(Because sometimes 10 just isn't enough)
It's that time of year again...where we take stock of all the films we saw for the year and weigh in on which ones were a waste of time and which ones were time well spent. And not like this needs repeating but I will do it anyway, this is a list comprised of films "I" felt were the best of what this past year had to offer us.
2014 wasn't poised to be that memorable a year in film. Sure, we had the expected blockbusters like Captain America, Hunger Games and The Hobbit along with the expected awards season flicks that would swoop in at the last minute to steal all the attention for the year to look forward to, but for once many of this years greatest films came from the most unlikeliest of places. Who knew movies based on Legos, a comedy sequel to a movie based on an obscure 80's television show, a sequel based on a reboot nobody wanted, a group of super heroes nobody ever heard of before or a movie about a kid growing up would come out on top?
If this year has taught me anything, it is not all the best movies come out between September and December of each year, sometimes they get released in February, March, June, July or even August. But most importantly I learned that a movie doesn't have to be nominated for all kinds of awards to be on this list. Sometimes it just has to be a really great film and that is it. Without further ado, here is my long awaited list for the best (and worst) films I saw in 2014. Check out the list after the break.
22 Jump Street
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
You want to know what Marvel's secret ingredient is to making their films transcend the label of a simple comic book movie? By never making a straight up comic book film. Sound crazy? Just one look at Captain America: The Winter Soldier and how seamlessly it merges its comic book trappings such as epic battles between good versus evil, people with super powers performing incredible feats and awe inspiring action set pieces with the more grounded spy espionage thriller genre is a perfect example on how to make a comic book character relevant to those who don't read comics. The Winter Soldier is Marvel at its best, featuring fantastic action, great characters, an engaging story with all sorts of twists and turns and still managing to seamlessly tie it into the rest of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). This is what every blockbuster sequel should strive to be like.
No other film this year has stirred up as much conversation than Christopher Nolan's space epic Interstellar. Whether you agree with or negate the science behind the film, there is just no denying how masterfully Nolan orchestrates his very first Science Fiction film and delivers upon the visual and emotional majesty his legion of fans have come to expect from the formidable filmmaker. While it is not his most impressive work to date, it is still far ahead of just about every other feature film to come out of Hollywood this year. Releasing the film on actual FILM as opposed to the more standard digital format was also a treat for film geeks everywhere which in some ways made the final result on the big screen seem even grander than it likely would have felt otherwise. This was the biggest event film of the year and despite some hotly debated scientific controversy it delivered as expected.
Edge of Tomorrow
You have to sort of feel bad for Tom Cruise. The guy is still at the top of his game picking interesting projects and other than the M:I films has steered clear of making sequels for a quick buck. But nothing the man does can seem to fix his reputation which has thus far tarnished every single film he has been in for the past decade (once again with the M:I franchise the sole exception). That is why it is so sad when a film like the excellent Edge of Tomorrow (not Live.Die.Repeat) doesn't get the attention it so rightfully deserved. Outside Guardians of the Galaxy, this was the best big budget movie released this past summer. It's unique mixture of action, comedy and some of the best time traveling shenanigans this side of Doctor Who helped make this summer blockbuster into one of the most entertaining and smartly written films of the year.
The LEGO Movie
The LEGO Movie isn't just a great family film, nor is it just a great kids film. The real success of Phil Lord and Chris Miller's animated ode to our love for building things with brightly colored bricks is how it smartly hinges its extremely deviously simple story on not only a child's endlessly creative imagination, but how it uses our nostalgia for the lego toyline to help adults relate to a tiny lego figure destined to save the world from Taco Tuesday! The most impressive feat the film accomplishes though (aside from not being the toy commercial everyone thought it would be) isn't by being better than anyone ever expected it to be, but how effectively it taps into our inner child and reminds us that a world without imagination is a world not worth living in.
