Well, it’s almost the end of the year. So, in an effort to be like everyone else, why not write some best and worst lists! Oh, how original! You know what, though, I actually find these lists to be somewhat helpful, as they often bring to light movies, games, music, and books that I might have otherwise missed. I do think that adhering to an arbitrary numbering system is kind of pointless, though. Given the subjective nature of enjoying art, or anything else for that matter, how can I put something above or below something else? Also, objectively, a lot of times we’re dealing with “apples and oranges,” so, it makes “ranking” even more pointless. How brave of me to take a stand! Ahhh, there’s nothing better than standing for nothing, let me tell you!
There’s still a few end of the year releases that I haven’t yet. So, there might be a few odd omissions. For example, I haven’t seen The Wolf of Wall Street yet, and I have a feeling that would totally be on here if I had. Well, in no particular order, let’s talk about some of the best flicks I saw this year!
I love conspiracy theories. I love The Shining. Surprisingly, neither of those two things have anything to do with why I really liked, Room 237. What this documentary aims to explore is the nature of movie fandoms, and the power of subjectivity. If you look at something long enough, eventually, you’ll probably see whatever you want. Things will take on personal meanings, that only you can see. Like, listening to a song over and over again, giving the lyrics personal context, and thus engaging in a little bit of “death of the author.”
Now, I’m not saying that all of the “theories” explored in the film are total bullshit, or anything, but the opinions held by the narrators is kind of second to the subtext of this film. They claim that’s what Kubrick’s films are all about, the hidden narrative, and this film is no different. Whether that’s by design or not, it’s the most interesting thing about Room 237. Those that dismiss the documentary do to what is said in it, are completely missing the point.
Anchorman 2 is not a movie that needed to be made. Like most comedies, they work best as a one off, but that’s not the world we live in. Often they are pointless, derivitave, and flabby. Solely concerned with call backs, and one upping it’s predecessor, and, largely, this sequel is no different, but god damn’t is it funny. I was seriously laughing for almost the entire two hours, as Ron and crew bumbled about, and ushered in a new style of news reporting.
While Anchorman 2 is really silly, it also strives to make a good point about news, and how/why it’s reported, and asserts that only someone as dumb as Ron Burgundy would change the nature of news reporting. Honestly, though, the larger point it’s making is more of an aside than anything. In the last thirty minutes of the flick, it’s almost as if they were like “Oh shit! We have to have a point, and some kind of arc for Ron. Hurry! Get on that,” but they are smart enough to remember the fundamentals of a comedy. It should be funny, and that’as the master that they ultimately serve.
This movie is kind of a mess, doesn’t clearly make it’s point, has zero character development, and is absurd. It’s also one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in awhile. It’s not as well constructed as the first one, but it’s just as entertaining.
Director, Ben Wheatley, has been quietly making some of the most interesting movies to come out for the past few years. I first became aware of his work with his brutal, gut-punch of a film, Kill List, which if you haven’t seen yet, give it a shot(It’s on Netflix Instant). So, I was pretty excited about this years Sightseers. I was so excited, in fact, I imported it from the UK, as it came out at the tail end of the last year over on that side of the pond.Obviously, I wasn’t disappointing, and made the extra effort of importing it totally worth it.
Wheatley is proving himself a master of abruptly shifting tones. He is all about undermining your expectations, but I wouldn’t say that the movies value is predicated on these shifts. They are anchored by really fantastic performances, a good script, and excellent pacing. It also helps that the stories that he tells, while certainly “off-beat,” are grounded by characters with identifiable dispositions.
I know I’m being a little vague about Sightseers, but the less you know about it, the better the experience will be. It was recently added to Netflix Instant. So, treat yourself to a double feature of this, and Kill List. Trust me, it’s good, and I have, like, impeccable tastes, and stuff…
You’re Next was the best genre flick that I saw in the theater this past year. It’s smart, funny, unsettling, and knows how to use our expectations against us. It’s not a “crazy original” flick, or anything, but everything that it does, it does very well. Which is saying something. A lot of times after watching a movie like this, I can’t help but think that it was almost good. The genre is littered with half-cooked ideas, and poor execution.
It’s definitely not for everybody, though, and I’d say you’re enjoyment is going to be predicated on how familiar you are with home invasion movies, because a lot of the enjoyment comes from how well the filmmakers deconstruct tropes. Especially when it comes to strong female leads. You’re Next has one of the best female leads of the year; whose actually a strong and capable person, rather than being the victor through circumstance, or being able to hide the best.
Aside from the fact that I really like Tom Hanks, I had little to no interest in seeing Captain Phillips. I ended up checking it out on a bored whim, and, much to my surprise, I thought it was fantastic. I don’t know if that has to do with lowered expectations, but I was absolutely captivated. It’s a masterclass in tension, and reinforces the idea that stories are only as good as the journey, regardless of how it ends.
Also, Hanks is really great. I mean, he usually is, even making something like The Da Vinci Code totally watchable, but there are moments in this film that are probably some of the best acting of his entire career, and when it comes to Hanks, that’s saying something. He’s not alone in this, though. The actor who portrays the main antagonist, Barkhad Abdi, gives one of the more realistically terrifying performances I’ve seen, and the fact that his plight is totally worthy of our empathy, makes it all the more gut-wrenching.
This flick was a really nice surprise. A low budget comedy about nerds that doesn’t engage in humor that is entirely predicated on secretly hating it’s characters? Crazy, right? Zero Charisma is one of the most sincere movie I’ve ever seen about nerds, and pop culture enthusiast. It shows them warts and all, and, speaking personally, has characters that I really identified with, for better or worse.
