My Cinematic Year in Review, 2014

I’ve been keeping a monthly tally of my movie watching for four years now (see 2011, 2012, 2013). These lists have always been loose, with no real goals or rules: last year, arbitrarily, I decided to watch 100 new (to me) movies, but this year I didn’t care about reaching or exceeding that number. I still tend to focus this list on films that are new to me, but a few months into the year, I started to note when I rewatched a movie or TV series, something I haven’t done in the past. (As to why I’m also including TV series I rewatched, it just felt right.) I wound up watching fewer movies in 2014 than I did in 2013, and I attribute the dip to a number of things: general burnout, professional existential issues, and the fact that I stopped writing for the website where I’d spent nine years providing reviews and essays. I also started to feel more tired than ever about being an unwitting part of the marketing and award cycle that blows through town every year and makes a ruin of the construction we spent the past 12 months fixing up. Movies mean so much more than that.

You can see the ebb and flow in my annual tallies:

2011: 79 movies (new to me)
2012: 69 movies
2013: 104 movies
2014: 79 movies

If I reviewed a film on the list or wrote about it on this site, I’ll link to that. Additionally, if I had something else to note, I’ll include that below.

As for the current availability of the movies listed below, I’ll quote myself from last year: “Titles come and go online, so Can I Stream It? and Instantwatcher are great resources to let you know how to get your hands on a film. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that streaming is the only way to see movies. Netflix still has a robust disc rental service (for now), and it’s worth the extra couple bucks a month.”


Clean and Sober
Clean and Sober

January

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
Clean and Sober (1988): I was inspired to check this out after hearing Michael Keaton interviewed on WTF With Marc Maron. It’s a fantastic, unflinching, often daringly honest portrayal of the cycle of addiction and self-destruction, with some wonderful work by Keaton in his first dramatic role. Up until this he’d been a comic performer, and he’d even done stand-up for a while, but he’s a great fit for the role. His character is one who’s tried for years to get by on charm to hide his disease, and Keaton’s skill with mania and moods are perfect here. Standout moment: when he calls his mother late at night to ask for money so he can score. He’s anxious, eager, hopeful, embarrassed, repulsed at his deeds, determined to continue. And it all happens in a lengthy take that focuses on Keaton.
Casting By (2013): Casting is a fascinating part of the production process in film and television. This is a decent little documentary mostly about Marion Dougherty, whose career spanned decades and covered classic movies and major stars. It dips a little into hagiography, but it’s still a nice look at a part of the business that doesn’t get talked about that often in detail.
Europa Report (2013): A solid found-footage thriller that relies on claustrophobia and nice tension in its tale of inevitably doomed space exploration.


A Hard Day's Night
A Hard Day’s Night

February

The Monuments Men (2014)
A Hard Day’s Night (1964): My wife’s a huge Beatles fan, and though I love their music, too, I’d never seen any of their movies until this. It’s ridiculously fun — goofy, effervescent, iconic — and it boasts some of the best pop music of the century.
Non-Stop (2014)
30 for 30: The Price of Gold (2014): I haven’t spent much time with ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, but this documentary about the Tonya Harding incident was riveting.


The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel

March

That Guy Dick Miller (2014): Mediocre talking-head doc about character actor Dick Miller, whose colorful career deserves something a bit more introspective. In a Q&A after the SXSW screening I attended, the director explained that the film started out as a DVD featurette that expanded over time. Sad to say, the featurette version would’ve likely been better.
Premature (2014)
For Those in Peril (2014): Eerie, slow-moving fable come to life. I nodded off.
Boyhood (2014): There’s a lot to like, and even plenty to love, in Richard Linklater’s gimmick-reliant film, which follows one young boy over 12 actual years as he grows from age 6 to 18. It’s got a loose, warm, welcoming air, and Linklater’s skilled enough at this point to know when to hold back and let the vibe take over. Some of the supporting cast (including Linklater’s real-life daughter) is weak, though, adding to the experimental and unpolished feel. Interestingly, the most compelling arc isn’t the main character’s, but his father’s, played by Ethan Hawke. The boy grows from aimless child into a slightly less aimless young man, his whole life in front of him, which is natural for a young person. (Who, at 18, is anything but a blank slate?) But his father goes from deadbeat dad with delusions of local music stardom to remarried conservative with his feet on the ground, and there are moments when he watches his son age that you can watch his own awareness of his forgotten dreams resurface on his face. The father’s the one to watch.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Seven-Year Itch (1955): Worth seeing for its place in film history, though it fell short of enjoyable.
Noah (2014)


