Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Dorkies 2014! (Matt's Picks)

    After two pretty rough years, 2014 finally brought it home for me.  Sure, it’s not 2011, but it’s a good year.  While the Fall season produced few films of note, the earlier part of the year was quite nice.  And that meant that I didn’t have such a glum demeanor throughout.  There were, perhaps, few so called ‘great’ films.  But there were plenty of good ones, and that’s OK by me.  Plus, they were all over the place, from drama to action, foreign to domestic.  Nice.  Take a look back at Dorkies past with 2011, 2012, and 2013.  And give a listen to our ITMODcast episodes about our top 10 movies; episode 1 and episode 2.

10.  The Raid 2:  The Raid and Dredd came out the same year, and they’ve got basically the same ‘plot.’  Between the two, I preferred Dredd, in part because of the science fiction elements; in part because they finally got the character right on screen.  But The Raid still slipped on to my top 20 list, because of how awesome the action and fighting were.  So, I was glad to see the sequel, but not especially expecting much.  What I got was a thrill ride whirlwind of extreme violence and visceral horror.  Half way through the movie, I was begging characters to start using guns to kill people, just to be more humane.  The story, while nothing new or special, does take the characters into new territory and the acting and character beats make the movie stand out among its peers, if the tremendous fight choreography didn’t already.

9.  Cold in July:  Director Jim Mickle has been making low budget horror films that have been among the best in recent years (Mulberry St., Stake Land, & We Are What We Are).  This time around he turns his eye on an 80s set crime story, and it’s awesome.  You will not be ready for where the film takes you.  When you think it’s one kind of story, it becomes another.  And when it goes dark…It goes so danged dark.  And Don Johnson!

8.  All You Need is Kill (aka Edge of Tomorrow):  Though there have been a lot of very disappointing science fiction movies lately, there really have been a lot of good ones.  In this Groundhog Day style story of a man stuck repeating the moments before his death at the hands of alien invaders, Tom Cruise gets to do what he does best in solid action scene after solid action scene.  The film doesn’t talk down to the audience, which is nice.  There’s a good story, and a good protagonist character arc.  But what I also really liked was that Emily Blunt, who is quickly becoming a Matt favorite, gets a meaty, badass role.  Science fiction film remains far, far behind the literature.  But I’m hoping that at least in the coming years, we can finally see women getting better parts in genre films.  More like this, less like Anne Hathaway in Interstellar (The crying…Oh, the crying).

7.  Mr. Turner:  It’s not too surprising that a movie about a painter would be beautiful.  But this late life story of J.M.W. Turner is more than a visual feast.  As the camera moves around through his day to day life, we get a growing understanding of the man and his world, of the wonders and horrors of life in Victorian England.  On the surface, the film is bright and beautiful, with less of the grim, sooty gloom you might expect from the world of Dickens and the like.  But as Turner’s servant slowly rots and one by one people die of various sicknesses, or chronicle lives of shattering horror, the viewer is reminded of just how terrible the past was, even for those we think of as privileged (in this case, the British upper class).  I like that the film doesn’t feel the need to tell you a lot.  You watch, and you take it in, and you make your own judgments.  Turner’s extremely sweet and loving relationship with his father, his horrible relationship with an estranged family, his budding romance with a twice widowed woman, the awkward dealings with a self-important/self-destructive and money obsessed fellow artist, his puppy-like devoted servant… We see it all, but without being told what we should think.  (As a side note, I saw this right after seeing this year’s Belle, and they make fine companion pieces.  Belle takes place about a hundred years earlier, and both have interesting things to say about class and society in England of that time).

6.  Ida:  Gorgeous black & white cinematography draws you in to this story of a cloistered young woman, about to take her vows and become a nun.  Contacted by an estranged aunt Wanda, she takes a trip out into the world, where she learns about her past and what it is that she’s preparing to give up.  Generations of guilt and horror lurk, as Ida explores her family history and her aunt reveals dark secrets.  The Holocaust, the Communist purges, and the shadow of the Cold War.  Dang.  Like 2012’s Barbara, it looks at the other side of the Iron Curtain in a different way than I’m used to.  Ida and Wanda are two fascinating characters, set apart from their world for different reasons.  Quiet, but compelling.

