Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Most Anticipated Films of 2014

Ah, a new year.  A time of new beginnings and second chances.  In many ways I think that is why everyone always loves to ring in the new year, because no matter how bad last year was, you've got a fresh set of days to do things right this time.  Hey, we all know things never go according to the perfect plans in our head, but the idea of a fresh start is always invigorating and can lead us down some interesting paths if we just allow them.

Take last night for instance, I was ringing in the new year laying in bed watching Man of Steel for the first time since I saw it in theaters that one and only time last June.  I will be the first to admit that I've been almost downright ugly in my hatred towards the film since then, and I must apologize.  That's the funny thing about second chances sometimes, things aren't as bad as they were on first glance.  I am not saying that I've become a steadfast believer in everything that director Zack Snyder did, because I still prefer my Superman a little more innocent, lighthearted, and fun, but I actually enjoyed it the second time around.  I think I finally got to a point where I was able to accept the Superman film that we got, rather than the Superman film I deeply wanted in my heart.  While this was not the Superman movie I would have made, I actually liked it now.

See, that's the fun and funny thing about a new year and why I think we are always looking forward to it.  As people, we are constantly changing.  We aren't the same people we were even a week ago, and that's because the events in our lives are always shaping us into the people we will be tomorrow, which is why sometimes us critics (albeit an amateur one) can make mistakes.  I'm not saying I think Man of Steel is perfect, and I still don't think it comes close to touching the first two Christopher Reeve movies, but I would probably give it an A or an A- rating now.  Besides, who said every movie that you like has to be perfect for you to like it?  That's an idea I've often struggled with, but the truth is, I like and love a lot of movies that I know the script, or the acting, or the directing, isn't all that great, but I still like, and love them, anyways.  Why?  Because I like the ideas that do work in the movie enough to outweigh the ones I don't.

I still don't like the idea that Superman **Spoiler Alert** kills General Zod at the end of the film, but the situation actually worked better for me the second go around.  Maybe it's because I was expecting it, and rather than dreading it, I was trying to give it a second chance.  As for the rest of the film, with some distance, I must say I absolutely love Henry Cavill as Superman.  While Cavill is a little more stoic than I typically want my Big Blue Boy Scout to be, that's the script.  The morality and charm Superman exudes is all from Cavill.  Plus, the action truly is awesome, and I think they absolutely nailed the Lois Lane-Superman relationship.  I really like the fact that they had Lois Lane **Spoiler** know that Clark is Superman from the very beginning, I mean, she is the world's greatest reporter after all.  As well, I think the relationship between Clark and his parents, Jonathan and Martha, is very touching, and I especially loved Diane Lane as Martha and her chemistry with Cavill.

All in all, it's funny how a little distance can help create understanding.  I don't know what I was expecting last June, but the dramatic, mythic epic that we got was better than I initially gave it credit for, and I must apologize to you, the readers, for letting a few petty feelings affect my grading of a film that a lot of people wanted to see.  I promise to try and be better in the new year.  With that all said, it's time to start looking forward to what 2014 has to offer in terms of film, as I countdown my 10 most anticipated films of 2014!

There are a good many films that I am looking forward to seeing this year that did not make this list, primarily because early looks have created enough trepidation on my part to not be fully sold on them yet.  Films like the Wachowski's new original sci-fi film, Jupiter Ascending, the animated flick, The Lego Movie, Darren Aronofsky's biblical epic, Noah, and Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction, have the right elements to be good, but it all depends on those elements all coming together.  The same can be said for The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  I loved the first Amazing Spider-Man, however the first trailer's special effects were very shoddy for a modern blockbuster, and three villains!?!  The last time there were three villains in a Spider-Man film, it was Spider-Man 3, and we all know how that turned out, but enough with the honorable mentions, time for the 10 films I am most looking forward to seeing in 2014.