Nine to Five
Nine to Five

April

Nine to Five (1980): I always enjoy catching up on pop classics that I just barely missed. This came out two years before I was born, and though I grew up knowing about its place in movie history, I never got around to seeing it until this year. As funny and entertaining as I’d hoped.
Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014): An engaging documentary about surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to adapt the novel Dune into a trippy lovefest. There’s likely some invention going on in Jodorowsky’s recollections, but it’s a fun ride, and his vision for the movie is something else.
Pacific Rim (2013)
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Rewatches:
The Rocketeer: This is one of my favorite childhood movies, and one I turn to when I’m sick or run down or just need a break. It brims with the spirit of adventure, and it’s got style to spare. Kid/family movies like this do not happen much these days.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: Still the best of the series thanks to what, in retrospect, seems like a no-brainer: graft the legacy of seafaring exploration onto interstellar voyages, and anchor the whole thing in a fear of mortality.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: A prime example of mid-1980s sci-fi: a lot of ideas, not a lot of money, and a final product that gets the job done in a fine but often forgettable way. Hampered by being part of a trilogy.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: Fascinating to rewatch as an adult for its marked departure from everything that came before. This is the moment the series made a blatant play for families, and the film is softer and goofier than everything that came before. (Two movies earlier, Kirk was reckoning with his long-lost son and the death of his best friend; now he’s bopping around the Bay Area spouting one-liners.) Still fun, though.


In a World ...
In a World …

May

Beverly Hills Cop (1984): It was a staggeringly huge hit for a reason.
Milius (2013)
Heathers (1989): One of the great things about watching landmark comedies years later is going in with the memory of the all the movies that came after. The influence of Heathers on teen comedies is impossible to measure — it’s dark, biting, sad, nihilistic; you know, for kids — and it holds up years later. High school is hell, and this movie is Dante.
The Improv: 50 Years Behind the Brick Wall (2013): Irritatingly weak and ill-formed. The buzz of seeing major comics talk about their early days is dulled by the film’s total lack of insight and direction.
Ender’s Game (2013)
Veronica Mars (2014)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
In a World … (2013): One of the best movies I saw all year. If we got comedies like this every quarter, the world would be a wonderful place.
Rewatches:
Sports Night (series): This is one of the first shows I ever really loved, and I watched it eagerly as it aired during my junior and senior years of high school (September 1998 to May 2000). I’ve turned to it again over the years (including during a wicked bout of depression), and for all its obvious and clumsy flaws, there’s still something sweet and earnest and almost noble about it.
Out of Sight: My favorite Soderbergh film, by a mile.
Ocean’s Twelve: Not nearly as frustrating as I found it initially. It’s growing on me.


Stagecoach
Stagecoach

June

Bringing Up Baby (1938): Grant and Hepburn make this look effortless. They glide.
The Great Muppet Caper (1981): I don’t know how I never saw this as a child. We were more of a Disney family, I guess.
Stagecoach (1939): The moment John Wayne swaggers onto the screen could be one of the most stirring I’ve ever seen, Western or otherwise. A great, exciting film.
The Maltese Falcon (1941): Iconic for about a hundred reasons, all of them correct.
Barton Fink (1991): Haunting, surreal, unnerving, and perfect in its way.
Snowpiercer (2014): A couple of unintentionally hilarious moments aside (it’s very hard to make a tearful speech about post-apocalyptic cannibalism sound believable), it’s a solid thriller and tight little movie. It chugs along like, well, you know. Just remember: left or right?
Rewatches:
Glengarry Glen Ross: I’m a sucker for Mamet’s machine gun, at least when it’s this good.
The Paper Chase
Adaptation: I first saw this when it came out and I was in college, and I hadn’t returned to it in a while. The haunting sorrow of the creative process is heartbreaking.
Memento: It’s still a great movie: rock-solid story, style, and execution. And though it was only Nolan’s second movie, so much of his style was already in place. (It was also the beginning of a gorgeous partnership with d.p. Wally Pfister.) It’s relentlessly paced, but never hectic; adherent to its central gimmick, but structured in a way that doles out information right on the beats you’d expect from a conventional movie. Nolan’s non-hero movies tend to be about the puzzles we design for ourselves and the things we pretend not to know: a magician’s secrets, a husband’s obsessions, a thief’s choices. Memento is a little bit like seeing his m.o. distilled to its essence. Every performer is perfect, too. Absolutely worth revisiting.


