I have seen the future and it is wet. It smells a little like burning rubber, too. I'm sure you've been keeping up with the latest trends in movie theater design, so you're well aware that 3D is yesterday's news.
The multiplex of tomorrow will feature seats that shake you like a moviegoing martini, scent machines, 270-degree screens, headrests that blast jets of air to simulate bullets, and water. Lots of water. Mist squirted from the seat in front of you and rain that falls from the ceiling. The film palaces of the future (some cities already have them) will be more amusement park than art house, for a single reason: Young people — the industry's lifeblood — are staying home in droves.
Compared with last year, attendance by 18- to-24-year-olds is down 17 percent, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Ticket sales have plummeted by 13 percent among 12- to-17-year-olds. That's cause for panic when you consider that, of 2014's 10 top-grossing films, four were comic-book movies and two were based on toys. It's not like Hollywood isn't trying.
Talk about the age of extinction: Things are only going to get dumber as the industry attempts to lure lost viewers away from their Xboxes and iPhones. So we should all enjoy the few movies still made for actual grown-ups and cinema lovers while we can.
Believe it or not, some grown-ups like some comic-book movies. Even me. I'm more concerned that offbeat movies that might appeal to twenty- and thirtysomethings, like Snowpiercer and Frank, are banished to video on demand while art houses focus on the senior audience with The Hundred-Foot Journey and the like. "I'll just wait for Netflix" has become a refrain among younger cinephiles, and it shows.
RK: Michael Keaton in Birdman is probably the favorite in this category right now. It was great to see him back and at the top of his game. The bugaboo for the guy who launched a thousand superhero movies is that lots of other performers turned in career-best work, too: Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner, Amy Adams in Big Eyes and Julianne Moore in Still Alice. (And if there were an Oscar for Best Stoner, Joaquin Phoenix would be a shoo-in for Inherent Vice.). But the more front-runners I see, the less I feel any holds a candle to a performance I saw way back in March: the unexpectedly, triumphantly glorious one Ralph Fiennes gave as the perfumed concierge in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
MH: It's all about slimeballs for me this year. Two performances haunt my dreams: Jake Gyllenhaal as the creep with a camcorder in Nightcrawler; and J.K. Simmons as the music teacher in Whiplash, with his split-second lurches from bonhomie to psychopathic rage. He made the line "Not quite my tempo" as scary as "I'll be back."
RK: First, everybody in Jersey Boys. Robert Downey Jr. way overdid his patented wisecracking smart-aleck thing in The Judge. Everybody in The Other Woman. And, man, did Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet get on my nerves in the ultra-lame Labor Day. However, no one was more annoying than Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas in the even lamer And So It Goes.
MH: Returning to my slimeball theme: As the antagonist of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Jamie Foxx suffered from an underwritten, nonsensical role. But he didn't improve things by overplaying it to the cheap seats.
RK: It was a really good year for comedy. The Lego Movie was awesome. As were Top Five, 22 Jump Street, Grand Budapest, Chef, A Million Ways to Die in the West (why more people didn't find that a million laughs is beyond me), Filth and parts of St. Vincent. I'm going to be alone on this, I know, but for my money nothing was as funny as The Trip to Italy. I hadn't seen 2010's The Trip, so a whole new world was opened up to me. I now consider Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon the gods of improv.
MH: Filmmakers across the pond for the win! The movie that made me laugh the hardest this year was Frank, from Irish director Lenny Abrahamson. Which was also one of the more disturbing films I saw.
Also great: Lego, The Boxtrolls and Listen Up Philip. And, yes, I'm that undiscerning slob who liked Neighbors.
RK: Last year I nominated The Conjuring because, surely, they had to be joking with those super-hokey, old-school scares. This year, I'll make the same crack about its follow-up, Annabelle. I didn't see a more laughable attempt at horror all year. As for actual attempts at comedy, I'd have to call this a tie between Rob Reiner's aforementioned mess And So It Goes and Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight. You know something's wrong when you wish you could make Emma Stone disappear.
MH: That Awkward Moment. I don't mind sloppy, half-improvised dude humor (see: Neighbors). I do mind when Zac Efron, who was hilarious as Seth Rogen's antagonist in the latter film, tries to be Seth Rogen. Laughs were few in this attempt at a rom com for dude-bros.
RK: Foxcatcher. I admire the hell out of Bennett Miller's previous films (Capote and Moneyball) but am still scratching my head after four viewings of his latest. It's 134 minutes long and never quite gets around to having a point.
MH: Steve Carell playing a billionaire birdwatcher who asks his friends to call him "Golden Eagle" isn't enough of a point? My biggest letdown was Interstellar. Parts of it thrilled and inspired, but as soon as Anne Hathaway started talking about how love is the fifth dimension, it was all over for me.