10.  Edge of Tomorrow
I am not the biggest fan of Tom Cruise, but Edge of Tomorrow looks really awesome.  Early buzz has been very strong on this sci-fi action flick where Cruise portrays a futuristic soldier in a war against aliens who continuously relives the same last day of his life, dying on the battlefield and awakening to fight that same battle again.  While it may sound a bit like Groundhog Day, the film is actually based on a Japanese manga called All You Need Is Kill.  While I don't think this will be an Oscar contender next year, this has all of the elements I am looking for out of a Summer blockbuster.  There looks to be tons of action, an intriguing high concept premise, and potentially, some great characters.  With a cast featuring Cruise and Emily Blunt, and the awesome potential that comes in action sequences from the cool-looking exoskeleton armor that these soldiers wear to fight the aliens, this could be a sleeper success next Summer.
(In theaters June 6th)


9.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes was one of the biggest surprises of that respective year, and for me it is also one of the best reboots ever made.  With the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I am expecting nothing less than an insane ride.  This film will pick up a decade after Rise, following our ape hero, Caeser, as he leads the ape nation against the few remaining humans after a deadly virus wiped out most of humanity at the end of the first film.  With Andy Serkis back doing the motion capture work for Caeser, expect another emotionally sincere performance, and with a better cast of human characters this time about, featuring Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, and Gary Oldman, my expectations are very high.  New director Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield), is a director that has been on the cusp for a good many years, and I think this may be the film that he can finally show what he can really do by delivering tons of awesome simian on human action.
(In theaters July 11th)


8.  Godzilla
To be perfectly honest, there doesn't really have to be much reason for me to see this movie beyond the fact that this is a new, big budget Godzilla movie.  I mean, does anyone who grew up loving science fiction movies not love Godzilla?  Even still, this film is shaping up to be a good one, with a noticeable focus on character given the top notch talent that is in the film, from Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, to Bryan Cranston.  Character has always been the thing that has for me distinguished each and every Godzilla film from one to the other.  If we actually care for the characters and their plights, then the film will work, if we don't, then it wont.  Fortunately, I don't think actors of this caliber would sign on to a film like this if these roles weren't good.  Of course, even if the characters don't work, this is still going to be a Godzilla film, and I mean, it doesn't have to do much to be better than the only other American-made Godzilla from 1998.  This one already has the '98 film beat purely because they are using the original Japanese Godzilla design from Toho Studios, not to mention the word from Comic-Con last July that said we'll see Godzilla doing battle with a giant scorpion.  Who doesn't want to see that?
(In theaters May 16th)


7.  Guardians of the Galaxy
If Marvel Studios has a film that is going to break their hit streak, it will be this film, and yet, this could also be their most wildly original film they've ever done.  Here's the thing, I'm excited for this film and think there is a very high chance I will love it, but I am not sure how the casual moviegoer will perceive it.  Based on a lesser known comic book series, there is already a lower profile surrounding this release because it is not about a name superhero, which could hurt it, but if you've read the comics, that doesn't matter.  Guardians of the Galaxy takes the Marvel films to the farthest reaches of space, but it's not Star Wars or Star Trek.  This is a space with giant tree men and a talking, gun-toting raccoon, aptly named Rocket Raccoon, so it is very much Marvel.  The film follows half-human/half-alien, Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, as he forms a celestial superhero team known as the Guardians of the Galaxy.  To say anymore will give away the crazy, imaginative surprises that are in store for audiences with this film.  I'll just say this, this could be Star Wars meets The Avengers.  Perhaps that might be too weird for the casual moviegoer, but I couldn't be more excited to see Marvel do something this different.
(In theaters August 1st)

First Official Image from the Film.


