Thursday, February 12, 2015

2014 in Review

Sturm and Drang (They Fight Crime!)

We started "Blogging By Cinema-Light" on January 26, 2014 to fulfill a need. Not to give the world another movie review blog (there are far too many of those), but to focus my attention on the writing and the movies and less on the day to day busy work of maintaining the various little goo-gah's and widgets of the previous web-site—"Let's Not Talk About Movies."  That site was doing well (approaching 1 million hits when I abandoned it). But the name...that started seeming a little precious and counter-productive. So, for 2014, I re-thought, re-imagined, and did a thorough scrub of the concept (eliminating a ratings system that, while practical, still seemed to box films into niches that unfairly summed them up and became too much the focus), accentuated the visual, and allowed me a better chance to focus and work on an ever-growing back-log of reviews for older films (a goal that still manages to elude me).

The blog has steadily grown without benefit of affiliations although I have expanded the distribution through Google+, Twitter, Facebook and the usual Networked Blogs, and slowly but surely, the numbers have been picking up as word has gotten out semi-organically (while LNTAM continues to be a warehouse store that people keep coming back to, even if the shelf-life of those articles have approached gaminess and might be breaking down, functionally—they get moved over to BBCL and fixed and updated, if possible).

And what have people been clicking on since we started?  

"I have taken over your blog...
 and your readership"
(And, yes, I'm pandering)
Scarlett Johansson, evidently. The article that has gotten the most hits since we started was my snarky review of Lucy, the sixth is my luke-warm but appreciative look at Under the Skin (But, curiously, not Don John or Captain America: Winter Soldier). Maybe it's the gif graphics of her eyes blinking that are attracting people (Morse code?). Hard to say, but the folks coming here have some sort of Scarlett Fever. We shall see if something else attracts people more in the coming months (There's the new Avengers movie and one from the Coen brothers (Hail, Caesar!)...but they both feature...Scarlett Johansson. Damn!).

The rest of the top five are a single review of The Godfather, Part III (I LIKE to think because people are fascinated with my take on the religious aspects of it, but probably not), two entries of the semi-regular "Now I've Seen Everything Department" overviews—for James Cameron (because who doesn't like James Cameron movies?—me, evidently) and the "Planet of the Apes" dynasty, as well as Shutter Island (no idea why that's so popular, but I suspect folks just want someone to explain it to them...not gonna happen, sorry). Another curious entry in the top ten is my review of The Maury Island Incident, which I explain away because it was a locally-made film and the review was probably visited by every member of the cast and crew (and re-distributed through other web-sites).
These are the films of 2014 reviewed on this site (the titles have links to the reviews).  The ones I bolded and italicized are the ones I consider the best of this year. There are more than ten, and I don't "do" "Ten Best" lists because they have a tendency to knock out films of note in order to satisfy a limited factoid requirement (and in the pre-digital age, a limited page space). In most publications and movie sites, quality will out, unless, of course, you're No. 11.

Here's the list (in chronological order, merely):

American Sniper
Inherent Vice
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Big Eyes
Whiplash (2014)
The Homesman
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The Theory of Everything
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part1
Big Hero 6
The Judge
Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Gone Girl
The Skeleton Twins
The Drop
Life Itself
Magic in the Moonlight
Guardians of the Galaxy
A Most Wanted Man
The Maury Island Incident
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Jersey Boys
The Fault in Our Stars
Edge of Tomorrow (or Live, Die, Repeat)
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Godzilla (2014)
Under the Skin
The Amazing Spider-man 2
Captain America: Winter Soldier
Mr. Peabody and Sherman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Monuments Men
Robocop (2014)
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Two that I have missed: A Most Violent Year (because I haven't gotten around to it) and Still Alice (because the studio is waiting until Oscar buzz makes audiences want to see a drama about Alzheimer's).

