And here's my usual disclaimers -
I'm a big fan of movies, less so of films. Confused? Don't be - read the first two paragraphs of this.
Also, I don't get out much.
All caught up? Good. Here we go.
First off, the runners up - in no particular order, movies I enjoyed and would recommend.
Big Hero 6
Utterly charming and inventive. Another winner from Disney Animation. Loved discovering a new world with new characters, and plenty of heart to go with it. A must watch again.
Great stop motion animation that I enjoyed more than this studios past two efforts of 'Coraline' and 'Para-Norman'. Especially I love the villain, whose predicament I won't spoil, but suffice it to say it is a most ingeniously devised paradox that motivates his 'evil' doings. Be sure to watch the credits, probably the best tag I've ever seen.
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The first one is one of my all time favorite movies ever, so this one couldn't possibly hope to reach it's heights - and indeed, it didn't. Still, I was surprised at how good it was. Structurally, it has problems - most notably is the ham-handed way it brings in Hiccup's mom. That and the fact that they revealed this in all the trailers and ads, which is ABSOLUTELY inexcusable. This blunder means that this sequel isn't as powerful as it should have been. I also had issues with Stoic's departure, again - it just seemed clumsy although it was heartfelt and worked to the extent that we are already invested in these characters from the first film.
Pretty derivative of the Hunger Games, which in turn is derivative of a ton of dystopian future stories - but Divergent also stands on it's own as an engaging and at times emotionally resonant comment on the human psyche and the ideal of human sovereignty. Plus the lead actress is hot.
This is by far the best iteration of this story I've ever seen - and though it lags in the middle considerably, I'm still glad I got to see this on the big screen. Not nearly enough of the big green guy on camera leaves us wanting more, and that's not an entirely bad thing. I really wish though, that the rest of the film were as powerful as the opening sequence with Brian Cranston and his wife.
Amazing Spider-Man 2
Yet another example of too little too late to be hailed as a great super hero movie. The Disney MCU movies are simply too strong. This one has all the earmarks of a classic, yet we still can't shake that feeling that we've seen all of this before and seen it done better. But there are parts of this story that do absolutely soar. I am probably the only one who really liked Jamie Foxx's Electro. I also really enjoyed the Parker/Gwen Stacy romance quite a bit, and though the culmination of the arc is badly rushed, the aftermath is the best part of the movie. I also freely admit, I got pretty choked up with that little kid at the end.
I did not expect to enjoy this one as much as I did. I dug it so much that I actually watched it twice. I love historically accurate WWII movies, and I especially appreciated this one's tribute to the human spirit. After watching the movie I read quite a bit about the protagonist, and then found myself wishing that they had showed us the second half of this remarkable man's life. I could have easily gone for the rest of his amazing journey.
We finally got around to seeing this, and I must say my incredibly low expectations helped me enjoy this quite a bit. It takes a while to get there, but the ending really does pay off and is very powerful on an emotional and spiritual level. I felt it was well worth my time. Others, especially more literal minded Bible folks and those who have a problem with the director being an atheist, may be slower to find inspiration here.
Edge of Tomorrow
Despite this reminding me very much of two other movies I love, Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers, I still had a blast with this one. Very dense movie and whip smart in it's story construction and character development - even though the only characters of any depth are Cruise and Blunt.
Dumb and Dumber To
Honestly I get a good laugh from all the pompous critics and nerd naysayers who poo-poohed this very worthy follow up, 20 years later. I mean really, people act like the original is some amazing work of art and this sequel pales in comparison. Um, it's 'Dumb and Dumber' people, Shakespeare it ain't. My 10 year old girl and I had a great time with this one, both of us at one time or another were in fits with tears of laughter streaming down our cheeks. It's brash, it's bold, it's stupid. It's extremely funny and more than a little bit subversive.
Transformers: Age of Exhaustion
This one is a lot of fun, but it is also a big bloated mess. Interesting to me is how Michael Bay, who is a true film auteur in every sense of the word, cast this latest installment with big name Chinese actors in small roles and parlayed the movie into a billion dollar earning behemoth. A very sharp and many would say very cynical way to make a movie. I still got a kick out of it - even though there were plenty of parts that dragged and in the end the movie feels like every bit of it's overlong running time.
I also enjoyed Grand Budapest Hotel, it was probably the least irritating Wes Anderson movie I've ever seen. Also, also, I just saw 'Wild' with Reese Whitherspoon and I was shocked to find that I really dug it. Very moving, despite the lead character being every bit the dummy with her life choices. Somehow, Reese is so likable that it all works. I somehow felt sympathy for her foolishness and sinfulness, and reflected on my own as well.
Okay, so here's my top ten movies of 2014. I still really want to see 'Imitation Game', 'Whiplash' and 'Bird Man' as well as a few others, but at this moment in time, this is what it is.
