20142014 has been a year of personal progress. Sure, there’s been the familial stress and day job blues, but I’m healthier and stronger than I’ve been in a long time. I began writing for CHUD back in 2012, but this year marked my foray into writing news articles. I’ve learned a lot this year about blogging, film criticism, and entertainment journalism. I’m improving as a viewer, a critic, and a writer. And I still have a long way to go.

I’d like to give out a hearty “thank you” to Nick Nunziata and all of the CHUD writing crew. You inspire me. Lastly, I’d like to thank all of you, the CHUD readers, who’ve stuck with us through thick and thin. Thanks to you, CHUD is still here, and that helps to keep me smiling. Now, without further ado, let’s get down to business.

Disclaimer: I haven’t yet seen all of 2014’s big awards contenders. This includes Inherent Vice, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Selma, Unbroken, Wild, Big Eyes, and Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas. Therefore, you should consider this list a bit premature. If you’re interested in how this list might change by early January (when a lot of these films will arrive in my culture-deaf suburban outpost), you can check out me on Letterboxd. But for now, I have a deadline to meet. I like having deadlines, and though it’s subject to change, I really like this list.


Travis on Locke:

We have a cultural fixation with intelligent, handsome, cool-headed men doing important jobs. James Bond falls into this category. He can be improvising or just following orders, it doesn’t matter. Ivan Locke is cut from the same cloth, but his circumstances are different — he’s a suave professional under pressure, but his womanizing has caught up with him, and he’s betraying the most important people in his life in order to right a huge wrong. Ivan Locke’s sense of responsibility is a rock solid motivation, so it’s easy to be on his side. Sticking the audience in a BMW for eighty minutes while Tom Hardy talks on the phone doesn’t sound all that interesting on paper, but MY GOD does it work on screen. I tried to count of all the different camera setups in the film, but had to quickly give up. I never thought a one-man show in a car could look so good, and I’m so glad they didn’t shoot the whole damn thing on a soundstage. Green screen driving scenes are the fucking worst.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Ivan Locke’s accent. The lighting. Concrete.

Performance to savor: Really?

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “You can blow robots up for hours, and it still doesn’t hold a candle to eighty minutes in a car with Tom Hardy.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.



Travis on Enemy:

This is a wholly unexpected film. Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners was a taut and stylish (if a tad clumsy) thriller, with Jake Gyllenhall delivering a fine performance as Detective Loki. I never would have guessed that Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal would have made this next. The setup is simple enough: Adam, a worn-out college professor, watches a locally made indie film, only to discover that an actor in the film appears to be none other than himself. Adam tracks down this doppelgänger and that’s when things get REALLY weird. Loosely based on a Jose Saramago novel (The Double, not to be confused with the Dostoyevsky novel or Richard Ayoade’s adaptation), Enemy is a confounding and disturbing puzzle. Packed with creepy spider imagery, this flick refuses to be unraveled (at least until Villeneuve spills his guts). Oh, and that ending. Freaky shit, huh?

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Sarah Gadon and Melanie Laurent. Spiders.

Performance to savor: Both Gyllenhaals.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “I can’t tell you what it was really about, but I can tell you I liked it.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Cheap Thrills


Travis on Cheap Thrills:

Assuming you were flat broke, newly jobless, about to be evicted, and a little drunk, would you grab a wet $50 bill out of a bar toilet? Later on that night, if you were pretty fucked up on good tequila, would you slap a stripper’s ass for two hundred bucks? When you got kicked out of the strip club, would you punch the bouncer for five hundred? Steadily increasing depravity fueled by desperation is what this flick is all about, and goddamn does it make for an enjoyable watch. Former Creature-Corner writer E.L. Katz directs with a strong steady hand and a penchant for queasy reds and yellows. Impeccably structured, hilariously violent, and shockingly twisted, Cheap Thrills is a thematically relevant and finely crafted black comedy.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Its complete understanding of financial desperation. The soundtrack. The look.

Performance to savor: Everyone is good, and it’s Pat Healy’s show, but Ethan Embry is the dark horse. He’s great.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Gleefully depraved.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.

Big Hero 6#12

Travis on Big Hero 6:

Here’s the one that’ll be hard to defend. It’s kiddie fare, the plot beats are generic, and it’s not terribly funny. But its heart is totally in the right place. When the seemingly benign character who would become the villain was introduced, my immediate thought was, “oh, the villain”. Sure enough, that’s who gets revealed when our group of meddling kids yanks off the mask. There are no surprises in the plot department, but it’s a kids’ movie. This is literally a film for beginners. It’s really elevated by its characters, though. Design, voice acting, and characterization all shine. The female characters are varied, strong, and intelligent. The film deals with themes of grief and loss in surprisingly direct ways. San Fransokyo is intricately detailed and utterly gorgeous, and lends the film a heavy sci-fi flavor not often found in kid stuff. Oh, and Henry Jackman’s score is fucking great.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Beautiful animation, a multiethnic hero in a multicultural setting, and that score.

