By now most of my peers have already posted their favorite movies of 2014 lists, and if you ask me they jumped the gun. You don’t declare your top movies of the year till the year’s done, just like you don’t say it was the best sex of your life until you’ve pulled out, flushed the condom and cried for a little bit.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Even though there were a fair number of stinkers, this was actually a damn solid year for movies, and here are the ones I deem to be the best.

Honorable Mentions: Under the Skin, John Wick, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Raid 2

10: Birdman

A lot of people this year LOVED Birdman, and deservedly so. Awesome performances, great soundtrack, noteworthy formal achievements? Formula for a critical darling right there. For my part, I wasn’t quite as taken with Birdman as some of my peers, but that this isn’t a pretty rad film is something I just can’t bring myself to deny.

Edge of Tomorrow poster9: Edge of Tomorrow/Live, Die Repeat

I love surprises, and for myself and a lot of people, Edge of Tomorrow (partially re-titled Live, Die, Repeat on the home release) was the biggest surprise of the year. Tom Cruise in a mech suit fighting aliens while re-enacting Groundhog Day? What the hell right does that have to not be a steaming pile of failure? And yet, it turned out to be one of the more clever, interesting genre blockbusters this year. Wouldn’t have called that.

8: Blue Ruin

Bleak, bloody, brutal, these are just some of the words that start with B that you can use to describe the revenge flick Blue Ruin, besides brilliant. In a year with at least a few truly excellent revenge thrillers, Blue Ruin stood out with its oppressive atmosphere, beautiful and interesting cinematography and lovably out-of-his element hero. And his killer “I give up” beard.

7: Gone Girl

Once in a while, a movie comes along that takes you in its grip like a passionate lover and doesn’t let go until it drops you, sweaty and drained, on the moldy carpet. This year, Gone Girl is that movie, an almost impossibly twisting ride of a movie that keeps you guessing where the hell it’ll go next, and how straight-facedly it can play what is honestly a pretty damn bonkers plot.

6: The Lego MovieLego Movie poster

But you wanna talk surprises? How about a movie based around building blocks turning out to be one of the most clever, heartwarming, beautifully animated and flat-out funny movies of the year? I wouldn’t have called that one either. Even though this year had a lot of lame, cash-in movies made from unlikely sources (Oija? For real?) The Lego Movie is the rare proof that movies based on toylines don’t have to suck. Just like 95% of the time.

5: In Order of Disappearance

Black comedies will always hold a special place in my heart, and In Order of Disappearance is the blackest comedy I’ve seen in a long time. You haven’t seen morbidly funny until you’ve seen a group of solemn-faced mob guys slowly ride a truck’s loading elevator while carrying a coffin, or seen a stray hang glider meet the business end of a snow blower. You can’t write that kinda stuff. Well, you can I guess.

4: Jodorowsky’s Dune

Documentaries about movies are always a hit with me, and Jodorowsky’s Dune might just be one of the best ones ever. Not just because the story behind Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt at filming a batshit bonkers adaptation of Dune is seriously fascinating, but because it’s presented with charm, style and wit.

Only Lovers poster3: Only Lovers Left Alive

Vampire movies have come back from the brink of Twilight induced death, and Only Lovers Left Alive is proof. I don’t often describe movies as sexy that often, but Only Lovers Left Alive is about as dead sexy as movies get these days, smooth and intoxicating and hypnotic. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston both vanish into their roles, and under Jarmusch’s direction deliver a film as smooth and satisfying as a fine wine.

2: The Grand Budapest Hotel

It wasn’t at all surprising that Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was offbeat, charming, fun, beautifully and ornately constructed, filled to the brim with quirky performances and an all around enchanting experience. But what did take me by surprise, and what secured its spot at number two, was the uncharacteristically melancholy note that made Grand Budapest more than just a sweet, beautiful confectionery, but a richer and fuller experience than I anticipated. I think it’s this newfound hybridity, this mix of Anderson’s usual charm with a dash of seriousness that made it one of the most satisfying film experiences I’ve had all year.

