2014 has been an… interesting year for cinema. Some have called it the best year for cinemas superheroes, even. There are several of those on my list of top ten cinema releases of 2014. In chronological order, beginning with:
The Trip to Italy (Michael Winterbottom)
Released 20th January by IFC Films
The premise of The Trip to Italy is Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon sat at a table doing impressions at each other, in-between driving around the Italian countryside improvising passive banter. And that makes it the kind of thing that works because of the cast. It’s virtually plotless, but the plot isn’t the thing. In fact, it could be compared to being a literal vehicle for Coogan and Brydon, but I don’t care. They’re funny, the cinematography makes the location worthwhile, and both leads underplay the humour appropriately enough for it to not take itself too seriously. It appeals to my sense of humour, because it’s the essence of most conversations I have with people.
Godzilla (Max Borenstein)
Released 8th May by Warner Bros. Pictures
Godzilla is all about Godzilla, and director Gareth Edwards chose to be traditional in his approach – not revealing Godzilla until an hour into the story. But we get glimpses of what he’s done, with the power station and the history montage. Everything Godzilla’s capable of doing is represented by Bryan Cranston, whose emotional disintegration provides the backdrop for the dramatic build-up to the star. But the Godzilla character isn’t just in the monster; it’s his destruction. Many criticised Godzilla for not showing Godzilla very much, but we do see the trail he leaves, and that’s half of his character – the destruction. And the destruction is what you want most from a monster movie, and the mise-en-scene does this fantastically. Helicopters give us extreme wide shots of cities devastated by the beast, and even though the plot is weak, that doesn’t matter, because what we care about the most is the mindless destruction. But the presence of destruction doesn’t necessarily fulfil that. But Edwards chose only the finest angles and sexiest shots to give us the most awesome visions of urban apocalyptia. And it’s glorious. Yet also safe, because it’s just a movie.
Noah (Darren Aronofsky/Ari Handel)
Released 10th March by Paramount Pictures
Bible stories aren’t the most popular genres to attract audiences, yet Paramount clearly realise that Russell Crowe does. And that’s with good reason. Crowe is popular enough to bring in the money entirely on the basis of his casting. Again, Noah is an example of plot not really being the most logical, with many things being solved through the literal deus ex machina driving the story, and others being left to Noah to solve. But that doesn’t matter to people – because look, Russell Crowe! He’s extremely popular for the heroic roles, and here, Crowe combines his Gladiator with his Man of Steel, to give us a man so determined to protect his family against a revolution on a dying world, and to ensure the continuation of his species, that he becomes something of a wise old badass to keep his loved ones safe. And no, the plot isn’t really cohesive, but the visuals are created like an art film or nature documentary, and it looks like a life story on the Discovery Channel. But Russell Crowe has the gravitas to make it look as if it’s making sense. This is the story of Noah, and Noah’s actor understands the character as written in the script, that he makes the emotions make sense. And emotion is what’s at the heart of Noah. Because he understands it, and is able to make it work, we find ourselves able to stick with him, and still appreciate the journey of the story, even if it was a bit long-winded.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Christopher Markus/Stephen McFeely)
Released 13th March by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The first Captain America wasn’t widely received, with most criticisms focusing on its status as an obligatory prologue to Marvel’s The Avengers. But once that was out of the way, Captain America was allowed to become a legitimate character, not just in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in cinema. Because, unlike most sequels, this completely changed the genre. Whereas the previous was a war film, this is a political thriller. Robert Redford’s even there, just to show us how seriously Marvel were taking that genre. What they did was to recreate the paranoia and mistrust present in the 1970s, but modernise it, with modern concerns and problems. Which is why an ageing Robert Redford is even more appropriate, as he’s like a personified metaphor of the changing idea of freedom, which is at the heart of the story. Captain America is a reactionary character, who acts in response to what’s perceived as anti-freedom. But the idea of what’s freedom has changed, and therefore, so has the idea of anti-freedom. In WWII, freedom was clear – Allies good, Axis bad. But the whole point of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that we’ve moved on. It’s now harder to tell what’s right anymore. The twist that Hydra has now merged with SHIELD is macrocosm for the notion that terrorism now influences government decisions, with too many of them making them their central focus, rather than just balancing out the duties of a government. And Captain America’s role in this is as the idolised American liberty, but now he doesn’t know what that is anymore, because good and bad have merged together. The Winter Soldier is the embodiment of what’s considered a threat, yet his ideology is that Captain America’s the enemy. To compliment a hero like Captain America, the character of the Winter Soldier is almost a counter-commentary that’s equally valid. The Winter Soldier’s even named after the Cold War, which is exactly the kind of tension now causing the world’s international problems. In true Skyfall style, we’re no longer fighting nations, or uniforms, or flags, but secrets. The real enemy of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the secrets within SHIELD, and that really says something. Redford’s character says that building a new world sometimes means tearing the old one down. Captain America does that by bringing-about the end to an era driven by secrecy, dishonesty and deception, rather than good, old-fashioned fighting when you know who your enemy is. And in doing so, he declares the high price of freedom to be one he’s willing to pay.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Alex Kurtzman/Roberto Orci/Jeff Pinkner)
