Definitive best and worst lists are so impossibly selective, and rely on a reviewer seeing literally everything in order to be credible. This is not that. Instead, in order to celebrate the New Year, and do away with the old, Jack Brindelli presents the 3 best and worst films he saw but never reviewed last year, and 2 that he did for good measure. And what a collection it is – 2014 was a cracker. Roll on 2015…
Three of the best.
Calvary – If you like your comedy blacker than a priest’s shirt then this little gem from the emerald isle is just what the doctor ordered. Along with long anecdotes about paralysed children. John Michael McDonagh’s follow up to the smash hit The Guard (Ireland’s all time highest grossing film to date) tackles attempted suicide of various kinds, domestic abuse, and the catalogue of sexual assaults by paedophile priests on the children of Ireland. It makes an intriguing point about the outcome when good folk do nothing in the face of injustice and – whilst you will find yourself in hysterics throughout – the ending is so crushingly dead-pan that you too feel suitably traumatised when it comes to walking out of the cinema.
Godzilla – A disarmingly simplistic set-up means this intelligent resurrection of one of cinema’s biggest stars not only surprises but positively glows when the ugly shadow of Fukushima casts itself over Godzilla’s plot. The central story is of a soldier trying to get home through the chaos to his family, however, in the background is the constant whirring of idiots at work – as human society resolves that rather than switch to wind-power, putting all its faith in one gigantic monster beating the primordial ooze out of another gigantic monster, in a city millions, rather than simply ceasing to use profitable nuclear energy, which is the source of both monster’s power. Perhaps it’s less surprising this clever level of social commentary was included when considering Monsters director Gareth Edwards helmed the project – and imbued this box-office titan with all stinging satire and the bitter-sweet pathos of his original film.
Pride – If the sobbing mess of activists (several of whom were LGBT+) I watched this with are anything to go by, if there is one film worth seeing from 2014, it’s this. A heartfelt, sweet and poetic portrayal of the solidarity between the LGBT+ community and the organised working class, this timeless gem of a story comes as a pertinent reminder of the importance of standing together against uncaring and brutal governments. Directed ably by Matthew Warchus, and featuring particularly touching turns from Bill Nighy and Paddy Considine (along with the rest of a stellar cast on fine form), the film focusses on the campaign group “Lesbians and Gays support the miners”, and a Welsh town of striking miners. They belong to the National Union of Mineworkers, who were reluctant to accept the support of those often termed as “perverts” in the popular media (an opinion it seems that still prevails in America, where the film’s somewhat tame content received an R rating, preventing under-17s from viewing it). In the end the groups discover they are stronger together, and despite the eventual defeat of the strike, the ending is suitably uplifting that after the credits roll, you will feel an urge to charge out of the cinema and right the wrongs of the world around you, united with activists of all shapes, sizes and sexual preferences.
Honourable mention: Frank
My film of the year. A beautiful, original and poignant film about the creative process, and how that can be completely butchered by profitability. For the complete review, check out what I wrote back in May here.
Three of the worst.
The Imitation Game – It’s a film about the legendary code breaker Alan Turing, and how he was driven to suicide for being gay… except it isn’t really about that. The never gets beyond third gear in terms of pacing, trundling along slower than Alan’s famous machine, and its script is painfully rigid, taking the times three rule (where a line is repeated thus many times for greater impact) above and beyond its tedious/logical conclusion. This sinful reduction of an amazing life into an embarrassingly clichéd Hollywood biopic manages performs the unholy act of sanitising Turing’s gayness by strapping it firmly into the backseat of the story. Essentially, his desire is summarised by a tidily unsexual encounter with a boy at school, and mumblings about rent-boys by the local police constabulary. I’m not saying you can’t show these things subtly, but we never see so much as a kiss – it’s like he’s been made ‘safe’ for audiences. His sanitised homosexuality is then narrativised in the same way as his grumpy demeanour, as something of a minor personality quirk, and we see Turing slave over his code-breaking, war-winning machine for hours, in a way that uncomfortably seems to suggest these ‘quirks’ simply helped him develop his mind. “It’s ok that he had these minimalised gay feelings, because he’s actually of some use…” it seems to suggest. Actually of course, in terms of the tolerance the film allegedly sets out to endorse, it actually ends up promoting the reverse. Only a certain kind of gayness is acceptable – the ‘clean’ kind that wins wars. What about the gay people who didn’t break the enigma code? Was it OK to chemically castrate them? And no, I don’t feel I’m exaggerating how poorly this film missed the point. Avoid.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Never has the term “over-rated” been more apt. This cynical attempt to satirise the Marvel franchise’s various lame-duck tropes comes across as little more than an arrogant and snarky misfire. Even if we look past the fact that 90% of the film is poorly crafted plot McGuffin, it’s still a lamentably dislikeable film that looks down upon its fans, and thinks it’s better than it is. Certainly, there are jokes in the film that will have you in stitches, including a particularly fine wank joke that I previously wasn’t sure Americans were capable of making – however, Guardians is also littered with little jibes at the super-hero film as an artefact including a joke where all the characters stand up to a speech before the Raccoon declares them a “bunch of standing ass-holes”. These snipes would work a hell of a lot better if they were consistently applied to the DNA of such films, which have almost uniformly white male protagonists, ‘ethnic’ villains, and promote women as inferior, sexualised objects to be saved, or shagged, and little else. The predictably white and male protagonist Peter Quill uses women post-coitally as simple ornaments to adorn his spacecraft, often forgetting they are even there – for comic effect of course. And that’s OK apparently, because that’s not an embarrassing Hollywood trope that needs challenging, according to Guardians that’s just a normal bit of red-blooded male banter. Hilarious…
The Interview – I’ll be honest. I haven’t seen it. Nor do I intend to. Frankly, only an idiot on par with James Franco himself would be suckered into seeing this abomination by the whinging of Hollywood’s liberal elite. Oh North Korea’s leader said he thought it should be banned and that’s got you all worked up has it? A bunch of sottish self-entitled millionaires encountered a little return fire when they made a film about actually murdering someone for the CIA, so now Michael Moore is going to ignore every historical instance where that has made the world worse to screen the film in some backward crusade for ‘freedum of speech’? Above all else, this film has highlighted a disgusting inability amongst American liberals to look critically at their own house – which had they bothered to examine before they began hurling petrified insults, they would have seen is made entirely of fire-blasted sand. You don’t like censorship in your film industry? Your country literally banned Charlie Chaplin from re-entry because they suspected he was a communist! Until the 1970s your industry enforced a production code that forbid miscegenation! In 2014 the Motion Picture Association of America banned anyone under the age of 17 from watching a film that had a mild reference to people being homosexuals! For generations past, countless films and an untold wealth of talent have been marginalised if not entirely forbidden from speaking their piece in Hollywood, either deemed too provocative to be profitable, or simply too radical for the tastes of studio bosses. Any one of those films would have stood head and shoulders above the turgid mess of frat-house smut and dribbling stoner humour that no doubt adorns The Interview – and any one of those actors, directors and writers would have towered as timeless screen Gods over the tedious bores and malnourished intellects involved in the production of that film. IF you are going to suffer through The Interview after all this warning – one piece of advice – at least watch it as nature leakily intended – pirate that mother fucker. Because nobody deserves to make a penny from this charade.
Dishonourable mention: Mandela
Easily the worst film of 2014 because of what it did with the legacy of one of the most important human lives of the 20th century. For a full dissection, check out the review I wrote for it waaaaay back in January here.