It’s the final day for the 2014 Bitch Awards for film! This is the day that you’ve been waiting for all week.
Click through to find out the best (and worst) films of the year.WORST
#5: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Webb, 2014)
#4: Dracula Untold (Shore, 2014)
#3: Maps to the Stars (Cronenberg, 2014)
#2: John Wick (Stahelski, 2014)
#1: A Million Ways to Die in the West (MacFarlane, 2014)
Let me preface this choice by saying that I really do like Seth MacFarlane, and I continue to watch Family Guy to this day. But A Million Ways to Die in the West is a terrible movie. Thinking back to my list of the worst this year, it didn’t make me nearly as angry as my #2 pick. John Wick – rather it was the cloud of disappointment that shot this one to the top. I expected more from this one – I expected, at the very least, to laugh. But I don’t think I let out even a chuckle or even a grin during the entire film. At least John Wick drew out some kind of reaction (even it was irate groaning).
The plot (if you even want to call it that) follows Albert (MacFarlane) who is the proverbial village idiot – a sheep farmer trying to find his place in the world. I could give you a plot summary, but there’s no point – if you decide to check this one out, it certainly isn’t going to be for the plot. Which is the film’s biggest problem. Fans of MacFarlane’s work (like myself) likely come to the film expecting escapist, immature humor. Instead, the result is a boring romp through the old west where everyone seems to be in a totally different film all at once. Some actors, like Sarah Silverman or Neil Patrick Harris work within the expectations, intentionally exaggerating their caricatures. Unfortunately others, like Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron, try desperately to actually ‘act’ in this one.
Furthermore, no attention is paid to historical accuracy (not that I was expecting it) but the decidedly millennial dialogue just doesn’t fit. I get that the mash-up of modern references, mannerisms and vocabulary is meant to highlight the silliness of the film, but alas, it doesn’t work and reads as laziness.
When it comes to dumb comedies (which is totally how this film was marketed) suspension of disbelief doesn’t matter, in fact, ridiculous characters and circumstances adds to the fun. In this case, A Million Ways to Die in the West suffers from taking itself too seriously which results in absolutely no laughs and ultimately serves as a big waste of time. Because it neglected to spur any kind of reaction from me, it lands in the number one spot of the worst for the year.
- Godzilla (Edwards, 2014) – Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and Ken Watanabe – why oh why did you agree to be in this terrible film? I thought the monster was adorable – which can’t be good.
- Winter’s Tale (Goldsman, 2014) – This one would have gotten a full write-up, but I kid you not, after 20 minutes in, I couldn’t stand to watch any more.
- Step Up All In (Sie, 2014) – Okay, okay – I know a film like this isn’t meant to be anything but a showcase for dancing, but oh-my-lord, is the acting and plot ever terrible. Just terrible.
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One: Its metaphors are too heavy-handed for liking and it’s definitely a film that refuses to act as stand alone (you need to have previously seen Catching Fire for it to make any kind of sense, nor does it have any resolution-meaning you’ve got to buy a ticket to Part Two).
Can I just reference the flying horse and call it a day?
Akiva Goldman’s passion project is a misfire in nearly every capacity. The lead actors are horrendously miscast and hilariously unbelievable. The love story between Colin Farrell (looking dazed) and Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey is undercooked, passionless and more than a bit dull. The magical realism angle that resonated with readers is poorly translated from page to screen. The Will Smith cameo is unintentionally the best thing about the film, but only because you’ll have to pick your jaw up off the floor because it’s so bad.
And then there’s a flying horse that rescues the day.
Winter’s Tale is set in the year 1916 and purports to tell the tale of Peter Lake (Farrell). After being orphaned by immigrant parents near Ellis Island, Lake begins a journey steeped in magic and destiny. He crosses a low-level demon, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, in his second bad film of the year) and hides out in the home of a sickly pianist named Beverly (Jessica Findlay). As Justin Chang’s on-the-nose review suggests, the film asks viewers to buy into the idea that love can overcome death because destiny has meaning and purpose – what may have seemed magical on paper, but plays out as hilariously earnest and silly on-screen.
If you’re really looking for an entertaining tale featuring magic, class conflict and the immigrant experience, I highly recommend Helene Wecker’s fantastic book The Golem and The Jinni (or perhaps you can revisit Winter’s Tale in book form, which must have enough ardent fans to justify this adaptation). Unfortunately, as a film, Winter’s Tale is a slog. It is poorly paced and poorly directed. It is also atrociously written and acted. In all truth, trying to get through this film without laughing or gouging out my eyes (or both) was like a torturous exercise. Winter’s Tale may not be the worst constructed film I saw all year, but considering the pedigree, the talent, the money and the quality source material, there is absolutely no reason that this film should be as bad as it is. I want my money back…and I watched this f*cker on a plane for free!
- Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Branagh, 2014): What should have been a slam-dunk franchise relaunch is as exciting as watching paint dry. The action pales in comparison to Mission: Impossible and Die Hard films, Branagh is a toothless villain and you’ll spend the entire time wondering why Keira Knightley is even in it.
- The Legend of Hercules (Harlin, 2014): An uninspired paint-by-numbers “action-adventure” featuring inept direction/CGI from legendary director Renny Harlin and a performance by Lutz that rivals a piece of lumber.
- Pompeii (Anderson, 2014): The enfant horrible of action films, Paul W.S. Anderson offers up a poorly plotted, poorly acted CGI-bloated movie about the infamous volcanic eruption. Notable solely for watching Jon Snow try to escape molten magma on a horse.
