So another year has come and gone on the old blog. As always, thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who stumbled across the blog this year. I may not have been the most attentive blogger in 2014, but I’m working on it and any attention the blog gets is greatly appreciated. I’m now up to over 300 followers which is HUGE. Thank you.
This year I watched 133 new films and wrote 103 reviews. Not as good as last year, but not too bad either. I was able to blog through the summer, which was an improvement. Hopefully next year I’ll improve on those numbers.
I did my traditional Best Picture month in February, which resulted in some great discoveries. I only got to review 10 films though, being busy with stage troupe, but this year I plan to get 18. It’s a lofty goal, but I’m planning more than I did last year so hopefully it will happen. This year I also experimented with live-blogging the Oscars, which turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. I’m not sure how I’ll handle the ceremony this year, but I’m running through various ideas. I didn’t do any other themed months this year, but I did do Western Wednesday which was a big success. I reviewed 11 westerns, most of which were films I hadn’t seen before. Next year I’m thinking of doing something with animation, which I’ve been thinking about ever since I started the blog, but I still haven’t settled on anything yet.
I was able to improve on my rating system this year though, something I’m particularly happy about. Even if I didn’t accomplish anything else this year, I’m glad I got that sorted. I also was able to finish Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, and expect a wrap up post on that sometime in January after I have revisited some of his films that are a bit fuzzy. Also expect Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s completed filmographies. I’m under three films away from completing all of them so hopefully 2015 will be the year. (Orson Welles too, hopefully?)
As my post on Sunday indicated, I’m going to be taking part in the Blindspot Series for 2015. I’m really excited and hope I will be able to stick with and complete all the entries! Here’s the list if you missed it.
Like last year, I’m going to wait until the end of January to wrap up 2014 films. A lot of them come out on January 9 (Selma, Inherent Vice) and I’ll need some time to go back and find ones that I missed (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Imitation Game). My top ten so far is already looking REALLY good though, I think I can safely say that I’m feeling more confident about 2014 in film than I was about 2013 this time last year.
As for 2015 films, The Hunger Games will finally be over, but another franchise is starting/continuing with Star Wars VII. I remain cautiously optimistic about that one. The Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out and I will probably see it, but I still could care less about superhero movies at this point in time. In terms of franchise films, the one I’m most excited about without a doubt is Spectre, the next 007 movie. I just rewatched Skyfall the other night and couldn’t be more excited for another Mendes Bond film. Also count me in for Crimson Peak; I like the actors, Del Toro is well-respected, and the premise sounds awesome. If The Hateful Eight actually comes out in 2015 (it doesn’t have a release date yet), then obviously I’m not missing anything by Tarantino. Malick’s Knight of Cups also doesn’t have a release date, but the trailer looked very intriguing. I’ve never seen a Malick film in a theater, something I’m not happy about. Hopefully it’s better than To the Wonder! It’s hard to tell what will be the best of 2015 this early in the game, but so far it’s looking pretty good!
But for now, it’s still 2014, so here’s the traditional look back on the films that were “new to me” this past year. I saw a lot of great films this year, though not as many as in 2013, and not as many classics either. However, some of these titles are still pretty surprising and I’m had a great time watching every single one of them (sometimes twice)!
Coming in at number 20 is….
Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942)
With all that business about The Interview in the news lately, this film is sort of interesting to think about. It wasn’t just Chaplin who had the guts to lampoon Hitler back in the day; Lubitsch satirizes megalomania here, both that of actors and despots. It’s a marvelously hilarious film, and it must have been quite something to watch when it was first released (as it still is now, as a matter of fact). Featuring great performances from Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, To Be or Not to Be is humor with bite. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 19 is….
Douglas Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows (1955)
Ok, this movie. I know the writing is God awful, but the direction really saves this movie. The story itself it not half bad, but the way it’s written really brings it down. Sirk controls everything but the writing wonderfully though, from the interesting framing to the expressive shadows and vibrant colors. This would be a perfect film if it just had a decent script. (3.4/4 stars)
Coming in at number 18 is….
Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones (1963)
Tom Jones is just a really fun film. It’s not particularly deep, though it does say something about the superficiality of the upper classes. Its style is a wacky amalgam of cheesy outdated techniques, and the film is all the more humorous for it. Anchored by a marvelously comic performance by Albert Finney, Tom Jones seems to be a forgotten film, though I can’t imagine why. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 17 is…
Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Rebel Without a Cause I unfortunately didn’t review because I’m still a bit puzzled over it. On a rewatch though, I will be sure to get around to it. A classic coming of age film featuring James Dean’s most iconic role, Rebel Without a Cause walks the fine line between brilliance and overstatement. Is it an overwrought melodrama or a heartfelt masterpiece? The jury’s still out in my mind, and the politics are similarly dicey. I still include it in the best of the year because of how much I’ve thought about the film since I’ve seen it; for that alone I think it must be something special. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 16 is…
Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night (1964)
Though it may have a limited appeal outside of Beatles fans, I still think this is objectively a good movie. It inspired the concept of the music video, and perfectly captures beginnings of the counter culture of the ’60s. My favorite thing about the movie though, is how it seems aimless at the beginning but then manages to tie everything together at the end despite this. It was an interesting experience watching this film, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 15 is…
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975)
My dad can rag on the special effects all he wants, but Jaws is a great film. Not only did it live up its reputation, offering great suspense and surprisingly believable special effects, but it also gave me something I didn’t expect: a terrifying depiction of local politics. The beginning of the film in some ways is the most frightening part, with the mayor sacrificing the town’s safety in favor of tourist dollars. Launching Steven Spielberg’s amazing career, Jaws is definitely a highlight in cinematic history. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 14 is…
Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1982)
The King of Comedy is a unique entry in Scorsese filmography. Though he is known for mixing realistic and expressive styles, The King of Comedy leans more towards realistic than perhaps any other film of his I’ve seen. That’s in complete contrast to the subject matter however, which shows Robert De Niro achieving his dream of fame by kidnapping a television show host played by Jerry Lewis. While the events may be crazy, the foundation isn’t. Fame breeds monsters, and Scorsese shows that clearly here. Also, watch for his cameo, it’s a good one. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 13 is….
Elia Kazan’s East of Eden (1955)
The first and best of James Dean’s films, East of Eden maybe shouldn’t be here because it pales in comparison to the book, but I still remember being amazed by the film before I read the book, so it’s here. A complex examination of the nature of good, evil, and free will, East of Eden may not be Kazan’s finest film but it’s definitely one worthy of him. Featuring gorgeous technicolor photography, and great performances by Dean (even though he’s channeling Brando, it works) and Julie Harris, East of Eden may not be as expansive as the book, but it inspired me to read it, and that’s something. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 12 is…
Charles Vidor’s Gilda (1946)
There are many good reasons to see Gilda, but there is only one that really matters: Rita Hayworth. (I mean, look at that hair flip people!) It may seem strange to rank a film this high based on one performance, but Hayworth is just that good. Glenn Ford is really disappointing in comparison, but George Macready is pretty decent. Regardless, Gilda is the classic story of a love-hate relationship, and it’s just crazy to see what these two do to each other. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 11 is…
Vincente Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
I was initially tempted to give The Bad and the Beautiful a 4/4, but realized that it wasn’t quite that good. It has this awkward story structure that tries to emulate that of Citizen Kane‘s, but ultimately does so far less elegantly. It works to the film’s detriment, with Walter Pidgeon’s character moralizing in between flashbacks detracting from the dramatic power of the film. Other than that, The Bad and the Beautiful is a great film. Its inclusion of parallels to real-life Hollywood is fascinating, it’s chock-full of extremely effective performances, and develops one of Minnelli’s favorite themes: the sacrifice of personal relationships in favor of advancing an artistic career. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 10 is…
Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985)
After Hours is a weird movie, so weird in fact, that I don’t think I fully appreciated it on my first viewing. I’ll have to look back on it one of these days, but I’ve thought about it a lot since I first saw it over the summer, and I really think I underestimated it. It has a lot of really interesting existential themes (my favorite!) and the cinematography is pretty darn great. It’s darkly funny, featuring the strange story of a man who goes forth and tries to experience life and is repeatedly defeated by it. Sounds depressing, but Scorsese manages to lighten it up. A little, anyway. (3/4 stars, though at this point I realize I should have given it at least 3.5)
Coming in at number 9 is….
