The 26th Annual Biggie Awards [UPDATED WITH WINNERS!] for achievements in film for the year 2014 (click on any image to see the full-size version) A year like 2014 is […]
The 26th Annual Biggie Awards
[UPDATED WITH WINNERS!]
for achievements in film for the year 2014
(click on any image to see the full-size version)
A year like 2014 is precisely why I created my own awards to begin with. It’s a year when the Oscars and I disagreed perhaps more than we ever have. I dutifully watched the Academy Awards this year, as I always do, but I had little to no rooting interest, as almost none of my favorite movies were up in the categories they should’ve been recognized in. Though you’ll find quite a bit of overlap in our acting nominees, I only agree with 3 of the Academy’s 8 Best Picture nominees, and they passed gas on nearly all of their technical categories. What else is new?
I thought 2014 was a good year on the whole, but not great. Maybe a B+ if I were to grade it. The barometer I use in judging an entire year is how many movies I put on my all-time “Movies I Love” list. This year, there were 21 new entrees on that list. There were 22 in 2013 and 25 in 2012. For perspective, the most ever is 31 from 2000. None of 2014’s entries will wind up in my all-time top 100, but that’s a tough list to crack any year.
Let’s start at the top. I’m not ashamed to admit my favorite movie of the year was The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, this year’s nominations leader with a Biggielicious 13 nods. I’m sad to see Peter Jackson finally (and likely forever) wrap up his journey to Middle Earth, and the unexpected Hobbit trilogy concluded with its most action-packed, dramatically powerful, emotional entry in Five Armies. These films got a bad rap with critics and some fanboys who were perplexed and annoyed that such a svelte book was drawn out into 3 140-minute+ movies. Most assumed it was purely studio greed, and that the story couldn’t possibly be stretched out to what is essentially one 8-hour film. I had those same reservations at first, but after keeping an open mind through all 3 films, I have no problem with it (sadly, I still haven’t seen any of the extended cuts). When something is great, I always want more of it. None of the Hobbit movies are as good as any of the Lord of the Rings films, but if one were to watch all six in succession, they are clearly part of the same world (something that can’t be said with Star Wars thanks to the disjointed prequels). Five Armies nicely wraps up all of the trilogy’s storylines, gives us a lot of emotional payoff, and it provided some nice story linkage between these movies and Lord of the Rings.
It was a banner year for Marvel Studios, which put out maybe its best one-two punch ever in Captain America: The Winter and Guardians of the Galaxy, racking up 8 nominations between them today. Both films were great and both were hugely successful (grossing 259.8 and $333.2 million domestic respectively). Marvel is on a streak of hits comparable only to the ongoing Pixar Dynasty, and in my view 2015’s semi-risky Ant-Man is the only movie on their upcoming slate that could totally bomb. Of course it probably won’t, but even if it does, they’ll have the guaranteed billion-dollar+ grosses of Avengers: Age of Ultron to make up for it. It’s good to be Marvel boss Kevin Feige, that’s for sure. Put it this way: Marvel is doing so well that back in October they did a Steve Jobs-style keynote presentation announcing all the movies they’re making for the next 5 years.
There were several standout individual efforts as well in 2014. If I were to give out an award for Entertainer of the Year, for 2014 it would go to Jake Gyllenhaal, who has probably made the best choices in roles of any actor since 2010. He starred in two of this year’s best and simultaneously most underrated movies, Nightcrawler and Enemy. The latter reunited him with his Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve, and it’s one of the weirdest movies that I’ve ever loved. Rarely has a real-life city seemed so ominous and mysterious as Toronto of all places did in this film, shot in beautiful wide angles and color-timed in a foreboding brownish yellow. It’s a movie that has to be seen to be believed, and it features one of the coolest WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT endings you’ll ever lay eyes on. Meanwhile, he gives what I believe is the performance of his career in Nightcrawler. This is a character that sort of reminds me of De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, but also mix in a large dose of Daniel Day-Lewis’ misanthropic Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. Louis Bloom is all at once creepy, intense, calculating, ambitious and constantly teetering on the brink of insanity.
Speaking of WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT, Scarlett Johansson, who also had a very successful 2014, starred as a seductress alien in the other weirdest movie I saw all year, Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, which also must be seen to be believed. Obviously, Johansson co-starred in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and then had her first legitimate hit all her own with Lucy. In my view, Lucy was a very cool idea that turned into a very dumb movie. You know, like almost everything Luc Besson is involved with.
Meanwhile, 23-year old Shailene Woodley is now on the verge of becoming a Jennifer Lawrence-sized movie star after her two big 2014 hits, Divergent ($150.9 million) and The Fault In Our Stars ($124.9 million). If she makes the right decisions over the next few years, the sky’s the limit for her. That’s a good thing, because we desperately need new movie stars. It’d just be nice if a few of them were people of color. Woodley was previously Biggie-nominated as part of The Descendants’ ensemble cast in 2011, but now receives her first individual nod for Best Actress for her amazing and powerful work as a cancer patient in Fault In Our Stars.
