So we’ve finally reached the end of our 2014 retrospective and have wound up with 25 TV shows worth your time and 45 films you should check out, if you haven’t already. That’s a lot of material to wade through. Luckily, we did it for you!
You don’t have to make the decisions! Just watch what we tell you and life will be good. Nobody has to get hurt.
As far as 2014 films go, we’ve already given you our Top Five Family Films, our Top Ten Sci-Fi Films, Top Ten Horror Films, and Top Ten Crime Thrillers. To round it all out, here are the Psycho Drive-In Top Ten Best of the Rest Films of 2014.
Be sure to let us know what we missed.
Without a doubt, Birdman is the best film I’ve seen in a number of years. Every single performance, every single scene, every single development of the story, was perfect. By structuring the film as one long shot, director Alejandro González Iñárritu forces the performers to work in what are essentially single takes, playing off of each other in a manner that echoes the stagework that is central to the plot.
The script provides opportunities for every actor to shine in ways that we usually only see in a Tarantino film — and then, usually, in an ironic postmodern way, rather than what we get here: emotional honesty and intensity. There’s literally not a single bad performance in the film.
And that jazz drumming is simply amazing.
Birdman tells the tale of washed-up actor Riggan (Michael Keaton), whose claim to fame was starring in the first three mega-successful Birdman superhero films in the 80s/90s, as he tries to write, direct, and star in a Broadway adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” As the rehearsals get more and more stressful, Riggan begins to hear Birdman talking to him inside his head — and also begins to display telekinetic powers. Or he’s hallucinating.
The reality of this is mostly clear but then thrown into doubt as the movie ends. It’s a wonderful bit of magical realism transposed to the screen that adds to the fantastic nature of this film.
If you’ve ever tried to create art of any kind, and ever had doubts or worries about its value (or your own), then this film will punch you in the guts.
— Paul Brian McCoy
In his second feature-length film at the helm, writer/director John Michael McDonagh crafts a wonderfully wry and bleak story about faith, guilt, and absolution in Ireland.
The film opens with Brendan Gleeson, as Father James, taking the confession from an unknown individual who reveals he was molested by a priest as a child. The priest who did it is long dead, but as a form of protest/revenge/justice (??), he is going to murder Father James the following Sunday. Not because he was involved, but because he is a good man, and killing a good priest would be more impactful to the Church than killing a bad priest.
The rest of the film is Father James trying to make peace with his own family and the townsfolk who mostly see him as an outdated relic with no real relevance to modern life.
There’s an element of mystery, since we don’t know who it is that is planning to murder the priest, but the script wonderfully avoids clichés and instead focuses on Father James’ acceptance of his role in the modern world — and by extension, symbolically of the Church in a post-childhood-sexual-abuse-scandal world. Thematically, it’s really just all about trying to be a good person in a corrupted world.
— Paul Brian McCoy
Frank is about a man with a mask. Frank is a brilliant musician, who mumbles a lot and speaks in riddles. And it’s about a man (Jon) who envies that man with a mask. Jon is not so brilliant, but has enough talent to land a gig as a session musician. And it’s about the band (Clara, Baraque, and Nana) that protects the man with the mask. And it’s rather simple to understand because we all wear masks. And we all help others wear their masks, but this is the story of what happens when an x variable (Jon) is introduced and wants to understand “why does he wear the mask?”
Self-identify is a difficult thing to sift through, especially as an artist, or so we are lead to believe by other artists. This is a movie about self-identity, the creative process, and what happens when we either lose ourselves or never knew who we were to begin with. It then becomes a stage 5 hurricane when someone else enters the picture to tell us who we are, or perhaps help us understand who we are; either way, shaking up the illusions of self-actualization and being.
Let’s give credit where credit it is due. This is a beautifully crafted tale directed by Lenny Abrahamson, who also wrote the lyrics, with a script provided by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, starring Michael Fassbender (settle down, he’s wearing a mask the entire time), Maggie Gyllenhaal, Domhnall Gleeson, François Civil, and Carla Azar. The five of them make up an avant-garde psychedelic band, Soronprfbs. The actors perform the music written by Stephen Rennicks. Think Daniel Johnston by way of Yo La Tengo or Velvet Underground + Joy Division + Jim Morrison.
