Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Son of Celluloid Picks the Top 13 Flicks of 2014

A couple of notes before we get started here.  First of all, this year I opened up the countdown to non-horror movies.  A lot of the best flicks this year danced around the edges of the genre; not really horror but somehow horrific.  Those classification defying films deserved a spot, so no more genre limitations.  Second of all, a couple of these movies were out before this year but were not widely available until 2014.  If I saw it this year, it’s fair game.  Let’s see, anything else…oh yeah.  If I had seen Found this year, it would have been an easy #1.  Ok Cellmates, I present to you my top thirteen films of 2014…

Honorable Mention: Purge:Anarchy, Proxy, Godzilla, American Muscle, Tusk, Collar, Deadly Virtues, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, The Hornet’s Sting and The Hell It’s Caused

13. Cross Bearer 
I’m keeping Cross Bearer at the bottom only because of questions over which year it should count as.  While the majority of horror flicks this year was concerned with exploring the edges of the genre and being so called “high concept,” Cross Bearer wallowed in sleazy slasher excess and was a blast to watch because of it.  Bloody, booby, and brutal goodness.  Adam Ahlbrandt has a definite handle on the basics.


 12. Tie - Captain America: Winter Soldier / Guardians of the Galaxy 
Even the Son of Celluloid needs a non-horror palate cleanser now and then.  Superhero movies are just what the doctor ordered, and this year Marvel released their two best films to date.  CA:WS introduced something new to the Marvel flicks; a real, honest to goodness plot.  It was a political thriller with the usual comic book movie  “bang pow boom” as an accoutrement.  Guardians of the Galaxy was just a fun as hell sci-fi romp.  While I can’t in good conscience give Marvel two spots on the countdown, these were my favorite theatrical releases of the year.

11. Time To Kill 
Don’t get me wrong, some movies are supposed to hurt, but the majority of the time the number one thing a movie should be is fun to watch.  I give Time To Kill the title of “Funnest Flick Of 2014.”  Plentiful tits and blood, a killer soundtrack, and a breakout turn from rising star Ellie Church make Brian Williams’ debut feature a neo-exploitation gem not to be missed.  Just don’t make an “all shots no beer” drinking game out of it.  Bad things happen.  I learned that the hard way.

10. Babadook 
Forget for a minute that this flick was ridiculously overhyped.  Is it the best horror flick in years?  No.  Is it a really good one?  Yep.  If I were giving out a Best Actress award, Essie Davis would have it hands down.  Child actor Noah Wiseman killed it too.  Add in great production design (am I the only one who thinks the monster looks like a caricature of Coffin Joe?) and a well-built pace and you have an effective little thriller. 

9. Morris County 
Matt Garrett’s Morris County is either the most depressing flick of the year or a pitch black comedy (or both) depending on how twisted you are.  It’s well acted, well written, contains some really good practical makeups, and has a deliciously grim atmosphere that I’ve heard compared to Happiness.  The third segment can completely bum me out or have me in stitches depending on the mood it catches me in.  That kind of tonal complexity is a rare achievement.

8. Cold In July 
You had me at Lansdale.  Cold in July is a little bit of everything.  It’s a revenge story.  It’s a hard boiled noir.  It’s Don Johnson being a cowboy badass.   It’s a character study.   It’s a gripping look at how violence affects our lives.  And in the last half hour, it’s a balls to the wall violent slaughterfest.  In other words, this one’s got something for everyone.  Between this, We Are What We Are, Stakeland, and the flick at #6, I will now officially watch anything with Nick Damici in it.

7. I Am No One 
With his first feature, Jason Hoover has recreated the serial killer movie.  Mix the style of Man Bites Dog with the spirit of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and you have I Am No One.  Foregoing Grand Guignol excess in favor of chilling, quiet moments with violent punctuation, Hoover uses the faux-documentary style to its full potential.  Mike Nall is brilliant as the killer, always seeming a little too calm not to be coiled to strike.  Through interviews and observation, the human face that hides the mind of a maniac (doomed to be a killer since he came out the nutsack?) slowly cracks and falls away until a climax that is one of the best single scenes the underground has produced in a long time.  The true horror comes after the movie when you realize just how many people like Charles Lake you might have known.  This is grown up horror, and it’s a direction I hope the serial killer sub-genre continues following.

6. Late Phases 
The first great werewolf movie since Dog Soldiers.  Late phases takes the flavor of an old school creature feature and, as many of the best horror flicks from the past few years have, added a double shot of genuine pathos.  Nick Damici is wholly believable as a gruff, blind Vietnam vet dealing with his new life in a retirement community, a deteriorating relationship with his son, and the werewolves that make monthly attacks on his neighborhood.  A supporting turn by Tom Noonan as a priest and practical creature effects by none other than Robert Kurtzman are both worth noting.  The CGI blood is worth ignoring.

