By Pajiba Staff | Guides | January 2, 2014 |
By Pajiba Staff | Guides | January 2, 2014 |
As we do annually, we begin each year with the best and worst in film, but we always find room for the smaller movies that didn’t quite make our top ten list but that deserve to be recognized. Thanks to inflation and the rising cost of tickets, the maximum box-office a film can earn and still qualify for this list is now $8 million. If you don’t see a film that falls below that threshold on this list, check back tomorrow, and it may appear in our yearly top ten.
Click the hyperlinks for full reviews, where available.
Blue is the Warmest Color — At just under three hours, the French film Blue is the Warmest Color would seem, from the outside looking in, to be a journey into the sleepy realms of slow-cooked cinema. Not the case! Offering a surprising lightness (surprising because it’s oftentimes melancholy), the film makes the time investment here well worth it, a finer relationship film you’re unlikely to see all year … If great film is built upon engagement, then this effort must be considered a rousing success. Blue is the Warmest Color is a work of delightfully layered sophistication, a movie you want to follow out even further than the sand and sunshine, all the way out into the deep blue ocean sea. — Caspar Salmon
The Spectacular Now — As a deadbeat dad to a troubled and disconnected teen, Kyle Chandler obliterates his heroic Coach Taylor image. Rumpled, stubbly and completely absent emotionally, his southern fried take on the embodiment of a Jimmy Buffet concert is heart-breaking to watch. The film is likable enough on its own but doesn’t plumb any emotional depths until Chandler shows up. I hated watching him play a terrible father, but he was damn good at it. — Joanna Robinson
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints — There is good music in the film, including two sweet songs sung by Mara and Foster, and the sound is also well done; overall, the film does suffer from having too much music, with a constant soundscape always screwing over the film’s more nuanced moments. In the main, however, this is an intelligent and sensitive piece of filmmaking which, though it doesn’t quite achieve the instant classic status it’s shooting for, mostly hits its marks. — Caspar Salmon
Upstream Color — Many filmmakers try to make “art” of their movies, to bring an air of poetry and allegory beyond the simple A-to-B-to-C storyline. Most attempts fail, resulting in grating pretension. Others succeed, resulting in beautiful pretension. Upstream Color is more articulate in its themes, and far more coherent in its plot, but like the work of Terrence Malick, that pretension often throws people off. It’s certainly not for everyone. However, if you’re willing to go with a film and let it take you where it wants in the way that it wants, even if that way is sometimes bizarre and disjointed, while you may not understand it all, you’ll find yourself with an enriching and beautiful ride. — Seth Freilich
The Iceman — Buyer beware, there’s lots of stabbings, shootings, bloody messes all over the place, gross out moments upon sickening nasty imagery. While The Iceman is certainly not Oscar-worthy, and at times feels only like a high-class version of a sensationalized Lifetime film, there’s still plenty to like about this creepy little movie, mainly Michael Shannon’s endless reserve of calm, threatening low-level horror. — Amanda Mae Meyncke
Nebraska — Nebraska is a study in contradictions — between denial and belief, between love and codependence — and that extends to its emotional makeup. It’s a film that embraces despair while also suggesting ways through it, and that looks death in the eye while trying to account for the rocky beauty of the life that leads up to it. It works toward a sense of understanding. Woody’s odyssey might be groundless, and David might know, and Woody might even know he knows, but maybe, the film suggests, that’s the best we can do for each other. Belief and denial are so strong, maybe the strongest things we have. We know of people only what we pretend to know, and finding out the truth — you aren’t a millionaire; your relationship is over; your parents lived whole lives before you came — can throw us off axis. So we find brief moments to live the version of our story we’ve told others, and we give our family the chance to become the people they’ve tried to tell us they are. We all have questions we know can’t be answered, and not because we don’t know the answers, but because we can’t bear to say them. Here, silence is enough. — Daniel Carlson
To the Wonder — The film’s not short on Malickian flair. Yet these touches — the naturalism, the whispering, the probing and incomplete thoughts — are what’s so special about Malick’s movies. He roots his stories in nature because nature is the best and purest backdrop we have for asking daring and terrible questions about grace and theology and the limits of love, and all those things we care about so much that we can barely talk about them without feeling embarrassed or exposed. Malick’s made a movie about a man, a woman, and a servant of God searching for some road back to Eden or just a version of their lives where they can make sense of the world around them, and he’s so honest and sad about the process that it takes real focus not to shut down in the face of such openness. It’s not a surprise to learn that several other actors and actresses who appeared in the film were eliminated in the editing process. Malick himself might not even know what he’s looking for until he goes searching, and the searching is what he’s after. To the Wonder is a celebration of that search, and it builds to moments of sustained divinity and forgiveness and prayer that — I don’t even know how to finish that sentence. They’re about what Thomas Wolfe called the “lost lane-end into heaven,” but it’s really just a sense of coming home. Of peace. — Daniel Carlson
The East — As a thriller, the film entertains, but is a slightly-disappointingly straightforward story of an agent embedding in an enemy and trying to take them down and prevent tragedy while struggling with the fact that she likes the individuals and maybe even agrees with their overall ideology. The plot here is intriguing enough, yet there is something cold and detached about it, which fails to rope the viewer in to the same extent that a perfect thriller does. But the film succeeds because Marling and Batmanglij elevate the film above a rote by-the-numbers exercise, making it a real character study and digging in to Sarah’s burgeoning relationship with the members of The East. Your typical thriller of this ilk gives you maybe one scene of true character bonding to show the sympathies being developed by the secret agent, whereas The East spends the better part of the film on this. In this way, it is very much a companion piece to Sound of My Voice, which danced around the edges of what the cult was all about, as it was much more interested in its main characters’ belief system and how their beliefs were challenged by what the Sound cult believed. — Seth Freilich
Bad Milo — Folks are quick and eager these days to dub a movie the champion of some genre, but I am comfortable in unequivocally declaring that Milo is best butt monster movie of all time. Butt monster, what? Yes. Butt monster. That polyp is actually a demon — Ken Marino has a demon living in his colon. It’s name is Milo. It’s adorable … and violent. If you’re asking yourself how a demon living in a man’s lower intestinal tract can be violent, there’s an easy way for a demon like that to get out and go muck about in the world. You do the math. — Seth Freilich
Stoker — Stoker is a stunning work, as strange and marvelous as a cuckoo clock made of glass. A lot of people will probably hate this movie, but a lot of people are pretty dumb though so avoid them at all costs. Life’s hard enough as it is. The film is being compared to Hitchcock, and fairly enough. At Stoker’s core beats a mystery, tied up in family, desire, sexuality and a deep-seated legacy that must be lived. Riveting, though it wanders at times, is fairly violent and features a protagonist many will feel is a bit too strange to love. Fans of the bizarre and original will be delighted beyond belief, while those expecting tamer fare would do well to stay at home. — Amanda Mae Meyncke