Friday, December 19, 2014

Top Ten Movies of 2014 - Part Three

3. Fury
These next three movies feel a bit pointless to rank in any order, since I loved them so much, but I suppose if I had to choose, the worst of the small group is Fury, but not by much.

I saw this movie fairly recently, and so I don’t have a lot to say aside from that review. Again, my own personal experiences factor into my decision here. I’ve been studying international relations for the past year or so, with a concentration in conflict management. Because of this, I get to talk about how unceasingly awful war is all the time. This movie is not a documentary, but I don’t think that should stop me or anyone else from imagining the true horrors that people experience during a war, especially the soldiers who must bear the brunt of the trauma, whether physically or emotionally.

As if the entire time spent showing us all awful and bloody war is wasn’t enough, the final lines – “You’re a hero.” – add a brand new dimension to the story as well. War is not only hard on the soldiers and civilians, but it also pointless and overly glorified. We remember the battles and who won them, but we forget the soldier at the end, sitting in the back of an ambulance, unable to cope with the world around him anymore.

The only complaint that I have about this movie – which is sadly a fairly large one – is that it degenerates into a standard war movie for far too long. The first three-fourths of the film are brightly lit, and show each and every bit of death right in front of your face, including the time someone gets stabbed in the fucking face. It is an extremely intimate view of war. The final scene however, is shot entirely in the dark, with wave after wave of autonomous German soldiers walking about to be dumbly shot dead by our heroes. It is still an emotionally charged and exciting scene, but it lacks the weight and obscenity of the scenes before it.

2. The Babadook
When I talked about Guardians of the Galaxy last time, I mentioned that a big part of my enjoyment from that movie derived from the fact that I not only had low expectations, but was actively hating the entire concept for a long time before seeing film. That helps out quite a bit for a movies enjoyment, as high expectations can easily ruin a perfectly good movie.

The opposite of this, however – having high expectations that are actually met – is a much higher high. I had heard about The Babadook quite a bit before actually seeing it – all good things – and yet my high expectations were actually exceeded.

There was a lot riding on this movie, too. I had just recently lamented at how awful the horror movie genre had become, and was practically begging for something fresh. This movie does everything that I think a good horror movie should do. There is a very specific (very German Expressionism-esque) style to the movie that makes every shot aesthetically pleasing and artistic. A lot of sharp shadows and wide open negative space create a jarring atmosphere inside the house, even when there’s no monster around.

The Babadook itself is genuinely creepy and originally, without being over the top. Its design is simple to the point of being, well, childish. The kind of thing you actually would expect to find in a children’s book. Moreover, the presence of the Babadook is pervasive at all times and in all places. While the scariest moment is elsewhere in the movie, the scariest establishing scene is the police office, where we see that the Babadook can be anywhere and take the form of anything. We see the Babadook attack the mother and son in broad daylight, in the car, which segues into my next point…
There is more at stake here than just escaping a monster. The car crash is an ideal example in that it is caused by the monster, yet the result, the lasting damage, is on her insurance premiums and checkbook. The movie never fails to remind us that these are real people dealing with real problems. These problems just happen to be exacerbated by a monster.

Or are they? This is the final and maybe my favorite aspect of the Babadook. Like many great horror stories, it is largely a metaphorical tale, where instead of just being a monster, the Babadook stands in for depression and the overwhelming sense of loss felt by our characters.

1. The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Deep down, I think I always knew that if I compared this film with other great movies of this year, it would still come out on top. Again, the fact that I’ve been learning so much about war and conflict factors into decision quite a bit, but still, it is hard to deny how unbearably tragic this story is.
The seminal disaster here is the inevitability of a war. It is clear on everyone’s face, almost as soon as each character is introduced or reintroduced in this film, that war is coming for them and there’s nothing to be done to stop it. I’ve heard some call this plot predictable, and I suppose that’s true, but I think this criticism misses the central focus of the movie, which is the long, unavoidable path that finds two societies at war with one another.

What makes this story so interesting is that each character never acts out of place. You are aware from the onset what their priorities and desires are, and hence are never surprised or dumbfounded by any of their decisions. Even the antagonists (if one can even call them that) have clear, understandable motivations. What would you do if your leader had gone mad and allowed outsiders into the deepest political circles, even his or her home? Imagine if Obama decided to make a high-ranking member of ISIS a cabinet member. Despite any good intentions on anyone’s part, you would still be understandably frustrated trying to explain to the leader that, hey, maybe don’t trust these guys 100% right away.

And the human leader. Can you imagine the insanity? The human race is close to extinction thanks to a disease carried by apes, and you want to just go hang out with apes. Yes, Felicity is probably correct that the survivors are immune, but do you really want to take that chance? With the future of the human race? As you’re already living in, like, huts? I think some caution is more than warranted.

The true beauty of this movie is that we don’t see these two completely rational people who have their people’s best interests at heart as the good guys, and the brazen, death-wishing assholes as the bad guys, and yet, the movie is a great big long love letter to peace. It dares to say that yes, we have reason to be afraid, we have reason to distrust each other, but if we do so, we will perish. We need to work together even when it’s terrifying to do so. That’s a beautiful sentiment and I’m so glad this movie exists and forced me to put it as #1.
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