Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 10 Films of 2014

1. The Expendables 3

Surprise. (Read review HERE).

2. Interstellar

Christopher Nolan is one of those directors who gets his cock sucked left and right. The problem I have with it, is that most people who stand behind the "In Nolan We Trust" mantra is... They know next to nothing about film. It's easy to "love" Nolan. He makes accessible films for both the mainstream average movie-goer and film-fanatics alike. And the people who rally behind him, and believe he is without flaws are merely people who haven't seen enough films to know what a god damn flaw is.

I know that first paragraph sounded like the beginning of an anti-Nolan rant. And I guess it was. But now the rest of this review is put into perspective as to how good Interstellar actually was.

I can honestly say that I love most of Christopher Nolan's films for what they are. Well-crafted, modern mainstream popcorn films. But something about Interstellar seemed as if it was going to be overly-pretentious and bland. So because I had that notion in my head, I was almost rooting against the film. Just because buzz around a film can either inflate or deflate your excitement a film. Once the film was over... I was very impressed. I believe it was a combination of having moderate expectations and the film actually being as good as it was.

There are so many things going for the film. I'll start with the cast. There are some Nolan alumni in here (Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway). But it really is Matthew McConaughey who is the glue of the film. He's an intelligent, risk-taking family man. And it's all three of those qualities that make him the driving force for the film. He is a very relatable human character that does extraordinary things. But it's all in the confines of believability, if you can wrap your head around the scientific theories this film demonstrates. A lot of emotion is concentrated in his character Cooper. And for a film this ambitious and large in scope, it's crucial. Otherwise, it would be an almost-3-hour tiresome science-fiction film. But that isn't to say the rest of the cast isn't great. Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, everybody is great here. And the film had a hidden actor not in the billing cast that was a nice surprise for such a high-profile film like this.

This film was originally supposed to be directed by Steven Spielberg. And the more I think about it, I don't think it would have been nearly the film that it is. I only say that because I think it would have been played a little more safe. Some of the scenes in this film are pretty fucking intense. The shuttle take-off scene was particularly uncomfortable (in the best possible way). From the sound design and the sense of claustrophobia, I don't see it being as intense in Spielberg's hands (and Spielberg is my favorite film director).

The visual FX were incredible, as you might expect. But they didn't look like "good special FX" like in a movie such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Transformers. There were scenes that looked 100% photorealistic. If they had told me that they had photographed IMAX-sized Hubble Telescope images, and it wasn't from a Hollywood film FX company, I would have believed them. Granted, the more fantastical scenes and images were a little less believable, but fantastic special FX nonetheless!

The one stand-out elements of the film was the score. Now of course Hans Zimmer is a master of his craft. And almost any project he's involved with will surely have a damn good score, regardless of the film's quality. But his score for Interstellar can be split into two categories. The modern Hans Zimmer score you would come to expect from him. And a harken back to the sci-fi scores of the 70's. Granted, the 70's aspect of his score doesn't feel like a cheap nudge to the ribs. To give a perfect example as what it DOESN'T try to achieve: Look at a lot of the modern "throwback" horror films that use 80's synth for the majority of it's score. You know whole well what they're doing. And it's cheap and throw-away. Zimmer's score for Interstellar really blends with the film. So much so that I didn't even notice it in the film until I was walking past one of the theatres it was playing in as I was checking theatres, making sure my ushers were doing their jobs. I literally stopped in my tracks to listen to it. Zimmer really did a fantastic job with the score and added yet another layer to an already rich film.

I really could not be happier with the film. Any film that makes you feel like a fucking speck of dust in an otherwise endless universe and makes you want to kill yourself, is okay in my book.

3. Gone Girl

If there is one director in which I am looking forward to their next project, regardless of subject material, it's David Fincher. This is the man who made "The Facebook Movie" not only watchable, but even... Good. He really is a master of his craft. He knows style, story, writing, casting, music and hell, even marketing. You have directors like James Cameron, who are technical geniuses, but may not know how to direct 180 pounds of flesh how to deliver a line. Then you have a thousand indie directors who know how to get a performance out of an actor, but can't direct a film to save their family. And then there's David Fincher.