David Fincher's adaptation of the novel Gone Girl wasn't really on my radar as something I was hotly anticipating this year despite my love for most of his previous work. Part of that indifference was due to star Ben Affleck, who other than his recent work behind the camera still remains one of the least interesting actors out there. Leave it to Fincher though to flip the script on me and prove that there is a place in the world for a film starring Ben Affleck. Like most of Fincher's films Gone Girl is a sleek production from top to bottom but also benefits greatly from a script (and the original novel) that
The Raid 2
Action movies were big business a couple decades ago, but ever since heavyweights like Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger have tried to rekindle their former glory it has become evident that we will likely never see the return of that genre in its original form. Queue writer/director Gareth Evans to take the action genre in a bold new direction with his latest action opus The Raid 2. Brilliantly expanding upon everything that made the original film an instant action classic by taking the fight from tight hallways and corridors of an apartment building out to the expansive streets of Indonesia and mixing The Raid's exhaustive martial arts fight sequences with a complex crime saga that would give the Godfather a run for its money, there is just so much to appreciate, love and admire about The Raid 2. From its ridiculously violent opera of action to Gareth Evans determined need to film everything for real (little to no effects were used even when you might believe otherwise) that it not only gets better with repeated viewings, you also gain more respect for the people who made it as well.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Skip ahead six months from its release and now there isn't anyone who DOESN'T know who the Guardians of the Galaxy are. Not since Marvel released the first Iron Man has a franchise gone from virtual unknown to blockbuster status, and why wouldn't it? Writer/director James Gunn's refreshing take on the super hero formula mixed with the best space based action and adventure since the original Star Wars was just what the doctor ordered. Filled to the brim with fantastic characters, dazzling special effects that actually served the story and not only the best soundtrack of the year but also the best implementation of the actual music in the film itself, Guardians of the Galaxy set a new standard for not just Marvel, but every other movie studio and filmmaker out there.
Much has been made about the process Linklater used to make Boyhood, filming the movie a couple weeks out of each year over the course of 12 years, and while that certainly merits many accolades, it isn't at the center of what makes Boyhood such an amazing experience to watch. As impressive as that process is, it is nothing without a talented filmmaker like Linklater at the helm to make sure that process never takes precedence over the story being told. Much like his "Before..." trilogy and the tragically overlooked A Scanner Darkly, both of which were filmed in their own unique ways by Linklater, Boyhood shines even brighter because of uniqueness, not in spite of it.
Boyhood is a film that will likely feel personal to everyone who sees it, but the miraculous thing is that everyone will feel that way while taking something different from the experience than the person next to them. Chronicling the life of Mason from age 6 to age 18 holds many truths about the growing pains we have all experienced in one form or another. While I was able to relate to the idea of being raised by a single parent, others may only relate to growing up with a sister or an estranged father who only shows up once a year to hang out. That is the real beauty and mastery of Boyhood, its ability to tap into all of us at once while also providing a deep meaningful connection that is wholly unique to each and every viewer.
Boyhood could likely be Richard Linklater's crowning achievement, where for once his ambitions did not overshadow his story which they had a tendency to do in his previous works. But I still wouldn't consider this to be his best film, as I believe that we are only beginning to scrape the surface of what he is capable of. However, Boyhood is his best film to date and without a doubt the best single film I saw this year. Watching Boyhood is to remember why film can be so profound and at times a powerful way to stir emotions in us that we didn't even know existed. Boyhood serves as a stark reminder that the best cinema has to offer doesn't have to include explosions or special effects, just a little humanity.
Previous Years Picks...
2014 Honorable Mentions
(Other films I wanted on my list but couldn't find room for)
Keanu Reeves has had a hard time re-establishing himself as a box office draw with the limp 47 Ronin and the barely seen (but very good) Man of Tai Chi as his only recent efforts. But he has finally found a character and a possible new franchise that fits his "acting talents" to perfection. Not since Neo (in the first Matrix) has Keanu kicked so much ass. While detractors will be quick to point out that the film rarely attempts to be anything more than your typical revenge flick, they would be wrong labeling it as typical. I mean, how bad ass is it that Reeve's destroys an entire crime organization over a dead dog?
Adam Wingard's horror flick You're Next blew me away last year by not only subverting all negative expectations brought on by its respective genre but by delivering a horror film that had some brains. Now with The Guest, Wingard hones his already impressive skills by delivering one of the only successful attempts to recall the heyday of the classic 80's thriller genre (this is what Machete wishes it was). Funny, graphically violent, mysterious and a tone that somehow manages to stay consistent despite bouncing all around, The Guest was one of this years most pleasant and very entertaining surprises.