Cap 2 posterGuardians poster1: TIE! Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy

After the blu-rays came out and I had a chance to watch them both again, I agonized over which of Marvel’s 2014 films I loved more. Sleepless nights were had, and not just because I sleep in till noon some times. Guardians appeals to my sensibilities so directly it often feels like the film was written for me. It embraces everything kooky and “out there” that other comic movies will avoid, but does so without skimping on heart and soul. Winter Soldier, on the other hand, takes the idea of doing a slightly more down to earth, serious superhero movie and nails it harder than I would have admitted possible, and every time I re-watch it I’m dumbstruck at how beautifully constructed, how clever, how downright kick-ass of a film it is. Guardians appeals to me on a personal level, presenting the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to see but no one’s been crazy enough to make. But at the same time, it has flaws and I can’t help but notice them every time I see it. Winter Soldier is an almost flawlessly made action/thriller/adventure movie, but one that plays less to my own sensibilities.

So which do I pick? The one that I love with my heart, or my head? Now I know how Archie feels. Well, like that fictional readheaded everyman, my only answer is to dither indecisively between the two, and pray that someday they legalize bigamy.

It’s generally accepted that film critics must maintain a high, if not absolute, degree of detachment and objectivity when evaluating a film. A critic, it is thought, must “leave their baggage at the door” and review a film dispassionately, not letting their personal biases, impressions or background influence their feelings on a film.

I think it’s a load of old bullshit, myself.

Granted, a film can be evaluated purely on its formal merits, and a degree of objective evaluation is possible, but the reason I prefer writing in the first person (and in my particular hyperbolic, snarky style) is that my impressions of a film are generally that: my impressions. If I like a film it’s just as often because it appealed to something of my personal taste or sensibilities as because I can appreciate it’s formal qualities objectively.

And while I do try to maintain a degree of this supposedly essential critical detachment, there are certain films that I know going in that I cannot be objective about. Films that I want to be good, that I want to like. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of these films, which means you should probably take it with a grain of salt large enough that Grand Admiral Thrawn is liable to fit it with a cloaking device and park it next to Coruscant (Christ, that’s an obscure reference, even for me) when I say that I loved it to little bitty bits.

Guardians posterAnd those who know a thing or two about my personal tastes should understand why, I mean a movie directed by a former Troma Studios writer about a guy who was abducted by aliens in the 1980s and went on to become a wannabe space adventurer, all the while endlessly listening to a mix tape of 70s classics? A movie that completely and utterly shirks any aspirations toward realism and high cinema with its crass humor, a gun-toting talking raccoon and more space opera adventure and excitement than has generally been seen on movie screens in bloody decades? Of course I’d want to like this movie, it might as well have been made for me!

But while I went in hoping that Guardians of the Galaxy would at the very least be good, imagine my delight when it turned out to be not just good, but great, and for reasons I wasn’t even expecting. By now much fuss has been made about the film’s action, comedy, likeable characters and direction laden with personality and charm by Director James Gunn. But what made Guardians connect with me more than any of that was how once in a while it would gently pull back the fun, jokey atmosphere and actually get serious for a moment.

Oh sure, most of the time things are all quips and wisecracks, but once in a while the facade will drop away and you’ll realize that that raccoon is dealing with some serious emotional trauma. The biggest example of this is, though, is Chris Pratt’s character Star Lord.

The film starts with a pretty serious emotional gut punch that, for very personal reasons, hit pretty close to home for me and made that personal connection even stronger. See, I told you, I’m biased. Guardians is one of these increasingly rare summer blockbusters that not only asks its audience to form a connection to the characters, but succeeds in doing so, and doesn’t feel phony or pandering with its attempts. That alone makes Guardians a triumph.

But on top of having more emotional chops than any other blockbuster on the, well…block, Guardians succeeds by just being fun. The action is crisply filmed and creatively executed, and cast in something other than the usual sci-fi colors of gunmetal gray and rusty brown. The soundtrack, as has already been talked about to death, doesn’t just do the usual thing of ape Hans Zimmer or John Williams, but uses actual songs to give mood and character to scenes.