5. Come Back To Me 
I figured that a movie based on Wrath James White's book The Resurrectionist had zero chance of not disappointing. The source material is extremely graphic, and with the current lack of balls in the horror movie game, I knew the flick wouldn't match the book's intensity. I was pleasantly surprised by this one, though. Come Back To Me did omit the over the top violence, but still found a way to capture enough of the story's original tone to make it palatable to both fans of the book and mainstream horror without it feeling neutered.  It’s genuinely eerie, builds the tension well, and the finale is a straight up kick in the balls.  If you haven’t read the book, the twist will get ya.

4. Blue Ruin 
This is what would happen if some everyday schlub like you or me tried to pull off some one man army, Death Wish vigilante type of shit.  In a year with multiple well done revenge flicks, this is the best.  It’s got some satisfyingly bloody set pieces, but writer/director Jeremy Saulnier makes sure they are felt and actually have an impact.  Moments of comedy weave in and out of the tragedy of a man obligated to do a job he’s nowhere near ready to carry out.  That man’s journey is made all the more gripping by a tour de force performance by Macon Blair.  It’s the second best (behind only the masterpiece that is Found) movie everyone could have gotten at Wal-mart for ten bucks this year that no one bought.  

3. Nightcrawler 
The best way I can describe Nightcrawler is “exactly what 4amin a big city feels like captured on screen.”  It shows a deftness and confidence behind the camera that is surprising from a first time director like Dan Gilroy.  The entire cast is on point.  Jake Gyllenhaal (who looks terminally ill in this flick) is immensely creepy and practically oozes sleaze all over the audience.  If he and Rene Russo don’t get Oscar nominations, the terrorists win. Bill Paxton is awesome as a total dick.  The flick looks absolutely gorgeous, exhibiting the best cinematography of the year.  While the story works literally, everyone I’ve talked to sees something different in it metaphorically.  That kind of multi-level filmmaking is refreshing.  Since it’s 2014 exposure was limited, I expect the February DVD drop date to ensure this one makes it on a multitude of “Best of 2015” lists.

2. Starry Eyes 
Worst casting couch ever!  Part biting show business satire and part body horror, Starry Eyes is the story of an aspiring actress who just may have gone too far in the pursuit of a role in the film The Silver Scream.  I’ve heard it compared to the work of both David Lynch and Roman Polanski, and I can see the best of both influences in it.  I see a lot of Cronenberg too, especially the superb use of (well done) makeup as character development ala The Fly.  Alex Essoe puts in a great performance, showing the chops necessary to be a possible future genre mainstay.  The gore is practical and suitably gooey.  Starry Eyes seems to exist between eras; with a 70’s Euro-horror feel, an 80’s score, and a bleak as hell millennial nihilism.  I would give anything for the people behind this to go the Found/Headless route and actually make The Silver Scream

1.Pieces of Talent 
I just noticed that my top two movies both involve struggling actresses and the world of filmmaking.  Interesting.  Anyway, If you pay attention to the underground horror scene at all, there’s no way Pieces of Talent flew under your radar.  Joe Stauffer’s flick got a lot of buzz, and every bit of it was deserved.  Charlotte toils away at a seedy strip club where she meets David, a filmmaker who adopts Charlotte as his leading lady and muse.  But just how far will David go to realize his artistic vision?  The first thing I loved about this flick was David Long as, um… David Long.  It’s so hard to get a read on his character.  He definitely plays him weird as hell, but it’s not quite an endearing weird and not quite a menacing weird.  It’s that kind of “there’s something wrong with that dude, but I’m not sure what” weird.  I’ve never seen a performance like it before.  Kristi Ray brings a likable vulnerability to Charlotte as well.  Another thing that blew me away is how the film played with tone and form, veering between different styles of horror to weave an intricate stylistic patchwork and keep the audience on their toes.  It’s alternately subtle, creepy, funny, bizarre and dreamlike, and brutal and bloody (with practical effects I might add) when it needs to be.  First person “found footage” style footage is used in conjunction with standard third person style in a way that is far more effective than any full on FFF.   The final, lingering thing that stuck with me was the feeling that, if I were just a little crazier, David could be me.  Any creative type, from a filmmaker to a painter to a writer, can understand David’s motivation to some extent.  It’s a look at the state of independent horror filmmaking through a prism of madness, and it leaves that sickly feeling that you might not be as different from the villain as you would like to believe.  The fact that it’s miles ahead of the majority of similarly budgeted films on every technical level (sound, editing, cinematography, etc.) is just icing on the cake. Pieces of Talent is an impressive and truly unique film.  Stauffer and Long are currently raising funds for a sequel.  I hope to god that it happens.

 Starry Eyes, Blue Ruin, Come Back To Me, Late Phases, Cold In July, Babadook, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy are available on Amazon either on DVD/BR or streaming.
CROSS BEARER is available HERE 
TIME TO KILL is available HERE
I AM NO ONE is available HERE 


Killer Couch said...

Pieces of Talent, Blue Ruin, Guardians, Nightcrawler and Cold In July made my top 10 this year too. Still waiting for a Late Phases release in my country

Tony Brubaker said...

I want to bugger Miley Cyrus.

sonofcelluloid said...

Dont we all ! ! !.

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