5.  Guardians of the Galaxy:  Not a lot of movies, outside of the original Star Wars trilogy embrace the crazy, fun, weird, wild worlds of Space Opera.  And fewer still do it successfully.  Guardians of the Galaxy takes a handful of obscure Marvel Comics characters (though for once, characters I was familiar with) and thrusts them center stage.  And it’s Marvelous.  It’s like Farscape got a movie.  Fun, funny, irreverent, and full of heart.  The tone is light, but it still manages to tug on the heartstrings in ways the other Marvel Cinematic Universe films haven’t.  As a whole, I think the MCU films are fantastic, but individually, this and Thor are the only ones I truly love.  I feel like maybe I’m living in another Science Fiction golden age, akin to the 1980s.  Sure, I may be disappointed by the odd Prometheus or Interstellar, but I’m getting Science Fiction that ranges from thought provoking to heart pounding.  And I love it.  And finally, genre films like this are being seen and enjoyed by all, not poo-pooed by snobs.

4.  Jodorowsky’s Dune:  I saw a lot of documentaries this year, many of them quite good, many of them exciting and inspiring (see my top 20 for more).  But this portrait of professional mad bastard Alejandro Jodorowsky hits all my buttons.  It was a different time.  The 1970s.  And someone thought, let’s adapt the sprawling epic novel Dune for the big screen.  And of course, let’s put the man behind Holy Mountain and El Topo at the helm.  WHAAAAAAAT?  As this master of the weird assembled his Avengers of Transcendence, a movie that would shape decades of science fiction film would begin to grow.  But it was too much.  It couldn’t happen.  Yet, out of the death of this overly ambitious project, so much was born.  For a film buff, and specifically for a science fiction buff, this movie is a must.  And the central figure, Jodorowsky, is a marvel.  He lives up to everything you expect from the guy who wrote The Metabarons.  Makes me wish I could travel to an alternate universe, where Tom Selleck was Indiana Jones, Christopher Walken was Han Solo, and Jodorowsky made Dune (and perhaps took humanity to a new state of being).

3.  Under the Skin:  Did you watch Drive and think, “Why’s everyone talking so much?”  Did you see Only God Forgives and think, “Why’s there so much exposition?”  Well, have I got a movie for you.  I can’t really tell you what it’s about.  Figuring that out is part of the magic of watching the movie.  I can tell you this.  There is no exposition.  The film never tells you what’s happening.  It’s beautifully shot.  It’s occasionally horrific.  The first time I watched it, the ending really, really bothered me.  The second time I watched it, I came to the belief that the ending completely worked.  The music is very weird.  Hope that all helps.

2.  Godzilla:  I could gush and gush about this film.  It lived up to all my Kaiju hopes.  From the first teaser trailer with Oppenheimer’s “Destroyer of Worlds” speech to the moment Godzilla shot atomic destruction down the Muto’s throat, I was buzzing with excitement.  This is the Godzilla film I’ve been waiting for, the first one to really, really get to the heart of the beast since the classic Showa era.  Godzilla is the essence of the Earth, the manifestation of its will, nature personified.  Be it aliens, creatures from the deepest parts of the planet, pollution, or human meddling, Godzilla will put things to right, no matter how much gets broken in the process.  Bring on King Ghidorah!

1.  The Grand Budapest Hotel:  Probably the most meticulously Wes Anderson movie Wes Anderson has made yet, this film is at turns funny, crass, sad, and intensely strange.  If you allow yourself to buy into Anderson’s ‘Doll House’ film making, this will be a delightful journey.  Elements hearken back to Golden Age Hollywood, to European adventure movies, and to Cold War paranoia.  The cast and cast of characters are top notch Anderson, with plenty of regulars and a few new faces.  And Ralph Fiennes is in top form as the wonderfully debauched, debonair, and downright profane M. Gustave.