The characters actually enjoy themselves from time to time rather than go through the whole thing with determined grimaces and heroic stoicism. There’s a sense of fun and enjoyment that permeates every single frame of the thing and makes it almost impossible to leave the theatre without a smile on your face.

Much of this comes from the cast, who all deliver excellent performances, and beyond obvious favorites like Vin Diesel’s Groot and Bradley Cooper’s future fan-favorite character Rocket, I found myself having far too much fun with supporting cast members like Yondu, played in full hillbilly glory by Michael Rooker.

Guardians Yondu

And no, it’s not perfect. The main villain, Ronan, isn’t exactly the most exciting bad guy ever. Another adversary using ill-defined bowers and legions of dull-looking footsoldiers to obtain the all-powerful cosmic mcguffin du jour, but he has enough presence and enough of a theatrical, operatic charm that puts him leagues above Thor: The Dark World‘s Malekith and whoever the fuck Guy Pearce was supposed to be in Iron Man 3. And sure, once in a while a delivery will feel a bit flat, but those moments are few and far between in a sea of fun, interesting performances.

But whatever scant flaws the film may have are vastly outweighed by everything I just adore it for. It feels fresh and dynamic, with real personality in its direction and some of the best sci-fi visuals in years. Everywhere that Man of Steel was drab, dull and joyless, Guardians is vibrant, exciting and utterly joyful.

But importantly, it doesn’t let that joyfulness keep it from trying (and succeeding) to have some emotional depth. And it’s that depth, more than anything else, that makes Guardians an absolute treasure, undoubtedly one of Marvel’s best films yet and so beautifully unlike any other blockbuster you’ve seen all year.

Being a film nerd mostly interested in genre movies writing for a website mostly interested in local culture can be a tricky thing. Oh sure, I love local film as much as the next guy, but it rarely falls into my specific wheelhouse (whatever the hell a wheelhouse is). This is one of several reasons why the Fantasia Film Festival is one of my favorite times of the year: it’s one of the only instances where I can cover the kinds of films I enjoy most and actually follow Forget the Box’s normal schtick of talking about local culture and events.

That magical time will soon be upon us once again, and majority of the 2014 fest’s film lineup has been released on to the internet to a ravenous fandom. This week on FFR, let’s take a look ahead at what we’ve got in store for this year with a look at some of the films I’m anticipating the most.

Lifetime Achievement Award Presentation: Mamoru Oshii

In a lot of ways, my days as an anime geek are behind me. I haven’t watched a full series in ages, and these days my attentions are focused more on live action Japanese television and film. However, some directors will bring the old flame back, and Mamoru Oshii is one of them.

Bursting on to the scene in the late 80s and early 90s as the director of the first two Patlabor films, Oshii quickly moved into his own franchise with the groundbreaking Ghost in the Shell, one of the defining movies of the first wave of the North American Anime invasion and a landmark in the genre.

On opening night (July 17) Oshii will be receiving the Lifetime Achievement award before a screening of a brand new HD print of Ghost in the Shell (the original version, not that heinous new version with the bad CGI added in) that’s never been aired outside of Japan.

Jellyfish EyesJellyfish Eyes – Dir. Takashi Murakami

The fact that no one ever attempted a live-action Pokemon movie always seemed odd to me. Granted, the franchise is probably past the apex of its popularity, but people would still probably flock to one like seagulls to a dropped french fry, and bring enough money with them to keep Japanese executives eating Sushi off of naked women until the end of days.

Jellyfish Eyes looks to be filling that niche, looking like a Pokemon film in everything but name and the presence of a catchy theme tune. What makes Jellyfish Eyes look like more that an absurdly commercial cash-grab, however, is that it’s set in the aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear disaster, which opens the unspoken possibility that the magical monsters that only the heroes of the film can see are actually signs of radiation poisoning. And I know, that’s an incredibly morbid and depressing prediction for the end of what otherwise looks like a children’s adventure movie but….well, it’s Japan. We should expect the unexpected.

The Reconstruction of William Zero – Dir. Dan Bush

Back in ’07, director Dan Bush delivered The Signal, a smart, atmospheric, funny and all around awesome indie horror gem in a time when horror movies were otherwise far too enamored with torture porn and found footage.

