Lessons from the Movie League: Who Won in Film in 2014?

By: Daniel Reynolds

If you’ll recall, back in March 2014 I wrote about my second  year in the Movie League. Since I’ll assume you do not recall, here’s a refresher: it’s a fantasy sports-inspired league where eight teams select ten films each and then spend the year watching their film rosters accrue points based on money made and awards nominated for and won. It is obviously silly – and therefore, deadly serious. Draft day was fraught with all kinds of indecision and terror. (Like, what was I thinking taking Serena in the fourth round?) But now as January ends, we have a clearer picture of the year that was in film. Who made the big bucks? Were there any surprises? And what happened to a whole litany of titles that just… disappeared.

Let’s investigate.

2014_guardians_of_the_galaxy

And the #1 movie of the year is…

Top Three Films

1) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – $334.9 million

2) Guardians of the Galaxy – $333.2 million

3) Captain American: The Winter Soldier – $259.8 million

For the second year running, Jennifer Lawrence and Co. claim the box office crown for the year. Despite being merely Part 1 (of a final Part 3, technically), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay made big bucks (though, curiously, almost 100 mil less than Catching Fire). Who says people won’t see female-led action movies?

The more amazing story here is obvious: despite being a Marvel property, Guardians of the Galaxy arrived surrounded only by question marks. Who’s that blonde guy cracking jokes? Why is there a talking tree? Is this another Green Lantern? Did Bradley Cooper fire his agent after this? But now, we all look rather foolish don’t we. Not only was Guardians a big hit, it allows Marvel to expand its movie takeover plans into the stratosphere, and announces the arrival of Chris Pratt, movie star.

On that note, I feel I should also mention that number four on the money-making list is The Lego Movie. So if you’re scoring at home, the #1 and #4 biggest movies of the year were headlined by the fourth male lead of a low-rated NBC sitcom. 2014 was great.

Most Nominated Films

First, let’s talk about the film I’m not surprised to find here. The Imitation Game is everything you want in an Oscar bait film – for lack of a better term. A challenged (and challenging) protagonist, a World War II setting, the hint of a broader social agenda, a strong central performance. That said, The Imitation Game hits all these notes in the flattest possible way, so who cares?

The interesting part here are the other three movies that garnered a ton of awards attention: Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman. The appeal of Boyhood is obvious, it’s universal (American) coming of age story is easy to translate to the various nominating academies. Birdman started off the year as a strange curiosity. Its director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is known for making complicated, dense and above all emotional films. When word got out he was making a comedy about an aging actor who used to play a superhero, it all sounded way too bizarre to be award worthy. And yet, here we are.

Finally, the shock of all shocks: Wes Anderson is finally getting his overdue moment in the sun. While it remains unlikely he’ll win any major awards (maybe a Best Screenplay win?), and it is perplexing that poor Ralph Fiennes couldn’t get any love, it is satisfying to see The Grand Budapest Hotel walk away with a slew of nominations (including nine for the Oscars).

"Now you listen here good chap, I deserve some award consideration, too."

“Now you listen here good chap, I deserve some award consideration, too.”

Biggest Surprises

Let’s file Guardians of the Galaxy here again. But also, 22 Jump Street‘s near 200 million gross – who saw that coming? – and Neighbors rated-R crushing of the box office. But there was one other late breaking surprise…

Every year or two Clint Eastwood makes a film. He’s been doing this for a long time. Some years people care a lot (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby), other years people could give a shit (Hereafter, Changeling). This year we got two Clint Eastwood movies; one based on a hit musical (Jersey Boys), and the other based on the most lethal sniper in American history (American Sniper). Guess which one people cared about?

If you answered the latter, ding ding ding, you win! American Sniper has somehow become a mega smash hit, the biggest January movie ever, and has controversially wormed its way into a lot of the Oscar chatter this season. Does it have a shot at winning? No. But still, the fact that we’re talking about it like this is very surprising.

Somewhere Peter Berg is clutching the Lone Survivor script and shaking his head sadly.

Biggest Disappointments

A trio of comedy films lead the charge in the disappointment category. Let’s start with the most obvious: A Million Ways to Die in the West. After the big time success of Ted, I guess everyone assumed that Seth MacFarlane was ready for the big time. The problem, of course, is that no one pays to see MacFarlane’s face, as the film’s anemic $43 million return suggests. It’s now the rare movie that wastes Liam Neeson, Charlize Theron, and a barnyard of others. Stick to voice work, Seth.

Speaking of wasted casts, try Horrible Bosses 2’s on for size: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Kevin Spacey, Chris Pine, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Aniston, nobody cares, everyone’s bored, this movie didn’t do very well, let’s stop making sequels. Wait where was I?

