Courtesy of IFC Films

Fritz Esker's Best and Worst of 2014

16:00 January 27, 2015
By: Fritz Esker

Where Y'at film critic Fritz Esker gives his ten thumbs up and thumbs down for 2014.

The Best

 10. The Babadook Australian Jennifer Kent announced herself as a director to watch with this horror film about a monster from a child’s storybook coming to life. The metaphor about personal demons and a mother’s ambivalence towards parenting may be obvious, but it’s daring and effective nonetheless.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel Wes Anderson’s best film in a decade boasts a wonderful comic turn from Ralph Fiennes. It’s a meditation on memory, nostalgia, and storytelling, but it’s also a fun caper film.

8. Wild – In the wrong hands, this adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about finding herself on a grueling hike could have been an exercise in narcissism. But actress/producer Reese Witherspoon, screenwriter Nick Hornby, and director Jean-Marc Vallee keep things funny and poignant without being sappy.

7. Snowpiercer The year’s best action film almost didn’t get released because Harvey Weinstein pouted over director Joon-ho Bong’s refusal to cut 20 minutes. This futuristic battle between haves and have-nots on a runaway train leaves most of the year’s action flicks in the dust.

6. Foxcatcher Director Bennett Miller imbues this story with a tone of sadness and melancholy that lingers long after the film ends. Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum all do strong work in this true-life tale of alienation and murder.

5. Calvary –  Brendan Gleeson plays a priest whose life is threatened in the confessional. The movie addresses issues of faith, forgiveness, and mortality in ways that are thought-provoking and always entertaining.

4. Life Itself Okay, it may seem convenient for a critic to put a documentary about a film critic on his best list. But, Steve James’ story of the life of Roger Ebert is genuinely fascinating. Ebert led an interesting life and the film’s reflections on humanity and mortality are touching.

3. A Most Wanted ManThe late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman gets a magnificent showcase in this adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel about a world-weary German intelligence agent investigating a possible terrorist. It’s tough and cynical without being misanthropic.

2. Whiplash –  Who would’ve thought that 2014’s most visceral, intense movie experience would be about a jazz band?  It’s portrayal of a dysfunction teacher-student relationship is reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket, but it also comments on the cost of greatness and the nature of emotional abuse.

1. Boyhood It’s been so widely praised that it’s almost boring to call this the best film of the year, but…it is.  Richard Linklater’s sprawling, ambitious film took 12 years to film and movingly captures the ups and downs of one boy’s childhood in Texas. 

Honorable Mentions:  Big Hero 6, Dom Hemingway, Guardians of the Galaxy, Locke, What If

The Worst

10.  Obvious Child - In 2014’s most overrated film, a childish narcissist gets an abortion without thinking twice about it. Just because Hollywood’s gutless about discussing abortion in film doesn’t mean critics should reflexively give a standing ovation to any unfunny, self-satisfied movie that does.

9.  Robocop - 2014’s most pointless remake does the unthinkable - it takes Paul Verhoeven’s thrilling action/satire hybrid and makes it dull.

8.  300: Rise of an Empire - Aside from a truly deranged, um, “fight” scene between Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green, there’s nothing memorable about the latest installment of CGI warfare.

7.  Sex Tape - This story of how a married couple’s attempt to spice up their sex life goes horribly wrong had potential. But it feels like they filmed the first draft of the script and had the actors improvise the rest.

6.  A Million Ways to Die in the West - It’s been a long time since Blazing Saddles, so moviegoers are likely ready for another Western comedy. But Seth MacFarlane’s flop spends more time exploring his character’s self-esteem issues than being funny.

5.  The Other Woman - It was a rough year for Cameron Diaz (and I haven’t even seen Annie). Just like Sex Tape, this takes a promising premise (a mistress and wife teaming up to wreak havoc on their mutual lover) and does nothing funny with it.

4.  Sin City: A Dame to Kill For - The once innovative visuals of the original Sin City are now commonplace. The tragic arc of Mickey Rourke’s character (the overrated original’s best feature) is removed, and all you’re left with is warmed-over geek misogyny.

3.  I, Frankenstein - At 82 minutes (with credits), this sci-fi action flick still manages to seem bloated. Worst of all, it wastes the brilliant Bill Nighy in a bloodless villain’s role.

2.  Ride Along - Released in the dumping grounds of January, this grating action-comedy tries to turn Kevin Hart into the next big comedy thing. It fails.

1.  Need for Speed - At 135 minutes, this is the most punishing bad movie of the year. It takes forever to get started, then turns into a collection of uninspired, CGI-altered car chases. How long until Mad Max: Fury Road comes out again?

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