2014: The Diner's Verdict

I have to say that overall I found 2014 to be pretty uneven for films.

I know Edgar Wright (and others) have said that "people who don't think there are any good films aren't watching enough films" and I am inclined to agree, for example I list 13 films from 2014 I have yet to see, and really want to, later in this article, but based on the following statements, I am still going to go with 2014 was an uneven year for films.

People fell over themselves to praise comic films like Guardians of the GalaxyX-Men: Days of Future Past or Captain America: The Winter Soldier and while I enjoyed each of them, none of them really set my world on fire either.
Critical or internet darlings like Under The Skin, Boyhood, Gone Girl, Blue Ruin and The Double, not to spoil it for you, but actually all make my worst of 2014 list.
Out of the top earners of 2014, Transformers:Age of Extinction (I wish these fucking films were extinct!), Maleficent, The Hunger Games: Mockingly - Part 1 (So much wrong with that title and concept, where do I begin), Interstellar and The Hobbit: When will this damn thing end held absolutely no interest for me.
Even sure fire certainties for me like The Monuments MenWes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel and The Expendables 3 were all let downs in their own way.

The rest of the year was then littered with crap like I,Frankenstein, The Robocop remake, The Other Woman, Walk of Shame, Blended, A Million Ways To Die In The West, Tammy, Sex Tape, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake, Let's Be Cops... wait wait wait... was there a GOOD comedy released in 2014?? hmmmm

Anyway, out of that pile I picked 12 I loved, 9 I really hated and compiled a couple of other lists for your reading pleasure. ENJOY!

Best films of 2014
12. Begin Again - Ok so apart from being a bit of a closet romantic and sensitive as all hell, I am also a sucker for good films about New York and live music. There's plenty to be cautious about with this one, Adam Levine for example needs to be cock punched repeatedly but this film casts him as a preening, pretentious, egotistical bastard who cheats on Keira Knightly like an absolute twat and then becomes a tight jeans wearing hipster prick over night, so that takes care of him. James Corden is another one but he hasn't got a huge part, I haven't lived in England while he got annoying for everyone else and apart from the first season of Gavin and Stacey I haven't seen anything else he's in, so I am ok there. As for the unabashed, infectious, ruffled, cute tweeness of it all well, the music, the direction and the other performances are just so good it doesn't matter. It also helps if you just love New York with your entire gut. I have walked round this city, music in my headphones, lost in the passionate embrace of tunes and the night, so I get this film on a gut level. Maybe not one for everyone but I left the cinema and danced 25 blocks!

11. Tusk - ok so maybe it's the weakest film on the list but it's on here for a very definite reason. As a fan of Kevin Smith's early work, as a fan of batshit crazy B-movies and as someone who, of late, has come to despair of the work of other early 90s indie hopefuls like Tarantino, Linklater, Soderbergh and Fincher as their budgets rose or their ego's expanded, I have to applaud the later era small, weird films of Kevin Smith.
A lot of the hatred levelled at Smith is that if you start to listen to all his podcasts, follow his twitter feed or get close to the 'cult of Smith' then he can become overextended, insufferable and repetitive. Not least of all about his fairly recent discoveries of hockey and weed.
To dismiss Red State, Tusk and his future bizarre sounding batch of flicks including Yoga Hosers and Moose Jaws though is to miss out on some fascinating movies from a film-maker having fun, taking chances, making films far from the Hollywood norm and someone who has found a way to tell the stories he wants to make, the way he wants to make them.
Tarantino and Rodriguez make obvious rip offs and homages to the grindhouse or b-movies of the 70s with varying degrees of success (I prefer Rodriguez's joyously mental take to Tarantino's film snobbery and self worship) whereas Kevin Smith is making the odd ball b-movies of the future. If you'd seen Red State or Tusk in a Drive-In of the 70s, you'd all be still raving about them today.
Still don't buy my argument? Here's one you can't dispute - Michael Parks. Michael Parks gives two performances in Red State and Tusk which are undeniable, transfixing gold. Also Johnny Depp shows up in Tusk with a character NOT inspired by Keith Richards or Hunter S Thompson (quick call the fucking tabloids!!) and while I accept it's a love it or hate it kind of performance, the fact that it's in this film at all or the fact Depp and Smith ran with it, should be applauded.