- Stage Fright (Sable, 2014): A comedy-horror film about a cursed stage production that is neither funny, nor scary, but rather somewhere terribly in between. Warning: Meat Loaf performance ahead.
I put A Million Ways to Die in the West at the top of my worst list because it neglected to make me laugh even once. As symmetry would have it, I name What We Do in the Shadows as the best film of the year precisely because it succeed where A Million failed- I laughed my ass off in this one from start to finish. This little gem from New Zealand is absolutely hilarious. It’s a mockumentary about vampires. Need I say more? The film has all the vampire tropes you’d expect – coffins, human slaves, aversion to sunlight – heck, even rivaling werewolves show up, but throw in the mundane events like having a house meeting about whose responsible for cleaning the flat after mass killings and you have a recipe for greatness my friends.
I know I shouldn’t make the comparisons, but if you liked Flight of The Conchords, then this one is definitely for you. Jemaine Clement himself, acts as co-director and stars along with the equally loveable Taika Waititi. It’s got the same deadpan humor and gut-busting one-liners you’d come to love from that show, along with impressive sight-gags and a lot of heart. To balance things out, there are genuine moments of horror (they’re vampires after all) but all of it is presented harmoniously, resulting is a highly enjoyable viewing experience.
It may not have the depth as some of the other films I’ve named as best on my list, but it literally was the best time I had in a theatre all year-hands down. I can’t recommend this film highly enough. It proudly earns my number one slot as best film of the year. Seek it out if you can – you won’t regret it.
- Snowpiercer (Bong, 2013) – I love me some dystopian films and this one delivers – great pacing and sustained tension, this one was a big winner in my books
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (Singer, 2014) – Any film that washes away the horrible disappointment I had after X-Men: The Last Stand, definitely deserves a mention. Thankfully this film also boasts excellent performances, some great action and a tight and intriguing story.
- The Lego Movie (Lord & Miller, 2014) – Enjoyable for all ages, and I loved the meta-twist at the end. Plus, ‘Everything is Awesome’ is my jam.
Films I didn’t see but could have potentially made the ‘Best’ list:
Nightcrawler; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Boyhood
It ain’t subtle, but it sure is an amazing ride. The English language debut of Joon-ho Bong took a long, awkward path to get to theatres (Bong’s custody battle over the editing/final with the Weinstein Co. is notorious), but the finished product is unique unto itself.
Snowpiercer is a dystopian future tale of an ecological accident that plunged the world into a never-ending Arctic freeze. Humanity’s sole survivors are the humans that were on a luxury train traveling around the world and in order for the human race to survive, the train must keep moving all of the time. As adapted from a French graphic novel, the train is divided along class lines, with each car representing a different status level identified by changes in costume, lighting and props such as food. The film is very clearly a political allegory, rooted in our support for the underdog poor living in the tail car as they plot a rebellion to take control of the engine.
What sets Snowpiercer apart from the other films of 2014, including the others on my Best list, is its intelligence. So much detail and precision has been put into all of the technical aspects of the film, especially the direction which despite dealing with the confines of almost entirely interior sets and closed quarters is endlessly inventive and dynamic. The actions scenes, in particular, are extraordinary (my favourite is a toss-up between the classroom scene that begins as a blistering satire and ends in a bloodbath and the haunting, tension-filled encounters in the blackout car and spa car). The film succeeds by casting against type with a host of actors who bring the material to life, including Tilda Swinton’s eccentric (tooth-driven) performance (I love that the film is also unafraid to kill characters off, even recognizable big-wigs that you would expect to live).
Finally, the narrative isn’t afraid to be challenging, confrontational or unclear. I’m particularly surprised at the way that the film ends SPOILER with the wreck of the train and the likely end of humanity tempered only slightly by the suggestion that the snow might be melting END SPOILER. All of these reasons explain why Snowpiercer is not only a great film, but why it is my best film of 2014.
- Captain America 2: The Winter’s Tale (Russo Brothers, 2014) / Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014): Man, Marvel had a damn good year, didn’t they?
- Coherence (Byrkit, 2013): A black-out and unexplained phenomena prompts friends at a dinner party to question their identities and turn on each other in this low-budget, tense drama / sci-fi thriller.
- Force Majeure (Ruben Ostland, 2014): This searing take down of masculinity is the most biting film of the year. For those questioning the institution of marriage, this would make a great double bill with Gone Girl.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, 2014): A Russian doll tale with wit aplomb and dazzling, roving camerawork. And this is coming from someone who traditionally dislikes Anderson’s work.
- Nightcrawler (Gilroy, 2014): Gilroy’s feature debut is dark, gritty and uncompromising. Like Snowpiercer, it’s not subtle, but the performances by stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo are top notch and deserve Academy attention.
- Nyphomaniac, Part 1 (Von Trier, 2014): Stop by for Joe, the titular nympho’s adolescent years and stay for a blistering extended cameo by Uma Thurman as Mrs. H. Skip Part 2, which features too much icky Shia LaBoeuf and an off-putting final twist.
Films I didn’t see but could have potentially made the ‘Best’ list:
Beyond the Lights; The Imitation Game; The Immigrant; The Tale of the Princess Kaguya; Two Days, One Night
That’s a wrap on the 2014 Bitch Awards for films! What do you think of our lists? Hit up the comments and let us know.
Come back next week as we switch it up and give you a run down of the best and worst in television for the year.