Throughout the final
days hours of 2014, we will be highlighting each of our contributor’s “Best of 2014” on an individual basis. This isn’t limited to movies & television either. No, no, this bleeds over into memorabilia, music and so much more. Without further ado…
Twitch, the film blog, deserves the credit for getting me really psyched about this movie. I mean, I absolutely loved The Raid but the idea of a sequel was not welcome; the ending was suitably climactic and had a pleasing dramatic punch I didn’t want diluted by what seemed like a cash-in, an assumption not alleviated by The Raid director/writer Gareth Evans’ locked-in distribution contract with Sony long before filming had even begun. But as Twitch devotedly pursued every scrap of information Evans’ fed to them during filming (there was quite a bit, a refreshing change from the usual hush of sequel productions), it became clear that Evans’ had far more in mind than a simple sequel. What we ended up with was a hybrid of the fist-to-face martial arts exercise that The Raid represented and the multi-layered crime drama of gangster flicks. That’s not an unusual formula by any means but Evans’ and crew crafted something uniquely Indonesian, a film packed to the gills with colorful, multi-faceted characters all bouncing off each other in a precisely controlled but unpredictable bloodbath that manages to maintain just enough coherence to keep the audience invested in the final outcome. One of the things I loved about this movie is the introduction of so many new yet distinctive faces recalled, in my mind, the cast of the very video games (such as Street Fighter) Roger Ebert callously slighted by comparing The Raid to in his review. Rarely does a movie bring to mind a video game in a positive way yet The Raid 2 did so fantastically well. I should add that Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) definitely wins Most Memorable Character In An Action Film for 2014, which is a huge step forward from the all-male cast of The Raid (well, mostly).
It’s hard not to think of 2014 as the year action movies made a comeback but that statement comes with the caveat that I have high standards; I can’t think of a single action movie from the past five years worth mentioning here besides The Raid and Skyfall. Not for lack of trying; I’ve seen all four of the aforementioned movies in theatres. I’m not even a huge action junkie, I think the genre as a whole is horribly lazy and worthless, which means when someone DOES make a good one, it deserves my support. John Wick was not a movie that I expected to fall into this category; all the festival hype did little to discourage my perception that it would be a run-of-the-mill revenge thriller riding the coattails of the insipid Taken, as none of the reviews or talk actually highlighted what, besides high-quality action thrills, it did to distinguish itself. Turns out, it’s also flawlessly written and marvelously acted with some surprisingly heartfelt themes you don’t often run into in the action movie genre.
Cold In July
Jim Mickle is horror’s best kept secret. Unlike his fellow indie horror peers Adam Wingard (You’re Next) and Ti West (House Of The Devil), Mickle’s acclaim hasn’t really manifested outside the blogosphere, despite his Stake Land being a resounding reclamation of vampires as truly terrifying creatures. This has a lot to do with the fact that, unlike Wingard or Jason Eisener (Hobo With A Shotgun) and their successes, Mickle’s work doesn’t openly homage his influences. Instead, his movies have one foot in the arthouse world, particularly his previous film, We Are What We Are, a somber slow burn whose horror is buried deep beneath the surface and only emerges at the film’s unforgettable climax. Cold In July, though, is Mickle’s first grand homage to a certain cinematic aesthetic; that of the Coen Brothers and, specifically, their neo-noir classic Blood Simple. The script has more in common with a Sam Peckinpah joint but, thanks to a convoluted plot (one I personally enjoyed watching unravel violently), it’s the visual half that most audiences will be impressed by, not to mention the performances by Dexter‘s Michael C Hall and Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff, Days of Heaven). Both haunting and visceral, Cold In July dabbles in nightmarish psychedelia at times but grounds itself in the rich textures of its Texas locale. If you enjoyed True Detective, this movie is basically a must see, as it unintentionally parallels much of what made that series remarkable.