10. A Walk Among The Tombstones - I have a thing for later Liam Neeson movies. Hence why he makes my list twice this year. Tombstones was sold, ineptly and wrongly, as yet another in a long line of Neeson Taken clones. In fact if Neeson's recent work shows anything it's the unimaginative and pigeon-holing work of idiotic Hollywood marketing companies rather than Neeson only playing one note. Liam Neeson has actually been doing a few different things in a variety of roles with different outcomes but, sadly, like fellow action Brit, Jason Statham people are only intent to see him as only playing his Taken persona in a series of run-of-the-mill thrillers or action pics. Well just like if you watched Crank 2 and Hummingbird/Redemption you'd easily see that Statham isn't just doing Statham, the same can be said for Neeson in Taken and Walk Among The Tombstones. Tombstones is a pleasingly low key, old school style gumshoe story with some wonderful late 90s motifs and overtones in it. It's a good script, directed and delivered well, that is more Seven than Die Hard.
Hear us discuss it further on the After Movie Diner Podcast here: http://amdpodcast.blogspot.com/2014/12/episode-143-walk-among-neeson-tombstones.html

09. Edge of Tomorrow - Action Cruise is good Cruise. This is my decree. Sci-Fi Cruise only occasionally works but blend that Sci-Fi with plenty of action, humour, a great supporting cast, an awesomely underrated director and set that shit in the country of my birth? Well dammit if you don't have a winner! While some missed the point entirely and complained about the computer game/Groundhog Day nature of the plot, the thing that really shone through all the CGI whizzbangery and contrived, repetitive set-up was a set of excellently human, funny, scared, capable characters ably portrayed by actors giving tremendous performances, helped by a tight, perfect script.
Hear us discuss it further on the After Movie Diner Podcast here: http://amdpodcast.blogspot.com/2014/06/episode-127-edge-of-tomorrow.html

08. The Bag Man - One of the things I loved doing in 2014, with my friend James Wallace, was trudging down to the cinema in New York to see odd little movies, usually starring John Cusack or someone of his, now, sadly straight-to-video ilk, that would screen for one week and then head to VOD or DVD. The Bag Man was one such film and the reason it's on this list is it was such a radiant, wonderful, pleasant and exciting surprise. Everyone else, of course, either missed this gem or was professionally, pretentiously snarky and down their nose at it. More fool them. It was a great throw back to those mid-90s, post Tarantino, ensemble cast thrillers like Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead with a witty, play-like script, one or two settings and a cast having a genuinely awesome time with the material. De Niro and Cusack are wonderful in it, better than either of them has been in an age and Crispin Glover provides some creeps and some laughs in a supporting role. While not everyone will get a kick out of this smart, knowing, quirky, small film, James and I enjoyed it immensely.
Hear us discuss it further on the After Movie Diner Podcast here: http://amdpodcast.blogspot.com/2014/03/episode-117-bag-man.html

07. The Equalizer - As a fan of the original TV Series I was not sure going into this big, dark, Hollywood re-imagining (I hate that word) starring Denzel Washington, that I was going to like any of it. To be honest I wrestled between this and John Wick (which gets an honourable mention below). The Equalizer won out because I find Washington a much more charming screen presence and because I had way more unexpected fun with this flick than I did John Wick. Both films were a surprise, both films were ones, for some reason, you don't expect to get made any more, outside the straight to streaming/DVD market and both films deserve to be seen and enjoyed by every action fan on the planet. The Equalizer, however, either got me on a good day, or hit the right spot because I loved the hell out of it. I think it's because there is something to the plot, something to the way it was filmed, something to the leisurely pacing and something to the performances that lured me in and enveloped me like a big cosy, Sunday afternoon, action blanket. It feels far more Leon: The Professional than, say, Taken, The Raid or, for that matter, John Wick and while I am all for crash bangery, kick assery and explosions, the day I saw this I was all about watching Denzel slowly and surely come to terms with his mission and then execute it in a fun, cool, awesome way.

