Despite a summer that hasn’t yielded a breakthrough hit like IRON MAN or THE HANGOVER from years past, it has showcased some quality sequels and independents that merit attention. In fact, the first six months of the year have had some truly special films and it buoys my spirits for the remainder of 2014. Here then is my list of the exceptional:
THE LEGO MOVIE
I don’t know what Disney, Pixar or any other animator has in store for movie audiences during the remainder of 2014, but right now THE LEGO MOVIE is not only deserving of the animation Oscar, but it’s also a cinch to make a lot of Top 10 lists. Mine included. For me, this film was the biggest cinematic surprise since THE ARTIST. Like that film, I had no expectations of greatness for THE LEGO MOVIE and yet was delighted from the first moment to its last. This ‘kids picture’ has outrageous wit, splashy action and shockingly clever characterization that would be the envy of any adult feature. And it can brag of having the largest ratio of laughs per minute onscreen of any movie since AIRPLANE in 1980.
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
I love horror that challenges the clichés of the genre and makes you care about the characters, even when they’re the ‘monsters’. Jim Jarmusch’s latest showcases an old married couple, and by old I mean they’ve been married for centuries, struggling to make sense of a modern world. Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton) are vampires who mourn the loss of life in a desolate Detroit while yearning to find a reason to keep on living. It’s poignant, blackly comic and one of the more romantic genre pictures to come along in some time. (And you can read my full appreciation here http://bit.ly/VUaKlN)
SHAILENE WOODLEY IN THE FAULT IN OUR STARS
Speaking of romance, Woodley could melt the coldest of hearts as she demonstrates in this smart and affecting weepie. She was okay launching the DIVERGENT franchise in the spring, but her work in this summer love story was sublime. Like she did in THE DESCENDANTS, Woodley made an average teen girl extraordinarily compelling. She’s so naturalistic, unself-conscious, and breezy as an actress, that she not only is a breath of fresh air onscreen, but her accessibility takes your breath away.
|Original caricature of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL starring Ralph Fiennes by Jeff York (copyright 2014).|
RALPH FIENNES IN THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Not only is Wes Anderson’s latest one of the year’s better films, it has a comedic performance in it by Ralph Fiennes that should be remembered come awards season. He was hilarious as a slapstick fop, a worthy successor to the likes of Peter Sellers and Jack Lemmon, but he made his concierge into a tragic figure too, reeling from a society that lost its sense of propriety.
This superb psychological thriller was dumped on VOD months ago, with nary a theatrical run in New York to talk about. The rest of the nation was denied seeing this smart dissertation on the male ego by director Denis Villeneuve (PRISONERS). You can read my full exploration of the movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal in my previous post (http://bit.ly/1q42NYV), but suffice it to say it’s a film chock full of vivid images of anger, fear and despair. Its imagery of spiders has been debated online but they’re symbols of inescapable webs that a noncommittal man sees in his relationships with the opposite sex. It’s a demanding work that should be seen by anyone interested in smart cinema.
My favorite film composer is having a banner year, and there’s still six months left! He has written terrific scores for four 2014 films including THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, GODZILLA, THE MONUMENTS MEN and VENUS IN FUR. He has yet to win an Oscar despite nominations for PHILOMENA, ARGO, THE KING’S SPEECH, THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, and THE QUEEN. Let’s hope that he takes the gold this year. I’m ready to give it to him for his score for Wes Anderson’s latest. Its music buoyantly moves the farce along and pulls at the heartstrings with its poignancy too. Desplat is a genius with range and daring. And his work is so brilliant you don’t need the images to enjoy his soundtracks.
Those are the highlights of the year for me. What blew your skirt up? Share your thoughts here and let’s hope the next six months are as rich.