The Movies I Watched in 2014

As per usual, I watched a lot of movies in 2014.  In fact, it seems I watched even more movies in 2014 than I did any previous year.  There have been years in which I’ve seen more in theaters, and there have been years in which I’ve seen more outside of theaters, but this year the combination of the two is higher than in any previous year.
Here’s a quick rundown of some statistics:

  • I watched a total of 1785 movies over the course of the year.  765 of those were at a theater, and 1020 of those were outside of a theater.
  • 613 (80.01%) of the in-theater movies were at an Alamo Drafthouse, and 130 (16.99%) were presented by the Austin Film Society.  20 (2.61%) were at the Violet Crown, and 2 (0.26%) at the Regal Arbor Cinema.
  • 451 (58.95%) of theatrical screenings were movies I’d never seen before, as compared with 314 repeat watches.  538 (70.33%) of in-theater movies were repertory screenings versus 227 new releases.
  • All but two new release screenings were digital; Interstellar was the only new release I saw on film, and I saw it in both 70mm and 35mm formats.  However, repertory screenings were a goldmine of honest-to-goodness film presentations, with a whopping 74.04% of repertory screenings on 35mm, 70mm, or 16mm film, rather than digital.  Note that this doesn’t count 33 theatrical presentations of movies on VHS, since they are neither film nor digital.
  • I did not see any movies in 3D over the course of the year.  However, I did see two films that contained 3D scenes.  The 1962 British sci-fi comedy Paradisio uses 3D for scenes in which the protagonist wears X-ray glasses, and the 1991 horror movie Freddy’s Dead:  The Final Nightmare has a few minutes of 3D for a scene in a dream world.  Both were theatrical screenings of 35mm prints.
  • Of the 1020 movies I watched outside of a theater, 438 (42.94%) were watched on physical media (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS, or Beta), as compared with 582 movies legally streamed (from Amazon, YouTube/Google Play, Vimeo, VHX, and UltraViolet).  I did not watch any movies via any kind of television service, nor did I watch any illegally-downloaded movies.
  • 684 (67.06%) of the non-theatrical movies were first-time watches, versus 336 movies that I had seen at least once before.

The Best Big New Releases

A disappointing number of top ten lists that I’ve seen from critics seem to have an inordinately large focus on big Hollywood releases.  I suppose those are the movies that most people tend to watch, but it’s hard to consider them the best or most enjoyable movies of the year.  Nevertheless, if I were to pick the best movies out of those that I consider “big” releases, they would be:

    1. Snowpiercer (at least, it had a $40M budget and was big outside the US)
    2. Big Hero 6
    3. The Lego Movie
    4. Guardians of the Galaxy
    5. Captain America 2:  The Winter Soldier
    6. Edge of Tomorrow
    7. Oculus
    8. Interstellar
    9. Dumb and Dumber To
    10. Neighbors

The Real Best New Releases

In all honesty, I have a hard time buying any list of best movies from a professional film critic that is mostly comprised of mainstream movies.  Here is my real “best of” list for 2014 releases, expanded to 20 so that I can fit in more really great movies:

  1. Boyhood
  2. Big Bad Wolves
  3. Blue Ruin
  4. Snowpiercer
  5. Joe
  6. The Drop
  7. Grand Piano
  8. Locke
  9. August: Osage County
  10. Citizenfour
  11. Under the Skin
  12. The Great Beauty
  13. The Overnighters
  14. Whitewash
  15. That Guy Dick Miller
  16. Life Itself
  17. Ernest & Celestine
  18. Housebound
  19. To Be Takei
  20. Nightcrawler

Movies To Watch For

Over the course of the year, I had the opportunity to see movies that either haven’t been released yet or about which I’m uncertain about their American release status.  At any rate, if you have the opportunity to see any of these movies, you should take it.

  • Arlo and Julie
  • Bob Birdnow’s Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self
  • Electric Boogaloo
  • Goodnight Mommy
  • Haemoo
  • Intramural
  • Kung Fu Elliot
  • Man from Reno
  • Shrew’s Nest
  • The Treatment
  • Wicker Kittens
  • Wyrmwood

The New Releases Everyone Seems to Be Wrong About

These are movies I’ve seen people rave about in a manner that seems completely unjustified and may be a sign of mass delusion:

  • 20,000 Days on Earth
  • The Boxtrolls
  • Chef
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Dear White People
  • The Immigrant
  • Jodorowsky’s Dune
  • The Raid 2
  • Rich Hill
  • Top Five
  • The Trip to Italy
  • Whiplash