6.  How to Train Your Dragon 2
Sequels are always tricky, especially animated sequels, with sequels to most animated films often coming across as cash grabs and not as necessary exercises in story.  The only studio that has figured out the sequel-prequel conundrum in animation is Pixar, but if there is a non-Pixar film that could do it, it will be How to Train Your Dragon 2.  Most Dreamworks' films often come across as tongue-in-cheek comedies that are steeped in bathroom humor, but 2010's How to Train Your Dragon wasn't.  Here was a film that, while funny, told an emotionally inspiring story of unlikely friendship between a boy and a dragon, and how his doing something different, changed his village.  This sequel promises to expand upon the ideas of the original, with our hero, Hiccup, being the first dragon rider, or is he?  Part of the reason I loved the first film was it dealt with the emotional complexities of family in a very real way, and with us being introduced to Hiccup's mother in the sequel, I expect to see more of that.  As well, the first film featured some genuinely stunning action, and if the first trailer for the sequel is any inclination, we'll be getting some more of the same this second time around.
(In theaters June 13th)


5.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part I
Both parts of Mockingjay are in good hands, as long as director Francis Lawrence continues using the same mentality he had for this past November's Catching Fire.  It is rare for a sequel to be better than its predecessor, especially when there is a change in director, and that is what happened with Catching Fire.  Lawrence really got to the emotional, and philosophical core of The Hunger Games-universe in his last outing, and I expect him to do the same with these final two parts, the first of which is coming out this year.  If you're already a fan of The Hunger Games, you know you are going to see this film when it comes out, so is there really anything else to say as of now?  We're finally going to see war in the world of Panem.  We saw sparks of revolution last time, now is the time to see it actually play out.  While some fans are upset that the filmmakers are adding a new character that was not in the books, I fully trust what Francis Lawrence is doing right now with The Hunger Games series and cannot wait for this next installment.
(In theaters November 21st)

Katniss in her Mockingjay dress from Catching Fire.


4.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier
My favorite character in The Avengers was Captain America.  I just love his unwavering morality, good is good, and evil is evil, however, as we saw in The Avengers, when Cap is faced with gray areas, he often doesn't know where to go.  Expect more gray areas for Cap in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the next Marvel Studios film that will continue to set up 2015's sequel, The Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Even if I wasn't the biggest Captain America fan, I'd be looking forward to this film merely because I loved The Avengers, but as a Cap fan as well, I'm at fever pitch, especially after seeing that awesome elevator scene before Thor: The Dark World (if you haven't seen it, try seeing a 3D screening of the latest Thor before it is out of theaters).  Based on the now classic storyline where Cap's former sidekick, Bucky, returns as a brainwashed assassin known as the Winter Soldier, expect tons of emotional turmoil for Cap this next time out, but isn't that what we want to see?  No one likes to watch a movie and not feel anything.  We already know with this being a Marvel film that it will be funny and that the action will be awesome, but if this film can deliver the emotion that I think it can, it could very well be the best movie of Marvel's Phase Two.  Plus, we're going to be getting Cap's sometimes partner, the Falcon, and what comic book fan ever thought we'd get that?
(In theaters April 4th)


3.  Interstellar
At this point, anytime that director Christopher Nolan is making a film, it is going to be highly anticipated.  He's just set the bar that high for himself, but I have a feeling that with Interstellar he'll manage to meet those lofty expectations.

In truth, I have been looking forward to this one ever since the days that it was announced as a directorial vehicle for Steven Spielberg.  Based on the theory of wormholes by physicist Kip Thorne, the script was initially written by Nolan's brother, Jonathan, and then when Spielberg dropped out, Christopher married Jonathan's script with an idea of his own and voila, we have the new and improved Interstellar.  All we really know about the film is that it's about astronauts who travel through a newly discovered wormhole to adventure farther into space than has ever been possible, but expect lots more character, drama, and thrills than just that.

