Once again January is National List Month, that left-brained time of year when everyone’s last twelve months of existence must be removed from their mental filing cabinets, reexamined, and refiled in specific pecking order from Greatest to Most Grating. Here on Midlife Crisis Crossover, we enjoy our annual tradition of spending at least two posts looking back at our year in movies, trying to remember what we thought about them at the time and ultimately deciding which films can beat up which other films. When I reach that realization that my opinions sometimes change over time upon further reflection or second viewings, that’s when the process turns messy and I end up hating my own list. But internet bylaws insist it must be done. And I like lists more than I like internet bylaws.
The final tabulations reveal I saw 19 films in theaters in 2014 (tying with 2007 and 2010 as worst moviegoing years ever) and four via On Demand while they were still in limited release. This count doesn’t include seven 2013 films I attended in 2014 for Oscar-chasing purposes, or any films I watched on home video long after their theatrical run. As one sad example, this harsh rule of mine disqualifies Boyhood from the list since I just watched it via Redbox rental two nights ago. If I’d gotten out of the house for a three-hour theater visit just one more time last summer, it would’ve made my Top 3. Consider this paragraph my version of a Very Honorable Mention.
Links to past reviews and thoughts are provided for historical reference. On with the reverse countdown, then:
23. Horns. I read the original Joe Hill novel years ago and have no one to blame but myself for queuing this up On Demand and expecting not to be repulsed. With books I can appreciate the word craft in between the action and dialogue, tweak the visual effects with the power of imagination, mentally adjust the content settings, and skip paragraphs I don’t want to finish reading. Even if I set all that aside and pretend I’m still into horror movies anymore, the movie spends the first half reveling in its naughtiness and the second half reducing the cleverer aspects of the novel’s narrative structure to a warmed-over episode of Murder, She Wrote with not nearly enough suspects. It’s cool that Daniel Radcliffe is enjoying the liberty of choosing whatever projects he likes without having to fret about box-office stats, but I can’t wait to see the performances in store for him once he gets this current phase out of his system.
22. Mr Peabody and Sherman. Basic rules of adapting classic cartoons into modern merchandise vehicles, if you simply must do so: (1) If the cartoon didn’t explain why the characters are the way they are, neither should you; (2) Don’t use deadly serious real-world entities as humorless villains; (3) Avoid trendy catchphrases that will turn so five-minutes-ago while the movie’s still in post-production; (4) No cheesy dance parties at the end; (5) Stop ruining any more awesome Jay Ward characters. DreamWorks violated all of these. They and the last thirty years’ worth of Rocky and Bullwinkle offenders need to be fined and slapped with a restraining order barring them all from coming within 500 yards of Super-Chicken.
21. Godzilla. A miserly ten minutes’ worth of giant-hero-lizard action and twenty minutes of fun berserker Bryan Cranston are fastened together with, I think, six or seven hours of non-monstery nothingness filler. Those are slightly better proportions than the average Syfy Original Movie, but not by much. Despite a single worthy monster fight, the solemn reverence that permeates this reboot was absolutely out of place.
20. Transformers: the Age of Extinction. Yes, I really did dislike #21-23 that much. It’s also not the worst in the series. I preferred Mark Wahlberg’s scrappy U!S!A! blue-collar dirt-poor teen-dad inventor to Shia LaBeouf’s panic-disorder horndog, and there were a few scenes of Bay’s comic-book-writ-large hyperactive robo-pocalypse that bordered on comprehensible and approximated a thrill at least once. Otherwise, it’s business as usual for this inexplicably compulsory series, but the most ruinous of the ruining things had to be the super-future evil-bots made of magical flying elf metal, which I wish they’d explained away by showing one of the Decepticons wearing a pointy wizard hat.