The Lego Movie
The Lego Movie

July

Silverado (1985): There’s an earnestness and lack of irony here that’s sadly uncommon for movies.
Video Games: The Movie (2014)
The Lego Movie (2014): Almost shouldn’t work, but it does.
Sex Tape (2014)
Under the Skin (2014): Unforgettable, though not in a pleasant way.
Foreign Correspondent (1940): Gorgeous shots, fantastic suspense, and inventive effects. Better than almost any other movie I saw this year.
The Immigrant (2014): There’s a classical, straightforward feeling to James Gray’s latest that’s appealingly honest in its execution. Rich, grimy world-building at its best, and one of the best final shots in recent memory.
Rewatches:
The Hunt for Red October: Perennial comfort food.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 1): One of my favorite comedies on the air right now.
The West Wing (selected episodes, Seasons 3-4)


Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie and Clyde

August

Witness (1985): One of the movies for adults that are so hard to find today.
About Alex (2014)
The Big Chill (1983)
Man Hunt (1941): Some of the period loopiness doesn’t hold up — watching two people fall deeply in love after meeting once, all while the man is an abrasive weirdo, is becoming the hardest fantasy to entertain on screen — but it’s got some solid suspense sequences and a predictably entertaining performance by George Sanders.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The Trip to Italy (2014)
The Wolverine (2013): These movies don’t even have rules anymore.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967): Blisteringly subversive, from the action to the sexuality. That it even got made is amazing.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948): Nature, greed, and the lengths men will travel to turn a dream into a nightmare. Far darker and more adventurous than I’d expected it to be.
To Have and Have Not (1944): The moment where Lauren Bacall starts dancing almost knocked me out of my chair.
Heaven Can Wait (1943): Endlessly charming.
Rewatches:
Vanilla Sky: I like this a little more now than I did when it came out. It’s prickly and weird, but a lot of that’s because it’s such a straight remake of Abre los ojos that Cameron Crowe doesn’t quite know what to do with it.
Scrubs (selected episodes, Seasons 1-4): There are problems here, looking back: some of the jokes are a little homophobic, and the show’s early fantasy sequences actually became reality at one point, so the execution got a little weird. But it reminds me of being in my 20s and struggling with life and hanging out with my roommate watching this show on cable. It’s a touchstone to a different part of me.
The Dark Knight Rises: This is not a perfect movie. Parts of it are even kind of dumb. But it’s still somehow watchable thanks to its bombast and scope.
The Master
Rounders: Sophomore year of college, a friend and I would watch the last act of the movie — pretty much from the Turkish baths to the end — and then amble down to the cafeteria for dinner. We probably did it once a week at one point.


Spellbound
Spellbound

September

Auntie Mame (1958): Mid-century films based on plays didn’t always know how to handle the transition — see The Music Man’s straightforward fade-outs and freezes, as if no one wanted to bother making a specifically film-centric story — but Auntie Mame overcomes those bumps on the strength of Rosalind Russell’s performance. A great example of 1950s Hollywood dazzle.
I Am Road Comic (2014): There’s a great documentary to be made about the working life of a comic, traveling from club to club to cobble together a living. This is not that documentary.
Videodrome (1983): The ravages of age: the fictional show on the Videodrome network is tamer than the run of torture porn that played cineplexes in the 2000s.
What’s Up, Doc? (1972): A breezy ode to screwball, but also interesting for its perspective on nostalgia. Today’s filmmakers are doing odes to the movies of the 1970s and 1980s. Years from now, we’ll get flashbacks to the ’00s.
Bird People (2014)
Spellbound (1945): Seventy years old, and as twisty and tight as the day the print was struck.
They Came Together (2014): Not as strong a spoof as Wet Hot American Summer, but there were still a few moments I had to pause because I was laughing so hard.
Gaslight (1944): Trivia: the American version from 1944 (the one I saw) was the second movie made from the stage play source material, following a 1940 British version. It’s got some decent suspense — and of course is fun to watch purely for the historical perspective of seeing something that was so popular it created a new slang term — but it suffers from the same problem that plagues a lot of middling thrillers, namely, the bad guy acts incredibly suspicious and weird the entire time. There’s never any doubt he’s messing with his wife’s sanity, but rather than focus on the strain at hand or the power play that drives him to do this, director George Cukor sticks closer to the “What on earth could be going on?” style of teasing the viewer, which come on.
The Equalizer (2014)
Gone Girl: Pretty good.
Rewatches:
Forrest Gump
The Wire (Seasons 1-3): I hadn’t watched The Wire since the first time I worked through the series sometime around 2007-2008. It (unsurprisingly) still holds up, and if anything, it feels richer and stronger for having stayed so powerful.
Primer