Believe me, no one is more shocked than I am that this movie turned out so well. Angelena Jolie is just so strong in this role that she elevates the material entire. A very touching fairy tale and family film that at it's core has real heart ache and hope. Like the best Disney stuff, this movie explores both the divine and the profane, and with a magnificent production design and serviceable direction, manages to be more than just fluff.
One of two GREAT war movies this year. There is moral ambiguity in war, even in the 'good' ones, and 'Fury' doesn't shy away from this in the least. The action set piece is a tank to tank battle that is an amazing technical feat of practical effects, editing and sound manipulation - but the heart of the film is the scene in the apartment with the two young women. Both enthralling and disquieting in the extreme.
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
Hey, I love superhero movies, what can I say. Brian Singer returns to form and basically fixes everything that was wrong with X3. Yes, I know he didn't direct that one, but I'm glad he came back and righted the ship with a story that moves fast and is driven by character arcs that are both emotionally resonant and satisfying. Plus the action kicks ass. More Quicksilver please!
7. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
This is probably the strongest of the three Hobbit flicks, and not just because some dwarves finally get killed off. It is leaner and meaner than the previous installments, but it is also (like Return of the King) a payoff for our investment. All the big action, all the big set pieces, all of the conclusions are here. Most satisfying is the fabricated character of Tauriel and her doomed love; but Bilbo's story is also fulfilling. I confess I am a bit mystified by all the hate in Nerdworld that these movies have gotten, very reminiscent of the Star Wars prequel trolls; but whatever. It's Middle Earth for crying out loud, and I for one am very glad I got to go on the journey.
An original (enough) story that is R rated and whip smart and stars my favorite Black Widow, what's not to love? This is classic Besson and highly watchable in the very best tradition of R rated1980's popcorn fun. Terminator, Road Warrior, Aliens, etc. Now we have Lucy, and she is rather bad ass.
5. The LEGO Movie
Preposterous is the word that pops into my head when I remember that this movie did NOT get an Oscar nom for best animated feature. That bullshit aside, The LEGO Movie is a hell of a lot of fun, and carries with it the genius premise that this all emanates from the mind of a child - and really, every aspect of the story does seem to organically flow from such a boundless imagination.
4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Loved the first one and love this one just as much. It's about as grim as it gets for a popcorn movie, but I am fascinated with most well done apocalyptic movies - and this is no exception. Especially great is the effects work, these are all entirely digital creatures. It is in fact, mostly an animated movie; but the real power of the film comes from a great story and great actors, even those who are motion captured. The Blu-Ray has an exhaustive set of documentaries that show just how much of the actors performances are utilized in the final product. I was shocked to find out that it is nearly all of it. Can't wait for the next episode.
3. American Sniper
Right up there with 'Zero Dark 30' and 'Lone Survivor' as GREAT war movies about our country's latest conflicts. Chris Kyle is an American Hero and this movie shows that and more, dealing honestly with his sins as well as his sacrifices. I'm a bit surprised that the far left has been so vitriolic in it's condemnation of this as a jingoistic snuff film, but most Americans who watch this - no matter their political persuasion, can plainly see that it is not that. It is simply a brutally honest picture of war and war is ugly. Granted, the simple truth is that far and away most of the ugliness comes from radical Islam - and that is probably what rankles coo-coo birds like Michael Moore. They hate America so much, that when the facts of our war on terror are laid bare so effectively, they can't help themselves from lashing out against Kyle and the US Military at large. Well I say fuck them.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Oh hells yes. Disney's MCU it seems can do no wrong. This is a tight and taught spy thriller from the 70's wrapped up in a 2014 package of awesome production design and stunt work with practical and CG effects so seamlessly blended it really is amazing. There is a lot going on here in a fantastic story structure bursting at the seems with action - but my favorite moments are the quiet ones between Cap and Tasha. A grown up relationship of respect and care in a comic book movie is a very satisfying thing to behold. Redford is great. The Falcon is great. Everything works. It is both grounded and fantastical, dire and exhilarating. CAWS is truly something else, my favorite Marvel movie since the Avengers. I didn't think it could be topped until...
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
My number one pick is always based on one thing - which of all of these flicks is the one I would have with me on a deserted island and watch over and over again. This year the choice was easy. GOTG soars like no other. It's a space opera, it's fun, it's amaze balls. Love all the characters, especially Drax. Again, Marvel does the boy girl thing really well - Gamora and Quill's attraction is believable and natural, it doesn't feel forced or rushed at all. But there's also so much more to love in this movie; I have said it before on Facebook and I'll say it here - this one is this generation's Star Wars, Raiders, take your pick. This one is one for the ages.
So there it is. A lot of fun stuff in 2014. Yes I'm a Marvel movie nerd in the grip of a full fever, but I'm okay with that. Very much looking forward to Avengers 2 and what lies beyond. Also can't wait to see Kingsman soon!