Released 10th April 2014 by Columbia Pictures
Here’s the thing about The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It isn’t popular. Seriously, it isn’t really liked at all. In fact, it’s the only entry on this list that Rotten Tomatoes rates below 60%. But, cinema is subjective. I still have mixed feelings about it, but everything I say about it is my memory of having only seen it once when it was released. The Amazing Spider-Man as a series is often criticised for existing, as many Spider-Fans consider the original Spider-Man trilogy superior, and that The Amazing Spider-Man is denying Marvel the opportunity to feature the character in their cinematic universe alongside Captain America. But, because Sony own Spider-Man (unless Marvel bail them out by purchasing the character), we get an extra Marvel character release. Marvel studios can only release two productions a year, and by outsourcing, we get another studio releasing their own addition to it. Sony owning Spider-Man is an advantage in that regard. But I bring this up because, right now, it looks as if it’s the intermission between the original Spider-Man trilogy, and a Marvel Cinematic Universe version. And if Marvel buy the character, the consensus is that they’d reboot him again (reports claim Logan Lerman’s the front-runner). So we’d get Andrew Garfield between Tobey MaGuire and Maybe Logan Lerman. And since The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s all about the character, the actor is how I judge whether I like or dislike the current state of the franchise. Now the Marvel Cinematic Spider-Man might not even be happening, and who’s to say Lerman would even be cast? So right now, we have a competition between MaGuire and Garfield. And I prefer Garfield. He was already a Spider-Fan before he was cast, and his casting not only proves that dreams can come true, but also that his did. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn’t well-received, but most people agree that it’s far superior to Spider-Man 3, which is intensely disliked. Plus, Garfield looks like Steve Ditko’s drawings more than MaGuire does (despite MaGuire being the same height as Spider-Man). MaGuire’s considered the more accurate version of Spider-Man, but that’s only true if he’s being compared to the initial version. Today, Spider-Man’s more like the Garfield interpretation, and while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 definitely isn’t as good as I’d have liked it to be, Garfield makes it watchable. So watchable. Spider-Man 3 isn’t watchable. In fact, I’d say the only difference between The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 is the lead actor. As far as the franchise goes, having seen Spider-Man 3 makes The Amazing Spider-Man 2 much better since it shows how casting can be so important. And he also proved the potential of the character in showing that effect. Yes, there are trailer lines everywhere. Yes, words are repeated in a way to make them themes. And yes, it is comparable to Batman and Robin. But you know what? Garfield takes it seriously. And the character becomes so much better for that, and makes The Amazing Spider-Man 2 enjoyable because, since everything else happening is… a bit crap, it makes Garfield the best thing on screen. And that makes Spider-Man the best thing on screen. And for the superhero genre, isn’t that what we want to see?
The Fault in Our Stars (Scott Neustadter/Michael H. Weber)
Released 16th May by 20th Century Fox
The Fault in Our Stars succeeds to being on this list because of its minimalism. It’s narrated by the protagonist, and it delivers a very light-hearted take on a serious subject matter. The main idea behind it is that a person terminally ill can still experience the same love, the same loss and the same life. There were many ways its source material, John Green’s novel, could have been adapted, but it was done so in the style of the typical rom-com. Everything that makes it unique, the cancer and potential death of either lead at any time, is just extra. Normally, I might criticise a rom-com for being too functional, but it’s important that The Fault in Our Stars is exactly what you’d expect from the genre, because that’s the whole point: these characters still have full lives, and aren’t defined by their disease, and the way they love is just the same as anyone else. That’s why it’s so minimalist, and that’s what makes it beautiful.
The Inbetweeners 2 (Damon Beesley/Iain Morris)
Released 6th August by Film4
Believe it or not – probably not, but anyway – there’s actually a side of me that really likes The Inbetweeners. And that’s not because I identify with it, but the opposite. As someone who spent five years in a school I hated, I can tell you that The Inbetweeners is quite accurate. They’re either posers pretending to get laid every weekend, or dumb as hell. The Inbetweeners was very popular around school when I was there, but what none of them seemed to realise was that it isn’t an introspective, progressive art form that represents teenagers well, but actually, it’s mocking the kind of lifestyle of the people who take the show seriously. Anyone who connects with it should be worried. When I watch The Inbetweeners, it’s because I’m reminded that it’s not just me – they really were idiots. The whole point of the show was to mock the sex obsessed, the morons and the fakes. It’s a satire of youth culture’s darker side. And it is darker. Just about everything that comes out of Jay’s mouth is completely wrong, but that’s embraced. It’s not condoning that kind of attitude, which exists in a portion of teenagers, but instead is a comedy created by the intelligentsia as revenge against the people that once shamed them for their disinterest in anything rape-related. Sometimes I think that, if The Inbetweeners weren’t here, I’d have just gone mad by now.
