Feature-length films of 2014, quarter one


In theaters:

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013): Unquestionably a well made movie. I don't get the point of the bookending and I don't know how the Coens expected me to react to the ending, but I had a similar reaction to A Serious Man. Music was pretty great though. That seems like something we can all agree about. One thing though: I don't understand why everyone's going on and on about what a terrible person Llewyn is. He doesn't seem that awful to me. Does that make me a misanthropist?

The LEGO Movie (2014): Notwithstanding the great cast and hilarious trailers, the trailers also make it clear that this story is a clichefest---prophecies, regular-guy hero, dangerous romantic interest, evil businessman. You know where it's going. But it doesn't matter because the ride is so much fun. And with a story like this, it's all about the journey, less about the destination. Only, with this film, the destination isn't quite what you expect. At first it just seems a tad self-consciously postmodern, but then it uses that to break out of the movie you think it is into the movie it really is---without giving up on the promises originally made. Pretty brilliant, really. I don't know that I need to see it again, but it's the best 100-minute commercial I've ever seen. It's given our family a ton of catchphrases, and deserves positive comparisons to Idiocracy, The Matrix, and Toy Story.

The Wind Rises (2013): The best war movie I've ever seen. (Which says a lot about what I want from a war movie.) I found every aspect of this movie wonderful. We saw the dubbed version and it might be the best dub I've ever seen too. The visuals are elegant and alive and the characters are carefully drawn from small moments. The earthquake was the best I've seen on film. And so many choices to ponder, such as the use of human voice for sound effects such as fire and airplanes. Miyazaki has melded realism and magic here utterly perfectly. I love this movie.

At home:

The Conversation (1974): What a great movie for the modern surveillance age! Sure, Seventies tech seems both hopelessly outdated and terrifyingly invasive (they shot at a REAL convention). Add to that the unsettling lack of finality. Or, in other words, the smalless. This is a film that recognizes it is a short story, not a novel, and uses its smallness to full effect. One last note: The Seventies seem to have had an usually high number of movies stars with unexpected looks. Of course, we've always had them from Humphrey Bogart to Michael Cera, but the Seventies!

Moon (2009): So great. And Sam Rockwell? No wonder people were scandalized he didn't get an Oscar nom. He IS this movie in ways actors seldom get to me. The twists come midway which is a nice switch. Good stuff.

Cedar Rapids (2011): Although a comedy, this film is structured so much like a tragedy that I had a hard time seeing how it would pull out. (Ended up that was an overly simple solution.) But Ed Helms did a good job playing the naif who spirals and Anne Heche did a good job not being recognizable in a new hair color.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011): If I had paid closer attention to the punctuation in the title, I might have been interested in this movie sooner. Since, you know, the exciting cast and good reviews failed to win me over. I suppose this is an American version of, say, Love Actually, but that coincidence-ridden overpopulated mess failed to win me over. This cast is a bit smaller which, if anything, requires more coincidences, but they all work. Sure, the Big Moment at the end is a bit derdeedum silly, but I'm willing to forgive it because pretty much ever other moment in the movie landed. This is a movie which, ten years ago, we would have bought and watched every few months.

Knuckleball! (2012): I was expecting a nice little documentary, but instead I got a pretty terrific movie that both me and my boys were glued too. (Note if you have younguns: out of nowhere comes a single f-bomb in the middle of the movie.) I think knowing that in the following season Dickey won the Cy Young makes it even sweeter. What a great flick. What a great use of all the tools a filmmaker has to make a documentary so much fun to watch.

Warm Bodies (2013): Lotta holes in the plot, worldbuilding and, especially, the geography, but this was fun and sweet and good for a date.

Pitch Perfect (2012): First, Rebel Wilson is a treasure. Beyond that, Pitch Perfect exceeded my usual expectations for the genre but failed to transcend the genre, as I had hoped it might. It had a lot of the same errors/flaws/tropes one would expect (examples: the pointless riff-off, groups forgotten by the plot, age-politics crap) but the film was good enough those things didn't matter too much. Like classic Hollywood---no one cares if Groucho or Bing are a tad unrealistic. This movie earns that same sort of forbearance of detail. Just roll with it.