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Even though it is neck and neck with The LEGO movie for the best animated feature film of the year, those adorable little building blocks edged it out for a most deserved win. But that shouldn't deter anyone from seeing what is easily one of the best family oriented films of the year, animated or not. The design of the dragons and the heartfelt story about family, loss, regret and redemption is already more than most average animated films even attempt, but add in Dreamworks amazing attention to detail in their character and world creations (which now rivals longtime foe Pixar) and you have one of the best films of the year that was sadly ignored upon its release despite rave reviews and an already fantastic first film under its belt. Where was everyone when this came out?
OK, this movie has a lot of problems....A LOT of problems. Forgetting for a second that the film was engineered from the ground up to erase everything that came before it (both good and bad), Bryan Singer's return to the franchise that made his career still manages to be fine entertainment and the second best X-Men movie ever made (just behind X-Men: First Class). While Quicksilver stole the show despite being in the film for mere minutes, the time travel gimmick, Peter Dinklage and the impressively imposing (and long awaited) appearance of the Sentinels helped make this
Bible thumpers got in a tizzy over the many liberties Darren Aronofsky's vision took with Noah and his fabled ark. Feeling deceived by early ads and promos (rightfully so) that failed to show any of the film's more notable departures from the source material (the rock creatures were clearly removed from scenes in the trailer they actually appeared in for the finished film), it was understandable that some would find the film to be compete and utter blasphemy. But if you aren't beholden to the written word (from thousands of years ago when we know things were chronicled to perfection), you might find this version of Noah to be not just a great fantasy take on the fabled tale, but also surprisingly true to the spirit of the bible story.
Life After Beth
Zombie horror and romantic comedies are not exactly an easy mix. Just one look at last years failure Warm Bodies will show that if the balance isn't just right with equal amounts horror and romance that the entire enterprise falls apart. Life After Beth gets that mix just right as it is able to take this fairly off the wall approach towards the failing relationship between a boy and his girlfriend who freshly risen from the grave (played to comedic perfection by Aubrey Plaza) and have a ton of fun with it while still being able to throw in an entire zombie apocalypse on the side. This is the new benchmark for the zom-rom-com and it will not easily be dethroned anytime soon.
Two words is all that is needed to explain why this extremely tardy follow up to 300 is worth your time. Eva Green...that is it. That is all you need to know. Green shatters the femme fatale image and creates a sexual demon of the highest order who will own your soul while crushing your supposed male ego and having you begging for more. The movie isn't half bad either, but if not for Eva Green's impeccable performance this movie might as well not even exist.
Let's Be Cops
This was a good year for comedies with 22 Jump Street being the standout and others like The Interview and Neighbors bringing up the rear, but the real surprise happened to be a late summer release (usually a sure sign of crap). Let's Be Cops didn't feature any high caliber star power or even a very original idea, but what it did feature was a surprisingly effective comedy duo made up of Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. (both stars of televisions The New Girl) who were able to take this by-the-numbers material about two guys pretending to be cops and turn it into comedy gold.
Apparently nobody cares about Paranormal Activity any more, and who could blame us? The fourth film was really bad, like franchise killing bad. Then when it was announced that the series was diverging into spinoffs it felt like the creators had finally run out of good ideas. Who knew that taking the activity to downtown L.A. would rejuvenate the floundering series? The Marked Ones may have been too little too late to save the franchise, but at least if it ends here it ends on a high note. Plus, how can you not love the idea of L.A. gang bangers versus a coven of witches? That is some inspired lunacy that we could use a lot more of in our horror movies.
The Purge: Anarchy
The first Purge ended up in the most disappointing category last year, so it was almost a sure bet that its sequel (thrown together at the last minute) would surely join it there this year. Low and behold as the impossible has happened and the sequel one ups the original by actually making good on all the broken promises of the first film. The Purge: Anarchy isn't a great film, but as a sort of trashy throwback to the action thrillers of the 80's mixed with the intriguing premise this franchise was founded on it works extremely well as pulpy entertainment. If you felt burned and let down by the first Purge, then join this year's purge and relish in the glorious carnage.