06. The Battered Bastards of Baseball - I thought the half way spot was a perfect place for the only documentary on my list. Every year I think 'I must watch more documentaries', after all Netflix is riddled with free ones but, to be honest, while I am sure things like Jodorowsky's Dune etc. are absolutely excellent, sometimes I just don't feel intellectual enough or something. My terrible secret is that while I want to watch intelligent films and arty films and feel all important and deep (I have an ego just like anyone else), I pretty much take good entertainment over most things.
I came to baseball late. When I moved to New York I had no interest in sports whatsoever. After a couple of games in Yankee Stadium, however, I was hooked. I know the Yankees come under a lot of criticism and I know people think I should, for some odd reason, support "underdog" team The Mets but to do that, just because they are the "underdogs" would seem phoney and pretentious. I came to the Yankees honestly, organically and without the burden of having grown up with the rivalries or public personas that can make or break teams. However the one criticism I have of them, as a scruffy, bearded, hobo like person is they are not raggedy enough and don't seem to have enough fun. Having watched The Battered Bastards of Baseball I am pretty much sure that, had I been alive and American, the Portland Mavericks would've been MY team. Owned by actor and Kurt Russell's father, Bing Russell, the Portland Mavericks were an independent minor league baseball team at a time when everyone else was part of the MLB. Talk about underdogs, they were the kings of the underdogs and the film shows the fun, the fortune and the eventual fall of the team with all the wide eyed wonder and passion you could want. For baseball and non-baseball fans alike.

05. Non-Stop - Liam 'The Throat Puncher' Neeson is back and this time he is taking names and throat punching people at 30,000 feet! This is the pure escapist, I have no justification for it other than I have had immense fun with this film more than once in 2014, addition to the list. Forgive the action fanboy in me if you must, if you expect all top 10 lists to be filled with intelligent insights and rhapsodic waxing about camera angles and intricate performances then, you may have realised by now, you are completely in the wrong place. I loved this movie, I still love this movie and, to me, in action Neeson stakes, it's second only to Taken so far in terms of sheer badassery and enjoyment.

04. The Raid 2 - The Raid 2 achieved everything a successful sequel should achieve. It expanded the world and the storyline of the first movie and it gave fans of the first plenty of the same while giving film fans more of a story, more about the characters and just about more of everything. People who complained The Raid didn't have enough story and characters then here was more dialogue, more story, more settings, more characters, more depth and more creativity but people hungry for more lunatic action antics, insane camera work and death defying stunts, well those were there too. It was noticeably bigger but difficult to say if it was any better or, if indeed, it needed to be better. I think Gareth Evans side-stepped that issue a little by making it noticeably different, rather than simply trying to better himself. The first one had an originality, vibrancy and simplistic set up that everyone could enjoy whereas The Raid 2 felt more for the hardcore action fan, movie fan, art fan etc. amongst us. It also had a wonderful emotional core and weariness to Iko Uwais's acting performance that showed us he could go way beyond just simply kicking ass.
It was a tremendous movie and another one, like Non-Stop, which I have already revisited in 2014.

03. Ninja 2: Shadow Of A Tear - The Raid 2 was the best action sequel of the year, right? Think again! The Raid 2 certainly qualifies as the 'thinking person's' action sequel of the year. The Raid 2 allows everyone from knuckleheads to academics alike to stroke their collective beards and proclaim it a good movie. Ninja 2: Shadow Of A Tear on the other hand sadly, more often than not, elicits the response "wait there was a Ninja 1?" or "who's this Scott Atkins fella" or "is this some dumb movie like those 80s Ninja films that I like to derisively laugh at because I am an obnoxious twat?"
Scott Adkins, for those not in the know, is a British martial artist and actor who has been, much like director Isaac Florentine, paying his dues in straight to video fare for way longer than is reasonable. For the past 9 years the pair have produced some of the best action cinema you've probably never seen. If you have and I am preaching to the converted then pat yourself heartily on the back and I'll assume you've seen Ninja 2 or are going to. The rest of you, go watch this movie now! While Ninja 1, much like Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais with Merantu Warrior, was a director and an actor figuring out a new way to go and stumbles, only slightly, in its balance between old school simple storytelling and kinetic, acrobatic action. Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear is like The Raid (or Tony Jaa's Protector before it), an off the hook tear through action set piece after action set piece in all it's breath-taking, high kicking, balletic splendour with director and actor/performer working together at the top of their game. It's surprising, it's incredible and it's well worth the ride. Plus, in a nice little nod to the aforementioned 80s ninja movies, Kane Kosugi shows up and proves himself an incredibly worthy successor to his father's ninja crown.
All things being equal, Scott Adkins should be a huge action star. Trouble is all things aren't equal. For example, despite his best efforts and a ridiculous amount of aggressive hatred from most right thinking people, Justin Bieber still has a career. Think on that a moment, shout violent and hideous things to make you feel better and then do ALL YOU CAN as a consumer to give Adkins his due.

