Christopher's Top 10 Trailers Of 2014

Trailers are an under-appreciated art form insofar that many times they're seen as vehicles for showing footage, explaining films away, or showing their hand about what moviegoers can expect. Foreign, domestic, independent, big budget: What better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising? This week we look at the Top 10 trailers of 2014.

As with years past, I feel like I have to disclaim what's not on this list at the outset so I don't disappoint anyone hoping I validate what you think were the best trailers you saw this year. Without compunction or any hemming or hawing I can safely say that STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS didn't even make it onto my consideration list. For all the reasons that I hope regular readers realize, there's a stark and real difference between whetting appetites and positioning narratives to create resonant moments that ultimately will drive you into action. It's not anyone's fault that what they put on display were disparate moments that provide absolutely no context and was seemingly crafted by sticking in random moments as if picked from a bingo cage. Hell, I would have done the same thing knowing that all that was needed was to offer up just slivers of tasty fat from the table in order to keep the dogs satiated. Perhaps when we meet next year, though, there will have been a trailer for this movie that actually is something more than what we were given here. The difference, though, with the trailers that made the list below is that they all wanted to elevate their message and be something more than just two minutes and thirty seconds of palbum. They're special and stayed with me long after the sales pitch was over.

There are some honorable mentions that didn't make the Top 11 list (I have a superstition about lists that are even numbered) so I hope that at least they're given some kind of due for being something great and something worth mentioning: Blue Ruin, Mistaken For Strangers, Tracks, Frank, Gone Girl, Korengal, Citizen Koch, Whiplash, Layover, Birdman, and Before I Disappear.

11. How to Build a Time Machine Trailer

As an unapologetic fan of director Jay Cheel's last outing, which was the superbly sublime Beauty Day, its trailer made its way into the ranks of my Top 10 a few years ago simply for being so damn good. It's budget, I'm going on a limb to say, was probably the size of a large family reunion order at the local KFC but had a trailer that put its bloated brothers and sisters to shame. This trailer, as well, deserves its spot for how well it lets things simmer. We're not rushed, we don't push towards the front of the proverbial line, we simply move fluidly into and out of people's narratives. How this all pieces together is a mystery but the contents that we're offered up are so satisfying that our desire to know more is left only partially satiated. It's that little hunger that we're left with that creates a positive engagement as we wait for more.

10. Under The Skin Trailer

Wut? Yes, it's maddening to even try and create order where there is none but the trailer here is an excellent example of how you take something that lends itself to spoiler territory if you give much away with regard to narrative and simply let the critical kudos frame out the borders of our expectations. It's a delicate ballet of sight and sound that is so beautiful to look at that you hardly take umbrage with the fact you aren't given a single shred of knowledge about what brings us here or why we are compelled to find out more. It's a wicked gambit to bet that this is the way it needs to be positioned in the marketplace in order to maximize profits for those who invested in the vision but, if you but in to the vision, you can see why there could have been no other way than to let this portrait hang on the wall just as it is.

9. Force Majeure Trailer 

In what is the first of two foreign language trailers that made the list, this trailer has me on mental edge for its entire running time. The music wonderfully strikes that balance of nervousness and beauty while the moments that we're given help to define why we should care about this Swedish family in the first place. The metaphor of an avalanche, of racing downhill, of being in a confined area with the family, of human dynamics being so damn complicated, it's all here for us to understand even without the aid of subtitles. Something bad is going down here and we even get a tease at the very end that what we're seeing is the dissolution of a relationship, a family, but without knowing for sure there isn't anything else for us to do other than savor the trailer and buy a damn ticket to find out.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy Trailer #2

It helps if your movie is already fantastically constructed from the inside out. But, in the realm of trailers that needed to communicate the style and swagger of a move to a mass quantity of moviegoers you cannot possibly do better than this. The real brilliant move is to eschew any soundtrack that even smacks of 21st century. Being true to Star-Lord's own musical choices naturally would lead you to use Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" which not only fits remarkably well but it informs the movie's sensibility. It's not going to win any points for being subtle, sly or anything coming near subversive but where it excels it does exactly as it should and that's to stoke the embers of a hungry horde who need to know who these hooligans are, why we should care, and, most importantly, why we need to be the first in line to see the result.

7. What We Do in the Shadows Trailer

A few things: 1. Comedy is subjective 2. I've really grown crusty towards comedic trailers in that I just don't find much amusing anymore and 3. I love this trailer. It tickled me deeply and thoroughly. There's just something admirable about watching the Svengali at work here who manages to find a nice steady pace at which to toss out the humor while also providing just enough background to establish why this is something that warrants your full attention. Never mind the metric ton of kudos that this film has received, the trailer takes us through the major beats while never lingering too long in any one place. Everyone gets their chance to slip in their own brand of funny and, for a movie as small as this was, it makes this look like the comedic hit you would be remiss in not catching.

