By now most of my peers have already posted their favorite movies of 2014 lists, and if you ask me they jumped the gun. You don’t declare your top movies of the year till the year’s done, just like you don’t say it was the best sex of your life until you’ve pulled out, flushed the condom and cried for a little bit.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Even though there were a fair number of stinkers, this was actually a damn solid year for movies, and here are the ones I deem to be the best.

Honorable Mentions: Under the Skin, John Wick, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Raid 2

10: Birdman

A lot of people this year LOVED Birdman, and deservedly so. Awesome performances, great soundtrack, noteworthy formal achievements? Formula for a critical darling right there. For my part, I wasn’t quite as taken with Birdman as some of my peers, but that this isn’t a pretty rad film is something I just can’t bring myself to deny.

Edge of Tomorrow poster9: Edge of Tomorrow/Live, Die Repeat

I love surprises, and for myself and a lot of people, Edge of Tomorrow (partially re-titled Live, Die, Repeat on the home release) was the biggest surprise of the year. Tom Cruise in a mech suit fighting aliens while re-enacting Groundhog Day? What the hell right does that have to not be a steaming pile of failure? And yet, it turned out to be one of the more clever, interesting genre blockbusters this year. Wouldn’t have called that.

8: Blue Ruin

Bleak, bloody, brutal, these are just some of the words that start with B that you can use to describe the revenge flick Blue Ruin, besides brilliant. In a year with at least a few truly excellent revenge thrillers, Blue Ruin stood out with its oppressive atmosphere, beautiful and interesting cinematography and lovably out-of-his element hero. And his killer “I give up” beard.

7: Gone Girl

Once in a while, a movie comes along that takes you in its grip like a passionate lover and doesn’t let go until it drops you, sweaty and drained, on the moldy carpet. This year, Gone Girl is that movie, an almost impossibly twisting ride of a movie that keeps you guessing where the hell it’ll go next, and how straight-facedly it can play what is honestly a pretty damn bonkers plot.

6: The Lego MovieLego Movie poster

But you wanna talk surprises? How about a movie based around building blocks turning out to be one of the most clever, heartwarming, beautifully animated and flat-out funny movies of the year? I wouldn’t have called that one either. Even though this year had a lot of lame, cash-in movies made from unlikely sources (Oija? For real?) The Lego Movie is the rare proof that movies based on toylines don’t have to suck. Just like 95% of the time.

5: In Order of Disappearance

Black comedies will always hold a special place in my heart, and In Order of Disappearance is the blackest comedy I’ve seen in a long time. You haven’t seen morbidly funny until you’ve seen a group of solemn-faced mob guys slowly ride a truck’s loading elevator while carrying a coffin, or seen a stray hang glider meet the business end of a snow blower. You can’t write that kinda stuff. Well, you can I guess.

4: Jodorowsky’s Dune

Documentaries about movies are always a hit with me, and Jodorowsky’s Dune might just be one of the best ones ever. Not just because the story behind Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt at filming a batshit bonkers adaptation of Dune is seriously fascinating, but because it’s presented with charm, style and wit.

Only Lovers poster3: Only Lovers Left Alive

Vampire movies have come back from the brink of Twilight induced death, and Only Lovers Left Alive is proof. I don’t often describe movies as sexy that often, but Only Lovers Left Alive is about as dead sexy as movies get these days, smooth and intoxicating and hypnotic. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston both vanish into their roles, and under Jarmusch’s direction deliver a film as smooth and satisfying as a fine wine.

2: The Grand Budapest Hotel

It wasn’t at all surprising that Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was offbeat, charming, fun, beautifully and ornately constructed, filled to the brim with quirky performances and an all around enchanting experience. But what did take me by surprise, and what secured its spot at number two, was the uncharacteristically melancholy note that made Grand Budapest more than just a sweet, beautiful confectionery, but a richer and fuller experience than I anticipated. I think it’s this newfound hybridity, this mix of Anderson’s usual charm with a dash of seriousness that made it one of the most satisfying film experiences I’ve had all year.

Cap 2 posterGuardians poster1: TIE! Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy

After the blu-rays came out and I had a chance to watch them both again, I agonized over which of Marvel’s 2014 films I loved more. Sleepless nights were had, and not just because I sleep in till noon some times. Guardians appeals to my sensibilities so directly it often feels like the film was written for me. It embraces everything kooky and “out there” that other comic movies will avoid, but does so without skimping on heart and soul. Winter Soldier, on the other hand, takes the idea of doing a slightly more down to earth, serious superhero movie and nails it harder than I would have admitted possible, and every time I re-watch it I’m dumbstruck at how beautifully constructed, how clever, how downright kick-ass of a film it is. Guardians appeals to me on a personal level, presenting the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to see but no one’s been crazy enough to make. But at the same time, it has flaws and I can’t help but notice them every time I see it. Winter Soldier is an almost flawlessly made action/thriller/adventure movie, but one that plays less to my own sensibilities.

