The Manifesto is ranking every movie we saw in 2014. If you missed it, here's what we've covered so far:
Nos. 92-79 (Tiers 12 and 11)
Nos. 78-71 (Tier 10)
Nos. 70-64 (Tier 9)
Tier 8: Enjoyable, Unmemorable
63. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (directed by Peter Jackson, 60% Rotten Tomatoes, 59 Metacritic). The last and weakest of the three Hobbit movies, The Battle of the Five Armies
doesn't suffer for lack of ambition. Jackson wants this to be the
stirring conclusion to an epic trilogy, and in a number of ways, he
delivers. He still displays a sure hand with spectacle, and several of
the action sequences are invigorating, particularly the one-on-one
skirmishes late in the film. (My favorite moment involves Orlando Bloom
effortlessly leaping from a crumbling sheet of ice, like a practiced
gymnast dismounting the uneven bars.) But the scenes of mass carnage are
dull, CGI-laden bombast, and there are few valuable characters,
especially with the role of Bilbo Baggins (the terrific Martin Freeman)
minimized. Jackson wants us to care deeply about a small band of
dwarves, which is fine in concept. But he'd fare better if he
differentiated them enough so that his audience could tell them apart.
62. Ernest & Celestine (Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner, 97% RT, 86 MC). Slight and sweet, Ernest & Celestine
is the mildly enchanting tale of the friendship between a plucky mouse
and a misunderstood bear. It's notable for its restraint; it doesn't
pander, nor does it lather on excess sentimentality. But take away the
delicate hand-drawn animation and the intriguing depiction of the mice's
underground society (a land where order and fear rule the day), and all
that remains is a wispy story that fades shortly after watching it.
There's a genuine sweetness to the movie that's hard to fake, but also a
lack of substance that's hard to ignore.
61. The Equalizer (Antoine Fuqua, 61% RT, 57 MC). Taken literally, The Equalizer
is deeply disturbing. Its casual sadism is thoughtless and grotesque,
while its veneration of vigilantism is even more troubling. But there is
undeniable, vicarious pleasure to be had in watching Denzel Washington
annihilate a multitude of Russian mobsters. Washington's range as an
actor is disputable, and his character here—with the exception of a
wonderfully sudden soft-shoe routine—is disappointingly flat. But few
performers are better at exuding supreme competence, and for its
entertaining first hour, The Equalizer generates great mileage in
simply watching Washington tap into his reservoir of unflappable cool
as Robert, a solitary man with a mysterious past and an even more
ominous wristwatch. But if Washington is occasionally subtle, the same
cannot be said of Fuqua, whose insistence on a tone of dour seriousness
drains the movie of its vitality. Robert's invulnerability eventually
grows tiresome, and the film's outrageous, extended finale—in which
Robert executes a number of nameless bad guys with a power drill and
other home-improvement tools—resembles a series of videogame battles
more than a movie. Robert seemingly can't be killed, but his director
does his best to murder the movie anyway.
60. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier, 96% RT, 77 MC). Blue Ruin
is a gritty revenge fable that indulges in its share of genre
pleasures: blunt violence, contemptible heavies, creeping suspense. The
twist here is that the hero, Dwight (Macon Blair), is alarmingly
incompetent in fulfilling his role as righteous avenger. It's a clever
modification, and it makes for some compelling set pieces, as when
Dwight haplessly attempts to booby-trap his own house. But after a time,
Blue Ruin's taut, white-knuckle mood recedes, and Saulnier seems
to become as confused as his protagonist. He's a young filmmaker, and
like Dwight, he dives into his plan without sufficient forethought.
Fortunately, unlike Dwight, he'll get another chance.
59. We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson, 97% RT, 87 MC).
Can girls who know nothing about music start a band? Sure, why not? The
tender story of three girls who channel their frustration with the
world into punk rock, We Are the Best! is a bit aimless, and it doesn't really go anywhere in particular. But as he demonstrated in the sublime Show Me Love,
Moodysson possesses a keen understanding of teenagers and their
rambunctious desires to fit in, act out, and generally just make a mess.
Two of the band members here are not especially talented musicians, and
We Are the Best!, for all its insight and compassion, is not an
especially good movie. But it does capture, with warmth and specificity,
the unique turbulence of adolescence.
58. Kill the Messenger (Michael Cuesta, 77% RT, 60 MC). Kill the Messenger
tells the story of Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a Sacramento journalist
who wrote an explosive article about the connection between the United
States' crack-cocaine epidemic and the government's arms sales to
Nicaragua. Investigative journalism is as much about research as it is
writing, but while Kill the Messenger is overflowing with
characters and information, Cuesta struggles to streamline everything
into a coherent narrative. Nor do oblique references to Webb's shoddy
personal life make much of an impact. (If you're going to cast an
actress as good as Rosemarie DeWitt as Webb's wife, at least give her
something to do.) But Renner is persuasive as a self-destructive man on a
mission, and he receives our sympathy even while eliciting our outrage.
Indeed, the most powerful aspect of Kill the Messenger is its
anger. It may not have its facts perfectly aligned, but it does
communicate the passion—and the tragedy—behind those facts.
57. Unbroken (Angelina Jolie, 49% RT, 59 MC). Unbroken
works like gangbusters, until it doesn't work at all. The triumphant
true story of Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell, steady), it begins with
some unfortunate flashbacks to his days as an Olympic athlete. When it
returns to its World War II present, however, it sharpens its focus,
especially once Zamperini's bomber crashes into the Pacific Ocean. The
story of man versus wilderness is inherently gripping, and Jolie's
unvarnished style bluntly articulates the terror of trying to survive in
a pathetic life raft while surrounded by nothing but vast blue water
(not to mention enemy aircraft and hungry sharks). But once Zamperini
finds himself in a Japanese prison camp, the movie becomes unrelentingly
grim. Zamperini's story of perseverance may be heroic, but in Jolie's
hands, it's also oddly impersonal, reducing him to a saintly cipher
rather than a particular person. It doesn't help that his struggles with
a sadistic commandant feels like a pale echo of The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Much of Roger Deakins' cinematography is hauntingly beautiful, but
Jolie needed to turn his painterly compositions into cinema. Unbroken feels more like a still-life.
(That said, any trailer that features both M83 and the score from Beasts of the Southern Wild scores points with me. Take a look:)
56. Begin Again (John Carney, 83% RT, 62 MC). As with We Are the Best!, Begin Again
pays tribute to the power of music, only instead of being sloppy and
improvised, its compositions are manufactured and precise. And as a
movie, Begin Again is fairly obvious, with its scolding rebuke of
the modern music scene and its familiar evocation of lost love. But
even if it breaks no new ground, Begin Again is thoroughly,
irresistibly pleasant. Mark Ruffalo is effortlessly appealing as a
maverick producer, and Keira Knightley is equally delightful as a
winsome songwriter just trying to survive in a cold, cruel business. And
while it lacks the intimacy of Carney's Once, Begin Again
retains that film's joyous spirit, along with its evident pleasure in
the process of music-making. The song may remain the same, but the
artists creating the song are pure charmers.
More coming soon.