Friday, January 9, 2015

Civilian 2014 Wrap-Up and Year-End Stats!

Back again!

Having addressed the horror genre in the previous entry (hey, this is HORROR 101 after all), it’s now time to give the civilian flicks their moment in the sun. As before, all titles listed were encountered for the first time from January 1 to December 31, 2014 (i.e. no repeat viewings were eligible), with top picks denoted with an asterisk. (*)


*Blue Ruin
A young homeless man’s (Macon Blair) life is given sinister purpose following a convict’s (Brent Werzner) early release from prison.  If you have it in your power to see writer/director Saulnier’s (Murder Party) award-winning festival smash, do so. It’s frankly the smartest and most suspenseful film I've seen in recent years; one never knows where it’s going, yet it maintains viewer interest from start to finish.

Terrific cinematic experiment that bucks convention in all the right ways. Watching the actors growing up onscreen before our eyes is dazzling in a way that multimillion dollar effects could never be, and yet somehow it never comes off as a stunt. Linklater's choice to avoid seminal moments in favor of those odd little bits that in explicably stick in our brains forever is the true stroke of genius - what could have been banal is instead brilliant.

A group of friends meet up for dinner and drinks the night a mysterious comet passes overhead. And. Crazy. Shit. Goes. Down. Smart but accessible no-budget “alternate reality” sci-fi/fantasy in the vein of Timecrimes and Primer that challenges and engages without breaking its internal logic. Here’s hoping this one builds a cult following.

A charming romantic comedy within complex sci-fi trappings, we are introduced to an institute of learning whereby students are segregated according to their electrochemical vibrations. Those with higher frequencies are invariably successful because the world reacts to make their lives less complicated while individuals with lower frequencies naturally attract hardship. The adage of opposites attracting is (of course) brought into play when barrel-bottom Isaac and through-the-roof Marie decide to experiment, seeing how long they can stay in each other’s presence before Nature intervenes. The result is both mind-bending and heart-warming.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Remember how everyone was debating Godzilla a few months back? Then we got a legitimately smart and entertaining blockbuster and suddenly, no one was talking about Godzilla. Everything you could want in a summer popcorn movie and more.

Mystery Road
Terrific Aussie noir with western overtones that follows aborigine detective Aaron Pederson, back in his small town after a stint in Melbourne, whose investigation of a local girl’s murder runs up against interference and noncompliance from the community and his fellow officers. Slow-burn suspense yarn that culminates in one of the most original onscreen gunfights I’ve seen in, well, EVER. Hugo Weaving is deliciously sinister as a corrupt cop, while veterans Jack Thompson and Bruce Spence lend authentic flavor and invaluable support.

Jake Gyllenhaal is frickin’ dynamite as a sociopathic socially awkward loser who turns out to be a news-footage capturing savant, one not to be underestimated intellectually nor expected to hold to accepted moral standards. It’s a showcase performance that consistently surprises – hell, Gyllenhaal doesn’t even look like himself, a magic trick accomplished by employing a whole new set of actor tools without observable effort. I’m glad that the critics and awards entities seem to have taken notice.

The One I Love
At the urging of their therapist, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) escape to a beautiful vacation house for a weekend getaway in an attempt to salvage what’s left of their marriage. What starts off as a relaxing and tranquil retreat soon spirals into a dizzyingly bizarre experience that forces the couple to reflect upon the complexities of their troubled partnership. Ted Danson co-stars in a marvelous, funny, sad, and rich Twilight Zone premise that explores the complications of human relationships in an intelligent and mature manner. Satisfying on every level.

The Overnighters
Devastating and heartfelt documentary set in the small town of Williston, ND, where thousands of unemployed men have flocked seeking work in the fracking industry, bringing their troubled pasts (and presents) with them. Seeing these lost souls wandering the streets and sleeping in their cars, Pastor Jay Reinke opens up his Concordia Lutheran Church as a temporary shelter…one that soon becomes their permanent residence, much to the consternation of his congregation. How far and long charity should extend, the underlying reason for such charity, and the transparency of newcomers’ backgrounds are just a few of the thorny issues raised, and while there aren’t as many answers as questions, viewers are constantly challenged by the notion of the “right” thing to do.

