Anyone can tap out a worst-films-of-the-year list. Pick this or that from the slush heap and it doesn’t matter. What can “worst” possibly mean in this, an era of corporate franchise zombie films overwhelming almost everything in a megaplex sense? How many years ago did Andrew Sarris note that “the bottom has fallen out of badness in movies?” In the early ’80s, I think it was, and he could’t have foreseen how absent that “bottom” would truly become. The point (and I realize this paragraph isn’t exactly flowing from thought to thought) is that mature and knowledgable film lovers will never dismiss a formidable, strongly flavored, well-made film just because they didn’t enjoy watching it. You have to take yourself out of the equation and step back and evaluate a film cold and clean. Once you’ve done that, jump back in and fire at will.
Hundreds of times I’ve said “I didn’t like watching this film and in fact I kind of hated it on a certain level and I was enormously relieved when it ended, but it’s not half bad, and in fact I respect where it’s coming from and I would never call its admirers wrong or delusional.” I know enough about movies to be able to say this. Just because a flick didn’t ring my little personal cowbell doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve praise from others and perhaps even tribute from the Movie Godz (although I’m in fairly close contact with those guys and rarely have a difference of opinion with them).
How then to start my list of 2014 films that I personally found agonizing or depressing to sit through, but which are far from bad or dismissable? I know from experience that I can always start by referencing Karina Longworth‘s best of the year list. The author and former L.A. Weekly/Village Voice film critic is a brilliant filmologist and knows her stuff cold, but her personal end-of-the-year favorites are almost always “what?” to me. Ditto New Yorker film critic and columnist Richard Brody. There are plenty more where these two are coming from. Dennis Lim, Gavin Smith…guys like that. Elite sensibilities. Ivory tower-ists. Year after year I ask myself, “How could these guys live on more or less the same planet that I do and sincerely praise these movies as among the very best? What am I missing? Do I need to change my diet?”
Early this morning Longworth tweeted that the following are her Best of 2014 selections: Lukas Moodyson‘s We Are The Best (Swedish teenaged alienation piece…14 year-old girl rockers…raucous and respectable…watched 2/3 of the screener, will watch the remainder today or tomorrow), James Gray‘s The Immigrant (Darius Khondji‘s amber-lit photography and the general production values are top of the line, but the pace is slow and the story is a ho-hummer), Gina Prince-Bythwood‘s Beyond the Lights (never cared to see it and I’m not alone in this), Listen Up Philip (bamboo chutes jammed under fingernails), Under the Skin (I know it’s a big favorite among some but I found it mostly agonizing), Force Majeure (saw it in Cannes…40ish dad guilt-tripped by mom for running for cover from an avalanche without looking to save the kids first…meh), Stranger By The Lake (too many fresh-air erections), Inherent Vice (seen it twice, never again), Tales of the Grim Sleeper (watched it, waited, never felt the juice), Love is Strange (kindly, compassionate, enervating…not much of a pulse…almost a meh) and Snowpiercer (knocks you out conceptually during the first 65%, says the right things but says them over and over again, but the obsessively violent conflicts and blood stylings wear out their welcome)
I completely agree with Longworth’s choosing of Laggies, The One I Love and Only Lovers Left Alive as among the year’s best. She also selected Bird People, but to my discredit I never saw it.