbalancing upliftment. There were some funny moments, but it was mostly dreary.

Very disappointing. This had the elements to be a good movie, with a monster battle playing out in photogenic San Francisco, but it failed miserably.

The Lego Movie
Didn't get to see it when in theaters but have watched it three times since. A hybrid of Toy Story and The Matrix as sentient Lego characters attempt to cut through the veil and awaken others while pursued by agents of the powers that be, this was a brilliant and hilarious film that both adults and children can enjoy. If you've ever played with Legos, you will love this movie.

Still want to see: Guardians of the Galaxy, Dumb and Dumber To, Foxcatcher, Edge of Tomorrow, Inherent Vice (not seeing a wide US release until January 2015), Nightcrawler, Life Itself, so many more. It was a great year for movies.

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