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)
Tier 9: Showing Promise, Lacking Execution
70. Obvious Child (directed by Gillian Robespierre, 88% Rotten Tomatoes, 76 Metacritic).
Jenny Slate is a charming actress, and it's good to see her finally get
a showcase. And I admire a movie in which a woman chooses to obtain an
abortion without depicting that choice as a traumatizing, life-altering
event. The problem with Obvious Child, aside from its boilerplate romantic-comedy beats (The Office's
Jake Lacy is a dud as Slate's love interest), is that it isn't
particularly funny. Slate's standup bits feel overworked, and with the
exception of her close friendship with a fellow starving artist (the
wonderful Gabby Hoffmann), most of the movie's interpersonal dynamics
ring false. Hell, the funniest moment in the movie is a fart joke.
Nothing against fart jokes, but Slate deserves better.
69. Into the Woods (Rob Marshall, 71% RT, 70 MC).
There's a lot to like. The cast is hit-and-miss, but Emily Blunt and
James Corden provide the emotional backbone, while Chris Pine is
tremendous as a rakish buffoon. And a handful of songs are legitimately
rousing, especially "Agony", Pine's hilarious duet with Billy Magnussen,
and "Your Fault", whose overlapping lyrics and brisk pace recall the
vitality of Marshall's best musical, Chicago. But Into the Woods
is simultaneously too busy and too empty, exhausting viewers with its
feverish pitch and also confounding them with sloppy editing and strange
digressions. The film's second act is designed to replace the typical
fairy-tale ending with something resonant and specific. That's a fine
concept, but in erasing the stock happily-ever-after finale, Into the Woods only does half the job. It forgets to fill in the blank.
68. Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, 92% RT, 75 MC). Michael Fassbender is something else. In Frank,
he plays a musician who spends virtually the entirety of the film's
runtime wearing a giant papier-mâché head, and he still somehow creates a
dynamic character with a wide range of expressions and emotions. But
aside from Fassbender's genius, Frank is a thin and feeble movie,
with little to say about the modern music industry except to
acknowledge that social media might somehow play a role. It does,
however, defy the standard characterization of the tortured
artist—Frank's talent exists not because of his mental instability but
in spite of it—and it astutely recognizes that some people just aren't
creatively gifted, no matter how hard they wish they were. But a handful
of acute insights don't make a movie, and Frank is like one of those albums with a few killer singles and a whole lot of filler.
67. Divergent (Neil Burger, 41% RT, 48 MC).
Sure, it's dopey, and its evocation of a dystopian society is fairly
ridiculous. But Shailene Woodley is magnetic as always, and Burger
proves himself to be an accomplished visualist, creating some compelling
images and pictorial worlds. As a result, the best moments in the movie
tend to be those where no one says anything, and Burger and Woodley
simply communicate what's going on in the main character's head. Divergent
also, however schematically, presents some worthwhile themes about the
perils of conformity and the importance of individual choice. That it
does so in the context of an absurd five-faction universe that uses
knife-throwing as a form of pedagogy is unfortunate. You may roll your
eyes. But you'll bring them back to Woodley in no time.
66. Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen, 51% RT, 54 MC).
As frothy as whipped cream and about as filling, Allen's latest
European travelogue (this stop: the South of France!) is an irrefutable
trifle. The story is happily predictable, like a Shakespearean comedy
but without the barbed wit, and the ostensible debate between mysticism
and rationality is more reproachful than inquisitive. But Colin Firth is
pitch-perfect as a hard-hearted misanthrope who finds that heart
softened by Emma Stone, who remains as beguiling as ever. (The
May-September romance that blooms between them may trouble those
familiar with Allen's personal life.) And if it's difficult to take the
fizzy story seriously, it is equally hard to resist its low-key charms.
There may not be much genuine magic in Magic in the Moonlight, but you'll enjoy the show all the same.
65. Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 73% RT, 62 MC). Edwards' first movie was called Monsters,
and after his second, it's easy to see why: He has a rare talent for
turning his camera on hulking beasts and articulating the awe and fear
that they inspire. Some of the battle scenes in Godzilla are very
cool, especially given Edwards' canny sense of scale; he places you at
ground level and makes you feel like an insect, staring up at these
towering behemoths. He's also patient, recognizing that creatures are
often scariest when we can't see them (or can merely glimpse them). So
Edwards undeniably knows monsters. It's people he struggles with. Aside
from Bryan Cranston's half-mad scientist, I can barely recall a single
human character in this movie. The prospect of giant bugs taking over
the world is only frightening if we care about the people in that world.
As it is, Godzilla is pure popcorn fare—its eponym's inimitable
roar will reverberate in your ears for days, but you'll hardly remember
why he was shouting in the first place.
64. The Rover (David Michôd, 65% RT, 64 MC). As apocalyptic movies go, The Rover
is stranger than most. Aside from a terrific early car chase, there's
very little action and even less plot. What there is, however, is a
disturbing sense of realism, an impression that the end of civilization
will derive not from sudden explosions but from the slow erosion of
humanity. Michôd's universe is a burned-out wasteland that reeks of
grime, starvation, and embittered cynicism. In other words, it's not a
nice place. Guy Pearce is typically excellent as a muted wayfarer, but
it's Robert Pattison's bizarre, jittery performance that gives The Rover
some kick. It may not be great acting, but it is engaging, which is
more than you can say for the rest of the film, which, aside from some
colorful spasms of violence, doesn't add up to much beyond numbing
nihilism. But then, maybe that's the point.
More coming soon.