Best Actress:  Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl plays so many different roles, from sweet to Satan.  Pike’s changes through the movie elevate what could easily have been silly into a truly terrifying performance.  And sometimes, in spite of all the horror she does, you still find yourself hoping things work out for the best.  That’s a tough thing to sell.  (Runner up: Marion Cotillard in The Immigrant)

Best Actor:  Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel is a profane charmer.  It’s a return of dashing Fiennes, and I love it.  He jumps into the hyper-stylized world of Wes Anderson and starts throwing dialog like he’s always lived there.  His delivery is as impeccable as M. Gustave’s Hotel.  A great comic performance if ever there were one.  (Runner up: Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner)

Best Supporting Actress:   Agata Kulesza in Ida almost steels the show as the weary and wary old revolutionary.  She is the bitter, shattered husk of a disillusioned party shill, and Kulesza manages to make you feel for someone that by all rights you should hate.  A monster in her latter days, possibly redeemed in some small way by gifts of worldly wisdom to her innocent niece.  (Runner up: Rene Russo in Nightcrawler)

Best Supporting Actor:  Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy took a character that could have been dull, even with the script, and spiced it up with his teddy bear charm.  It’s really a break-out role for him, and I hope that he can turn it into something.  (Runner up: Don Johnson in Cold in July)

Best Director:  Pawel Pawlikowski for Ida.  A beautiful, tight, well acted study of two women in the shadow of the Iron Curtain.  It may not be as flashy as some, but it’s darned fine.  (Runner up: Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel)

The Bottom Five Films of the Year:

(I don’t even want to talk about how bad these movies are.  I’d simply advise not to bother).

5.  Raze

4.  Hector and the Search for Happiness

3.  Transformers: Age of Extinction

2.  Transcendence

1.  300: Rise of an Empire

"This!  Is!  ....Bullshit!!!"

Biggest Disappointments:

5.  Interstellar: Beautiful, with a great score and a couple good performances.  But kinda obvious and too rooted in 2001.  I’d rather go back and watch Dave, Hal, and the bone wielding apes than see the infinite bookshelf room again.

4.  Lucy:  I wanted to see a return to early Luc Besson.  Alas, no.  Just more contemporary Luc Besson (read: crap).

3.  Expendables 3:  That’s it.  I’m out.  I loved the heck out of the first two stupid movies in this stupid franchise.  But part three gutted the violence, focused on unlikable/unwatchable young actors and felt like it missed any and all points.

2.  Snowpiercer:  The look and concept are fantastic.  The script…not so much.  For this viewer, the film needed to be a 30 minute shorter action movie, or an 8 hour longer mini-series.  Nowhere near enough world building or character development to make me care when things start happening.  I feel like there was a good movie in here somewhere.

1.  The Immigrant:  The production design is beautiful and atmospheric.  And the three leads are all excellent.  Unfortunately, it seems like the three actors are in different films, acting past each other, not with each other.  Marion Cotillard is especially good and feels the most right for the story.  If only the film had focused on her, and not bothered with the weird, totally tone-deaf love triangle.  Alas.

Video Finds:

10.  Mr. Nobody:  A strange and interesting science fiction movie that deals with what might have been and what might be.  The differences in our futures based on the choices we make.  Similar in theme to Run Lola Run, it handles the topic in a very different way.

9.  The Ballad of Narayama:  A beautifully crafted fairy tale about age and death.  It has a beautiful artificiality that lends a lot to the feel of a tale told around a fire.

8.  Vanishing Waves:  This Lithuanian science fiction film is all kinds of weird.  Kind of a new take on Altered States, but with plenty of its own twists.

7.  Love:  A solid, artsy but not to pretentious science fiction film, shot on a budget.  It looks really good and has enough going for it that fans should seek it out.

6.  Legendary Weapons of China:  Plenty of badass weapon combat in this classic Martial Arts flick.  Great action.

5.  Age of Consent:  James Mason goes off to an island to get a sense of himself.  There, he meets a young woman who helps remind him of how to live life.

4.  Manborg:  What can one say about Manborg?  If you were (are?) one of those people who haunted the library stacks of video rental shops, hunting for that rare film you’d never heard of (Slipstream, Xtro, Basket Case, Spacehunter, etc.); if you waited with bated breath for the newest Full Moon or Troma video release; if you love a really good bad movie; you’ve got to check out Manborg.  It gets it so right, and so wonderfully wrong.  Obviously crafted by folks with a deep love for those obscure works of the past, it’s a thrill for a fan like me.