02. Selma - Ok so time to get all serious. I have sung the praises of this movie elsewhere, you can read my full review HERE but basically this is a, sadly, still very relevant and incredibly important movie. The performances are stunning, the script is brilliant and the direction assured.
It would be so easy for this movie to be manipulative, overly simplified, tug on the heart strings, tug on the guilt etc. etc. and just rest on its weighty, pertinent theme but no, this is a complex, layered, fascinating film that demands your attention, your intelligence, you heart and your soul.
It's a MUST see. No if, ands or buts about it.

01. Birdman - Birdman may very well be about absolutely nothing and be blindsiding me with its gimmicks, its knock out performances, its breakneck speed, the welcome return of Michael Keaton, the romance of the theatre, the New York setting, the stunning cinematography and so on and so on, as I said earlier, I may not be too intellectual or watch stuff in that way, but it doesn't matter. It's phenomenal. Everyone's performance but, weirdly, Naomi Watts, is so on point in this film as to be utterly jaw dropping. Michael Keaton, Ed Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough could all win Oscars and Golden Globes by the bucket load and you wouldn't be able to argue with anyone. The pace that is maintained, the seemingly unbroken, unedited, continual floating, tracking, steadicam camera shot, the soundtrack, the sound editing, the note perfect script, the hilarious comedy, the soul crushing drama and the setting are all completely spellbinding and exhilarating. You've heard horror movies described as a haunted house roller-coaster or action movies as an explosive ride, well here it's the acting and the dialogue that is the speeding train, the huge spectacle, the driving force, the explosion, the 40 foot monster and the spaceship landing. On top of that the visuals are a feast for the senses too. I came out of the cinema and needed to see it again immediately. I have kicked myself every day since that I haven't seen it again yet.
As for its meanings, its layers and its message I personally think you can take from it whatever you want. It plays damn well as just sheer entertainment too. Ultimately though and to be cliche and cheesy for a moment it can be summed up by that old passage from Shakespeare:
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

Honourable Mentions:
Lucy - bonkers Luc Besson directed, Scarlett Johansson starring sci-fi action film that surprised, enthralled and baffled in equal, pleasing measure.
John Wick - Keanu Reeves kicks everyone's ass repeatedly because some mindless, cruel idiot killed his dog and because that dog was his entire life. It's poetic as much as it's awesomely action packed.
Snowpiercer - While I didn't go nuts over this in quite the same way others would, this tragically little seen, inventively cast, action, sci-fi oddity was just so inventive and intriguing that it bares mentioning, a second watch and I urge everyone who hasn't seen it to see it immediately.

Worst of 2014 (based on US Release Dates): 
09. Blue Ruin - long, slow, hardly any dialogue and hardly any point. Not bad so much as just unrelentingly boring.

08. Under The Skin - Sure there were parts that were haunting and Scarlet Johansson, when given dialogue, was surprisingly good but it was all too achingly art house, pretentious, inexplicable, wilfully confusing, thoroughly boring in places and just when you had a handle on what it was about it became about nothing at all. I hate films like this. They are made just so people can talk about them and try and look clever. If I ever heard people discussing how deep and meaningful they thought it was I would either demand they tell me exactly how (and I bet they couldn't really) or I'd simply throw up on them.

07. Android Cop - The Asylum strike again and utterly, unforgivably waste Michael Jai White in this shoddily put together, action lacking, tedious slice of mock-buster crappery.

06. St.Vincent - I don't know who thought this film was a good idea. From Naomi Watts's hideous interpretation of the tired old cliche of nagging Russian hooker and Melissa McCarthy's thankless, badly written role to the trite, really wraps nothing up at all but emotionally satisfies about as long as a goose fart ending, this is an utter waste of the talents of all involved. Not even Bill Murray can save it and doesn't look like he even cares to try.

05. Gone Girl - AGHHHHH David Fincher you infuriating bastard!! You make the best film you are now, sadly, probably ever going to make in Zodiac and you follow it up with three undiluted turds. Social Network was as vapid and irritating as its tedious, ego fuelled, subject matter, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was awful, it was like a bad Poirot episode with tits (and not in a good way) and your latest, Gone Girl sinks even lower as it is an obvious, melodramatic, Lifetime channel, made for TV movie that might well have been called "Oh no! I married a psycho!" stretched out over 2 and a half agonising hours. That people discussed this, seriously, as a great movie this year and raved about it has me thinking everyone has gone fucking mental. This isn't even the level of cheesy 90s thrillers like Deceived or Malice but it thinks it's high art. Madness. Everyone involved should be ashamed.