The Raid 2: Berandel
While I agree with most of my noble comrades in that Gareth Evans’ follow-up is a superior film overall, with deeper characters, a more epic narrative, and several jaw-dropping action sequences including a car chase/fight that perhaps eclipses any other examples of the form, it isn’t as much balls-out fun as its predecessor. That all said, it's pretty frickin' great, from its bird's eye opening shot to the final bloody showdown. Well worth your time.


Brendan Gleeson gives a powerhouse central performance as a small village’s priest who is informed during the course of a routine confession that he will be murdered in one week. We then observe him going about his daily business, trying to provide comfort and guidance for his “flock” (an impressive ensemble that includes Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach De Bankole, and M. Emmet Walsh) as he also puts his affairs in order. The fact that Gleeson knows his would-be assassin but refuses to tell anyone – including the audience – provides much of the narrative’s fuel, but equally impressive are the multitude of complicated observations of Christianity and human nature.

Edge of Tomorrow
Another fun high-concept time-travel piece that failed to find its summer audience despite the presence of A-list stars (Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton) and director Doug Liman in his whiz-bang wheelhouse. Some blamed the title, which was subsequently replaced by its “Live. Die. Repeat.” tagline for home video, but I fear that Cruise’s box office appeal outside of the Mission: Impossible franchise may be fading, despite doing consistently better work than the previous decade. He’s great here, showing off considerable comic timing and vulnerability by playing against his natural supercool, and Blunt matches him step for step.

I Origins
A fantastic sci-fi drama that reunites Mike Cahill, the writer/director behind the jaw-droppingly great Another Earth, with that film’s star, Brit Marling. Michael Pitt plays a molecular biologist studying the evolution of the eye in the hopes of proving the nonexistence of God. He encounters an exotic and beautiful woman (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) through a series of “coincidences” and eventually falls in love with her, all while he and his lab partner (Marling) continue their research, but unexpected upheavals shatter both his personal and professional life, opening windows to his and others’ souls. Just as intellectually challenging and emotionally rewarding as their previous collaboration.

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
In the telling of one woman’s story of sexual awakening (and sleeping), everyone’s favorite cinematic enfant terribles Lars von Trier embraces CG technology to superimpose the heads of recognizable actors (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin as her younger iteration, and Shia Labeouf) onto the bodies of professional porn actors  in order to present the illusion of the characters having intercourse without trick angles. The problem is that as the viewer, we still know that it’s all trickery, and the “how’d they do that” factor pulls us out of the story more so than if he’d just used hardcore inserts (as he did with AntiChrist). That said, the narrative odyssey is a compelling one, and while some might question the need for such an epic telling (we watched the seven-hour director’s cut), it was never boring nor did it feel exploitative. The ending is such a colossal misstep that it’s tempting to believe von Trier included it just to have the final “fuck you.”


*All is Lost
A masterful blending of performance and invisible visual effects, with Our Man Redford waking up to a hole being punched in the side of his sailboat approximately 13,000 miles from shore. The abandoned floating freight box is just one of many adversities he will encounter as he labors toward home, and the methodical nature with which he approaches each new challenge is both fascinating and riveting. Comparisons have been drawn between this and Sandra Bullock’s turn in Gravity, in that both feature isolated characters facing seemingly insurmountable odds; for me, what makes this film more gratifyingly plausible is that we’re watching a seasoned veteran in his element as opposed to a rookie armed with a lot of book learning. I also absolutely believed this is how Redford would behave under these circumstances, right down to the minimal dialogue (in the same way that I believed Bullock’s motormouth tendencies dealing with her lot).

Captain Philips
Though his once-innovative you-are-there style has been effectively appropriated by many a Hollywood pretender, Paul Greengrass (United 93) still knows how to deliver the true-event thriller goods.  In spite of an occasionally shaky Boston accent, Tom Hanks delivers an impressively layered interpretation as Richard Phillips whose vessel was commandeered by Somalian pirates in 2009 resulting in a tense showdown of wills and political gamesmanship.  Kudos to screenwriter Billy Ray (adapting Phillips book) for providing the antagonists with rationalization for their criminal acts, creating three-dimensional characters instead a faceless gang of thugs in the process.  The closing moments (featuring Hanks and a military medical team) are crushing in their emotional immediacy and authenticity. 