Michael Lehmann’s Heathers (1988)
If it weren’t for the nostalgia I feel for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Heathers would definitely be my favorite high school film. It’s an incredibly dark satire that shows Winona Ryder and Christian Slater killing off the popular kids. While I grudgingly agree with the criticism that it sells out by the end with Ryder’s reform, I still think it gets the point across and it’s nice to see Ryder grow up and learn her lesson. It’s great use of color and outrageous humor will not let it be forgotten. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 8 is…
Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy (2003)
I wish I had reviewed this when I first saw it, though I admit I was still caught up by exactly what happened in the movie that I knew I would have to see it again to appreciate the actual filming. Let me tell you, a whole lot of crazy f-ed up stuff happens in this film, and it can take a while to sort it all out. An odyssey of revenge that is not made clear until the very end (similar to Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West in that respect, come to think of it), it definitely has be eager to check out some more of Park’s stuff. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 7 is….
Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The Silence of the Lambs is another incredibly dark movie, both visually and psychologically. The film is a legend, both in the serial killer genre and just in general. Every member in the cast turns in a great performance, each contributing to the horrific atmosphere. There is also a clear feminist agenda in this film, which is appreciated in a genre where women are usually relegated to the role of victim. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 6 is…
Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller is an examination of a failed hero. Warren Beatty’s McCabe tries to do the best he can and stand up for himself, but in the end he doesn’t even really know what’s going on and is just too clueless and innocent. Robert Altman captures this tragedy with a sense of inevitability, sadness, and love, bringing what comfort he can to the story. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 5 is….
Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958)
Though Chuck Heston playing a Mexican is certainly one of its problems, Touch of Evil is nevertheless a great film. It weirdly foreshadows Psycho with Janet Leigh stranded and drugged in that creepy motel. This is probably Welles’ best film after Kane, and his character here exhibits just as much moral ambiguity as Charles Foster Kane. I was fortunate enough to see this on the big screen back in March, and can’t wait to see it again. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 4 is…
Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966)
This film is the second in the chain of surveillance films, starting with Hitchcock’s Rear Window and ending with De Palma’s Blow Out (which I have yet to see). This film expands upon Rear Window considerably, taking out the suspense and putting in a sort of dreamy dissatisfaction. Hemmings’ character is bored and doesn’t know what’s going on, and neither do we. Antonioni perfectly captures 1960s London, and I’m really eager to see some more of his films in the coming year. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 3 is….
Bob Fosse’s All that Jazz (1979)
I simply adore this film. Bob Fosse’s ode to himself and artistic geniuses everywhere says everything a film about art needs to say. It shows art in action, how brilliant Roy Scheider’s Joe Gideon struggles to come to terms with his own demise, and expresses that through choreography and dance. Bob Fosse’s style is electric, with editing influenced by the French New Wave and a perfect blend of film and theatrical techniques. (4/4 stars)
Coming in at number 2 is…
Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974)
The Conversation is directly inspired by Blowup, but I have to say I like it better (maybe also better than Rear Window). The main reason for this is that The Conversation is just the right amount of artsy. I remember my production teacher saying that people only really discovered the potential of sound design with Apocalypse Now, and I remember being like “Hey, what about The Conversation?” Both were done by Walter Murch (who also re-edited Touch of Evil, incidentally), and all questions of subsequent influence aside, the sound design here is an integral part of the film. Not only does it play into the film’s themes of audio surveillance (particularly relevant in a post-Watergate environment), but it creates a lot of dread in the film’s final act. The Conversation is not just an effective thriller, but also an incredibly though-provoking look at surveillance and perception. (4/4 stars)
Coming in at number 1 is…
Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993)
Schindler’s List isn’t going to be a film I watch again and again like the other two 4 star films on this list. It’s an incredible film, but also a very difficult film to get through. It’s one of the only times I have had to pause a film because it got to be too much. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though, as the end is hopeful even if not “happy.” Both a harrowing portrayal of one of the greatest tragedies in human history and an examination of the good and evil in two men, Schindler’s List is rightfully classified as a modern classic and a masterpiece of film. (4/4 stars)
So there you have folks, the best previously released movies that I saw in 2014. The order is a bit arbitrary, but I feel confident in the films I’ve chosen. So before 2014 is over, the an opportunity for one more conversation. How many of these films have you seen? Which were your favorite in 2014? What are you looking forward to in 2015? And as always, thanks so much for reading, liking, and commenting over the past year.