Doctor Who – Deep Breath (Steven Moffat)
Released 23rd August by BBC Worldwide
Yes, this is an episode of a TV show. But it still counts as cinema as it was simulscreened around the world with its television debut. I don’t really understand why they’d do that, since Doctor Who is a television show, and, given the chance to watch a new episode on television or in a cinema if they were both being broadcast at the same time, I’d choose television. And I did. But the thing about Deep Breath is that it still manages to be cinematic. As early as January, it had been announced that Ben Wheatley was to direct it. Directors are rarely the subject of such important announcements, but he was an established cinema director, and the BBC realised the show needed to be presentable to be appropriate for cinemas. The best explanation I have for their decision was that to follow the success of The Day of the Doctor, the Fiftieth Anniversary Special, which was also simulscreened in cinemas. But that made sense, it was the Fiftieth Anniversary Special. And I maintain it as the most watchable episode visually. The special occasion in this case was the first full episode featuring Peter Capaldi, but did that really deserve a cinema outing? I’d argue no. But then, I’d also argue, for the same reasons already given, that The Day of the Doctor didn’t need a cinema release either. The BBC should either commit to a legitimate Doctor Who feature, or not. They shouldn’t, to be honest. But it’s better than halving the ratings by showing it in cinemas at the same time. Further reading.
Interstellar (Jonathan Nolan/Christopher Nolan)
Released 26th October by Warner Bros. Pictures
Let me tell you something… the last fifteen minutes of Interstellar made me genuinely want to slap Christopher Nolan. His stories always make an emotional sense, but the resolution of Interstellar was absolutely ludicrous. “Let’s ignore this warning we think is from aliens to stay to travel through a wormhole we also think is from aliens to get to a black hole we also think was constructed by aliens to enter a fourth dimension in order to leave ourselves the message.” Eh. That being said, Interstellar‘s best aspects are the cosmic shots outside the ship. Earth from above. Stars. The solar system. The universe. It’s all beautiful, and the first act on Earth is also really hard-hitting stuff. Now I’m not going to say that it should have just been the space travel moments, because that’s asking for something different. But it’s the space travel that’s so important to linking the two plot strands – Earth and the pretentiously titled Mann’s Planet – that it’s important for those other strands to work. The Humanist stuff on Earth, that’s brilliant. It really is. I have a weakness for stories set in the American midwest, especially if there’s a hot boy involved (extra sexy points for Timothée Chalamet), and the explorative side of Mann’s Planet is also very interesting. But it’s the plot developments happening there that lose me, because I found it a bit like The Return of the King – it goes on for longer than it feels like it needs to, and you begin to wonder what the end point of it is. Just like any prog rock track. But the strongest part of Interstellar is the space travel. Christopher Nolan tries to be as real as possible, and one of things he did to make the space travel look believable was to attach the cameras to the sides of the vessel and direct it like a futuristic version of Top Gear. Often, with a lot of epics, the destination isn’t the important thing. It’s the journey there. (Look into any Hobbit analogies there as you will.) And the journey is definitely the most interesting part of Interstellar visually.
Paddington (by Paul King and Hamish McColl)
Released 29th November by StudioCanal
I saw Paddington earlier today and found the whole thing delightful. It was delightful. Not once have I ever so comparably laughed so much during the majority of its runtime. Early promotions made me immensely sceptical as I loved Paddington so much, and didn’t want to see him mutilated by what I felt to be inaccurate CGI and all-around creepiness. But that was out of context, and honestly, Paddington is wonderful. The villain is very corny, but it’s in keeping with the style, so that’s alright. Ben Whishaw is the Mark Ruffalo of Paddington, meaning that I didn’t think he was the right choice at all, but having seen it can say that there’s no better choice. Ben Whishaw absolutely is Paddington’s voice, and it could potentially be a role far more popular than Q. In fact, Paddington was adapted so lovingly, and was so well received (it’s the highest-rated on Rotten Tomatoes) that it could be the start of a new Paddington series. Perhaps all the books could be adapted eventually. Which is good news, since Paddington creator Michael Bond is writing another Paddington book. One of the best things about this is the feeling of immense relief that it wasn’t disappointing, as well as the knowledge that when other people see this, they’re going to discover Paddington all over again. And… it makes me soft inside.
Paddington is my favourite of this list, would you believe it.