Welcome back to the Decade Decathlon, where we’re taking an extended look back at the past decade of filmmaking to see what worked, what didn’t, and what stories we can learn from the past.
I’m not going to mince words here; if 2013 was the best year of the decade for film, then 2014 is very clearly the worst year. Oh sure, 2011 may have had a few stinkers and was wholly unmemorable at the end of the day and another year later on down the road also had some questionable content, but 2014 is just putrid by comparison. This was the year where the box office was at its lowest in two decades. This was where high profile movies either unperformed or were critically mauled. Nothing escaped the vacuum of suck that was 2014.
But what can we learn from such a disaster? Sure, movies critically and commercially failed, but why? Something had to have snapped in 2014 to cause audiences to stay at home rather than go to the theater, so join me as we try to dissect the most notable movies of the year and figure out what went wrong.
Now let’s get ready to go.
Most Decorated Movie: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson
Total Awards: 10
Oscar’s Best Picture Winner?: No
So I nearly had a heart attack when I was first planning this category. To my shock and awe, there were a metric ton of titles that all were awards season darlings this year with no true front runner among them. Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Boyhood, and The Theory of Everything all shared eight awards each, which nearly gave me a panic attack. Would I have to watch eight movies in total to fully understand the films of 2014? But then I saw that The Grand Budapest Hotel squeaked by with 10 awards due to its lavish production design. So instead of celebrating the actors who led those three movies to golden bliss, we now get to talk about Wes Anderson and his artistic expression.
To say Wes Anderson is an interesting filmmaker would be a huge understatement. Nearly all of his movies carry a very distinct style with them that make them feel unlike any other major releases. Fake would be the best way to describe his aesthetics, but in the best way possible. Never once does The Grand Budapest Hotel feel real, which is fitting. The movie is a recollection by the hotel owner Mr. Moustafa to a writer who asked him a question about how he achieved his wealth, who himself is recounting his experience at the Grand Budapest Hotel to an unnamed listener years later. It feels like an exaggeration of reality, which ties in nicely with how the movie is presented to us. Every frame feels meticulously crafted, from the color schemes, to the actor’s position, to how the camera moves. All of Anderson’s movies carry that sense of reproduction, replicating a heightened sense of reality that never existed but feels like it could have.
There are many people that can’t fully wrap their heads around his style because of that inauthenticity. While his visuals are to die for, his performances and script work usually leave a lot to be desired. Budapest has a large and complicated plot regarding murder, art theft, a prison escape, and bellhops that never gel as smoothly as they should. He’s assembled a great cast here, but the biggest problem with large ensemble casts of this magnitude is that we don’t see their characters but rather the actor. Once I see that the police officer is Edward Norton and is talking like Edward Norton, acting like Edward Norton, and holds himself like Edward Norton, I don’t see the character he’s playing, Albert Henckels. I see Edward Norton. The fact that most of the climax is resolved through narration is a sign that there was no easy way to end the plot and the plot was never Anderson’s focus to begin with.
For critics at the time, seeing a movie as cute and stylized as The Grand Budapest Hotel was enough. Visually speaking nothing was able to rival it that year, with all of the other winners divvying up major acting and directing awards amongst themselves. I had to ask myself though if a movie’s technical achievements or its acting achievements stand the test of time better. Gravity may have been a technical marvel in 2013, but is it as impressive today? That’s really up to you. Personally, I think of it like this; technical achievements are important, but if there’s nothing to hold it together then it’s just fluff. The Grand Budapest Hotel looks nice, but it’s all a bunch of fluff. Whether or not that was by design is up to your discretion.
Worst Movie: Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas
Director: Darren Doane
Razzie Wins: 4
Were the Razzies right?” It’s Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, what do you think?
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! You have no idea how much I was both looking forward to and dreading seeing this movie. The legendary, the infamous, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. The bottom of the barrel of the new wave of Christian cinema.
Christian movies have always been around in some capacity thanks to movies like Passion of the Christ, but 2014 in particular showed that these movies could achieve mainstream attention. God’s Not Dead, a tone deaf, meanspirited “inspirational” movie about a Christian student standing up to his Atheist professor had such a persecution complex that even if I told you what happened in the movie in a plot point by plot point summary you wouldn’t believe me. And it made $62 million at the box office.
Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas was not a hit on release. It made a little less than $3 million, but it cemented itself in the upper echelons of bad movies but embodying everything that makes modern Christian movies bad. A persecution complex where Kirk Cameron and several other believe that people are trying to censor Christmas and Christians? Present in the first five minutes. Insane conspiracy theories about the Bible? All throughout. Kirk Cameron spending nearly an hour talking about a goddamn swaddling cloth and Christsplaining to someone what the true meaning of Christmas is? Why that’s my favorite part! You can feel director Darren Doane almost struggling to justify his and Cameron’s own extreme views to the point where the movie almost had to be a comedy so they weren’t laughed out of any executive’s office when they pitched it.
