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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Indies Strike Back

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Monday December 22, 05:25 pm
Major studios didn’t have much to do with 2014’s best films

It’s sure weird to have an event movie hit screens seemingly every weekend. Summer starts increasingly early these days (coming soon: Furious 7 on April 3rd!), and Christmas is now a hodgepodge of releases — many of which you’re probably going to want to miss.

 

Since studios are putting so much money into their tentpole movies in a desperate bid to remain profitable, the mainstream mid-budget drama has basically been squeezed out of existence. In this climate, movies like Rain Man, L.A. Confidential, Scent of a Woman and Dead Poets Society would never be produced.

 

So it’s no wonder we see big-name actors taking pay-cuts and venturing into the independent circuit in pursuit of quality roles. We’re also seeing indie filmmakers go from doing movies on the cheap to dealing with hugely expensive productions without transitioning through any middle ground. At best, this leads to something like Gareth Edwards resuscitating the Godzilla franchise (lame lead human notwithstanding). At worst? Mark Webb and The Amazing Spider-Man saga trainwreck.

 

And with that, let’s make a Year in Review list! 

 

BEST MOVIE

Whiplash

 

 

I saw Whiplash on the first day of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, and the mixture of blood, sweat, a superb script, wonderful jazz and gut-wrenching performances left me floored. Easily the most visceral experience I had in a movie theatre this year, Whiplash spoke about the costs incurred in the pursuit of greatness, and the value/danger of those who push us beyond our limits. No contest here: movie of the year. 

 

MOST DAMAGING TREND

The Multiverse

 

Marvel’s ongoing success with The Avengers has inspired other studios to follow suit, but the results haven’t exactly been overwhelming. In their desperation to establish a universe of their own, Sony ruined one of the most emblematic Spider-Man storylines (Gwen Stacy’s issues) with an underwhelming sequel. Universal’s updated version of Hammer Films’ monsters got off to a shaky start (Dracula Untold), and Warner announced the expansion of the Harry Potter universe — without Harry Potter. Unlike Marvel, which took seven years to develop its universe, other studios want to cash in as soon as possible. And with prices at the multiplex rising to ridiculous levels, there’s not going to be room for all of them. Expect a flop of epic proportions in the next couple of years.

 

MOST PROMISING CANADIAN DEVELOPMENT

Prairie Horror

 

If you thought last year was bad for Canadian cinema, this one managed to be worse, with the major films ranging from barely acceptable (Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars) to unwatchable (Atom Egoyan’s The Captive). Oddly, two of the most satisfying films produced in the country were genre movies from Saskatchewan and Manitoba: Wolfcop had a simple, winning premise and ran with it to preposterous extremes, while The Editor was the Giallo genre homage we didn’t know we needed. Both flicks had the audience in mind, which is more than I can say of the big names.

 

BIGGEST HEAD-SCRATCHER

Boyhood

 

Unavoidably, critics tend to favour movies they relate to on a personal level (see Whiplash). Boyhood has been universally praised for its description of a child absorbing information, and how this knowledge shapes his persona. There’s also an undercurrent of nostalgia in the process that seems to hit parents especially hard. But if you’re not one to revel in wistfulness, the Richard Linklater drama is just an overly long story of a kid going through a number of pedestrian milestones. I’m a big fan of Linklater (the Before trilogy is possibly the most brilliant depiction of a relationship through time), but I don’t believe Boyhood transcends the gimmick.

 

MOST WELCOMING OMNIPRESENCE

Benedict Cumberbatch

 

The thing about Cumberbatch is that he’s capable of playing various complicated personalities without repeating himself. Take his work as Sherlock Holmes, and compare it with his role as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game: at first glance you have two off-putting geniuses, but it soon becomes clear that one’s a sociopath, while the other is socially inept but craves human connection. Even Cumberbatch’s disembodied voice is enough to build unique characters, like the tightly wrapped Agent Classified in Penguins of Madagascar and the delectably arrogant Smaug in The Hobbit. Yet Cumberbatch remains an interesting and fun presence, even in interviews. The only concern is that he’s involved with so many franchises (the latest is Doctor Strange), he might burn out his fanbase.

