Art and Craft (dir by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman)
Art and Craft is a fascinating documentary about a fascinating human being. As quickly becomes obvious, Mark A. Landis suffers from any number of mental illnesses. However, he’s also one of the most successful art forgers in history. While his own artwork is undistinguished, Landis is capable of perfectly imitating the work of other artists. For 30 years, Landis would forge the work of other artists and then donate the forged paintings to museums across America. (Since Landis never made any money off of his scam, he never technically broke any laws.) The documentary follows Landis as he prepares for a show of his work and it features revealing interviews with both him and the people he fooled. Ultimately, this is a film that — much like Exit Through The Gift Shop — forces us to consider just what exactly makes something a work of art. Is it the name of the artist or is it the work itself?
The Book of Life (dir by Jorge Gutierrez)
The animated film The Book of Life was released in October and, for whatever reason, it never seemed to become quite the hit that a lot of us were expecting it to be. However, even if I don’t think it came anywhere close to reaching the heights of producer Guillermo Del Toro’s best films, I still rather liked it.
The film tells the tale of Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) who is tricked, by Xibalba (voiced by Ron Pearlman), the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, into believing that the love of his life, Maria (Zoe Saldana), has died. Eager to see her again, Manolo allows himself to be bitten by a snake, which kills him. Now trapped in the spirit world, Manolo has to find a way to return to life and be reunited with Maria.
The Book of Life is a gorgeously animated film that pays wonderful tribute to the culture and mythology of Mexico. And it’s great for los niños!
The Boxtrolls (dir by Graham Annabelle and Anthony Stacchi)
The Book of Life was not the only animated film to not quite get the respect that it deserved in 2014. The Boxtrolls was another perfectly charming film and, considering its dual message of tolerance and not giving into paranoia, one that more people should have seen.
Taking place in a town that’s full of stupid people who are obsessed with cheese, The Boxtrolls is a memorably dark little film from the same studio that gave us Paranorman. The citizens of the town live in fear of the Boxtrolls, a group of creatures who live underneath the city. Little do they understand that the Boxtrolls are actually peaceful and the only reason that they come out at night is to scavenge through trash. The citizens of the town hire the evil Snatcher to take care of the Boxtrolls and, because of their paranoia and fear, they are soon literally slaves to the whims of Snatcher.
(Insert your own NSA surveillance analogy here.)
The Boxtrolls is a memorably subversive little film, one that makes the argument that even the ugliest of animated monsters still deserve a chance to find happiness.
Dolphin Tale 2 (dir by Charles Martin Smith)
So, as some of you may remember, I absolutely loved the first Dolphin Tale. The sequel is not quite as good as the first film but you know what? I saw it with my niece and she absolutely loved it and I loved watching it with her and yes, the film totally made me cry. So, as far as I’m concerned, the film succeeded. Winter the Dolphin appears as himself and he’s joined by Hope the Dolphin. And both Winter and Hope give Oscar-worthy performances.
The Quiet Ones (dir by John Pogue)
Want to hear something sad? The Quiet Ones, which is probably one of the most forgettable films to be released last year, was produced by Hammer Studios. That’s right — the legendary British studio that produced such immortal films as Horror of Dracula — also produced The Quiet Ones, a film that could have just as easily been made by …. well, by anyone.
Borrowing multiple pages from The Conjuring, The Quiet Ones takes place in the 70s, is “based on a true story,” and features a creepy doll! Jared Harris plays a psychiatrist who wants to prove that ghosts do not exist and that poltergeist activity is the result of telekinesis. In order to prove his theory, he and his forgettable students isolate an orphan named Jane (Olivia Cooke) and go out of their way to upset her, hoping that she’ll lash out at them with her telekinetic abilities. Apparently, nobody in this movie has ever watched a movie before or else they would have understood why this was a bad idea.
Anyway, The Quiet Ones feels like about a hundred other recent horror films, right down to having Sam Claflin play a student with a camera who records the entire experience. Jared Harris is well-cast and Olivia Cooke proves that she deserves a better film but otherwise, The Quiet Ones is forgettable.
Vampire Academy (dir by Mark Waters)
Speaking of being forgettable…
Actually, Vampire Academy is not as bad as a lot of critics said. It was one of the many YA adaptations that were released in 2014. It deals with a bunch of teenage vampires who are attending St. Vladimer’s Academy. When the film tries to be Twilight, it’s boring. When the film tries to Mean Girls, it’s a lot more tolerable. Best of all, one of the main characters is named Lissa and I like any film that features a Lisa.
But, otherwise, Vampire Academy was pretty forgettable.