Enough Said
A great and mature romantic comedy, featuring the somehow still-underrated (at least as a film actress) Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a single mom eking out a living as a personal massage therapist who stumbles into a tentative relationship with a likeably gruff single dad (the late James Gandolfini, gone waaaaaaaaaaay too soon).  The admittedly large plot contrivance that provides much of the latter half’s dramatic tension becomes much easier to swallow when presented by such engaging performers, including Toni Collette, Catherine Keener, and young talents Michaela Watkins and Tavi Gevinson.   

Having caught people’s attention with his marvelous apocalyptic thriller Take Shelter, writer/director Jeff Nichols secures a top-notch cast that includes Hollywood heavyweights (Matthew McConaughy, Reese Witherspoon), veteran character actors (Joe Don Baker, Sam Shepard), and fresh young talent (Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland) to weave a marvelously immersive tale of adolescence and friendship. Suspenseful, charming, mysterious, and thrilling.

Judi Dench is predictably terrific as an aging Irish woman attempting to track down the child she gave up for adoption decades prior, but I was wholly unprepared for Steve Coogan’s (who also co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope and shared producing duties with Tracey Seaward and Gabrielle Tana) brilliantly layered and nuanced performance as an disgraced journalist looking to ride Dench’s “human interest” story back into public favor. Based on a true story as infuriating as it is shocking, one that doesn’t do the Catholic Church’s increasingly unflattering image any favors.

12 Years a Slave
There’s no denying the skill and artistry on display in this shocking true story of black musician Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped from his family and denied basic human rights for a dozen years, and Steven McQueen’s penchant for uncomfortably long, unbroken takes is well served by a heaven-sent ensemble cast.  The entire production is top-notch in every capacity, and the emotional toll is as devastating as it should be.  Hard to believe how short a time ago this shameful period in American history was, and how deeply ingrained such injustices were to people’s daily lives.

The Wolf of Wall Street
To call this an updating of Goodfellas with an eye on crooked stockbrokers as opposed to the mafia wouldn’t be far off, and that’s not intended as a dig. However, what’s more impressive is that even using his own playbook, 72-year-old Martin Scorsese gets the juices moving and earns laughter from the darkest, seamiest shadows. Public accusations of the film painting white collar criminal Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, in a full-throttle Oscar-nominated turn) as a role model seem ill-aimed; he’s clearly a sociopath and I wanted to see him to go down more than Henry Hill – and he didn’t even murder anybody! Australian TV star Margot Robbie turns heads as Belfort’s drop-deadly gorgeous wife whose icy heart matches her hubby’s, and DiCaprio and Jonah Hill’s now-legendary Quaalude scene is just as outrageous as you’ve heard.


Before Sunrise (1995)

Wish I’d seen this back before I knew there were two sequels awaiting me, because the ambiguous ending would have packed more of a punch.  Still pretty amazing, and the trilogy can now be seen as a forerunner to Linklater's grand cinematic experiment that is Boyhood.

Dredd (2012)
A year after hearing it praised byVideo Junkies’ illustrious Thomas Sueyres, I finally lucked into a screening of this belatedly lauded action flick that banishes all memories of the 1995 Stallone debacle with 200% more style, blood, violence, explosions, and 300% less Rob Schneider.  Karl Urban (cursed to be forever known as “Dr. Bones McCoy of the new Star Trek franchise”) does a fine job of low-wattage badassing while Leda Heady and Olivia Thirlby deliver two strong female roles in the form of terrifying warlord MaMa and new Judge recruit Anderson, respectively.  Yes, it resembles The Raid in some ways, but that’s hardly a bad thing.

Fat City (1972)
Ah, the 70s.  When you could spend time with losers and coulda-beens and train wrecks and it somehow managed to entertain because you cared about them. Stacy Keach and Jeff Bridges are perfect as a couple of going-nowhere palookas and Oscar nominee Susan Tyrrell is an astonishing mess under the sure hand of director John Huston.