I'm out of the sound business...permanently now.  But, I still listen closely to movies and very much admire films that are mixed well and where the sound is integral and part of the visceral experience of a film (and do something creative, which is rare).  I can't say I was impressed by much this year, everything I saw sounded competent for verisimilitude, but nothing made me sit up and take notice, except for one thing: I was quite annoyed that some movies were horribly mixed...Interstellar being the prime example. I love film music, too. But, in the same movie, I found Hans Zimmer's thumping score for it a detriment to the entire experience—at one point, even drowning out and supplanting dialogue. It might not be important dialogue, but nevertheless, it should be heard. Music supports, and can even drive a narrative. But it should never smother it.

Here are my favorite scores of this year: The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel by the versatile Alexandre Desplat, and The Theory of Everything by Johann Johannsson.

I also collect soundtracks, which with the digital revolution and the parsing of the multi-tracks of sound and music have created a boom of releases over the past 20 years, including the official releases of scores I thought would never see the light of day—one of those being a personal favorite that I've wanted for nearly 30 years—Jerry Goldsmith's score to the John Huston mystery trifle, The List of Adrian Messenger.


The Imitation Game—Held shot on young Alan Turing (Alex Lawther) as he finds out about his school friend, Christopher Morcomb

Birdman—an extended conversation (well, they all are in this movie) between Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) and Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) where Keaton stumbles over his lines...but it feels so natural and real I wonder why more actors (excepting James Stewart) don't do that.

The Guardians of the Galaxy—the perfection of the selection of the songs for the "Awesome Mix Tape"

Whiplash—J.K. Simmons (just saying...and cowering).

Jersey Boys—Clint Eastwood indulges in a CGI tour up The Brill Building accompanied by many songs filtering out the windows in their infancy.

A Most Violent Year—"power" performances by Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in every sense of the term.

The Grand Budapest Hotel—the never-ending civility of M. Gustav (Ralph Fiennes) despite "the barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity."
Best line of 2014: The Theory of Everything—"Thank you, Mother.  I think that may be the most English thing anyone's ever said to me"

The Drop—Bob Saginowsky (Tom Hardy) reacts to the idea of keeping a dog: "That's a huge responsibility."  Second best line.

Big Eyes—A Hitchcock echo from Tim Burton: After leaving her first husband, Margaret Ulbrich (Amy Adams) drives to San Francisco with her daughter; she passes a line of foothills that will be passed by Marion Crane (on her way to The Bates Motel) one year later in screen time, but 54 years ago in ours.

Under the Skin—The Female (Scarlett Johansson) lures her victim into a non-descript house and walks teasingly into blackness, as her victims strip...and sink.
The Homesman—Reluctant shepherd George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) goes looking for another lost sheep and finds a bitter reflection of his earlier circumstances: "I kept my word and here you broke yours..."

Selma—Martin Luther (David Oyelowo) and Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) sit in a darkened room listening to a tape sent to them by the FBI of a blackmailing sex tryst.  Director-writer Ava Duvernay writes it so that Coretta recognizes it's not him, but Ejogo plays it so the question still hangs.

Boyhood—The big "eerie" of how different young Mason (and Ellar Coltrane) looks as he ages.

The Amazing Spider-man 2—Peter Parker (the sadly fired Adam Garfield) tries to explain the soot all over him to Aunt May (Sally Field): "I was cleaning the chimney!" "We HAVE no chimney!" "Wha-a-a-a-a-a...??"

and while we're in super-hero territory:

Captain America: Winter Soldier—Cap (Chris Evans) keeps a checklist of things he needs to check out in the here-and-now since his WWII deep-freeze.

X-Men: Days of Future Past—Quicksilver (Evan Peters) super-speeds around a room being disarming while grooving to Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" on his Walkman.  It would be the best presentation of that super-power already, but the song just aces it.

Oh, okay, two more...

Big Hero 6—another leap in CGI animation with the amazing facial work in this film and the "look" of San Fransokyo.

Birdman—Riggan Thomas' "Birdman" voice sounds less like his "Batman" voice and more like Christian Bale's.  Now, THAT is funny...