For me, it is telling that the film features probably the biggest A-list cast I've ever seen for a science fiction movie, from Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Michael Caine, to Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, and many more.  This film is packed to the gills with talent.  Not to mention the fact that the script must be good for so many top notch actors to have signed on.  I know Nolan has made a name for himself, and that probably helped their signing, but I can't help but feel this is going to be something special.  Nolan has long been a fan of Stanley Kubrick, and has always mused about wanting to make his own 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Here's the difference between Kubrick and Nolan, though, Nolan grew up in the blockbuster era of the Seventies and Eighties.  Nolan loves to entertain and create emotion as much as he loves to provoke thought, which is why I am so pumped for Interstellar.
(In theaters November 7th)


2.  The Wind Rises
Hayao Miyazaki is the greatest director in animation history.  While there may be a few animation aficionados that will dispute that, most would agree.  Miyazaki's films are some of the most beautifully drawn, and yet detailed animated films of all-time, but it's always the stories that stick with you.  Like the animation itself, the stories are often beautiful, full of vibrant, detailed characters, and tons of emotion, so it's with a heavy heart that I write that The Wind Rises will be Miyazaki's last film as a director.

Having announced his retirement last Fall, Miyazaki, the director of such classics as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, is taking his final bow with The Wind Rises, one of his most divisive films he's ever made in his home country of Japan, but still the highest grossing film of 2013 there.  While this film is eligible for this year's Oscars, casual moviegoers wont be getting to see it till it is released by Disney in February, which is why it makes this list, because it is a 2014 film.

The Wind Rises is a marked departure for Miyazaki, and looks to show a maturity from him that has always been there in the cracks of his works, but is now front and center for his finale.  The film is a fictionalized biopic of one of Miyazaki's personal heroes, Jiro Horikoshi, an aircraft designer in early 1900's Japan who created the infamous zero fighter that was used in World War II, well known in America for being the plane used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It's always been known that Miyazaki is a fan of aviation, so expect sensational flying sequences, and there is also word of some dream sequences, so Miyazaki isn't completely abandoning the fantasy that he is known for, however, what makes Miyazaki's films magical is always the characters and the true emotions involved in their relationships.  This is what I am most excited about with this film, which is essentially a love letter to a man Miyazaki has always admired.

While some Americans may be wary of this film because Horikoshi created the zero fighter, the thing you have to remember is that Miyazaki is a pacifist, and word is that message rings loud and true throughout this film.  The film drew tons of ire from Japanese conservatives who felt that Miyazaki's film disrespected the history of Japan with this film's idea that Horikoshi was not wanting his aircraft to be used for destruction, he just wanted to create something beautiful.  In fact, it was Horikoshi's stating something to that effect in an interview that Miyazaki says inspired him to make The Wind Rises.  So for me, personally, I plan on strapping in for The Wind Rises when it hits theaters and be swept away by one of my favorite directors' final film.
(In theaters February 21st)


1.  X-Men: Days of Future Past
If there is a superhero film that could rival The Avengers in sheer audacity, it would be this one.  I don't think anyone would argue when I say that the X-Men franchise has had many ups and downs, with suspect continuity that rarely lines up from film to film, but X-Men: Days of Future Past looks to rectify all of that.  It's inspired by a comic book storyline of the same name, with the movie finding the X-Men from the original X-Men trilogy, led by Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Ian McKellen as Magneto, battling for survival in the near future.  The only way for the X-Men to make things right is by sending Wolverine's consciousness back in time to his Seventies' body to try and convince a young Professor X and Magneto, played James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender along with the rest of the First Class cast, to change the timeline and avoid the future that they are living in.

It's an ambitious film to say the least, but one that I am confident that the filmmakers can pull off.   With Bryan Singer, the director of the first two, and still best, X-Men films back, all bets are off.  Singer has been the only director to ever truly capture the right tone and feel of the comics, while still retaining a sense of fun, and I expect nothing different here.  With probably the biggest A-list cast in superhero movie history, from Halle Berry to Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page, and so many more, this film is full of talent bringing our favorite mutants to life.  Not to mention the fact that we're finally going to see sentinels, the giant, government commissioned, mutant hunting robots that have been the bane of the X-Men's existence in the comics for decades.  Plus, that teased scene of a young Professor X meeting his older counterpart really sends shivers down my spine whenever I see it in the trailer.
(In theaters May 23rd)


And that's that, feel free to share your own thoughts about what you are looking forward to this year in the comments below.

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