My Favorite Movies of 2014

The last entry in my series looking back at my favorite stuff from 2014… I’ve tackled books and video games, and today is movies!

Biggest Disappointments

Before we dive into the stuff I loved, let me spill some pixels on the stuff that left me a bit cold.

Spider-Man 2

I probably should’ve seen this coming. I like Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man – he fits the wise-cracking side of the web-slinger better than Tobey McGuire ever did – but the movie on the whole is a turd. There are too many plots and here we go again with 3 villains (really, why did they need to bother bringing in the Rhino?). Spider-Man was my favorite superhero growing up but I can’t really say that any more, and movies like this are a big reason why. Not Spidey’s fault, but his fingerprints are on the knife.

Mockingjay: Part 1

After the action-laced previews, I expected something a bit more… actiony. What we get instead is all setup. Yeah, this is Part 1, but Harry Potter 7A did a much better job. We spend the bulk of this movie watching Katniss make a commercial. It’s all propaganda and counter-propaganda, literally he-said versus she-said. And that’s all fine and interesting, but I was expected something else. Nowhere close to the quality of Catching Fire.

22 Jump Street

I kinda expected this wouldn’t be more then the customary cash-in sequel, but even so, the freshness and fun of 21 Jump Street had me hoping for more. Not awful, but not that funny, which is fairly damning praise for a comedy.

The Hobbits (yes, all of them)

The-HobbitPeter Jackson, what have you done to my precious? You took a wonderful book and bloated it with ancillary material and crap you straight made-up, all in the name of stretching the thin novel into 3 long movies because money. Worst of all, you took a big dump on the redemption of Thorin by watering it down into a dwarfo-a-orco battle with meaningless stakes.

One thing that can be said: Jackson still knows how to shoot a battle scene. Too bad we don’t care about the principles, or why they’re there (aside from Bilbo, thanks Martin Freeman!). There are some stellar, soaring scenes in these movies (riddles in the dark, Smaug, the dwarves singing The Misty Mountains Cold), but they are weighted down with all this excess baggage. Looking forward to buying the trilogy and recutting it into the 3-hour movie it should’ve been in the first place, absent Legolas, forbidden dwarf-on-elf love affairs, and albino orcs.

My Favorite Flicks of 2014

10) Rush

I have no interest in either NASCAR or F1 racing, but this drama about two F1 racing car drivers in the 70’s got me. One of those ‘based on a true story’ movies that made me go out and research the real thing. The postscript at the film’s end recapping the following years is both inevitable and incredibly sad.

9) The Lego Movie

I went into this expecting just another kid’s movie but was pleasantly surprised. Fun in the purest sense. As a father with toys of his own, the meta-story of Mr. Business hit close to home.

the_lego_movie

8) Non Stop

Intense thriller that keeps you guessing the entire time. The only thing keeping this movie from moving up my list: the villain and his lame motives.

7) Lone Survivor

The war scenes are right up there with Saving Private Ryan. There isn’t much of a let-up once  the bullets start flying. Intense. The screenwriters try to work in some character development in the movie’s quiet moments, but it isn’t super effective. When the good guys inevitably start falling off one-by-one (not a spoiler, look at the movie’s title), you don’t really care. Which is horrible considering this is based on a true story. The gut-punch comes at the end, when you see pictures of who these guys really were.

6) Mud

Maybe my True Detective buzz hadn’t worn off, but McConaughey is simply magnetic in this flick about a drifter with unknown motives who enlists a pair of young boys to help him reunite with an old love. Intense coming of age story and effective character drama.

edgeoftomorrow5) The Edge of Tomorrow

I went in expecting a sci-fi movie with Tom Cruise, mech suits, and aliens. I got that, and a whole lot of laughs. The humor comes in spades, is fitting, and well-earned. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, playing something like Groundhog’s Day crossed with The Matrix. Flawless film, up til the final 15 minutes when a nonsensical ending ruins an otherwise perfect movie.

4) Big Hero 6

My favorite animated movie since Wreck-It Ralph, and possibly my favorite animated flick of all-time, right up there with The Incredibles, Toy Story, and Up. Bay Max is the heart of the movie, endearing and irresistible, like Wall-E but better. The villain is menacing, with true motivations. Dark at times and light at others, funny and packed with action. Can’t wait to see this again.

3) Guardians of the Galaxy

I suspect this movie would be higher on my list if not for a sub-optimal initial (and only, to this point) viewing. The theater was packed and the sound was low, which meant I missed a bunch of punchlines. Otherwise, this may have been my #1 movie. It checks all my boxes: lovable scoundrels, Star Wars-esque dogfights, three-dimensional superheroes, laughs and lots of action.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-milano

Chris Pratt kills it as Star-Lord, and Rocket Raccoon is pretty B.A. But much like Bay Max, the simple-minded Groot is the heart of the film. And the movie has heart in spades: I choked up at least twice. The biggest surprise though is Drax the Destroyer. Hilarious.

The soundtrack has to be mentioned too. Simply perfect. I went out and got it!

2) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Now this is a Captain America movie! There’s so much I love about this movie: simple things like him keeping a list of things he missed and should check-out; how he continually laps a fellow jogger during the initial credits; visiting the museum to see his old (and, presumably, dead) friends.

The action is on-point. There are so many amazing set pieces. I love the raid on the freighter: when Captain hits in this movie, dudes feel it, going flying in all directions. That elevator scene, and his subsequent escape. The Nick Fury ambush – I love that Fury got to be something other than a cloaked figure in this movie.

The relationship with Black Widow was deftly done. Although you know there’s nothing going on there, their chemistry leaves you to wonder, ‘what if’? It’s an effective pairing.

There is cloak & dagger stuff, but it’s JV level. It’s no surprise to anyone who the villain is when he’s unveiled. But that doesn’t lessen the fun. I’m anxious to see what happens next, in Avengers 2, now that SHIELD is no more. Hail Hydra!

1) Days of Future Past

In the 90’s, I used to love watching the X-Men cartoon. A big part of that was the Sentinels: giant purple robots that hunted mutants. So I was beyond my mind to find out we were finally getting Sentinels in an X-Men movie, and they don’t disappoint at all. These Sentinels are to be feared, and against them the X-Men stand no chance.

The time-travel device is used effectively to unite the casts of the older X-Men flicks with that of First Class, giving us Wolverine side-by-side with the younger versions of Magneto & Professor X. I love the 70’s vibe, the fact that Charles is a drug-addled loser, that Mystique is out doing dirt. Quicksilver gets little better than a cameo but has the movie’s best scene. And Magneto – you so want him to be a good guy, but he’s uncompromising. Even when working with Charles & Logan, you know he’s just playing for time.

x-men-days-futureIn the final act, the movie does a great job of cutting between the X-Men’s heroic last stand in the future, while Wolverine & Co. fight in the past for the future. And when that future is saved, we see the sins of X:3 undone, as Jean Grey and Cyclops walk the halls of the mansion again. My only question: does that mean Wolverine still has the lame bone claws, being that he never fell into the clutches of Stryker?

 

Honorable Mention

These are movies I really enjoyed, but they weren’t quite good enough to make my top movies, or something held them back.

Bad Words

Hilarious at times but sobering at others. Makes the most of a ridiculous premise.

Chef

Fun little indie flick. Funny moments and generally a cute little movie. The father-son relationship is the heart of the story, and it works.

snowpiercerSnowpiercer

Super interesting premise and world-building. Great visceral action. But there is a ribbon of trippyness running through the film which is glaring and unwelcome when it pops up (Tilda Swinton).

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