Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Movie Year 2014

For me, 2014 has been all about the eyes. Brendan Gleeson's sad, soulful eyes in Calvary. The horrors reflected in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s haunting and haunted eyes in 12 Years A Slave. The flat blank eyes of Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin. My abiding memories of this year’s screen-gazing are going to be the gazes looking back out at me...

And it’s not just the eyes looking out. How about the eyes looking in, carting along baggage, preconceptions and a lifetime’s experience with them? You take from a movie what you bring to it. Case in point: The excessive deluge of think pieces screaming about the perceived agenda of David Fincher’s Gone Girl. From one corner: “It’s misogynist!”. From the other: “It’s feminist!”. And I sat in the middle thinking “No...it’s pulp. Really well-tooled pulp, and Fincher is smart enough to want to provoke his audience and raise such questions. But...it’s still just pulp.”

Gone Girl was monumentally stupid, hugely entertaining, far too long, never a dull moment. All at the same time. It’s a potboiler. Lurid. Over-egged. Melodramatic. Compulsive. It's riddled with holes that only gape wider when you prod at them a little bit. It may well be the ne plus ultra of potboilers, but it's a potboiler all the same.

Brilliant balderdash, but it really doesn't have anything remotely profound or meaningful to say about marriage or the media. Let's not credit Gone Girl with such unwarranted gravitas, when it's little more than a very good time at the movies.

And yet while everyone was picking apart Gone Girl fruitlessly hunting for an agenda where there was none, there was a more insidious, cavalier sexism at play in another huge release that didn't garner anywhere near as much attention - Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. Let me show you how with a little game called Reverse The Following Roles: Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche. Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson. I can't think of a single reason why at least one of those character reversals couldn't have been made without adversely affecting the narrative in any significant way. Ken Watanabe would still have had the opportunity to say “Gojira!” with the requisite amount of crowd-pleasing portent and gravitas.

(And, while I’m railing against inconsistent ways of looking at things, chew on this one: Stealing and sharing stolen naked selfies online is rightly perceived as Very Bad and Wrong. And yet stealing and sharing private company data and Sony email correspondence is Perfectly Fine and Fair Game. How’s that for a double-standard, motherfuckers? Sharing your body and sharing your opinions are personal and intimate acts and, most importantly, choices. Choices that have been removed from those affected. And with each licked lip over every salacious reveal, everyone makes their future argument weaker the next time someone comes to violate your rights and privacy….OK, back to crapping on about movies…)

Elsewhere, Christopher Nolan continued to make films that I admire rather than like. Interstellar was no better or worse than his erstwhile collaborator Wally Pfister’s Transcendence, and yet the latter was the one that got the critical kicking. In both cases, it's just not enough to have the ambition to interrogate questions of love, devotion, grief and our relationship with technology if you can't actually come up with anything remotely profound or illuminating to say about any of it.

Lucy, on the other hand, was Transcendence with a sense of humour. Where Pfister's film trades in po-faced faux-profundity, Luc Besson has a twinkle in his eye as he gleefully bullshits us for the sheer fun of it.

2014 was also the year that The Great John Carpenter Homage became a fully-fledged sub-genre. The Guest was essentially John Carpenter's Uncle Buck. It Follows was Halloween in Detroit (which is unfairly reductive, sure, but if you want a more detailed assessment, you’re going to have to click through to my recap of this year’s London Film Festival.) And in The Purge: Anarchy... It's Punishin' Time! If John Carpenter directed Frank Grillo as Frank Castle for Marvel, you’d get this double-barreled blast of pulp nirvana.

On the subject of Marvel, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy disproved the burbling misguided wisdom of the internet masses who liked to claim that Big Bad Corporate Marvel were far too conservative to unleash Edgar Wright on Ant-Man. Gunn vaporised that argument with the endearing friendship between a gun-toting raccoon and a monosyllabic dancing tree. I also now have an excuse to once again share this beautiful logo designed by my inestimable friend Emma Price based on a dumb gag I hurled on to Twitter.

The Raid 2 sadly hewed to the maxim that more is less. The first film was all tight, stripped-down bonecracking beauty. This, however, was somewhat baggy and occasionally tipped over into queasy, disposable sadism. It lagged and suffered whenever Iko Uwais was off-screen (you could jettison an hour of subplots easy), but when he's there...wow. He's the Fred Astaire of face-kicking.

And so ends just a few of my ruminations on my Year In Dimly-Lit Auditoria. For one of those list things that everyone seems to be so fond of, you’ll have to wait just a little bit longer...

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