Source Code (2011): First, terrific, terrific movie. Second? Even better than Moon. (I know!) Third, several earned endings, each better than the last. Impressive. Fourth, even though the ultimate happy ending was clear from a distance and arguably too pat, it was absolutely earned and I would have been upset had I been denied it. Fine work all around.

Chronicle (2012): Two lessons I got from this. First: do not give teenaged boys superpowers. Second: we seriously need to fix our healthcare system. (Good movie.)

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010): I wasn't watching this superclosely, but I saw bits of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and some stuff with aerial battles that Ender's Game might have tried. Surprisingly dark. Stereotyped characters not as stereotyped as at first they seemed. But not enough to overcome the stereotype. But again: I wasn't watching superclosely. It might be much better or worse than I'm implying. The Big O has strong opinions though. (He loves the books.)

Mahlzeiten (1967): I hear of this film here, but it's not an easy thing to find. I'm not joking when I say I had to find an expert in German film and send him to Berlin to find a copy after months of occasional looking. And the film relies mightily on language (at times, the narration and dialogue are simultaneous) so it's an impossible film to judge if you don't have any German skills (nope, no subtitles). I'm pretty sure I heard a long list of colors once and I figured out the leads' names (Elisabeth and Rolf)---and I could tell the Mormon missionaries had American accents---but basically I could only view the film visually. And there was a lot to see. But difficult to contextualize. [Update: now available in English under a racier title.]

En Kongelig Affære (2012) A Royal Affair is a beautifully shot and well acted look at a bit of history I knew nothing about. It's the time of the American Revolution and Denmark is waffling between the old ways and the Enlightenment. Enter an English princess, marry her to your mad king, insert a dashing thinker---and you have the ingredients for a terrific period piece.

Le Ballon Rouge (1956) (It's over half an hour. It counts as a feature.) I probably haven't seen the movie in thirty years. (And, in the meantime, I've probably seen "Billy's Balloon" once for each of those years.) But based on the reaction of this class of seventeen-year-olds, it still holds it power.

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984): This charming little film is better than I remembered. And while Paul Williams remains the greatest songwriter in Muppets history, "Saying Goodbye" is no slouch. Also, nice synergy, Henson. That baby Muppets scene in a movie released the same year Muppet Babies hit television? Although, incidentally, why hasn't Skeeter ever made it to live action? They could use another strong female character. Anyway, nice movie. Easy to rewatch.


SlamNation (1998): For my freshman, this movie is as old as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest would have been to me. Which is to say, not as fresh as I'd hoped. Good personalities. Difficult watch with the crowd I was with.

The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey (2003): I missed more than an hour out of the middle (meaning I missed the only twenty seconds I liked the first time I saw this), but I feel qualified to say this movie is still terrible. Those poor brighteyed fools. . . . With the right company though, you can laugh at this movie. I did not think it was possible, but it is. Thank you, Zelophehad's Daughters.


  1. I saw the Book of Mormon movie on the big screen and wished so bad they had someone with common sense telling them don't do that - don't do this.
    You could see the folds straight out of the linen closet for the turbans on people, you could see four-wheeling tracks and fences in the distance when they filmed the wilderness and an obvious difference in waves from the Slat Lake to Hawaii in changing locations.
    So many things could have been remedied with common sense, a costumer with half a brain and the right editing and backgrounds - (I truly have no problem with Utah standing in for the Arabian wilderness - just watch your backgrounds!)

    As you can tell, I am still bitter that the film was even made - I wanted it to be good, I didn't want it to be a joke.

    Oh when the DVD version came out they did edit it a little. They may have photo shopped out the worst of the background offenders (or it just wasn't as easy to see on the small screen) and when Nephi cuts Laban's turkey platter armor head off - Nephi's face was splashed with blood - they cut that out for the DVD release.

  2. .

    I had no idea.

    I required serious compulsion to watch it again. How in the world were you talked into it after spending good money the first time!

    I will say, having watched the special features, they had this naive sureness that it would be good, that their naive inability to make it good was unrecognized.

  3. My mother-in-law bought the dvd and I wanted to show everyone the cheesy blood splash. I keep hearing rumors down here in LA of people working "good" Book of Mormon treatments but as much as I wish that could happen I have serious doubts. Not - that someone shouldn't try, I just want them to have common sense.

  4. .

    Any good treatment will have to recognize that none of the BofM authors were trying to write a cinematic story. Adaptation with emphasis on the adapt.