Best movies 2014: Singing the praises of John Wick.

The 2014 Movie Club

♫ O Sing Ye a Ballad, the Song of John Wick

The 2014 Movie Club

♫ O Sing Ye a Ballad, the Song of John Wick
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 8 2015 3:00 PM

The 2014 Movie Club

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Entry 12: O sing ye a ballad, the song of John Wick.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick (2014).
Keanu Reeves is a puppy advocate in John Wick.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by David Lee/Summit Entertainment

The Movie Club is a weeklong conversation about the year in film. Read all the entries here.

Dear Dana, David, and Amy,

Dana, you totally drank the Kool-Aid on The Lego Movie. Oh, wait—I did too. Admittedly, I drank it late, watching the movie on disc back-to-back with The Babadook(Don’t ask me why I did that.) I had put off watching it because from what I’d heard, I thought I knew what it was: a manic, self-aware animated comedy skewering the very big-studio/big-business monolith that it fully admits is signing its paycheck. And I was right! But I was also wrong. Though I was a bit worn down by it—that’s by design, I think, a case of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s wanting to jack us up to their own sugar-and-caffeine-overload high—I laughed a lot. Even at stuff as simple as Liam Neeson’s Bad Cop cursing, “Darn darn darny darn!” Amy, I think we need to invite Bad Cop to our leper colony. He’d be fun to have around.

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I agree with all that’s been said so far about the comic-book blockbuster exhaust-o-rama that, courtesy of Warner’s DC Comics division and Marvel Studios, shows no sign of abating. They’ll still be rolling those titles out circa 2045, by which time I’ll be in the Old Folks Home for Weary Critics, holding up my ear trumpet so I can eavesdrop on the young aides as they chatter on about the 17th Spider-Man reboot. I agree with you all so much that … I really don’t want to talk about it. It’s too depressing. And it’s January. It won’t be the summer movie season for another two whole months yet (if we’re lucky), so please let me pull the covers over my head and hibernate a little longer.

After a day of being distracted by and distraught over the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, I’m going to force my attention back to things that gave me joy, or perhaps even broke my heart, in 2014. In the latter camp, there’s Ira Sachs’ Love Is Strange, in which John Lithgow and Alfred Molina give bracingly compassionate performances as a married couple who suffer greatly at the hands of New York’s cruel real-estate market. That may sound weird to people who live in other parts of the country. But then, a sudden and unwelcome change in circumstances, anywhere, can rattle a person to the core. Sachs has made a gorgeous movie that underscores what it means to be in a committed partnership, an endeavor that’s not for the faint of heart.

Amy, I share your love, every little Star Time ounce of it, for Get On Up, and particularly for Chadwick Boseman’s performance. Why that thing wasn’t the hit of the summer is beyond me. Actually, never mind, the reason is sadly within my grasp—see Dana’s earlier wail of despair over blockbuster culture. But at least Get On Up exists, and while we’re on the subject of superstar biopics, I want to make a small flaming-guitar offering to a strange little picture that was very badly reviewed by many. Upon further thought, I don’t think I gave it its due, either. John Ridley’s Jimi: All Is by My Side doesn’t pretend to be a biopic: It focuses on 1966 and 1967, the years that brought Hendrix—played, with heavy doses of rock-god charisma, by André Benjamin—to London. Ridley (who wrote the screenplay for 12 Years a Slave), takes a bracingly undismissive view of the career- and life-defining roles played by two women in Hendrix’s life, Imogen Poots’ Linda Keith and Hayley Atwell’s Kathy Etchingham. Focusing as much on the women as on Hendrix himself is an unorthodox approach, and as far as I can tell, most rock geeks rejected the movie. But Hendrix, one of the most muscular of all guitarists, also had an unapologetically feminine side—you can hear it in the swirling fluidity of his guitar lines alone—and Ridley taps that. This crazy-quilt patchwork of a movie can be a little maddening, but I find myself wanting to look at it again. And where else but Movie Club do we get to make such confessions, months after a movie has come and gone from the theaters before the wind has even had the chance to cry Mary?

There are so many other movies I loved this year that aren’t exactly on the end-of-year radar: John Turturro’s sweet, cross-cultural romantic comedy Fading Gigolo; Pascale Ferran’s gentle and soaringly fanciful Bird Peoplea movie that, in its simplicity, flies as far from the technical razzle-dazzle (and ultimate semihollowness) of Birdman as possible. Maybe I’ll be able to say more about them in my next post. But for now, a few lines of praise for another favorite. Please imagine lyre accompaniment while reading.

SONG OF JOHN WICK

Gather round, ye little chicks,
While I sing you a ballad, the song of John Wick.
A small pup is killed in the op’ning, it’s true,
But this puppy is lucky: His dad’s Keanu.
Russian thugs are the culprit, if you get the gist,
But John’s spirit is strong! As well as his fist.
Unbeknownst to the baddies, he’s killed many men.
Then he got nice. Now he’ll get mean again.
Who slays a dog and walks away grinning?
They will pay with their lives for such terrible sinning.
John’s motives are pure, though his face is not sunny;
He cares not for cash—he sets fire to money.
The worst Russian of all is Iosef, so evil
And smug—he can’t see the coming upheaval.
John Wick will not rest ’til he’s punished the wicked;
They die as they should, with their asses so kickèd.
John’s tale may be bitter and harsh—yes, it’s gritty
But the ending is happy: He rescues a pitty.

Over and out for now, my little chicks,

Stephanie

Stephanie Zacharek is chief film critic at the Village Voice.