If I Stay
It takes a real man to admit when his emotions get the better of him and it takes an even bigger man to admit when he cries at the movies. I usually loathe tearjerkers as they are constructed from top to bottom to manipulate your emotions, but this romance drama featuring a very grown up Chloe Grace Moretz in her first starring role was sincere about its obvious emotional manipulations which somehow made it easier to accept. There weren't too many movies like this released this year and even less that ended up being any good, so if you have to choose to stay or go, I say stay.
Out of all the Oscar contenders I was able to catch this year (which admittedly was a short list), Foxcatcher was one of the only films that delivered the one two punch of great acting and a great story. Hindered only by an elongated runtime that sucked out some of the nail biting tension, the film is a tour de force when it comes to showcasing the acting talents of all three of its stars and is also one of the most devastating endings to a film I saw this year.
Joe Carnahan's Stretch is that type of movie you find on Netflix (which is where I caught it) or on cable one night that just sucks you in the second it starts. This story of a limo driver and his crazy night in L.A. is punctuated with a fantastic performance from star Patrick Wilson and a number of even crazier supporting actors such as Ed Helms, Chris Pine, Jessica Alba and a slew of cameos like David Hasselhoff, Ray Liotta and Norman Reedus who all play hysterically exaggerated versions of themselves. If you love those kind of movies where a guy runs around town frantically over the course of single night encountering all kinds of lunacy, this one comes highly recommended.
Daniel Radcliffe's latest attempt to make us forget he was Harry Potter (sorry Dan, that ain't gonna happen) is also one of the most overlooked films to be released last year. Taking the revenge genre in a whole new and devilishly sinister direction, Horns delivers on nearly every level one would expect. It is funny, poignant, evil and extremely clever. The only thing holding it back from greatness is some uneven pacing thanks to some very long flashback scenes and a third act that feels a bit too tame considering its subject matter. Otherwise this is a great hidden gem from 2014 that everyone should seek out.
Anyone who expected The Interview to be some sort of life altering experience has bigger problems than this film not living up to those ridiculous expectations. Seth Rogen and James Franco have created an extremely funny examination of one of the world's most notorious political figures. Yes it's dumb, but it was never meant to be anything other than that. So quit all your complaining about it not being some sort of serious political drama and just watch it already. I bet you might even crack a smile once or twice.
The Imitation Game
It never ceases to amaze me how many unique stories come out of World War 2. In some ways the story of Alan Turing feels small in comparison to all the sacrifices made on the battlefield, but in even more ways Turing's ability to break the Enigma machine was the single most important aspect to winning the war. Comprised of an outstanding ensemble cast led by yet another amazing performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game is an important film in how it reminds us all how many people sacrificed themselves both on and off the battlefield to put a stop to the greatest war ever fought.
Most Disappointing Films of 2014
(Films that I was looking forward to that sadly let me down)
A Million Ways to Die in The West
Hot off the heals of Ted, Seth McFarlane took his sudden success and decided to make a western starring...himself? You know, I give the man credit where credit is due, but A Million Ways to Die in the West is just downright bad. In a year filled with great comedies, this one stuck out like a sore thumb. As if mixing a comedy and a western weren't already hard enough (Blazing Saddles is still the best), he went ahead and cast himself in the lead role almost assuring that nobody would go see it. Ted 2 can't come soon enough.
This whole trend of making live action prequels to our beloved family fantasy classics just needs to stop before any more damage is done. Between Maleficent and Oz the Great and Powerful, we have seen enough to know it just isn't going to work. But the greatest foe the film Maleficent (the film) had was its inability to feature a villain as the main character without making them sympathetic. The film had all other sorts of plotholes and script issues, but the fact that it has made Maleficent (the character) into the next Disney Princess is just intolerable.
Nothing hurts more than a horror film with a great first act, an intriguing second act and a third act that just falls flat. Oculus had a pretty great set up with its story of an ancient evil that lives within a mirror and drives its victims insane, but the hyper confusing finale where it was near impossible to decipher what was happening at any given moment (is this the present, past or future?) making the final act more of an annoyance than scary. Saddling it with an ending hinting towards a sequel that isn't needed didn't help either.
