Somehow another year has come and gone, so now it’s time for listing. 2014 sped by fast for me, mostly because it’s been one of the best years for movies in quite some time. If you were huddled around Netflix all year, you missed out on an impressive damn stream of genre entertainment almost every week. Oh sure, there were still plenty of crappy movies out there. To be honest, most of them were garbage. But the best ones…oh boy they were they good.
Indie horror, cynical superhero blockbusters, thoughtful sci-fi, art house genre benders, blood soaked satire, 2014 seemed to offer something for every genre nut. There were so many flicks worth acknowledging that my honorable mention list was over 20 titles alone. If you were wasting as much of your life in a cinema as me over the last 12 months, you’ll know exactly what I mean. If you’re someone who waits for home movie consumption, you missed out (even though I’m immensely jealous that you still get to experience all of these flicks for the first time). So, as New Year rolls around, let’s take a little time to remember just how wonderful the last year in film truly was. Chances are it won’t happen again next year, so let’s enjoy this little moment of glory while we can!
Impossible to classify in any specific genre but probably best considered a darkly comedic horror film based purely on tone, Cheap Thrills was one of the most intriguing directorial debuts of the year. Long-time writer E.L. Katz steps into the director’s chair for a deeply disturbing tale of a mild mannered man (Pat Healy, character actor extraordinaire) who is coerced into doing unspeakable acts for money by a weirdo married couple (Sara Paxton, and of all people comic actor Dave Koechner). Its starts as sleazy funny fun, but soon Healy is spilling blood for dollars. This sick and viciously comedic film is wild, unpredictable, hilarious, and sure to leave you feeling disgusted by the human race. You know, everything you want out of a neo-exploitation movie. Let’s hope E.L. Katz gets another movie off the ground soon.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s stoner detective tale might be stretching the definition of genre cinema quite a bit, but I’m so in love with this wacko outsider masterpiece that I’ve got to make an exception. Taking inspiration from Thomas Pynchon’s novel and decades of LA noir, the film is one of those deliberately confounding detective stories where the hero is almost incidental to the plot and every mystery feels just out of grasp. It’s also an eccentric character comedy about a perpetually high detective (Joaquin Phoenix) stumbling through post hippy LA, a tragic eulogy to the moment when 60s idealism faded into 70s disillusionment, and an homage to 70s American filmmaking of all kinds. Inherent Vice is the type of movie that takes a few viewings to settle into your brain and thankfully, it’s more than fun enough to be worth the investment. A hazy masterpiece of drug-fueled comedy and unanswerable mysteries of all sorts. Plus, it offers up Josh Brolin as a buzz-cut hard-ass cop who doubles as a bad actor for television. Seriously, what more could you want?
No one crafts a sick cinematic joke quite like David Fincher. The director’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s twisty-turny bestseller takes what could have been a dry marital kidnapping procedural and transforms it into a black comedy punctuated with bloodshed. Fincher meticulously crafts each frame and sequence with the precision of a surgeon, yet only for the sake of giving the audience a good time. The tone zigs as often as the narrative zags, leaving audience in a state of perpetual unease, unsure whether the next scene will be frightening, suspenseful, stupid, silly, or all four things at once. It’s trash as art, made by a man who understands that the appeal of both. At the center of it all is an amazing performance by Rosamund Pike, but what makes it so special really shouldn’t be revealed to anyone who doesn’t know the story. If haven’t seen Gone Girl yet, don’t read anything else about it. Just put it on, sit back, and marvel at how Fincher turned an austere thriller into a sicko comedy without the studio noticing.
Despite some pretty significant lows, the X-Men franchise has been a surprisingly consistent source of intelligent superhero thrills since it kicked off the current men-in-tights blockbuster trend. Yet, as impressive as the highs like X2 and First Class have been, the movies have never quite felt like X-Men comics. The reason has been simple: scale. Juggling a big cast and hefty subtext prevented the budgets for the X-flicks from ever being too high, but in the age of The Avengers Bryan Singer was essentially given unlimited resources to adapt this classic time-hopping mutant tale to the screen. Taking advantage of having two spectacular casts from two timeframes, Singer’s X-epic is a massive blockbuster with even more brains and twists than spectacle. It was one hell of a summer movie ride that plays just as well on second viewing at home when focus can be given purely to the incredible performances and clockwork plotting. Plus, the Quicksilver prison break was hands down the best special effects set piece of the year. So there’s that. 14 years and seven movies into the franchise, it feels like the X-Men film series is just getting started with Days Of Future Past. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
No, this isn’t an X-men spin off film (though that could be pretty good). Dan Gilroy’s bitter little pill of a directorial debut somehow manages to be a satire, a thriller, an action movie, and a psychodrama simultaneously. Led by Jake Gyllenhaal and his unblinking sunken eyes as an emotionless sociopath who finds a fortune in filming bloody crime scenes for local news, Nightcrawler grabs you from the first frame and never lets got. It’s a nasty, harsh movie filled searing observations about contemporary culture and one of the most uncompromisingly twisted main characters to hit screens in quite a while. The film offers something to warm every cynical heart in the crowd. Those who don’t enjoy creeping into the shadows need not apply. They can just watch Frozen again.