6. The Referee (L'arbitro) Trailer

Do not adjust the tracking on your television, this is indeed a prime pick in this year's field of great trailers. What this little black and white movie from Italy/Argentina teaches about the way you go to market is that if you have a movie that most no one has ever heard of you have to be considerate of an audience who needs to get up to speed right quick about the story and make it compelling. With a soundtrack that helps to showcase small morsels of moments, we are taken through the high points without having to even read a single word. To wit, this trailer could be shown in its native language without the help of subtitles and you'd still get where we're headed with this story. It's charming, funny, and elegant. For anyone looking for something charming, out of the way, and a little on the odd side, I assure you that there's enough in this trailer to make you wonder where it's been hiding.

5. Blue Ruin Trailer

Just soak in it. There really isn't much that can be said about a trailer that encompasses so much heaviness that to tell the story would be to spoil the tale. As we've seen with the really effective pieces of marketing, just giving us enough to keep going is all you really have to do to capture attention. Sure, the critical accolades this movie has received, and peppers the trailer, is helpful but it's the go-forward storytelling that's the real clencher. We have a clue, an idea, of why we're here today and what drives our protagonist but it's the slow descent into madness that's the hook that embeds itself into our attention span and does not relent.

4. Obvious Child Trailer

There is something so disarming and lovely about this trailer. It's about as genuinely earnest and honest as anything you'll see on this list. What's truly remarkable here is that we open up with Jenny Slate for what is, in trailer seconds, an eon. We're completely with her on this journey into setting up where is, emotionally. We get it, we get her, we get her life, and when we meet the man who will take up the rest of this experience, and Paul Simon's "Obvious Child" kicks in, it entirely and totally rockets this trailer high into a wonderful strata that nothing else has been able to trump. The use of color, pull-quotes, and these tiny moments that help define Slate's character are simply delicious. To thine own self be true.

3. Boyhood Trailer

Damn. This may have landed on every single critical list as a fantastic piece of cinema but it worked well before that in the shape of this trailer. It definitely has the hook of being a film that carefully follows the life of this boy into young adulthood but the trailer focuses on the things that kids experience as they evolve into the monsters that they become later in life. It's not maudlin or too saccharine sweet for its own good, it's just honest in giving us this kid's truth. I don't know why it's able to evoke a sense of sadness every damn time I watch it but that's the power of seeing someone evolve and having to shape this very long process into a bite sized format that we all can understand. How do you compress 12 years into one minute and forty-five seconds and make it more compelling than the most earnest of all earnest love letters? This is how you do it.

2. Interstellar Trailer #2

God almighty is this one powerful piece of persuasion in an effort to go after your wallet. The blend of music, drama, cinematography, and voice-over coalesces into this moving mosaic of marketing. Having seen the film and knowing what I do now, this trailer masterfully is able to take what is a fairly complex story and distill one of the most salient points this movie makes into something wonderful, genuinely heartbreaking. I am amazed every single time that I watch it because it blends the score, the acting, and an obfuscated plot into something transcendent. While being a parent is not a prerequisite for digging into the main themes of the story, being one certainly amplifies the emotional gut punches that this specific trailer delivers. It simply did not get any better for a dramatic work than this did in 2014.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road Trailer

I wasn't expecting much of anything, really. When I sat through the introduction of this movie at Comic-Con this year I thought this just had to be yet another half-assed attempt to try and sup any remaining lifeforce from a property long since (almost) forgotten. And then I saw the footage. After I tried to wrap my mind around what I saw I thought there was no way they would sell this movie like they did in San Diego to a mass audience. And the trailer hit a few weeks ago. This knows what it is, what it aspires to be in the hearts and minds of those who would gladly buy a ticket today and be completely comfortable in not giving you an inch of sanity upon which to hang any sanctimonious opinions about what you think this is. It's a ride that will not relent and it's selling a reality that I hope comes true: where the world has no meaning and the people just as insane and relentless. Big, bad, loud, and ferocious. I'm buying based on the implicit promise here for something unlike we truly haven't seen in a while at the multiplex.

Nota bene: If you have any suggestions of trailers to possibly be included in this column, even have a trailer of your own to pitch, please let me know by sending me a note at Christopher_Stipp@yahoo.com or look me up via Twitter at @Stipp

In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:

  • Focus Trailer - Feels like the kind of film that would have done well in the 90s. Here, though, it comes off as a relic of a time since passed.
  • Entourage Trailer – Best compliment I can give is that it feels like a new season of the show compressed into two hours.