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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2014 TOP TEN WEEK - Day 3: Movies

It’s Day 3 of Top Ten week!  Today I’m looking at my favorite movies of the year—the ones I’ve seen anyway.  I saw more movies this year in the theater than I have at any other point in my life and I’m glad that almost every movie I saw was a lot of fun.  Which movies were at the top of my list? Hit the jump to find out!

Please note that I have not seeing the following movies that you might expect to see on this list: Interstellar, Selma, The Imitation Game, Whiplash and The Theory of Everything.  I have no interest in seeing Boyhood.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Most people that hated this movie either a) went into it already thinking they would hate it or b) didn’t actually see it.  This was a light, fun action romp that was true to the spirit of the source material and kept me entertained.  It is not groundbreaking by any means, but it was far better than it is given credit for.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
While a step above the first (and still enjoyable) Hunger Games film, this third movie in the franchise spun its wheels a bit to draw out the third book’s action for a two-part movie, but delivered some great heartfelt moments and some fun action that was mostly in the background of the book.
Veronica Mars
We got exactly what we asked for with this one, marshmallows!  Fans of the series rejoiced as Rob Thomas brought everything we loved about his Kristen Bell-led show that we loved in this enjoyable film that satisfied our need for more Veronica and company…for now.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Despite the baffling choice to make give Kitty Pryde new powers, I thought this was the finest film in the X-Men franchise.  It was a great way to bring all of the previous films together and delivered in a big way.

While St. Vincent was perhaps the most predictable film that I’ve seen all year and was riddled with clichés, it also featured Billy Murray in what might be his finest performance to date (though Lost in Translation is close).  This schmaltzy independent film sees Murray as a lovable scoundrel whose life is changed when an overworked single mother and her bullied son move next door.  With great supporting performances by Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, and newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, St. Vincent is a cheesy feel good winner whose cast outperforms the material before them.  It won’t change your worldview by any means, but it could definitely brighten your afternoon.

Taking a sharp turn away from the pulpy goodness that was the first Captain America film, this sequel was a heavy-handed espionage thriller that might just be the darkest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  After the special effects explosion that was Avengers (and last year’s Thor 2 and Iron Man 3), this is an old school gun-toting, car-crashing, hostage-taking action romp that is rather refreshing.  Chris Evans brought some unexpected depth to the fish-out-of-water Captain America who is dealing with a much darker world than the one he left in the 1940s.  His performance is accented nicely by a bevy of Marvel Cinematic stars including Scarlett Johansson and Samuel Jackson bringing the goods as usual, while Colbie Smulders took advantage  of her expanded screen time as Maria Hill and Anthony Mackie stole the film as newcomer Falcon.  Plus Sebastian Stan killed it as the incredibly intense Winter Soldier.  

In much the same way that Captain America: Winter Soldier took a sharp turn way from its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a completely different animal from 2011’s Rise.  It is a considerably darker and more action oriented film, but still retains the grounded elements that set the first film in this reboot franchise apart from the more fantastical series (in a good way).  With beautiful special effects anchored in incredible motion capture performances, Dawn built a very believable world out of an outrageous premise and then filled it not only with action, but also a ton of heart.  I cannot praise Andy Serkis enough in his groundbreaking performance as Caeser and Jason Clarke was a perfect foil as the human Malcom.  This film was incredibly compelling and truly epic, reaching heights that previous Apes films could only have dreamed of. 

I love complex films with strong universal themes and heart-wrenching performances, but sometimes I just want to see crazy balls-to-the-wall action.  When in the mood for the latter, it didn’t get much better than John Wick this year.  Hinging upon the flimsiest of plots, John Wick is 101 minutes of Keanu Reeves killing mobsters and it is hands down his best movie since Bill and Ted traversed time in their phone booth.  This film is a symphony of violence that felt like America’s answer to those bonkers Raid films (which are so awesome).  Wick is exactly what it sets out to be and nothing more.  It’s guns and blood and quips…and it is glorious.

Speaking of films that are exactly what they promised to be, it’s Godzilla!  I know a lot of people are critical of how little we see of the Big Guy in this film, but as a longtime fan of the series, this was perfect.  Giant monsters are awoken and begin to wreak havoc on the world.  The army gets involved but is ultimately helpless.  Godzilla emerges from his slumber and kicks all sorts of ass.  It’s the classic Godzilla formula that has worked for decades, but with the finest visuals that have ever been afforded to the King of Kaiju.  This Godzilla done the American way and it works damn well—and it will make you forget about that 90s abomination starring Matthew Broderick!