Is this a movie about what happens when an artist who is tUnE-yArDs wants to be Katy Perry? Is it a movie about Katy Perry masquerading as tUnE-yArDs? Is it the story about the self-interested session’s player who set her free? Or the person who manipulated her into creating commercially rewarding / yet soul sucking pop? Does Art create freedom? And is freedom all it’s cracked up to be?
While I believe this remains “Frank’s Story” we also see the acceptance of limitations by Jon, who walks away to allow the fallen trees to lean against each other before they crash to the ground. We see the story of a band with a seemingly hard exterior reach out with the mic to genuinely help Frank reach that moment of self-actualization. A band of people that speak different languages or others who remain mute to highlight the communication rift…no, that’s not it… To highlight the different ways they communicate and accept. And help find out what kind of birds they are.
So there is another way to appreciate the film, and that’s face down in a giant bean bag drenched in the psychedelic haze of music. Wearing a happy face, but with moments of jaw dropping awe followed by perhaps a furrowed brow of concern. We can turn up the volume and ignore the pain that went into the music. We don’t need to be concerned with authenticity of the human experience. I mean, hell, it’s really all about the music. I love you all.
— Tommy Zim
Gone Girl is a bad film. No, that’s not right. It’s a film about bad people. But some of them are quite likable, so I’m confused. Oh. It’s a film that makes you feel bad for liking it. Yeah, that’s pretty close.
I’ve seen the film discussed as an emblem of our immoral age, of our post-economic downturn desperation, as some grand metaphor for our current cultural malaise and uniquely 21st century despair. But I don’t buy it. Because I’ve seen Double Indemnity. And Out of the Past. And The Maltese Falcon, for that matter.
Because GG‘s genre is clear: it’s a noir. A very grim and glib 21st century version, but there’s a reason the DVD case is nothing but a blur of gray fog. Nick and Amy were on a slippery moral slope long before she disappeared, leaving him incriminated (at least looking guilty as hell) in her murder, evidence be damned. When we find out [REDACTED], we’re right in there with Body Heat and Black Widow and any number of ruthless presentations of the femme fatale.
Except David Fincher is too clever for that. He shoots everything in brilliantly drab shades of marble gray and leathery brown (they live in a McMansion that is singular only in its bland grandiosity). Nothing in their world has a personality. Not Margo’s struggling bar, not their home, not their supposed friends. Maybe Nick and his twin sister have a semblance of a real relationship, but Margo can’t put her finger on exactly why Amy has always raised her hackles; she doesn’t know why she hates her, just that she does. Kind of how she’d do anything for her brother, despite his many failings, without thinking about it first.
That’s Amy’s secret power. She’s almost the only character who understands her own motivations. She knows what she wants. It wasn’t to settle into adulterous obscurity in the bland Midwestern suburbs. Her only challenge is figuring out how to escape.
It’s the sort of movie where Sela Ward and Missi Pyle can play two different levels of similar on-air presenters who have more in common than either would acknowledge; where Tyler Perry can nearly steal the film as the suave, wise legal eagle Tanner Bolt; where TV’s most recent Barney can be an eerily convincing eccentric who matches Amy’s single-minded selfishness with his own obsessive dysfunction. None of the main characters are especially interesting, except in the ways they’re all fully invested in their pointless, problematic relationships.
The weirdest thing Fincher and Flynn do is have us live with the femme fatale herself, and watch as her best laid plans crumble, too, just like all the rest. Her way of getting all the money without having to work keeps backfiring, first on the road when she meets grifters with far more practice (and who offer a warning she doesn’t heed), then when she seeks refuge with a man who makes her blandly predictable husband seem like a saint, even to her.