RK: That a writer-director as masterful as Paul Thomas Anderson made as colossal a misstep as Inherent Vice. It's 148 minutes long and never finds a tone that works or a story line that holds our interest. Thomas Pynchon novels have long been considered unfilmable. They still are.
MH: As a Pynchon and Anderson fan, I concur, but I wasn't that surprised. I was surprised to find myself loving a film featuring a talking CGI raccoon (Guardians of the Galaxy). Superhero flicks run the gamut, but in this one, smart-ass humor and old-fashioned storytelling won the day.
RK: I swear I'm not making this up: To aid my recollection, I scanned the Seven Days archives and found a review I'd written in July of Third Person from Paul Haggis. With zero memory of the film, I read the closing words I'd written about it: "2014 is barely past its midpoint, but, my friends, we have a winner: Haggis' latest is a lock for worst movie of the year. It's a crashing bore with the tagline 'Watch Me.' Don't." I can't remember a second of it. But it sounds bad.
MH: I have a stellar memory for cinematic crap, but can't say I remember a whole lot about Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Chris Pine was ... a spy. Kenneth Branagh had a bad Russian accent. Something something, car chase, good guys won. I think.
RK: I wasn't blown away by much in St. Vincent, but newcomer Jaeden Lieberher impressed the hell out of me as the kid. He must've blown Bill Murray away as well. Murray recommended Lieberher for Cameron Crowe's 2015 project, so we'll get to see the pair share the screen again, hopefully to less formulaic effect.
MH: I first noticed Miles Teller in Rabbit Hole (2010). But after The Spectacular Now and now Whiplash, he's poised to be the next John Cusack — a pricklier, more complex version of the standard geek hero.
RK: This one's a toss-up: Jennifer Kent's The Babadook and Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night both pretty much rewrote the modern horror playbook. Both women wrote and directed their films. With new talents like these establishing themselves, the hacks behind The Conjuring and Paranormal Activity franchises would be wise to start making retirement plans.
MH: I want to see more from Damien Chazelle, who made Whiplash such a kinetic experience; and from Justin Simien, whose screenplay for his debut Dear White People had a lashing satirical wit.
RK: I'd like to point to a most inexplicable trend. No fewer than three low-budget religion-based films made Box Office Mojo's year-end list of top 100 grossers. Between them, Heaven Is For Real (No. 30), God's Not Dead (No. 43) and Son of God (No. 44) took in more than $211 million. That's not counting Noah (No. 26), with $101 million, or the recently released biblical blockbuster Exodus: God and Kings. By contrast, Best Picture front-runner Boyhood was way down at No. 88. Maybe director Richard Linklater should pray for an Oscar bump.
MH: Which of the top 10 biggest hits of 2014 is least likely to be fondly remembered in years to come? (Critic Nathan Rabin has dubbed such films "forgotbusters.") I'm going with the noisy, pointless sequel-to-the-reboot that is The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (No. 9).
RK: Snowpiercer has been an awards magnet from Asia to Beantown. Yet the awards-season conversation barely mentions it, and it's way down at No. 129 on Box Office Mojo's list. You know what's inexplicable? A film as visionary, beautifully executed and just plain fun as this one selling only $4 million worth of tickets. Hard to believe this comes from the Weinstein Company. Where's Harvey when you need him?
MH: Word is, Weinstein wasn't happy that director Bong Joon-ho wouldn't let him recut the film. We're lucky Snowpiercer even played in Vermont (thanks, Savoy Theater!).
In a similar vein, The Raid 2 is a nonstop, over-the-top action flick that blows movies like The Equalizer out of the water. But it has subtitles, so it was down at No. 151.
RK: I've got to go with Birdman. Alejandro González Iñárritu's trippy show-biz satire is a stylistically fearless rush, surreal one moment and satirical the next. I haven't seen a film this year with half as much to say about what it means to be an artist, much less the nerve to ask whether art even matters in a world where movies based on comic books and giant toys can generate more money than some nations' entire economies.
MH: I much preferred the screenplay for another hyperverbal film about another hyper-self-conscious artist: Listen Up Philip, starring Jason Schwartzman as a young novelist who spews toxic, ego-driven venom at everyone he encounters. Why do I prefer it to Birdman? Because writer-director Alex Ross Perry revels in his antihero's jerkiness and doesn't try to make him into a martyr. And it's funnier.
RK: If I Stay featured Chloë Grace Moretz as a teenager wrestling with the kinds of questions characters in multi-hanky melodramas are wont to face: Will she get into Juilliard? Can she and her boyfriend make things work? Should she wake up from her coma or go toward the light now that everybody in her family has been killed? Believe it or not, the script gives pretty much equal weight to these issues. This script certainly made me want to run toward the light: the red light of the exit sign.
