The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

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The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Mon Feb 23, 2015 3:38 am

50. Starred Up

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David Mackenzie's prison drama centers on the character of Eric, a young offender with a propensity for violence and a disdain for authority. We immediately see why he is considered such a high risk inmate, as Eric's poor impulses lead to physical confrontations with prison guards and verbal confrontations with prison officials. Several of the higher-ups quickly come to the conclusion that he is a lost cause, which does seem to be the case at first. But Oliver, a man who hosts a group therapy session with inmates, isn't convinced. He puts his reputation at risk by going against the consensus of his colleagues and tries to help this young man.

As you might expect, the story focuses on themes of rehabilitation and to what extent this is possible with dangerous inmates. It's also interested in the fatalistic circumstances of the characters themselves. For example, Eric's literal father Neville is imprisoned under the same roof. While he does seem to care about Eric and attempts to steer him straight, it's clear that this man's criminal mindset and aggressive behavior has rubbed off on Eric, to the point where it's no surprise that the two of them are locked up. Oliver's back-story also seems to suggest he was destined for his current position, as he feels the need to help in whatever way he can. We know far less about the gestapo-esque Governor Hayes, yet even he seems naturally predisposed towards his position, and his absolutist worldview can result in extreme methods.

Some might argue that the plot of the father and son is a contrivance, or that we've seen much of this before in prison dramas. While I'll grant that, there's something so visceral about this film that I found myself captivated by it. As one might expect from a gritty prison drama, there's not much room for bright colors or imaginative shots. But the cinematography in the film is very effective at portraying the sense of claustrophobia and drabness of the prison world. It's a movie with several strong performances, but Jack O'Connell is arguably the best thing about the film. He does a stellar job here and may be one of the best young actors working today.

49. Inherent Vice

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One of the most divisive films in recent memory, Inherent Vice is either a major disappointment from Paul Thomas Anderson or one of his best depending on who you talk to. While I enjoyed it, I personally feel that it's one of Anderon's weaker efforts and certainly a big step down from The Master.

Much of the film's polarizing effect is due to the script, which is unusually difficult to follow. In fact, some people, like Philip Hensher, commented after seeing it that they "feared he'd had a stroke" because they understood so little of the plot or dialogue. Others said they needed a joint beforehand, a re-admittance ticket afterward, or both. I personally burned a lot of fuel trying to keep up with the constant introduction of new characters and plot threads. It's only after quite a few encounters that one starts to realize this isn't a detective film at all. In fact, Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel is in some ways the spiritual successor to the Coen's The Big Lebowski, another film where the overly complex plot is not the essential part of the film. While it's not nearly as funny as TBL, Inherent Vice does have a lot of retro Los Angeles style and its own brand of humor.

Inherent Vice is one of the most difficult films to rank and write about this year, in my opinion. I would go so far as to say that part of my appreciation for the film is speculative. It seems like the type of movie that demands a re-watch, yet I haven't been able to see it a second time. But I have confidence in saying this much about Inherent Vice; while many films of 2014 are destined to be forgotten, this one will likely become a cult classic. It's the sort of film that enthusiasts will champion and some will watch over and over again. While a lot of the larger plot points are clear by the time the credits roll, there's certainly a lot of depth to explore here and some interesting discussions to be had about everything from the story to cinema generally.

48. Predestination

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One of the more interesting sci-fi efforts to come out in recent years, Predestination is a nifty time-travel film that should satisfy sci-fi fans as well as those interested in a good story.

While the plot can feel a bit strained at times it doesn't delve into idiocy or obvious contradiction in the way that other modern time travel movies have been guilty of (I'm looking at you, Looper). Much of the film centers around a bar conversation about a person's upbringing, so a lot of the key plot points surrounding time travel and the fizzle bomber appear extraneous at first. I'm not going to delve to deeply into the plot because this is a film that's better unfolded to your own eyes, but I will say that I really appreciated how certain threads tied together. I have a few issues with some of the later parts of the film, but I still find a the questions it raises to be thought provoking. We're shown just enough of this world that it mostly makes sense, yet there's quite a bit of the story that remains mysterious by the time the credits roll. Even the big reveal of the film is never explicitly stated outright, even if the audience gets the connection. It's not nearly as complex as something like Primer and it's far more serious than a Back To the Future. Yet the film manages to be both fun enough and weighty enough to appeal to just about everyone.

While no time travel film can be completely original, I respect how Mike & Peter Spierig's film does its best to create a unique world with its own look and feel as well as its own set of rules. Some of the retro scenes have a great visual aesthetic, and there are some cool details in the film, like how guitar cases are used as the disguise for time travel technology. It's also refreshing that they understand that a compelling script is what makes for a quality sci-fi film, rather than big budget action sequences.

By this point, I think everyone has an opinion on Ethan Hawke as an actor. But it's Sarah Snook that really steals the show here. I had never even heard of this girl before, but she was given a great character to play and wow, she sure took advantage of the opportunity. I don't know whether she's considered a marketable commodity in Hollywood, but she has serious talent and I can't wait to see what she does next.

47. Omar

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One of the more unique and daring films I saw last year was this Palestinian import by director Hany Abu-Assad. If you've seen Paradise Now, which Abu-Assad co-directed, the plot of this film will strike you as familiar. But to many people the subject matter and protagonist of the film are going to be controversial, as it humanizes a man that many would consider a terrorist.

The film's protagonist plots to kill a random Israeli soldier. He and his compatriots train tirelessly to carry out this assassination at a nearby base with a sniper rifle, honing their skills and readying their escape plan. I'll spare you the particulars, but this incident leads to a cat and mouse game between members of Israeli intelligence and Omar's group. They find themselves constantly on the run and questioning the loyalty of those near them, worried that a potential capture could lead to coercion and spying.

This story of intrigue and unrequited love plays out more like a crime thriller than a heavy handed film. It's easy to forget you're watching something that seems so inherently political or even dangerous. Some of this is due to the tension within the script, which is undeniably captivating. But this is also a movie with surprising production values and well filmed action. There are several chase scenes in this film that are some of the most impressive sequences I've seen in any movie all year.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the controversial ending. I obviously won't say what it is, but I personally found it to be a stunning and abrupt finale I'll remember for a long time.

46. John Wick

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One of the best executed US action blockbusters in recent memory, John Wick is an exciting return to form for Keanu Reaves and head and shoulders above most of what passes for action at your local United Artists multiplex these days.

Part of what makes the film so fun to watch is that it's unapologetic about what it is. The initial parts of the film are a bit dark and emotional, but once the film takes off it's as straightforward an action film as you're likely to see. It's also not a movie that takes itself too seriously, as it sets up a dark underground world with memorable and quirky characters. While a lot of the film is brutally violent and involves people getting shot in the face, this isn't a humorless ride. The writers and directors seem fully aware of what they're doing here, and the results are immensely entertaining.

The biggest strength of this film is, by far, the action choreography. There's no Bourne-esque cutting to a different frame every second or two and there's no obnoxious shaky cam. Much of what passes for decent Hollywood action these days is nowhere near this level of quality. You can always tell what's going on in the fight sequences and they look great. It's refreshing to have a film like this that can generate real excitement with its action, rather than over-stylizing it to the point where the audience is tricked into thinking they've seen something bold.

This final paragraph is a bit of a spoiler, so if you haven't seen the film you might want to skip this - My only real issue with the film is that it begins to feel a little routine as it goes on. Wick is so effective at disposing his enemies and there really aren't any viable challengers to his kill streak other than the next nameless goon with a bulls-eye on his forehead. I would have appreciated if the difficulty level had noticably increased as time went on, because while they continue to throw challengers at Wick the outcome never feels questionable. It's interesting that the film is so ineffective at establishing tension, because it's surprisingly effective at getting us to care about what is (on paper) a comical revenge premise.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Stu » Mon Feb 23, 2015 3:08 pm

Yay, it's back! :)
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Mon Feb 23, 2015 7:14 pm

Stu wrote:Yay, it's back! :)
Glad to have you following along, Stu. :up:
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Beau » Mon Feb 23, 2015 7:20 pm

Count me as one of those who understood not one line of Inherent Vice. Of course, I use hearing aids, so I'm no authority on what is or is not audible or comprehensible, but I usually get most of what's said in a movie.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Beau » Mon Feb 23, 2015 7:35 pm

That said, I'm sure I'll like it more when I watch it with Closed Captioning. I appreciated the look and the dazed vibe.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Ace » Mon Feb 23, 2015 7:36 pm

Yeah it was kinda weird cuz they talked like they were high half the time which they probably were :P
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by MadMan » Tue Feb 24, 2015 7:10 am

