Now that the Oscars are over, and March is nearly upon us, I figured it was time (finally) to talk about the overrated and underappreciated movies I saw in 2014. It was a great year for films, of all kinds and genres.
Keep in mind that this list represents neither the best nor worst films I saw. I just felt that the overrated ones (while sometimes great) got more praise than they deserved, while the underappreciated ones (while sometimes not great) didn’t get the recognition for what they did right.
Birdman and Interstellar: WHAT? Are you nuts? Well, look, I loved Birdman, but at the same time felt that Fellini covered this all with 8 1/2, and Kubrick set the bar with 2001. In other words, what looks brand new and fresh at first glance is really an extremely well-done version of what came before. Also, while I felt completely plugged into Birdman while I was watching it, I wasn’t sure it had the deeper resonance it was searching for. I think films about filmmaking (yes, I know it was a play, but the film was a tribute to Andre Bazin’s film theory) may be an exhausted trope. I would have to see it again, though.
Likewise, Interstellar was a great experience, but I was very put off by Hans Zimmer’s saccharine and overblown score (sometimes obscuring the dialog), the weird American heartland nostalgia trip, and the constant let’s-say-the-subtext-’cause-otherwise-people-might-not-get-the-point-of-the-scene. I felt the same way about Dark Knight Rises – Nolan’s forgotten the economy of show-vs-tell.
Gone Girl: Also well-crafted, interesting to watch, but forgettable. Fincher can do work that’s very engaging, but I wasn’t really at all interested in anyone in this film. Which is not a crime, but if you’re making a thriller you should be hoping things turn out well for someone.
Divergent: This was an interesting film, with good performances, and clear direction, but I felt it dragged a bit, and I’m not sure we need another dystopian YA film. But I’m willing to give the sequel a chance.
Noah: This could have been a truly horrid movie. The fact that it scored big with everyone (critics and fans, for the most part) should make me happy. But there was a part of me that would have loved to have seen the whole movie made in the tone of the second half of the film – as a somewhat naturalistic family drama, about the limits of blind religious faith and duty, humanism vs. theism, family vs. society, etc. But at the same time, I can see that perhaps the triumph of the second half wouldn’t have been possible without the ‘bombasticity’ of the first half.
Special mention goes to Words and Pictures: such great talent, and such potential for something interesting about art, language, love, learning… but I felt like the script had been sifted through the ‘development’ gears too many times until everything ran far too smoothly. It’s a further shame because the director (Fred Schepisi) has given us some really good films in the past (Last Orders is terrific, and Empire Falls isn’t bad) that have something to say.
Enemy: What a fantastic, criminally under-seen film. Written and directed by the writer of Prisoners, this is a mind-twisty thriller/drama/political/sci-fi/wtf story that seems, at first, terribly artificial and maybe even bad. Until you think about it for a few days, and then you get whacked by its awesomeness. How many movies can you say that about?
The One I Love: This did get some real love from the critics, but it should have gotten a bigger release. A great mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy, dysfunctional couplehood, romance… it’s all there.
Noah: Yes, it’s on here twice. What many people didn’t appreciate about the film were the deeper themes lurking underneath the effects. There were some great performances here as well. And as much as I liked the second, “quieter” half of the film more, I also appreciate the audacity of the first half. So I guess I feel that Noah is both underappreciated AND overrated.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier got snubbed at the Oscars. A complex movie about the NSA, the role of the U.S. in world security, the influence of patriotism and the haunting of the present by the past; not to mention kick-ass fight scenes, great effects, terrific performances… and it took time to develop its characters, which was refreshing.
Edge of Tomorrow: Also screwed at the Oscars. Great performances, story, editing… the marketing folks just didn’t get this film.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: This film took a deeper look at the cost of civil war, the problematic nature of revolutionary movements, the creation of heroes, and stayed away from the action of the first two. The lack of big action set pieces was its strength, rather than a weakness.