BEST FILMS I SAW IN 2014
Between being a theater owner and a film festival programmer I have to spend more time than I would prefer researching films to book. It has become such a numbing task that I normally don’t even want to watch the films by the time they arrive. It has made it so I very rarely want to catch a movie at theater because frankly I am over it. But that is not to say that I have completely exhausted myself from enjoying movies. Movies are my craft whether it be producing, distributing , or exhibiting them. If I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t do it.
My taste in movies is all across the board and a lot of times when people think they have me pegged as a certain type of film buff I always throw them for a loop. So here my top 5 films that I saw this past year, no not all of them were released in 2014 (it just happened to be when I finally got see them).
Life Itself (2014)
I saw this documentary on Roger Ebert at The Varsity in Des Moines (the single screen palace of our city). This film was tough on the soul. Roger Ebert lived an amazing life but his end was so long and painful. The highlights were learning about his early life Chicago. The man almost drank himself to death but was able to sober up and pull himself together. The entry of Gene Siskel into his life was so important and not just because of the show. If there was a perfect example of a “yin/yang” relationship, Siskel and Ebert were it. Roger Ebert always wanted to be the ladies man and Gene Siskel actually hung out at the Playboy mansion (but Siskel was the kind of man who didn’t need to let the world know about it). The archive of outtakes from their TV show are worth the watch all in themselves. The film is tied together with more modern footage of the last few months of Roger Ebert’s life. Reality is tough and when you are fully aware that your end is near you take on a different personality. Roger Ebert accepted death and was more than ready to pass on. I don’t think I have ever seen that properly captured on a film before. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
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The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
I booked this movie on a whim back during the winter months of early 2014. At the time I was doing weekly radio interviews on KRUU to promote our upcoming movies and before we did the show the host asked me if I was worried about protests or backlash from the community for booking such a movie. I had no idea why we would have any responses like that… until I decided to watch it that night. I will summarize this pretty easily as the most Laveyan Satanic film I have ever seen. It is amazing. I am not going to into too much detail except our main character, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio), always wins. Not only did this man make a ton of money by committing a horrible crime within the stock market, but after he got caught he wrote a book and sold it making him more money, then gets hired to teach seminars on selling that made him more money, and then he sold the film rights of his book which made him even more money. He always wins. A couple of notes about the movie itself. Out of the gate the film is filled with massive drug use, orgies, and yes there is some strong language. The movie is like being a passenger in a car on the Autobahn with your driver operating on a cocaine binge with no sleep and traffic is heavy in every direction. PS: He is still winning. Go to jordanbelfort.com to see what I mean. Directed by Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver) and distributed by Paramount.
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This is the movie that saved the theater from having a horrible January. After opening the year with the most terrible Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (a movie that just failed around the world), I needed something to turn things around because it was going to be a long winter if they didn’t. I heard some really good things about this movie called Nebraska that starred Bruce Dern (The Wild Angels). This movie sucked me in instantly. Where The Wolf Of Wall Street is loud and intense, Nebraska is quiet and ominous. The film captures this beautiful picture of what I consider the midwest’s death valley. Some people might find it painful at times to watch especially when our lead characters get sucked into small town hell. Imagine you are in your seventies and not once has your life meant anything. Sure you got married, had a couple of kids, but what is it all for? You served your country for a meaningless war and when you came home no one cared. At some point you stopped fooling yourself into looking forward to something good and exciting. Woody Grant fools himself one last time believing he won the million dollar cash prize from Publishers Clearinghouse. His immediate family knows that he hasn’t won anything, but everyone else including his extended family believe he has. I’ll admit there are scenes that are painful such as the family sitting around watching television in complete mindlessness. But the journey from the haunting rural hometown to the resolution at the end of the film is very fulfilling. I can’t recommend this movie enough to anyone. Directed by Alexander Payne and distributed by Paramount Vantage.
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Under The Skin (2014)
I was working on one of the thesis films for the inaugural class for the David Lynch MA in Film program at Maharishi University of Management. One of the students approached me and asked “Can you get Under The Skin? I just need to see it on the big screen.” Well, to be honest I like it when I don’t have to think to hard about what I am doing. So when I am told what people might want to see I immediately try to act on it… especially once I saw Scarlet Johansson was the lead. Now I didn’t get a chance to catch it opening night. We had a special matinee press screening earlier in the day and a gentleman named Bruce Miller who was a co-host on a movie review show called The Filmosophers was the only attendant. He walked out with a blank look on his face. I asked him what we thought and he gave a response that I will never forget: “It was dark but it wasn’t scary. She got naked but it wasn’t sexy. She is an alien. Ominous is the only word I think of. I need to watch it again as I can’t get it out of my head.” He had me (and he came back a few more times). I needed to see this movie. Days went by and I finally called my friend Nicholas Naoti and he (and his girlfriend) came to the theater around 10:30PM and we watched the movie by ourselves. This movie hypnotized me. Yes, Scarlet Johansson has a full nude scene but its not what you might think. Bruce was right, it wasn’t sexy. There was this overwhelming sense of being alone. She hunts men and leads them into this place of darkness where they are slowly devoured from the inside out. There are two very important scenes that come to mind when I think of this film: First is the scene one the beach when the baby is left on the beach at night. We don’t see what happens but we know its never rescued after she murders his father. The other is the sex scene with the one man that she decides not to devour. Her reaction to human sexual interaction is brilliant. We forget that she is an alien so why would she even have a clue of what was happening to her body in that type of situation. It is played out perfectly and makes the audience completely uncomfortable. This film is a one of a kind but its not for everybody. However I ran this film for almost 4 weeks as a midnight movie, the longest of any film we have ever shown. Directed by Jonathan Glazer and distributed by A24.
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The Great Beauty (2013)
Hands down the best film I saw this year. I was starting to see reviews of this movie pop up on different websites and it actually played at the Varsity in Des Moines for a week. If I could be have a movie tattooed on my body it would have to be La Grande Bellezza. What a treat for your eyes and ears. The film captures Rome in the such an amazing way with the art, the night clubs, and seeing it through the eyes an old man who is finally seeing the world for what it is, a beautiful and absurd place. The music selections of this picture are also perfect from the classical pieces to the electronic dance tracks. The first time you watch this movie you will have no idea what is going on because you are concentrating so much just the sound and visuals that you don’t care what the movie is about (and really that is fine). Now when you do watch it and start to follow along you discover another passion with the characters. Jeb is a journalist who is famous for writing a single novel decades earlier. He has lived a harsh lifestyle of partying until the sun comes up. But after he learns of the death of his lover from his youth his eyes start to see things in a much more surreal and beautiful way. It is very hard to describe this movie because you just owe it to your senses to see it. There are very few films in this world that I have called perfect and this is one of them. Directed by Paolo Sorrention and distributed by Janus Films.
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