Performance to savor: Scott Adsit as Baymax.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The perfect palate cleanser after the increasingly cloying Frozen.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


The LEGO Movie #11

Travis on The LEGO Movie:

The year’s longest commercial is a smart, funny, and visually ingenious send-up of the monomyth. The sheer devotion to its aesthetic, realized completely in LEGO bricks, is one of the biggest recent accomplishments in contemporary animation. The use of imperfections — anamorphic lens flares, chromatic aberration, bokeh, chips, scrapes, weathered textures, jerky movement, lack of motion blur — creates a singular feel that is only rivaled by studios like LAIKA (The Boxtrolls). Now if you’ll excuse me, I suddenly feel the urge to go buy a LEGO set. I’ll be back.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The fantastic voice cast. The humor. Will Arnett.

Performance to savor: Morgan Freeman.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Phil Lord and Chris Miller can literally fly.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Travis on Boyhood:

Richard Linklater’s critical darling is one of the most successful experiments in 21st century cinema. Decidedly un-epic, easy on melodrama, and light on sentimentality, the film beautifully captures some the essence of what it means to grow up in contemporary suburban America. The film is brutal in its structure: what would be considered plot threads in traditional cinema are never picked up or revisited. Characters we come to like vanish without a trace, but some minor players reappear in odd ways. It sounds remarkably like life itself. Boyhood is mundane by design, but Linklater has a flair for making the mundane very watchable. Now, perhaps you’re wondering why the film isn’t among my top choices. Wanna know a secret? There were versions of my list that didn’t include Boyhood at all. It’s got a rocky start, and doesn’t really engage until the first stepdad shows up. From there, it’s very uneven, with high highs, long lulls, and uninteresting visual choices. I think the film is blissfully unaware of its own false profundity, confidently doling out a silly bon mot like “let the moment seize you”, which sounds like an advertising slogan for fucking Kodak. Even with all that, Boyhood is a triumph of acting. The film is tangled inextricably — painfully, even — with the pop culture of its time. But hey, aren’t we all?

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The parents. Arquette’s growth as a performer. Ellar Coltrane’s incredibly real screen presence.

Performance to savor: If I had to choose one, it’d be Ethan Hawke. Manic, magnetic, and warm.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Experimental film made beautifully accessible.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.

Stranger By The Lake#9

Travis on Stranger By The Lake:

A single location minimalistic French thriller with no music, near-constant male nudity, and graphic gay sex, this one ain’t for everyone. But those who can get over all that will find a really intriguing (and frightening) thriller, and some of the best sound design I’ve heard this year. The eponymous lake comes alive through sound recorded on location: the wash of water on the shore, the wind whistling through the trees, creating an environment that feels eerily real. While some of the characters’ choices feel needlessly dangerous, the film has an allegorical slant, examining our foolish attraction to the dangerous and deadly. It may also have the most chilling ending I’ve seen this year. Don’t overlook this one.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The sounds of the lake. The Freddie Mercury mustache. The use of natural light and dark. The sexual honesty.

Performance to savor: Christophe Paou, quietly sinister. A time bomb.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Bold, honest, and disquieting.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.



Travis on Honeymoon:

More intimate and real than the plotty (but fun) Gone Girl, Honeymoon is a slow-burn spousal chiller that delivers the year’s biggest body horror moment. This quiet little movie is easily underestimated, but the gut punches you’ll find here aren’t easily matched by many other horror films this year (except for perhaps The Babadook).

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Treadaway and Leslie’s chemistry. The unbearable tension. The scares. That horrifying reveal.

Performance to savor: Harry Treadaway

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Devastating body horror.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Under The Skin#7

Travis on Under The Skin:

Minimalism and abstraction make good bedfellows with sci-fi and horror in this challenging film. This is an exercise on how little you can give an audience. We expect to be spoon-fed the who-what-when-where-why of any movie, but Under the Skin boldly refuses to spoon feed. It goes for exploration instead of exposition. It uses non-actors. It’s shot in natural light whenever possible. It doesn’t decorate. Director Jonathan Glazer’s goal during production was to create something “unadorned”, without aesthetic. While the film clearly has an aesthetic, this whole shooting philosophy still comes across, still visible behind the gloss of postproduction. It’s a deeply unsettling effect, because even though it’s raw and real, there’s a cold artifice, an insidious agenda. The most obvious example of Glazer’s philosophy would be the way alien spaces are shown: white or black voids that hide unspeakable horrors. Under the Skin is wonderful and weird as hell, and will surely be cited as a touchstone by future filmmakers.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The motorcycle man. Scarlett’s cold stare. The creation of the eye. The removal of the skin.