My Favorite Theatrical Marathons / Movie Series

One of the best things about the amazing film programming in Austin is that it often results in movie marathons (several movies in a day) or film series (several movies spread out over a period of days or weeks) that are centered around some actor, director, or theme.
There are a number of regular Drafthouse film series that deserve recognition, including Terror Tuesday, Weird Wednesday, Video Vortex, Cinema Cocktails, and Master Pancake Theater, along with the AFS Essential Cinema, History of Television, and Savage Gold series.  These are ongoing, long-term series that are always great, expertly curated, and entertainingly introduced.  But for this section I want to focus primarily on one-time events, and these are some of my favorites from 2014:

  1. The Drafthouse “Waltered States” Walter Matthau marathon.  I’m clearly biased here, because this is one that I got to program.  I’ve wanted to do a Walter Matthau marathon for about as long as I’ve known that movie marathons were a thing, and this year I got the chance.  I showed The Fortune Cookie, Cactus Flower, Fail-Safe, The Bad News Bears, and Charley Varrick.
  2. The Drafthouse Police Academy marathon.  All seven Police Academy movies on the big screen (although only parts 3, 4, 5, and 7 were in 35mm).  I legitimately love all of these movies (well, maybe not Mission to Moscow) and never thought I’d have the chance to see them in a theatrical marathon.
  3. The AFS Essential Cinema month of Barbara Stanwyck films, including The Lady Eve, Internes Can’t Take Money, Lady of Burlesque, and Ball of Fire.  That last one became one of my favorite comedies ever.
  4. The AFS “Savage Gold” marathon.  Savage Gold is a regular AFS series in which Lars Nilsen and Max Meehan team up to provide an amazing double feature of obscure VHS movies.  But they outdid themselves when they teamed up with Zack Carlson for an all-night, six-movie marathon of Don’t Go Near the Park, Beyond the Doors, Lady Street Fighter, Bad Girls Dormitory, Final Score, and D.T. in “Dawg Territory”.
  5. The AFS “Jewels in the Wasteland” series.  Richard Linklater selected a number of great and often obscure films from the years 1980 through 1983.  He and Lars Nilsen introduced each of the films and led a discussion afterward.  Scheduling conflicts sadly prevented me from seeing Veronika Voss, Reds, and Out of the Blue, but I did get to attend The King of Comedy, Valley Girl, White Dog, Melvin and Howard, Every Man for Himself, Star 80, Das Boot, Cutter’s Way, Fanny & Alexander, Rumble Fish, and Atlantic City.
  6. The Drafthouse “Noir City” series, in which film noir preservationist Eddie Muller presented 35mm prints of a number of great noir films.  The lineup included Too Late for Tears, Try and Get Me, Larceny, Crashout, Cry Danger, The Breaking Point, Repeat Performance, Three Strangers, Alias Nick Beal, and The Chase.  Many of these films aren’t available except for the prints restored and maintained by the Film Noir Foundation.
  7. The AFS Old-School Kung-Fu Weekend.  This has apparently become an annual event, in which kung fu film expert Dan Halstead selects a number of films to screen.  This year’s selections included:  Shaolin vs Lama, The Kid with the Golden Arm, Master of the Flying Guillotine, 7 Grandmasters, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, and The Man from Hong Kong.
  8. The AFS “Godard vs Truffaut” series, in which Lars Nilsen picked four films by Jean-Luc Godard (Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou, Week End, and A Woman Is a Woman) and Chale Nafus picked four from François Truffaut (the Antoine Doinel series of The 400 Blows, Antoine et Collette + Stolen Kisses, Bed and Board, and Love on the Run).  Lars and Chale alternated weeks and tried to make a case for their respective filmmaker.  Sorry, Lars, but I have to side with Chale on this one.
  9. The Drafthouse “Caged” Nicolas Cage marathon, consisting of Vampire’s Kiss, Leaving Las Vegas, Fire Birds, Con Air, and Raising Arizona.  I’d never seen Fire Birds before, but I absolutely loved it, and I never thought I’d get to see Vampire’s Kiss in a theater.  And it looks like this may be an annual event, since “Caged 2” is happening the first weekend of 2015.
  10. The Drafthouse “Merylthon” Meryl Streep marathon, conceived by a number of Drafthouse servers while working the aforementioned “Caged” marathon.  They went on to select and introduce the films for the marathon, which turned out to be Postcards from the Edge, Sophie’s Choice, The River Wild, The Iron Lady, and Death Becomes Her.

