Let’s Talk About All the 2014 Movies, Part 4

23 Feb

The Oscars are over and I still don’t care. Now we’re getting into the movies I liked more, though the first one up is pretty borderline:

19. Noah

I’m almost certainly in the minority on this one. Thanks to the faith-based crowd, this bizarre biblical adaptation from arthouse director Darren Aronofsky did well at the box office, but not so much with critics… and most of the cinephiles and ex-film students I talk to.

Which I completely understand; this movie is weird as hell. But I like weird things, and I think that’s why it worked for me. It’s most similar to The Fountain, Aronofksy’s previous failed attempt at philosophical fantasy, another movie of which I am in the small pool of admirers. Aronofsky’s films are full of emotion, and I’m a very emotional person, which is maybe why I can forgive their faults, as not everything in The Fountain and Noah really works.

But c’mon, this movie had giant stone angels smashing dudes’ heads in! It has Unobtanium! Yes, God Unobtanium! In one of Aronofsky’s weirder inventions, the Earth-killing industry of Cain’s descendents is powered by these strange, glowing rocks that we see Noah breaking up to make a fire early on in the film. Noah and his brood, descendents of Abel, wear the shedded skin of the Serpent on their biceps, I guess to designate that they’re followers of God? It also glows gold and was another weird addition.

It’s a very imperfect film, but something about it resonated with me, even though I’m not religious or a big fan of the Great Flood myth. The music, by Trent Reznor protégé Clint Mansell, was incredible, and the world Aronofsky built felt real and lived in and true enough to the source material. It doesn’t treat the Bible/Torah like a joke, but I can see why more conservative Christians and Jews might take offense, or rather, just be put off by the Lord of the Rings-esque tone of the film. Aronofsky took the Bible and turned it into his own high fantasy universe, which basically admits that the story is nothing more than a fairy tale, but I think he did so respectfully.

The visuals, like The Fountain’s, were also incredible, and I think elevate Noah above its script more than Interstellar’s SFX did. Nolan’s space opera had amazing effects and I appreciate that much of them were practical, but they didn’t feel particularly revolutionary, just more impressive versions of the sort of space stuff we’ve seen in other movies or the Cosmos TV show. The most magical moment of the film is effects-driven, in which we see via time-lapse, two doves following the trail of vegetation back to the Ark, in its first reveal, with Noah and the Stone Giants hard at work. Mansell’s score swells as the camera rotates around what appears to be a physical Ark, the cornerstone of the entire film. Worth it just for that sequence.

18. Frank

It’s a movie where Michael Fassbender wears a giant mask the whole movie. Which means it’s great. The titular character in this bizarre indie dramedy is based on Frank Sidebottom, a character created by English musician and comedian Chris Slevey, but beyond the mask itself, the two don’t share much in common. Fassbender’s Frank is insane and refuses to take off the mask, going so far as to have showers while still wearing it. The plot revolves around Jon, a wannabe rock star with dreams of heading his very own Arctic Monkeys, and his attempt to ingratiate himself with Frank and his band.

Frank didn’t blow me away, but I appreciated its originality and am always game for non-traditional protagonists. Jon is a selfish dick of middling talent, and as the film progresses the audience slowly turns against him. He claims to be inspired by Frank’s genius like the rest of his bandmates, but really only wants to use him for his own ends. Fassbender proves he can deliver amazing performances even when his face is obscured, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who I hadn’t seen in a while, is great as his cynical, artsy girlfriend. The film wouldn’t have worked if Frank’s music sucked, which it doesn’t- I really enjoyed it actually, very reminiscent of Joy Division, and the song that closes the film, “I Love You All,” is legitimately catchy. A fun comedy if you’re looking for something a bit more outside the box.

17. Neighbors

Not much to say about this one other than it was hilarious. I was skeptical because despite being a big Seth Rogen fan, his movies can be pretty hit-or-miss, and I’ve always gotten bad vibes from Zac Effron, or rather the persona Hollywood chose for him and then pitched back at us. I can’t vouch for his acting talent, but the guy is pretty likable and funny in this movie, though he’s upstaged by Davy Franco, who puts his older brother to shame.

Just as with Knocked Up, I think I liked this movie so much because I found it so relatable. In 2007, I had been dating my now-wife for almost two years, and the idea of an unexpected pregnancy was terrifying. Seven years later, I now identify with the adult characters (Rogen & Rose Byrne) and not the young people. At one point Byrne asks why it’s so wrong to enjoy going to the Container Store, and I turned to Alison and giggled because we had just gone there the week before.

So it hit home, had good supporting actors (Hannibal Buress as a cop was particularly funny) and had just the right amount of raunchiness. I want to give a shout out to Jerrod Carmichael, who plays one of the frat boys. I found his character and performance to be one of the funniest, but have never seen him mentioned anywhere. Good work, Jerrod!