So which do I pick? The one that I love with my heart, or my head? Now I know how Archie feels. Well, like that fictional readheaded everyman, my only answer is to dither indecisively between the two, and pray that someday they legalize bigamy.

Wes Anderson is a film maker I took a while to warm up to. The first of his films I tried, Rushmore, left me more perplexed than anything else, and though I currently regard The Life Aquatic with the kind of affection that normally warrants a restraining order, upon first viewing my attentions would only have warranted a change of address and a sturdy lock. It took until The Fantastic Mr Fox for me to really catch on and fall into the same Anderson mania felt by most trendy young film nerds, and while I greatly enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom, Mr Fox has always seemed like the be-all, end all.

Until The Grand Budapest Hotel, that is. Oh, I thought I knew what words like “charming” and “delightful” and “enchanting” meant in an Anderson film, innocent little yearling lamb I was. I thought I had seen the apex of his ability to grab the cockles of my heart and shake them like one of those handwarmers full of metal filings that never seems to work, reducing me to a state of blissful euphoria only otherwise found in first time opium users. I didn’t know shit, son.

hr_The_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_1The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of Gustave H, concierge at the luxuriant hotel of the title, located in a fictional European country. After being named as the inheritor of a priceless painting by a wealthy dowager, Gustave is accused of her murder and only ally is his loyal lobby boy Zero, whose older self is recounting the tale to a young writer played by Jude Law in a framing story. But the framing story has a framing story itself, as we are being recounted the recounting of the story by the older version of the writer, played by Tom Wilkinson, and even THAT has a frame, since the whole shebang is being read by a girl in a cemetery in what is presumably present day. The film has the structure of a Russian nesting doll, or perhaps the final mecha from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann for all you anime nerds.

And in case Anderson hadn’t done enough to ingratiate himself to film nerds the world over by filming his last movie entirely on Super 16mm film, each time period in Grand Budapest is filmed in a different aspect ratio (the width of the frame in relation to its height) with most of the action being presented in the “Academy Ratio” of a more or less perfectly square image. Everything is boxes within boxes within boxes, and the fact that there’s a recurring motif of framing characters within even smaller boxes in the frame (windows, etc), pushes this even further, and off a cliff into a tank full of excited film nerds having loud orgasms.

Grand Budapest, with its themes of looking back, recollection and storytelling, and obsession with obsolete frame shapes, is Anderson’s most overpoweringly nostalgic film yet, and I want you to take a moment and think about the implications of that sentence. The past, or at least a rose-colored, sentimentalized version of the past, is recreated with incredible amounts of care and detail. I said this about Moonrise Kingdom, but it’s even more true that Grand Budapest is in many ways just as much a work of animation as Fantastic Mr Fox, stylizing the image and going to absurd lengths in terms of costuming, set design and overall mise-en-scene to present an image so polished and prepared that anything approaching a realist aesthetic can only be communicated with by notes smuggled inside a long range interplanetary rocket.

But what surprised me, and I think it will surprise a lot of people, is the sucker punch the film pulls literally in the last few minutes, suddenly bursting from the pool of nostalgia like Jason Voorhees at the end of the first Friday the 13th to grab the viewer and offer an anti-nostalgic blow that ends the film on a shockingly somber note. But I don’t think that’s to say the film is entirely anti-nostalgic, I mean, this is Wes Anderson after all. But the film, in the last few minutes, reveals itself to be something other than just a brightly colored confection of nostalgia and fun, one that does have something to say about the dangers of becoming mired in the past.

Tony RevoloriBut for the rest of its runtime, the film is, with a purity and concentration only otherwise found in industrial chemicals, fun. Ralph Fiennes, in the role of Gustave H, is a comedic powerhouse, an Incredible Hulk of witty jabs and wry wit. Newcomer Tony Revolori is the perfect foil, a wide-eyed straight man who plays off Fiennes’ quiet absurdity beautifully. The expansive supporting cast all shine in one regard or another, Willem Dafoe plays the soul of all scowling goons like he was born for it, and F. Murray Abraham nails the quiet melancholy of the older Zero.

There’s only one joke that falls even close to flat, an extended exchange between Gustave and Zero shortly after a daring prison escape that feels like an extended improv session allowed to go on too long.

It revels in almost anachronistic adventure, weaving plots around stolen artwork and needlessly complex wills, filling its running time with chase scenes on snowy alpine peaks and old-school prison escapes involving digging tools smuggled inside baked goods and improvised rope ladders. But over the whole thing looms the specter of World War 2, barely disguised Nazi officers stop trains and newspapers warn of tanks at the border, never letting us forget that it is showing us a world that will soon no longer exist.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an immensely entertaining film, one that reveals itself in its closing moments to have more teeth than you may expect. It’s a film about nostalgia, one not afraid to show its dangers while wallowing in its excesses. I cannot recommend it more.

