(Photo Courtesy of US Magazine)
With 2015 nearly upon us, several of The Butter Lamb’s finest contributors have decided to take a look back at the best that pop culture had to offer in 2014.
Over the course of the past week, The Butter Lamb’s contributors have shared five of their favorite books, eight of their favorite television shows, six of their favorite songs, and five of their favorite television episodes from 2014. Today, the conversation shifts to the big screen. So without further ado, here are the nine best movies of 2014.
My vote for the “Best Movie of 2014” goes to Gone Girl. The movie was based on the book, Gone Girl, written by Gillian Flynn. The story is about Nick Dunn (Ben Affleck), a bar owner that one day comes home to his front door wide open, his living room ransacked, and his wife missing. As the story progresses, Nick quickly goes from a victim to a suspect and his entire town begins to turn on him. Gone Girl is a classic “who-dun-it” film that keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Having not read the book before seeing the movie, I was completely blindsided by the ending.
Everyone that I spoke with who had both read and seen Gone Girl felt that the writers did a great job at keeping the movie consistent with the book. This was easy considering the fact that Gillian Flynn actually wrote both the screenplay and the novel.
Ben Affleck delivered an average performance (a couple steps above Gigli) but it was his co-star, Rosamund Pike who stole the show. Her ability to change personas at the drop of a hat made it really difficult to tell if her character was crazy or just putting on a front. Neil Patrick Harris was also featured as an eclectic, long-lost boyfriend of Mrs. Dunn. It is hard to be certain, but I am pretty sure NPH will not take a role unless he gets to wear a suit in it. Tyler Perry plays Mr. Dunn’s hotshot defense attorney. I was shocked when I noticed his name in the credits because I had never actually seen him in a movie. Rumor has it that the film was originally going to be called Tyler Perry’s Gone Girl but Gillian would not allow it.
As for the elephant in the room… No, I did not see Ben Affleck’s bathing suit area. There is a shower scene in the movie where many talk shows and magazines stated that they were able to catch a glimpse of Affleck’s stuff, but I did not. So if you were looking to ogle Affleck’s no-no zone, this movie is not for you. But if you want to see an above average mystery, thriller (as IMDb puts it) then Gone Girl is certainly worth the Redbox price or at the very least, the time it takes for an illegal download.
I’m a big fan of the standard rom-com – you know, girl meets boy, falls in love despite some sort of difference between them, then something happens which causes them to end things, only to reconcile and make out while we cue romantic ukulele-driven music, pull the camera wide, and roll credits.
But I’m an even bigger fan of quirky comedies that play the rom-com card a bit differently. Which is why I’m calling out Obvious Child as my fave film of the year. This indie starring Jenny Slate (aka, voice of Marcel the Shell) follows stand up comedian Donna after she becomes pregnant from a one-night stand. Yes, it sounds like heavy subject matter. And no, it is not a movie filled with silly laughs and crazy hijinks. But what I like about this movie is that it feels a lot more based in reality than most of the hooey we see out there in the rom-com world.
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions after you watch the movie, but I definitely think it’s worth a watch.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel blessed us with not one, but two great films in 2014. I was always expecting to have a totally tubular time during Guardians of the Galaxy, but Captain America: The Winter Solder crept up on me. With the timing of its release on April 4th, Steve Rogers may have crept up on everyone. This film felt like a tentpole summer movie, and essentially kicked off the blockbuster action film season a month early.
I don’t know why I entered the film with such low expectations. The first film was solid; an origin story outside of Marvel’s current timeline (The First Avenger is set during World War II) that cemented Chris Evans as a charming lead action hero. But the second film blew me away. The Winter Soldier builds on Captain America’s story, but also leaves a lasting imprint on the canon of the Marvel universe.
The Winter Soldier’s main plot hinges on a massive takedown of SHIELD by HYDRA, the Nazi-esque villains from the first film. It’s an inside job, and no one can be trusted, leaving Captain America and the Black Widow to fend for themselves in the field. The film’s mood feels more frenetic because of this, as friends from the first film may not be as trustworthy as we originally thought.
For me, the best thing the film did was ultimately reveal that HYDRA was the big bad all along. I can’t emphasize enough that HYDRA, who are for all intents and purposes Nazis, couldn’t be a better worst enemy. Nazis are the absolute worst, right?? Are there any worse villains in the canon of human history than Nazis? If every action film’s main villain were Nazis, I’d be a happy camper. Plus, you get Garry Shandling subversively saying “hail Hydra” at the camera, and who can complain about that?
I could go on about all of the fantastic moments in this film, from the opening chase scene that Samuel L. Jackson totally OWNS, or Anthony Mackie’s triumphant entrance at the end of the film as the Falcon. If you haven’t seen this yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It made me SALIVATE for the next Avengers film.
