Staff Picks: Best of 2014, by Lord Gremlin

Two to go! It's time for Lord Gremlin to tell you about his favoritest things this 2014, focusing mainly on movies and books. Time to roll!

Making a list of the things that made me most happy in 2014 is kinda difficult for me because there are were so many things I missed out on, by choice (I don’t game) or by not being able to obtain everything that piqued my interest. Still, I enjoyed plenty this past year had to offer and despite not absorbing all I wanted to, I would say without a doubt this has been one of the most rewarding years for me (pop culturally speaking) in quite some time.

Come, take my hand and let me lead tell all about my favorite things from 2014!

It gave me two of my favorite horror movies in recent years

And neither of them are The Babadook (Sorry Lilith and pretty much everyone else). This year spat out a crapload of horror both acclaimed and disparaged and like I said above, I haven’t been able to clock nearly as many things as I’ve wanted to-but what I did manage to clock ended up giving me not only two of my favorite movies of the year but two of my favorite horror films in a long time.

The first one would be the hypnotic Under the Skin. Yes, I do consider this a horror movie. How can it not be? It’s really a simplistic film wrapped in an arthouse package. The plot concerns an alien in the disguise of a beautiful Earth woman making her rounds across Scotland, hunting men one by one to feed on. It’s like Species but y’know…good.

What impressed me the most about the film was how it subtly and confidently laid its cards on the table. It tells you everything you need to know, but never once offers traditional exposition. The details can be filled in by your noggin in various different ways. The narrative is a perfect balance of information and letting the audience use their intuition. Jonathan Glazer directed the hell of the film. It’s a slow burn, but an entrancing one with methodical, precise shot composition and various images that will stick in your grey matter for a long time. One particular scene actually gave me chills it was so effective.

Scarlett Johansson delivers a brave and unconventional performance as the enigmatic alien in question. She barely utters a line of dialogue the whole film all while having to convey dozens and dozens of emotions through body language and facial expression alone. This is most definitely one of, if not her best performance to date and should prove to her still prevalent naysayers that she’s a true talent and not just a beautiful face.

Under the Skin is a fascinating and unsettling picture with a surprising emotional core it develops as it goes along. If you haven’t given it a shot yet, do so immediately.

The second film is pretty much the polar opposite.

Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead is the zomedy I’ve been waiting for since Shaun of the Dead. The first film was a fun tongue-in-cheek gorefest in the vein of The Evil Dead and other films of its ilk. The sequel on the other hand goes totally batshit crazy and gives genre fans a sequel bigger and better in every way. Director Tommy Wirkola takes a page out of the Raimi/Jackson/Troma handbook and just goes to town. This is the kind of “I don’t give a fuck” horror jamboree I can’t help but fall head over heels for.

This movie defiantly gives the middle finger to all those no-no's most horror movies shy away from. Nobody is safe: not the elderly, not animals, not even children, band it’s a freakin’ riot. I wasn’t expecting to laugh as hard at this film as I did. How can a troop of undead Nazi’s shelling a group of mothers with their baby strollers in the park NOT make you laugh?

What? That’s not funny? Why would I laugh at something so horrible? I need psychological help?

Pfffft! You don’t know my life! Leave me alone!

Anyway, back to what I was saying: Dead Snow 2 is what many horror-comedy’s try to be but rarely end up being. It has unencumbered energy, a shit-ton of gore, a cast of likable characters, a cornucopia of laughs and even some heart.

Stephen King is still writing like a….urgh…king

The only novel published in 2014 I read (Shhhh, don’t tell The Damned Beast I haven’t read his debut novel yet! It would crush him! [Editor's Note: I'm more concerned about being called "damned"]) was Stephen King’s newest: Revival. Being the self-confessed King fanboy that I am, I’ve always held the position the man never really hit a sour patch in his long career. Oh, I’m not saying the guy hasn’t written some duds in his time because he sure as shit has. I’m simply saying that I don’t think his career is as divided as many of his critics and fellow readers think it is. Lately, Uncle Stevie has been on an exceptionally strong roll, a kind of renaissance if you will. Critics and fans are enjoying his lastest output more and more with each passing book and Revival has gotten some of his strongest reviews in a while.

