If you didn’t already know this, you can use it to seem more worldly: Jewish people go to movies on Christmas Day.
Not all of us, mind you, but a fair number of Jews in North America, set wandering again by the CLOSED signs on almost every business, find light at movie theatres, which miraculously stay open on the closediest day of the year. Some of us truly do go because there’s nothing else to do. Some go for tradition’s sake. I go for the above reasons, but mostly because I really like movies.
Today I’ll be seeing one of the glittery new movies that comes out late enough in the year to be nominated for an Oscar while it’s still in theatres. But I also decided to take this chance to look back on 2014, and to share my thoughts on some of its biggest releases.
Big Hero 6
Better than Guardians of the Galaxy. There, I said it. Big Hero 6 has all the charm and excitement of Guardians, but with the added touch of artistic ambition. The setting is San Fransokyo, which is every bit as clever as it promises (and much more inspiring than the Star Wars-ripoff world of Guardians). The plot of Big Hero 6 is a little jagged, and the sci-fi not as developed as I’d like, but the scenes are crisp and the characters are warm and inviting.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
One of the bad guys, a soldier, has neatly trimmed stubble, and that bugs the hell out of me. My brother thinks it’s because I’m a pretentious ass, which is true, but I also think it represents the disappointing, desperate need this movie has to be as goddamn manly as goddamn possible, even if it has to totally ignore goddamn realism. Non-regulation facial hair and quasi-Nazi ninjas are all on the same boat, er, exploding aircraft carrier.
Also: if boys are supposed to like guns so much, why does every action movie assume we know so little about them?
Exodus: Gods and Kings
Yes, the Egyptians are white. And yes, it’s overly long. As a stand-alone feature, Exodus is just like the 3rd Hobbit movie but with worse pacing (now I don’t have to review it!) But if you’ve seen The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, and have any investment in the story of Exodus (see top paragraph), Exodus: Gods and Kings offers a rare alternate take on the themes of the story. Is it about faith, or is it about power? Be warned: there’s no singing.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Is it really that funny? Is the action really that intense? Is Chris Pratt really that impressive? Is Groot really that cool? Why does Ronan want to kill everyone? Why does Guardians raise more questions than Exodus?
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Not as neatly plotted as the first two installments in the series, which might be why Mockingjay – Part 1 was a commercial disappointment compared to them. But on a scene-by-scene basis, there’s more power here than there’s ever been. Trauma, recovery, aggression, compromise: Not just ugly, but dirty things offer more nuance and allow for more interesting performances from Elizabeth Banks, newcomer Julianne Moore, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Every feeling is felt, every shouted word echoes loud and clear.
The Lego Movie
The animation is pretty cool. There, I didn’t upset anybody.
Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen still has the gleaming, dreamy cinematography that made us fall back in love with Europe in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris. The setting this time is the south of France, in the 1920s, and the players are a charming young psychic and the skeptic that’s come to debunk her. Emma Stone and Colin Firth are perfect, but the philosophy that drives the plot and characters is iffy, and the developments are bland. Watch with your eyes, not your mind or heart, and enjoy.
Neighbors is a couple plotholes away from being a great cross-genre bro comedy, like The Hangover or another example. Zac Efron and Seth Rogen are excellent, and the script takes character as seriously as it does penis jokes. Great cameos and strong support from Rose Byrne and Dave Franco make Neighbors my favourite comedy of the year.
If I can’t spell “Neighbors” the way I want to, I can at least use “favourite” in the same sentence.
22 Jump Street
Probably funnier than the first one, which is nice, but also forgettable, which is bad when you’re trying to write a review. Or maybe it’s really good, because it tells the readers all they need to know.