THE BEST OF DANIEL BARNES 2014

imagesBetween my regular reviews in the Sacramento News & Review, my work here on E Street Film Society, and my occasional contributions to other publications and websites, I penned roughly 300 film-related reviews and articles in the calendar year 2014.  It was a busy year, but also a rewarding one – I was admitted into the San Francisco Critics Circle, covered the Mill Valley Film Festival, and met a lot of amazing and inspiring new people.  But more than anything, I watched and I wrote – so before all that hard work gets disposed into the wastebasket of yesteryear, I have compiled my picks for my own best reviews of 2014.  I divided them into 3 categories – my 10 favorites that went into print, my 10 favorites published only on E Street Film Society, and my 3 favorite Dare Daniels.  There will be many more original pieces to come on ESFS in 2015, including a Dare Daniel review of Simon Sez in early January, but for now let’s take a look back at the year in The Barnesyard.

10 BEST E STREET FILM SOCIETY-ONLY REVIEWS (ordered by post date)

*L’ECLISSE (posted on February 24)
The mot juste: “In Antonioni’s world, a society that acts entirely on avarice and self-interest is a society destined to lose its own soul and doomed towards savagery. By the end of L’Eclisse, humanity has become a zombie race, a gaggle of monkeys returning to primordial treetops of their own design”

*THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (posted on March 11)
The mot juste: “Desperation and rye whiskey seep out of Gazzara’s every pore, and he makes Cosmo’s obsessive dedication to the dingy theatrics of his Sunset Strip titty bar both sad and strangely charming.”

index*THE CHASE (posted on March 17)
The mot juste: “The “New Hollywood” of the 1960’s and 70’s produced a number of toxic takes on American institutions, but no filmmaker was as consistently convinced of the venality at the heart of American society as Arthur Penn. Even Hal Ashby was ultimately a humanist, and Francis Ford Coppola ended up making some decent table wines. ”

*THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (posted on April 16)
The mot juste: “Maybe The Holy Mountain is really just about assembling a restless montage of fucked-up shit, taking us on an acid trip through the poison-tipped nettles of Jodorowsky’s subconscious. There is a stream-of-consciousness feel to the pace and structure, and most of the film defies a simple reading. My personal perspective is that The Holy Mountain is less a film about Christ than about Christianity, with Jodorowsky leading us through an avant-garde spook house of the depraved effects of religious fundamentalism before finally showing us a way out. The way out just happens to involve burning idols and money, expanding consciousness through the use of psychedelic drugs, and participating in cult-y, est-like self-help rituals. Look, it was the early 1970s, alright?”

*THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (posted on May 2)
The mot juste: “There isn’t that one obvious thing that doesn’t work about this particular reboot – it’s a lot of tiny things that don’t work feeding into a tributary system of things that don’t work, which eventually dumps into an entire ocean of not working.”

index*EQUUS (posted on May 12)
The mot juste: “Lumet was a director who rose or fell based on the quality of his source material and collaborators. He served the demands of the story, rather than demanding that the story serve his esoteric vision or personal style. Give him a perfectly cast actor like Henry Fonda in a can’t-miss property like 12 Angry Men, and Lumet would deliver a fully realized vision. But give him a lot less and you got a lot less, and despite achieving a creepily tactile sensuality in certain scenes, the shock value of Equus seems especially suited to the intimacy of the stage. It’s a film about man-equine love that is mostly made of horse you-know-what, and only Lumet’s professional burnish keeps Equus on pace.”

*KISS ME, STUPID (posted on June 19)
The mot juste: “Dino pleads that sex ‘is a habit with me, like breathing.’ Or like heroin. Or like blood to a vampire. The flayed-alive version of Dean Martin that we see in Kiss Me, Stupid is barely even a recognizable human being, just an unpasteurized, all-encompassing zombie thirst for gin and sexual conquest. His dinner order is ‘a bowl of bourbon and some crackers.’ He dabs whiskey behind his ears like cologne. Early on, we see him lustily ogle a headless and legless sewing mannequin, and there is the brief suggestion that he is going to rape it somehow.”

*SHOCK CORRIDOR (posted on July 10)
The mot juste: “Real life is rendered in crisp and shadowy black-and-white, while color Super 8 becomes the film stock of nightmares. After nearly an hour of omnipresent – and by this point, clearly unreliable – non-diegetic narration, Johnny quizzes a fellow inmate, ‘Do you hear voices?’ Shock Corridor becomes the collective madness of its own audience.”

Ozu. End of Summer. Cry Walk*THE END OF SUMMER (posted on July 31)
The mot juste: “There is no more powerful a sequence of images in the cinema than a Yasujiro Ozu shot-reverse-shot. The great Japanese director was a master of composition, a painter of perfect vertical lines, but I always associate him with his uniquely visceral approach to classic one-on-one conversation. Ozu had a knack for getting his actors to address the camera at 92-98% direct eye contact with the camera lens in these sequences, giving the impression that the audience-eye is the one being met while still offering a quintessentially Japanese sliver of modest remove. Whatever sensation of pure glee my nine year-old niece gets from the “Let It Go” sequence in Frozen, I feel the same thing watching Ozu dialogue scenes.”

