With stockings taken down and newly discarded Christmas trees now littering the pavements of London, it’s time to look to the year ahead, and what better way to do that than by taking a moment to reflect on the towering inferno of molten piss that was the year from which we’ve just escaped. Or alternatively, a fascinating and complex social study of films and filmmakers in a year of golden gems hidden among the dross of industry bread and butter churns. 2014 was the year in which Russia decided the Crimea would look really good next to that tree in the back garden, Derren Brown performed his most amazing feat yet when he vanished Malaysian Flight 370, and in October Film Fubb was founded. Since then the site has gone from strength to strength, with multiple contributors and three distinct styles of article. And as it’s a special occasion – a transition into the New Year – a few of us are going to take some time to fill our empty schedules and talk about our favourite and least favourite films of the year, ones not necessarily reviewed in full by Film Fubb. This is Best & Worst: A Year In Review 2014.
BEST – The Inbetweeners 2
I agonised over this for a while. Boyhood, Interstellar and Gone Girl were all strong contenders, but on reflection my most enjoyable cinema experience from 2014 was The Inbetweeners 2. A full house laughing themselves into a state of nihilistic bliss while a dog licks Neil’s bollocks and Will gets a shit patty to the face. By turns hilarious and excruciating, it was a highlight of British comedy this year, firing well-crafted adolescent humour at you like a twenty-foot bowel cannon. Damon Beesley and Iain Morris manage to inject fresh life into a familiar formula and make it better (and darker) than the original, which is fucking unprecedented in Hollywood these days. And just to illustrate my point…
WORST – The Amazing Spiderman 2
For the most part, I tend to avoid films whose trailer makes me choke on my venomous disgust. Who wants to torture themselves by paying to see an obviously bottom-of-the-barrel movie effort? Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’ Movie or Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey? were never going to make this selection, and so I am forced to choose a film that disappointed me, much like the way I disappoint my parents every waking day of my adult life. And my choice for worst film of 2014 is subsequently The Amazing Spiderman 2. Granted, that may seem counter-intuitive after my previous statement about bad trailers, but I enjoyed the first one, particularly the semblances of realism and the romcom approach to Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. And as we all know, the best way to handle a sequel is to remove everything that made the original slightly bearable, inject it with too many villains and heavy-handed unnecessary drama and turn in CGI set pieces that wouldn’t fool a blind beggar from the early Middle Ages. Well done Sony, you have successfully killed a beloved franchise for the second time this millennium. Here’s a medal I made for you out of Spiderman’s deflated, fly-swaddled corpse.
BEST – Boyhood
There’s something truly inspiring about Boyhood. For a lesser known director, Richard Linklater took a great risk with this movie, casting a six year old boy and filming him for twelve years as he grew up. Other than being a great coming-of-age story, the innovative steps the filmmaker took became the main marketing focus, and widespread critical acclaim followed. Despite the film being nearly three hours long, it’s cemented by brilliant performances from Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. There are moments of triumph and moments of tragedy, and there will be something that everyone will recognise, at least until the kid is in his teens and grows his hair and becomes an emo.
WORST – Chef
Chef, or as I call it, ‘Jon Favreau’s vanity project’, is probably one of the most boring films of 2014. When it’s not advertising Twitter, it’s really nothing more than a cookery show, except without a swearing Gordon Ramsay to liven things up. It’s a bad sign when the only exciting bit of your movie is a close-up of food sizzling in a pan. The script isn’t sharp or particularly funny; it’s just dull. Chef is supposed to be a touching drama about Jon Favreau getting back with his ex-wife (Scarlett Johansson), but she has no character and their eventual reunion just isn’t convincing. Why do they get back together?! It’s never explained! The director also uses it as an opportunity to parade his assortment of famous friends; Robert Downey Jr., Dustin Hoffman and others all make useless cameos, as if to remind people that Favreau has been in some good movies in the past with A-list celebrities. It’s just a shame that they’re wasted here.
BEST – Blue Ruin
‘Captivating’ is the sort of Guardian review one-liner that might sum up a four-star big budget flop, so in a struggle for sufficiently potent synonyms for Blue Ruin, ‘spine-shiveringly scintillating’ will have to suffice. ‘Blue Ruin was an act of desperation,’ says director Jeremy Saulnier of his largely unknown, very indie thriller, ‘We went broke and beyond making this film. Kickstarter supporters chipped in about ten percent of the budget. The rest was credit cards and friends and family.’ Macon Blair stars as Dwight, presenting you his fears, his motivations, his weaknesses and his cripplingly tenacious courage with thought and subtlety. If you do one thing today, don’t read a synopsis, don’t read a review, don’t even look for a genre, just trust me and spend ninety minutes watching this film, because it will almost certainly be the best 2014 film you’ll see in 2015. A bold gamble that utterly, utterly pays out on every level.
WORST – Fury
In stark contrast, we have a four-star big budget flop: Fury, starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf. In this action-packed historical documentary, Brad Pitt stars as, I kid you not, Sergeant Wardaddy, as America wins WW2 for God and the good guys. Director David Ayer seems to pull character names out of his rear, with gems such as ‘Captain Waggoner’ and ‘Coon-Ass’ also making the draft. It’s an anti-war film that wants to be an action thriller, with a script as insubstantial as the ghosts of all those dead patriots. My fellow writers and I meet up every so often to watch and laugh at bad films, but this and The Room are the only two I’ve seen on a big screen, and I have to say that The Room was vastly more entertaining. However, with lines such as ‘we’ll skin you alive!’ coming from a historically accurate SS commander, Fury is looking like it might become a future favourite. War is Hell, the film seems to say. No, sitting through Fury is. And here’s a review you can take to the fields of Ruhr: ‘Hilariously bad’ – Me.
