Saturday, January 3, 2015

Top 10 Films of 2014

What more can be said about 2014?  It was a so-so year of moviemaking, but as with even the worst years of moviemaking, there is still always movies worth remembering and 2014 was no exception on that front.  These 10 movies listed below are the movies that I feel best represent what 2014 was all about.  Now, let me clarify first and foremost...  When I rank these films, I am ranking them not based purely on how well made they are on a technical level, but also on how much they entertained or moved me and how likely I am to rewatch the movie again.  It's a delicate three-way balance that dictates the positioning on any list counting down my favorite whatever.  Having said all of that, these were my 10 Favorite Movies of 2014!


10.  Guardians of the Galaxy
(Last Year:  Ender's Game)
Everyone thought that Marvel was going to fall flat on their face in adapting this more obscure comic book from their vast universe, and guess what, they proved all of the naysayers wrong yet again.  Guardians of the Galaxy was such a huge hit because it was cool, funny, and surprisingly emotional.  From the exquisitely chosen music for the soundtrack to the quips from Star-Lord and his gang, I don't think there was another single movie from 2014 that was this much fun.  I think that's why this film was so popular, because it is not the best of the Marvel movies.  The villain was bland (Ronan was poorly used) and the camaraderie of the team felt forced, and yet no one cared, because the movie made you have a good time.  I don't think you can watch this movie and not have a smile on your face by the end of it.

9.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
(Last Year:  Captain Phillips)
When director Francis Lawrence came onboard for Catching Fire, he really found the right groove for this franchise, and he proved that yet again with Mockingjay - Part 1.  It's always important to have a director who understands the source material when adapting a book, and Francis Lawrence does, but not only that, he also is a cinematic maestro who knows how to create emotionally charged movie moments.  The cast was stronger than ever with this particular installment and the tension was just as high.  While some criticized the slower pace and the lack of action, Mockingjay - Part 1 is just that, the first part in a two part story.  While it feels incomplete right now, I can't wait to watch Part 1 & 2 back-to-back, because I feel when they can be seen in sequence like that, everything that I love about Part 1 will become even more apparent to everyone else.

8.  Robocop
(Last Year:  Jack the Giant Slayer)
Chalk this movie up as the biggest surprise of the year for me.  I had never seen the original Robocop before, so perhaps that helped me in my viewing of this remake, but that also left me in a place of indifference toward the movie before its release.  Why should I care about the remake of a movie I've never really had much of a desire to see?  In short, it's the heart that director Jose Padilla managed to inject into the proceedings.  I actually cared for the characters in this film, I pitied them and rooted for them, and that's a necessity for a film like this that could easily have been more of a moral lesson than anything else.  The thing that I loved the most was the idea that no matter how much technology gets integrated into our lives (and in the case of Robocop, our bodies), our humanity will still always win out in the end.  Plus, Michael Keaton was crazy awesome as the villain.

7.  How to Train Your Dragon 2
(Last Year:  Thor: The Dark World)
I absolutely adore the first How to Train Your Dragon, and in truth there was no way that the second one could ever live up to it, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 comes awfully close.  The main thing that I love about this movie is that they do not try to repeat the first movie.  The characters are older, the story is slightly more mature in tone, and the stakes are even higher.  I said it after I first saw the movie, seeing this movie is how I feel people must have felt seeing The Empire Strikes Back for the first time.  It's noticeably the same universe as the first film, but it's not the same old, same old, because like life, you cannot stay in the same place forever, you must grow, and that's what happened here.  This is a much more grown up film than How to Train Your Dragon, but writer/director Dean DeBlois manages to keep the humor in the midst of all of the life-and-death stakes, while also delivering some gut wrenching emotion and death defying action and adventure.  This is almost the perfect blueprint for a blockbuster sequel, and it's one that a lot of film franchises should try and dissect.

6.  X-Men: Days of Future Past
(Last Year:  Star Trek Into Darkness)
The X-Men franchise finally returned to form with this latest installment that worked as a prequel, a sequel, and a reboot, all wrapped into one nice, tidy package.  Days of Future Past almost looked as if it had bit off more than it could chew by trying to tell a story set in two different timelines with the original cast of X-Men and the cast from First Class, alas director Bryan Singer managed to keep it all together, and in the process made me actually excited for new X-Men movies again.  The time travel aspect of the story was expertly handled, with the idea that the changes Wolverine makes in the past not affecting the future until he returns to the future, being the best explanation a movie has ever come up with for the cross cutting of action between the past and the future.  While this installment was lighter on action, it made up for it in big emotional, fan service moments, such as seeing two generations of Professor Xavier, James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart, share a scene together.  This was a surprisingly emotional film that had me giddy when I saw Cyclops alive at the end.  With Bryan Singer firmly back in the director's chair for these films, X-Men is now back on track, and with Days of Future Past having corrected the wrongs of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it wiped the slate clean for the First Class cast and literally anything can happen now.

