Best Movies of 2014

0
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY poster- my pick for the second best movie of the year.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY poster- my pick for the second best movie of the year.

BEST MOVIES OF 2014

By

Michael Arruda

 

Here’s my list for the Top 10 Best Films that I saw in 2014.

 

10 – JERSEY BOYS – Clint Eastwood’s film version of the popular musical about the life of singer Frankie Valli.

9 – CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE WINTER SOLDIER – I love the Marvel superhero movies, and I enjoyed this Captain America sequel more than the original.

8 – EDGE OF TOMORROW – I really enjoyed this science fiction tale starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.  Clever, creative, and so much more than just a science fiction variation of the GROUNDHOG DAY gimmick.

7 – THE BABADOOK – creepy horror film most notable for me for its lack of false scares.  Nearly every fright in this one is genuine.

6 – THE QUIET ONES– this horror film by Hammer Films about a college professor trying to disprove a demonic possession case didn’t do well at the box office but it really is an intelligently made horror movie that is as eerie as it is thought-provoking.

5 – NIGHTCRAWLER –slick thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a sociopath named Louis Bloom who spends his evenings stealing scrap metal and other items in order to sell them and make some cash, before deciding to become a photographer for the nightly news.  This high-energy thriller came out of nowhere this year, as I had heard very little about it, and then suddenly there it was.

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a phenomenal performance, as he gives the main character Louis such tremendous energy and vitality that everything he does, no matter how outlandish, you believe it.  He also makes Louis likable, which is no easy task.  NIGHTCRAWLER also has a lot to say about today’s media, as the television news station continues to buy Louis’s videos, even when they know he’s manipulating events to get the footage.  It’s all about ratings!

NIGHTCRAWLER is a high octane thriller that features an outstanding performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.  It’s not to be missed.

 

4 – GONE GIRL – superior thriller in which nearly everything works, thanks to director David Fincher. It features a terrific performance by Ben Affleck, and an even better one by Rosamund Pike.  The story of a husband blamed for his wife’s disappearance starts out as a straightforward thriller but there’s oh-so-much-more going on here, with twists and turns you’ll no doubt won’t see coming.  The other thing I really liked about this movie was that three of the main characters were women, and that’s not something you see every day, unfortunately.  There was Rosamund Pike as the missing wife Amy Dunne, Carrie Coon as Ben Affleck’s sister, Margo, and Kim Dickens as the hard-nosed Detective Rhonda Boney, and all three of these performers are excellent.

3 – THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY – a deliciously smart and enjoyable feel-good movie starring Helen Mirren, THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY tells the story of an Indian family led by its patriarch, Papa (Om Puri), that relocates to France where they open an Indian restaurant 100 feet across the street from the most popular eatery in the area, a fine French restaurant owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren).  The comedy stems from Mallory’s and Papa’s efforts to continually try to one-up the other, and things grow more complicated when Papa’s son Hassan (Manish Dayal), who he promotes as the finest Indian chef in the land, turns to Madame Mallory for training so he can become an even better chef.  Everything works in this movie, as it has terrific acting, a top-notch directorial effort by director Lasse Hallstrom, and an excellent script by Steven Knight.  Just don’t see it on an empty stomach.  The dishes in this flick are absolutely delectable.

My favorite feel-good movie of the year, featuring some of the most mouth-watering dishes you’ll see in a movie.

 

2 – GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – the most fun at the movies I had this year, this is one of the best superhero movies ever made, and it’s hilarious to boot.

I loved this movie! The humor was spot-on, thanks to a hilarious script by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn, and the performances were all top-notch, from Chris Pratt in the lead role of Peter Quill, “Star Lord,” Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, and the voice talents of Bradley Cooper as Rocket and Vin Diesel as Groot.  There hasn’t been a superhero group like this since The Avengers, and these guys are more fun!  If there were an Island for Misfit Superheroes, these guys would be on it.

