I saw 209 movies in various Chicago (and non-Chicago) movie theaters in 2014. I thought the number would fill me with pride. It does not. I sometimes feel like that comic-book collecting Simpsons character who, just before being atomized by a nuclear bomb, cries out, “Oh, I’ve wasted my life!”
At any rate, it’s a personal record for me. And that’s even with December being so busy that I could only find time for 11 movies (yeah—I KNOW what I sound like!). And it could be worse—it could’ve been 209 movies watched at home on Netflix in my Mom’s house (sorry, Mom).
So, how did I do it? I’m not a professional critic, I’m not unemployed, and I’m not single (at least I wasn’t until I started seeing all these movies). Well, Chicago’s a great movie town and there’s usually at least one great movie playing a day—so, choice isn’t a problem. The real trick is how to see as many as you can without losing your job, your friends and your home. Just follow the four Ps:
#1. Priorities – Dinner engagements come and go, but how many times do you get the chance to see King Of Comedy on a big screen in 35mm? Your friends will understand. If not? Screw ‘em. They probably wanted to go to one of those bullshit communal-table restaurants where you can’t hear anybody, anyway.
#2. Planning – When you wake up, take a look on whatever movie schedule app you like—I like Flixster—see what’s playing and make a schedule in your head (if you have to write it down, you don’t have what it takes). Then find out what you have to do work-wise to keep a roof over your head and support your cinematic habit. If you can get your work done and still make that showing of The Drop at 4:45, then hop to it. If not, then work’s gonna have to wait until tomorrow. If you have a 9-to-5 job-type jobby-job—then you’re gonna have to quit. If you have kids? The answer is a bit darker.
#3. Philm Festivals – This is a great a way to kill a whole lot of fucking birds with one ass-numbing stone. Especially those 24 hour ones. Just use the principles espoused in #1—and pump that sumbitch full of steroids.
#4. Pay Full Price – As in “NEVER”. You’re a frequent flyer, so you’re entitled to use some of the tricks that only retirees know about. Ask the Music Box for a discount card good for 5 shows. Buy a yearly membership to the Gene Siskel Film Center and get half off tickets. Go to a shitty multiplex and never leave. You could also start using MoviePass, which is like Netflix for people who don’t have a TV or a computer. I don’t have a dog, but if I did have a dog and he ate my MoviePass—I wouldn’t have a dog anymore.
Remember those simple Ps and you’ll be well on your way to being part of the Chicago cinema-going elite. Soon you won’t be concerned with those holes in your corduroys, your fading dye-job, or whether or not those comfortable shoes make you look like a mental patient. And if you don’t already have glasses —you’re gonna need ‘em soon.
And the best part? You get to make “Top Ten” lists! Just like real critics who actually get paid to act and look like you do. Besides, if Richard Roeper can have a 10 Best list —then anybody fucking can!
So here’s my list of favorites.
10. BIRDMAN – The latest salvo in the war on montage and the most flat-out enjoyable meta-movie since Adaptation. Or maybe Chef.
9. BAD HAIR – It’s been quite a year for tough single mothers. Patricia Arquette struggled to keep it together in Boyhood. The murderous mom in The Babadook decided to go all Jack Torrance on her little hell-spawn. But neither of them were as tough as the single mother in Bad Hair who, fearing that her young son might be gay, resorts to having sex in front of him with her boss. And that does seem extreme, but this keeps from falling into standard issue miserable-ism thanks to writer-director Mariana Rondon’s empathy for her characters and a couple of charming child performances by Samuel Lange and Maria Emilia Sulbaran.
8. STRANGER BY THE LAKE – Hitchcockian homoeroticism taken to its logical endpoint. It also contains enough male Gallic genitalia to last me a lifetime. Maybe it’s just payback for Blue Is The Warmest Color. At any rate, it’s called paying your dues, kids.
7. INTERSTELLAR – Christopher Nolan finally convinces me. For all his ambitions —and he’s nothing if not ambitious —Nolan’s greatest achievement may be rescuing the big budget blockbuster from the artistic black hole of superheroes, tentpoles and merchandising. Who’s fault was that, again?
6. THE IMMIGRANT – As classical as movies get. This one feels like it’s been around since 1972. Joaquin Phoenix continues to be one of the most interesting and unpredictable actors on the planet (bad part about living in Chicago? We’re still waiting on Inherent Vice).
5. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – It’s tempting to write late Anderson off as empty spectacle—a sort of Michael Bay for eggheads—but that would be wrong. His mastery of his craft approaches the Kubrickian, and though he shows less and less interest in the real world, he clearly has no shortage of affection for his characters. It’s a joy to see him working in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio and Ralph Fiennes is funny as hell. Now this is the kind of movie they should be showing in IMAX.