ABCs Of Death 2
I’ve never watched all of ABCs Of Death. It’s not that I don’t love so many of the directors that were involved in it, or that I have a problem with short film anthologies, but as most critics pointed out, 26 pieces of widely varying quality and styles should be exhausting for anyone and not in an enjoyable way. From the moment they announced ABCs Of Death 2, I hoped against hope that it would be presented in a more digestible format, imagining a sort of index of the shorts that I could choose from (an idea that would be difficult to implement but totally worth it). Alas, this was not the case, but it turned out I didn’t need it anyway; the overall quality of the shorts rose significantly and made the lengthy journey far more enjoyable, if not unforgettable. Now, this might be a result of recency bias, but the last two shorts, Y and Z respectively, are absolutely must-see if you’re a fan of horror at all, but there are about a dozen more shorts that make the experience totally worth while. All that being said, I did watch this during the much-buzzed #DeathParty Twitter event, where most of the directors involved live-tweeted about the film during its collective VOD premiere, and that probably helped shift my favor. In fact, I hope this becomes a regular event, because I discovered some great artists on Twitter this way and got to interact with filmmakers I wouldn’t otherwise get to chat with.
Inside No 9 Series 1 (BBCTwo)
Inside No 9 is the latest brainchild of the fiendish duo of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, best known for creating League Of Gentlemen with current Sherlock writer and star Mark Gatiss. Much like their prior output, Inside No 9 is a very, very twisted comedy series but, unlike either of their other shows, Inside No 9 presents each episode as separate vignettes, linked only by the setting of the locale bearing the titular digit in its name. I still haven’t been able to sit down and embrace the drawn out, slow-burn freakish Psychoville, Shearsmith and Pemberton’s previous series, because unlike Inside No 9, it dedicates itself to slow arcs, relying on buried payoffs for some of the comedy. Consequently, that series isn’t as accessible as Inside No 9, which kicks off with one of the best episodes of the current run and serves as a wonderful preview of the rest; expect loads and loads of awkward, unsettling character interaction, subtle social commentary and unrestrained blasts of weirdness. Often playing with horror or thriller tropes, each episode introduces new characters and typically kills them off or worse by the last minute. The show doesn’t have a big budget so gore-hounds need not apply but anyone who loves their comedy blood-soaked and perverse should fall in love. It might come to Netflix sometime 2015 but until then, you can either import the box set for a hefty $26 at Amazon or, as I’d suggest, stream it on demand via Amazon Instant Video at $2 an episode. Start with the first and second episodes or just browse the synopsis to see what piques your interest. If you’re a horror movie fan, though, you’ve at least got to see “The Harrowing,” the final episode of the series and a violently weird tribute to The Old Dark House and its brethren.
I had the chance to see this movie for free the week before it came out but, despite the urging of my Editor-in-Chief who attended, I foolishly walked away from the theater and what looked like a line of attendees much wiser than me. I had no idea I’d regret it so much, as the movie ended up being so much more than the low-boil crime thriller I expected it to be, receiving critical praise from both our Editor-in-Chief and most every film blog in existence. I did finally see it, on Christmas Day, followed by Big Hero 6 and The Babadook (a movie that is certainly one of my favorites of the year also but is covered elsewhere). There are two main characters in Nightcrawler, that of Jake Gyllenhall’s intense, unnerving sociopath Louis Bloom and that of Los Angeles. Gyllenhall, as is usual, transforms himself from the inside out into something else entirely, his eyes seeming impossibly wide and his face more severe than it should be, amplifying his performance into something difficult to behold yet impossible to ignore. First-time director Dan Gilroy aptly chooses LA for the setting and at first indulges in the kind of cinematic navel-gazing seen in films like Drive or HEAT but gradually peels back the glamour to expose the horror within, incriminating the entire city. Nightcrawler is both tough to watch but impossible to look away from, often deviously reeling the audience back in with adrenaline-pumping car chases and searing drama, only to repeatedly hammer home the film’s theme of moral decay in cruel fashion. The ending is, if you’ll pardon my language, straight fucked up and you will be thinking hard about what it has to say about our modern culture of sensationalism.