Saturday, February 7, 2015

Shane's Favourite Movies of 2014

I prefer to post these annual movie lists before the end of January, but time keeps slipping through my fingers like dog shit down a storm drain. Sometimes you have to go with the flow. Let's get to it.

5) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The only thing better than apes riding horseback while firing machine guns are apes that you care about riding horseback while firing machine guns. I was really impressed by how entertaining and fresh the 2011 franchise reboot was with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but Dawn was damn near perfect. It had impressive visual effects, a compelling story, and excellent action set pieces.

The harmony we're seeing now with motion capture performances combined with skilled digital animation is kind of stunning. Look at the dramatic performances of Caesar and Koba and try not to be drawn into the story. They conveyed far more emotion than some live action human performances last year (Example: All the humans characters in the new Godzilla movie were played by bags of potatoes). This time around I'm actively sympathizing with the apes and rooting for the demise of those deceitful HOO-mans. You go, Koba! Get in that armoured vehicle and fuck shit up.

I'll always have a place in my heart for the oddball campy goodness of the original series (well maybe not for Beneath the Planet of the Apes), but this updated take on the story is really fun and handled so well that I'm 100% on board for the next entry in the series ... even if they continue their confusing titles and call the next one Emergence of the Origin of the Planet of the Apes: Beginnings.

4) Whiplash

Who would have though that a movie about drumming would keep me on the edge of my seat? They should have called this Full Metal Jazz Kit with all the vicious verbal and physical abuse being unleashed on Miles Teller's character, Andrew. He's a student with a passion for drumming who attends a competitive music conservatory and is soon being pushed to the limit of his abilities. Dishing out the abuse is Fletcher, a strict and ultra-demanding music instructor who will stop at nothing to realize Andrew's potential, or destroy him in the process.

J. K. Simmons is perfectly cast here as Fletcher. It's the asshole he was born to play.  For the entire film you keep bouncing between hating his guts and then discovering he actually has compassion. Then despising him, and then seeing a glimmer of a soul. Where the coin toss lands, I'm not even certain.

The music was delightful and upbeat, which worked well in contrast to the constant anxiety I felt throughout the film. It all builds to an astounding "all or nothing" confrontation between Andrew and Fletcher that I wont soon forget.

3) Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler asks the question, what would a monster do in a monstrous profession? And the answer is, succeed. Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the finest performances of the year as Lou Bloom, an unsettling character of the highest order. Gyllenhaal lost weight for the role to give his character the appearance of a hungry coyote prowling the night, and it works. Bloom is a gaunt, unblinking creep who discovers the world of crime journalism and he stops at nothing to achieve success against the competition. Everything about him is eerie, grotesque, and unethical. Even his empty, corporate buzzword vocabulary can make your skin crawl.

The film is very dark, literally and figuratively, and mostly takes place on the streets of L.A in the dead of night. Bloom's mad ambitions are perfect for this ruthless world of camera crews hunting down car accidents and crime scenes. The movie is fascinating, and while the subject matter is often upsetting, it's hard to look away.

2) Snowpiercer

This movie is crazy. It's full blown banana sandwiches and it just doesn't care.  Based on a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer takes place on a train carrying the remnants of society through a post-apocalyptic frozen wasteland. The train traverses the globe in an annual loop; it's upper class passengers enjoy a posh life at the front of the train, while an enslaved lower class are stuck to wallow in the rear cars. The film follows a rebel uprising from the back of the train as they fight their way to the front. I think - wait ... yes ... I believe there is some metaphor at play here.

The premise aside, I don't even know where to start here. Do I talk about the pitch-black tunnel axe war, the gun fight in the school car, the sniper showdown around the curve, the brutal battle in the sauna. What about the amazing lineup of actors here? John Hurt, Ed Harris, Chris Evans, and Tilda Swinton stealing the show at every opportunity. My favourite Korean actor, Song Kang-ho, plays a drug addicted security expert helping the rebellion move from car to car. Although the film takes place on a single train, the array of different settings our characters pass through is brilliant.

Okay, look. The movie is far from perfect. It somehow manages to get sloppier in the third act with some laughable dialogue and depressing twists, but I can overlook all that because I've never seen anything quite like it. It feels like a film that should have only worked as a bleak and brutal anime from the Akira-era of Japanese animation. It's bold and inventive, and (no surprise here) always moving forward to new and unexpected places. If you've been hungry for some sci-fi action ... all aboard! *gunshot*

1) Gone Girl

Gone Girl feels like the best directed TV movie you've ever seen, and I pity any couple who chose it as their first date. It may be a long film, but it doesn't feel long. It keeps its momentum with plenty of intrigue and twists with each act, and while you may be able to guess the general elements of the plot, it's doubtful you'd be able to successfully predict where the story will lead. It's nice to feel surprised, and this movie is a perfect modern day thriller.

Some have complained about the ending of the movie; how it leaves some things unresolved and differs from the ending of the book. That's fine with me since I haven't read the book and I don't need all my movies to have conclusions where justice is served. Gone Girl could be summed up with "men be pigs and women be crazy", but it explores the utmost limits of being trapped in, and escaping a relationship.

David Fincher is on point here as always. The cinematography is sharp and natural. The cast is solid all around, though I'm especially smitten by Rosamund Pike's performance. Judge me as you will. Maybe the greatest praise I can give is that I wanted more Tyler Perry. I can't believe I just typed that. There's a ton to appreciate and it's worth repeated viewings because it's dense with details. All in all, the movie executes its insane storyline with finesse and I wouldn't change a thing.


cole d'arc said...

I hadn't read Gone Girl either so i was a tad disappointed it didn't turn out to be quite as dark as i was expecting a Fincher film to be. That said, I did really enjoy it.
I had every intention of seeing Nightcrawler in theatres but wound up missing out. As for the rest ive put off watching Snowpiercer like ninety times but i'll definitely give it a watch soon. I didn't like Rise of The Planet of the Apes much but Dawn looks a lot more interesting. Don't think i'd heard of the other one.

Shane said...

Cole, I think you would enjoy and appreciate Whiplash, as you are far more musically inclined than I am. Also, Dawn is way more interesting than Rise. It may not have a Gorilla vs Helicopter scene, but it makes up for it in other areas.

RyHo Magnifico said...

I still haven't watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes, because I just keep assuming I won't like it, but I should really give it a watch, as I've heard simlilar sentiments to your own regarding Dawn.

So, in Snowpiercer, is the train continually trying to outrun the cold? If so, I hope it's in the same universe as The Day After Tomorrow somehow.