The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) – The special effects aren’t up to par with previous films in the series (at least, as I remember them), and the film feels very long despite being the shortest in the series (thanks to far-too-lengthy battle scenes), but it’s a nice wrap-up to The Hobbit trilogy. It also ties the series together with the Lord of the Rings films very well, which was my favorite aspect of it, as I’m more of an LotR fan than a rampant supporter of all six films. The ending totally gave me a wave of nostalgia and left me wanting to re-watch the LotR trilogy. Which brings me to another point: the film is versatile. It works somewhat as a standalone (though the plot is thin), it works as the end to a trilogy, and it works as a bridge between two trilogies. I know a lot of die-hard fans have been harsh on this one, and I understand their issues with it, but as a more casual fan of Tolkien’s world, I found it to be a good popcorn flick.
The Imitation Game (2014) – I really loved this film. Probably my favorite theatrical discovery of the month. A look at a long-hidden World War II supercomputer secret, a reflection on Turing’s life, a heartbreaking look at the treatment of LGBT people in the 20th century, a commentary on gender roles, an exploration of the costs of war… so much is accomplished over the two hour-ish running time! And it is all accomplished through strong filmmaking: the performances, the set and costume design, the script, everything.
St. Vincent (2014) – I enjoyed this film a lot more than I expected to. Saw it on a whim in the eleventh hour of its theatrical run, because I’d seen everything else that was playing. Bill Murray’s performance is good. (He plays the “grumpy old man” well and delivers a lot of snarky lines.) I was very impressed by Jaeden Lieberher, the promising child actor who plays Oliver. The story is very touching in the end, showing that even those of us who seem highly flawed can make a difference in the lives of others. Also, PRAISE BE, someone has finally put Melissa McCarthy in a role that doesn’t involve crude humor!
Sweetwater (2013) – I was almost tempted to do a Classics of the Corn post on this film. It’s certainly an odd one, but entertaining, in its own twisted way. January Jones’ character is very interesting — a prostitute-turned-housewife who sets out for revenge on pretty much everyone in the New Mexico town where she lives after her husband goes missing. She’s kind of a female Dexter of the frontier days. There are a couple of scenes that are pretty gross – not too explicit visually, but with the addition of sounds effects that add to the gore factor. But a dancing Ed Harris, silhouetted by the sunset, makes up for that.
Top Five (2014) – The trailer for this film made it look pretty good. Unfortunately, that very same trailer gives away most of the film’s laughs (excepting the jail singing scene, featuring a cameo I won’t spoil — this was the only scene that got an out-loud laugh from me, and the seemingly dozens of cameos in the film are fun). I liked Rosario Dawson’s character and performance, Chris Rock is solid as actor/producer/director, and the film does have a lot of heart. I was slightly underwhelmed by it, but it’s not a bad watch by any means.
Wild (2014) -My initial review of this film was very positive. I liked Reese Witherspoon’s performance, found the story to be very interesting, and thought it was a well-made film overall. It didn’t meet my super-high expectations, but I liked it a lot. …And then I got the book for Christmas, which made me like the film less. The book is remarkably different from the film due to the fact that so many characters were removed in the adaptation process. The general mood and message of Cheryl Strayed’s journey are captured, but the book has so much more depth and offers much greater insight into what pushed Cheryl to hike the trail, as well as the psychological effects that the journey had on her. I’m glad I was able to finish the film before publishing this review, because it changed my opinion of the movie completely! Wild is not a bad film, and I’d still say it’s worth watching for Witherspoon’s effective performance, but this is just one of those cases where the book easily trumps its adaptation.