John Wick was a nice reminder that action movies can still be fun.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Tue Feb 24, 2015 8:55 am

Beau wrote:Count me as one of those who understood not one line of Inherent Vice. Of course, I use hearing aids, so I'm no authority on what is or is not audible or comprehensible, but I usually get most of what's said in a movie.
Beau wrote:That said, I'm sure I'll like it more when I watch it with Closed Captioning. I appreciated the look and the dazed vibe.
Wow

I can only imagine the experience of watching IV for the first time without the ability to hear the dialogue clearly. It's difficult enough to keep up with on a first viewing as it is. I felt like most of the plot became clear at the end, while the specifics can/should be combed over with repeat viewings on home video. Was that your experience as well or did you simply miss too many lines?
Ace wrote:Yeah it was kinda weird cuz they talked like they were high half the time which they probably were :P
Ha - yeah, that too.
MadMan wrote:John Wick was a nice reminder that action movies can still be fun.
Yeah, most action movies these days (whether foreign or domestic) take themselves very seriously and the entertainment value is derived from the fight sequences or tension. JW is a refreshing change of pace because it has a sense of humor and sets up a playful criminal underworld. You can tell that its creators were having a good time making it.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Ace » Tue Feb 24, 2015 9:19 am

I know Bad Guy said he wasn't going to do one but I'd like to see his Honorable Mentions list after he's done with this list.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by MadMan » Tue Feb 24, 2015 9:37 am

Yeah, most action movies these days (whether foreign or domestic) take themselves very seriously and the entertainment value is derived from the fight sequences or tension. JW is a refreshing change of pace because it has a sense of humor and sets up a playful criminal underworld. You can tell that its creators were having a good time making it.
The criminal underworld and the hotel were really sweet. I do agree with your criticisms of the film while I still love it a lot.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Stu » Tue Feb 24, 2015 4:00 pm

The Bad Guy wrote:
Glad to have you following along, Stu. :up:
Always happy to for your yearlys, BG :oops:
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Wed Feb 25, 2015 8:21 am

45. The Drop

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The Drop is written by Dennis Lehane and adapted from his story Animal Rescue. It's a slow burn crime drama that centers around a Brooklyn drop bar. Bob and Cousin Marv, played by Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini, run a comfortable operation and appear settled into their station of moving money through their establishment. But when the place gets robbed and money goes missing, tensions start to rise and nefarious mobsters begin to take an interest in the case.

A popular criticism of this movie is that touches on a lot of familiar territory in the crime genre, but I feel that it's elevated by the quality of its parts. Every level of the film's production is solid, and I couldn't help but be intrigued by the film's mystery. It's difficult to talk about without spoilers, but a lot of the subtler moments in the film mean that much more in retrospect. Viewers are unraveling some of these plot threads, but it isn't until we see how it all comes together in the third act that we really appreciate it as a whole. In my opinion, the film's final act pays off big-time. Some people may consider this a stylistic problem with the film or that the first two acts drag a little, but I was always engaged with The Drop. I found it to be a tense and unsettling script and it kept me wanting more.

The two things that really elevate this film are the quality of its final act and the talent of the cast involved. Tom Hardy is always great and in some ways steals the film here. But Noomi Rapace, Matthias Schoenaerts, and the late James Gandolfini are certainly no slouches either. After having seen Gandolfini's performance in Enough Said and now this, it really hits me to know that we're all losing such a talented actor. I feel like he was starting to break free from being pigeonholed as Tony Soprano and had so much range to offer. Unfortunately, this is the last of his films that will be released in theaters.

44. Wild

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Based on the true story and novel of the same name, is the story of Cheryl Strayed. This is a young woman who goes on a hike across the Pacific Crest Trail to get over a tumultuous breakup, a down-spiral into drug addiction, and the death of her mother. This is a woman who has endured a lot of hardship and appears to be mentally unwell. Her hope is that by leaving the world she knows behind and going on this epic journey, that she can find peace with herself and walk her way back to the person her mother wanted her to be.

The film strays from a lot of Hollywood elements. You're thrown into the hike from the jump and it is only over time that they reveal what she's been going through that lead her. Those uninitiated with the book or story might be confused at first why Strayed is doing something that appears irrational, but I liked how they revealed this information over time and tied it in to her struggles along the PCT. There's also a subtle shift in how these flashbacks are being utilized, as they peak during her more challenging moments and begin to subside toward the end of her journey. There aren't any big life-changing events that occur on the trail, but through these editing techniques and the strength of Witherspoon's acting we begin to sense that she is coming to grips with her reality and becoming a more enlightened person.

As someone who is interested in the potential benefits of solitude through retreats or meditation, this film spoke to me on a personal level. I imagine it will resonate with a lot of people. After all, who hasn't once fantasized about leaving civilization behind to go on an adventure - whether for self discovery or personal enjoyment? A hike like the one Cheryl Strayed embarked on is certainly no picnic, but there is a freeing quality to such an adventure. At one point she remarks to a female hiker that she feels more alone back home than she does out here by herself in the wilderness. That may sound cliche, but I think anyone who has gone through some of the things she has (or simply worked a desk job) instinctively knows what she's talking about.

There's one scene in particular towards the end of the film that I really loved. She runs into an older woman who is caring for a young boy. It's a really beautiful scene that seems to tie the movie together both on an emotional and thematic level. It's one of my favorite moments of 2014.

43. Listen Up Philip

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Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, Listen Up Philip is about a young author who is making a name for himself and has just completed his second novel. He's also a full-blown narcissist that lacks any kind of empathy or sentiment. Although he is fully aware of these character traits, he seems to revel in them. As a viewer, it's easy to see that his actions are ill-advised and that he's actually something of a dim bulb. But you sort of have to sit there and watch his actions, which are often cringe inducing or comical. If you're the type of person who finds it difficult to like a movie in which you don't like most of the characters, then this is probably not your cup of tea.

In most other films, Jason Schwartzman's character would evolve and grow into someone more likeable. There is actually a bit of a question of whether this will happen towards the end, but it's predominantly the story of a man who is too full of himself and surrounded by corrupting influences to change his behavior. He is mentored by Ike, an elderly writer who has enjoyed far more success over the course of his career than Philip. Yet in some ways the character of Ike is even worse as a person than Philip, as his rampant narcissism and ego have gone unabated despite so many decades of life experience.

One of the things I really like about Listen Up Philip is how it utilizes the narrator. It's often been said that the written word's key advantage over cinema is its ability to articulate inner thoughts and motivations. There is a keen eye afforded to the novel that typically doesn't exist in scripts and films. While this is mostly true, a film like this takes full advantage of the available tools and does an admirable job of blending these qualities into the story. For a plot that focuses so heavily on writers this is an appropriate use of the medium, and it makes it feel like you are watching a short novel unfold on screen. I wish more films would adopt this approach.

Also, it should be noted that Elizabeth Moss is a really good actress. So +1 for that performance.

42. The Unknown Known

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Errol Morris's The Fog of War, in which he interviews former defense secretary Robert McNamara, is probably my favorite documentary of all time. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that Morris' new film centered on former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. There's no doubt that Rumsfeld presided over one of the strangest and most catastrophic chapters in the history of American foreign policy, so a filmmaker of Morris' caliber seemed poised to get some fascinating truths and behind the scenes insights.

Yet the film's subject, Rumsfeld, is so slippery that we get none of this. He obfuscates and deflects at every turn. Morris describes it as possibly the strangest interview he's ever done. There's a mystery at the heart of it asking 'who is this man?', yet Morris doesn't feel as though he is any better equipped to answer that question at the end of the project than at its outset. The answers Rumsfeld supplies to this line of interrogation are so deeply unsatisfying that many viewers and critics walked away feeling as if this was a failure on the part of the director, or even that Rumsfeld had bested Morris in some way. The poster for the film asks us 'why is this man smiling?', as time and again we see Rumsfeld's self-satisfied smirk in how he neutralizes a pointed question. You can tell that Rumsfeld feels as though he's playing a game and winning.

There's something not only unsatisfying about Rumsfeld's answers, but also genuinely frightening. When he is asked about the historical example of Vietnam and whether there were any lesson to be gained from it, Rumsfeld replies that if there's a lesson it's simply that "Some things work out. Some things don't. This didn't." Everyone has their own version of evil, Morris tells us, but what if there is simply nothing there? What do you do then?

41. Foxcatcher

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Bennett Miller's latest film tells the story of John DuPont, played by Steve Carrell, and his dream to provide America's best wrestlers with the tools and training to win Olympic gold. While the story may appear straightforward and the outcome is already widely known, there's actually a lot going on here. This is also a film that touches on a wide variety of subjects such as the male ego to mental illness etc.