Leaving super-hero-ville with one last line—from Guardians of the Galaxy: "I'm going to die surrounded by idiots!"

Interstellar—Astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) reacts to 40 years of messages from home, realizing that, for his choice, he can never get those lives back. Never, ever go near a black hole. 
The Theory of Everything—"How long?" Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) asks his wife (Felicity Jones) apropos of nothing and everything.  "Two years" is her sorrowful reply.

Gone Girl—"We're so cute I could just punch us in the face."  Agreed.  Still do.

The Imitation Game—the eyes of Keira Knightley: an actress most well-known for how well she can go off the rails, in The Imitation Game, she has to play a very normal, very proper, very restrained, very British woman, and all the acting comes from her eyes, most notably in the horror expressed at the effects the chemical castration drugs on her friend Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Director Damien Chazelle does the Oliver Stone "double daddy" dance to the extreme in Whiplash.

Birdman—Is Riggan's on-stage shooting a jokey metaphor for actors trying to reach too far? Really?

The Most Wanted Man—Philip Seymour Hoffman's F-bomb screaming freak-out at the end of a very, very measured performance.

Big Hero 6—"On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?"  Baymax is hilarious.

Godzilla—the best thing about it, really: the bizarre HALO jump into the city besieged by two prehistoric monsters to the tuneless voices of Ligeti's "Lux Aeterna."

Fury—This nearly final exchange between Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) and "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt): "I'm going to surrender."  "Please don't..."

The Fault In Our Stars: "Perhaps 'okay' will be our 'always.'"

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes—the opening sequence of apes on horseback hunting reindeer. 

The one time I actually DID laugh in Inherent Vice—"Doc" Sportello reacts to Hope Harlingen's (Jena Malone) "crack-baby" picture.
Edge of Tomorrow (or is it "Live. Die. Repeat?")—the semi-guilty pleasure of watching Tom Cruise being killed over and over entertainingly.

Jersey Boys—We get an idea of what a "Clint Eastwood Musical" really is, at the end, when the entire casts bops down the street to "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) with performer's brio and panache...and on the last note, Eastwood hangs on the performers in their final stances for a very long period of time, smiles plastered on their faces, arms raised in the air.  A series of frozen tableaux...for nostalgia? This thing haunts me.

The Homesman—the varying degrees of crazy on the prairie.

The Grand Budapest Hotel—the intricate nested doll construction (with aspect ratios) devised by Wes Anderson.

The Imitation Game—Turing's bombe...stops.

Captain America: Winter Soldier: Robert Redford gloriously underplays his villainy: "Oh, Renata, I wish you would have knocked..."

Foxcatcher—Wow! Steve Carell comes out of nowhere in the face-slapping scene: "You ungrateful ape!"
The Drop—another brilliant Dennis Lehane turnaround you never see coming, but should have.

The Imitation Game—Joan Clarke (Keire Knightley), under pressure from her parents, refuses the job offer at Blechley Park to Alan Turing, who won't take "no" for an answer: "That would be...indecorous"  Turing, the genius, bursts in frustration, "I don't even know what that means!!"  No, of course he doesn't.

The Theory of Everything—Stephen Hawking sitting in his bathtub, staring at the hand that is betraying him by no longer functioning because of ALS.
Life Itself—Despite a non-existent jaw, Roger Ebert's spirit comes through in the form of a smile above ever-twinkling eyes.

American Sniper—Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) looks at TV footage of an embassy bombing and sums up and presages: "Look what they've done to us..."

The Skeleton Twins—Maggie Dean (Kristen Wiig) is pissed off, but that just won't do for brother Milo (Bill Hader), who presents her with a little inspirational Starship.

And, from Into the Woods—Agony:

And finally, lest we forget:

*** After, and in the spirit of, Kathleen Murphy and Richard Jameson's yearly recap of "Moments Out of Time" .  

No comments:

Post a Comment