And finally, the con-bro-versial (get it?) film event known as The Interview. What’s left to say? Whether the Sony Hack was indeed directed by operatives within the North Korean government or just some insane hackers, the whole affair showed an ugly side to Sony (who were quick to scuttle the film’s release after basking in the attention of it’s supposed risque content) and society at large (which had way too much fun laughing about the released Hollywood email correspondence). It also demonstrated how scarily easy it could be to drum up dangerously reactive terrorist fears in the United States – free speech is always the first thing to go. And, gosh darn, it forced culture writers and critics to fight for James Franco and Seth Rogen and their unalienable right to release stupid comedies. Maybe next time Franco and Rogen will realize that offending an entire nation – even one without access to the internet – is still offensive. Just a lose-lose-lose all around.

We're still waiting for Jupiter Ascending to, um, ascend.

We’re still waiting for Jupiter Ascending to, um, ascend.

Dude, Where’s My Film?

The list of films that get squeezed out of competition is always the best part of the Movie League. This year was no different with some big name (and equally bizarre) titles getting the boot.

The biggest shock was the jettisoning of the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending from the comforts of a big tent July release to the dumping grounds of February. While the trailer for the film shows an entirely wacked out universe filled with gilded space ships, sparkling vistas and, uh, elf ears, Warner Bros. doesn’t seem as supportive of the Wachowski’s latest dive into the unknown. It’s a shame that an wholly original vision for a blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy film is getting relegated to the worst time of the year. Jupiter Ascending may be a mess, but now it’s not even being given a fair shot.

So that’s the big name out of the way, but where else did the League get it wrong? What happened to:

Carol – After seven years, we’re still waiting for director Todd Haynes’ return to the big screen.

Suite Francaise – Despite the presence of Margo Robbie, Michelle Williams and The Affair‘s Ruth Wilson, we still don’t know what’s in Suite Francaise.

Dark Places – The rule, apparently, is only one film written by Gillian Flynn a year.

Suffragette – Not even Meryl Streep could get this one out the door for 2014.

Macbeth – Shakespeare film adaptations are a tough sell, even when Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are your leads.

The Good Lie – This one actually was released but unlike Philippe Falardeau’s beloved Monsieur LazharThe Good Lie never got very far.

True Story – Despite a very intriguing true life premise, we still haven’t gotten to see Jonah Hill duel with James Franco (for real).

Map to the Stars – File this one under “David Cronenberg can’t catch a break anymore.” Note: it was released and nobody noticed.

Knight of Cups – You’re not going to believe this but a Terrence Malick film was delayed for unknown reasons. Bizarre, I know.

Trash – Despite director Stephen Daldry’s unprecedented run (three films in a row nominated for Best Picture, along with three Best Director nominations), Trash did not arrive on the scene at all in 2014.

Child 44 – Richard Price alert! Plus, look at that cast! It’s being angled now for a Spring 2015 release which means the studio thinks they can make some money (but not win any awards).

Serena – This was supposed to come out last year, then it barely came out this year. No word yet on how bad a movie starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence has to be to get such shoddy treatment.

McFarland, USA – A coach transforms a small town cross country team in California into a bunch of winners. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

I'm breaking into a sweat just thinking about the next 11 months.

I’m breaking into a sweat just thinking about the next 11 months.

A Glance at 2015

On the blockbuster side of things, 2015 may be one of the biggest film years on record. The summer is going to be tent-poled by The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the follow up to a film that made over 600 million at the domestic box office. And the winter? It’ll be anchored by a little known franchise known as Star Wars.

In between we’ve got the return of a lot of other familiar names: Jurassic World, Mission Impossible 5, The Hunger Games and sure, what the hell, let’s throw Ant-Man in there too. But wait, there’s more! We’ve also got the newest James Bond movie, a new Terminator movie (yes, really), a new Mad Max movie (sure why not), and, finally, the release of Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland.

As for Oscar hopefuls, it never is too early to start making predictions. The biggest names to come up include: new films from Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Ron Howard, David O. Russell (I mean, the one that actually has his name on it), Martin Scorcese (though maybe that’s 2016??), Ridley Scott and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. And there will definitely be more (along with some I’ve missed).

It looks like 2015 will provide some big names on both sides of the camera. We’ve got 11 more months of films to look forward to. And the Movie League shall continue on and on.

————–

In case you’re curious, the final tally of the Movie League can be found here. Barring disaster, I’m looking at a third place finish which means I make my money back. All the better to join up again next year. My suggestion? Start your own league up today.

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