Well, shit. Just a few days ago we were frolicking like cherubs in the Elysian fields of late autumn with wild, pumpkin-spice fueled abandon. But now the cold spectre of winter has sidled up and stuck its clammy, cold hand down our collective pants like an overzealous prom date. Winter, it seems, is here, and summer seems like a distant hope. All we have to nurture ourselves for the next few months in between hunting down our fellow man for nourishment and burning down the public library for warmth is the slew of movie trailers for next year that studios are already pumping onto the internet like a morphine drip. So in this, the first week of another cruel Montreal winter, let’s take a look and get bloody well goofy.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2013 was actually something of a disappointing year for me for superhero movies. Oh sure, there were ones I kinda liked, and only a couple I plan to ritualistically burn in effigy on the anniversary of their release. But the trailer for the next Captain America movie gives me some hope, promising lots of things blowing up in slow-motion and Robert Redford TOTALLY not turning out to be a badguy in the end.

The trailer indicates the movie will mostly focus on SHIELD (fuck if I’m gonna type all those periods) extending its power and unleashing a fleet of Helicarriers, presumably to hover over major cities terrifying people into good behavior like giant impractical nannies. Cap objects to this, because Cap is contractually obligated to remind us every few years that he’s actually pretty center-left for someone who wears the American flag.

Not that he really does anymore, his costume’s changed to a mostly blue affair reminiscent of something he was wearing for that time he was actually in charge of SHIELD in the comics. Wonder if that’s a coincidence…..

Excitement Level: 6 Crashing Helicarriers out of 10

 

grand-budapest-hotel-posterThe Grand Budapest Hotel

If there’s one thing guaranteed to give film nerds a raging film nerd stiffy (which is like a normal stiffy but talks your ear off for hours on end about the hidden meaning behind the can of baking soda in the background of that one scene in The Shining) it’s the release of a new Wes Anderson trailer, and ye GODS this is the most Wes Anderson-y thing ever.

It doesn’t even matter what The Grand Budapest Hotel is about, just look at the cast for God’s sake. Literally every name on the front page of the film’s IMDB entry is a recognizable name. Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, it goes on. And of course Bill Murray’s in it, because OF COURSE Bill Murray’s in it. Between Anderson and Jim Jarmusch the guy’ll never be–

WAIT A MINUTE……

Wes Anderson, you son of a bitch, did you shoot this thing in the Academy Ratio? Oh wait no, you shot this thing in multiple aspect ratios to indicate the time period it takes place in. It took me like four viewings to even notice that most of the trailer isn’t even widescreen. Good God, man, if you’re not careful you’re gonna have a whole lot of film nerds punching holes in their ceilings if you catch my drift.

Excitement Level: No I’m not going to explain Aspect Ratios, I haven’t got all day!

 

the-boxtrolls-posterThe Boxtrolls

And speaking of things that give nerds raging hardons, how about a trailer for The Boxtrolls, the latest installment in Laika studios’ plan to become the Jesus of stop-motion animation. And the teaser really does put the animation, and the love and work that goes into it, in the forefront, being partially made up of shots of the hands of animators assembling and posing figures and sets.

The cynic in me, the tenacious bastard that he is, wants to see this as a lazy way to crank out a teaser when you’ve finished only a couple of shots of animation. But the well-rounded, optimistic person in me, who spends most of his time shut in a small room in my mind like Harry Potter, sees this as something else: an indicator that what’s coming out is made with the love and attention that we’ve come to expect from Laika.

There’s also this trailer, which both endorses same-sex parents and features the voice of Catbug from Bravest Warriors, so we might as well crown this film “King of All Things Good and Wonderful” right now.

Excitement Level: Sugar peas!!!

The Lego Movie

the-lego-movie-poster

Nobody was expecting this to look surprisingly good less than me, I mean for crap’s sake it’s The Lego Movie, but damn if I don’t actually want to see this. Part of it’s because it comes courtesy of the masters of “Surprisingly good”, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo that brought us Clone High, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street.

But what took me aback more is the animation, which is apparently a blend of stop-motion and CGI, meant to make everything look as realistically like actual Lego figures as possible. All the textures and light effects look dead-on, if you’re the kind of absolute hopeless nerd who’s impressed by that kind of thing, right down to those stiff cloth capes that never, ever look right. There’s so much wonderful attention to detail on display just in the short trailer, like how when one character is supposed to be dramatically flipping her hair, it just swivels in place because it’s still a solid plastic piece, or how explosions and other effects are still made out of Lego bricks if you look closely.

Plus it has Nick Offerman in it, and it doesn’t matter what something is, the promise of Nick Offerman will have me running like Nick Offerman himself to a film role circa 2004

Excitement Level: It has Batman too, so pretty high