There was pretty much nothing I didn’t like about this film, and in terms of all-time great superhero movies, it’s up there with THE AVENGERS (2012), IRON MAN (2008), and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), but what I think makes this one so special is just how light and funny it is without sacrificing the integrity of the superhero story.  It’s not mindlessly stupid.  On the contrary, it’s intelligently funny.

 

It also has an amazing soundtrack.

 

1 -INTERSTELLAR – My pick for the Number 1 film of 2014 is INTERSTELLAR, Christopher Nolan‘s ambitious big budget science fiction thriller which one day may rank as one of the all-time great science fiction films.  It stars Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut who leaves his family and travels to the far reaches of space in a desperation mission to find a habitable planet on which to relocate the human race because Earth is dying due to a lack of food.

For me, INTERSTELLAR was a near perfect film.  It had everything:  acting, direction, script, pacing, twists and turns, but by far the best part for me was that it tackled some truly big ideas:  it dealt with worm holes, the theory of relativity, time travel, black holes, and what happens when someone enters a black hole.  It remained intelligent enough throughout to keep its science fiction believable.  It also scored high with its human element, as the tale of McConaughey’s character Hooper’s plight to return home to his family no matter what was a winner and grabbed me from the get-go.  It also had an excellent cast led by McConaughey that also featured Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine, and John Lithgow.

Of all the films I saw in 2014, INTERSTELLAR was the most satisfying.

 

So, there you have it, my picks for the best films that I saw in 2014.

Next time I’ll share my list for the worst films that I saw in 2014.

Until then, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

Advertisements

Jake Gyllenhaal Phenomenal In NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

0

nightcrawler posterHere’s my latest CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review, which went up this weekend at cinemaknifefight.com, on the Jake Gyllenhaal thriller, NIGHTCRAWLER:

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

Movie Review by Michael Arruda

 

(THE SCENE: A grisly car accident. A bloodied body lies next to a mangled car. Police cars with flashing lights surround the area.  Rescue workers hustle about, while reporters with cameras close in on the carnage.  A police officer attempts to push the reporters back.

POLICE OFFICER: Get back!  You’re too close!  Get back twenty feet!  Now!

(The reporters ignore him and rush towards the bloodied body, taking video footage. The blood-soaked body is L.L. SOARES, who suddenly opens his eyes and lunges towards the cameras with a demented vicious expression on his face.  The reporters turn and flee, running right past MICHAEL ARRUDA, who approaches L.L.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Thanks, buddy.  With those guys gone, now we can do our review.

L.L. SOARES: Now you can do the review.  I’m outta here.

MA: You’re leaving?

LS: Yep, I’m off to see another movie.  I wanted to review NIGHTCRAWLER, but I had to skip it because we just have so many movies to review for Cinema Knife Fight these days.

MA: It’s nice to be popular.  Well, good luck.  You might want to wash up first before you go to the movies.  You’re a bit bloody.

LS: So?  This way I can scare folks who talk during the movie.  See ya!  (Exits).

MA: As L.L. said, tonight we’re—I’m reviewing NIGHTCRAWLER, a new thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

NIGHTCRAWLER kinda snuck up on us here at Cinema Knife Fight.  It wasn’t one of the movies we had originally planned to review, but it got a lot of hype, and I saw plenty of trailers leading up to it, and it looked really interesting.  By the time it came out, I was into seeing it, and I’m glad I did.

In NIGHTCRAWLER, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sociopath named Louis Bloom who spends his evenings stealing scrap metal and other items in order to sell them and make some cash.  It’s clear from the outset that Louis is no ordinary thief, as he’s well-read, well-spoken, and also in desperate need of a job, which is something he can’t land.

One night, he witnesses a couple of freelancers taking video of a grisly accident scene, and he strikes up a conversation with a cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) and he learns that Loder gets paid by TV news stations for his footage.

Louis buys a cheap video camera and a police radio and scanner, and he starts filming accident scenes. He learns that he needs to get there faster than everybody else, and also closer, which means inciting the wrath of the police officers at the scene who want him to remain back twenty feet.

POLICE OFFICER: I couldn’t have said it better myself.  Twenty feet, buddy!  Let’s go!