I will speak briefly about the acting, as everyone by now knows that this is a film heralded as much or more for its performances. However, I actually found that Steve Carrell's performance wasn't as strong as Tatum's or Ruffalo's. I am excited to see what Carrell does next, I felt that the other two leads gave arguably the best performances of their career. To some extent this is splitting hairs as all three of the leading actors do a good job and the awards buzz surrounding the film is warranted.

One of the more defiantly austere and atmospheric films of last year, Foxcatcher draws us into a world that is undeniably cold. The use of color and cinematography convey an environment that is emotionally drab, and the script (which centers more around Channing Tatum's character Mark Schultz) adds to this sense of emotional isolation. Both John and Mark have grown up living in the shadow of others. For John, it's his family's fortune and the overpowering disapproval of his mother. For Mark, it's the sense that no matter what he achieves in life he will always be seen as the younger brother of David Schultz. So when the two of them join forces to accomplish great things there is actually a time when the story feels headed in a positive direction. Mark initially sees John as a mentor and a heroic figure, but as time goes on the two grow more distant. This is largely due to some sensitive subject matter that the film doesn't fully delve into, instead choosing to handle it in a manner consistent with the tone of the film.

The most lasting impression that I took away from the film was the arrogance of hereditary wealth. DuPont feels that his money entitles him to be an expert at everything from wrestling to ornithology, and his wealth does afford him the ability to feel he's playing a vital role in helping the U.S. win a gold medal or in publishing a book about birds. Yet the closer you look it's clear that he's an Emperor without clothing. There's a scene in the film where David Schultz is asked by a director to speak into the camera and say that he considers John a mentor to him. The pain and hesitation that Mark Ruffalo displays in this scene is palpable, and for good reason.

Money is not a guarantee of happiness. In fact, being born into money is no guarantee that you'll avoid being petty or miserable. While this is a subject that's been touched on in countless films, there's something about the way Foxcatcher handles it that leaves a lasting impression.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Mean Old Bastard Ed » Thu Feb 26, 2015 12:30 am

Thanks for reminding about Predestination. I've been on a Sci-Fi kick recently & want to check that one out maybe this weekend.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Thu Feb 26, 2015 5:35 am

Mean Old Bastard Ed wrote:Thanks for reminding about Predestination. I've been on a Sci-Fi kick recently & want to check that one out maybe this weekend.
It's certainly worth watching if you've been on a sci-fi bender, as it's one of the better sci-fi and time travel films in recent memory. If anything, my rating of it may be low relative to others.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by MadMan » Thu Feb 26, 2015 5:38 am

I loved Wild. However it has fallen out of my Top 10 recently as I continue to watch movies from last year.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by MrCarmady » Thu Feb 26, 2015 2:36 pm

Really good stuff as always, makes me wish I went to the cinema more often. Only seen Inherent Vice and Listen Up Philip but both are great. The former benefits from being adapted from an absolute masterpiece, so even though it's a step-down, it still has some deliriously beautiful and hilarious scenes, like the ouija board for the former and anything involving Bigfoot for the latter. The latter is abrasive like you said but fits in well with comedies like Curb or Peep Show where our engagement with the material comes not only despite the characters being abrasive, but partly because of it. And Elizabeth Moss is absolutely wonderful in it, too.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Fri Feb 27, 2015 4:02 am

MadMan wrote:I loved Wild. However it has fallen out of my Top 10 recently as I continue to watch movies from last year.
I enjoyed Wild, but a top ten rating does seem a bit high.
MrCarmady wrote:Really good stuff as always, makes me wish I went to the cinema more often. Only seen Inherent Vice and Listen Up Philip but both are great. The former benefits from being adapted from an absolute masterpiece, so even though it's a step-down, it still has some deliriously beautiful and hilarious scenes, like the ouija board for the former and anything involving Bigfoot for the latter. The latter is abrasive like you said but fits in well with comedies like Curb or Peep Show where our engagement with the material comes not only despite the characters being abrasive, but partly because of it. And Elizabeth Moss is absolutely wonderful in it, too.
I've always been a fan of Elizabeth Moss on Mad Men. I thought she was great in this.

Here's hoping she gets a lot of opportunities going forward.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Ace » Fri Feb 27, 2015 8:42 am

Yeah I enjoy Elizabeth Moss in MM too. But she really shined in Top of the Lake adaptation.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Sat Feb 28, 2015 3:48 am

Ace wrote:Yeah I enjoy Elizabeth Moss in MM too. But she really shined in Top of the Lake adaptation.
I keep meaning to watch Top of the Lake and haven't gotten around to it yet.

Learning that Moss is in it that makes me want to see it even more.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Samm@el » Sat Feb 28, 2015 5:43 am

Awwww yiss, I forgot all about this but I'm happy to see it.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Mon Mar 02, 2015 12:19 am

40. Selma

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There were a truly alarming number of biopics this year. Whether that was fueled by Academy Award preferences or it's just a statistical anomaly is hard to say. What can be said is that most of these biopics weren't very good for a variety of reasons. Ava DuVerney's Selma, which chronicles Martin Luther King's struggle to secure voting rights in Alabama, was one of the exceptions to the rule.

The film has a polished Hollywood feel to it much of the time. Some things are a bit trumped up for extra drama like a more antagonistic Lyndon Johnson than we'd expect, or the use of unsourced dramatic music in one car ride scene. But Selma is also a bold film that isn't shying away from some of the pragmatic moral concerns involved in the struggle, or even the flaws Dr. King had as a person. You got to see some of the nuances of the conflict, as several members of King's group disagree on how best to proceed or second guess his decision making. Other activists outside of his circle have radically different notions, as well. Anyone who has been in or around a political movement will understand that it can be a messy process.

DuVerney's movie doesn't make MLK into some larger than life figure, but humanizes him as someone trying to do their best in a difficult situation. This, combined with David Oyelowo's performance, really brings King to life in a way that's both new and familiar. The film might have been benefited by going into detail with some of the other people in King's circle. Perhaps that's an unfair criticism because of the amount of time allotted for a film, but there was some good material they could have explored here.

I have to give the movie a lot of credit for being emotionally moving. There were some sequences in Selma that had me riveted or even close to tears. Some might argue that this has more to do with the history more than the story itself, but I'm not sure I agree with that. So many other biopics this year should have been emotionally engaging and simply weren't. DuVerney deserves a lot of credit for this passionate and well constructed project.

39. The Immigrant

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It's surprising that a film with so much talent, production heft, and star power behind it went relatively unnoticed this year. The Immigrant debuted at Cannes in 2013 and has since proceeded to fly under most people's radar. It was given an extremely limited release and received no awards consideration, despite the positive reviews from critics. It deserved a lot more attention than it got.

The film's plot centers around a Polish immigrant in early 1900s Manhattan. Ewa, played by Marion Cotillard, is separated from her sick sister upon reaching Ellis Island. To make matters worse, she is immediately accused of indecent conduct and threatened with deportation. Bruno, played by Joaquin Phoenix, takes a special interest in Ewa's case. He takes the woman under his wing, allowing her to come work for him in an urban underworld of burlesque and prostitution. Seeing little alternative to help her sister or provide for herself, Ewa begrudgingly agrees to this arrangement.

If last year's The Great Gatsby showed the opulence of the roaring 20s, then this film is almost its polar opposite. We're constantly seeing rundown sets of shabby apartments, dirty street corners, or the inelegant cells of Ellis Island. The use of color is almost monochromatic, as half or more of the scenes utilize a golden brown hue. It can feel drab and repetitive, but there's an over-exposure to the color in this film that gives it a surreal quality at the same time. That feeling of the unreal ties in nicely with the character of Orlando the magician, as well as some of the fabled elements of the story.

Although much of the film centers around a love triangle between the three main characters, I'm not certain whether any of the romance in the film is genuine. You get the sense that Ewa is caught between her circumstances and will do anything to help her sister, so it's unlikely she finds either Bruno or Orlando's romantic advances enticing. Orlando seems the type who might relish in competition with Bruno, more taken with Ewa than genuinely in love with her. Bruno seems the most convincing of any of them, yet he also shows a willingness to exploit Ewa for his personal gain. It's not until the film's third act that we get some resolution on this question, as the actions of one character appear to speak for themselves.

Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix are great in this, as they are in most things. But the best thing about The Immigrant is its fantastic ending. I'm always a sucker for a good finale, and The Immigrant's ranks with some of my favorite final sequences of the year. It captures what the film is trying to say beautifully and it's emotionally powerful. If I were ranking these films according to their endings, this one would be in my top 10.

