2014 in Review

2014 in Review: The Slackerwood Top Ten

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Nightcrawler

Just in time to be entirely irrelevant in terms of Oscar predictions, the Slackerwood contributors have voted on their top ten 2014 films. I think our picks are much better than the ones the Academy nominated for Best Picture (they didn't even pick ten this year, did they).

Our criteria were very laid-back -- it is called Slackerwood, after all. Eligible films included movies released in Austin in 2014 and movies that had a limited release for awards purposes in 2014. Ten contributors (including myself) each submitted a top ten list, and I tallied up the votes. No, I did not stuff the ballot box, as you can see by the absence of Snowpiercer on the list.

The first and second movies on this list were one point away from one another in the final tally. And of the ten films on the list, only two had votes from five contributors -- the first and fourth. Everything else had four or fewer votes. The list includes one movie shot in Austin, one movie directed by a former Texan, and one movie co-starring/produced by a former Austinite. Here we go:

10. Nightcrawler (pictured at top)

"... a slick thriller, even though it plays out like a gritty B-movie. ... The world of Nightcrawler is not exactly firmly grounded in reality, but it takes a slightly elevated, pitch-black look at a world where having questionable morality is celebrated as long as it increases the bottom line." -- Matt Shiverdecker (full review)

2014 in Review: Jette Says Check 'Em Out

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Blue Ruin

My criteria for movies to include in "best of the year" lists are very loose, as compared to various critics' organizations and other film-awards groups. For example, I would never disqualify Birdman from Best Score because it includes music from other composers. (Otherwise I'd never be able to qualify my all-time favorite score, from The Bad News Bears, but I digress.) The point is to present an interesting list of notable movies I saw in/around 2014, not to nitpick.

So my "notable films of 2014" list includes movies that were released in 2014, no matter when I saw them, as well as movies I saw in 2014 even if they haven't had a theatrical release. And, you know, whatever the hell else I want. If I'd done a 2013 list I probably would have topped it with A New Leaf (1971) because that was by far the best movie I saw that year. (It's on Amazon Prime and Blu-ray. It's funnier than anything else I'll mention in this article. Go watch it now.)

I planned to only include a few films because I never feel constrained by "top ten" or other numbers, but excellent and enjoyable movies kept popping onto the list. These are sort of in order -- my favorite is the one at the top -- but once we get past that, I can't really quibble about whether this one is better than that one. I'd recommend every one of them, is the point.

2014 in Review: The Year's Biggest Duds

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Edge of Tomorrow2014 had a lot of great movie releases, as you'll see in our Slackerwood Top Ten later this week. Picking out favorites was easy. Limiting them to just ten choices was much tougher.

However, there's no question the following titles were big losers for the year, and I'll tell you why these are my picks.

10. Edge of Tomorrow

This Tom Cruise-starring adaptation of the Japanese manga All You Need is Kill was one of the critically best films of the year and thus its place at number 10. Unfortunately, due to uncertainty over marketing, the opening weekend box office take was just under $30 million for this $178 million blockbuster. As of September, it had barely grossed $100 million. It failed again with the home video release which had "Live Die Repeat" splashed across the cover causing confusion among people who had seen the marketing for the edgier title. (my review)

9. Interstellar

Do you science? You'd be a lot cooler if you did. This movie is a controversial pick with many people on the "loved it" side of the debate. Still, Interstellar was saddled with very high expectations that many felt it failed to meet. Notes circulated on some of the original script ideas that had many wanting something more than they got. Much as I enjoyed it, the final act abandoned hard science in favor of fantasy, and the sound problems reported from across the country were a distraction. (Marcie's review)

8. Godzilla

Another one of my dud entries that was actually a pretty good film. This year, and with this remake, "pretty good" wasn't good enough. Gareth Edwards' heart was in it, but he took too long to build up the action to the point where the audience really felt he should have started. The most common complaint was that the title character doesn't show up for the first 40 minutes of the two-hour movie. My biggest complaint was under-use of Bryan Cranston (and over-use of Aaron Taylor-Johnson). This only has a 6.6 rating on IMDb. (my review)

2014 in Review: Matt's Top Ten

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Obvious Child

As each year ends, I hear from friends who say, "It was a really mediocre year for movies." While I know I watch more movies than your average person, I never understand that argument when it's presented to me. There's no question that I'm spoiled by living in Austin and being able to attend several film festivals a year, but even when I tried to make a Best of 2014 list, I struggled to put together anything less than a Top 30. For this post, I've narrowed it down to just my Top Ten. If you're curious to see my picks beyond this, you can check out my "Favorite Films of 2014" list on Letterboxd. 