3.  The Wraith:  Related to Manborg, this is one of those 80s movies that used to sit on those very video rental shop shelves.  For some reason I’ll never understand, I hadn’t seen this film until this year.  Now that I have, I can’t believe it isn’t talked about more.  Such great 80s weirdness, great cast, and so much fun.

2.  Die Farbe:  I’m always on the lookout for good Lovecraftian horror films.  More, I’m on the lookout for good actual adaptation of Lovecraft’s work.  And here we have The Color Out of Space, in German.  It’s an excellent take on the tale, with fairly limited alteration (connections to WWII, for example) that do nothing to detract from the source (like the romance in the otherwise excellent The Resurrected).  Very much a film to seek out.

1.  Altered States:  One of those movies I’ve been aware of for what seems like forever, but have rarely heard good things about.  Often referred to as ‘boring’ or something similar.  For whatever reason, I decided it was time to break down and check it out, and I’m glad I did.  I loved it.  Steeped in all that post-Hippie, Utopian, drug-fueled, mad science stuff that I love so much in Fringe, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Rabid, and more, it’s got lots of cool images, some solid performances, and a pretty crazy ending.  For Fringe fans, this is a must, as it absolutely feels like the stuff Walter, Belly, and Nina were getting up to in those early days.

2014’s Most Forgettable:

Jack Ryan: Not a bad movie, but didn’t this come out years ago?  No?!  Wow.  I vaguely remember watching it, I guess.

Seriously, I have the ticket stub. I know I saw it.

Best Viewings at the Alamo Drafthouse:

5.  The Good the Bad and the Ugly

4.  Halloween III (this is up there with seeing Phantasm II & Razorback at the AFI Silver)

3.  City Lights

2.  Rocky IV

1.  3 Dev Adam (aka Turkish Captain America)

Glad to See You Again:

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.  I was glad to see a fun and enjoyable Middle Earth again.  After a lackluster first film and a crappy second, I was glad that the third Hobbit film was more enjoyable, and more in line with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Hey, It’s Better Than Avatar! (movies that might not be great, but they‘re better than Avatar):

5.  Chef

4.  Noah

3.  Interstellar

2.  How to Train Your Dragon 2

1.  Big Hero 6

The Life of Pi Award for Most Simpering New Age Crap:

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Best Documentary:

Life Itself:  While not shying away from the uglier sides of Roger Ebert, this ultimately uplifting film celebrates the man, warts intact.  More emotionally resonant than many fictional works, it made me love the life’s work of a man I rarely agreed with.

Mulder’s Beard (the one good thing in an otherwise unwatchable film):

Antonio Banderas’s crazy bastard performance in The Expendables 3

Best Score:

Under the Skin

Best Soundtrack:

Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Moment:

Godzilla’s Atomic Breath

Best God Fight:

Yahweh VS. The Sinful Hoards in Noah

Best Cameo:

Howard the Duck in Guardians of the Galaxy

My Most Anticipated Film of 2015:

Jupiter Ascending:  I’ve liked all the directors’ previous films and I’m super excited to see original, grand scale science fiction being realized on screen.  Sadly, while everyone complains so heavily about a lack of originality in movies, bemoaning sequels and remakes, everyone also seems bound and determined to ignore anything original.  Well, I’m gonna be there, dang it.  And so should you.  For the future.  For America.  For the children.

Top Twenty:

20.  Nightcrawler
19.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier
18.  Tracks
17.  The Signal
16.  The Rover
15.  Particle Fever
14.  Life Itself
13.  Tim’s Vermeer
12.  Belle
11.  Automata
10.  The Raid 2
9.  Cold in July
8.  All You Need is Kill
7.  Mr. Turner
6.  Ida
5.  Guardians of the Galaxy
4.  Jodorowsky's Dune
3.  Under the Skin
2.  Godzilla
1.  The Grand Budapest Hotel

-Matthew J. Constantine

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