Originally published at Cinema Knife Fight, January 26, 2015.
I’m always surprised how many new movies I have seen the prior year when compiling this list. I enjoyed quite a lot of them (though a few more were disappointments), but I have to choose only a dozen (I know, supposed to be 10 but this is my concession). Half are genre films, half not. There were some 2014 movies I haven’t been able to see yet, like UNBROKEN, BEGIN AGAIN, LIFE ITSELF and BOYHOOD, which I am pretty sure would be contenders for my top list if I’d seem them. Alas, these will be viewings sometime this year.
To the list of my top films of 2014.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: As soon as I saw the trailers for this I knew it would be good. I went into it with this expectation, and it still was good. More than good, the most enjoyable genre film of 2014, in my opinion. (I say “genre film” to encompass sci-fi, fantasy and/or horror.) Chris Pratt and company rock this story beginning to end, with elements for the adults and the kids.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER: I was disappointed a few years back with the first Cap movie, probably because it spent 90% of the film on the origin story and only 10% on Captain America’s number one villain of all time, The Red Skull. But WINTER SOLDIER started with a bang and never let up. Good acting, many twists and turns. Easily the best of the plethora of superhero movies so far (aside from, perhaps, THE AVENGERS, 2013).
GODZILLA: This was not quite what I expected, making Godzilla more of good guy than the evil Gaiju he originally started out as fifty-plus years ago, but most of the dozens of Godzilla films since the original dealt with the flame-mouthed quasi-dinosaur arriving to do battle with other fearsome beasties from beyond. The monsters were larger than life and scary in this one. I watched the 3D version only because our tickets were free, but I’m glad we did. A monstrous visual feast this was.
EDGE OF TOMORROW (or as it is titled now, LIVE. DIE. REPEAT): since they must have had someone complain the theatrical title sounded like an old soap opera). Tom Cruise back in the saddle in another apocalyptic science fiction film, this time with a time travel kick. A fun movie that didn’t end up eating its own tail like many other time-related sci-fi flicks end up doing.
SNOWPIERCER: This Chris Evans-starring sleeper deals with the end of the world and a train containing the last human survivors traveling WAY too fast around the world (for safety’s sake) after the earth gets frozen over. The effects were decent, but secondary to the story of class and repression. Fast paced and cleverly done all around.
INTERSTELLER: Visually this story was all it promised to be – and it makes it to this list almost for that alone, though the story is pretty clever. No CGI was used, or very, very little, which adds a whole other dimension to this tale of space travel, wormholes and the always-questionable theory of relativity (in my opinion). It almost didn’t make the list for the overall message the movie left us with, but I suppose even existentialists need a movie of their own.
THE LEGO MOVIE: Adventures with Lego characters trying to save their small little world. Fun, fun, movie, and very funny. Not sure if it’ll be funnier for adults or kids. I laughed, a lot.
On to the list of non-genre films:
FURY: This was a beautiful, powerful film dealing with a table crew in World War 2. The acting, sound, cinematography was exceptional, painting the dark, claustrophobic world inside a tank. The story was pretty normal, no major surprises, but I left there feeling I’d seen an awesome motion picture. Because I had.
BROADCHURCH (TV Series): I began watching this on Amazon mostly to see former Doctor Who David Tenant in a different kind of role, and over a few months I found time to sit down and really savor this 8-episode series about the investigation of a young boy’s murder in a small British seaside town. I fell in love with the characters, the writing, filming, and the soundtrack which was as much a character as any other. Sad, sometimes melancholic, it’s such a perfect example of how to do television right. Watch with subtitles on, though.
LOCKE: Tom Hardy alone, in a car driving to visit—well, that’s part of the story that unfolds over time—conversing via his hands-free cell phone with a cast so talented they make you forget only their voices appear on film. Hardy has such a powerful, intense presence on the screen he is able to carry the film, which is shot in real time as he drives. The trailer implies it’s a suspense movie. It’s not. It’s a very touching, human story of a good man who made one mistake and is simply trying to rectify it the only way he knows how—honestly, and directly. I had to watch it with subtitles because Hardy’s Scottish accent is sometimes hard to follow.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: This is a surreal and silly film by surreal and silly filmmaker Wes Anderson (MOONRISE KINGDOM, 2012, THE ROYAL TENANBAUMS, 2001). It’s unique, smart, and very, very funny. Slapstick is not easy to carry through an entire film, but when done right, it can be a riot to watch. I laughed a LOT watching this movie, which should be all the kudos it needs.
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS: There were so many other films vying for this final spot, but in the end I gave it to Ridley Scott for making a well-balanced biblical epic surrounding Moses and his “brother” Ramses, and their conflict over Moses’s sudden devotion to God and his heritage. Exodus tells the story of Moses leading the Israelites to freedom from slavery. Early on, it felt like the filmmakers were relegating God to the background ala NOAH (2014), but no, God (in the form of a boy who looked frighteningly like Carl from THE WALKING DEAD TV series) steps in and kicks Pharaoh’s butt. Moses was morphed more into action hero as expected, but I enjoyed Christian Bale’s performance throughout.
Quickly, a few honorable mentions who didn’t make the above list solely for space reasons: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, WILD, JODOROWSKY’S DUNE, THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 and X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. Special kudos to HEAVEN IS FOR REAL and GOD’S NOT DEAD mostly because they got made and hit the theaters. Hey, if the existentialists get to have movies, so do us Christians. Granted, GOD’S NOT DEAD wasn’t a very good film, especially around the editing, but it was decent enough with a good message (not counting the glaringly obvious one: “buy more Newsboys albums”).
OK, that’s it. Time to wait for the Oscar Best Picture nominees and start hitting the theaters in earnest for those I haven’t yet seen. Here’s to an exciting 2015 at the movies….