4. STARRED UP – Prison movies aren’t supposed to be this moving. Maybe they should be. This coiled-up masterpiece is never less than riveting. Ben Mendelssohn is great as usual and Jack O’Connell is an instant star (you can see him now in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. You can. I’m not going to, but you’re welcome to).
3. NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY – If a four-hour Filipino Crime And Punishment sounds like an insurmountable slog, just hold on. This movie sneaks up on you and knocks you on your ass. Electrifying and disturbing as hell.
2. NYMPHOMANIAC – You can treat it like two movies if you want. That’s your problem. It’s one great big movie and —along with the films at #3 and #1 —the best argument for long movies that I’ve seen in a while. I saw the first half, took a break (they used to call it “intermission”) and then checked out the stellar second half. Come on! You can watch a whole season of House Of Cards on Netflix in one day but still can’t tolerate a 4 hour movie? Deary me. Anyway, this is the best thing Lars Von Trier has done in a long time. The big canvas frees him up to break out every trick in his book: provocations, playfulness, lyricism, masochism, comedy, pornography, endless digressions and even a welcome dose of self parody (Antichrist fans should get quite a chuckle). And speaking of Netflix — the five and half hour director’s cut is available on the streaming service right now. I guess Von Trier’s got your number, you lazy bastards.
1. BOYHOOD – This is the second year in a row that I’ve put a Richard Linklater movie at the top of my list (last year it was Before Midnight). This is starting to get ridiculous. I could be like some people—You know the ones. Like the free-paper nerd critics?—and pretend that Linklater’s not cool anymore because the jock critics are suddenly waxing poetic about him. But what’s the point? Am I going to have to stop listening to The National, too? Anyway, I’ll do some waxing of my own: In this day and age of comic book bluster, Boyhood is a beautiful act of quiet revolution. It’s an epic collection of human moments that the empty suits of this world usually force directors to leave on the cutting room floor. What can I say? I don’t care how un-cool it is—I love this movie and it’s getting harder and harder to picture this life without Richard Linklater. Up with muthafuckin’ people!!!
And here’s 10 more:
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
DUMB AND DUMBER, TO
Where was I? Oh, right. 209 movies. Last week I picked my 10 favorite movies from the 209 that I saw in a theater in 2014. And those were just the new ones. I failed to mention all the excellent retrospectives and repertory screenings I attended last year. My favorites? The Jaques Demy retrospective and the beautiful print of The Conformist that both played at The Gene Siskel Film Center, to name a couple (a few, actually)—but really, just too many to mention. Filmgoing in Chicago really can be an embarrassment of riches.
But the embarrassment doesn’t stop there. Along with the soaring highs come soul crushing lows. And I’m not just talking about the movies. There’s the talkers, the texters, the people who seem to be in some sort of pie eating contest that I’m not aware of. There’s the current trend of theaters with La-Z-Boy recliner chairs that are intent on turning us into lolling spooges straight out of the second half of Wall-E. Then there are theaters, like The Logan, that can’t even be bothered to project the goddamn movie correctly.
But the worst is having to wait a whole month to see the new Paul Thomas Anderson flick simply because we don’t live in New York or Los Angeles. I think of us Chicagoans as fairly sophisticated folks. Sure, we’ve got our share of yahoos, but New York has Long Island and L.A. has actors —so I’d say it kind of evens out. Why, then, should we always be made to feel like a second tier town? Especially when it comes to movies? All apologies to Pauline Kael—but some of the best film critics in the country have come out of this city. Giants of the form like Roger Ebert, Dave Kehr, and Jonathan Rosenbaum championed films and directors that most American critics weren’t even aware of. Currently, we have the likes of J. R. Jones and Ignaty Vishnevetsky continuing that tradition with writing that manages to be both informed and capable of avoiding the critical lockstep that people like Peter Travers can’t ever avoid falling into. Do the studios really think we lack the savoir faire to enjoy their newest prestige pictures hot right out of the oven? Or are they worried we’ll be too brutal with their shitty Oscar hopefuls? Whatever. Fuckers.
Inherent Vice finally opened this past weekend (thank, science!), but we’re still waiting on (among others) A Most Violent Year, Two Days, One Night, and Godard’s reportedly mind-blowing foray into 3-D, Goodbye To Language. All are scheduled to play in Chicago this month, so even if December was a bit lackluster, January promises to be an excellent month to go to the movies.
