With June over we are officially halfway through the year, months-wise at least. And since no one demanded it – here it is: my list of the best movies of 2014 so far.
On this, the 180th day of the year, we are very close to the midpoint of this particular trip around the sun. It just so happens to coincide with the midpoint of summer movie season. Which, further coincidentally I’m sure, also marks the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction. Transformers: AoE (that’s what the kids call it) is full of explosions, CGI monsters, and beautiful people (Stanley Tucci, yowza!) – it’s kind of the perfect example of a summer blockbuster, down to the 2014-best opening weekend box office it inexplicably earned.
In their new movie, They Came Together, writers David Wain and Michael Showalter craft a humorous send-up to the romantic comedies of the 90’s. Like their first feature film collaboration, 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer – which parodied the summer camp movies of the 80s – the pair use the genre as a jumping off point for their unique brand of nonsense and non-sequiturs.
The deck was stacked against Begin Again from the very beginning. As I sat down in my seat at the Arclight in Hollywood, my pen broke. Truly frustrating, especially for an habitual note-taker like myself. I mean sure, nothing broke that was essential to the pen’s designed purpose – I can still write with it – but come on. Then Don comes up to do his spiel. Don. Hah! Don is a joke, and he knows it. Acts like he owns the place. So I think it’s pretty clear that I’m not in the mood for a light-hearted music movie. Surprisingly, the latest film from John Carney (Once) went a long way toward cheering me up.
After almost six months of writing reviews (seven really, if you include my movie-watching project from last December), I still don’t have very much confidence in my abilities. I understand that I’ll need to write regularly for years before I’m even half as good as the great Roger Ebert or the staff at The Dissolve, but I’m doing my best. My latest attempt at pushing my personal boundaries is in writing long-form analysis. Basically, why is a movie good or bad, instead of just a value judgment.
Think back – if you can – to that wild Spring of 2012. You were a year out of college, still not sure what you were doing with yourself (not that you have any wider conception of that two years later). You were still listening to Lonely Island’s “Jack Sparrow,” even though it had been out since graduation. But you’re pretty entrenched in the improv community. Not in any concrete way, really just as an observer. You find out two great UCB veterans, Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, created and star in a brand new sitcom on NBC. Best Friends Forever, it’s called. Hell, you’ve heard of friends. Why not give the show a chance? So you do. For six episodes, before it is unceremoniously cancelled by the network (to be fair, it would be pretty awkward if networks ceremoniously cancelled shows). The show was good, not great, so you felt bad for its stars. Fast forward to present day. You are going about your business, still writing in a weird second person narrative that is pretty off-putting, when you find out the Parham/St. Clair combo has created a new show. This time for USA, a network where characters are welcome. This is a review of the first episode of that show.
There are a lot of good movies coming out this summer. I’m not just taking about Think Like a Man Too and Transformers: Age of Extinction. The art houses are also putting plenty of quality films. For once. Between the Obvious Childs and the The Rovers, another indie release has managed to slip through my cracks (it’s not how it sounds). Night Moves, the latest film from Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy), has been out since the end of May, but I have been putting it off. The movie is about a trio of environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard) who are willing to go to extremes in order to draw attention to their cause. Maybe it’s the film’s built-in message that turned me off, but I should have trusted Reichardt to produce something more layered than a anti-industrial screed.
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I’m secretly a fan of musicals. I know, I know. Unbelievable, right? Well believe it. Movie musicals based on stage productions have had a rough go of it. Les Misérables, Rock of Ages, and Rent are all dire to various degrees. Clint Eastwood (yeah, that one) is the latest director to undertake this challenge, with his cinematic production of Jersey Boys, the musical depicting the rise and fall of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
The great thing about closely following a website like The Dissolve is that it can expose you to film you otherwise wouldn’t have seen (the bad thing is that I spend so much time reading it that I neglect my wife and children). The Dissolve, like many sites, puts the spotlight on the new movies it thinks are especially worth attention by labeling them “essential viewing.” The most recent movie given that tag is Coherence, a sci-fi/mumblecore film given that badge by Mike D’Angelo. D’Angelo is one of The Dissolve’s harsher critics, so when he really loves something, at the very least it demands your attention.