To be eligible for my list, a film had to be released in the U.S. in some capacity in 2014. As a member of the Austin Film Critics Association, I was fortunate enough to be able to screen films like Selma, Inherent Vice and A Most Violent Year early, even though they didn't actually open in town until January.

10. Obvious Child -- Director Gillian Robespierre adapted her 2009 short film into this comedy that truly walks a fine line, creating an often hysterical film that deals with the life-changing topic of abortion. Jenny Slate is perfectly suited for a lead role that requires such a tightope act. When she's performing as a stand-up onscreen, her material is not just edgy, it's frequently over the edge. Some viewers may find the movie to be as well, but I loved the way it approached the subject matter. It's not easy to create a melancholy romantic comedy about a woman who has decided to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, but Obvious Child turns this very difficult decision into a relatable (and gleefully offensive) comedy without reducing it to an "issue" movie. (Elizabeth's review) (available now on home video and Amazon Prime streaming)

2014 in Review: Frank's Alternative Oscars

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It seems like every year, I see more and more Oscar-hungry campaigns for films and performances than the year before. This past year especially saw an excellent crop of actors and filmmakers contribute above-stellar work to the art of moviemaking. However, in the rush to place the ads, view the screeners and attend the parties during this most high-profile time in the film world, a large amount of first-class work has been forgotten. As a result, I have put together an alternative Oscar list featuring films and performances, which struck me as some of the best of the year and more than worthy of some well-earned recognition.

Best Picture: The Two Faces of January (2014)

How could the writer of Drive and the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley NOT conspire to create perhaps the most captivating thriller of the year? Featuring three complex characters and a multi-layered plot full of suspense and intrigue, this tale of an American guide (Oscar Isaac) who encounters a mysterious couple (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) in sun-drenched Greece was pure Hitchcockian and one of the most gripping films of 2014.

2014 in Review: Elizabeth's Favorite Women Onscreen

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Top: Gugu Mbatha-Raw in BEYOND THE LIGHTS, Bottom row: Reese Witherspoon in WILD, Jenny Slate in OBVIOUS CHILD, Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK

Jette asked me to reprise the theme from my post last year, so here are the female characters I found most memorable in 2014 film:

8. Mom, Boyhood

I may not have adored this Linklater movie as so many of my colleagues do, but I do find the mother played by Patricia Arquette the most layered in this cast of characters (and the best part of the film, IMHO). She stumbles through marriages, survives an abusive partner, works her way through an advanced degree, and questions her decisions all the while. (Debbie's Sundance review)

7. Mason, Snowpiercer

Tilda Swinton escapes deeply into this sadistic martinet, hungry for power and not as in control as she would like to be. (Matt's review)

2014 in Review: Elizabeth's Top Scores/Movie Music

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Still from The Hundred-Foot Journey

I made up this list before the Oscar nominations (grr) came out, and strangely enough, none of my picks for Best Score received a nod, even the one I assumed was a sure thing. Nevertheless, some movies this year featured phenomenal music, and I'd like to recognize them here.

I'll repeat my standards from a 2010 post: "The best film score complements the film perfectly and doesn't distract from the action onscreen, but is still distinct enough to stand on its own. Shoddy film music can ruin a movie (for me, at least), but a great film score serves to make a good movie even better."

5. Birdman, Antonio Sanchez

It seemed a given that, along with the other recognition this frenetic film received from the Academy, the percussion score would make the cut, but alas. The music by Sanchez adds so much to the Michael Keaton film (frankly, it's the only part of the movie I could appreciate) and easily adds to the frantic feel of the story (Mike's review). Here's a taste:

2014 in Review: Don's Top Ten and Other Lists

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Boyhood

Here are my top ten and other notable films of last year.

To be eligible for my lists, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2014 and screen in Austin in 2014 also. Some well-reviewed 2014 releases have not yet screened in Austin.

10. Joe

Nicolas Cage is at his understated best as an ex-con who hires a desperately poor teenager (Tye Sheridan, also terrific) to help clear a forest for development. Shot in Central Texas, David Gordon Green's haunting film explores the ravages of poverty and the nature of redemption. (Jette's review)

9. Thank You a Lot

Every year, I hope to discover a low-budget local indie that deserves a place on my top 10 list. This year's honoree is Austin filmmaker Matt Muir's Thank You a Lot, a poignant tale of a hard-luck music manager who will lose his job unless he signs a reclusive country music singer who's also his estranged father. In his acting debut, Austin music legend James Hand gives one of the year's best performances as a fictional (mostly, that is) version of himself. (my review)

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