Some further explanation of my Top 10 Films of 2014

There have been complaints about my top 10 films of 2014 list, expected complaints, from parties that shall remain nameless but obvious, who are partisans for Guardians of the Galaxy.

First of all, it’s a top 10 favourite, not a top 10 best list so it will be wonked by my taste, or lack thereof.

Secondly, some explanation of how I rank films.

a) Does this film achieve what it set out to do?  Or the Ebert rule.  Or, you can’t watch a horror film and then a musical and complain about the lack of songs in the horror and the lack of gore in the musical (unless it’s supposed to be a musical horror).

b) Technical merit.  Which I grade on a curve, which we shall call Twig’s curve for the person who explained it best.  Basically, I expect the explosions in a film that cost £150 million to be better than the ones in a film that cost £150.

Or to use a proper example, the fact that in ‘Tooth and Claw’, Doctor Who produced a better werewolf than Warner Brothers managed to make for Harry Potter, means that Prisoner of Azkaban gets a lower tech. merit score.

Soundtracks so loud I can’t hear the actors goes in here, along with lighting so poor I can’t see anything.  It’s that sort of category.

Then there’s the even more subjective criteria.

c) Intellectual satisfaction.  Is the premise internally consistent, are the characters?  Is there an annoying deus ex machina?  (It’s possible to do deus ex machina well without me claiming that a film has cheated.  It normally involves a film charming me or being clever enough that I don’t care.)

Then there’s the most subjective.

d) Does it affect me?

Obviously this is going to vary wildly from person to person, because part of what you get out is the influences you brought in.

I am always going to like a film that makes me respond more than one that didn’t.

A perfect example is Inception, and the spinning top at the end.  I saw it at the Leicester Odeon on an Orange Wednesday and the entire, sold-out, audience groaned at the end, making a noise that can only be described as ‘ngh’.  There was a woman a few rows in front of me who was trying to knock the top over by waving at the screen.  That film got us all and good.

So, some justification for the positions (some slight spoilers follow):

1 – Grand Budapest Hotel

Hi, I’m from Vienna.  I was brought up on stories of a neverwhen exactly like that.  I loved the setting, the costumes and the sense of time and place in the framing device.

The thing that stays with me is F. Murray Abraham’s reading of “Agatha was born brave, I’m told that some people are” and the six different emotions he fits into that, and also Gustave H. and his desperate attempts to maintain a standard of decency and civility that never existed.

Underneath the 15 layers of puff-pastry is a film with a heart the size of a whale.

2 – Nightcrawler

Is probably a better film than Grand Budapest Hotel.  It is excellent.  The pacing drags a little towards the end but I don’t know if that’s just because having a character as repellent as Lou Bloom is just wearying.  I hope Jake Gyllenhaal gets some award nominations but I will be actively peeved if it doesn’t get some cinematography/lighting nominations.  Because it’s the best shot film I’ve seen this year.

Also, it made me cringe so hard that I left bruises on my sides.

3 – Zero Theorem

Has odd pacing issues.  I’m not entirely sure what it was trying to achieve.  I came out of the cinema going “I’m alive and that’s great, and you’re alive and that’s great, and we’re not the same and that’s even better”, which is an odd but fulfilling response to a film.

4 – Days of Future Past

Not perfect.  Godawful exposition speech by Prof. Xavier near the beginning.  Could have done with more stuff in the dark future.  Do not even try to reconcile it’s timeline with real life.  I could have done without the wailing women of sorrow on the soundtrack.

On the other hand – the SFX for the sentinels.  The plane scene of great angst, the scene in the Paris Metro, that speech of Trask’s, Peter Maximoff, Charles Xavier’s conversation with himself and everything they do with Mystique.  L will tell you that I had to restrain myself from shouting at the screen.

5 – Edge of Tomorrow

I loved the set-up.  I loved the mecha.  I loved the really rather dark sense of humour it had.  I loved how they used the slightly unrealistic way Tom Cruise sometimes looks to make him the ultimate ad man.  I love and adore our Queen, Rita Vratowski.

I loathe the ending with the passion of a thousand suns.  Basically, it failed the intellectual satisfaction test.  But I will consider arguments for it being moved up to 4 and even possibly 3.

6 – Charlie Countryman

Weird pacing issues.  A couple of script issues.  One plot macguffin that I refuse to believe people actually do.

On the other hand, I liked the characters and was satisfied by how things turned out and it was beautifully made.  And there’s a couple of magically scenes that will probably linger for a long time.

7 – Hercules

Which I know is possibly not a good film.  It’s made from the reheated parts of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, 300 and Gladiator.  It is screamingly obvious what will happen.

On the other hand, it’s well made, there’s some cool sword-fights, and it does some very clever things about the concept of heroes, legends and the way back then when “here be dragons” was a perfectly reasonable thing to find on a map (see also, the scene with the centaurs).

Also, I was totally the target audience and it gave me trickster warriors, which is an archetype I love.

8 – Guardians of the Galaxy

Good things – James Gunn and the SFX team made space look magnificent.  The SFX all round were amazing.

Groot!!!

It made me cry.

Bad things – the dialogue for people who aren’t Groot is ishy.  At best.

Yet another Marvel film where our heroes meet the Collector and not one of them goes ‘eww’ at him keeping sentient beings in cages.

I am more convinced by the SFX and the world-building than I am by the characters.

9 – How To Train Your Dragon 2

I loved Ruff-nut, I adored the dragons.  Mysterious dragon lady was awesome and realistic for someone in her situation.  Loved Hiccup and Astrid and their relationship.  Adored Gobber.  But I felt the film had really jarring jumps from “this is a fun scene” to “this is a serious scene” and generally felt that it was trying too hard to manipulate me.

10 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I know that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a better film, but I have underlying ideological issues with it that Marvel are never going to solve so it left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.  Not entirely its fault but there it is.

I’ve gone with the Turtles instead because I was expecting a bad movie and it wasn’t.  The first 25 minutes after the opening credits are awkward, I loathe the camera work for most of the fight scenes and I don’t like what they did to my boy Mikey.

On the other hand, the opening credits are awesome and the bad guy was amusing, as was April’s sidekick.  Raphael was awesome and I’m in love with April O’Neil.

Also, I was sat next to the target audience at the showing I went to (a bunch of 7 year olds, this did not need to be a 12) and they loved it, so job done.

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