As we reach the midway point of 2014, the RN&R's resident movie critic picks the year's best and worst so far
Unfortunately, this is one of those film years that the likes of me really fears. It’s come to be known as a Transformers year, a year when Michael Bay will punish those of us who don’t like trucks that change into robots all that much.
Fortunately, this is also a movie year delivering a lot of unique, bizarre experiences. Some of the best films of the year so far are among the weirdest I’ve seen in a long time. They are also very good.
With half the year behind us, here’s a list of this year’s best and worst so far. Take note: there are actually two movies worse than Transformers this year. This means there are movies making the rounds that can cause your eyeballs to rot out of your head, so make sure your health care covers eye maladies.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Writer-director Wes Anderson still hasn’t made a bad movie, and this hilarious showcase for Ralph Fiennes is one of his best. Fiennes plays M. Gustave, concierge at the hotel of the movie’s title, and he delivers an eternally hilarious performance without once trying to get a laugh. He just gets them, and he gets them good.
As for Anderson, this movie has a little bit of everything that makes him such a blast to watch. Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum and other Anderson regulars all chip in.
2. Edge of Tomorrow: This is the sort of awesomeness James Cameron used to turn out before he got obsessed with blue aliens. Tom Cruise is his usual ass-kicking self, and also very funny, as a soldier caught in a time loop where he dies … and dies … and dies. It’s ingeniously clever and all kinds of fun.
3. Under the Skin: This haunting and original work from Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) is seriously messed up. There are things in this movie I wish I had never seen, but I will probably see them again because I now own the film and will surely watch it numerous times whenever I need a good freak-out. It’s strange, the things we do to ourselves.
4. Life Itself: It’s quite fitting that one of the last things the great film critic Roger Ebert did is take part in an excellent documentary of his life. I imagine he and his partner-in-crime Gene Siskel would’ve given this one an enthusiastic thumbs up. It gives us a beautiful oversight of his whole life, and also provides a nice testament to the courage and joy he mustered when facing death. Both Siskel and Ebert left us way too soon.
5. Cold in July: A great Southern fried thriller that just came out of nowhere, starring Sam Shepard, Michael C. Hall and Don Johnson in a constantly surprising film. It’s a movie that shifts gears a lot, especially in its final, gonzo act. Shepard has never been this good in a movie, Hall is a revelation, and Johnson is simply badass.
6. Borgman: Herein lies a disturbing, horrifying, funny movie about gender and social roles, marital strife and infidelity that will make you scratch your head, laugh out loud and squirm in your seat. The film starts with Camiel (Jan Bijvoet), a vagrant living underground in the woods, being hunted by an angry priest. It goes absolutely batshit from there, and is sure to please those who like their movies a little complicated and strange.
7. Snowpiercer: Wow … there are some seriously weird films this year. This one from Joon-ho Bong, the director of The Host (the cool monster movie—not the Saoirse Ronan P.O.S.) has the survivors of the human race after a snow apocalypse, led by Chris Evans, living on a train. It sounds nuts, and it is nuts. Let it also be said that Tilda Swinton is doing some wacky roles this year. Her heavy makeup characters in this and The Grand Budapest Hotel prove she doesn’t give a crap what she looks like onscreen.
8. Alan Partridge: Steve Coogan finally brings his fictional entertainment character to the big screen (Well, mostly small screens via video on demand, but it did get a small theatrical release.) It’s a hostage comedy that works, thanks to Coogan’s spot-on performance. One of the year’s funniest movies.
9. The Fault in Our Stars: Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort make for a winning screen couple in this sweetly moving look at dying young. An editing error had me calling this a 5-star movie in the print version of our paper. I didn’t think it was that good, but I do, indeed, think it’s very good.
10. Godzilla: Gareth Edwards delivered with his giant radioactive lizard movie, and thank god for that. If this movie had stunk, I would’ve been in serious trouble. I worked up a level of excitement for it that was unprofessional and ill-advised. The film isn’t perfect, but the payoffs are massive, and I can’t wait for the sequel. I want King Kong vs. Godzilla!The worst
While there have been some very good releases this year, I think I’ve already seen enough bad films in 2014 to fill two year-end top 10 bad lists. So … that would be, like, 20 awfully bad films. For the purposes of this article, I’ve whittled that list down to five exercises in wretchedness.
Blended: Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore re-team for an asinine, racist, garbage haul that is worse than Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Do you hear what I’m saying? This movie is worse than Don’t Mess With the Zohan!
I, Frankenstein: Aaron Eckhart, desperate for his own action franchise, probably hurt his chances of ever getting a headlining role again after appearing in this travesty. This mess reimagines Frankenstein’s monster as some sort of metrosexual immortal hipster who scowls a lot and wears a hoodie.
Someone, somewhere, thought that a sexy, brooding Frankenstein’s monster would be a good idea. That particular someone should never be allowed to submit an idea on anything ever again, especially if that anything cost millions of dollars.
Transformers: Age of Extinction: And I looked, and beheld a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Michael Bay, and another freaking Transformers movie was following close behind him. And he was given authority over massive budgets to bring Hell to Earth. And he succeeded in godless fashion as a pestilence that took over the movie theaters. Hide the children. Bolt down the furniture. Stock up on bottled water. The Apocalypse is imminent.
Transcendence: Johnny Depp, that guy that used to make great movies, stars in what feels like a pale remake of The Lawnmower Man. It used to be that the release of a Depp movie meant something special was on the way. Nowadays, it means something akin to a farting, incontinent elephant is gracing the screen, and you had better be prepared to avert your eyes and pinch your nose.
Devil’s Knot: When I heard that Atom Egoyan was directing this movie about the West Memphis Three, I thought we were in for something interesting. Within the first few minutes of Reese Witherspoon’s pouting, lost performance, I knew I was in store for something really bad. Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three who spent years on Death Row for the murders of three children—murders he did not commit—disowned this film. I don’t blame him.