 

LEAST WELCOMING OMNIPRESENCE

Liam Neeson

 

Remember when Neeson was a serious actor? These days, all he does is interchangeable action movies riffing on his Taken persona. There were two this year alone: Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones. Recently, Neeson has also become prone to comedic cameos in lesser movies — like A Million Ways to Die in the West and The Nut Job — vehicles that merely take advantage of his once-prestigious persona. His saving grace was his voice performance as Good Cop/Bad Cop in The Lego Movie (although he couldn’t possibly have ruined it even if he wanted to).

 

WORST CANADIAN CONTRIBUTOR

Brent Butt

 

It was a busy year for the comedian from Tisdale — but not a good one, as Butt delivered two godawful flicks that somehow received theatrical release in 2014: the embarrassing noir No Clue and Corner Gas: The Movie (also known as Corner Gas: The Fight for the Status Quo). No Clue pretends to be a comical take on old detective movies, without being funny at all. The laughs to be found in Corner Gas the TV show, meanwhile, are sadly diluted in the 90-minute length of the feature film. (The cast spends more time trying to convince each other it’s okay not to have any ambition whatsoever than they do cracking jokes.) And all that Tourism Saskatchewan money is wasted in sweeping aerial shots that don’t add to the story at all. Here’s a thought: next time, spend the money on a scriptwriter. Better yet, bring back the film production tax credit.

 

Head: BEST OF 2014

 

1. Whiplash

 

Absolutely brilliant.

 

2. Tracks

 

Wild has nothing on this journey of personal discovery, one as far away as possible from self-help mumbo jumbo.

3. Only Lovers Left Alive

 

The wonderful Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston bring the vampire genre back to respectability.

4. The Imitation Game

 

History at its brightest, and darkest: the treatment of Alan Turing is England’s enduring shame.

 

5. We Are the Best!

 

Punk lives on in three 12-year-old Swedish girls. The most uplifting movie of the year.

 

6. Pride

 

Two oppressed groups unite to take on prejudice and Maggie Thatcher. What’s not to love?

7. Interstellar

 

Christopher Nolan makes science fiction relevant again, and gets bashed for his troubles.

8. Birdman

 

Forget the meta-commentary and prodigious cinematography; it’s all about what makes actors tick.

 

9. Calvary

 

An odd Christian allegory that takes the least popular side (the church’s) and targets the so-called faithful.

10. Good Vibrations

 

An entrepreneur opens a music store in Downtown Belfast mid-Troubles, and does much better than expected. 

 

Honourable mentions: God Help the Girl, The Lego Movie, Nightcrawler, Snowpiercer, Fury, Noah, Gone Girl, Nymphomaniac: Vol. I, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Immigrant, A Most Wanted Man, Filth.

 

 

Head: WORST OF 2014

(In no particular order, because they all suck)

 

Lone Survivor

 

A morally questionable, borderline-obscene apology for war. I received hate mail over my review — never been happier.

Need for Speed

 

Aaron Paul is determined to be Jesse Pinkman for the rest of his life, whether in a lame street-race flick or in Exodus.

Lucy

 

An 88-minute movie that includes ten minutes of stock footage. If that doesn’t piss you off, the ridiculous ending will.

Devil’s Due

 

I don’t know what’s worse: the cheapo scares or the portrait of Latinos as demonic worshippers. Some of us are observant.

Pompeii

 

The characters are flat and the plot is a poor man’s Gladiator, but the truly unforgivable aspect is the absence of lava. Worst. Eruption. Ever.

And So it Goes

 

We’ve grown used to Michael Douglas as a shell of his Wall Street persona, but turning Diane Keaton into a mousy waif is unforgivable.

The Other Woman

 

In short, it’s an excuse to show Kate Upton’s boobs bouncing. Ugh.

The November Man

 

It’s time to put to rest the myth that Pierce Brosnan can act.

Ouija

 

PG-13 horror movies can be scary. They just need an original idea, a decent cast and a couple of “gotcha!” moments. Ouija has none of those.

The Nut Job

 

Rampant incompetence can occur in animation too. Kids’ movies don’t necessarily have to pander to adults, but they do need at least a modicum of coherence.

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