38. Calvary

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Anyone who has followed my lists closely will know that John Michael McDonagh's The Guard came close to taking my top spot in 2011. His next film has a lot in common, as it tackles heavy issues with humor and intelligence. But while Calvary is a very good film, it falls short of that level of greatness.

The story follows Father James, who is played by Brendan Gleeson. One day at the confessional, a man tells him that he was molested by a priest as a child. When James urges him to make an official statement about it, the anonymous man informs him that the priest has since passed away. Unable to provide any good advice for this man, the mysterious figure lashes out with a threat on Father James' life. He says he is going to kill him because he's a good priest and has done nothing wrong. Killing a bad priest wouldn't get anyone's attention, but killing a good one? The people wouldn't know what to make of that, would they?

Father James is seen as the figurehead of the Catholic Church in this small Irish town, which carries with it a certain amount of respect and disdain. Because of the recent child abuse scandals with the Church and the declining religiosity of those around him, he finds himself in the unenviable position of shouldering the blame for a grand institution while trying to provide spiritual counsel for people who are often disinterested in the role of the Church in their lives. Yet father James is a good man, and despite the looming threat on his life he feels compelled to do what little he can to help ease the burdens of those around him. He has to take on this task single-handed, as its clear that his simpleton colleagues aren't going to be of much help.

Like The Guard, this is a film that may throw some people off with its lack of tonal consistency. I thought that The Guard did a better job at juggling its weightier themes and cutting sense of humor. Calvary isn't nearly as funny, partly because it delves deeper into darkness as it goes on. A lot of the plot deals with some very heavy stuff, and although this works it comes at the expense of some laughs. Still, this is a uniquely intelligent and clever film that further cements John Michael McDonagh as one of the better writer/directors working today.

37. We Are the Best!

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Lukas Moodysson's latest film has an explanation point on the end which seems appropriate. It's a coming-of-age story about three young girls who form a punk band, even though two of them have no musical talent whatsoever and are consistently told that punk is dead. Undeterred by their lack of expertise or the peer pressure around them, these young girls become an unstoppable trio who begin to form a bond as they struggle to write and rehearse their music. It's a punk rock story that isn't necessarily about punk rock. The 1982 setting of Sweden and the fading punk movement aren't essential elements, they just happen to be the backdrop for this story. You could easily substitute all of this and you'd be left with a thematically identical script. It's more about the idea of youth and counter-culture. I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling of youthful exuberance, where everything feels a bit rebellious.

Ultimately, even these ideas take a backseat to the main subject of the film which is adolescent friendship. The film doesn't shy away from showing us some of the clumsy ways that these types of friendships can manifest themselves. As you might expect, boys come up at one point in the film. It also addresses the desire to pressure those in your circle to be more like you. These elements are familiar if you've seen enough coming-of-age films, but the film never goes so far as to become cliché. It deals with some of these topics because they're true to life, not because it's interested in manufacturing drama. The film flows with a joyful energy that never lets it get bogged down by these scenes, keeping the viewer engaged throughout.

The finale didn't go quite as I expected it to, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense considering what the film is about. I was very satisfied after my screening ended, leaving with a smile on my face. Also, it brought up some compelling reasons for why we should hate the sport, so there's that.

36. Joe

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A major departure from the likes of Your Highness and Pineapple Express, David Gordon Green's latest indie effort is far more serious.

Joe is a story about a man of the same name (played by Nicholas Cage) who runs a foresting operation. He and his crew go out into the woods to poison trees and clear the land for redevelopment. It's technically not legal but nobody seems to make too much of a fuss about that, as everyone in the film is just trying their best to work and survive. One day, Joe runs into a young boy named Gary who is eager to to work hard and earn some money. It quickly becomes clear that Gary is wise beyond his years and a committed worker, but he also comes from a profoundly troubled household with an alcoholic, violent father. Joe must decide whether he's willing to take on this added baggage or cut Gary loose.

This is one of the most impoverished looking films of 2014. It feels like most of it was filmed in the middle of nowhere or behind a dumpster. Far from being a criticism, this helps give the film a very distinct feel and sense of place. In addition, the use of cinematography and editing in this film is so good that it caught me off guard. There are moments where the use of visuals merges with the music to create some fantastic sequences and transitions. It's obvious that a lot of care and talent went into the craft of this film.

Nicholas Cage is great in this, giving one of the most subdued and best performances of his entire career. Cage can help make a bad movie watchable, but you can tell that he's often collecting a paycheck. Seeing him turn in such a strong performance in such a quality film is refreshing. But it's Gary Poulter, playing the role of Gary's father of Wade aka G-Daawg, who really steals this movie. At first we think he's nothing more than a mean drunk, but it quickly becomes apparent that this man is incredibly dangerous and prone to extreme actions to get what he wants. Poulter was a man with no formal acting experience, and instead was a real life alcoholic and homeless man. I had no idea that this was the case when I watched the film and was enamored with his performance the whole time as it felt so natural. Tragically, shortly after filming Joe, Poulter's very real problems caught up to him and he was found dead in a river. It's a damn shame, yet the movie serves as a lasting achievement to a man who might otherwise have passed on in obscurity. The film is worth watching for his performance alone.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by MadMan » Mon Mar 02, 2015 7:18 am

The Bad Guy wrote:
I enjoyed Wild, but a top ten rating does seem a bit high.
Keep in mind I've only seen maybe 30 some movies from 2014.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Sat Mar 07, 2015 2:12 am

35. Ida

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Pawel Pawlikowski's film takes place in 1960s Poland and follows the story of a novitiate nun named Ida. Having been raised from within, she only knows what life is like in the convent. Not only is she ignorant of the outside world, but she is ignorant of her family history and origins. That is, until the Mother Superior insists she visit her last known relative, Wanda Gruz. She insists that Ida stay for as long as is necessary with Wanda before returning. Although Ida is reluctant at first, she soon discovers a shocking truth - she is a Jew whose relatives were killed during the war. Curious to find out what happened to her deceased ancestors and intrigued by the decadence of ordinary life, Ida decides that she must stay and try to learn all she can before heading home.

Perhaps unexpectedly, this could be described as an odd couple road trip movie. The character of Wanda, exceptionally portrayed by Agata Kulesza, is almost the polar opposite of the young Ida. While Ida is demure, Wanda is rash and uncompromising. An older woman who is fully attune with her sexuality, Wanda is unapologetic in her pursuit of vices even if she is lacking in spiritual wisdom. She has no problem ignoring social decorum and speaking her mind to anyone along her way, all as the younger Ida looks on stoically.

It's a morally complex film that doesn't offer easy answers, both as it concerns literal events and how one defines the good life. The audience can feel like they're taking a vicarious journey behind Ida's captivating stare, always looking with interest but saying little. It touches on notions of identity politics, history, hedonism, and purity. Yet it's up to us to decipher these ideas and come to our own conclusions. While Wanda's character is well understood, Ida remains mysterious even after the end of the film. We must decide for ourselves what path she is likely to take, as well as what direction we feel is best for her.

The cinematography in this film is absolutely gorgeous. I had no idea going into the film that it would look this good, and that was actually one of the more pleasant surprises of the year. The look of Agata Trzebuchowska, who plays Ida, is one of the things that gives this its visual flair. The use of black and white gives her eyes a captivating, dark gaze that you can't turn away from. But this is also a beautifully shot film that uses a lot of creative angles and wonderful images. Calling it one of the best looking films of 2014 isn't an exaggeration.

34. Snowpiercer

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Bong Joon-Ho's latest film is based on a French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, by Jacques Lob. Set in the near future, a chemical released to combat global warming has had unintended consequences. Rather than avert a climate catastrophe, the world has instead been plunged into an eternal ice age. Mankind is mostly extinct, with the exception of one train that runs on a miracle engine. Within this locomotive there exists a distinct class hierarchy. The have-nots are relegated to the rear of the train, forced to survive in dehumanizing conditions while feasting on energy bars made of waste and insects. The more affluent members live near the front of the train, where they are afforded luxuries beyond imagination given the planet's circumstances.

The film has its merits as an action sci-fi film, but the thing I liked most about Snowpiercer is that it really is nonsense. What I mean by that is that the plot and the logistics of the world fall apart if you think about them for a few minutes. It's as far-fetched as you can get, and we only go deeper into the rabbit hole as the film moves towards the front of the train. From a kindergarten classroom to a sushi bar to a club scene... this is a movie that becomes increasingly surreal, giving the film a hazy and dreamlike quality. Some will undoubtedly look at that as a major flaw, but it's part of what gives the film such a cool vibe.