The best/worst part is the final act, when Amy literally brings it all back home, deciding to portray the victimization she keeps experiencing, but for her own benefit at last. Or maybe for Nick’s. Probably not for Margo’s. But she comes up with a solution that not even Tyler Perry can save Nick from, and that’s pretty impressive work right there. From absent victim to hidden criminal to captive murderer to rescued heroine, it’s quite a character trajectory, and by the end it almost feels like we forgive her. Or we should. Or we know why everyone else does. Or something, but at least I can confidently praise the twists as shockingly fresh in this latest iteration of one of Hollywood’s perennial formulae.
— Shawn Hill
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Never before have I watched a movie that felt so much like reading a book. While some would consider this a mark against the film, I do not, since The Grand Budapest Hotel is presented as the tale of one great man, told by another man, to yet another man, who puts it in a book which is then read many years later by a young girl sitting at a monument to that writer known as “Author.” Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, “feeling like a book” could perhaps be one of the greater things one could say about Wes Anderson’s latest film.
Set in the fictional province of Zubrowka, primarily in the 1930s, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the tale of Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the last great concierge of the Grand Budapest, his lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), and their involvement in the conspiracy surrounding the death of the wealthy Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), with whom Monsieur Gustave was intimately familiar.
This film quickly became one of my favorites, due in varying parts to many attributes. The whole thing bears the quality of a fine work of art, with the intricate level of detail with which Wes Anderson crafts his worlds. The scenery and landscapes (as well as one particular chase scene) are portrayed through the use of miniatures and models, a technique that lends itself greatly to the antique, nostalgic feel of the movie. The dialogue is witty and the comedy is quirky and sometimes very dark — as such, it’s not for everybody — but I was treated to more than a few good laughs.
The best parts of The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, are the cast and characters. All the characters stand out somehow, no matter how much or how little screen time they get, and the actors portraying them (including such names as Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel and Bill Murray) often tiptoe the line of cartoonish ridiculousness, but they do it perfectly; striking what becomes an excellent balance, filling the movie with vibrant life, while maintaining an overall seriousness.
The Grand Budapest Hotel begins in a cemetery, from which we journey back through time, to live for a moment amongst the aristocracy of 1930s Europe. Every bit of this movie is fiction, but the fiction rings with the loud echoes of our own past, serving to both highlight and romanticize. The film is a grandiose goodbye for these times past, a raucous last hurrah; yet no matter how joyous a goodbye may be, there is always a tinge of sadness. And so The Grand Budapest Hotel is, in a word, bittersweet.
— Connor Craft
The Imitation Game
At the outset of The Imitation Game, I was worried that this would be another awkward, Sherlock-esque performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, and his representation of Alan Turing does share some commonalities with the iconic detective he portrays on the television series — both are quirky, socially awkward, and brilliant — but as the plot and characterization developed, Benedict Cumberbatch effectively distanced himself from his Sherlock alter ego and snagged himself a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar nomination for his effort.
The Imitation Game relates the true story (sort of) of Alan Turing’s work breaking the Enigma Code used by the Nazis during WWII, which effectively saved millions of lives and helped to end the war years earlier with a victory for the Allies. Trying to crack the enigma code led to the creation of the Turing machine, or what we today call the computer. Alan Turing’s contribution to modern society is mind-blowing, which makes the third act all the more devastating, as Alan is prosecuted for homosexuality and is forced to endure hormone therapy. He is robbed of his intellect, his physical stability, and, ultimately, his life: Alan Turing committed suicide at the age of 44.
Despite this true-life (sort of) ending, and the heavy subject matter of the plot itself, the film as a whole was full of light moments, humor, and triumph as Alan wins over his code breaking co-workers and his invention is finally successful at breaking the Nazis’ code.
The film could have served purely as entertainment, but it also illuminated a shameful part of British history and honored Alan Turing for his contributions to the world. It leaves you wondering what else he could have done for society if society had not turned its back on him.