Performance to savor: Again, really?

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “As cold and sinewy a masterpiece as you’re likely to find.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Travis on Nightcrawler:

A kindred spirit to the American dream satire of Grand Theft Auto, Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is blunt and darkly hilarious. Jake Gyllenhaal’s magnetic performance makes it nigh impossible to take your eyes off the despicable Lou Bloom. Only marred by a mismatched (but well composed) score from James Newton Howard, Nightcrawler is a rarity: a film that feels like a video game, but also happens to be damn fine cinema.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The lighting. The gasp-inducing climax. The car chase. The venomous satire.

Performance to savor: You fucking know who.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Sadistic and riveting.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Only Lovers Left Alive#5

Travis on Only Lovers Left Alive:

After the likes of Twilight and True Blood drained vampires of their cool, Jim Jarmusch arrived with a much-needed transfusion. This effect of watching this film is not unlike that of a pleasant narcotic, inducing a sense of warm lethargy and syrupy euphoria. It’s got the best on-screen romance on the year; Swinton and Hiddleston smolder in a way I never thought possible. It’s got a wicked sense of deadpan humor, a great cast, a hypnotic soundtrack, lighting to fuckin’ die for, and its shabby-sexy looks are familiar yet renewed. The ennui of eternal life is — somewhat miraculously — interesting again, even outside of horror. I’ve found no better way to say it, so here it is: this is a fucking great movie.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The gloves. The coyotes. The guitars. The husks of cities. The romance. Yasmine Hamdan. John Hurt. Anton Yelchin.

Performance to savor: Hiddleston.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The best vampire film since Let The Right One In.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


The One I Love#4

Travis on The One I Love:

I love being blindsided by a great movie, and that’s exactly what happened here. This is another genre bender — a marriage dramedy with odd sci-fi elements and a handful of surprisingly creepy moments. In a spousal mistrust triptych with Honeymoon and Gone Girl, this would be the more cerebral entry, but it never acts too smart for its own good. The film’s tiny scale and the presence of Mark Duplass might fool you into thinking this is just another special snowflake mumblecore movie, but this is a smart and glossy little mindfuck, and one of the year’s most under-appreciated films.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The chemistry. The humor. The deception. The bacon.

Performance to savor: Elizabeth Moss.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Whip-smart and playful sci-fi.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


The Grand Budapest Hotel#3

Travis on The Grand Budapest Hotel:

Wes Anderson’s films once rubbed me the wrong way, starting with The Royal Tenenbaums. I’ve since seen the error of my ways, but it took Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom to win me over again. The next film in Anderson’s red-hot streak, The Grand Budapest hotel is a joyous confection that deftly avoids being cloying or twee. It’s refreshing and fun, without feeling insubstantial. The cast is beyond stellar, the music is lovely, the pacing is breathless, and it’s my current favorite Anderson film.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The aspect ratio changes. The wonderful art direction and costumes. The violence and profanity. The impeccable timing.

Performance to savor: Ralph fucking Fiennes.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “If this movie doesn’t make you laugh, you’re dead to me.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.

Blue Ruin#2

Travis on Blue Ruin:

If I had seen Jeremy Saulnier’s Murder Party when it had first come out, I never would have guessed he had this in him. Blue Ruin is exquisitely directed and masterfully paced; each beautiful moment lasting just as long as it should. Macon Blair’s quiet sadness and intensity are balanced the film’s acute sense of schadenfreude as we see Dwight fuck up again and again. Remember what I said about Locke and how there’s something inherently fascinating about watching a professional do their job well? Well this weak, inept man bumbling his way through revenge makes for one of the year’s best films.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The near flawless cinematography. The arrow in the leg. The soundtrack. The home invasion sequences. Macon Blair’s eyes.

Performance to savor: Macon Blair all the way, baby.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but it’s all the more interesting when the chef is a complete fuck-up.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


A Field In England#1

Travis on A Field In England:

There’s a misconception that this film is pretentious. It may be visually striking, strange, and violent, but A Field In England is remarkably without pretense. You wouldn’t get this from watching the trailer, but the film is packed with jokes. Some viewers may have trouble with the accents and the period dialogue, and the line deliveries in the film are often so understated that you may miss a few jokes on your first viewing, but those aren’t reasons for outright dismissal. There’s not a single sour note for me, and this is coming from a guy who isn’t a huge fan of Ben Wheatley. Ambitious only in its weirdness, this confidently made genre-bender is my favorite film of 2014.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The dialogue. The spells written on the inside of O’Neill’s cape. The haunting music. The shrooms. The stinging nettles. The disregard for logic.

Performance to savor: They’re all great, but Peter Ferdinando’s line deliveries are particularly memorable.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Transports the viewer like no other film this year.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.

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