I don't think that this is a particularly deep film or an insightful one. It's an obvious class metaphor about ruling elites and the have-nots resulting in a bloody insurrection. It doesn't have much new to say about income inequality or even environmental stewardship, for that matter. These themes are timely, but what makes Snowpiercer good is that it's such a crazily imaginative, apologetically dark and thrilling journey. I enjoyed getting lost in its madness and it's not something I'll forget anytime soon.

33. Two Days, One Night

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The Dardennes latest film stars Marion Cotillard as a woman who learns that she's lost her job. Rather than just being fired, Sandra is informed that her colleagues were asked to take a vote on whether to bring her back from sick leave or terminate her employment altogether. Her co-workers are incentivized to let her go when they're informed that they will all receive 1,000 euros bonus pay if she does not return to the company. Initially, the vote is a slam dunk - Sandra is overwhelmingly voted out. But one of her close friends and colleagues urges her to fight, insisting that the boss pressured some into voting against her for fear they may lose their own jobs. Urged by her friend and her lover to fight this decision, she must now go door to door in order to convince those she worked with to give up their bonus and let her keep her job.

I left the theater wondering about whether this kind of thing happens. I've never heard of something like this in reality, but it's plausible given the circumstances the film presents. In any event, the premise of the film does set up a great moral fable. The film seems to be holding up a mirror to its audience, asking to what extent we belong to a society or to what extent it's just every person/family for themselves. As Cotillard's character goes from one co-worker to the next, we're left wondering which of these competing notions will win out in the end. The answer to the question "society or jungle?" doesn't appear clear cut, especially in this type of economy. It isn't until the film's final act that we see the outcome, but even then we're left pondering. A lot of this plays out like a thriller where you're increasingly on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen. I personally loved the ending of this film, but I don't want to say why.

Like the Dardennes other works, this is not a film with big set pieces or car chases. The plot of the film, though compelling, is small in scope. Yet despite the embellishment, this is a film that resonates with truth and emotion much like their other movies. It captures that fear of living life on a financial knife edge while managing to be a profoundly human narrative at the same time.

Marion Cotillard is exceptional in this, giving one of the best female performances of last year. While she is very good in The Immigrant, I personally believe that this is the better of the two performances and the better film as well. Perhaps flying a bit under the radar, Fabrizio Rongione is a great compliment to her and takes on an equally challenging supporting role.

32. The Babadook

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Horror is perhaps the most lackluster of all movie genres, with the possible exception of romantic comedies. Even some of the most celebrated horror films of all time have their fair share of detractors, and it's not uncommon to go a full calendar year without one good horror film being released. Hollywood has pummeled horror into the ground in recent years with tired clichés of found footage, exorcism, and creepy children. Honesty, I don't even waste my time with most of them anymore. I'm more likely to find real terror in a well crafted documentary than your average horror flick.

But one of the most hyped films of the year, The Babadook, actually lives up to its billing. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, the film has genuinely frightening sequences that unnerved me as I was watching it. For a film of its type to resonate with so many people as being truly scary is rare. It avoids nearly every pitfall that modern horror tends to stumble into and it takes risks that you wouldn't expect. The look and feel of the film draw you into its creepy world, while the script has you invested in the fate of its characters. A number of the fright sequences do rely on some traditional techniques, but it has enough of its own style to stand apart. This isn't a movie with a lot of jump scares etc.

It features a brilliant performance by Essie Davis, who I now realized has been criminally underutilized for most of her career. I think the last thing that I saw her in was The Matrix Reloaded and that was roughly a dozen years ago (seriously?). I'm also excited to see what Jennifer Kent does next, as this film shows enough moxie and creativity to suggest she has a lot more left in the tank.

The only issue I have with the movie is that, like most horror films, I had mixed feelings about the ending. I won't go into specifics and I recognize how the film is trying to have a metaphorical undertone and the horror of mundane life. I would have appreciated if it took itself more like a traditional horror film, though I can understand the counter-argument that we have dozens upon dozens of movies that do something similar to that. The Babadook, to its credit, is trying to do something fundamentally different and I respect it for that. I just wished I liked its conclusion as much as I enjoyed everything that led up to it.

31. Locke

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It's rare that a film like Locke comes along. Unlike a lot of films that change things up regularly, this film starts and ends with Tom Hardy's character in a car. It's refreshing to see a movie that's doing one thing well and doesn't let up. However, it takes good writing and a strong performance by the lead actor to pull something like this off. Thankfully, both are more than up to the task.

At first we know very little about why Locke is making this journey. Slowly but surely, the film starts to reveal the circumstances that our protagonist finds himself in. The more we discover, the more intense and stressful the situation gets. We're told that Tom Hardy's character is a man of the utmost integrity who is extremely confident, and we're assured by the calming tone of his voice as he tries to put each caller at ease. However, the situation becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on. We're left wondering whether this well intentioned, intelligent man is in over his head. I don't want to say more than that, since the less you know going into Locke the more you are likely to get out of it.

The only film in recent memory this reminds me of is Buried with Ryan Reynolds. That's a film with a very different plot, but it's also a nearly one man performance outside of cell phone conversations. I was a big fan of each of these films, though I understand that they're a hard sell to wide audiences. Neither film made much money, but I greatly appreciate the vision of a film like Locke that isn't afraid to take a chance and chart a different course.

As much as I liked Tom Hardy in The Drop, this is the performance that defines him from last year. Given the film's premise, Tom Hardy needed to carry this one and he most certainly did. I personally would have nominated him for best actor.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by JediMoonShyne » Sat Mar 07, 2015 8:00 am

I don't believe Locke gets enough credit, you know.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Colonel Kurz » Sat Mar 07, 2015 10:02 am

I guess people don't care anymore for that whole social contract business.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Sun Mar 08, 2015 4:21 am

JediMoonShyne wrote:I don't believe Locke gets enough credit, you know.
I think it's one of the more underrated films of the year. A lot of this has to do with its limited release and that the premise can be a hard sell.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Last Baron » Sun Mar 08, 2015 8:32 am

2 of these movies I've seen so far, not bad.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Samm@el » Sun Mar 08, 2015 4:13 pm

I was pretty disappointed with The Babadook. It was merely a mediocre psychological horror for me.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Tue Mar 10, 2015 4:49 am

The Last Baron wrote:2 of these movies I've seen so far, not bad.
Thank you

I'm guessing you liked the two you watched?
Samm@el wrote:I was pretty disappointed with The Babadook. It was merely a mediocre psychological horror for me.
Horror is an interesting genre because not only is it lacking in quality but even the more celebrated films are deeply polarizing. I can understand someone being apprehensive about The Babadook, since I have my own issues with the film. I do feel that it's far more effective and original at what it set out to do than 95% of horror these days. The ending wasn't my cup of tea, but I at least appreciate the subtext.

I give the film a lot of credit for the quality of its parts and that it genuinely frightened me at times.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by MadMan » Tue Mar 10, 2015 7:11 am

Snowpiercer was great. And a nice reminder that 2014 was an excellent year for action movies.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Derninan » Tue Mar 10, 2015 8:38 am

Always enjoy this thread, and you pick some really great images. That still from The Babadook is terrifying. Such a good film, one of my favorites of the year and one of the best horrors of the decade so far. I want that book but I'm too a-scared!
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Tue Mar 10, 2015 8:03 pm

MadMan wrote:Snowpiercer was great. And a nice reminder that 2014 was an excellent year for action movies.
It was a pretty good year for action movies, yeah. Nice to see that (and a few other genres) had a nice run in 2014 amidst the mountain of biopics that got thrown our way.
Derninan wrote:Always enjoy this thread, and you pick some really great images. That still from The Babadook is terrifying. Such a good film, one of my favorites of the year and one of the best horrors of the decade so far. I want that book but I'm too a-scared!
Thanks, Derninan. I appreciate the images compliment. I like taking the time to select favorite shots from each film.

You should pick up that book and confront your babadook. What's the worst that can happen?
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Tue Mar 10, 2015 8:05 pm

30. Love Is Strange

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After spending over thirty years together, Ben and George (played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina) are finally able to get married in a Manhattan ceremony. What should be the happiest day of their lives instead gives rise to a downward spiral that separates the couple into different housing. Once the news breaks, George loses his job teaching music at a Catholic school. Now unable to afford their apartment, the newlyweds are forced to call on help from friends and family to provide them with temporary living arrangements until they can get back on their feet.