— Allison Mattern
Think about Inherent Vice like this: dentists on trampolines. Make it a mantra. Put some Can on the Hi-Fi and repeat: dentists on trampolines, dentists on trampolines, dentists on trampolines …
This line/mantra occurs in the final third of Inherent Vice. It’s a silly and unassuming bit of dialogue from the mouth of one Detective Christian ‘Big Foot’ Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). Even more bizarre is that ‘Big Foot’ spits out this line while shoveling forkfuls of Finnish pancakes into his lingonberry hole and hollering, in Japanese, for more pancakes — “Dozo, motto panukeiku!” — because, of course, he’s at a Japanese diner. To wit it’s easy for ‘dentists on trampolines’ to not (ahem) land with much fanfare.
As above, so below, dig the absurd because that’s all there is, dentists on trampolines.
What does it all mean? Good question. Yes, dentists do play a (sort of) prominent role in Inherent Vice. As prominent as wannabe Nazis, lesbian masseuses, and ex-junkie surf saxophone players if it helps to keep score. Know this: all comes out O.K. in the end. So yeah, although writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson keeps the trampolines off-stage, one may assume, like all things, the malicious and destructive power of trampolines, their inherent vice so to speak, it’s all there and all (un)real.
Inherent Vice works on what one might call faith, you know, spiritually speaking or sign-wise if you’re more astrologically inclined, either way, watch it and let the ‘whys’ take care of themselves. In other words be the Doc. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a soft hearted doofus dick i.e. private eye, a protagonist both put-out and put-upon. Doc comes off as less an actor (participant) and more of a reactor or better yet an action hero under deep cover. Dentists on trampolines …
If a thing like plot matters to you (you narrative fascist, you) it’s enough to know Doc’s adventures to find financier Michael Z. ‘Mickey’ Wolfman (Eric Roberts) at the behest of Doc’s ex-old lady and Mickey’s current arm candy, Shasta Fey Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), leads him on a fool’s errand. Doc finds Mickey, alright, but he’s not Doc’s quarry, not really. What Doc wants — Shasta? The 60s? A rain-soaked memory of trying to score in a drought? — is more ambiguous, but gone and for good. Loss is loss, it’s what happens when you’re making other plans. Call it life. Instead, groove on the moment, laugh, beware the Golden Fang, help out when you can, and repeat: dentists on trampolines …
— Keith Silva
Jodorowsky’s Dune was an eye-opener. I’ve been a fan of Alejandro Jodorowsky since the first moment I laid eyes on a grainy, beat-up copy of El Topo, and it’s just the luck of the numbers that his latest film, The Dance of Reality didn’t make it onto this list.
Seriously. Go watch The Dance of Reality. It won’t be for everybody, but it’s a gorgeous film from start to finish.
Anyway, as a fan, I’d long heard of Jodorowsky’s doomed attempt to adapt Dune to the screen, but had never hoped to get any more detail than just a list of names of those involved and the bleak sadness of knowing it was never going to be made. Thankfully Frank Pavich has done something amazing and built this documentary from the ground up to give us all a taste of what we missed.
Featuring interviews with Jodorowsky, H.R. Giger, and nearly everyone else who was involved with the development of this project, Jodorowsky’s Dune provides an amazing insight into the process of developing a film — or at least into the way Jodorowsky develops a film. Jodorowsky recruited Giger, Chris Foss, and Jean Giraud (Moebius) for set and character design, Dan O’Bannon for special effects, and cast Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, and Mick Jagger before the project finally collapsed under its own weight.
But before it all fell apart, Jodorowsky constructed a massive tome of notes, storyboards, concept art, and script that he sent to all the major film studios in 1976. Elements of the failed film could arguably be found in later films by those studios, including Star Wars, the Terminator series, and most notably, in Alien — which O’Bannon, Foss, Giger, and Giraud all worked on.
I won’t say the ideas were stolen, but…
Given the sheer mad genius that Jodorowsky brought to the project, it’s doubtful that it would have connected to a large enough audience to make back the millions it would have cost, but Jodorowsky’s Dune gives us an insightful and detailed look at just what might have been possible. It would have been original and amazing, one way or another. There are no other filmmakers like Jodorowsky.