What I loved so much about Gone Girl was that it took almost 15-20 minutes to understand why he chose this, of all projects, as his next one. Granted, the first 15 or so minutes were good and well-done, I just didn't grasp why THIS film. And then the movie turned into Se7en. And I don't mean that it felt all too familiar. I mean that any great director puts a good stamp on their work. Did it mimic Se7en completely? No. For the most part, it has nothing to do with that film. It's just that Fincher knows how to guide you through a story without you guessing 90 minutes ahead. Of course, this is an adaptation, so 60% of the audience knew the conclusion of the story. But me, having not read the book, I was unsure as to where it was going to go. And that is all due to all the pieces being laid out meticulously, and treating the audience as if they had at least half a brain.

Films like these, casting is crucial. Actors like Ben Affleck aren't the most likeable, but recognizable. But given the proper director, you can play on their strengths and weaknesses. Is Ben Affleck an awful actor? Absolutely not. But I'll never look forward to "the next Ben Affleck film". Yes, he's delivered passable directorial efforts. But he never had that "likeability" for me. In the film, without giving too much away, he is both sympathetic and despicable. For the majority of his character, you feel sympathy. But there is a portion in which you feel a little distain. Rosamund Pike, who plays who his wife, the "Gone Girl", she is a lot less a sympathetic character. In fact, there's no sympathy. Guess I gave that away. Moving on...

Tyler Perry. Maybe this guy isn't such a fucking waste of time after all. If I were him, I would choose an "actor-for-hire" career path as opposed to producing his own acting endeavors. Because he was plain and simple... Great in this film. Well, was he "great" in the film? No. He was very very good. Why? Because he played it straight. He's been shroud in this joke-of-an-actor cloud due to his own choices. But turns out, he can actually act. He was just fine in JJ Abrams' Star Trek, and he was rather good in this.

In the hands of any other director, this could have been a Lifetime Original Movie. And yet, it's one of the year's best. 'Nuff said?

4. Godzilla

I already did a write-up of Godzilla (Read review HERE), but the film is worth re-reviewing(?). I've seen the film a couple times on Blu-ray since, and it still holds up. This is a "sigh of relief" film. This could have been horrendous. And it wasn't. Is it the quintessential Godzilla film? Absolutely not. But it's the quintessential American Godzilla film. 1 out of 2? Not bad.

5. Supermenche: The Legend of Shep Gordon

God damn, was this a surprise. Was it a surprise that I would enjoy a documentary about Alice Cooper's manager? No. Was it was it a surprise that a documentary about Alice Cooper's manager was so fucking good? Yes.

This documentary was directed by Mike Myers, and you can tell that he poured his heart into it. There are segments that will produce a tear or two. I obviously know almost all of Shep Gordon's history with Alice Cooper. But there is so much more to the man than him just managing Alice Cooper. He has managed A-listers from almost every spectrum. From music, to acting, to culinary arts. If the term "well-rounded career" could be pinned on anybody, it's Shep Gordon.

The film takes you on a journey from one young Jewish man's venture from sex, drugs and rock 'n roll to sex, meditation and culinary arts. And it's as crazy a journey as it sounds. But more importantly, it's all heart. There is never a moment in the film where you ever side against the man. And that's a very rare allegiance, if you will, to have for a manager.

Oh, and having Alice Cooper & Sylvester Stallone as talking heads: A plus.

6. Super Duper Alice Cooper

This one is a no-brainer. I don't say that because any documentary on Alice Cooper is going to be good. I say that, because if you're going to do a documentary on Alice Cooper, it has to be different. And this is quite different. Unlike Supermenche: The Legend of Shep Gordon, it has no talking heads. In fact, you don't see a single talking head until the end. And it's technically not even a part of the documentary. It's more so an extra. Instead, the whole film depicts Alice's trek in animation and video clips with commentary and voice-overs. Though, it's not drawn-animation. It's animated though existing photographs and images. And it's done rather well.