Now, after a lengthy absence from the director’s chair, Bush is returning with The Reconstruction of William Zero, a film we know almost nothing about, but that I’ll probably be first in line to see anyway. The press release gives the barest description of the plot, which involves a scientist waking up from a coma, but the presence of bush and Upstream Color star Amy Seimetz already have my interest piqued.

Let us PreyLet Us Prey – Dir. Brian O’Malley

It wouldn’t be Fantasia without something gruesome and dark about people having their gibblets sprayed all over the place in a variety of disturbing ways, and Let us Prey looks to be more than ready to fill that role this year.

The trailer doesn’t let much on in the way of plot, but the mood, style and production values all look rock solid, and hey, it’s got the Onion Knight in it! That’s enough for me to get interested.

Frank – Dir. Lenny Abrahamson

I’ve had my eye on Frank for some time, and not just because it always intrigues me when established, popular actors who probably have job offers rolling in like a Left 4 Dead horde when somebody gets hit by a Boomer takes on a quirky, low-profile indie flick.

Frank stars Michael Fassbender as a brilliant but troubled indie musician on the cusp of stardom who refuses to remove a giant paper mache head that makes him look like a character our of that old David and Goliath claymation cartoon. It’s an odd turn for Fassbender, one that could either prove his acting chops as world-class once and for all, or could just feel like an overly quirky indulgence. It’s probably that risk that has me interested the most,

IngtoogiINGToogi: Battle of the Internet Trolls – Dir. Uhm Tae-Wa

Korean cinema has long been a darling of the Fantasia crowd, and while crime thrillers like No Tears for the Dead certainly look entertaining, it’s the offbeat indie fare that will more often grab my attention, like 2012’s Young Gun in the Time or last year’s The Weight.

INGToogie sees two internet rivals take their grief to the streets for a knock-down brawl, something that’s become more and more common in Korea recently as internet trolls meat for “real life player kills” or “hyunpi”. While the prospect of internet trolls beating each other senseless is enough to lure me to a screening, the stylish presentation makes me think this may be more than just mere catharsis.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Dir. James Gunn

Never heard of it. Looks weird. They’ll screen anything these days.



This week, Marvel Studios gave me one the best birthday gifts I could hope for, dropping a new trailer for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy and kicking the pre-release hype machine into overdrive so hard the engine is in danger of exploding. And unlike the first trailer, which to be honest was hurt pretty bad by some truly awful exposition, this one’s pretty much an all-out win. But really, it still suffers from the problem that to the layman, most of it is unintelligible noise and sight. And given that it landed me a spot on local radio the last time I attempted to clarify this hole rigmarole for the normies, I figure why not take a good hard look at some of the less than clear elements of the new trailer and take you through what you need to know. Though really, a lot of it will probably just make things more confusing.



So far the main villain of Guardians has been prettymuch absent from all of the advertising, barely scoring a few seconds of screen time in any of the trailers and totally absent from every poster released thus far. Hell, you can only really see what he looks like through freeze-framing and action figures, and at this point you’d have better luck finding info on Bigfoot than poor Ronan.

Ronan is a member of the Kree, an imperialistic alien race mostly known for being colossal dickbags and being at war constantly. Ronan, in the comics anyway, is a member of the Accusers, the highest dickbags in the land, who act as military leaders as well as judges and executioners. Though he spent a long time as a villain, mostly to the Fantastic Four and Avengers, Ronan became something of an anti-hero after the Annihilation storyline revitalized the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe in the mid 2000s.

In the movie, it seems Ronan will mostly be serving as an enforcer for Thanos, this big purple smiling guy at the end of The Avengers, the Darth Vader to Thanos’ Emperor Palpatine, if you will. If Palpatine was bright purple and looked like he could bench-press that bigass new dinosaur they just found.


No, your eyes did not deceive you, that is indeed a big, floating severed head in the trailer.