Even if they didn’t make the top ten, I should at least give honorable mentions to:

  • The Drafthouse David Lynch influences series (Rear Window, Lolita, Mon Oncle, Peyton Place, Sunset Blvd., and Hour of the Wolf)
  • The Drafthouse “Dismember the Alamo” horror marathon (TerrorVision, House of Dracula, Ernest Scared Stupid, and Killer Klowns from Outer Space)
  • The Drafthouse / AGFA Cinemapocalypse marathon (Heat, Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, The Miss Nude America Contest, Lolly Madonna XXX, and Miami Blues)
  • The Drafthouse Something Weird marathon (Blood Feast; Pot, Parents, and Police; A Pistol for Ringo; Man or Woman; and Crazed Vampires)
  • The Drafthouse Marx Brothers retrospective
  • The Drafthouse Back to the Future marathon
  • The AFS Roger Corman series (A Bucket of Blood, Pit and the Pendulum, X:  The Man with X-Ray Eyes, and Gas-s-s-s)
  • The AFS Arthouse Horror series (Possession, Kwaidan, Amuck, and Hausu)
  • The Drafthouse Dirty Harry marathon
  • The Drafthouse “East Meets Weird” Asian film marathon (Killers on Parade, The Aimed School, Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell, The Happiness of the Katakuris, and Why Don’t You Play in Hell?)

My Favorite Individual Theatrical Repertory Movie Screenings

There were so many amazing repertory screenings over the course of the year that I feel it’s important to call special attention to some of my favorites:

  1. Ernest Goes to Camp.  There is no movie I have seen more often than this one in my life, but I had never seen it in a theater until this year, and at a screening with director John Cherry no less.  My deep affection for this movie began in my childhood but hasn’t wavered a bit over the years.
  2. Scream for Help.  I only discovered this movie earlier this year during my 1984 project (as described below), but I instantly fell in love with it and wanted to see it with an audience.  As if by divine inspiration, Max Meehan shares my love for this movie and picked it for the most recent iteration of Savage Gold.
  3. Scenes from a Marriage.  There is no possible way that a three-hour Swedish film, predominantly comprised of scenes with the same two people in unremarkable settings with virtually no action, can be this riveting.  I still need to watch the original five-hour miniseries from which the theatrical version was edited, but I am in awe.
  4. All that Heaven Allows.  This one took me completely by surprise.  A 1955 romance in which a woman faces life as a social pariah if she allows herself to fall for lower-class gardener.  It’s a seemingly-ridiculous premise, but it’s played with such immense gravity that it becomes utterly enthralling.  Plus, the movie just has an amazing look to it.
  5. Glengarry Glen Ross.  I’d seen this before, but never on the big screen.  It’s simply amazing.
  6. Crimewave (aka The Big Crime Wave).  I’d heard some friends raving about this obscure Canadian comedy about a writer who can’t seem to write the middle parts of stories, so I got it on VHS and really liked it.  Then, it was impossibly given a digital restoration that made it look so amazing and in the right aspect ratio and it got even better.
  7. Corn’s-a-Poppin’.  This is an hour-long film commissioned by the owner of a small theater chain who happened to be the brother of some popcorn bigwig and wanted to promote eating popcorn in movie theaters.  So he hired some people who made industrial films for a living and created an amazing piece of work that would be completely lost if it hadn’t been for the fact that one of the writers was a young Robert Altman.  It’s a shame that it’s still virtually inaccessible to most people, since it seems that the only way you can watch it is to get the only 35mm print in existence.  It’s thoroughly entertaining and seems to be making the rounds so maybe there’s hope for some kind of wider availability in the future.
  8. Targets.  I came across this Bogdanovich-directed, Corman-produced, Karloff-starring mishmash of a film a couple of years ago and was immediately taken by it, especially after watching the DVD featurette describing how it came to be.  I was ecstatic about getting a chance to see it on the big screen this year, and I was not let down.
  9. Top Hat.  I’d never seen this Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers dance-filled musical comedy before this year, but it is stunning.
  10. City Lights.  Is this the best Chaplin film?  It’s certainly way up there.  In a year that I also got to see him on the big screen in The Gold Rush and The Circus, I’d have to say that City Lights outshines both of them.  It’s darn near cinematic perfection.

