2014 in review

This year’s top ten was slightly easier than years in the past because I had a very clear idea of what the ten movies would be. Ordering them was a whole different chore, and took just as much time as it did for me to decide on a top ten in the past. I didn’t get to see some films that I wanted to see, which turned out to good in some cases (The Fault in Our Stars) and bad in others (The Lego Movie). But those I’d did pay money to see were at least worth the price of admission.

As per usual, this list is of my favorite films of 2014, not the movies I thought were the best from a technical standpoint. I’m sure you will disagree with some of these, so I’d like to hear from you in the comments.

10. Veronica Mars

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FULL DISCLOSURE: I was one of this film’s backers on Kickstarter. Now that’s out of the way, we can move on.

Veronica Mars is one of my favorite characters on television, so when a movie was announced I was more than excited. The film itself was exactly what a fan of the show would have wanted, but sadly wasn’t as good as it could have been. It was too much fan service, and to someone like me that’s great, but for the normal movie goers it was just an average movie.

For my full thought on the movie you can read my review and my post on why I Kickstarted the project.

9. X-Men: Days of Future Past

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After the pile of garbage that was X-Men: The Last Stand, there was no guarantee that we’d ever see the actors from the original trilogy again. But with the surprising quality and success of First Class, it was only right that they find a way to integrate those character back in so that everyone could be cleansed from that final film.

One of my only disappointments with the movie was that they changed the lead from Kitty Pryde to Wolverine because I guess it’s in Hugh Jackman’s contract. Also I’m a huge Ellen Page fan, so that may have clouded my judgment, too. The story itself is interesting, but not all that memorable. The performances of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, once again, catapult an okay film to a must watch for fans of the comic. I’m personally glad that we can now forget about The Last Stand in the same way we never speak of Rocky V.

8. Godzilla

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An Olsen can act?! I didn’t believe it myself until I saw Elizabeth’s performance in Godzilla. There is very little that I recall immediately about the movie, but Olsen’s performance is definitely one of them. She has the unenviable job of being the human connection in a monster movie.

What Godzilla does differently than most of the previous films in the genre is make us care about the whole movie, not just the giant monster fight. Limiting the on-screen time of Godzilla, and the other creatures, allows for their reveal to be that much more memorable. And when they finally do fight, it is seen from the humans’ perspective, which makes it look less like a video game. Godzilla is by far my surprise of the year.

7. Birdman

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I really have no idea what to think about the movie. I think I liked it, but I know I hated parts of it, especially the ending. Yet, it makes this list because the performances were far too good to ignore. If Michael Keaton isn’t at least nominated for an Oscar, it will be the biggest snub in a long time.

Keaton is brilliant as a former famous actor who was best known for playing a superhero (sound familiar). Ed Norton is at his jackassiest as an actor who just does it for the art, and Norton reminds us how good of an actor he can be when he cares. While this isn’t Emma Stone’s best performance, her monologue about halfway through the movie is one of my favorite moments of the year. Despite its shortcomings, Birdman’s performances alone are worth the price of admission and after you see it, you can decide whether or not you liked the actual movie.

6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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The earlier release of this movie – compared to four of the five ahead of it – is the only reason it is not in the top five. Its major triumph is that it makes you feel for the apes, which is something the original films did not. Everything that happens throughout the movie comes from a very realistic place and never tries to tell the audience which side is right.

While it doesn’t have the powerful moment of Caesar’s first words in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it does find a way to make the audience feel just about every emotion possible during its runtime. Dawn and Rise are two of the best examples of why grounding a high concept idea can turn it into something extraordinary.

5. Foxcatcher

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This was one of my most anticipated films of the year because it was based on a local news story that I had a fuzzy memory about. