As always, I couldn’t see everything, but I see quite a few movies, and for no one’s reading pleasure, these were my 11 favorite films of 2014.
11. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
I started writing this list before I actually saw the final Hobbit film, and didn’t bother to even consider it given how disappointed with the first 2 films I had been. But I left the theater after this one with almost the same feelings I remembered having leaving a Lord of the Rings movie. This was by far the closest this series had come to the original trilogy. I chalk that up to the fact that was just a giant battle, and didn’t have a lot of the very obvious story filler to stretch a short book into 3 films. The dragon fight was thrilling and the epic titular battle made me remember why I loved visiting Middle Earth every holiday season. Not as good as any LOTR film but by far the best Hobbit.
Like Gravity last year, an indie film will come along and manage to do something fresh with filmmaking that becomes less a movie and more an experience. Birdman is a story of an actor formerly known for playing a superhero, trying to reinvent himself as an artist. The film uses incredibly creative camera tricks to make it seem like it was filmed in one continuous shot. You feel like you are a following along with them in a frantic and almost claustrophobic pace. Michael Keaton and Edward Norton are both phenomenal as these two damaged actors that blur the line between the role and possibly their real lives. The film is an exploration of the art of storytelling in general, whether it is on stage or on screen, and the realities of acting and celebrity in the modern age. I’m not sure if I loved the movie as such as I was incredibly intrigued by a piece of interesting filmmaking, and I was left discussing both the technical aspects and meaning of the story for days after.
9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The first Apes movie was surprisingly great and this year’s follow up was even better. The film tells the story of the tenuous relationship between man and ape, teetering on the brink of war, while examining the valid viewpoints of both sides. War is inevitable and your heart breaks when it comes to it. The cgi work in the film is truly amazing as the majority of the cast is flawlessly computer animated, still maintaining their animalistic qualities while also expressing truly human emotions. Andy Serkis’ role as Cesar, while motioned-captured, is an amazing piece of acting and worthy of awards.
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I am a fan of Wes Anderson and The Grand Budapest Hotel was some great Wes Anderson. All his trademark elements were there: interesting color pallets, model-like sets, great actors in quirky roles, Bill Murry and at least one Wilson brother. Ralph Fiennes was hilarious as the lead and the crime caper aspect of the story compliments Anderson’s strength well to result in one of his best.
7. Lego Movie
What’s left to say about the Lego movie? It was way too clever a movie than anyone expected or it had any right to be. It was inventive, funny, with great voices and a good message for both kids and adults. Between this movie and both Jump Street movies, the pair of directors are on an incredible roll.
6. Snow Piercer
Sci-fi seems to work best when it uses futuristic, alien or supernatural allegories for issues affecting us in modern society. Snow Piercer tells the story of a future where our attempts to fix the hole in the ozone have destroyed the planet and everything living on it, save for a small population living on a train that continually circles the globe. The poorest passengers are kept in the last car and treated horribly, oblivious to the decadent lives the passengers in the cars close to the engine enjoy. The film has a clever concept and an original voice when it comes to its action, heavy influenced by its Korean director. As the characters enter each new car and discover what new concepts and dangers await them, the stakes grow deadlier and deadlier until the explosive finale at the engine. The movie feels in constant motion and was an unexpected gem of the year.
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Bryan Singer made his triumphant return to the franchise he started, and reminded you why you loved it so much in the first place. X-Men: First Class was my favorite movie of that year, so DOFP had a lot to live up to. But the idea of combining the young cast and classic team in a time-travel story that made sense and had serious stakes was brilliant. But maybe my favorite part was the fact that that Singer took all the things that fans hated about the X-films after he had left, and in one stroke fixed everything!
4. Edge of Tomorrow
The movie that no one saw, but anyone that did, raved about. And for good reason. It was a super inventive sci-fi concept that was both thrilling and very funny. It was clever, well paced and had a really unique alien design. Emily Blunt was a total badass, while Tom Cruise played the clueless jerk, but still reminded you, as crazy as he is in real life, why Tom Cruise is such a magnetic movie star. For as much terrible, Transformers level, remake bullshit that is paraded out every summer, it was a shame few people checked out this smart, original summer blockbuster movie.
3. Captain America: Winter Soldier
How about we do a 70’s spy thriller set in the Marvel Universe? The first Captain America had a great throwback tone of WW2 patriotism and heroic optimism that worked well for the character. But for Cap’s first solo present day adventure, he came face to face with the grim threat of where modern-day Big Brother technology can lead, allies that blur the lines of right and wrong, and a government you can’t trust, all while maintaining and reinforcing the ideals of what makes Steve Rodgers the ultimate hero. Spectacular action sequences, a plot full of great twists, and the unexpectedly great introduction of Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows that Marvel can keep reinventing itself with each new chapter in their giant epic.
2. Gone Girl
At this point, I’ll see pretty much anything David Fincher directs, and Gone Girl reinforced that motto ten fold. Tense, smart, sexy, and beautifully shot, Gone Girl blew me away. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike were great as the duplicitous couple that kept you questioning what you thought you knew until the end. And Tyler Perry was great! Tyler Perry! It was disturbing and bleak and I loved every minute of it. The movie left a lasting impression of me for days afterward, and really, no one directs a sex scene that ends in horrible violence like Fincher.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
Why do we go to the movies? To laugh, to cry, to be excited, to see great characters in interesting stories. To be entertained. And when I think about my most entertaining experience sitting in a movie theater this year, I smile just thinking about Guardians. No one had faith in Guardians when it was first announced. I’ve read the book for 5 years and even I questioned if it would work as a movie. But co-writer/ director James Gunn took this strange hodgepodge of characters and imbued them with so much heart and humor that all the wackiness just seemed to work so effortlessly. Chris Pratt was perfectly cast as his Indiana Jones in space Starlord, and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket was an underrated gem. The soundtrack is fantastic and truly a main character of the film. Guardians of the Galaxy was clever, funny, and emotional, with great action sequences, engaging characters and ended with a dancing baby Groot. Guardians of the Galaxy was fun, and isn’t that why we go?
I Know That Voice
22 Jump Street