Odds and Ends 2014

In the creation of all of these end-of-year lists, there are always plenty of movies and movie contributors I’d like to talk about that don’t quite fit into the standard categories and/or warrant a post on their own. This piece is a bit of a catchall to briefly make mention of some movies that deserve attention for one reason or another that didn’t make it into the bigger posts through this week (finishing up tomorrow with my Top 10 Films list). The goal was to exclude mention of any of the films that cracked the top 10 (or worst 10) of the year for me but as you’ll see I cheated a tad in one category. I threw in my Oscar picks just for the heck of it. Enjoy. 

To be truly surprising, a film would either have to come from off my radar and jump in unannounced or look terrible in all the marketing and somehow turn out well. World War Z was the latter last year, as I fully expected it to be a trainwreck and instead, I really enjoyed it. All of the big surprises this year, however, fall into that first categories as movies I had no knowledge of until just before their respective releases.

1.) Snowpiercer (Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt) – I’m pretty sure Snowpiercer is topping just about everyone’s “Surprise!” list this year. It turned out to be a pretty decent hit both in theaters and on demand and I’ve seen it on numerous top 10 lists this winter. Quality, smart, original sci-fi at its finest. It is available on Netflix now.
2.) The One I Love (Mark Duplass, Elizabeth Moss) – To describe The One I Love would be to give it away entirely so you’ll have to take my word for it. Very few films have managed to blend quirky sensibilities with thrilling/sci-fi concepts like this one did. And it’s kind of a romantic comedy to boot. It is also on Netflix. 
3.) The Rover (Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy) – I resisted The Rover because I didn’t believe Robert Pattinson could act at all. I was wrong; he’s really good here. But it’s totally Guy Pearce’s show as this is exactly the sort of movie he’s made for: small action films that highlight his toughness. It all culminates in a strange, almost hidden twist that casts the entire movie in a different light. 

By definition, to be a true disappointment, I have to have had some reason to actually expect something from these movies. Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t here because I knew that one would be terrible and thus went in with the proper expectations. These films, though, should have been better, plain and simple.

1.) The Monuments Men (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray) – With this cast and this story, Monuments Men should’ve been a no-brainer. Instead, it left most of us wondering whether or not George Clooney is actually good at directing. There’s a lot to work with here and it all comes out as below average at best. 
2.) This is Where I Leave You (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver) – I think I’m higher on TIWILY than most but that doesn’t mean I didn’t leave the theater with extreme frustrations. I loved this book so much and the cast had me hoping for a great adaptation. But the scripting and directing are a mess and the whole thing feels somehow incomplete.
3.) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx) – It shouldn’t be that difficult to make a “good enough” superhero movie and yet Sony and director Marc Webb continue to flop with their Spider-Man films. This is one of the more ill-advised franchises in recent memory and every installment just reinforces that idea. 

Here’s where I cheated. I really wanted to highlight some soundtracks because I feel like the creation of quality soundtracks is a lost art. But to make this list without including a couple of films that (SPOILER ALERT) will find spots on my Top 10 list would be irresponsible. So there it is. 

1.) Chef – Jon Favreau certainly illustrated his love for great food with Chef but he also showed off his talent for selecting perfect songs for each scene in his movie. They are always authentic selections, closely tied to the plot and setting, heightening the strength of the entire film.
2.) Guardians of the Galaxy – Whereas the songs in Chef always feel thoroughly thought out and expertly linked to the plot, the Guardians soundtrack felt like James Gunn said, “Here are 15 songs I love, just put them in there somewhere.” And it worked just as well! So good, so upbeat, so much FUN.  
3.) Begin Again – Much like writer/director John Carney’s previous film Once, I’m not nearly as high on the movie as I am the soundtrack. Carney has a lot to learn when it comes to filmmaking but in terms of selecting and writing music for a movie, he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. 

Each year brings a new list of actors and actresses who storm on to the scene and make names for themselves out of nowhere. I, however, am usually more interested in the directors who pull a similar move and greatly look forward to what the future holds for these three. 

1.) Steven Knight, Locke – At some point, I imagine Locke will make it to Netflix and when it does, I hope everyone watches it. I’m not as high on it as some are but it’s a totally unique movie (Tom Hardy is the only actor who ever appears on screen) and while Hardy has gotten most of the attention, it is Knight’s vision that keeps it steady and on track. 
2.) Ted Melfi, St. Vincent – Melfi delivered one of the funnier films of 2014 and got a great performance out of his lead, Bill Murray. But it is the authenticity of St. Vincent that caught my attention. It’s difficult to deliver heart without drifting into sappy, happy-go-lucky territory and Melfi manages to pull that off with flair. 
3.) William Eubank, The Signal – More and more big budget sci-fi films have been finding their way into the hands of directors who have previously only helmed small, indie films. Gareth Edwards jumped from Monsters to Godzilla (and soon a Star Wars movie), Colin Trevorrow from Safety Not Guaranteed to Jurassic World, and Duncan Jones from Moon to World of Warcraft. I think Eubank is a name that will join this list in the near future. The Signal isn’t perfect but it shows the director’s great potential and some studio will wisely snatch him up. 

This is not a prediction of what will come in the morning (there’s a good chance the Oscar nominations will be out there before you read this) nor is it necessarily a collection of my favorite performances and films. This is my hypothetical ballot for the big categories if the Academy were to (deservedly) give me a vote. Each collection of nominees are listed in order from top to bottom so the entry at the top would be winner. 

Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
There are at least seven worthy candidates in this category and I don’t think I could really get upset if any of these guys came away with the trophy. But for the record, I’m pretty sure it’s Keaton’s to lose and I’m obviously good with that. 

Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
I have not had the opportunity to see Still Alice or Cake which are expected to land Oscar nominations for Julianne Moore and Jennifer Aniston, respectively. I can only go off what I’ve seen. There is literally a 0% chance that Blunt comes away with a nod but I can dream. Witherspoon gave, without question, the best female lead performance I saw this year but I doubt she will come away with the win.

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum, Foxcatcher
This is always the toughest category to narrow down. Some years there are 20 performances that actually deserve a nomination and only five break through. Personally, I would vote for Hawke but I couldn’t fault anyone for going with Simmons and he is almost certainly going to win. 

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Laura Dern, Wild
Kim Dickens, Gone Girl
This, for me, is by far the weakest category of the year. I had some issues with Arquette’s performance in Boyhood but those have faded over time and no one has come along to knock her off that top spot. I don’t feel great about including Dickens but she was solid and I really don’t have another nominee to go to (having not seen A Most Violent Year which will likely get Jessica Chastain a nomination). 

Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro Inarritu, Birdman
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jean Marc Valles, Wild
Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
I feel stronger about this category than any other. I love ALL of the films represented here and I think ALL of these directors did tremendous work. (There’s no chance, by the way, that Nolan gets nominated and Valles has only a slightly better shot. Still, they belong in my book.) But if Richard Linklater doesn’t win this award, we should all band together and burn Los Angeles to the ground. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Imitation Game
I’ll write more about some of these movies tomorrow in my Top 10 list, though it won’t look exactly like this ballot does (I’ll explain that tomorrow). I am 100% sure that neither Interstellar or Guardians of the Galaxy will find a place on the nominations list but for me they hit the mark of what I want in a Best Picture. Maybe that sounds crazy to some of you but I don’t care, this is my (fake) ballot and I’ll vote how I like! I’m pretty sure The Theory of Everything will get a nomination which is…fine, I guess. In the end, I think Boyhood wins and deserves to win but I couldn’t get too upset by any of the top five coming away with it.