Saturday, December 27, 2014

Movies I Dug in 2014

In no discernible or important order whatsoever, here is my annual list of movies that I really dug and you maybe will dig too.

 I've not seen every movie that I wanted in 2014 so some will have to wait until Netflix or Itunes.  Which means the list is not comprehensive and you may have seen something amazing that I missed. I keep a running list of movies I intend to catch up on some day, but there are always more than I can possibly keep on top of.

These are the movies I saw this year that I considered the best of 2014 which ended up being a "top 14" list. 

For whatever reason this year I included where I saw it and if I was alone or not because, I don't know, somehow it seems like that might provide context that may or may not matter. 

1.  Adult World 

This move is one of those "if you blinked you missed it" - most theatres never carried it and the release was not wide, even I watched it on Itunes because I missed it the one week it was in the theatres here in Phoenix.  And every one knows John Cusack is my jam and so you'll automatically be suspicious of this pick and think it's all due to my Cusack near-obsession.  But you'd be wrong!  I have long ago abandoned the notion that a movie is automatically good just because it has Cusack in it (and recently I am sad to report there have been a spate of disappointing movies from our Dear John) but this movie is the exception to all of that and I genuinely liked it very much.  Emma Stone is a young poet who is slightly deluded about the path to success and John C. plays an aging punk poet named Rat who disabuses her of her deluded notions.  I read somewhere that John's character may be an alternate version of Lloyd Dobler had Lloyd grown up to realize his optimism was badly misplaced and gone the route of curmudgeonly misanthrope instead.  (If you aren't a huge fan of "Say Anything" you have no idea what I'm talking about right now.  If you've never seen "Say Anything" you might as well quit reading the rest of this blog post and RUN to the nearest Apple TV or Amazon Prime and rent that movie immediately so that you can get your life back on track since clearly, something is terribly amiss and in need of fixing).  Anyway, don't get too excited this isn't on the level of Say Anything.  But it is great work by Cusack and a subversive comedy that I found very cute and fun. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 54% which is not great, but I think it's a solid little movie you should try out for size.

2.  Million Dollar Arm 

This is a move that honestly I probably never would have seen except I was going to the movies with a friend to the Harkins at Tempe Marketplace and we couldn't sort of agree on anything and I just finally suggested this because I think Jon Hamm is cute and figured I could live through any movie where Jon would be featured prominently on the silver screen and I could just ignore the hum of whatever nonsense was wrecking the rest of the film.  But geez, I was totally wrong and honestly this was one of those cute feel good movies that somehow manages to get the cute and the feel good all in the right proportions and you kind of stumble on to this thing that warms your heart when you think your heart is all frozen over and unwarmable.  Basically Hamm's character goes to India to recruit baseball players from cricket players and hijinks ensue which sounds kinda dumb (hence my initial hesitation) but ends up being a really sweet story (based on a true story, which always helps in my opinion) and Hamm is adorable and Lake Bell is also in this and I really think she is  awesome and really I only have good things to say about this movie.  It's also totally clean and PG too so if you have kiddos and you're looking for a "family movie" this is a good one.  Rotten tomatoes gave it a 61% but the user score was higher at 70%.

3.  Land Ho

Basically Land Ho proves that I didn't only go to movies based on cute guys being in them cause these guys are pretty old and clearly I didn't go just because there was someone in the film I had a crush on (which I am now worried you'll think due to film #1 and #2 on my list both having actors I think are pretty dreamy).  My 17 year old daughter and I saw this at Harkins Camelview and gosh darn it if I don't love that art house theatre with all my heart.  You know, it's not that easy to talk a 17 year old into going to a film about 2 old dudes who travel to Iceland, but she's a good sport.  She really liked this movie and so did I.  It's more or a less a contemplation on aging and getting the most out of life at any age.  Iceland is beautiful and this made me want to go there on vacation and there was just a lot to love about this.  And honestly one of these dudes did seem pretty cute to me by the end of the movie, making me question a lot of prejudices I have about older men.  So many movies are about people in their 20s or 30s and it is really nice once in a while to remind people about lives lived beyond what might consider ones "prime".  The critics liked this with an 80% rotten tomatoes score, but the public was less enthusiastic at 56%.  I attribute that to this being a movie where nothing is blown up, there are no car chases and many people may accuse it of being "a movie where nothing happens".  And they would be totally wrong about that because in my opinion, quite a lot happens and especially, if you're keen on this sort of thing, something might happen to you internally while you watch, which in my opinion is the best kind of movie. 

4.  Finding Vivian Maier

This one we also saw at Camelview 5 and actually my 17 year old was the one who really wanted to go to this.  It's a documentary about a nanny who was secretly an incredible photographer.  She captured some amazing images on film but the photos were not discovered until somewhat recently.  The story is mostly about the photography, but also sort of the mystery of who Vivian was, and not only who people thought she was - but who she really was, which almost no one really was aware of while she was alive.  It made me think a lot about the lives we sometimes live in private and how often we really don't feel known or understood by others and what it all means.  I think you'd have to be pretty immune to the beauty of photography not to enjoy this film.   Pretty much everyone loved this with a 94% rotten tomatoes critic score and a 89% user score.