The premise of the film might suggest that this is a message movie about gay rights or marriage equality. Surprisingly, Love Is Strange spends very little time going into this aspect of the story. Instead, Ira Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias have written a screenplay that's more concerned with human relationships than it is about politics. In fact, this is as much about the smaller memories we make between people as it is about romantic love. The film really nails those small moments that are true to life. There is no big plot other than the backdrop I mentioned earlier, but there's a lot of heart and the low-key transitions across time help to make this one of the more affecting movies of the year. Some have actually compared it to Linklater's Boyhood in terms of this storytelling style, though this is less ambitious in scope.

It's worth noting that the chemistry between John Lithgow and Alfred Molina is great in this. It genuinely feels like a decades long relationship, to the point where you can sense the difference in the characters' negative energy when they're apart and the connection they have when they're together. But as the two main characters spend so much time apart, a big focus of the script is on the platonic relationships of family and friendship, which isn't always smooth but can give way to greater understanding and affection with time. As the title of the film suggests, love can work in mysterious ways.

29. Leviathan

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There is a scene in Leviathan where several men go out into the countryside with firearms and vodka. They're families are nearby, but they're essentially off in the middle of nowhere. One of the men unveils some objects he's brought for target practice - framed photographs of former politicians like Joseph Stalin and Boris Yeltsin. When asked if there are any modern mugshots that they can aim at, he replies that not enough time has passed for there to be a historical perspective.

Russian cinema seems to exist in an odd place at the moment. Very few major films come out of the country, so it was with some surprise that the most widely released import of 2014 was Leviathan, a movie that is scathing in its critique of the Russian oligarchy. Adding to the surprise is the fact that a lot of the film's funding came from the Russian Ministry Of Culture, and that the biggest objections to it seemed to be language. In a year where we saw Iranian dissidents change their identities to avoid imprisonment in the filming of Manuscripts Don't Burn, it really makes you wonder why it's the foreign language film frontrunner for Russia at the 2015 Academy Awards. I'm hoping that Andrey Zvyagintsev doesn't get in serious trouble for making this.

The story is reminiscent of Job. It's about a man named Kolya and his family who live on a small plot of land near a fishing village. A corrupt mayor takes an interest in the property and attempts to seize it through a form of eminent domain. When Kolya is unwilling to give up his land, the State tries to seize the property by providing less than adequate financial compensation. Throughout Leviathan, you get the sense that average people are struggling against crushing bureaucracy. There are several scenes in which the law courts read out the verdict at a breathtaking pace, leaving the audience with a defeatist attitude in the face of such blatant corruption and institutional bias. However, the characters in this film seem to be unintimidated by the forces that be. Both the landowner and the lawyer are willing to press their case against extreme adversity, eager to take on the mayor and threaten him with corruption charges if necessary.

I don't want to get into too many specifics about how things play out. Thematically, this is a film about how absolute power corrupts absolutely. The theme of the haves bullying the have-nots may be especially relevant in Putin's Russia, but it's something that people in any country could relate to. Every aspect of the society seems to conform to the institutional forces, whether it's a religious leader telling a politician that his power is derived from the almighty or the common man who drinks copious amounts of vodka to deal with the frustration.

28. X-Men: Days of Future Past

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There was a lot of buzz about Marvel superhero movies this year, as there seems to be every year. While I will grant that Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy are better than a lot of previous entries in that field, the best comic book movie of 2014 was Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Based on the famous graphic novel, the X-Men find themselves in a futuristic hell-scape in which an army of sentinels roam the Earth. These unstoppable killing machines hunt down and extinguishing mutants of all types. Originally designed to target mutants like the X-men, the sentinels now target anyone with minor genetic mutations. This race of machines has grown beyond anyone's control, and since they're able to adapt to the powers of their adversaries they are simply too formidable to fight against. The plan then, is to use Kitty Pryde's ability to channel time to send Wolverine into the past (in the original story Pryde is the one who goes back), to end the war before it ever begins.

This movie reminds me of two other sci-fi films that I love. It's as though the X-Men franchise had been fused with Terminator 2 and Inception. Like T2, you have a post-apocalyptic future with an unstoppable robot army and the hope of traveling back into time to rewrite history. Like Inception, you have the different layers of time with the familiar face of Ellen Page guiding you through. Time travel and alternate realities are great storytelling devices if done right, and I felt like Singer and the writers handled this one really well. It's rare that a superhero film's main selling point is its plot, but in this case I think that's fair to say. The modified source material they're working off is so engaging and the quality of the cast is so first rate that nearly every scene of dialogue is compelling.

Of course, there's some good action in this film, too. The futuristic fight scenes with the sentinels are well designed a lot of fun to watch, as the mutants employ a lot of inventive teamwork to battle the machines. But the one that really steals the movie is a slow motion action sequence involving Quicksilver, a mutant whose power involves going really fast. Shot from his perspective, we see time appear to slow down as he runs along walls, manipulates bullets, and generally just kicks a lot of ass. It's one of the best sequences I've ever seen in a superhero movie.

27. Under the Skin

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It's arguably the most unconventional film of last year. Under the Skin challenged moviegoers and split people into love it or hate it camps. I've seen it at or near the top of top 10 lists, but I've also talked to some cinephiles that feel it's a plodding, nonsensical mess.

The premise seems simple enough on paper: Scarlett Johanson plays a seductive alien who preys upon unsuspecting men in Glasgow, Scotland. But that synopsis doesn't convey just how odd and atmospheric this film is. Much of the film seems to be operating in Kubrick-esque a 2001: A Space Odyssey mode where we're shown a lot of mysterious sights and sounds but told very little. We're seeing things through the eyes of the alien invasion, but we don't fully comprehend their purpose or their methods. Are they plotting for an invasion or merely doing scientific research? Why do they take such an interest in imprisoning these men and what are they doing with their skins? Whether it's a frightening sequence of submersion under black liquid or an even more unsettling sequence on a beach, we're constantly wondering what's driving the alien's motivations as well as what the heck is going on.

While I can't fully explain to someone what I watched in an elevator speech, Under the Skin is a haunting and memorable experience. A lot of this is due to the use of music in the film. The soundtrack is so bizarre and overpowering that it unsettles you, which is appropriate for a film like this. It may not be a horror film in the traditional sense, but there are some sequences in here which are as frightening as anything I saw last year. Other sequences are so visually arresting or thought provoking that I have a hard time shaking them from my memory. I was still vividly recalling moments from this film several weeks after seeing it. It's rare for a movie to have that kind of lingering effect on me.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Samm@el » Wed Mar 11, 2015 12:28 am

I still don't really know what to make of Under the Skin, but it's definitely an original piece of film-making.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Wed Mar 11, 2015 5:10 am

Samm@el wrote:I still don't really know what to make of Under the Skin, but it's definitely an original piece of film-making.
I think it's one of those films that can lead to varying interpretations and some interesting discussions.

It's one that needs time to marinate, though. I imagine talking about UtS moments after seeing it would amount to gibberish. I personally needed days to absorb what I'd watched and even then I didn't fully know what to make of it. Piecing it together logistically is impossible since we don't have enough information. However, there are debates to be had about the themes involved, like to what extent the film is a commentary on what makes us human.

One interesting aspect of the story is the male reverence for the female form. In that way the movie reminded me of Takashi Miike's Audition. In these films the woman is actually a psychopath killer or a nefarious space alien, but if she's attractive men can be fooled into infatuation or even believing they're in love. UtS is obviously interested in the extent to which external appearances matter, both in the case of Scarlett Johanson's character and the deformed man. That's not the only idea being explored in the film, of course, but it's interesting.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Ace » Wed Mar 11, 2015 5:23 am

Days of future past was great and all but over GotG and Winter Soldier? What about The AMAZING Spider-Man 2? :P
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by MadMan » Thu Mar 12, 2015 5:53 am

Yeah as much as I dug Days of Forgetting X-Men 3 ever happened I prefer GOTG and Winter Soldier over it. Not to mention The Guest in terms of action movies from last year.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Sat Mar 14, 2015 4:58 am

26. A Most Violent Year

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As someone who avoids a lot of information before going to the theater, I was pleasantly surprised to find that A Most Violent Year wasn't at all what I expected. Given the title and some miscellaneous clues I'd picked up about its story, I figured that this was going to be another period piece mafia/gangster film. It turns out that it's an anti-mafia film, as its protagonist Abel Morales (played by Oscar Isaac) is a man trying as hard as he can not to become a gangster.

Written and directed by J.C. Chandor, the movie takes place in 1981 New York, statistically one of the most violent years in the city's history. Abel and his wife Anna (Jessica Chastain) run a heating oil company on the verge of acquiring some strategic new territory. The coveted loading dock exists by the river, and will give the Morales couple access to oil barges which could greatly expand their business. However, they must first give a down payment to the current owners and come up with the remaining 1.5 million dollars within a month's time. It should run smoothly, but Abel's trucks are getting hijacked at gunpoint more and more frequently. In addition to being an obvious security concern, this criminal activity is having a major impact on their bottom line. Making matters worse, an ambitious district attorney (David Oyelowo) is going after the company with a laundry list of fraud indictments.