Knowhere, introduced during Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s revamp of all things space-faring in Marvel, is the severed head of a Celestial, a race of all-powerful space entities that fly around mucking with developing races for kicks and looking like modernist sculptures.

Knowhere serves as the Guardians’ base of operations, as well as that of The Collector, the blonde alien guy from the post-credits scene from Thor 2. More on him later.

Knowhere exists on the very edge of known space and acts as a kind of junction point that can be reached from anywhere in time or space. Because of this, it plays host to scientists and travelers from across the known universe. It’s sort of like the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, but inside a dead space god’s head and overseen by a psychic Russian dog in a space suit. Who will apparently have a cameo in the movie, because James Gunn laughs at the idea that some thing are too “out there”.

Glenn Close GOTG

Nova Corps
Despite looking like a refugee from The Fifth Element, Glenn Close is actually the leader of the Nova Corps, Marvel’s unabashed answer to DC’s Green Lantern Corps. The Novas are your basic space police group, tasked with maintaining galactic order, and apparently the best way to do that is with big bucket helmets and pretzel hair.

In the comics, the Nova Corps all have superpower that allow them to fly and fire energy blasts, but by the looks of things the Corps of the movie will just have plain ole’ guns. A large part of me finds this a tad boring, but I suppose you can’t throw too much else at the audience when your movie is headlined by a talking racoon.

John C. Reilly’s character in the film is also a high ranking Nova Corps member named Rhomann Dey, who dies and gives his powers to an Earthman named Richard Rider, because Marvel felt they hadn’t quite ripped Green Lantern off enough yet.

Del Toro collector

The Collector
Taneleer Tivan, better known as the collector, doesn’t get much screen time in the new trailer, but given that him and his weird Oompa-Loompa lady assistant were our first look at the world of Guardians of the Galaxy, he probably needs some explaining for those who still haven’t asked their nerd friends.

In the comics, The Collector is actually one of the oldest beings in the universe, who all decided that the best way to spend eternity is to give themselves exactly one role/name and stick to it. There’s The Collector, The Trader, The Obliterate, there’s even The Gardner. As the Collector’s name indicates, his schtick is collecting things, and he spent a lot of time flying around space collecting life forms, technological and artistic achievements, and whatever else caught his fancy. He’s like the space-faring equivalent of that one crazy uncle we all have whose house is full of old newspapers and bottlecaps.

By appearances, two things have changed for the movie. One, the Collector is less of an ancient cosmic being and more of just a dude who really likes collecting things, objects of great cosmic power in particular. Second, as we all probably figured out less than a minute into the Thor 2 scene, is that he’s campy as a bedazzled Unicorn. I mean damn, with the fur trimmed outfit and all the extravagant hand movements? This could go so Schumacher, it really could.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited and as scared at the same time as I am for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Not just because the movie so far has all the elements in place to be a flying touchdown of awesomeness that raises a jubilant middle finger to the notion that you just can’t translate some things to film, but because it could just as easily be an unholy disaster that completely validates that same notion.

No mistake, Guardians is Marvel’s riskiest project to date, not just because of the subject matter, but also because…who the fuck are the Guardians of the Galaxy? People say Iron Man was an obscure character before his own breakout movie, but there’s obscure and then there’s being obscure, and the Guardians are definitely that second, bolder one.

Even to casual comic fans, a cursory glance at the few pieces of art, production stills or that 30 seconds of glorious comic con footage you can find on YouTube if you look really hard often yields more confusion than anything else. Who are these people? What’s going on? Is that a raccoon?

Well, as always, consider me your tour guide to this strange new cinematic world about to be unleashed upon us like a cenobite on an unwary occult/S&M freak. Just how much director James Gunn has changed most of the characters that make up the world of Guardians is still largely unknown, but assuming they bear at least -some- resemblance to their comic counterparts, this helpful rundown should make things less confusing.

Star LordStar-Lord

Short version: Space adventurer with bitchin’ mask

Long version: Star-Lord, real name Peter Quill, was first introduced in the 1970s as a space-faring adventurer in the mold on Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. A Human/Alien hybrid (though, for all intents and purposes, functionally human), Quill spent some time living the dream of bombing around space having daring space adventures and wooing the occasional space princess, before an encounter with a character called The Fallen (who would take waaaay too long to explain here) caused him to renounce the Star-Lord mantle and become imprisoned in a space jail called The Kyln.