— Paul Brian McCoy
We Are the Best!
Until sitting down to write this, I didn’t know that We Are the Best! was an adaptation of a graphic novel by Coco Moodysson, the wife of writer/director Lukas Moodysson. That doesn’t really change anything, but it’s nice to have another excellent comic adaptation that doesn’t involve superheroes, monsters, or aliens to stand alongside films like Ghost World or American Splendor.
We Are the Best! is about two 13-year old girls, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), in 1982 Stockholm who are ostracized by their peers for being into punk rock and sporting androgynous hair and clothes. They start a punk band, initially in order to irritate the teenage boys of the rock band Iron Fist at their youth center, but soon recruit a shy, Christian girl, Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to the band, since she can actually play guitar.
The personality clashes, petty feuds, and awkward social interactions of the girls all ring heartbreakingly true, and I’ve not seen a film capture and angst of growing up so thoroughly since Let the Right One In. Except nobody dies in this film.
And please don’t mention Boyhood. We’ll be having none of that.
This is a film that lives and breathes in a world beyond its setting. By which I mean that it doesn’t matter that the film is set in 1982 or in Sweden; it could just as easily be set today and still resonate with the same honesty and affection for rebelliousness that Barkhammar, Grosin, and LeMoyne bring to the screen.
Hell, I’m practically 47 and this film made me want to go start a band.
— Paul Brian McCoy
On the surface, Whiplash is the story of a driven musician, Andrew, played by Miles Teller, attending the prestigious Schaeffer Academy and pushing himself to eventually make a career as a professional jazz drummer. But at its core, this is not a film about music at all. It is about an overwhelming desire to achieve greatness, no matter the cost, and the ethical and moral dilemma of mentors who push their pupils too far — or maybe not far enough?
The driving force of the story’s tension between student and mentor falls squarely on J.K. Simmons’ able and, might I add, ripped-for-his age shoulders. Simmons commands the screen with his terrifying portrayal of Terrance Fletcher, a music instructor at the Academy who is just as adept at hurling insults, and chairs, as he is at conducting jazz bands. And when I say he is “terrifying,” I literally mean that I was on the edge of my seat every time he was on-screen. From his first appearance, his body language had me nervous for all of those about to come into contact with him. The tension only intensified when he opened his mouth to hurl some of the most creative, tongue-twisting insults I have ever heard.
Kudos to the writers.
Fletcher plays the people around him just like the instruments that he conducts; he is like a coiled snake, disarming Andrew at one moment as he asks about the student’s family background, only to use the information against him to burrow deeper into his psyche and break him down… not only as a musician, but as a person.
Getting lost in all the praise and nominations for J.K. Simmons, though, is the charm and skillful acting of Miles Teller. I honestly feel like he could have been nominated for Best Actor. He ably transitioned throughout the film, from a vulnerable young adult brought to tears by his vicious music teacher, to a maniacally competitive drummer confidently going toe to toe with the man who pushed him to, and past, his absolute limit. He refuses to back down, and that’s exactly the point.
During the second half of the film, Andrew asks Fletcher if he thinks he’s ever crossed the line into what we as audience members clearly see as abuse, and if he discourages great musicians from continuing in music instead of motivating them. Fletcher responds by saying the truly great would never be discouraged. And this is the lesson that you’re left pondering at the end of the film, after a truly satisfying confrontation that ends with an artistically flawless musical performance: Would Andrew be where he is, and what he is, without the abuse inflicted by Fletcher? Definitely not.
Adding to the overall tension of the film is some superb editing, and of course, wonderfully filmed drumming sequences. The plot was tight and flawless; not a single scene or shot was wasted or extraneous, which is something that I really appreciate in the era of 3-hour movies. I can honestly say that, hands down, this is one of the best movies I have seen in a long, long time.
— Allison Mattern
So that’s it for 2014! It only took eight lists to cover the best of TV and film in 2014, so if anybody says the quality of shows or movies is in the toilet, politely punch them in the nose and direct them here.