5.  The Grand Budapest Hotel 

This film is the typical stuff you expect from Wes Anderson.  Goofy, Eccentric, and a "Wild Ride" all come to mind.  An old fashioned "farce" of sorts.  Anderson's films always have that kind of dreamy, "this only makes sense because I'm asleep" thing going for them.  The intricate sets and costumes and set ups are so delicious in Grand Budapest, I think it's one of his best films.  If you DON'T like Wes Anderson films, I still think you might like this one.  Give it a try.  My daughter and I saw this at Camelview 5 and later bought it on Itunes as well.  Most everyone loved this too with a 92% critic score on rotten tomatoes and an 86% user score.

6.  The One I Love 

This was a surprisingly awesome film.   And impossible to describe.  Like I don't know what to say.  Weird, quirky, magical, odd, subversive.  Like if you took a relationship and held it up to a fun-house mirror as a means of marriage therapy. My daughter and I saw this at Shea 14 and she really loved it too.  It's funny and romantic in a very unconventional way and it definitely poses new questions about relationships that might make you think about surprising and complex questions and "what does it all mean".  Rotten tomatoes critic score of 80% and user score of 79%; I did hear someone who left the theatre at the same time as us say "I honestly don't know how I feel about what I just saw, I have so many questions!".  It is a great movie to discuss with other people afterwards. 

7.  Palo Alto 

This might be the favorite of this whole list.  Although I wanted my daughter to see this with me, I ended up attending alone at Camelview 5.  It was just such a great portrayal of teens and weird suburban/urban angst and poor parenting practices so common today.  You get the sense in this film that parents only exist on the periphery, if at all, and everything feels precariously tilting towards a dangerous collision for these teens as a result.   Gia Coppola proves herself to be a worthy embodiment of the family name.   The acting here is great, you do actually feel like you're just watching these teens in their natural habitat and Emma Roberts is very good and Jack Kilmer (son of Val) is excellent.  This film also has the best soundtrack of any all year and if I only saw it for the exposure to new music it would have still been worth it, but luckily the film itself is really great.  73% rotten tomatoes score but only 53% users score which I largely attribute to people who had different expectations for what type of movie it would be.  Again, many complaints by users that it was "slow".  This in my opinion was the genius of the film.  Didn't weeks and days go by agonizingly slow when you were a teen? Didn't it almost feel like you literally had to kill time to get it to move?  You really feel very much compassion for the teenagers in this film even if some of them are kind of awful to each other, because clearly the adults in their lives aren't offering them much help navigating this tricky territory. 

8.  The Lunch Box 

My daughter and I saw this together at Camelview 5 and it was a great feel good romance.  Set in India the premise was simple yet effective.  You're never quite sure if things will work out or not all the way up until the very end and I like it when movies are not predictable and leave room for some ambiguity.  If you are looking for a cute film that won't challenge you too much but might be a little different from the norm (it's a foreign film set in India) then I think you'll really like this one.  96% on rotten tomatoes for critic score and 87% for users. 

9.  Boyhood 

This film really doesn't need my recommendation, lots of people loved this and it has gotten a ton of press for being shot over the course of 12 years.  But you really can't say enough what a marvelous trick that is to watch characters age on film over more than a decade.  The story is compelling and I thoroughly enjoyed this.  I also saw this with my teenage daughter at Camelview 5.  I saw a lot more movies with her this year than I usually do - probably because she has gotten old enough to appreciate the same types of films I do.  She really likes this since it is about a kid growing up and becoming who they are meant to be.  Watching the boy change and grow is interesting but I found myself immersed in watching the adults change as the children grow.  Sometimes we fail to realize how much raising children and watching them grow changes us too. 99% critic score on rotten tomatoes and 89% user score.

10.  The Skeleton Twins 

I had kinda high expectations for this film and although it was less funny than I imagined it would be, it was also more poignant than I expected.  Sometimes it was actually really funny, but overall the tone of this is much more serious than you might think and I actually think that's it's strength.  Bill Hader plays the gay twin brother of Kristen Wiig and they have not seen each other in a long time.  The movie opens with each of them attempting suicide and it becomes more clear as the movie progresses why they didn't speak for 10 years and why each of them has some fairly serious mental health issues.  Besides dealing very compassionately with some issues of depression and family complications as well as providing some good comic relief sprinkled through out, I also love this because it shows this really special and great relationship between a brother and sister - that's kind of the love story here, sibling love, which is not something that gets touched on much in movies except in a very tangential way.  Here is plays the starring role in the films heart and for that, I really loved it.  I think it also delved into some issues regarding humanizing some pretty interesting human frailties that I also really appreciated.  I saw it alone at Scottsdale Cine Capri and I also now own this movie in my Itunes collection.  Critics and users also pretty well like this too with 87% and 77% respectively. 