But I digress. We’re here to focus on the worst, worst part about going to the movies: The movies. Those movies that make you feel like you just got crop-dusted by a Cubs fan in a crowded bar. Those movies that make you feel like — well, really what’s worse than getting crop-dusted by a Cubs fan? I think I’ve made my point.
These ten movies are the worst of what I had to sit though in 2014. The movies that actually made me angry at the human race. Movies that deserve some kind of cosmic karmic payback that I’m simply unable to deliver. I guess a bunch of snarky comments will have to do.
10. Sin City 2 – I’m actually surprised it took this long to cough up a sequel to Robert Rodriguez ’sand Frank Miller’s ode to macho shit-head posturing. This is just more of the same —good looking nihilism for 12-year-old boys. A real yawner.
9. The November Man – From Cocktail to Species, Roger Donaldson could always be counted on to deliver some top-notch, first rate trash of the most purely enjoyable kind. Joy doesn’t seem to be a factor anymore. His directing here feels as tired as star, Pierce Brosnan, looks. I’m not sure who’s dad was asking for this movie, but he needs to stop.
8. Locke – You love Tom Hardy so much, you think you could watch him in anything, right? Wanna bet?
7. 22 Jump Street – It’s not like there’s anybody who was unaware that this was an unnecessary sequel to a movie that everyone was surprised they liked in the first place—but directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller took that piece of common knowledge and played it up like they were subversives on a par with Paul Verhoeven. Just stating that you have a cynical dearth of ideas doesn’t excuse you from having a cynical death of ideas. And if Jonah Hill wants those teary-eyed apologies for acting like Alec Baldwin to hold some weight, maybe he should cool it with the gay panic gags. Just a thought. Finally, that jokey closing credits sequence of future possible sequels only grows more depressing as its inevitability dawns on you.
6. The Monuments Men – From the trailers, it looked like George Clooney’s latest directorial effort was just harmless Oscar bait. But then Oscar season came and went and it became apparent that something else was coming down the chute: harmless Oscar bait that not even toothless Oscar voters wanted to see — much less vote for. Ouch! One hopes that Clooney will recover.
5. The Other Woman – At first you’re watching this movie and thinking, “Hey! It could be worse. At least Cameron Diaz doesn’t have to resort to playing a drug muling stripper.” Cue the pratfalls and the farting dog, and that’s when you start to yearn for all that Aniston career acumen. I could bring up the fact that John Cassavetes’ son directed this movie, but that would be too depressing.
4. The Equalizer – Why is it that we want to put fine actors like Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson into the sort of dreck that used to be the exclusive domain of our Schwarzeneggers and Seagals? What is it about our culture that craves these kinds of movies time and time again? Could there be a correlation between our foreign policy and our unquenchable thirst for tales of bloody revenge? I thought about these and other questions while watching The Equalizer — then it turned into Rambo in a Home Depot and I realized that it was probably too silly to be dangerous. Worthless cinematic Viagra.
3. Tusk – So you thought Human Centipede wasn’t ridiculous enough? Check out Kevin Smith’s latest piece of shit.
2. Begin Again – The story behind all that music you hate. I’m not going to pretend I was the biggest fan of John Carney’s last quasi-musical, Once — but every ounce of charm or honesty that movie had has been wrestled to the ground by hackiness and crass falseness. It’s cringe inducing, but I suppose that’s what happens when you get into bed with American Idol. Or is it The Voice? Ahhh, who gives a fuck?
1. St. Vincent – Hey! I love Bill Murray as much as the next guy, but this is pablum of the most insulting kind. It’s especially disappointing when you consider how many times gold has been spun from pairing up Murray with a much younger co-star. Unfortunately, this movie couldn’t hold Rushmore’s jock. Or Meatballs’s balls, for that matter. So contrived and so very shameless, it’s hard to believe that a man of Murray’s good taste would ever agree to appear in such a cut-rate slice of schmaltz. Yet the screenplay was included on the list of best unproduced scripts known as the Hollywood Black List. Well, that says just about all I need to know when it comes to Hollywood and what kinds of stories they feel they should pretend to value. Make no mistake, this is not plucky independent filmmaking flying in the face of mediocrity —this is slick commercialism of the most formulaic and depressing kind. Truly awful.
A list of every movie seen in a theater in 2014.
5 should be “Aftermath” directed by Waldyslaw Pasikowski
29 should be “Maidentrip” directed by Jillian Schlesinger
52 should be the documentary “The Sarnos: A Life In Dirty Pictures”
61 should be “Autumn Blood” directed by Markus Blunder (that’s right)
88 should be “The Retrieval” directed by Chris Eska
169 should be “The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby: Her and Him” directed by Ned BensonRead less