1. Making Everything a Cinematic Universe. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was one thing, but with the announcements of a Universal Monster Cinematic Universe, a DC Cinematic Universe and a “Robin Hood” Cinematic Universe, perhaps it’s getting a bit out of hand. Jason Bailey of Flavorwire picked more small stories for Hollywood to turn into overbearing series.
Pigs: The story of the three little pigs has everything: a superior villain, adversity and triumph, and widespread destruction. But who are these pigs? Where did they come from? And who is this Big Bad Wolf? What makes him tick? I’m seeing at least one origin story picture for each of the pigs, plus one for the Big Bad Wolf — and then we can tie in a Red Riding Hood spin-off. And what about Grandma? I know, I know, nobody wants to see movies about the elderly. But Grandma wasn’t always old. So let’s look into her past, maybe as a hot young super-spy? C’mon, this shit writes itself. Read more.
2. Science-Driven Movies Can’t Stop Explaining Themselves. Plenty of writers have criticized “Interstellar’s” reliance on expository dialogue to explain its heady sci-fi concepts, but the biopics “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game” do the same thing. Grantland’s Matt Patches wrote that movies feel the need to overexplain not because they’re afraid readers won’t get it, but because they’ll know more than the film if they don’t.
Nolan’s instincts to overexplain are reactive to an audience that needs answers. There’s a fear running through “Interstellar”: The audience knows their black hole science. If the film glosses over known details, fingers will be pointed. Real science compounds more fictitious moments: What, TARS can suddenly beam Cooper the gravity equation through magical fifth-dimension brain email? Everything before this made sense! Opponents of George Lucas’s “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” often chastise the film’s invention of Midi-chlorian, the “source” of the Force, for being the pinnacle of unnecessary logic. In “Interstellar,” Nolan preempts logic debates by injecting his most existential beats with Midi-chlorians. Read more.
3. Tracking Shots: Brilliant or Self-Indulgent? Long-takes tend to wow viewers, whether it’s “Birdman’s” digitally-assisted one-take conceit or “True Detective’s” tracking shot. But how often is it beneficiary to the story as opposed to just empty style? Jonathan Romney of The Guardian tried to sort it out.
But there are other cases in which film-makers are clearly just strutting their stuff: Brian DePalma, again with McConkey on Steadicam, outdoes “Goodfellas” for length and complexity in his “Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990, 4 1/2 mins) and the even more full-on Snake Eyes (1998, 13 mins), but the result is more exhausting than thrilling. Another egregious bit of flaunting comes in David Fincher’s “Panic Room” (2002), in which the camera, floating ghost-like around an apartment, even passes through the handle of a cafetiere – just because it damn well can. Such virtuoso turns are a matter of taste. Some people find the one-take panorama of Dunkirk in Joe Wright’s “Atonement” (2007) heart-wrenchingly evocative; for me, it feels too deliberately orchestrated for spectacle and poignancy. Read more.
4. Reese Witherspoon’s Great Unlikability in “Wild.” Reese Witherspoon is an eminently likable presence, but with “Wild” she’s playing an unlikable (foul-mouthed, irresponsible, abrasive) character for the first time in years. Eliza Berman of Time wrote that this is what makes “Wild’s” Cheryl Strayed so great.
That Witherspoon’s Strayed is sometimes more caustic than the real Strayed may be attributed, in part, to the movie’s need to dramatize flashbacks and memories recalled in reflective prose. But it’s also a deliberate choice that favors the unedited mess over the bright-eyed Pollyanna. Whether, as a character, Strayed is likable is less important than whether she is real: complicated and fallible, sexual and empowered, unrepentant for the past and uncertain of the future. This movie doesn’t work without the brokenness, because it’s all about the hike to healing. Read more.
5. The Most Exciting Film Breakthroughs of 2014. This has been a remarkable year of great first impressions or breakthroughs, from Jack O’Connell to Jennifer Kent. Mark Kermode of The Observer picked the year’s best breakout actors, directors and others.
Having made waves with 2004’s awards-winning “A Way of Life,” British film-maker Amma Asante conquered America this year with her second directorial feature, “Belle,” a Manx-made movie that wrapped a discussion of slavery and sexual inequality in the palatable costume of an Austen-esque period drama. The results were eye-opening, insightful, entertaining and uplifting, with Asante’s direction confident and assured, establishing her as a bold international cinematic voice. No wonder Oprah Winfrey is such a fan. Read more.