Also worth mentioning is the directing duo of Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, who somehow managed to put The Lego Movie ($257.8m) and 22 Jump Street ($191.7m) in theaters just 4 months apart. Both films were critical and commercial hits. And finally, I wanna give props to the beautiful Eva Green, who played two sexy, bloodthirsty villains in 2014; in 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Neither of those movies was great, but she was excellent in both.
Superior Sequels and Surprises
I hate to admit this, but it was also an excellent year for sequels. By my count, 6 of 2014’s sequels (The Raid 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 22 Jump Street, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Purge: Anarchy) were better than their predecessors. Significantly better in the case of Jump Street and The Purge. Of course, there were plenty of inferior or flat out unnecessary sequels/reboots to balance that equation (Robocop, 300: Rise of an Empire, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Expendables 3, Horrible Bosses 2, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), but still, if sequels and reboots and reimaginings and reincarnations (or whatever you want to call them) are going to be such an important component of the studios’ annual output, I think it’s fair to expect at least half of them to match or outclass their predecessors.
Almost every year, there’s a wild card, out-of-nowhere film that winds up blowing me away and entering the Best Picture race. This year that film is 30-year old Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. The film was all the buzz out of Sundance last January, but it didn’t open in theaters in my neck of the woods until literally a year later. And when it did, I rushed out and was not disappointed. When the end credits finally hit and I collected myself, I realized I was literally sweating in my seat. It’s got one of the most satisfying finales in recent memory, reminding you just how potent a good ending can be. In fact, I would say the last 10-12 minutes of that movie is perfect filmmaking. Whiplash may be the best movie about music that I’ve ever seen. It is one of the most stunning and confident debut films of the last decade, and perhaps the best since Sam Mendes announced himself to the world with American Beauty in 1999. Rarely do you see an independent film with editing, cinematography and sound design this Hollywood-ready.
Kudos too to Wes Anderson. He’d made a string of movies that didn’t move me in any way over the course of a decade, so I’d nearly given up on him prior to Moonrise Kingdom two years ago, which I unexpectedly loved (and nominated for Best Original Screenplay). Then he comes right back this year and blasts a homerun with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I absolutely adore. In fact, Grand Budapest has now replaced Rushmore as my favorite Wes Anderson flick. No film bore the mark of its director more strongly this year. I don’t see how he ever tops Budapest (nominated 11 times here today, second most overall), which seems to me to be the perfect “Wes Anderson movie”, but even if he doesn’t, it’s been a wonderful and welcome comeback to behold.
Tim Burton had a nice (but sneaky, since nobody saw it) little comeback, too. Big Eyes was the first Burton flick I truly enjoyed from start to finish since Big Fish, which came out 12 friggin years ago. It was nice to see him step back from big budgets, over-the-top concepts, and most importantly, Johnny Depp and his stupid makeup, to show that he still has some life left in him as a filmmaker.
I also want to give a quick shoutout to Jason Bateman, who made his directorial debut with the hilarious and touching Bad Words, which he also starred in. It’s got a wonderful kid actor performance from Rohan Chand, who plays a spelling bee champion reluctantly befriended by Bateman’s character, a middle-aged man trying to compete against 10-year olds. The film also features a damned good script by Andrew Dodge that I seriously considered for Best Original Screenplay. Find this movie and see it immediately.
Disappointing and Overrated
Several of this year’s movies either tried too hard to be awards contenders or were hugely overrated by critics (and in some cases, by audiences). For instance, Unbroken should have been great given the incredible story it was telling, but Angelina Jolie and her team I guess just assumed anything they did with it would automatically turn into Oscar glory. It’s a shame, because I know Jolie was very passionate about telling this story right. Unfortunately, the final product is full of awkward edits, and the PG-13 rating limits the impact of the brutality that normally makes a movie like this impossible to forget.
Of course, the most overrated movie of 2014 was Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Didja hear it took 12 YEARS to make?!?!?! I didn’t think an awards season movie could ever be more overrated than Argo was 2 years ago, but Boyhood has boldly taken a seat on the Iron Throne of Overrated Movies. The directing is boring an uninspired, the writing is boring and even cheesy at some many points, and I firmly believe that if you’d shot this same movie over the course of 4 months like a regular film and just used different actors for the kid roles as they aged, Boyhood gets NONE of its current praise. For reasons that will forever escape me, people think that the ability to keep this cast alive and together for brief periods of time over 12 years was some monumental, Citizen Kane-level cinematic achievement. I vehemently disagree. At a certain point, you begin wondering, Am I really watching a 5-minute scene of a guy arguing with his kids about doing their chores? It’s just too normal, if that makes sense. The best thing about movies and TV is that most times they’re heightened reality, and in many cases total fantasy. The only way Boyhood could’ve been less cinematic is if they’d shot it with camcorders and videotape and presented it as a ‘found footage’ home movie.
