A bigger threat to Hollywood than North Korea, an in no way comprehensive round-up of every film I saw at the cinema in 2014.
American Hustle tried to make us root for a deplorable con artist trapped in a loveless marriage with Jennifer Lawrence. Much like Christian Bale’s syrup, its stylings were the combover that covered an emotionally bare pate. Much more worthy Oscar bait came in the form of 12 Years A Slave. In lesser hands it could have been as mawkish as Kit Ramsey’s Buck The Wonder-slave, though some dissenters complained that Steve McQueen is too serious – yeah, he’s SO glass half empty, why not call it 40 Years NOT A Slave, eh? The Wolf Of Wall Street saw Leo Dicaprio set his face to ‘angry poo’ as always to provide a deliriously entertaining portrait of a completely obnoxious arsehole – his drug-addled drive home was the most treacherous car journey since George Michael said ‘Fuck this, I’m off to Snappy Snaps.’
‘40 verses about crop rotation sung by a bloke with Brillo Pad hair’ – Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t do much to dispel Tommy Saxondale’s assessment of the folk music scene, but it was a witty, engaging, unsentimental take on tantalising failure at a time when every trust fund chancer with an acoustic guitar and a roll-neck was stinking out Greenwich coffee houses, rather than having a shave and getting a proper job. A terrifying glimpse into a dystopian future where everybody dresses like customers at the cereal café, Her had its moments but by the end it Black Mirrored me into submission with its single premise – ‘Ooooh, Siri. It COULD happen, yeah? It’s, y’know, the INTERNET taking over.’ Okay, I GET IT.
Awards season over – because it feels like revising for exams sometimes – and I was free to wallow in shit, as is my wont. If you could stop being a blowhard Generation Y fanboy whining about it desecrating the original, Robocop was a compact, small-scale action film that did most things right. Liam Neeson turned all the way to page one of his stock characters book to play an air marshal with, of course, a Complicated Home Life in Non-Stop. It was the most entertaining cinematic turd outside the waterslide scene in The Inbetweeners 2 and the film which saw Lupita Nyong’o win her well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar . In franchises that refuse to die, Godzilla was patchy but worth watching if only for Walter White turning his acting up to 11, and Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes continued where the previous film so impressively left off – I love every ape I see, from chimpan-A to chimpan-zee.
Middling superhero films continued to dispiritingly dominate the box office. X Men: Days Of Future Past was at least less of a mess than its predecessor – the 138th film in the franchise saw Wolverine go Austin Powers on everyone’s ass and go back to the 1970s to tell Tyrion Lannister and Michael Spoonbender to rack off. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence developed a slight limp. The tension was bearable. Guardians Of The Galaxy saw a ragtag band of semi-incompetent misfits come together… to write the most bafflingly overpraised film of the year. All show no tell, action in place of plot, thinly sketched characters and relationships, and the now industry standard pointless circular go nowhere banter, it was just loads of cool stuff randomly happening. At my age there was always going to be a limit to how much I would enjoy a film featuring a sassy raccoon, but I just don’t get it. In a surprise twist Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the best of the year’s Marvel offerings – it pulled off the seemingly unique trick of explaining who everyone was, what they were doing and why. Revolutionary. It still wasn’t perfect – though given more depth, Cap is still basically just a guy on steroids with a shield, and the My Chemical Bromance reject villain was pretty dull. But who was the real villain? Was it the Winter Soldier, or was it the politicians? *Russell Brand face*. It also went to town on one of the most popular cinematic tropes of the year – endless scenes of people looking serious in lifts (see also The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1).
Cardigans on and back to the arthouse now! Vampires have always been the most tedious and self-important of all the supernatural beings, but Jim Jarmusch took it up a notch by also making them analogue gear obsessed musicians at the forefront of every cultural movement of the last 400 years. Including shoegaze. Only Lovers Left Alive was quite confrontationally languorous even by this director’s standards – you want Jarmusch?! You CAN’T HANDLE Jarmusch! Meanwhile James Franco was busy trying to groom young girls, but he took time out from his hectic Instagram schedule to play a paedoriffic P.E. teacher in Gia Coppola’s directorial debut, Palo Alto. Predictably the apple didn’t fall far from the Coppola tree as a full house of Coppola tropes was racked up within the first hour. Slowmo shot of a bored teengirl in a swimming pool? Bingo! Frank told the story of a big-eyed, cartoon faced mope. But that’s enough about Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Michael Fassbender was the star turn in a film that was as funny as it was touching – a wonderful tribute to Chris Sievey.
Nic Cage threatened a brief Recagessance in David Gordon Green’s Joe before returning to his natural habitat in the bargain bin of despair. An uncompromising, slow-burn character study, with a tough, unusually understated central performance and brilliant support – he was a lumberjack and it was okay. You can normally rely on a Cage joint to provide the most disturbing psychosexual interlude of the year, but he clearly hadn’t reckoned on Gerard Depardieu in Abel Ferrara’s Welcome To New York – a coruscating return to form for the maverick director which nonetheless featured a most upsetting range of sex grunting. If female nudity is ‘normalised’ by Keira Knightley taking her top off whereas men’s contribution is Obelix getting his helmet out, then feminism still has a long way to go.
Andre 3000 bore a striking physical resemblance to Ike Turner. Unfortunately he was playing Jimi Hendrix in Jimi: All Is By My Side, a biopic which, apart from the fictionalised domestic abuse, was as lightweight as the legendary plank-spanker’s guitar playing was heavy. It concentrated on his early years in London but I’m sure everything worked out fine for him. Two Days, One Night featured a magnetic central peformance from Marion Cotillard, an uplifting finale, and some timely well-aimed blasts at corporate culture and the economic crisis. It did, however, become increasingly repetitive and structurally resembled Groundhog Day almost as much as the excellent Edge Of Tomorrow (yeah, I know that’s not an arthouse flick, but I’ve never refused a tenuous link before and I don’t intend to start now).
David Fincher’s Gone Girl pioneered that newest of marketing trends – the non-twist. Contrary to all the press beforehand his adaptation was as faithful as faithful can be, right down to it ending with the most brutal friendzoning in history. The resolution was still balls but fortunately he’d also kept the wit of the novel – as incisive satire of media machinations as you’re likely to see. Well, until Nightcrawler came out a few weeks later anyway. Interstellar was a frustrating mix of the brilliant and the boring, Matthew McConaughey saving the planet from the jaws of a global okra shortage (*East Dulwich breathes a sigh of relief*) in a bizarre finale which essentially saw him unlock the secrets of the universe by getting trapped inside a giant Ikea display. Expect those canny Swedes to cash in by launching their Interstellå shelving range early in 2015.