5.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
(Last Year:  Rush)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a good movie, its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is a great movie.  When I first reviewed this movie, I said this was the kind of film that I go to the movies to see, and I stand by that statement.  Director Matt Reeves just seems to have had so much confidence with this material.  This was one of those rare Summer blockbusters that seemed as if genuine thought had been put into every single thing you see onscreen, because while this movie does feature war between humans and intelligent apes, it's not really about that.  The thing that makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes such an emotional movie is the thematic idea at the heart of this film, that there is good and evil on every side, ape and man.  It's this simple idea that really drives the whole story and it's an idea that I think is very important to always remember for our real world.

4.  Belle
(Last Year:  Monsters University)
I am admitting it, I have a weakness for the period costume drama.  There's something about these powdered wig, corset movies that just feels like everything I think of when I think of a movie, however while Belle falls into this category, it also manages to transcend it by just being a good movie in general.  Belle tells the story of a mulatto gentlewoman in 1779 England named Dido.  She is the niece of the Chief Lord Justice, who is currently deliberating over an important case that could bring about the end of the slave trade, all the while Dido is fighting the constraints placed upon her in society by having wealth but being of mixed race.  It would be easy to boil this movie down as a romance film, and while there is a romance at the core of this movie, this is also simply a movie about the restraints society places upon us in all of our everyday lives.  You can't say this, you can't do that.  Every character, even Dido's white cousin finds herself trapped between a rock and a hard place upon realizing that no one wants to marry her because her father left her no dowry.  In short, while you could call this a movie about racial equality, I think this movie is more for everyone who often feels as if they cannot say or do what they actually think or feel.  We're all human and we all have more in us than others realize, that's what I got from this movie.

3.  Unbroken
(Last Year:  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)
Being completely honest, I was not expecting to like Unbroken as much as I did when I saw it.  I am usually skeptical when an actor tries to direct, but Angelina Jolie proved with Unbroken that she's as good as any other.  The thing that moved me the most about Unbroken is the simple fact that Louis Zamperini went through some of the most challenging things any human could go through and he managed to come out the other side and live a full life.  Other critics may call Unbroken schmaltzy, sentimental, or safe, but I don't.  It's daring to make an emotionally honest film like this.  Bottom line, if it didn't make these critics actually feel uncomfortably human, they probably wouldn't be saying these things.  I think this is a movie that everyone should experience because this truly is the kind of movie that should win Oscars (though critical backlash wont let that happen).  Regardless as to whether or not Unbroken finds favor with others, I've found myself continually remembering the line from the movie, "If I can take it, I can make it."  That simple line I think sums up the whole movie for me and is one that I think everyone could live by.

2.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier
(Last Year:  Saving Mr. Banks)
With Guardians of the Galaxy being the newest kid on the Marvel block, I feel like Captain America: The Winter Soldier has gotten a little overlooked in hindsight.  While Cap doesn't harbor as much humor as Guardians does, the film more than makes up for it in good old-fashioned action moviemaking, marking Captain America: The Winter Soldier the best Marvel film aside from The Avengers.  Few movies are good enough to remind me why I love superheroes and comic books, but Marvel Studios manages to continue doing that, and a large part of that is owed to the casting.  Chris Evans is Captain America, as a matter of fact, I love him so much in the role that I would literally follow his Cap anywhere they choose to take him on film.  While you get a lot of snark with Iron Man, and you get the epic scope with Thor, with Cap you get the classic hero.  He's black-and-white, he's the ultimate good guy who does what is always right, even if the right thing is the hardest thing to do in such a morally gray world.  At the end of the day, that is the core question of Captain America: The Winter Soldier:  How can Cap come to modern day and continue to do the right thing?  I think this movie answers that question while continually delivering great thrills, awesome one-liners, an emotional story that rocks Cap to his core, and most importantly, fun.  There are too many blockbusters nowadays trying so hard to be taken seriously that they forget to have fun.  Thank goodness Marvel hasn't.

1.  The Wind Rises
(Last Year:  Gravity)
Sure, this was nominated for an Academy Award last year but it did not get released in theaters till February of this year, so it's a 2014 film.  This movie just succeeded for me on every level that I want a good movie to succeed.  It was entertaining, it moved me, it was expertly crafted and superbly animated, and I also have already rewatched it a couple of times and will continue to do so.  Japanese animator, Hayao Miyazaki, just knows how to craft timeless films.  This is a movie that could have been made fifty years ago and been the same movie, and more times than not, those are my favorite kinds of movies.

Loosely detailing the life of World War II Japanese aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi, Miyazaki has made yet another masterpiece that is probably his most personal work to date.  It is hard not to find parallels between Jiro, the character, and Miyazaki, the director.  The two share similar pacifistic views on war and violence, while also both harboring a deep seated affection for their work.  I think that's why I like The Wind Rises so much, because I ordinarily am opposed to filmmakers twisting real events to make a story that is partly true but mostly fiction.  This movie is probably the closest the world will ever come to actually knowing Miyazaki himself, and that's why I cherish this movie so much as a huge fan of Miyazaki's work.  He is the most unique filmmaker to ever live in my opinion, and The Wind Rises is a fitting finale to an exceptional career.  While he has said he is retiring before, I really do think he means it this time, so enjoy his most realistic and romantic film that he's ever made.

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