19. Amazing Spider-Man 2. Once again studio execs ruin a super-hero film by ordering too many villains stuffed into it as action-figure fodder. Dane DeHaan’s creepy-millennial Harry Osborn worked for me until he got bitten by one of Joe Dante’s Gremlins; Jamie Foxx’s Electro worked better as a vengeful loner than as a CG cartoon; Paul Giamatti’s Rhino was a glorified extra and straight-up living toy ad; and don’t forget actual comics people Alistair Smythe and Dr. Kafka, too! Andrew Garfield’s on-point wall-crawler deserves a better vehicle that’s tighter in focus, that finishes all the subplots it starts, and that doesn’t feel like the Toys R Us equivalent of a Price is Right product showcase.
18. Muppets Most Wanted. Right about here the list segues from “Dislike button” to “meh”. The Jason Segel-assisted relaunch brought my beloved childhood buddies back with panache and set the bar so much higher than any follow-up could possibly have hoped to touch. Most Wanted is mostly harmless and replicates the perfectly adequate wit and rhythms according to old-school Muppet movie standards, but it also reminds me of how Muppet projects eventually became nonessential viewing for me. To its credit, Chris Cooper’s bad guy still haunts me from time to time. Maniacal laugh. MANIACAL LAUGH.
17. Veronica Mars. It’s like a family reunion with a family you never thought you’d see again, and the family is fully prepared to make you happy by any means necessary, but after a while you kinda wish they’d do what they used to do best — i.e., surprise you and maybe even stun you. Because if there’s one thing you really liked best about the family, it’s that they were not shiny happy people-pleasers desperate for your approval. They did their own thing whether it made you warm and fuzzy inside or not. What I’m saying here is, I loved the idea of revisiting the cast that gave us two killer seasons of sunny-Cali hard-boiled detective drama (plus one disposable season), but I’m frequently disappointed whenever writers give their fans exactly what they think they want. If other fans loved it for exactly that reason, that’s cool, and by all means don’t let me stand in the way.
16. The Raid 2: Berendal. The only reason this ranks in the bottom half of my list is that I’m not the young blood-‘n’-guts fan I once was. Ick factor notwithstanding, The Raid and its overlooked, even wilder sequel represent the pinnacle of 21st-century cinematic hand-to-hand combat. Period. After marveling at what director Gareth Evans and his superlative players and stuntmen have achieved, it’s extremely hard for me to accept the weakly choreographed, limply executed, julienne-edited fight scenes that don’t impress me in a lot of super-hero movies and TV shows nowadays. Honestly, the recent news that a few of its cast members will be showing up in The Force Awakens gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be excited to see a new Star Wars film open.
15. How to Train Your Dragon 2. Same problem as Muppets Most Wanted: a not-bad sequel to an A-plus predecessor. The first Dragon remains my all-time favorite DreamWorks Animated film, but the second, not so much. Hiccup’s transition to young-adult dragon wrangler is nifty and inspiring in itself, but the film glosses over the whole deadbeat-mom thing at its core and hopes no one notices. Didn’t work, guys. It’s still better than the TV series, though.
14. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. a.k.a. episodes seven and eight of the ten-part miniseries that will someday make a great all-weekend Netflix binge. Until then, this cross-section of the ex-trilogy is like those mid-season episodes of The Wire or Mad Men that contain important moments and some fans’ favorite scenes, but when those same fans are asked to list their favorite overall episodes, they’ll pick other, consistently better episodes instead — the ones that tell a complete story, most likely.
13. The Hobbit: the Battle of Five Armies. It. Is. Finished. Like Veronica Mars, this was more like an onscreen convention performance for the fans than an actual, standalone movie with its own inherent meaning or worth. I still liked it more than 90% of the internet did, thanks largely to Martin Freeman and all the same legendary contributors who made The Lord of the Rings such a cultural phenomenon. Now that we have our complete Tolkien movie set, Peter Jackson can go find a project he wants to direct.
12. The Lego Movie. EVERYTHING’S STILL AWESOME! EVERYTHING IS COOL AND IT’S GOTTA RHYME! EVERYTHING IS AWESOME, TILL YOU WATCH A SECOND TIME! Sorry, but during a later Redbox encore, all the surprise was gone and several jokes fell flatter without it. It’s still really cute and I can’t say I’m tired of Chris Pratt yet. So far it’s also the greatest Superman/Batman film of all time.
To be concluded!