King’s otherworldly knack for creating deep characters is yet again on display here with Jamie Morton. We follow Jamie from childhood to adulthood as he grows up, falls in love, becomes a musician, gets into drugs, suffers tragedy and everything else a person may go through in their life. What’s different here is that Jamie’s life is punctuated by Charles Jacobs, a charming and friendly preacher with a love of electricity and who slowly becomes more and more sinister as the years go by. The relationship between these two men is fascinating and King really milks the slow build-up for all it’s worth. This isn’t one of his most outwardly horrifying tales for a large chunk of pages, but once the mystery is finally revealed The King blesses his readers with one his most unsettling and strongest endings to date.

This was the Year Almost Everything Made The Lord Gremlin Happy (from superheroes, to sequels, and Kaiju)

The film industry produces a smorgasbord of sequels. They also produce a smorgasbord of superhero films. This year we were treat to quality films that fit both categories….sometimes simultaneously. This past year has been the strongest for films, especially blockbuster films for me in a long time.

Let’s see:
  • Captain American: The Winter Soldier (One of the best superhero movies ever)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (I liked it. Shut up!)
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (one of the best superhero movies ever)
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • 22 Jump Street
  • The Raid 2
  • Dead Snow 2              
  • Muppets Most Wanted (Better than the first. I’ll fight anybody who wants to challenge me on that!)

These were all sequels I grooved with to varying degrees in 2014, many of them (the majority imo) being better than their predecessors or the best entries in their franchise to date. And let’s not forget the original films this summer that rocked my world. Guardians of Galaxy pretty much charmed the pants right off of me. So much so I can say without hyperbole that it’s in the top 10 best summer blockbusters of the past decade. Same goes with Edge of Tomorrow, which I contend is one of the most well-constructed Hollywood action films we’ve had recently.

Oh hell, this whole year was filled to the brim with exceptional action films. The Raid 2 is an action/crime epic that will have you looking for your face on the floor after its done beating it to a bloody pulp. Cap 2 actually proved superhero movies can have badass fight choreography that doesn’t rely on CGI. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes knocked it out of the park with an expertly executed final act filled with tension and excitement. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gave me the Spidey action I’d always pictured in my head that no other Spidey film to date had managed to give me. Edge of Tomorrow smacked my bottom with a potent mixture of practical and CGI effects for its well staged and gritty action set pieces.

Fury is one of the most overlooked films of the year and one of my favorites. A harsh, nerve-shredding war film with the most intense battle scenes in a war film I’ve seen since Saving Private Ryan. The film has a level of intensity so strong, I literally felt it physically leaving the theater. 

And finally, Gareth Edwards gave America its own Godzilla film to be proud of. While it didn’t please everybody (Stupid editor of this stupid site for example) it gave the dignity back to the King of Monsters that the 1998 film had stomped on and left in the dust. Godzilla 2014 is an old school monster movie with new school sensibilities with of the most jaw-dropping, spin tingling monster effects and action I’ve ever seen in the genre. Even if you weren’t impressed by the human element of the film, there is no getting around how marvelous these monsters looked and acted. The best way I can describe it is this way: I adore the Kaiju/giant monster genre, but they were never ever scary to me in the slightest. Godzilla 2014 actually made me feel intimidated by these things, which surprised the hell out of me.

Minute for minute, I haven’t been this entertainment by a year at the movies since…I don’t know when. Yea, some of these movie may have let critics and fans down but what can I say, something about 2014 and its output just spoke to me. And to think there are still and handful of movies I need to catch up on!

To cap this all off, I’ll leave an obligatory top 10 films just for the hell of it:
  1. Under the Skin
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  4. Fury
  5. The Raid 2
  6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  7. Gone Girl
  8. How to Train Your Dragon 2
  9. Godzilla
  10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

For more, you can follow Lord Gremlin's utterly inactive Twitter account, or better yet read some more of his stuff on his own blog!

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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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