05. TUSK
I have been a huge fan of Kevin Smith’s films since I was junior high and discovered Clerks for the first time, but after the lackluster Cop Out and the polarizing Red State, I wasn’t sure what to expect from his first straightforward horror film.  After seeing it, though, I was blown away.  Tusk follows a morally lax podcaster (Justin Long) deep into the heart of Canada where, after following a disappointing lead for his next story, he meets a bizarre old man with a rather strange story to tell.  From there it spirals down quickly into one of the most bizarre and unsettling things I have ever seen on film as Long is transformed into a creature that I will never be able to erase from my memory.  The film retains some of the smartass wit that made Smith famous, but also reveals a dark side that is much less forced than it was in Red State and culminates into a disgusting but compelling film that was one of the most unexpected surprises of the year.

04. BIG HERO 6
Big Hero 6 was the first true collaboration between Disney and Marvel , though it has far more to do with the House of Mouse than it does the House of Ideas.  Based very loosely on a comic created by the dudes in the Man of Action studios, Big Hero 6 is a superhero film that is more about family than it is about action.  In the film, technological prodigy Hiro Yamada deals with the untimely death of his older brother and inadvertently creates a superhero team with his brother’s colleagues and the medical robot Baymax.  Filled with memorable moments and perhaps the second most loveable Marvel character of the year (after Groot), Big Hero 6 should delight fans young and old.  I know that I was tempted to see the movie multiple times in the theater and I am a notoriously cheap person.  The animation was gorgeous, the voice acting was spot on, and the emotional payoff was incredibly powerful.  I have not yet seen How to Train Your Dragon 2 (though I own the bluray), but its hard to imagine any animated film taking Big Hero 6’s thunder at the Oscars.

I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Ben Affleck.  While there are some gems in his catalogue, many of which are in supporting roles, but there are also a shocking number of stinkers in there.  When the Affleck-led Gone Girl was first announced, I wasn’t totally sold.  The trailers looked good, but it was also clear that the success of the film was going to hinge on his performance.  When my wife flew through reading the book, I had no choice but to go…and I’m damn glad that I did.  Affleck’s performance was utterly spectacular and is just one of the great performances in this powerful and shocking film.  I really must praise Gillian Flynn, not only for the tightly plotted novel, but for the film’s screenplay as well.  Flynn’s characters were complex and believable as they were brought to life under the direction of master David Finch.  I did not expect to love Gone Girl, but it was so well done that it became one of my favorite films of the year.

I wrestled with my expectations for months with Guardians of the Galaxy.  The characters are amongst my favorites in the Marvel pantheon, but James Gunn’s Super is one of my least favorite films ever.  I love Chris Pratt as goofy Andy Dwyer, but could he really pull off the swaggering hero?    Zoe Saldana had never really impressed me.  Could Batista actually act?  There were so many questions about this movie and then the trailers came out and were so amazing.  But yet I was still on pins and needles over the film—I was certain it could not live up to the hype.  And yet somehow, all of these came together into one of the most exciting and entertaining films of the year.    The film has completely raised the bar for Marvel’s films with its perfect balance of humor, action, and heart.  

Ever since I saw Birdman in mid-December, I have been singing its praises, even though I still struggle to explain exactly what the film was about.  The plot of the film is simple—a washed up  actor wants to rewrite his legacy from playing a big-budget superhero to a “serious” actor by writing a producing an broadway production as the odds to stack against him.  The themes of the films, however, are hard to nail down.  The film takes on so much and does so with an incredible intensity—I feel that every viewer will walk away from the movie with their own opinion on what exactly the movie intended to say.  In most cases, I would say that is problematic, as it would imply that the film is unfocused.  But with Birdman, I say that it is a testament to its complexity and its ability to resonate with its audience.  Oh and did I mention that Michael Keaton gave one of the greatest performances in cinematic history?  Or that his costars Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Andrea Riseborough are all incredibly powerful in their own right?  How about the fact that visionary director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu carefully craft the film so that it appears to all take place in a single shot?  Birdman is, simply put, one of the most insanely well-crafted films I have ever seen and the easy choice for my top film of the year.

What are your favorites?

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