Frozen River (2008)
Melissa Leo earned an Oscar nomination for her fearless, vanity-free portrayal of a single mom, struggling  to keep her family afloat in upstate New York, who stumbles into an illegal-alien smuggling scheme orchestrated by Mohawk rebel Misty Upham. Watching Leo juggle morals and half-truths keeps the viewer on their toes, with numerous emotionally devastating sequences. Sadly, this remains Courtney Hunt’s only feature writing/directing credit to date (she was also nominated for an Oscar for Original Screenplay), although IMDb lists her as helming a Nicholas Kazan script called The Whole Truth featuring Keanu Reeves, Renee Zellwegger, and James Belushi. Not my favorite trio of actors, but fingers crossed anyway.

How to Survive a Plague (2012)
This Oscar-nominated documentary about America’s foot-dragging policy in (not) dealing with the AIDS crisis during the early 80s is so agonizingly frustrating and heartbreaking that the slight glimmer of triumph shown at the end (testimonials from HIV-positive patients who were written off for dead decades ago) almost comes too late to stave off the helplessness.  But the tenacity and spirit displayed by these brave souls is a sight to behold, so take your medicine and watch…and then do what you can.

Red Road (2006)
Terrific Scottish thriller about a woman (Kate Dickie) fixated on the recently released convict (Tony Curran) that murdered her husband and daughter. The fact that she’s employed by an “eye in the sky” offshoot of the police force – monitoring security cameras – only abets her obsession. Creepy and suspenseful, with some seriously strange twists and turns. Winner of the 2006 Cannes Jury Prize.

Tyrannosaur (2011)
You’re not likely to find much better examples of committed acting than this grueling character study about an embittered widower (Peter Mullan) who literally takes refuge in a sunny-but-cowed Christian woman’s (Olivia Colman) resale shop, and the unlikely relationship that grows between these two broken souls. Tough going, but rewarding. Actor Paddy Considine’s feature directing debut, based on his 2007 short film Dog Altogether.

Waiting for Superman (2010)
Edifying, heartbreaking, inspiring, and frustrating beyond measure, Davis Guggenheim’s examination of the U.S. public school system carries the same sense of time-running-out urgency as his Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth.  “Teach your children well.” 

*The War Game (1965)
This BBC production depicting the potential effects of atomic warfare was deemed so chilling that it was banned from television. (There are also rumors that it was denied airtime because it conflicted with the government’s assessments of survivability of a nuclear attack.) As a result, however, it found its way into cinemas, ultimately winning a special prize at the Venice Film Festival, the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film, and the Oscar for Best Documentary … in spite of the fact that it doesn’t technically document anything, being entirely composed of enactments of possible scenarios!  Appropriately depressing and bleak, its acclaim is well-justified. Peter Watkins, who made a name for himself creating these kinds of pseudo-documentary pieces, could also be seen as the pioneer of the modern “found footage” craze.

The White Buffalo (1977)
Produced by Dino de Laurentiis the same year as his Jaws/Moby Dick hybrid Orca, this similarly themed Western epic pits a syphilitic Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson) against the enormous titular bison, with none-too-subtle parallels of them each being the last of their kind. A critical and financial disaster upon release, the film ended the star’s string of hits (thus beginning his descent into sleazy low-budget schlock) and while it’s understandable that mainstream audiences might not have responded favorably, more adventurous cinephiles will likely find elements to enjoy.  Foremost being the screenplay’s intricate and bizarre vernacular devised by Richard Sale, adapting his original novel – one never believes for a second that 18th century frontiersmen spoke as we hear them, but darned if you don’t find yourself wishing they did. With a stellar cast (Jack Warden, Will Sampson, Clint Walker, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Ed Lauter) led by a never-better Bronson, this one’s worth tracking down.


Redacted (2011)
A goddawful preachy farce, with supreme cinematic stylist Brian De Palma reverting to a clumsy found-footage format to tell his stunningly false presentation of a real-life rape/murder committed against Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers. It seems that most of the online discussion surrounding the film parses whether or not De Palma’s overtly leftist political slant should be tolerated, as opposed to just how terrible the movie is.