11.  Only Lovers Left Alive 

This I saw with one of my oldest friends at Camelview 5 and immediately upon the opening of the film I knew I was really going to dig it because the open was so unique I've never seen anything like it done as effectively before.  Immediately you are drawn into this weird world of vampires that is totally different from any way you've seen them portrayed before and not only that, the director manages to make us feel that we are on some kind of weird drug trip right from the get go.  I mean, that's a neat trick don't you think?  I have not seen this on the small screen so I don't know if the feeling of being drugged works as well if you are watching it at home.  The entire movie you feel like you're in this really interesting world and even if you could argue that not much happens (and for reals, that is a good argument you could make I suppose compared to pretty much any other vampire movie you've ever seen) I feel like this vampire movie packs more philosophical punch than any other I've ever seen.  It's beautifully shot and completely worth a look even if you generally shy away from vampire films.  The critics gave it an 85% and the users a 79%. 

12.  This Is Where I Leave You

This movie I had super low expectations for because it really did not get great reviews but I went anyway with my daughter to Shea 14 because as I recall we were bored and there weren't that many options.  I suspected with Jason Bateman in it I'd at least have a laugh or two ( I dig that man and he always can make me laugh) but then I ended up being pretty surprised by how well done the movie was and how much I really liked it.  I had never read the book so I don't know if that would have changed my opinion or not but I just thought it was way better than it was given credit for.  It's basically about all the complicated ways we interact with our families and in our relationships, it's about regret and embracing our lives in ways that make the best of what is.  It's kind of about how painful it is to try to grow up to become who we're meant to be and how we sometimes take a lot of side roads before we get there.  We make compromises and we learn to be okay with them - or maybe we don't.  Basically the premise of this movie is life is messy.  But also kinda funny if you look at it the right way.  The critics really didn't dig this and gave it a 42% but the users took more kindly to it with a 62%.  Make of that what you will, maybe I'm just a big fan of Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Adam Driver but I think you might like this.  The critics mostly seemed to criticize that it was too sweet.  I don't know, I like a little sweet with my bitter once in a while.

13. Whiplash

I saw this alone at Shea 14 and I really dug it.  It's intense and it is about a drummer who is in a special ensemble in a prestigious music school.  His musical director is a fanatic who borders on being abusive and then crosses the line into abuse many times during the film.  The movie makes us ask questions about what it means to be successful, where pressure to succeed crosses over into something unhelpful and what does it take to truly become a musical genius or to be "the best".  The movie takes a few twists and turns and ends up being somewhat surprising even though the majority of this movie is literally watching someone drum their guts out.  I don't even feel particularly interested in musicians or drummers and I still found this really fascinating and great. The critics loved this and gave it a 96% and the users whole heartedly agreed.

14. Wild 

I saw this at Camelview 5 with my daughter.  She and I both really liked it.  In fact, it's right up there with my favorites for the year and I think the reason why is it felt personally meaningful to me.  Basically its based on a true story where a woman hikes all the way from Mexico/California border to the Canadian/Washington state border.  She is fighting some personal demons and she learns a lot about her self in the process.  I think if you can allow the film to sort of wash over you there's a lot you can learn about yourself here too regardless of what your personal challenges might be (she's kicking heroin and mourning the loss of her mother and her marriage - your tragedy does not need to be nearly that extreme).  We all travel our own journeys and hopefully those journey's do something similar for us where we learn self-acceptance and test our mettle.  If this is something you've experienced or are going through now, I think you'll really like this.  The critics mostly liked it too, giving it a 92% and the users gave it an 81%.  

15. Under The Skin 

This I saw with a friend at Camelview 5.  I almost didn't put it on the list because it is so fricking weird and I just...well, this movie took me days and weeks to process what I felt about it.  But the thing is, it really stuck.  Like I actually thought about this movie a lot.  This is one of those movies that made me go do a whole google search afterwards to figure out what it all meant and to see if my conclusions were even correct or at least in the right general train of thought.  Just know, this whole deal is totally bizarre and you really will not know what in the heck you are watching and you'll feel completely off balance by the whole thing.  BUT, you sure as heck aren't going to be bored and if this doesn't give you something to chew on I don't know what on earth would.  So I highly recommend it, but also offer you extreme caution that it won't be anything you expect.  I'm not going to try to explain the actual plot because it will ruin it.  The critics pretty well dug it at 86% but the general public came away pretty confused with a 52%.  Not surprising.  But you know yourself well enough - do you like stuff that is sort of weird and subversive and not obvious and will make you work to think and figure out what is going on?  then you'll love it.  If you don't have that sense of adventure about your film choices - go ahead and skip this one! 

And here are a few more that I almost included: 

Begin Again 


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