There is no universal theme to the films of 2014. If you try to connect everything, it all ends up winding down to the the all-ighty-ollar. Which is my Simpsons-earned cultural capital way of saying a perfect crease would give a perfect dollar sign for everyone, but there are still risk-takers and that sends the fold off the mark. While there were some big, exciting action movies (parenthetical shout-out to John Wick), some powerful historical films (hands up for Selma), and fun potty comedies that attempted to grow up (a Batman grunt of approval directed at Neighbors), to me 2014 was the meta-movie year.
Trending was a trend in 2014. And so was artistic adaptation. Birdmandropped a former superhero actor (Michael Keaton) into both a Raymond Carver play and the digital age (his name, trending on Twitter after an embarrassing underwear run through the streets of New York, will likely spark more of a career comeback than a Broadway play will). Clouds of Sils Maria placed an actress (Juliette Binoche) in a film version of a play, where she took the older part of the miserly boss. She came to fame 20 years prior by playing the sexy young intern in the film version of the play. That role is now being played by a superhero actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) who’s perhaps more famous for her viral TMZ run-ins with the law than she is for her acted superpowers.
Celebrity was examined. Edge of Tomorrowrebooted Tom Cruise’s career by rebooting his action persona in a movie in which the primary plot propulsion is the looping process of rebooting into action. Under the Skingave us Scarlett Johansson as an alien who attempts to be human, but she cannot be penetrated or eat cake. Check our penchant for celebrity slut-shaming and body-shaming for an additional meta-level layer to that adventurous film. More directly, Beyond the Lightsexposes the hypocrisy of shame thrown at female pop stars as opposed to the male pop stars who publicly and physically humiliate them. Top Fivewrestles with the lack of diversity in entertainment that’s offered in black cinema (the slave narrative, the Tyler Perry film, and the black comedian in drag; well, in Chris Rock’s film it’s a bear suit). But perhaps an even bigger artistic contribution was how readily Rock openly (and hilariously)addressed a number of top to bottom problems in our society — racism, income inequality, lack of equal opportunity, medicine made for profit — on the press tour for his own meta-movie about a comedian going on a press tour.
Why did Boyhoodresonate with people so deeply? Because its main character comes to the conclusion that whatever is trending at the moment, probably isn’t going to be memorable when looking back. Richard Linklater’s filmed experiment was shot once a year for 12 years it was able to genuinely, not ironically, include the very real optimism of Obama’s promised change, and pop songs now regarded as lame.
Film is currently wrestling with an identity. Some of our favorite auteurs (Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson) are attempting to save celluloid. But most have adapted to and embraced digital camerawork. As a result,there are more films being made than ever before. But so many of them lack distribution and studio support. Studios can pick up less of those tabs, and in fact they are greenlighting less films simply because most of their money is going into mega-films that they’ve mapped out a release plan for, one decade in advance.
With all this upheaval and lack of solid footing outside of established tentpoles, it makes sense that filmmakers would be grappling with universe building vs. art, diversity, and their own careers. They do so in a manner that is also identifiable with their consumer. Audiences are also in an uneasy place concerning income, stability, and race. Most everything that goes viral is some distraction from that lack of stability.
Oh, yeah, and some of those tentpoles provided a mighty fine distraction in 2014. Studios bought themselves more time (and mapped out years!) to chase that almighty dollar. Here’s hoping movies continue to crease and fold unpredictably into “all-ighty-ollar.”
Brian Formo contributes to CraveOnline's Best Movie Ever, The Big List, and does occasional mop-up duty for film reviews and interviews. He's also at Collider, IGN, and Complex. But if you REALLY want to know his thoughts on movies go to www.brianformo.com/year-ends-project.