While I believe that Saving Christmas is a harmless, dumb film that is more laughable than malicious, Christian filmmakers have been pumping out new releases steadily over the past couple of years that have gotten mainstream releases. No longer relegated to straight to DVD or VOD fare, now movies like War Room, God’s Not Dead, Old Fashioned, Overcomer, and Unplanned have gotten theatrical releases and are making a moderate amount of money. These movies range from being passable to dangerously selfish, but as long as they keep making money they’ll keep coming out. If you feel something from watching these movies, more power to you. Who am I to get in the way of what you find powerful. That being said, we can both at least agree that modern faith based movies really came into their own in 2014 and firmly planted themselves in some small sector of public consciousness.
Also that Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks!
Highest Grossing Movie: Transformers: Age of Extinction
Director: Michael Bay
Total Gross: $1,104,054,072
Fun fact, Transformers: Age of Extinction is the second and last highest grossing movie of the decade to have not been made by Disney. As neat of an award as that may be, all of that praise is immediately revoked when you release that Transformers: Age of Extinction made over $1 billion at the box office. As much as we like to ridicule the Michael Bay Transformers movies, there’s no denying that they had a powerful box office presence.
However, while Age of Extinction may have been the highest grossing movie of 2014, the numbers are actually a little misleading. Usually when people think of the total gross for a movie, people in America naturally assume that the majority of the movie’s income came from domestic sales. That isn’t the case here as Age of Extinction wasn’t most profitable in the United States. This would be one of the most public and significant effort by Hollywood to infiltrate a market that they had been eyeing for years, a market that was ripe with riches if they could just find some way in. Hollywood wanted in to China.
It doesn’t take much effort to figure out why China is such a viable market for products and while I would love to lead a discussion on the nature of the Chinese market and why it’s such a veritable treasure trove for companies, what matters here is that Age of Extinction made most of its money in China and more than doubled its profits there from the previous movie in the franchise, Dark of the Moon. How did it do this? It pretty shamelessly pandered to them .
While most of Michael Bay’s terrible trademarks were present here like toxic male heroes, fetishized high school girls, explosions, confused robot motivations, and how America was both awesome and evil, what mattered most here was the climax. The majority of the climax takes place in Hong Kong with Michael Bay taking a careful, almost frightened approach to make sure that China was portrayed in the best light possible. A major Chinese side character was introduced and made hyper competent, the government was efficient versus the US’s self interest, they filmed in as many Chinese venues as possible, and most of the main characters were shown to pale in comparison to even street level Chinese citizens, who could kick a government agent’s ass. To say Bay bended over backwards to make this point would be generous to say the least.
Clocking in at nearly three hours, you can easily make the claim that the movie was overstuffed and the reviews were mostly negative, but all that mattered was the Chinese market. This wouldn’t be the last time that Hollywood catered to the Chinese, with Warcraft famously making all of its budget back and then some in China, with companies today still releasing films with more and more Chinese characters and settings. It’s great representation for Chinese people, but let’s not kid ourselves here. Hollywood is creating more Chinese centric characters because it’s commercially profitable, not for inclusivity.
Biggest Bomb: Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return
Director: Will Finn, Dan St. Pierre
Budget: $70 million
Gross: $20 million
You know, there are some films I swore I would never watch again in my life. I promised myself that no matter what circumstances would come to be, I could not find any reasonable way to justify watching certain movies ever again because of how offensive, grating, or just plain bad a movie was. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return is one such movie. I hate this movie. From the bottom of my heart, I cannot stand a single frame of this movie. If I was allowed to review this for the site, I would give it no higher than a 2 and that’s me being generous.
You want to know why this movie failed, other than because it was a giant pile of trash? It’s not because of the animation, which actually looks worse than Norm of the North or other low rent animated films like The Nut Job. Both of those movies actually had far smaller budgets and were able to turn a profit with Despicable Me, another animated film with the same budget, somehow looks better and did incredibly well financially with the same budget as Dorothy’s Return. So where did the money go?
Simply put, celebrity voice casting ate up most of the movie’s budget. I don’t know what deals were made to get the cast that they got, but it’s clear that the names attached to this project sound expensive. Lea Michele, Dan Akyroyd, Jim Belushi, Kelsey Grammer, Hugh Dancy, Oliver Platt, Mega Hilty, Tom Kenny, Brian Blessed, Martin Short, Bernadette Peters, and even Sir Patrick Stewart all had roles in this movie. To get a cast like that requires a huge amount of money, money that Dorothy’s Return most likely spent on that instead of good animation, music, or writing. The moral of the story is don’t use celebrity stunt casting in order to sell your movie. If your movie’s only strength is that is has a lot of well known actors in it, that isn’t enough to sell a movie.
Most Underrated: A Most Violent Year
Director: J.C. Chandor
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%
A Most Violent Year barely counts as a 2014 release, receiving a wide release on December 31st, but a technicality is a technicality. Besides, out of all of the 2014 releases that reviewed well yet had poor box offices, you can’t do much worse than A Most Violent Year. I knew very little going into this about what movie this was going to be, only that it had to do with competing businesses and Jessica Chastain gave one hell of a performance here. And I guess I was right. Granted, I wasn’t too terribly impressed with the movie and left wondering if that was it.