*4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS (posted on September 1)
The mot juste: “If there is a problem with the film, it’s that it can be as severe and standoffish as the society it portrays – Mungiu does not “ratchet up” tension so much as “set it and forget it,” with the camera only coming to life during emotionally heated moments. But this is a minor quibble against a film that finds terror and transcendence in the mundane details of life under a dictatorship, a world where trust itself is a counterfeit currency.”

10 BEST IN PRINT (ordered by publication date)

*DRAFT DAY (short) (published in SN&R on April 10)
The mot juste: “Costner was a killer-for-hire in 3 Days to Kill, and he’s the general manager for the Cleveland Browns in Draft Day, but he plays the same character in both films: a real man. He is suspicious of intellectuals and non-Americans, uncomfortable with free-thinking women, and doesn’t care one bit for this Twitter thing (if that’s what it’s even called!).”

index*THE RAID: BERANDAL (published in SN&R on April 10)
The mot juste: “Evans and Uwais stage these hyperbolic hand-to-hand combat sequences with a ruthless, almost hallucinatory perfection—this is what a Busby Berkeley movie would have looked like had he been a sadist instead of a pervert.”

*A HAUNTED HOUSE 2 (short) (published in SN&R on April 24)
The mot juste: “Wayans spends most of the movie screaming at inanimate objects (including Jaime Pressly, as his wife), and there is a scene of him sexually violating a wooden doll that is Oscar-worthy work in my hell.”

*BEGIN AGAIN (published in SN&R on July 3)
The mot juste: “Although the film hinges on a philosophical disconnect between the business side of the music industry and the burning desire of artistic creation, there is barely a difference between the album oriented rock slop the movie rejects and the AOR slop it embraces. When Knightley complains that one of her songs is ‘buried in production,’ the line is delivered completely without irony, even though every song here rests in that same sonic graveyard.”

*GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (published in SN&R on July 31)
The mot juste: “There is an exhilarating impression that the film may actually have the guts to surrender to Pratt’s Kool-Aid Man chaos, but the feeling is short-lived. Soon, we’re stuck following magical orbs and infinity stones with the awesome power to do things I never really cared about, and Pratt’s dizzy charm is pushed aside in favor of plot-heavy predictability and Marvel Universe-building.”

images*BOYHOOD (published in Colorado Springs Independent on August 13)
The mot juste: “At the end of the film’s first seamlessly interwoven vignette, 6-year-old Mason and his family are moving away from their sleepy East Texas town to a new life in Houston. As the car drives off, a young playmate of Mason’s speeds up the road on his bike, already blurred by the tall grasses of fading memory. He is the first of many forgettable friends who will flit in and out of Mason’s life, some of them positive, some of them worrisome, almost all of them benign and fleeting. Late in the film, when Mason is a college-bound teenager, an adult friend of the family offers that post-adolescence is ‘where you find your people,’ and Mason can barely refrain from rolling his eyes. The miracle of Boyhood is that we empathize with everyone in this scenario — with the talked-at teen receiving clichéd advice from a man he barely knows, with the clueless adult awkwardly attempting to communicate an ultimately righteous idea to a younger generation, and even with the nameless and forgotten playmate starring in his own alternate-universe movie life.”

*CALVARY (published in SN&R on August 14)
The mot juste: “When McDonagh keeps the film on track, Calvary is close to profound, with an elegantly reserved visual style that matches the script’s moral ambivalence. Father James has been stationed in a small but diverse town that butts up against a lush but desolate stretch of the Irish coastline, and it’s the perfect environmental complement to the waves of moral ambivalence that splash throughout the film—it appears both heavenly and God-forsaken at the same time.”

images*GONE GIRL (published in Colorado Springs Independent on October 1)
The mot juste: “Affleck is a revelation here, giving by far the best performance of his career, and is seemingly more comfortable in the skin of this accomplished liar and possible sociopath than in all the bland action heroes and trembling rom-com sad sacks he’s ever played.”

*INTERSTELLAR (published in SN&R on November 6)
The mot juste: “The original script by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan may only be good for hitting the nail on the head over and over again, but at least they’re taking swings. There is something exciting about a film that tries to fill your mind and then blow it, even if it’s only filling you full of hot air.”

*FOXCATCHER (published in SN&R on December 18)
The mot juste: “Like the isolated DuPont, Mark is a hornet’s nest of contradictions—he advocates for an American Dream that thoroughly fails him 47 out of every 48 months— and in DuPont he finds a father figure with the same inarticulate, evangelical and vaguely resentful form of patriotism.”

3 BEST DARE DANIELS

alpachino*JACK AND JILL (posted on May 27)
The mot juste: “Sandler treats his audience with contempt…and why not? God knows they’ve earned it.”

*FREDDY GOT FINGERED (posted on August 6)
The mot juste: “Freddy Got Fingered wants so badly to shock you out of your middlebrow complacency, but it’s never disturbing, only sad. That’s not to say that Green didn’t make exactly the film he wanted to make – it’s just that he is a pathetically one-note provocateur. ”

*LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (posted on September 8)
The mot juste: “In the anti-justice morass of Law Abiding Citizen, civil rights are the things that prevent you from getting home in time for your daughter’s cello recital.”