04. Boyhood - Wake me up when it's over! Seriously people, I had a more interesting life than this kid and I am not suggesting anyone turn my life into a 3hr movie. NOTHING HAPPENS for almost 3hrs except a slightly alcoholic man throws a glass and has a bit of an argument in one scene AND THAT'S IT! The film felt like I was living the most tedious, unremarkable, average life for 12 straight years. Was it interesting to watch people age over the course of 3hrs? Honestly? Nope, not even a little bit. That this topped list after list of greatest films of 2014 is such a case of the emperor's new clothes as to be mind boggling for eternity. It was like watching someone else's home videos. Watching your own is bad enough but someone else's is enough to make you want to gnaw your own foot off.
Step back for one second and ask yourself this question - was this film interesting or relevant enough to be made normally with, say, 3 separate actors in ageing make up (or whatever) playing the role of the kid? Was the script good enough? was the direction good enough? The answer for me is a resounding no. So if it wasn't good enough to be made like that, why does the fact the kid ages 12 years make a slight bit of difference? This is, what seemed like, 12 years of my life I will never get back.

03. The Double - pretentious, boring, irritating, unfunny and it consciously, obviously rips off so much of Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Eraserhead without any of the wit, design, style or meaning. I don't know why I have put it higher than these other films that were equally god awful. I think it's because the film finished and I was just so angry I wanted to find everyone responsible and repeatedly kick them in their genitals. Then again it might just be that Jesse Eisenberg, especially being smug and awful (which is all he has been hired to play recently) is its own special slice of fury inducing hell.

02. Tony Jaa's The Protector 2 - Sadly everything is wrong with this movie. Absolutely everything. Not least of which is that it's the sequel to one of the greatest, jaw dropping and spellbinding martial arts films of all time. The over abundance of awful awful CGI, the unimaginative fight sequences, RZA as the laughable final villain, more cocking elephants, incoherent and irrelevant plotting, uninspired, tedious soundtrack, cheap looking and confusing direction and the list just goes on and on.

01. The Interview - All the other films on this list, for my sins, I made it through their running time. This one I turned off after about 40 minutes. Forget the hype, forget who hacked who, forget the fact these guys were once in Freaks and Geeks and realise that saying 'oh it's just a dumb comedy' doesn't forgive this unmitigated piece of turgid, humourless, infantile shit. Even a dumb comedy has to have laughs, I would've settled for one, involuntary snigger. Fuck I would've settled for a slightly approving stomach gurgle!! Please someone explain to me why someone being gay is a joke? The first 40mins of this movie is packed full of 'isn't it funny to be gay' jokes and that's not to even mention the racist, xenophobic and sexist humour that wasn't even funny in 1982 when such things were more permissible.
Now, before you go labelling me a politically correct, conservative and overly serious person I suggest you go listen to 5 minutes of my Dr.Action and the Kick Ass Kid podcast and then we can talk. I have no problem with bad taste humour just as long as it is funny. From minute one of this film I was wishing both Rogen and Franco would be mauled to death by Rottweilers and by minute five of the film I was wishing I could be. I couldn't find one redeemable moment in the first half of this shittily made, shittily written, shittily acted, flimsy excuse for a film. That this was the film everyone went to bat for and used as a beacon of freedom of speech makes me even more angry and incensed.
Just writing about my hatred for it is making me annoyed so I am just going to stop. Just like Rogen and Franco need to now. Forever.

Ones I still have to see from 2014
The Guest
Dear White People
22 Jump Street
The November Man
The Skeleton Twins
Top Five
Inherent Vice
Kill The Messenger
Obvious Child
Jodorowsky's Dune

Best first time watches in 2014 from other years:
Blaxploitation awesomeness:
Three The Hard Way
Shaft (yeah I know, I know... well now I have seen it - AND LOVE IT)

Cynthia Rothrockery:
Righting Wrongs/Above The Law
Guardian Angel
Sworn To Justice
Martial Law 2

The Guard - Hilarious and superbly acted Irish comedy.
American Mary - A nice little original horror drama from the very promising Soska Twins.

So? what did you think?? LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS BELOW!!

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