The 2011 Muppets film came out of nowhere and single handedly brought the franchise back to fruition. It's enormous success was mostly in thanks to a script from Jason Segel that paid tribute to Jim Henson's legacy, a perfect blend of self awareness and slapstick comedy, fantastic songs and paving the way for a whole new legion of fans. It's sequel Muppets Most Wanted had none of that and despite not being a total failure, sure felt like it. This sequel could have easily undone all the hard work what it's predecessor did to re-establish The Muppets in as little time as it took to do it, but hopefully their next film will redeem this sad sequel.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Almost 8 years later we finally get our Sin City sequel...and it sucked. Even the amazing talents of Eva Green couldn't lift this thing out of the crapper. While we will never know why it took so long for Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller to try and capitalize on the success of the original film (especially considering Rodriguez's notoriously swift production schedules), we at the very least know the wait certainly wasn't worth it. Some have cited that even the original film doesn't hold up to scrutiny anymore, but I blame that point of view more on this turd than anything else as it represents everything that could have gone wrong with the first film and serves as a reminder what made it so great.
I liked this movie...no, wait. I liked its story, but the movie left much to be desired. A sort of dirty half-dozen meets Ocean's Eleven, this true story about a group of non-soldiers running around the European theater looking for stolen priceless works of art had all the hallmarks of a great film, including an oddball cast that put the likes of George Clooney on screen with Bill Murray for the first time ever. The tone was all over the place and despite taking place during WW2 having a distinct lack of danger, The Monuments Men sadly didn't live up to the story it was trying to tell.
OK, I know I gave this mostly positive praise when it was released but you have to remember that when compared to the travesty that was the 1998 Godzilla, this is a masterpiece. But looked at on its own merits, it does come up lacking in more ways than one. First off is how little Godzilla there is in the film, I know it was supposed to lead up to a big reveal but it just took way too long and that payoff (while cool) wasn't worth the wait to get there. Second and most important is the lack of a decent human element and a plot that focused way too much on those paper thin humans. Once Bryan Cranston is out of the picture it is all downhill from there.
Top 5 Worst Films of 2014
(The worst of the worst. The ones that made me want to stop watching movies)
Into the Storm
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Take a good look at that screenshot there. Yes, that is in fact a car hitting a person with its tire. No, that is not a transformer, that is in fact another human driving that car. That single image should tell you everything you need to know about Michael Bay's fourth Transformer movie, I repeat FOURTH...as in 1, 2, 3, 4 Transformer movies! While this is in some ways a step up from the last Transformers film (sort of like picking which kind of poo you like less than the other), the horrible in your face advertisements for Bud Weiser, Victoria's Secret, countless Chinese brands and the American flag (Michael Bay has gone off the deep end with the number of flags in every shot this time) and the sheer torture of countless excessively long action scenes that are stunningly free of energy still help make it on this list. About the only thing really surprising about this Transformers is that for once it isn't the worst film of the year.
It's hard to know what category to place this thing in. It is a car movie, but it is also a video game adaptation as well. I suppose it's best to just place it in the category it has the most in common with though, which is the stab-me-in-the-eye-to-wake-me-up-out-of-this-nightmare-I-am-watching category. Aaron Paul has a way to go before he finds another role like Jesse Pinkman, but it's clear he wasn't even trying with this one. Not even the racing was any good, I mean how do you mess up the racing parts? None of this even begins to dissect its nonsensical plot and absolutely absurd finale where everyone is racing to win a big check but in the process all either total their million dollar cars or go to jail...even the winner!
What's worse than a movie that makes you want to walk out of a theater halfway through you ask? How about watching a movie in the comfort of your own home for free and still feeling the urge to shut it off every 5 minutes? I don't know exactly what they were going for here, some sort of mythical action flick with Frankenstein's monster as the hero, but it fails...and fails bad. Bland, that is the one word that kept popping up while I forced myself through its painfully banal story about angels and demons who want to make more Frankensteins to rule the world because they were bored or something...yeah, where was I? Oh yeah, bland action, bland effects, bland acting, bland, bland, bland. Not even the half decent cast they got can make this turd worth the effort of sitting through...not even for free...at your home...with no effort on your part to watch it. It's that bad.