Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ranking the Movies of 2014: #s 70-64

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.

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