At the time, it was very difficult for people in the oil-delivery business to avoid fraud and violence. For someone with Abel's ambition, it seems counter-intuitive that he would be so desperate to acquire more money and power, yet unwilling to engage in retaliatory violence or become an ally of the mob. Yet Abel is insistent that he will not stoop to such tactics, despite the advice of nearly everyone around him that he, at the very least, allow his drivers to carry firearms for protection. It can be difficult to tell at times whether he is operating this way because he feels it's the best strategy to achieve his goals, whether he feels morally opposed to such action, or some combination of the two.

I loved the ethical dilemma at play here and found it refreshing to see a film that takes such a different approach. Some have criticized A Most Violent Year for not having enough of a pulse or being too restrained, but I was captivated the entire time. There are actually some edge-of-your-seat sequences in this movie and much of the dialogue is intense or thought provoking. Bolstered by some great performances from the three main actors and a supporting role by Albert Brooks, this is one of the best casts of the year. Chandor has also managed to make a name for himself as a director to look out for, as each of his films has gotten successively better, in my opinion.

25. Housebound

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Forced to return to the house she grew up in, Kylie is placed under house arrest and given an electronic ankle bracelet. The arrangement is less than satisfactory for Kylie or her parents. Her mother Myriam finds her to be a spoiled and unaccommodating brat, while she finds her mother to be an obnoxious blabbermouth. Myriam insists that the place is haunted, but this is brushed off by Kylie as the delusional rantings of an older woman suffering from dementia. However, it soon becomes clear that something with the house is not right. Slowly but surely, Kylie begins to understand that she may be in actual peril. Unable to leave the house, she must find a way to work with her mother if she hopes to survive another night.

The horror/comedy hybrid genre is very difficult to get right. Sam Raimi was able to have success with the Evil Dead trilogy, but audiences were split on his return with Drag Me To Hell. Even devoted cinephiles would be hard pressed to name a great horror/comedy film that's come out in the past ten years. So I'm excited to say that the New Zealand import Housebound is a modern great in its genre. Some say that it's able to succeed at being both frightening and funny. I'll grant that Housebound is using some scare techniques in creative ways, but I think what makes this work so well is that it's primarily a comedy in the guise of a horror film. I'm not sure I was ever genuinely afraid during it, which could sound like a big weakness, but it's so funny and entertaining that it works. Part of what makes the humorous concoction effective is that Kylie is such an unconventional damsel in distress. At one point she's asked what she'll do if she encounters a hostile spirit, to which she replies "I'm going to smash it in the face!".

I won't get into a lot of the details about the plot, since this is also a mystery film where the protagonist is unlocking clues along the way. While the puzzle does help keep your interest, the real selling point here is the vibe given off by this quirky Kiwi film and its sense of humor. If this sounds like your cup of tea then you should absolutely give this one a go. I think Gerard Johnstone's Housebound is destined to become a cult classic.

24. A Most Wanted Man

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John le Carre's story is adapted to the big screen in Anton Corbijn's spy thriller A Most Wanted Man. Set in Hamburg, German intelligence gets wind of a Chechen man named Issa who has managed to free himself of torture and sneak into the country. Because he is seeking to gain access to his father's fortune, counter-terrorism officials are wary of having another Mohamed Atta on their hands. It's unclear whether Issa is simply an immigrant seeking to put his troubled past behind him, or whether he poses a legitimate danger in the form of financing extremists.

It's a very intelligent screenplay. In fact, it's probably the best script I've come across when it comes to the nuances of counter-terrorism. You could argue that there are no real villains in the intelligence community here, yet there's plenty of adversarial behavior as you move through the levels of the bureaucracy. Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character, Gunter, is met with some opposition by those around him for taking a hands-off approach. One of his colleagues, for instance, is afraid that Issa might do something disastrous at any moment. Gunter is more concerned with the long game than he is with making a quick bust. As he explains in one scene "It takes a minnow to catch a barracuda and a barracuda to catch a shark." From the Germans to the Americans, everyone seems to have their own personal philosophy on how best to cope with these types of situations. While the viewer empathizes and roots for Gunter, they can also see the wisdom of other approaches even if they believe his methods are ultimately the best.

The film moves at a steady but consistently gripping pace. There are no big Hollywood set pieces or car chases here, but it's a thinking man's spy movie with a lot going for it. I'm obviously not going to give the game away in this write-up, but I will say that the ending is excellent and provides for some interesting post-viewing discussion.

Sadly, this is Phillip Seymour Hoffman's final role. He gives a brilliant performance here, reminding everyone just how great he was. It's a performance that will probably not get mentioned among his best, as this is a film that didn't make a lot of money at the box office. However, this is about as good as anything he's ever done. His presence elevates the cast around him. You can tell he's bringing his A game and inspiring those he's working with to reach a little higher. RIP Mr. Hoffman... you will be missed.

23. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

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Alejandro González Iñárritu has been wallowing in misery for a long time now. While I personally loved Amores Perros, I was starting to feel that his last three films had become too one-note, culminating in Biutiful which was so senselessly bleak that I worried the director had jumped the shark. With Birdman, Iñárritu is still exploring some heavy themes of depression and mental illness, but he's doing it a fun way... if that makes sense.

The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is just fantastic in this and worth watching for that alone. He pulls off a high wire act with his amazing long takes here. It's shot with these beautiful and sweeping takes which give the impression that the movie is one continuous shot. All of this is bolstered by the film's frenetic energy and jazzy drumbeats that move it along. Yet it's also able to slow down and inject some serious show-stopping moments of beauty, poignancy, or sheer insanity. Some might argue that the long takes are a gimmick, but this is a film about a theatrical production so I think the illusion of one continuous performance is clever and appropriate. Also, our protagonist Riggan (Michael Keaton) is a delusional and schizophrenic narcissist. This stylistic eccentricity helps us see things through his eyes.

This is a funny and fast-paced fable about a myriad of subjects ranging from fame to art. Trying to touch on all of the ideas would be incredibly time consuming, so I'm not even going to attempt it. I will say that it's fun to see a movie that jumps from social media commentary to a critique of critics on a dime, all while keeping the show moving and not looking back. It's also nice to see some good actors that haven't gotten much opportunity of late, particularly Edward Norton and Michael Keaton. Though I thought everyone involved in the project did a good job.

My interpretation of this film and its last act is different from some others I've spoken to. I'm far less trustworthy of Riggan than some seem to be, since I believe the man is so obviously nuts that it's difficult to draw a line between fantasy and reality. The very first scene is him levitating mid-air, dressed in nothing but his underwear and listening to an imaginary superhero narrate his life. We literally see supernatural acts of telekinesis and flight, only to be shown later that he took a cab from here to there etc. So some of the more fantastical elements that happen later on can't be taken at face value, in my opinion. It may interest some to go back and try to piece it all together, but I'm far more interested in how fun the delusional ride is than trying to determine what's real.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Sat Mar 14, 2015 5:11 am

Ace wrote:Days of future past was great and all but over GotG and Winter Soldier? What about The AMAZING Spider-Man 2? :P
MadMan wrote:Yeah as much as I dug Days of Forgetting X-Men 3 ever happened I prefer GOTG and Winter Soldier over it. Not to mention The Guest in terms of action movies from last year.
The "amazing" Spider-Man movies are anything but, in my opinion. Not that this is a controversial stance.

You guys are both higher on the comedic marvel movies than I am generally. I actually did feel that Winter Soldier and GotG were an improvement over the quality of films like IM3 or Avengers, particularly GotG which would have made a top 60 for me.

I respected what they were trying to do with Winter Soldier as far as introducing a sense of actual consequence and danger. For much of its running time I was digging it. The action sequences and the villain are both good for a stretch, but ultimately I felt like the film really dropped the ball by reverting back to camp and injecting a messy subplot about the Soldier's identity. The final act of the movie was a major disappointment. Hearing afterwards about comic book canon, I know why they did some of those things... I just didn't like it at all.

