December 2014: A summary

2014 has drawn to a close. It’s been a very good year and interestingly both the best and worst year for film watching I’ve ever had. I haven’t been busy so I’ve watched quite a few movies this month. Here are all 14 movies that I’ve seen ranked and reviewed. Sadly this blog post does not contain any rants.

The loser of December 2014 is….

15. Mission Impossible II: 4/10 a stupendously silly sequel to an already terrible film, this near plotless follow up has Tom Cruise’s robotic superspy tracking down an engineered virus and fighting some boring villains. Despite being directed by one of the great masters of action, John Woo, featuring many big names and being stuffed with ludicrous, nutty set pieces MI2 hits about as hard as a feather pillow between the eyes. It’s a detached viewing experience as since nothing in the script is developed, there’s nothing to invest yourself in. When people say action garbage, this is the sort of thing they mean.

14. Transcendence: 5/10 what a let down. Christopher Nolan’s brilliant cinematographer in the director’s seat. A great cast. An interesting premise about human consciousness being uploaded onto the internet. A cool title. But this just sleepwalks past the majority of its potential. Due to cool visuals, some touching moments and an air of restraint and character focus I don’t have it in for this movie as much as some do, but with Johnny Depp virtually asleep, a weak and often ludicrous script and not a lot actually happening, this can feel like listening to Bella Swan talk in a monotone for a couple of hours.

13. Jane Eyre: 6/10 there have been many adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s excellent novel. This is just another one, made for TV and first released in 1997. The literal definition of a mixed bag, this is underwhelmed by overacting, a lack of depth, the excessive streamlining of the first 10 chapters of the book and some of the moments being mishandled but then elevated by decent writing, faithfulness to the source and a genuine emotional core. Overall… I wouldn’t bother.

12. Sin City 2 A Dame To Kill For: 6/10 9 years after the masterpiece that was Sin City was made we finally have a sequel. Unfortunately, this collection of dark, gritty neo noir stories is the Kick-Ass 2 of 2014: A watchable sequel that’s a bit underrated but misses the point of the first and feels weaker if the scene stealer from the first isn’t on screen. The first SC focussed on human emotions. This focusses on violence, and can feel like a generic flash beat em up game, thus reducing the impact considerably. It’s not a total loss though. It’s well acted and features many beautiful visuals showcasing cinema’s nastiest city in brilliantly bleak fashion, but the audiences clearly sensed the overall flatness of this, and the film was a box office bomb.

11. Pompeii: 6/10 this looked like it was going to be the Pearl Harbour of this year, as it’s by a much maligned director and has a love story set around the Mount Vesuvius eruption, but thanks to entertaining guilty pleasure filmmaking and fun spectacle it emerges as the most underrated film of the year. It’s undeniably a bit naff, with a truly embarrassing performance by Kiefer Sutherland but some dramatic depth, great visuals and plenty of entertainment make this a thoroughly watchable slice of silliness. At least it’s better than Crash, Zero Dark Thirty, Avatar, Ghostbusters or many other terrible films people rave about in a tiresome fashion.

10. Man On Fire: 6/10 a great example of a film audiences love but critics dislike, this Denzel Washington revenge thriller is a film of 2 halves. The first shows Washington’s depressed former assassin becoming friends with the young girl who he’s protecting as her new bodyguard. Then she’s kidnapped and Denzel goes on a brutal revenge rampage. The films’ very well acted and its intensity should be admired, but thanks to Tony Scott’s frantic directional style it looks like it was filmed inside a rave and it just goes over the top in its second half.

9. About Time: 7/10 Richard Curtis creates another sentimental, funny and brilliantly British romantic comedy, this time with a side of time travel. Apparently Curtis’ last film as a director, this is a flawed rom com. There are various plot holes, there’s not enough conflict or complication and the messages that you need time travel to find romance and find success are offensive and a bit troubling. Still, this beautifully filmed and surprisingly funny rom com boasts plenty of wit, sparkle and warmth, and boasts a fine performance from Bill Nighy.