MH: The Giver took a chilling little dystopian fable and made it as much as possible like every single other teen-oriented blockbuster in which pretty young people defy draconian social norms to make out.
RK: I repeat: Of 2014's 10 top-grossing films, four were comic-book movies and two were based on toys. I'm surprised this didn't make it into the Senate intelligence committee's torture report.
MH: If Spandex-clad superheroes could topple civilization, I think we'd all be living in caves by now. But you know what could, just maybe, topple civilization? People trashing movies they haven't seen yet on Twitter. Or spoiling said movies once they have seen them. Or tweeting about said movie during the freaking movie.
RK: I was pleasantly stunned to discover that Oculus is one of the most smartly made, conceptually inventive supernatural thrillers in years. The cast is made up of professionals, but none is well-known enough to distract from the story's disturbing developments, and that can work greatly to a horror film's advantage. A close second in this category: Unbroken.
MH: Blue Ruin is a tight, unpredictable thriller with a vivid setting, reminiscent of Blood Simple. It'll look great on the résumés of lead Macon Blair and director Jeremy Saulnier.
RK: George Clooney doesn't blow it often, but when he does, the guy blows it big. For The Monuments Men, he recruited some of the most beloved actors of our time. The problem was the script. Its ho-hum ode to the importance of great paintings and statues was as much fun as an art-appreciation class. It turns out the best-laid plans— even George Clooney's — can sometimes lay the biggest eggs.
MH: Have you ever wondered what would happen if Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver and Jane Fonda all belonged to one wacky family? This Is Where I Leave You showed us. Too bad the perfect storm of dysfunction was a crashing bore.
RK: Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman have stopped making films, and I wish they'd reconsider. You know who I realized I miss the other day? Peter Fonda. It's not like he's retired. Since appearing in 3:10 to Yuma back in 2007, he has kept busy doing TV, video games and direct-to-video indies. Tarantino or someone should give this dude the comeback he deserves.
MH: How about more people of color? Maybe in a wider range of roles? Maybe even in biblical spectaculars and the like? Idris Elba needs to be a huge star yesterday.
RK: Godzilla handily gets my vote. Every few years he's given a makeover, and some studio spends a fortune convincing us he's the next big thing. But when has the old fire breather failed to let us down?
MH: Curmudgeons complaining about kids today and their social media. From Birdman to Woody Allen and Aaron Sorkin movies to Men, Women & Children, this get-off-my-lawn-ing happens a lot at the art house. Look, the internet is here to stay. Let's deal with it.
RK: The year had some pips, Life Itself and Jodorowsky's Dune among them, but none has a prayer of taking the doc-of-the-year title from Laura Poitras' masterful and mind-blowing Citizenfour, a real-time record of the days leading up to Edward Snowden's historic revelations.
MH: For some reason, I saw almost no docs this year. But I'm looking forward to catching The Overnighters, which screened at the Vermont International Film Festival.
RK: There was no shortage of big-screen boners this year, but let's call it a draw between the aforementioned Third Person and Transformers: Age of Extinction. Everybody knows these films suck, yet practically everybody sees them anyway. The fourth in Michael Bay's series inspired by Hasbro toys sucked a lot. It may be the crappiest, stupidest movie ever made.
MH: I was so happy to avoid that one. Thanks for biting the bullet. My choice is Jason Reitman's latest drama, in which a lot of A-list Men, Women & Children misbehaved on the internet, and every imaginable after-school-special cliché was aired. Oh, and Emma Thompson narrated the whole thing. From outer space.
RK: Awards seasons have rarely been as wide open as this year's. With each new ceremony or critic group's announcement, a new movie seems to emerge as the most likely to succeed. A Most Violent Year (zzzz), Birdman, Boyhood, Gone Girl, Interstellar, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Unbroken have all been called the one to beat. And they all have their merits. Fall releases tend to receive preferential treatment, but sometimes the most exceptional piece of cinema pops up months before anyone has Oscar on the brain. Case in point: If somebody made a movie more impressive than Wes Anderson's eighth, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I didn't see it. It's a joyride, a flight of high-grade fancy, and a ripping, spectacularly acted roller coaster of a yarn.
MH: You think your choice is out of the awards running? Mine is miles out. This year brought us many movies about the travails of artists in an unfriendly world — Birdman and Whiplash, most prominently — but none got under my skin like Frank. It's a quirkfest about a naïve young songwriter who joins a band of weirdos, except it's not. The movie shifts course midstream to make us question everything we think we know about the crazy/suffering-artist trope. And it has Michael Fassbender crooning a song to a carpet tuft. Surely that deserves some sort of award?