Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
How do I compile a Top 5 list of favorite movies I saw in theaters last year, that were actually released in 2014, when only two of the dozen or so I went to see were worthy of induction in the list? Well, I either include three sub-par offerings from 2014, or three classics I also saw that were originally released decades earlier. In the end, I went with the second option, which is why Jaws takes top prize as my favorite film of 2014. I was lucky enough to be visiting my Dad in Arizona last summer when a local theater chain was showing Jaws as part of their weekly ‘revival night’ series, so off I went. And what a cool night it was, seeing a perfect print of my favorite movie on the big screen again, surrounded by a packed house of equally-enthusiastic Jaws fans. Without a doubt, my best movie-going experience of the year.
My favorite new movie of 2014, that I hoped would reel in a Best Picture win, but not having seen any of the other nominees, I obviously had no idea if The Grand Budapest Hotel was a shoo-in for the award, or merely a runner-up. For me anyway, it was an absolute comedic and visual treat, with Ralph Fiennes playing the concierge of a respected hotel accused of murdering a wealthy older woman, who has bequeathed to him a valuable painting wanted by her heirs. I saw the film in March, but I knew right then it would be my favorite of the year; I’m usually hit or miss with the films of writer-director Wes Anderson, but this one was definitely a hit. Great direction, smart screenwriting, and a tidal wave of Anderson’s stock actors.
A Tom Cruise science fiction film cracks my Top 5 for the second consecutive year (Oblivion made it for 2013), with this one again set in the future, where alien creatures invade Earth and prove to be superior opponents while on the verge of taking over the world; Cruise is an army PR officer who becomes caught in a time loop and teams up with super-soldier Emily Blunt to stop them. Action-packed, thrilling, and at times amusing, with Cruise surprisingly (and perhaps refreshingly) playing more a wimp than the tough-guy hero you’d expect him to be. For whatever reason, Cruise always seems to get a bad rap, but I thought he and Blunt did a fantastic job in this movie.
My last visit to a theater in 2014 was in early September, when I went to a 30th anniversary screening of Ghostbusters at a multiplex not far from my apartment. In a nutshell, for those uninitiated: a quartet of paranormal investigators – Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson – have their hands full when New York City is overrun by ghosts, evil spirits, and a towering, puffy-white demon. I hadn’t seen the movie in quite some time, and hadn’t seen it in theaters since it was first released in 1984, so it was fun to experience it again with a small but appreciative crowd, and like my earlier screening of Jaws, with a perfect digital print. And yes, it was still hilarious after all these years.
Part of a film noir festival my brother and I went to at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, this crime thriller from 1951 featured noir legend Charles McGraw as an insurance investigator who’s seduced by a mobster’s girlfriend, who convinces him to take part in a million dollar railway heist; as you’d expect, things don’t quite go as planned. An above-average noir enhanced by the presence of perennial hardcase McGraw, who turned it around and played a full-on chump who couldn’t get enough of money-hungry dish Joan Dixon. Definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of the genre, and of McGraw.