A Most Violent Year can get dark at times, showing Abel, played by Oscar Isaacs, as a desperate businessman that simultaneously will do whatever it takes to achieve his dreams, but he’ll play by the book to do so. He’s an interesting character with the movie clearly focusing on his dilemmas to close a business deal while his workers are under attack and he’s under inspection by the police, but it never strikes me as interesting or all that compelling. I get what it’s trying to do. It’s trying to be a true to life crime drama that also serves as a throwback to 1970’s crime classics, it just isn’t interesting in how it’s handled. Maybe I’m just not the target demographic for a movie like this, but I left feeling indifferent about what I saw. Not mad or glad, just unimpressed.
I can’t tell if most audiences feel this way about the movie since it does seem to have a strong following these days. Talking to a few people about A Most Violent Year is interesting since they’ll regard it as being one of the best movies that came out in 2014. To me, that’s a backhanded compliment, but I get the intention. I just wished that I could feel that way about a movie that for many deserves that mark of being underrated. Underrated movies are fascinating to me because depending on how you ask, they could be diamonds in the rough, forgotten classics that deserve a new lease on life, or a movie that should have stayed buried in the past. I can’t quite put a bead on A Most Violent Year. Maybe it exists in all three, maybe not.
Favorite Movie: The Babadook
Director: Jennifer Kent
Why?: Under your skin terror
If I could choose one genre that had a piss poor year in 2014, it would be the horror genre. I can’t begin to count just how many duds crept into theaters in an attempt to “scare” audiences. You either had jumpscare fests or weird action horror that was more dumb than scary. Not to dismiss cinematic classics like Zombeaver, but that’s not the kind of horror that I wanted to see. I wanted to see terror that truly and completely enveloped me. There were only two horror movies in 2014 that I felt actually stand the test of time and are now some of my favorite in the genre. Oculus is a highly underrated gem that I love to put up for some deep chills, but the best horror movie, and best of the year period, was The Babadook.
Horror is a deeply subjective genre, almost as much as comedy, because of what we as humans fear. Some people are innately afraid of spiders, while others keep them as pets. Fear is hard to pin down from a surface perspective, but once you go deeper into the motivations on why a person is afraid of spiders, then you can get to more primal, more universal horror. Is a person afraid of spiders because of how they look or because of how they act? Do the simple thought of a spider crawling on you as you sleep enough to give you anxiety? Those are the questions that a good horror creator needs to ask when developing their terror. What is the root of a person’s fear.
Jennifer Kent understands that mentality and created a movie that really gets under your skin/ Nearly every aspect about it from the drab setting to the characters inspires a bleak and almost helpless outlook on life. Amelie is helpless to raise her son Sam alone and is severely depressed over the death of her husband. Meanwhile, Sam is a social outcast and has difficulties getting along with others either due to his imagination or his behavior. Then when Mr. Babadook starts creeping in their lives, usually from the shadows or the TV, his power is immediately visable. From his sound, to his design, to his towering presence, and even his book will find someway to stir something inside of you. It’s just a matter of finding what sets you off.
Thankfully, The Babadook has become a horror classic for audiences and is readily available to watch nowadays. In recent years he’s also been seem as a LGBT icon, though that has more to do with a possible Netflix algorithmic error and memes, though I personally don’t see any LGBT themes in the movie, though I am open to discussing it and hearing from people that genuinely see it as an LGBT horror movie. Regardless, you can’t get rib of the Babadook, and I’m glad that this monster is still being let in around the world.
Was 2014 a good year for movies?
No. I can’t put it simpler than that. No it was not.
Look, some years have a high amount of quality titles to them while others not so much. That happens in nearly every medium. Some years are great, some are bad, but man 2014 had a lot of bad in it. At least in underwhelming years like 2011 there are some interesting elements to them. Jack and Jill was one of the worst movies of the decade, but at least it was an interesting sort of bad. I had plenty of fun trying to understand why Al Pacino would ever think of appearing in something like that. But 2014 offered no such surprises. The movies were bad and the root causes for why succeeded or failed were obvious. It wasn’t interesting because anyone with a general knowledge of the business could identify them without issue.
Even the good movies weren’t all too impressive. I may enjoy The Babadook, but would I call it one of my favorite horror movies ever? Probably not. The movies that I did like were solid, but if Birdman or Snowpiercer were released in any other year, I doubt that they would have gotten as much discussion and interest as they did. Some years are just more stuffed with rich content and 2014 was not one of those years. It was stuffed with mystery meat that I never want to eat or see again for the rest of my life. There’s no denying that 2015 was a better year than 2014, but was it a major leap forward or a small step up. Find out next month when the Decade Decathlon continues.
Movies from 2014 you should still see: The LEGO Movie, Winter’s Tale, Chef, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Snowpiercer, Guardians of the Galaxy, Oculus, John Wick, Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, Whiplash, Nightcrawler.
Past Years Completed: