Scarlett Johansson in a scene from “Under the Skin.” (AP Photo/A24 Films)
Under the Skin
Jonathan Glazer’s thriller about an alien visiting Earth in the form of Scarlett Johansson is disquieting, suitably opaque, and all sorts of captivating. One of the few science-fiction films to make aliens actually seem “alien.” Johansson gives the best minimalist performance of last year, and in a world where too often filmmakers are compared to Stanley Kubrick, Glazer’s visual and sound design really do recall the late great legend.
Edge of Tomorrow
What appeared to be yet another dull alien-invasion pic where Tom Cruise grins and sprints is actually a riveting yarn that uses a nifty time-jumping plot device for inventive storytelling. Cruise is at his best playing a military officer who’s something of a coward, until he’s thrown into the thick of war and must learn from badass warrior Emily Blunt if the human race is to survive. A nice surprise and a feather in the cap for hit-and-miss director Doug Liman.
This movie got a lot of flack for a lack of the big man. I respectfully disagree with any such criticism. Godzilla appears more than enough throughout the course of the film, and when he does it’s glorious. Besides, watching his rival Muto wreak havoc is just as much fun. The human drama may not be the most gripping stuff, but the star here is director Gareth Edwards, whose knack for atmosphere comes close to prime Spielberg territory.
Men, Women, and Children
It’s an imperfect film, but Jason Reitman’s opus on the internet age is the most misunderstood film of 2014. Set in a small Texas town where mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters struggle with life’s big questions, it’s not preaching about the evils of technology, or the evils of anything besides our collective inability to understand one another. This isn’t a “message movie,” it’s a conversation-starter.
David Michod’s sophomore feature confirms him as one of the best filmmaking prospects to come around in a long time. As bleak as the post-apocalyptic setting may be, there’s a bittersweetness to the unconventional friendship that slowly develops between a hardened loner (Guy Pearce) and the meek, socially challenged thief (Robert Pattinson) he encounters on his journey to retrieving a stolen car. The final scene is an emotional doozy, changing the entire paradigm of Pearce’s character and leaving the audience with a semblance of hope for the human race.