8. Frank: 7/10 typical Sundance fare, this follows a man who joins an eccentric band led by an enigmatic man who wears an artificial head the whole time. Frank is endlessly quirky and different, so many will be put off. Although it takes its time to get going, Frank’s strong creative assets, fine performances (Including Michael Fassbender when he’s under a giant artificial head) and darkly humorous script make Frank likable and endearing weirdness until the film dips in the final act into a bum note.

7. Lone Survivor: 7/10 a true story based war drama, this is the rare good January released movie. It may be from the director of Battleship, but this has plenty of well directed, authentic and suspenseful warfare with some achingly tense moments. With unmemorable characters and a lack of depth this doesn’t achieve the haunting quality of Saving Private Ryan, but this is overall a good, solid cinematic excursion into the fray.

6. The Hobbit Battle Of The Five Armies: 7/10 thankfully the last one, this is a bittersweet and heartfelt farewell to Middle Earth. The first Hobbit was a slog, the second was a lot better and this is somewhere in the middle. It comes up short on the storytelling front and feels flat at times, but in terms of awe inspiring, scenery smashing spectacle there are few equals. It’s no Helms Deep, but it delivers on the spectacular, roaring action that we expect from a film of this title. There are touching moments in there as well, and it finishes the whole saga better than Revenge Of The Sith did with Star Wars.

5. Muppets Most Wanted: 7/10 this doesn’t reach the heights of its exceptional predecessor, but the Muppets still have a blast in this gleefully eccentric follow up. The plot involving a Kermit doppelganger and lots of robberies doesn’t make an awful lot of sense and this is trying to be too many different things at once, but it still delivers on the charm and fun you’d expect from the Muppets. It doesn’t move towards that great an ending, but you can still have fun spotting all the celebrity cameos.

4. Alien: 7/10 Jaws in space, this beloved science fiction horror boasts the best tagline of all time: “In space no one can hear you scream”. You’ll yawn as well, thanks to slow pacing and an overly minimalist script, but mostly you’ll scream. Amazing direction and brilliant production design make this an effective and satisfying shocker with one of the best female movie characters ever (Believe the hype) as well as a very frightening alien monster who makes the Daleks look like the Teletubbies.

3. Oldboy: 10/10 despite being full of brutal violence, horrifying twists, demented characters and darkness, this is a uniquely captivating and utterly enthralling South Korean revenge movie. By putting its human characters and their emotions first, this is a devastating tale of revenge with the force of a hammer blow to the face. Astonishing performances and an amazing plot elevate this to a great film, while director Park Chan-Wook creates a visually stunning canvas for this razor sharp, utterly brilliant nightmare to unfold on. A masterpiece.

2. It’s A Wonderful Life: 10/10 the holiday classic which makes other holiday classics look like Little Fockers, this achingly moving story about an angel saving a suicidal man and making him realize he had a wonderful life is a fantastic, wonderfully moving piece of movie magic which should be watched at Christmas. While actually pretty tough, this moves towards a magical finish and boasts marvellous direction, a dazzling script and a brilliant performance from James Stewart. So what could be better than this?

And the winner of December 2014 is….

1. Birdman: 10/10 a fading movie star tries to launch his career again by doing a Broadway show, and tries to save his family, his career and himself. That description doesn’t do it justice, so it’s better to say that this is a fantastically acted, brilliantly directed and superbly written masterpiece that soars high above the other 2014 releases and outshines not only most of the films released this decade, but all the lights of times square combined. A satire and critique on showbiz, celebrity culture, blockbusters and the movie business in general, yet also a film about family, ego and superheroes, it really doesn’t get much better than this. A hilarious dark comedy, a dazzling drama and a thrilling superhero tale all rolled into one, this utter masterpiece is the number one movie of the year. Sorry Boyhood.

Thanks for Reading!

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