Ever since Donnie Darko, I’ve always been a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal having a creepy role. That being said, his newest role in Nightcrawler did not disappoint. He plays Lou Bloom, a petty thief turned crime journalist who makes a living capturing violence on the streets of LA.
Nightcrawler was one of the darkest movies of 2014, and contained one of the greatest performances from Gyllenhaal I’ve seen. Though I understand he may not be at the top of everyone’s list, Gyllenhaal has always excelled with darker characters. The film’s dark nature is apparent from the first scene, and yet it continues to get darker as the plot develops.
As a crime journalist, Lou has a working relationship with a local news station, more specifically the news director Nina Romina, played by Rene Russo (who also did a great job). By far the creepiest scene is when Lou and Nina are out to dinner and we learn how crazy Lou really is. Without giving you too many specifics, he blackmails Nina for sex, stating that his footage is what is getting her ratings, and that without him she has nothing. As the monologue goes on, he power plays her continuously that as a viewer, your jaw begins dropping and you aren’t sure whether you should be laughing or cringing. It is absolutely shocking to watch, as many of us are not used to witnessing such a lack of morals. It is the purest of creepy and this film is a must see for any Gyllenhaal fan.
Snowpiercer is one of those rare films that seem to grow on you as soon as the credits screen fades to black. It’s a throwback to action movies that don’t rely solely on special effects to win over an audience, which is as unexpected as it is uncommon in 2014. It is witty, engaging and often absurd, but it all works together in a formula that is highly refreshing.
Directed by Bong Joon-ho, Snowpiercer takes place in 2031, 17 years after a failed experiment to counteract global warming plunges Earth into a sudden ice age. The movie is set on a perpetual-motion train that houses the last remaining survivors of the human race. The background to the story leaves a number of questions unanswered. “How is there perpetual motion technology available in 2014?” “How have the tracks not frozen over in 17 years and derailed the train?” Interestingly, Bong ignores the questions surrounding the environment and focuses entirely on the people living inside the train. A strict class system has developed, leaving the poorest at the tail of the train. It is a classic revolution storyline, where the poor – led by Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) – rebel against the rich. What is unique is that each train car contains a different group in society, and everyone is exceedingly violent.
There are three reasons I list this as my favorite movie of 2014. First, the acting is first-rate. Chris Evans shows a raw sentimentality that contrasts with his Captain America persona, and Song Kang-ho puts in an venerable performance as Namgoong, but it is Tilda Swinton (playing Mason) who steals the show, providing a ridiculous character that you cannot help but loathe yet (SPOILER ALERT) dearly miss after her fitting demise. Second, the combination of classist undertones and methodical forward motion through the train puts the viewer in the shoes of the rebels and makes their experiences more absorbing and the finale more powerful. Third, the international cast and attractively designed train give the movie a uniqueness that separates it from other films in the genre.
Snowpiercer draws you into its world and keeps you enthralled with its comedy, violence and scenery, a feat somehow accomplished entirely within the confines of a train. It also marks Bong Joon-ho’s first English-language film, which makes it all the more impressive. Snowpiercer’s dark realism and unique storyline provide a refreshing change to CGI-driven blockbusters and is one of The Butter Lamb’s best movies of 2014.
Some critics have dismissed Richard Linklater’s Boyhood as more an act of audacious filmmaking than a truly great movie. The truth is that it is both of these things.
In May 2002, Linklater assembled a cast and crew down in his hometown of Houston, TX for what was then called The Twelve-Year Project. His intent was to assemble the same cast and crew annually for the next twelve years and film the story of a young boy growing up from first grade through senior year in high school. Linklater had only basic plot points and an ending shot in mind. The script for each succeeding year was based on what he saw from the previous year’s filming and input from his actors.
Imagine the extensive list of common things that could have easily destroyed this movie. What if Linklater or one of the primary actors in the film had died? What if the studio that funded the film had gone bankrupt? What if the 6-year-old boy Linklater hired in 2002 turned out to be a horrendous actor or what if the boy’s agent tried to hold the studio up for more money toward the final few years of filming? An enormous yearly leap of faith between the actors, crew, and studio was required just to nurse the movie to completion.
All of this wouldn’t matter nearly as much if Boyhood had turned out to be another one of those bland coming of age dramas Hollywood churns out every year. Instead, it turns out to be one of finest coming of age films ever made. Linklater wisely focuses on the small moments that truly resonate: the suffocating silence at the dinner table when mom and dad argue with each other; the clandestine discovery that boys are different than girls; the humiliating scarlet letter of a bad haircut; the buoyancy in our heart when a high school crush turns into our first true love. Collectively, all of these small scenes form a narrative that is arrestingly genuine. There are no explosions, villains, or shocking plot twists to be found in Boyhood, but it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen.