GotG uses the comedic and inconsequential style of the Marvel films to its advantage. It does have that awkward juxtaposition of carefree whimsy and "the fate of the Universe hangs in the balance" that they've been rocking this whole time, but it's far less awkward here than it's ever been before. When you have characters like Starlord and Drax, as well as a talking raccoon firing a machine gun on top of a tree who can only say "I am Groot!" it's much easier to go along for the ride. Plus it's by far the funniest movie that studio has turned out. I had fun with it.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Ace » Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:36 am

Ban Bad Guy. :P

I was kidding about ASM2. Also A most Violent year and Birdman :heart:
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:42 am

I could tell from the emoticon, but I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to diss Amazing Spider-Man.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by MadMan » Sat Mar 14, 2015 9:07 am

I loved Birdman. I will admit it is a MadMan style movie.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Samm@el » Sat Mar 14, 2015 3:55 pm

Birdman is a film I really, really need to see.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Mon Mar 16, 2015 2:29 am

22. The Double

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2014 had two good films about doppelgangers. Richard Ayoade's The Double is more of an oddball dystopian comedy, whereas Dennis Villenueve's Enemy was an incredibly dark and stylish thriller. It's interesting that two films could have such a similar premise, yet they went about executing it in very different ways. To be honest, I had a hard time deciding which of the two was better.

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a man who is extremely uncomfortable in his own skin. It seems that he is consistently awkward and unsure of himself no matter the situation. He has been an anonymous office drone for many years, toiling away in a cubicle as his superiors as well as colleagues barely seem to notice him. One day, a man who appears to be his identical appears at the office named James Simon (also Jesse Eisenberg). James Simon is everything that Simon James is not. He is gregarious, confident, successful etc. and is almost immediately recognized and celebrated by all those around him. Nobody seems to notice that the two men look exactly alike, not even Simon's crush Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). As James becomes more domineering and achieves greater success, Simon becomes increasingly marginalized and irrelevant.

The Double draws on countless influences that range from Dostoyevsky to Terry Gilliam. You could probably point to twenty other fictional works in film or literature that it's drawing from (even Flash Gordon is in here). Some have pointed to these various influences as a negative, but I really enjoyed seeing a lot of these different elements come together to form a whole. It's such a diverse and delightful tapestry that the film feels fresh. It also doesn't dwell on any one stylistic element for too long, as the editing keeps the story flowing at an enjoyable pace. It's consistently fun to watch in a way that few films are.

The story takes place in a dystopic world, overrun with bureaucratic nonsense and monotonous labor. It's exploring a lot of heavy themes such as urban isolation and the oppression of individuality, but it's important not to lose sight of how funny this movie is. In fact, its brand of dark humor makes this one of the funniest movies of the year.

21. Enemy

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2014 had two good films about doppelgangers. Richard Ayoade's The Double is more of an oddball dystopian comedy, whereas Dennis Villenueve's Enemy was an incredibly dark and stylish thriller. It's interesting that two films could have such a similar premise, yet they went about executing it in very different ways. To be honest, I had a hard time deciding which of the two was better.

Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a mild mannered history professor who happens upon a movie one evening. In it, he notices something strange; one of the extras in the film looks exactly like him. This begins the mystery of Anthony Claire (Jake Gyllenhaal). Is the man really his exact double or is it a mere coincidence? Should Adam try to confront Anthony to discover the truth? Once this plot kicks into high gear it doesn't look back. This quickly becomes one of the most captivating movies of the year as the pieces start coming together. A lot of this is because it's such a mysterious narrative and I think it's best if I don't say too much about that.

Enemy is not a film of great thematic depth or insight. That's not to say that this isn't a thinking man's movie, quite the contrary. It's a stylish mystery/thriller that keeps you on your toes throughout as you pick up clues along the way. But what really makes this great is a compelling script blending with elegant style. There wasn't a moment where I wasn't caught up in the mysterious plot, as I was kept on the edge of my seat from start to finish. The cinematography is excellent, featuring beautiful aerial views and intimate shots. The film uses a level of color saturation that is simply out of control, adding to the eerie vibe and giving it a very distinct look.

The ending of the film ties in to a lot of mysterious hints we got before. I have my own ideas about the final shot, but I love that so many people have varying opinions and conspiracy theories. Just about everyone that I've talked to has different ideas and it makes for a fun discussion. That ongoing mystery gives the movie more lasting appeal and re-watch value. However, it also works perfectly well if you have no interest in fitting the puzzle pieces together.

This is the obligatory 'Jake Gyllenhaal is killing it these days' sentence.

20. The Lunchbox

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Ritesh Batra's first film is not what you're expecting. For starters, it's an Indian film that has no music sequences or dance numbers. That might not sound incredible to some people, but it's quite literally the only Indian movie I've seen that has none. It also looks like a cloyingly sweet romance from the box art and some of its advertising, but it's more emotionally complex than you might think.

The story is about two desolate individuals living in Mumbai. Ila is a lonely housewife that longs for the affection of her emotionally distant husband. Saajan is a reclusive widower getting close to retirement. One day, the two make a connection when the dabbawalas deliver Ila's lunchbox to Saajan by mistake. Rather than correct the error, Ila decides to keep sending the lunchbox to the wrong address, trying out new recipes to see what works. Over time, the two find themselves engaged in a written correspondence and begin to learn about the other person's life. Yet things remain uncertain as they grow closer. Will these notes blossom into a romance over time? Will Ila become involved in an adulterous affair? Will Saajan be willing to love again after the death of his wife?

The Lunchbox captures the loneliness and sense of isolation that can fester in a big city like Mumbai. Whether walking through a bustling market or standing on a crowded train, there's a sense in which you can feel alone amidst a sea of people. This story touches on the longing people can feel to reach out and make a real connection with a colleague at work or through a romantic interest. We can sense the emotional impact on the characters as they begin to develop these connections. We can hear the progression of the back and forth letters as they become more personally intimate, juxtaposed with montages of their experiences. I'm not kidding when I say that some of these sequences with the letters are some of the most emotionally heartwarming and heartbreaking moments of the year for me.

Also, for anyone who loves Indian food this movie will make you want to get some immediately after watching it. Navratan Korma is serious business.

19. Blue Ruin

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Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin is a very basic revenge thriller that is masterfully told.

Much of the film is done without much dialogue, as it opts for a show don't tell approach. This is especially appropriate given the film's straightforward narrative of a homeless man seeking vengeance. Yet, despite the bare bones plot, this is more than just a slow-burn genre exercise. The script seems to be making a commentary on the ease with which stakes can escalate in our second amendment society. It's also an insightful character study about a broken man set down a path of destruction and damnation. Even if we empathize with his actions, there is a fear of whether that old adage of violence only begetting more violence will come to fruition.

Part of what makes this film so intriguing is that Dwight is an unlikely and nebbish protagonist to take on a group of 'bad guys'. This is the polar opposite of something like John Wick or something along the lines of Steven Seagal. That type of film can have its merits if done right, but we've all seen the macho revenge plot done to death. The character in this film makes the danger feel believable. That tension is only heightened by how these scenes are shot and edited. There are moments of violence or potential violence in this film that will have you holding your breath. It can be incredibly tense at times in the way that an Alfred Hitchcock or Dario Argento movie can be. I think the last time I felt this kind of tension in a film was the robbery scene in Refn's Drive.

Some people have compared this to the Coen brothers debut film Blood Simple. Many will consider that praise to be effusive, but I do not. This is an indie film that lives up to that kind of hype. If this is what Jeremy Saulnier can do on a shoestring budget then I'm very eager to see what he does next. It's a shame there aren't more films like this one.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Stu » Mon Mar 16, 2015 6:57 am

The Bad Guy wrote:22. The Double

21. Enemy

2014 had two good films about doppelgangers...
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by MadMan » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:26 am

Blue Ruin is a great revenge film. So well crafted and very tense.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Ace » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:42 am

I'll have to check out those doppelganger films.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Mon Mar 16, 2015 9:27 am

Stu wrote:
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Glad to see someone was paying enough attention to catch the joke. :up:
MadMan wrote:Blue Ruin is a great revenge film. So well crafted and very tense.
Isn't it, though? It's so good.
Ace wrote:I'll have to check out those doppelganger films.
They're quite different, but both are absolutely worth watching. I'm still going back and forth and which I like better. The initial viewing had me ranking The Double ahead. A re-watch of both seemed to favor Enemy. I'm still a bit torn, but I'm willing to give a slight edge to Enemy.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by Trip » Mon Mar 16, 2015 12:20 pm

immigrant hilariously low, kill yourself etc

we are the best 4eva.
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Re: The Bad Guy's Top 50 Movies of 2014

Post by The Bad Guy » Mon Mar 16, 2015 12:29 pm

Trip wrote:immigrant hilariously low, kill yourself etc

we are the best 4eva.
Some people have already told me the The Immigrant is 38 spots too low. I will atone for my sins and commit seppuku once this list is complete.

We Are the Best! is delightful, isn't it? :)
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