MA: Are you speaking to me?

POLICE OFFICER: You see anyone else here?

MA: Can’t you see I’m reviewing a movie?

POLICE OFFICER:  You’re going to be reviewing a movie from the back of my squad car in a minute if you don’t move back twenty feet!  Now let’s go!

MA: Technically, there is no crime scene here.  My buddy L.L. Soares and I staged this for our Cinema Knife Fight review, so I don’t think I need to move back twenty feet.

POLICE OFFICER: Staging a crime scene?  You realize that’s illegal.

MA: So it is. Hey, isn’t that your sergeant over there waving at you?

POLICE OFFICER: What sergeant?  (Turns around.)

(MA runs, jumps into a car, and speeds away.)

MA: Slight change of plans.  Okay, so let me get back to the plot summary.

Louis obtains grisly close-up footage of a bleeding victim, and when he brings it to a local news station, it catches the eye of news department head Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who buys the footage from him. Louis hires a young assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) to help him with the camerawork and with the GPS so they can get to the crime scenes as quickly as possible, and suddenly Louis is bringing Nina incredible footage faster than anyone else.  The news station is lagging way behind in the ratings, and Nina sees Louis’ cutting edge work as her chance to save the station.

When Louis crosses the line, using unconventional and often illegal methods to obtain his videos, Nina looks the other way and does nothing to discourage him from capturing his intense footage.

(A police car with flashing lights pursues MA’s car.)

I really liked NIGHTCRAWLER, for two reasons in particular.  One, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a phenomenal performance, and two, this one has an edge and an unpredictability about it that goes a long way and lifts it above its shortcomings, including a story that doesn’t always hold water.

Let’s start with Gyllenhaal. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve seen Gyllenhaal looking terribly gaunt and much thinner than normal.  That’s because he lost close to twenty pounds for the role, and it shows.  He looks like a friggin vampire!  It’s an intense look for him, and physically he really captures the essence of the character.

Gyllenhaal gives Louis such tremendous energy and vitality that everything he does, no matter how outlandish, you believe it. He also has a way of speaking to people that is detached yet spot-on.  In other words, he’s clear and concise with what he says, but says everything with no regard for other people, and so he comes off as a cold fish, yet there’s something charming about his drive and focus, and you can easily see why in spite of his shortcomings and manipulations a woman like Nina might find him attractive.

He’s a fearless and relentless negotiator, and he gets everything he wants. I should have hated the guy, but there was something very likable about him.  His philosophy is to work harder than everybody else, and that’s how you become a success.  How can you not like that?

(MA runs a red light, speeding through a busy intersection, leaving a huge pile-up of crashed cars behind him.)

One of the best and most telling lines in the movie comes when Louis’ partner Rick complains about the way Louis speaks to people, telling him that he has no idea how to deal with people. Louis, always in the know about himself, responds by telling Rick that it’s not that he doesn’t know how to deal with people, but that he doesn’t like people.  For Louis, other people don’t matter.  They are just a means for him getting what he wants.

I’ve been a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal for a while, going back to one of his earliest roles in OCTOBER SKY (1999).  I enjoyed him here much more than in the previous film I saw him in, PRISONERS (2013), the kidnapping thriller with Hugh Jackman.  Here in NIGHTCRAWLER, Louis Bloom might be my favorite character that Gyllenhaal has created.

The rest of the cast is okay, but to be honest the only role of substance in NIGHTCRAWLER is Gyllenhaal’s.  Rene Russo does what she can with the role of Nina.  I wasn’t one hundred per cent sold on her character.  She plays this powerful newscast chief, and yet she allows Louis to run circles around her and pretty much set the tone for their relationship, both professional and personal, and he effortlessly dictates the terms of their dealings together.  I expected more from Nina, and I didn’t completely buy that Louis would have her wrapped around his finger so easily.  I get that Louis is this compelling captivating character, and I get that Nina is under pressure to improve her ratings, but still, I thought she’d be better at putting up a fight.