The Best Lesser-Known Movies from 1984

It’s an indisputable fact that 1984 was just about the best year ever for movies.  You are probably familiar with the “big name” releases for that year, including:

  • Bachelor Party
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • Children of the Corn
  • Ghostbusters
  • Gremlins
  • Friday the 13th part IV:  The Final Chapter
  • Footloose
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • The Karate Kid
  • The Last Starfighter
  • The Muppets Take Manhattan
  • The Natural
  • The Neverending Story
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Police Academy
  • Red Dawn
  • Repo Man
  • Revenge of the Nerds
  • Sixteen Candles
  • Splash
  • Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock
  • The Terminator
  • This Is Spinal Tap
  • Top Secret!

Given that this year was the 30th anniversary for all movies released in the year 1984, I wanted to try to see how many of these movies I could find.  I started with a list of 145 movies and ended up watching 365 (with quite a few more I didn’t get to).  Along the way I revisited a lot of great films and made a lot of amazing new discoveries.
I have no idea what you’ve seen and what you haven’t, so I won’t try to make one of those “best movies you haven’t seen” lists.  But here is a list of what I consider the top 84 lesser-known movies from the year 1984 (listed alphabetically, since I don’t want to try to rank them):

  • Alley Cat
  • Angel
  • Baby Love (aka Lemon Popsicle 5)
  • The Bear
  • Birdy
  • Black Devil Doll from Hell
  • Blame It on Rio
  • Blastfighter
  • Blind Date
  • The Boy Who Loved Trolls
  • Breakin’
  • Breakin’ 2:  Electric Boogaloo
  • Breakin’ in the USA
  • Breakin’ Through
  • A Breed Apart
  • The Brother from Another Planet
  • The Buddy System
  • The Cartier Affair
  • City Killer
  • Cloak & Dagger
  • Contract for Life:  The S.A.D.D. Story
  • The Census Taker
  • Delta Pi (aka Mugsy’s Girls)
  • Dreamscape
  • The Dungeonmaster (aka Ragewar)
  • Eight Diagram Pole Fighter
  • Electric Dreams
  • Ernie Kovacs:  Between the Laughter
  • Eureka
  • The Fantastic World of D.C. Collins
  • Fatal Vision
  • Firestarter
  • Firstborn
  • The Flamingo Kid
  • Flashpoint
  • Furious
  • Gone are the Dayes
  • The Goodbye People
  • Harry and Son
  • Hell Riders
  • The Hotel New Hampshire
  • Ice Pirates
  • The Jesse Owens Story
  • Just the Way You Are
  • Lace
  • The Lonely Guy
  • License to Kill
  • Mass Appeal
  • A Matter of Sex
  • Mister Roberts
  • Monaco Forever
  • My Mother’s Secret Life
  • Night of the Comet
  • The Night They Saved Christmas
  • Ninja III:  The Domination
  • Nothing Lasts Forever
  • Octavia
  • Oddballs
  • Over the Brooklyn Bridge
  • The Ratings Game (aka The Mogul)
  • The Return of Captain Invincible
  • The River Rat
  • Runaway
  • Sam’s Son:  Michael Landon’s Story
  • Savage Streets
  • Scream for Help
  • Second Time Lucky
  • Secrets of a Married Man
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night
  • The Sky’s No Limit
  • A Soldier’s Story
  • Starman
  • The Stone Boy
  • Stranger than Paradise
  • Streets of Fire
  • Suburbia
  • Surf II
  • Swing Shift
  • Teachers
  • The Toughest Man in the World
  • Vamping
  • Voyage of the Rock Aliens
  • Wet Gold
  • The Wild Beasts

My Favorite New Discoveries Not from 2014 or 1984

Believe it or not, I also watched a fair number of movies released in years other than 2014 or 1984.  Many of them were rewatches of movies I’d already seen, but I also got to see a lot of movies for the first time.  Some of my favorite new discoveries include:

  • All That Heaven Allows
  • All the Marbles
  • Atlantic City
  • Ball of Fire
  • Cisco Pike
  • Corn’s-a-Poppin’
  • Demon Seed
  • Disaster on the Coastliner
  • The Egg and I
  • Enter Nowhere
  • Fire Birds
  • Flesh Eater
  • Four Frightened People
  • Laura
  • Lonely Are the Brave
  • Marooned
  • On the Right Track
  • Phantom of the Mall:  Eric’s Revenge
  • Play Misty for Me
  • Polk County Pot Plane
  • Repeat Performance
  • The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming
  • Scenes from a Marriage
  • Straight Time
  • The Telephone Book
  • That Man from Rio
  • Too Late for Tears
  • Top Hat
  • What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?
  • White Dog