If fantastic acting, great writing, and the story behind the movie aren’t enough to lead you to want to see Boyhood, see it because it contains a special effect we’ve never seen before in popular film. It’s one thing for me to tell you that you will see a young actor age a dozen years over the course of 165 minutes in a film, but it’s something altogether different to sit in front of a screen and see that transformation for yourself. In its simplest form, Boyhood is time-lapse photography with a beating heart.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Although there were a number of other films that I thoroughly enjoyed this year, I’ll go with this past summer’s biggest blockbuster as my choice for the best movie of 2014. While I hesitate to ever associate box office success with the actual quality of a movie, Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ justified the enormous money and attention that it drew worldwide. For me, this installment within Marvel’s latest reboots stands out among the rest. More than the Iron Man’s, the Thor’s, and the Captain America’s (which were all really good), Guardians possessed heart and humor.
The plot centers on the coming together of five heroes. We first meet Peter Quill who’s played hilariously by Chris Pratt. Quill, also known as Star-Lord, is comparable to Iron Man in some ways. However, the leader of this group comes from far more humble upbringings than his Marvel brethren. Zoe Saldana plays the green-skinned lady assassin Gamora. Saldana proved to be very convincing as a badass. Bradley Cooper plays a genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket who’s a constant source of amusement throughout the film. Vin Diesel plays a tree-like being named Groot, who is perhaps the most lovable of the group. Lastly, there is Drax the Destroyer who is played by Dave Bautista. As a part-time wrestling fan, I had my reservations that Bautista could make the journey into the film world, but he, like the rest of his peers, was fantastic.
As the plot unfolds, each character becomes increasingly likable. While ‘The Avengers’ represent a group of supreme beings (be it physical or intellectual gifts), The Guardians represent a group far from that. Each hero carries with them emotional baggage and a damaged past. Because of that, I found myself rooting for these characters against the villains that threaten their world’s way of life.
While the acting of Pratt, Saldana, Cooper, Diesel, and Bautista stands out, the work of James Gunn, who wrote and directed the film, certainly deserves recognition as well. Although it wasn’t billed as a comedy, it’s hard to remember a film that made me laugh as much as this one did. Gunn’s writing, and his ability to make each character, particularly Rocket and Groot, come to life, was both unique and a joy to watch.
When I watched the first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, I was skeptical. It was a story and a collection of characters that I had never heard of. However, after watching it in theaters, and several more time after it’s DVD release, I can’t get enough of Marvel’s collection of extraterrestrial misfits.
Did you know only one movie in the top ten grossing films of 2014 is completely original? This means it isn’t a reboot, based on a book, or a sequel to an existing movie franchise? It’s pretty crazy when you step back to think about that. We’ve become so comfortable sticking to stories we already know. However, at one point in time everything coming out of Hollywood was unique and surprising.
When I first saw the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s film, Interstellar, I knew immediately that it would be an incredible film. When the movie was finally released in November, I was not disappointed whatsoever.
The premise of the film suggests that the planet’s climate has changed and now is covered by dust storms that have all but destroyed our agricultural infrastructure. Upon discovering that NASA has been working in the dark with a plan to find a new habitable planet, one man volunteers to risk his life in order to save his children and the rest of humanity from an unwritten death sentence. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and you’ll become entranced by the beauty of outer space as you discover all that’s awaiting the space crew. If you’re looking for a movie that is filled with split-second decisions and a constantly evolving plot then I would recommend this movie to you! Just be prepared for the entire two hours and forty-five minutes of seat gripping excitement that awaits you!
When the academy nominations come out in the coming months, Michael Roskam’s The Drop is about as likely to be nominated for Best Picture as Marv Levy dethroning current WWE champ Brock Lesnar. But the film is easily one of the most underrated of the year.
Aside from being the last feature performance of the iconic James Galdolfini, the film is bolstered by fantastic subject matter. The script is written by Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island. Lehane has a knack for both psychological twists and complex characters. In The Drop, Tom Hardy’s Bob Saginowski and Gandolfini’s Cousin Marv are complex characters that explore the themes of failed dreams, delusions of grandeur and egotism (or lack of it). Although the film takes place in Brooklyn, its characters would feel just as at home in Lovejoy or Kaisertown.
The writing is strong, and the pacing ratchets up the suspense throughout the film, but the real strength is the onscreen chemistry of Hardy and Gandolfini. Hardy is well known for his portrayal of psychopaths in The Dark Knight Rises and Bronson, but his role in The Drop is unlike any character that he’s played. Gandolfini’s character is also miles away from Tony Soprano. Instead of a mob boss, he plays a down and out former street thug, who “flinched” when some Chechens moved in on his block, and now owns his bar in name only.
Many might dismiss The Drop as just another crime drama in a year with plenty of them. But just as its Polish protagonist Bob Saginowski, underestimate it at your peril.