It has it’s problems with pacing, and has a few sub-plots that detract from the more interesting aspects of the character arcs, but it over all works really well. It’s a a refreshing look into the nerd world, and avoids a lot of the cliches that most films with this subject matter fall into. Also, it has a really great performance by Austin actor, Sam Eidson.
Only God Forgives got a lot of shit piled onto it this year. It’s an art-house flick that was unfairly juxtaposed with Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling’s last collaboration, Drive. It was almost as if people couldn’t fathom the idea that the director and star would do something different. The crimes levied against the film were that it was “too slow,” “too ponderous,” and “pointless.” Well, I couldn’t disagree more, and upon re-watching it once it arrived on Netflix Instant led me to love it even more.
The dismissive attitude towards the movie stopped critics from really recognizing the beautifully methodical film making going on. It’s a “Freudian nightmare” brought to life, and the dream/fantasy like quality of the film supports the sub-text in ways that, in lesser hands, could have fallen dead to the floor, or come off as pretentious. Well, some people did find the movie “pretentious,” but what do they know? I kid, I get it. I just disagree.
You know, I don’t hate Michael Bay. I really don’t. He’s one of the best action choreographers in the business. The problem is that he attaches himself to franchises that he probably shouldn’t really be involved with( Looking at you Transformers). Too many of his “proclivities” clash with the material he chooses to engage with, but with Pain and Gain he finds the perfect vehicle for all those things that he is usually derided for.
It’s a film about superficiality, materialism, body fetishizing, and the nature of entitlement. Not only does the film go full throttle with all these ideas, but it is also able to make a good point about all the things that it indulges in. It has some great commentary about the “American dream,” and how nobody wants to put in the work required to attain said dream.
If you missed this one earlier this year, it totally bombed, it’s completely worth your time. Yeah, it’s a little long, and gets kind of redundant towards the end, but it’s never not entertaining, and has two the funniest performances of the year by Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson.
Sadly, Maniac, seemed to get over looked by most people; even the “horror community” seemed to forget about it. It seemed like a lot of people dismissed it due to it’s use of POV, but let me tell you, those folks are really missing out.
It’s a beautifully shot, meticulously paced thriller, and uses the POV gimmick to enhance the experience, rather than be a distraction, or annoyance. Elijah Wood is really fantastic, and manages to create a villain that is simultaneously abhorrent and totally worthy of our empathy. Some really great work, especially considering that you only see his face for a few fleeting moments. However beautiful the aesthetic design was, it would have all fallen apart if Wood hadn’t been so strong.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you can catch up with it on Netflix Instant!
I don’t know how to write about this movie. I really want to, though. I mean, probably more than I’ve ever wanted to write about a movie before, but to call it a “movie” is an incredible disservice. It offers a perspective that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen before. I’m not sure anyone has this kind of access to this aspect of the human condition. I hold the belief that there is no such thing as “true evil,” or “monsters.” Everything has a context, a reason why it is the way it is. The Act of Killing let’s us glimpse into the very soul of people that most would just write off as “evil monsters,” and, however painful it is to watch sometimes, allows them to be just what they are. Human beings.
It’s a film that will make you laugh, cry, and feel with people that you would never imagine that you could. It’s one of the only movies I’ve ever seen that I would actually call “important,” and I mean that in a very broad sense. I’m not just relegating the term to “movies.” No, this documentary is much more than, and it’s something I hope everybody sees at some point in their life. It’s not just a beautiful piece of art; it’s a beautifully tragic window into the way human beings work; how we justify our behaviors, and watching the subjects of this documentary face the things they’ve done is nothing short of remarkable. I give The Act of Killing all of the awards!
I know that I said at the top that arbitrarily ranking movies is kind of a waist of time, but, on a personal note, this is my absolute favorite movie of the year, and, maybe, my favorite movie ever.
These movies almost made it onto the list, but for one reason or another, they just weren’t quite as memorable. Again, in no particular order.
Gravity: An incredible piece of technical film making, but ultimately shallow, and disappointing.
Prisoners: So close to making the list. If it wasn’t for the last twenty minutes, it would have been on there for sure.
Iron Man 3: I am admittedly not the biggest fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They mostly don’t work for me, but I have always enjoyed the Iron Man flicks. That has more to do with Robert Downey Jr. than anything, though. I really enjoyed this one. They let Shane Black make a “Shane Black movie,” and that’s why it worked. Really enjoyed it.
The World’s End: I don’t know why, but this movie didn’t really do it for me. It’s got all the right and expected components, but it fell a little flat for some reason. I really need to see it again, as I might warm up to it. I kind of felt the same way about Hot Fuzz when I initially saw that, and now it’s my favorite of “the trilogy,” so, who knows!?
A Band Called Death: A really nice surprise. It tells the story of a recently uncovered “proto punk band” from the mid to late seventies. It’s a really inspiring tale, and it’s a good reminder to never stop trying. It’s on Netflix Instant, and it’s totally worth your time if you’re into “rock docs.”
Riddick: I really loved Pitch Black, and this is the sequel to that movie I wanted to see. Small scale, fantastically paced, and fun. It was a great action adventure flick.
Well, that’s my list. I saw a lot of other movies this past year, but these were the ones that my mind wonders back to from time to time, and, in my opinion, that means that I like them more than others. I’m sure as soon as I publish this thing I’ll think of a couple more, but, overall, I’m happy with it. Hopefully it will bring to light a few movies that you might have missed.