Like almost every character in Guardians, Quill came back into the spotlight in the mid-2000s in a crossover event called Annihilation, Marvel’s successful attempt at relaunching the more space-centric side of its universe. After spending some time as plain ole Peter Quill, he finally re-assumed the name Star Lord, trading his original and pretty damn lame costume for a new, more military looking outfit and an awesome helmet/mask, only part of which is making it to the screen, because it’s apparently very necessary that we see Chris Pratt’s hair.

By all accounts, the film is playing Quill less as a daring space adventurer and more as a smart alec bumbler who -wants- to be a daring space adventurer, though hopefully not in a Lone Ranger or Green Hornet kind of way.

Drax the Destroyer

Short version: Muscle-y, green space man with a penchant for stabbing things

Long version: Ok, so remember that purple smiling guy at the end of Avengers? Ok, that guy’s Thanos, and the short version is he’s a big purple space despot. Not doing the long version on him. That’s basically half the damn column right there.

Drax was a normal human (with the much more boring name of Arthur Douglas) who, along with his family, was killed by Thanos and later remade into a being capable of killing Thanos by Thanos’ own father.

For reasons never properly explained, Drax got another makeover in the early 2000s, ditching his purple cape and skullcap for some knives and combat pants, because someone apparently saw Pitch Black and thought Marvel needed its own version of Riddick, just green and only marginally less interesting.


Short version: Sultry green space lady with a penchant for stabbing things

Long version: Gamora is the last surviving member of a species called the Zen Whoberi, taken in by Thanos and trained as his personal assassin after her race was exterminated by a species called The Badoon (or another group called the Universal Church of Truth, though that was later written out of continuity) and gaining the title of Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy.

Gamora actually has a fairly long and involved history, being a central player in writer Jim Starlin’s many space-centric Marvel comics in the 1970s and 80s, but like I keep saying we’re on limited time here. What you really need to know is that she’s basically Red Sonja in space, a sword-wielding, often skimpily dressed warrior princess type, who by the looks of things will be trading in the swords and swimsuits for much more sensible guns and outfits for the film.


Short version: Angry Space Tree. No, really.

Long version: Groot is actually the oldest character to appear in Guardians, originally appearing in 1960 as a villain in Tales to Astonish as The Monarch of Planet X, a fairly generic tree monster who menaced the Hulk once or twice before more or less being forgotten by everyone involved.

But, again, during the second Annihilation crossover event, Groot resurfaced as part of a covert commando team lead by Peter Quill, a team which would largely form the basis for the Guardians. For reasons that were never really explained, somewhere along the way Groot went from fairly eloquent to being mostly incapable of saying anything other than “I am Groot!” Vin Diesel recently signed up to voice Groot in the movie, though given that he’s played at least one mostly monosyllabic soft-hearted giant before, how varied his vocabulary will be in the film is still up in the air.

Making-of-Rocket-Raccoon-in-Marvels-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-2014Rocket Raccoon

Short version: Gun toting space raccoon. No, really!

Long version: Rocket Raccoon, also called The Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant, is one of many genetically manipulated animals created as companions for the inmates of Halfworld, a colony planet partially used as a home for the mentally ill. Yeah, that’s his origin. He was basically created to be a small, fuzzy version of Nurse Ratched, but went on to serve as Halfworld’s sheriff before leaving to pursue a life as a space adventurer.

Alongside Groot, Rocket later reappeared as part of Peter Quill’s commando team during the second Annihilation crossover, proving himself to be a master tactician and heavy weapons expert. Ever play the Ratchet and Clank games? He’s like Ratchet, but with a personality more akin to Leonardo from the Ninja Turtles.

Rocket’s Origin will likely receive a huge overhaul for the movie, eliminating Halfworld and having Rockett be the result of someone else’s demented genetic tampering. But then again, director James Gunn has put crazier things on film, so you never know.