Slam Adams’ Top 50 Movies of 2014 (Part 3)
Out of 154 total movies seen. The movie had to be released in the US (because that’s where I am) between January 1st and December 31st, in theaters or on VOD.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
2015 turned out to be Marvel Studios’ best year yet. With their misfit picture, Guardians of the Galaxy, they proved that they could find any of their most obscure characters in their roster and turn them into money-makers. It stars Chris Pratt in a breakout role stars as Star-Lord, a human abducted by aliens and turned into a space-faring adventurer. While escaping from prison with a ragtag group (a deadly femme fatale, a psychotic tattooed man out for vengeance, a talking, bounty-hunting raccoon, and a good-natured tree monster) they find themselves in possession of a deadly weapon that he must stop from falling into the wrong hands. It is an often funny, always colorful throwback to pulpy space operas contrasted with one hell of a soundtrack that just makes everything all the more fun.
9. Inherent Vice
“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” This quote seems very apt for this intricate LA-noir. It follows a bewildered stoner private investigator, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), who may as well be surrounded by a permanent cloud like Charlie Brown’s buddy, Pigpen. After being dragged into a conspiracy by his ex-lover to find her new lover, Doc bounces from source to source touring the emerging and dying countercultures between the 60s and 70s, just trying to get the story straight. It is a narrative experiment from director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose more recent movies have been a hell of a lot more deliberate in pacing and structure. This one feels like a return to the off-the-wall ’90s output, and it takes some big risks on what it decides to reveal and not reveal. Hopefully, the joke lands for you as well as it did for me.
8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel’s other big hit from 2015 is my favorite Marvel movie yet. The Russo brothers, a duo known for their sitcom work, craft a thrilling fast-paced action-adventure. Chris Evans returns as Captain America, the moral fiber of the Avengers, working for SHIELD, the espionage agency that brought the Avengers together, trying to find a permament place in the modern era. Evans puts his comedic chops to good use with his liveliest outing as Cap yet. Similar to Evans’ Snowpiercer, Captain America: The Winter Soldier uses a political drama backbone to create a more interesting narrative to string together its thrills. Teamed up with his mysterious Avengers teammate, Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson in a great comedically disillusioned turn) and newcomer Falcon (played by a game Anthony Mackie), Cap investigates a conspiracy connected to one of the deadliest assassins of all time that mean dire consequences for SHIELD.
This was a strange viewing experience for me. As another collaboration between Jake Gyllenhaal and Denis Villenueve (made before but released after Prisoners), it was one of my more anticipated movies of last year. Gyllenhaal plays two characters, complete strangers who just so happen to look identical to each other. It is an eerie, creepy thriller with a lot of ambiguous, open-ended symbolism that felt frustrating in the moment. I immediately hated it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it days later though, trying to interpret the strange ending. The movie grew on me more and more and is definitely one of the most interesting movies made last year.
“Certainly a startling opening line,” Father James says when a man on the other side of the confessional admits to being raped by a priest as a boy. The man also marks Father James for death, not because he is the abuser, but because he is one of the good ones, and his death might mean something. Father James is given a week to get his affairs in order, which basically, in terms of this bitter black comedy, means dealing with the oddball sinners of his parish who can’t decide if they sincerely need advice or just want to patronize the priest out of nostalgia. Led by a thoughtful, sarcastically deadpan, Brendan Gleason, in what might be his best performance ever, filmmaker John Michael McDonagh explores morality and faith with a pragmatism that is often missing nowadays.
5. Under the Skin
Scarlet Johansson stars as Laura, an alien posing as a human in Scotland preying on local men. The movie never really tells us that, but that is the premise that has been reported almost everywhere that the movie has been talked about. With confidence, filmmaker Jonathan Glazer takes us on this weird, haunting tour of sadness resisting the urge to spell out everything for us. Instead, he warps normal appearances and actions into something much more menacing by simply filtering it through Johansson’s succubus’s point of view. Brace yourself for one of the most disturbing images ever committed to film.
4. Blue Ruin
Blue Ruin is a very simplistic movie in almost every way. That is what makes it so good. It focuses on the mundane aspects of crime, the kinds of things higher profile movies tend to skip. It offers a lot more intimacy than you usually get from a revenge thriller. Thanks to the lead actor, Macon Blair, our “hero” is imbued with perpetual vulnerability. He has no training or experience. He is basically getting by on what few wits he has. Unlike the constant homages and spoofs of Tarantino movies that usually come out, the dialog is deliberately sparse, the gore and violence is much more genuinely dirty instead of rockstar dirty, and the action is whittled down to the bare essentials: desperate people with guns pointed at each other.
The story of one student’s drive to become the best drummer EVER doesn’t sound like it could be the most intense and riveting story of the year. But it is. Thanks in part to the amazing drum score that runs through the whole movie. It doubles as an EKG for the audience. Matched with superb visceral performances by Miles Teller as said student and JK Simmons has his vein-popping, insult-slinging perfectionist teacher who could make R. Lee Emory piss his pants in fear.
There were so many blogs and thinkpieces after the Oscars about just how wrong they got Best Picture because they didn’t give it to Boyhood. Frankly, I think they got it right (at least among the nominees). It was nice to see Michael Keaton get a role he could really sink his teeth into, a meta-textual role that casts him as a has-been actor famous for his superhero movie when he was younger. Teamed up with an incredible supporting cast and an ambitious “single take” vision from its director (Alejandro G. Innaritu who also took home a gold statue).
1. Only Lovers Left Alive
Only Loves Left Alive came out early in the year, and not much else captured my imagination quite like this did. I am thoroughly depressed by the idea that one day I will be dead and there will be movies and music being made that I will never have the possibility to experience. With a tale of hipster vampires who live (so to speak) to consume more and more art, Jim Jarmusch has created a movie that relates to that very probelm. Led by some charming performances from Tom Hiddelston and Tilda Swinton, these blood junkies are overflowing with chemistry. There is just something awesome about people who could be centuries old but don’t walk around saying “back in my day, we had real music.” They have just as much insight and awe for the work of Jack White as they do William Shakespeare.