We opened 2014 with heated anticipation for the next great turns from Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Christopher Nolan, Lars von Trier, and a number of other cinematic vets. But the year has also treated us to a hefty sum of noteworthy first timers. We've caught a wide variety of debut attempts over the course of these past eight months, with enough qualitative range to incite reactions from "The next Hitchcock!" to "I might be able to get you a gig with my friend who does wedding videos, but don't tell him you know me." Here's a quick rundown of the debut flicks we've seen so far in '14, from great to terrible.
Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
Palo AltoDirector: Gia CoppolaWhy we're already on her bandwagon: In the vein of her aunt Sofia, the young Gia Coppola showcases an indubitable understanding of upper class ennui.
Hide Your Smiling Faces Director: Daniel Patrick CarboneWhy we're already on his bandwagon: Carbone's primarily wordless coming-of-age drama shows off his patience and pensiveness, not to mention his ability to skirt the self-importance than many films of Smiling Faces' ilk seem to bear.
Obvious ChildDirector: Gillian RobespierreWhy we're already on her bandwagon: It's funny as hell even within the margins of genre tradition, and sweet without succumbing to Hollywood sugar.
THE VERY GOOD
Zero MotivationDirector: Talya LavieShows promise of: A knack for absurdist humor and grounded character relationships alike.
It Felt Like LoveDirector: Eliza HittmanShows promise of: A uniquely keen empathy for how young people conduct themselves, both internally and among one another.
Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
The Bachelor Weekend/The StagDirector: John ButlerShows potential in: A good sense of humor, especially when it veers closer to Apatow than McKay.
Are You HereDirector: Matthew WeinerShows potential in: Social commentary through character construction, but Weiner needs a better handle on cinematic pacing.
The One I LoveDirector: Charlie McDowellShows potential in: Big ideas, and the presentation thereof, but lacks in the ultimate execution of where they can and ought to go.
Drafthouse Films via Everett Collection
Beneath the Harvest SkyDirector: Aron Gaudet and Gita PullapillyThere's room for improvement regarding: A sharper attention to the characters and story, which occasionally fade out of focus at the behest of a vivid North Maine setting.
LullabyDirector: Andrew LevitasThere's room for improvement regarding The acerbic but knowing humor shared by the central family members, in favor of the intense melodrama that the film feels impelled to stuff itself with from time to time.
Cheap ThrillsDirector: E.L. KatzThere's room for improvement regarding: The energy set toward invoking a truly interesting story or course of events, rather than the allowance of the "weird" or "dangerous" to take the wheel altogether like it does here.
TammyDirector: Ben FalconeThere's room for improvement regarding: An authentic commitment to the sincerity in the characters, in place of wild and wacky antics like jetski crashes and deer mouth-to-mouth... though these were probably studio notes, we have to assume.
Music Box Films via Everett Collection
Winter’s TaleDirector: Akiva GoldsmanWhat we hope he gets right next time: A more defined storytelling goal. While some of the film's elements worked in a vaccuum, Goldsman had been gestating a Winter's Tale adaptation for years, coming out the gate with something that is oddly both convoluted and terribly narrow.
MaleficentDirector: Robert StrombergWhat we hope he gets right next time: More Angie.
A Coffee in Berlin/Oh BoyDirector: Jan Ole GersterWhat we hope he gets right next time: A better understanding of the fine line between cheeky and irritating. The German comedy/drama plays
Earth to EchoDirector: Dave GreenWhat we hope he gets right next time: Ditch the essentially pointless found footage antic and hone in on the fleeting spirit of the kids.
TranscendenceDirector: Wally PfisterWhy we're nervous for his future: Pfister is a skilled cinematographer, but his grasp of character, story, and ambiance seem dangerously absent.
Goodbye to All ThatDirector: Angus McLachlanWhy we're nervous for his future: Ambitions seem to fall shy of originality, settling instead on retreating the same indie dramedy territory we've seen time and time again, but without any discernible charisma.
If I StayDirector: R.J. CutlerWhy we're nervous for his future: A dastardly aesthetic, paper-thin characters, a devoted marriage to teen movie cliches, and a potentially dangerous mentality driving the story altogether do not bode well for Cutler's future behind the camera.
Behaving BadlyDirector: Tim GarrickWhy we're nervous for his future: Because he made this horrible thing.
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The man-child: a staple character for modern comedy and notoriously known for being played one-note. They get the laugh they get out.
But turning the lovable goofball or zoned-out knucklehead into something more is no easy task—which makes Paul Rudd's work in Our Idiot Brother that much more impressive. Rudd's Earth-friendly farmer Ned (the closest thing to a new Lebowski we've seen since the original) finds himself down on his luck after being entrapped by a police officer looking for pot. After a stint in jail he abandons his rural hippie commune for the big city to take shelter with his three sisters. Unfortunately for Ned his three siblings Liz (Emily Mortimer) Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) are as equally displaced and confused from the ebb and flow of life—albeit with severely different perspectives of the world.
Liz struggles to put her kid in private school and keep her marriage to documentary filmmaker/scumbag Dylan (Steve Coogan) intact. Miranda claws her way to the top of Vanity Fair's editorial staff and shuns her flirtatious neighbor (Adam Scott). Natalie stresses over her commitment issues with girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones) leaving little time or patience for Ned's bumbling antics. Sound like a lot of plot? While the manic lives of Ned's sisters click symbolically with his journey to get back on his feet it makes for one sporadic narrative.
Like a series of vignettes Our Idiot Brother never gels but when director Jesse Peretz finds a moment of unadulterated Nedisms to throw up on screen the movie hits big. Whether it's Ned teaching his nephew how to fight accidentally romancing his sister's interview subject or infiltrating his ex-girlfriend's house to steal his dog Willie Nelson the movie relies heavily on Ned's antics and its smart to do so. But thin throughlines for its supporting don't hold a candle to Rudd doing his thing.
And its a testament to Rudd's versatility—the man has done everything from Shakespeare and raunchy Judd Apatow comedies after all—that makes the movie watchable. Rudd gives dimensionality to his nincompoop character allowing darker emotions to creep in when necessary. There's a point in the film when Ned gives up fighting for his type-A sisters' affection and it's some of the best material Rudd's ever delivered. But like one of Ned's lit joints Our Idiot Brother can quickly fizzle out leading to plodding plot twists and sentimental conclusions. Mortimer Banks and Deschanel are great actresses—here they drift through their scenes and come out in the end changed. Because they have to.
Our Idiot Brother tries to take the Apatow model to the indie scene and comes through with so-so results. Only Rudd's able to find something to latch on to to build upon to warm up to. In an unexpected twist it's the man-child who seems the most grown up.