Bernie
Bernie

October

Rudderless (2014)
Fury (2014)
Bernie (2012): Texas forever.
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
Rewatches:
The Wire (Seasons 4-5): The corner boys are still heartbreaking. Scott Templeton, less so.
Galaxy Quest: Warm, entertaining, funny, wistful; most impressively, parodic without being mean. I return to it regularly.


The Babadook
The Babadook

November

Shadow of the Vampire (2000): A bonkers but effective mix of behind-the-scenes moviemaking drama and unsettling horror film. Not to be confused with Alyssa Milano’s Embrace of the Vampire, important to young boys for completely different reasons.
Interstellar (2014)
A Most Wanted Man (2014): A little too restrained — there’s slow, and then there’s trapped in amber — but it’s still rewarding in many places for the way it deviates from action-driven spy stories.
Foxcatcher (2014): Basing your movie on true events does not excuse you from crafting a narrative.
22 Jump Street (2014): The perfect blend of self-awareness and silliness.
The Babadook (2014)
Rewatches:
There Will Be Blood: Still the ultimate American horror story.
Saturday Night: How did it take someone 35 years to come up with the idea of making a documentary about assembling an episode of Saturday Night Live? And how weird is it that that someone is James Franco?


Inherent Vice
Inherent Vice

December

Owning Mahowny (2003): I’ll never not miss Philip Seymour Hoffman.
A Most Violent Year (2014): While it’s usually risky to try and force any kind of theme upon a given year of movies, it’s true that many movies this year dealt with capitalism as the ultimate villain. The story here sounds small at first — a man who owns a heating-oil company has to fend off heated competition — but the drama turns out to be surprisingly compelling as he struggles to keep his life together.
Nightcrawler (2014): See above. Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of a sociopathic creep is riveting, but the film’s real villain is the sensationalism of modern media.
Listen Up Philip (2014): A brutal, if brave, portrait of an artist as a self-destructive young man.
Inherent Vice (2014): Paul Thomas Anderson’s gift for balancing humor and melancholy could be his strongest suit.
American Sniper (2014): See Foxcatcher above.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014): Critics operating in bad faith deserve to be pilloried. I liked a lot about this.
Chef (2014): Writer-director Jon Favreau’s narrative about a famous guy who quits the big time to rediscover his passions is, one assumes, pulled directly from his own life (he did a pair of Iron Man movies before this), and the heart shows. It’s small-stakes, easygoing, warm-spirited moviemaking, and I enjoyed every minute.
Rewatches:
Scrubs (Seasons 6-8)
Scrooged
The Grand Budapest Hotel


By the Numbers

Total films seen: 79
Documentaries: 8
Animated films: 1
Foreign (non-U.S.) films: 4
Movies released in 2014: 41
Movies released before 2014: 38
Movies released before 2000: 25
Movies released before 1950: 10
Of the ten highest grossers of the year (as of Dec. 31), I saw: 3
Number of 2014 releases I reviewed: 16
Favorites (in no particular order): The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inherent Vice, Foreign Correspondent, In a World, Clean and Sober, A Hard Day’s Night, Beverly Hills Cop, Stagecoach, The Immigrant, Heaven Can Wait, Bird People, Fury, The Babadook, Chef