16. Muppets Most Wanted

I really loved the 2011 Muppets film, essentially a reboot, but I know people, namely my friend Rob Malone, who wasn’t a fan, and I get it. Another friend of mine, Kevin Bauer, dislikes Jason Segel’s personality and thus couldn’t really get behind a Muppets film where he was more or less the main character. I like Segel, but understand the criticism that this was more a vehicle for him than a true Muppets film.

I didn’t like Muppets Most Wanted as much as The Muppets, but I agree it’s a truer Muppets movie. It feels more in line with the original films and classics like Muppets Take Manhattan than the 2011 outing, and is much more Muppets-centric, with no main human characters to steal screen time from Kermit and Ms. Piggy.

My favorite part of this movie was Constantine, the Kermit lookalike villain, who despite his silly, nondescript Eastern European accent, convinces the rest of the Muppets that he’s Kermit. His showpiece musical number, “I’ll Get You What You Want,” in which he promises Ms. Piggy an ever-escalating list of material goods, was the funniest part of the whole film.

Most Wanted’s gross was far below the success of its predecessor, so I’m not sure if we’ll see a threequel, or if the Muppets will be shuffled into the Disney Vault for another ten years, but if there is a third film and you live in the greater Los Angeles area, I highly recommend seeing it at Disney’s own theater, the El Capitan in Hollywood. Before each showing of a Muppets film, performers do a live show with Kermit and Ms. Piggy puppets. It’s particularly fun if there are a lot of kids in the audience since even in 2014, kids go apeshit over puppets.

15. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Time travel makes no sense and the X-Men movies still have the tendency to look cheap despite hundreds of millions of dollars being pumped into them, but Days of Future Past is by far the best in the series since X2. As Future Past is also directed by X2′s Bryan Singer, it feels like a spiritual successor to the franchise’s best entry, and essentially retcons all the bad decisions 20th Century Fox and Brett Ratner made with The Last Stand. Bringing the old and new X-Men casts together was a great idea, but Singer was wise to let the younger versions of Xavier and Magneto take center stage, with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen and Halle Berry relegated to occasional futuristic action scenes.

Singer, unlike Fox, is also smart to not focus the story on Wolverine, the most boring and overused character in the X-Men film franchise. Hugh Jackman does a bang-up job and clearly loves portraying the character, but Wolverine is one-note and works best when he’s slicing and dicing and not mourning Jean Grey or falling in love with Japanese ladies. Here he’s used more as a plot device, propelling the narrative forward as he travels from the future to the 1970s. Jennifer Lawrence is also memorable as a younger, more tortured Mystique.

Overall, I liked that Future Past undid the mistakes of Last Stand, bringing the present day X-Men plot to a satisfying conclusion while propelling the 1970s plot forward in interesting ways. I’m not sure where they’re going to go with Age of Apocalypse or how much steam the Mutants still have in them, but in addition to the MCU and Batman, this has always been one of my favorite superhero series. If I had one real complaint, it’s that Peter Dinklage’s villain Trask was a disappointing non-entity. I love Tyrion Lannister and I think Dinklage is a great actor, but I also think his stint on Game of Thrones has convinced Hollywood that he can portray any character in any project that is mildly nerdy, which just isn’t the case.

14. 22 Jump Street

Hands down the best comedy of the year, this sequel also accomplished the rare feat of surpassing its predecessor. Comedy sequels are almost bad, but 22 Jump Street succeeds where others failed by not only lampooning itself, but Hollywood, the culture of sequels, and the general commodification of art and entertainment. It doesn’t do this subtly, obviously, but subtly generally isn’t the name of the game when it comes to broad comedy.

The movie’s message is perfectly summed up by a line from Nick Offerman early in the film: “And we doubled your budget, as if that would somehow double the profits.” It was a particularly telling bit of dialogue in a year when the $200 million Amazing Spider-Man 2 nearly killed the Spider-Man franchise. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who also wrote and directed last year’s LEGO Movie, mercilessly lay into the people writing their checks throughout the film’s runtime, pointing out the absurdity of the sequel. It all culminates in the credits sequence, in which we see a montage of future 22 Jump Street sequels. I assumed this was not only a joke, but also a tactic to prevent Columbia and MGM from requisitioning more movies. However, thanks to the Sony Pictures hack (Columbia is a subsidiary of Sony), we now know of a potential crossover with the Men in Black franchise.

This is a bad idea, and even Channing Tatum seems to agree. I don’t think anyone thought a sequel to the movie that parodied 21 Jump Street would work, but it did, and it’s over. There’s nowhere else to go, and all the bases were covered with the credits sequence. There is no precedent for something as outlandish as aliens in this universe. Maybe it would work, but I think it really says something about the American film industry that even when the movie is making fun of its very existence and the idiots who greenlit it, once it makes money, all said idiots want to do is make the whole thing over again. 

Continue to #13-11

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