I don't need to delve into his whole story because you know 65% of it. Though, to give you more incentive to watch it, it does expand on those said stories. The other 35% consists of events not cemented into the legend of Alice Cooper. There is one particular segment that even caught me by surprise. And that was the fact that Alice had free-based. I was always under the impression that he had just been a "beer-drinking, woman-chasing minister's son" (to quote Alice Cooper's "Guilty"). And in any interview I have ever seen, read or heard... Alcoholism was all there ever was. Crack was never mentioned when it came to his 40+-year career. Apparently, the producers of the film had dug this up, discussed it with Alice, and all the cards were laid out on the table.

If you love Alice Cooper, this is a mandatory to watch. If you casually like the guy, check it out. If you don't like him... Why the fuck are you reading this?

7. Cold In July

This is a film that I feel was sorely overlooked this year. It barely got a theatrical release, and was essentially a VOD release. Would it have done well in theatres? Doubtful. But at least give a film a chance to fail.

There are three main factors as to which this was even on my radar. One: Don Johnson. Two: the trailer music was damn good (from a band called Dynatron). Three: the film just looked damn good.

As I mentioned above, the trailer is what sold me on the film. But what MAKES the film is what the trailer DOESN'T show you. The film essentially looks like a typical "man's home gets terrorized, man seeks out help outside the law, man gets justice". Well, it's not. That's only half the film. Say no more, I will.

Like I said, Don Johnson was the primary reason for wanting to catch the flick, and though, Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepard are damn good in it, Don Johnson steals the show. But that's just what Sonny does.

Also, if you get the chance, check out Dynatron's "Cosmo Black". That's the track used in the trailer, and it's killer. It's a retro-synth band, but that track is too damn catchy to not like.

8. Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise has been on a roll when it comes to picking and choosing his projects as of late. Granted, there have been a few critical and commercial duds here and there. I didn't really care for Oblivion, but I see what he saw in the project. But I loved Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (the best in the series, in my opinion), Jack Reacher was great and I loved Edge of Tomorrow.

The film is commonly referred to as the Groundhog Day of sci-fi. And that is not only a perfect description, but also great premise. The film, on paper, sounds like it could get monotonous, but it does anything but. A soldier waking up in the same time and place, over and over again, amidst an alien war. What director Doug Liman delivers is a fun and energetic ride. I like to refer to the film as "the perfect video game movie". And I mean that in a couple different ways. First and foremost, the plot device: Restart. When you play a video game, you start off at the beginning and then you usually die off. Plain and simple. You start again, and get a little further because you learned a couple of things along the way. Then you die again. The third time, you maybe get a lot further because you learned a few more things. And the process repeats itself. That's essentially how the film progresses. This cowardly soldier becomes a "weapon". But of course, there is more to the story than that.

The other "video game" aspect of the film are the special FX. They're good, but a lot of the times they do feel like a video game (as a lot of Hollywood films do). Good FX, but not deemed "amazing".

You're either a Tom Cruise guy or not. I so happen to be one. If you aren't, watch the film anyway. He dies like... A lot.

9. Sabotage

Not really much more to say about the film than I already have. (Read review HERE).

10. The Raid 2

I wasn't a fan of the first. A lot of people were, and I guess I get it. It just felt all too straight-to-video to me. Great fight choreography, for sure! Other than that, not much else going for the film.

The Raid 2 was FAR more superior. It had rectified most of the issues I had with the first. The story was more involved, the cinematography was brought to a professional level and it really fleshed out the world in which the characters were inhabiting. Though, I'm well aware the first film didn't lend itself to many of those aspects.

The most prominent reason why The Raid 2 kicked so much as was because... It kicked so much ass. It was so inventive with it's violence. A lot of cringe-inducing scenes. Which makes it all the better. It's almost as if the Saw-franchise had a brain... And good cinematography... And a story... And talent... And anything else that it took to make a film watchable.

And those are my favorite films of 2014. Are a lot of them going to revolutionize cinema forever? Hell no. But rewatchability is key for me. And there isn't a single film on this list I wouldn't rewatch again and again.

We'll see what 2015 brings. Will Mad Max: Fury Road be as rad as it looks? Will Terminator: Genesys be as bad as it looks? Will Jurassic World do anything to prove that 2014 can even touch the FX of 1993? And... Star Wars (fingers & toes crossed).

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