The Boyhood ballwashers will claim people like me just “didn’t get it”, and I’ll retort that there was nothing to get. But I didn’t outright hate the movie. I actually thought it was decent (I gave it a 7 on IMDb), but I ain’t about that hype, bruh. The only extraordinary aspects of the film were the performances of Ethan Hawke & Patricia Arquette, who are both nominated here in the supporting actor categories.
Unfortunately, you’ll find Christopher Nolan is lacking his typical Biggies love this year. Since Batman Begins in 2005, his films have averaged 9 nominations apiece, and two of those five films were Best Picture winners (The Dark Knight, Inception). I loved Interstellar, but it wasn’t the all-time great I was hoping for prior to its release, and it wasn’t exceptional enough to receive the boatload of nominations I’m accustomed to bestowing on Nolan’s work. Interstellar receives just two nominations, but don’t let that make you believe I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the film. It certainly wasn’t as messy as The Dark Knight Rises. I’m not gonna go so far as to say Nolan is in need of a comeback just yet, but I certainly like it better when his movies are good enough to contend in all the top categories.
I’m also in line with the Oscars in not fawning over Selma. I thought it was a damned good movie, and David Oyelowo is exceptional in it, but on the whole it wasn’t the epic “issues movie” demanding to be recognized that many believe it is, and I’m not gonna whine about the Oscars’ lack of diversity this year in not recognizing Selma more. Hollywood’s lack of diversity is the real issue, folks. I think there’s an even better MLK Jr. movie waiting to be made that would be worthy of winning Best Picture. However, Ava DuVerney did a fine job. It’s still a superb film that everybody should see.
Another film you won’t find represented here is Clint Eastwood’s surprising smash hit and 6-time Oscar nominee, American Sniper. I enjoyed it very much, but a groundbreaking war picture it is not. I wasn’t swayed by all the controversy, either. In fact, it amused me how much the movie enraged anti-military liberals. These are the people who didn’t think the movie had enough “nuance” (aka Chris Kyle was shown in too positive a light). Sniper came close to being nominated in several categories (Bradley Cooper for Best Actor in particular), but it wasn’t exemplary enough in any one area to make the cut. That’s just the way it goes. I was rooting for it, too. I’d have loved for it to be a Saving Private Ryan/Black Hawk Down level masterpiece, but t’wasn’t to be. Nor do I think any film about the Iraq War ever will be, by the way. I don’t begrudge the film its success, and it qualifies as the kind of genuine phenomenon we only see once every 5 years or so ($330.8 million and counting), but I’m sorry, it ain’t THAT good, people. It would have been nice if even a third of the people flocking to see American Sniper had gone and seen Birdman or Whiplash instead.
The last film I’ll mention in this section is the now-IMMORTAL Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie I enjoyed the first time but came to love after a second viewing. That said, I’ve been following the movie industry for almost 20 years now and I have never seen fanboys and the geek community overreact to something like they did with Guardians last summer. You’d have thought this was the second coming of the original Star Wars the way some people were vomiting orgasmic joy over this movie. I’m not mad at anyone who loved the movie, but let’s have some fucking perspective, shall we? You couldn’t read one review of the movie without seeing the word “fun” mentioned at least 50 times. As if there’d never been a fun summer movie before. “Guardians of the Galaxy is just so much FUN.” “It’s the most FUN I’ve had at the movies in years!” “In a summer full of overly serious blockbusters, it’s nice to have a film that’s just trying to be FUN.” And on and on it went. Calm the F down. You had movie blogs posting stories about every new Groot toy being released, as if that were somehow news. The desperation for Guardians of the Galaxy article clicks was palpable and pathetic. It took a good 4 months for some of these sites to stop talking about Guardians of the Galaxy-related tidbits literally every single day.
Look, I’m glad a lesser known and out-there property was successful, but Guardians ended up being the most successful Marvel movie ever not named The Avengers, which is absurd. I swear, sometimes I get butthurt about movies that make too much money than I do great movies that make no money. But again, kudos to Marvel for going all in and taking the risk, and I applaud James Gunn on his direction and for co-writing a fantastic script (with Nicole Perlman). Going in, I thought there was a good chance it was going to be a complete disaster creatively and nobody outside the diehards would want to see it, and in the end I’m happy to be wrong on both counts. The film is deservingly nominated 4 times here, compared to only twice at the Oscars. But yeah, perspective, my friends. The Godfather of summer movies it is not.
That’ll do it for our annual Year in Review. It’s time to find out what this movie lover believes was the best of the best in all aspects of cinema for 2014.
Sidebar: I finally figured out how to include page breaks on the blog. I know it takes forever for this post to load if all the photos and GIFs are on one page, so I’ve done y’allz a favor and broken it up a bit. Unfortunately, I’m still no web design expert, so you have to go all the way down to the bottom of the page to click to the next section, which are indicated by the numbers below. Our first break will be right now, so click on that number 2 and let’s get this show on the road.