The two characters also become involved romantically, or at least sexually. There’s not much of a romance.  Louis pursues Nina because he can, and again, I expected much more of a protest from Nina.  I was disappointed that the film didn’t follow up more on this part of the story.  The sexual angle is downplayed, and Gyllenhaal and Russo share about as much chemistry on screen as some of the shooting victims in Louis’ videos.  A heightened sexual element would have added more to the story.

(Suddenly a half dozen police cars are chasing MA’s car.)

POLICE Voice: Pull your vehicle over!

MA: I’m trying to review a movie here! Jeesh!

The rest of the cast is serviceable. Riz Ahmed is fine as Louis’ young partner Rick, but I was most disappointed with the Bill Paxton role. I like Paxton a lot, and his role as a fellow cameraman is a small one that I really thought would be developed into a major supporting character, but this doesn’t happen.

I really enjoyed the script by writer/director Dan Gilroy. Gilroy previously wrote THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012), the most recent Bourne movie, and the one starring Jeremy Renner.  That film and its story were much better than I expected, and I think Gilroy’s screenplay here for NIGHTCRAWLER is even better.

The best part of NIGHTCRAWLER is the character of Louis, thanks to both the acting talents of Jake Gyllenhaal and the fine writing by Dan Gilroy.  Louis should be a deplorable character, but he’s not.  The story is crafted so when Louis is breaking the law to get his video footage, you almost want him to get away with it.  There’s something very Walter White-like in Louis’ drive and determination.  Part of it is the realization that life is incredibly difficult, and success often does come for those who work harder than everybody else, and when you see Louis doing this, even though he’s a sociopath with no regard for other people, there’s something admirable about his resolve.

Did I think success came too easily for Louis? Perhaps.  Nothing he does seems to go wrong.  It wouldn’t have hurt to have Louis fail once in a while.

The message about the media in this movie is also spot-on. There was a time when I would have viewed this story as too over-the-top and not very believable.  I mean, what professional news organization would allow a guy like Louis to do the things he was doing to get video footage? But judging by what I see and read about TV news, I don’t think it’s farfetched now.  If you watch TV news, you see with regularity the kinds of graphic and sensationalistic footage that Louis was shooting in this movie.  Television news appears to be already at the stage depicted by Louis’ work in this film.

Dan Gilroy does just as good a job behind the camera, which is impressive since it’s his first time directing a movie. This one is not by the numbers.  There are some neat scenes throughout as well as some that generate a decent amount of suspense.  My favorite sequence in the film happens when Louis alerts the police that two suspects wanted in a violent home invasion case are sitting in a restaurant. Louis has set this all up so he can get the footage, and as he and Rick take their positions to film what happens, and the police quickly move in towards the crowded restaurant, the suspense mounts to almost Hitchcockian proportions, as everyone in the audience knows the suspects are packing guns.

This is followed by a high speed chase that it is one of the more exciting car chases I’ve seen in the movies this year.

(MA drives down the wrong way of a one way street, pulls into a parking lot, drives up the side of a building, crashes through a window, drives through a hallway, then bursts out another window, sails through the air and lands on a road as MA continues driving.)

MA: And it’s far more realistic than the one I’m involved in right now.

It’s up there with the chases in NEED FOR SPEED (2014) and DRIVE (2011), which is appropriate, as I mentioned Walter White from BREAKING BAD earlier in this review, and White himself Bryan Cranston starred in DRIVE and his buddy Jesse, Aaron Paul starred in NEED FOR SPEED.

NIGHTCRAWLER is a compelling film driven along by a powerhouse performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, one that is Oscar-worthy, and it features tight direction and a creative script by Dan Gilroy.  It’s one of my favorite movies of the year.

I give it three and a half knives.

(MA pulls into a parking lot, parks his car, gets out and stretches his legs. Suddenly he’s surrounded by police cars all screeching to a halt.  Police officers jump out of the car, drawing their weapons.  They run at and then past MA where they quickly apprehend two armed suspects.)

MA (to camera): You didn’t think they were after me, did you?

(MA strolls past the arrest and enters the movie theater.)

—END—