BEST – The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’ve chosen this film not just because it’s one of the best films of the year, but also because it’s quite possibly the best film of director Wes Anderson’s career. In terms of style, this is by no means a radical departure from his other films: the dollhouse aesthetic, symmetrical cinematography and title cards are all here – all of which are used to construct and populate a fully-realised world in which the narrative can play out. This works best when he doesn’t forget the substance underneath the style, and it especially works in Grand Budapest because it makes perfect sense for the world he creates. It’s a film about memory and nostalgia and decadence and vanity. It’s at once beautiful and haunting; quirky and yet heartfelt; tragic and really fucking funny. Seriously, I wouldn’t describe this as a comedy film as such, but I laughed more at this than any other film this year. Ralph Fiennes supports the film with an astounding comic performance, the standout by far (although special mention goes to Willem Dafoe, who excels as a creepy gothic psychopath… who’d have thought?). And what’s best about the film is that it takes itself completely seriously. It never winks at the audience or patronises them or tries to be ironic. Anderson never resorts to such cheapness. He’s completely earnest in how he tells his story and the result is by far one of the strongest films of the year.
WORST – The Amazing Spiderman 2
Oh look, here it is again!
One of the most disappointing things about ASM2 is just how entertaining a lot of it is. Things like the chemistry between the two leads, the set pieces, and the pitch-perfect deployment of humour are all top-notch. Things like story, theme and depth of character, however, are… not. Spiderman 2 is one of my all time favourite films, so I could probably be considered a bit biased, but the reason that Raimi’s movie appeals to me is that it has a perfect understanding of the story it’s telling. ASM2 understands its story about as much as a fish understands foreplay. There are about four different plotlines, which don’t mesh together so much as collide violently and clumsily – like a fumbling first attempt at getting Mr. Pecker in your girlfriend’s sugar bush – and never in a way that feels
orgasmic organic. The story reads like the writers simply scripted events and set pieces which they (and by extension, the studio) deemed necessary, and then at the last minute realised they needed to actually link them all together, no matter how tenuously. It’s actually astounding how little I gave a shit about half of what went on in the film. For me, this is one of the worst examples of studio-mandated, serialised nonsense in recent years… and yes, that’s including The Hobbit. This film is a soulless mess which exists solely to drain the audience’s wallets – representing all that is wrong with the modern movie industry. Though, in fairness, I didn’t see Transformers 4. I was busy that day systematically digging my eyeballs out with a dessert spoon.
Biggest Mind-Fuck – Birdman
I was going to award this to Interstellar for its twisting narrative and speculative use of time dilation, but then I went to see Birdman and I realised there’s more to leaving the audience wondering than simply employing a ridiculously convoluted plot. Its astounding cinematography, extended fantasy sequences and the fact that it’s basically a metaphor for Michael Keaton’s career will leave your mind reeling for days after.
Worst CGI Effects – The Hobbit Trilogy
What’s the point of shooting in 48fps with super hi-def cameras if you’re going to have a Saturday morning cartoon as the main villain? Neither Azog nor Bolg inspired the fear in me that the lowliest goblin could in The Lord Of The Rings because they looked like fucking plasticine models. And don’t get me started on the action sequences…
Biggest Jokers – Marvel Studios
I enjoyed Guardians Of The Galaxy. I really did. That doesn’t stop me from recognising that the film was essentially just The Avengers in space with a kick-ass seventies’ soundtrack. And the way they make compelling superheroes out of a tree and a talking rat. Masterful.
Best Toy Commercial – The Lego Movie
Yes, Transformers is by this point pretty much a tech-toy wank for Michael Bay and Co., but I’m sure there were still plenty of Optimus Prime figures and Bumblebee bedspreads under the Christmas tree this year. For actually being a good film, I award ‘Best Toy Commercial’ to The Lego Movie. Thanks for reminding us how much fun we had with those colourful bricks and how painful they were to step on.
Least Believable Bible Epic – Noah
A cursory glance at Wikipedia would demonstrate the inaccuracies in Exodus: Gods And Kings, but for including transforming rock golems, and for the simple fact that putting the entire food chain on one boat results in zero casualties, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah takes the Biblical biscuit. The best onscreen God is still Morgan Freeman though.
So with that, we round off our analysis of the year. We now stare down the barrel of 2015, wondering what the next 365 days will have in store for us all. My fellow Founding Father Tom Woffenden will be on hiatus for several months as he’ll be in Hollywood, attempting to talk some sense into the studio executives over there. I however will not be in Hollywood, having been unable to even secure a job writing the dialogue for bargain basement pornos. But the nature of the universe permits one to rise where others fall. Without George Lucas there’d be no Michael Bay. Without Roger Corman there’d be no Scorsese or Nicholson. We are little more than passengers on a tumbling lump of rock, surrounded by a harsh and lifeless universe, fleeting in the face of creation. Some people’s stars shine brighter than others. The rest of us just have to settle for a gun. Happy New Year.