Well I did this last year. That makes it a Tradition (1). This is going to be short, though. Looking back over 2014’s cinema releases provokes the two unavoidable conclusions that, firstly, I really didn’t get to see many films, and secondly, most of those were with my son, ergo pitched towards a certain demographic.
What I didn’t get to see: Snowpiercer, because it wasn’t on anywhere near me as far as I could see. Hunger Games 3.1 because the end of the year is hella busy and the opportunity just didn’t come up. Big Hero 6, because we in the UK don’t get it until 2015. These are all definitely on the list to get a look at.
What I saw with my son: The Lego Movie, which was good, but publicly and overtly good in a way that doesn’t really require much cheerleading from me; Mr Peabody and Sherman which was also very good, very intelligent and totally overshadowed by the former, and so does deserve a bit of flagwaving: very good film, very snappily written, go see; How to… Dragon 2, which… good moments but also absolutely textbook How Not To Use a Decent Female Character 101; Earth to Echo which managed reasonably successfully to hit the ET vibe it was aiming at; Transformers: Age of Extinction, which was basically the worst film I ever saw. Not gonna go much further down that murky path. Adam Roberts says it better than I could, I know it’s not exactly supposed to be Casablanca, but still.
Yes, I saw the rear end of the Hobbit saga. I’m of the camp that hasn’t much appreciated the various decisions that have led to this particular vision of the story. I am just going to leave it at that.
Enough downbeats. What did I actually like?
I liked Guardians of the Galaxy. I can’t overstate just how much I enjoyed the film. It is very, very pleasant to see a fast-paced SF action film that is also very sharply written, and generates its copious and well-timed humour entirely out of the characterisation, rather than just giving people vacant and generic “witty quips” to spice up the dialogue. It can be done. This is proof. Again, this film doesn’t need my tiny trumpet playing its theme tune, but by hell it was fun. Marvel also gave us Captain America: Winter Soldier and that was another solid hit, and showed they can do a superhero flick that doubles as a techno-thriller without breaking stride. Strength to strength as we begin the run towards Avengers 2, the trailer to which is already giving my goosebumps.
I saw Gilliam’s new one: The Zero Theorem. I am a huge Gilliam fan – he’s one of my favourite directors, and even when he doesn’t quite hit the mark he produces something crazily original. I really enjoyed this film in all respects save one. I mean, Christoph Waltz, David Thewlis, what’s not to like? I felt it fell down badly on its sole significant female character, but that’s just my personal reaction. Gilliam still makes a prodigiously different and interesting film.
Edge of Tomorrow was good, and seems not to have done very well, which is a damn shame. Worth a hundred transformers, IMHO. Intelligent SF, good action, good characters. Tom Cruise pulls out a good performance, Emily Blunt a superb one. I also watched X-Men: Days of Future Past and it didn’t quite work for me, but I know a whole load of people loved it, so I have resolved to watch it again on the small screen and see if I can get with the vibe more.
Best film of the year, then? Probably there are some I really loved that have entirely slipped my mind, especially from the early part of the year (last year I forgot I saw Cloud Atlas, which was superb), but this year, the film that reached furthest, and was the single boldest piece of genre cinema I took in, was Maleficent(2). Yes, there was some saggy stuff in the middle, but ye gods! Who would have second-guessed Disney giving us such a story? What Miltonian imagery! What uncompromising cruelty, and an utter refusal to back down or play to fairy-tale type. The darkening and reinventing of fairy tales is very much part of the modern zeitgeist – from Fables to Once Upon A Time, past films like Snow White and the Huntsman to novels like Sarah Pinborough’s Poison, Even in this strong field Maleficent was a surprising and emotionally powerful reworking of the (Disney version of the) original story, and it hit the spot for me.
Maybe not so short then.
(1) cue Topol.
(2) and the internet is confirming for me that this was 2014, but it was long enough ago that my memory is telling me it was 2013. I choose to distrust that fickle mistress, memory, in favour of IMDB.