The past year was definitely my laziest as a critic. I watched nearly every single substantial movie released (Still Alice, Mr. Turner, and Cake are the most notable ones I missed), but I didn't come close to reviewing them all. This post is an attempt to run through the films of note I watched over 2014 but failed to properly review. These still won't be proper reviews, but I felt obligated to at least briefly state my opinion about these movies, especially since some of them end up on my top ten list. So, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on the last crop of 2014 movies.
Note - As with my last roundup of reviews, I will simply write the rating I give each film.
Boyhood - Okay, I wanted to start off with the big one. This film has been racking up all the awards and is favored to win Best Picture in a couple weeks. Because of that, some hate is starting to form (check out the latest Honest Trailer for evidence). I watched the film months ago and came away impressed. The filming style is a gimmick, but it was interesting to me. But I do not find this film good enough to be considered among the year's best. I agree with all of the complaints about the lack of story. That said, it is enjoyable, and Richard Linklater made something very interesting. I just don't think it should be considered the best film of the year. I give it a Chigurh.
Whiplash - This film somehow made jazz interesting to me. On paper, it sounds pretty boring: a jazz drummer faces off with a demanding conductor. But the music is great, and the editing creates a visual music to match the actual music. Miles Teller is great as a determined, and slightly disturbed drummer, but J. K. Simmons (the runaway favorite for Best Supporting Actor) steals the show as his psychopathic band leader. The message of the film has raised some eyebrows, but that's what I love about it. Also, any film that let's Simmons cut loose with insults is automatically entertaining. Definitely one of the year's best that deserved a much larger release. I give it a Chigurh.
The Guest - I remember hearing about this movie very early in the year, but I forgot about it until I happened to rent it one weekend recently; I am so glad I rented this because it ended up being one of my favorites. People are comparing this to Drive for some reason, but that's unfair. The violence and music are similar to that great movie, but the tone of The Guest is much different. This is a very strange, violent dark comedy that you are either on board with or not. It plays like a slasher film disguised as a regular thriller. Dan Stevens (an actor I am barely aware but is famous for Downton Abbey) is great in the cheesiest possible way. This is just one of those movies that is tailor made for me. Writing about it makes me want to watch it again. I think this is one of the 2014 releases that will get re-watched by me for many years. I give it a Vader.
Blue Ruin - I came across this one on Netflix and was very impressed by it. It's your basic revenge story, but it is very minimalist and (I guess) realistic. The realistic element makes it kind of a dark comedy. This is what happens when a regular guy tries to exact revenge...he messes up. It's not one of my favorites, but it's worth a watch, especially if you have Netflix. I give it a Kurgan.
St. Vincent - I thought this Bill Murray movie was going to be sappy, and it was. But it was effective sappiness. The movie really drew me in emotionally. Some of it is too sentimental, but overall, it was a pleasing, emotional experience. I think it got brushed under the table a little too quickly. If you were on the fence about this one, you should give a try. I give it a Kurgan.
Ida - I generally do not watch foreign films the year they come out because they rarely see a release in America in time. But Ida is on Netflix already and since it's up for Best Foreign Language Film, I decided to watch it. I liked it, but it is exactly what you think when you hear "foreign film." It's in black and white, it's depressing, there is a lot of brooding, etc. But I liked it. The Cold War-era Eastern Europe setting appeals to me for some reason. Also, the way the film was shot was interesting. The shot selection is odd in that in many shots the main character's eyes are at the bottom of the frame while the rest of the focus seems to be on the ceiling. I'm not sure if that's meaningful in any way, but it certainly gave the film a certain style. I give it a Chigurh.
Force Majuere - Another foreign film I watched, but this one didn't get nominated. I really only watched it because I thought it would get nominated. I'm glad I watched it, though. It's such a strange film. It's about a family on a ski trip. When there's a near-avalanche, the mother protects her children while the father runs away. The rest of the film deals with the fallout of that reaction. It's interesting and at times darkly funny. It does drag on a bit, though. I give it a Kurgan.
A Most Violent Year - This movie is erroneously being compared to The Godfather. I don't write "erroneously" because it isn't good, but because this film doesn't attempt to be a classic gangster movie. I really enjoyed this one because of the originality of it. It takes place during 1981, one of the most violent years on record in New York City. It's about an immigrant (Oscar Isaac) who has risen up to be a power player in the heating oil industry. He wants to accomplish things legally, much to the chagrin of his mobster-daughter wife (Jessica Chastain). As I watched, I assumed this was based on some sort of true story. Who just makes up a drama about the heating oil industry? But this is an original screenplay from J. C. Chandor. Chandor has made a very slow burn type of movie reminiscent of the era it takes place in. It's not The Godfather, but it isn't trying to be. So leave that expectation behind, and you should come away pleased. I give it a Chigurh.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier - This isn't making my top ten or anything, but I really enjoyed it. I was lukewarm about the first film, but this one turned things around in a big way. It turns out I like Captain America in the modern era much more than his actual timeframe. The action is great, and all the comparisons to '70s-era conspiracy movies are apt. Definitely one of Marvel's best. I give it a Kurgan.
X-Men: Days of Future Past - This film deserves respect simply for existing. It plays like a comic book movie fan's dream. The combination of young and old cast members and the time travel plot are great. This was a very fun film that seems to have been largely forgotten already by the equally fun Guardians of the Galaxy. I too like Guardians more, but the X-Men will always have a place in my heart. Also, the Quicksilver scene is probably my favorite action sequence of the year. I give it a Kurgan.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - The improbably good series gets better with this installment. Hats off to the filmmakers for making the beginning part of the film ape-centric. The action is relatively sparse, but the main set piece is great. Matt Reeves keeps his long-take streak alive with a great sequence from the perspective of a tank cannon. I give it a Chirgurh.
Edge of Tomorrow - The awesome Tom Cruise sci-fi movie that apparently not many people wanted. It didn't bomb, exactly, but this film should have been huge. It's funny, there's awesome action, it's original, there is star power, etc. I guess the title was wrong, which is why you can now find it called Live. Die. Repeat. I don't care what you call it, it's awesome, and you should watch it. I give it a Kurgan.
Noah - This film has largely been forgotten as well despite the controversy upon its release. Darren Aronofsky's retelling of the popular Bible story is definitely weird, and it's better for it. I loved it for all the weirdness. Others may find it silly. This is the movie I loved this year that many others either hater or shrug off. That said, it still didn't crack my top ten. The reason for that is because I have come to expect so much from Aronofsky. I loved it, but as time went on very little of it stuck with me like Aronofsky's past work. I give it a Chigurh.
So there you have it: my jumbled thoughts on a bunch of good movies. Now I can write that top ten list finally...