Up Close and Personal (1996)
This was one that I had passed up back in the day because the trailers looked horrible. I was right to have done so, because it’s as silly an expose of the media business as can be imagined, with a romantic comedy shoehorned in for good measure. However, what was genuinely stunning was learning that most of the critics of the day gave it a passing grade, calling it ridiculous and fanciful, but that Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer provided enough classic Hollywood star power to make it worthwhile. I’m sorry, but no no No No NO NO NO. The comedy sucked, the plot sucked, the fact that the gritty real story (of Jessica Savitch) was completely Tinseltowned sucked, with Pfeiffer coming off as a complete dingbat that no one would allow on camera, least of all Mr. “News is Sacred” Redford, even if he did want to get in her pants (although based on the non-chemistry between the two, that’s a stretch as well). Three stars, Roger Ebert? COME ON.

Let the OCD madness begin!!!


399 films (372 titles, 27 repeats)
203 1st time views
251 horror (227 titles, 24 repeats)
48 cinema

(2013 Totals: 306, 240, 185, 69)
(2012 Totals: 607, 520, 362, 166)
(2011 Totals: 640, 419, 355, 59)
(2010 Totals: 364, 253, 242, 45)
(2009 Totals: 472, 276, 289, 38)
(2008 Totals: 384, 278, 226, 39)
(2007 Totals: 409, 284, 260, 40)


---11 Gamera movies
---8 Hammer Dracula movies
---9 Hellraiser movies
---16 Robert Redford movies
---12 Chicago Critics Film Festival screenings
---Have now seen all 72 official Video Nasties (except Women Behind Bars)
---A whopping 27 repeat views within the same year. (Ah, the fate of the BD/DVD critic.)

The Abyss (1989)

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)


Birdman (2)
Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead (2) (both in cinema)
Death Spa (2)
Dredd (2)
Godzilla: Battle Royale (2)
Gojira (2)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2) (both in cinema)
King Kong vs. Godzilla (2) (U.S version and original Japanese version)
Singapore Sling (2)


Night of the Demons (3)
Return to Nuke ‘em High (3)
Witchboard (3)
Bloody Moon (2)
Darkman (2)
Demon Resurrection (2)
Dolls (2)
Evilspeak (2)
Final Exam (2)
The Final Terror(2)
Patrick (2)
Ravenous (2)
Sleepaway Camp (2)
Strange Behavior (aka Dead Kids) (2)
Thirst (2)


Noriaki Yuasa (7)
Sidney Pollack (5)
Roger Corman (4)
Terence Fisher (4)
George A. Romero (4)
Steven Spielberg (4)
Pete Walker (4)
Rick Bota (3)
Freddie Francis (3)
George Roy Hill (3)
Ishiro Honda (3)
Shuseke Kaneko (3)
J. Lee Thompson (3)
Rob Zombie (3)


The Phantom Carriage (1921)

1953 – 2014

Cat People (1942, 1982)
Godzilla (1954, 1956, 1998, 2014)
Nightmare (aka Nightmare in a Damaged Brain) (1981), Nightmares (aka Stage Fright) (1980)
Patrick (1979, 2013)

Came close to seeing movies starting with every letter of the alphabet – missed X and Y this year.


Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA, Vietnam, Yugoslavia


January – 22
February – 18
March – 31
April – 34
May – 40
June – 31
July –  36
August – 27
September – 17
October –  81 (October Challenge)
November – 20
December – 40


As has been the pattern since I started recording these stats, the previous year (in this case 2013) racked up the most viewings, primarily because many of the films that premiered that year didn’t receive wide release until this year, especially in the direct-to-video departments. That said, it was the closest the margin has ever been between the current year (2014) and the one just prior. Plus, whereas the 70s usually reign supreme when looking beyond the current decade, it was interesting to see 1981 popping up in fourth place, even if many of those viewings were dictated by Shout! Factory’s release slate. Speaking of which, the numbers in parentheses are the number of individual titles, i.e. minus repeats.

2013: 46 (44)
2014: 42 (38)
2012: 15 (13)
1981: 16 (12)
1976: 11
2011: 9
1979: 9 (8)
1989: 9 (8)
1990: 9 (7)
1982: 8
1973: 8


1920s – 1
1930s – 2
1940s – 9
1950s – 20
1960s – 25
1970s – 65 (66, 1 repeat)
1980s – 54 (68, 14 repeats)
1990s – 36 (38, 3 repeats)
2000s – 30 (31, 1 repeat)
2010s – 113 (119, 6 repeats)

That’s all, folks! On to 2015….



  1. Replies
    1. It was nothing compared to some of the trials you've endured. That said...WOW.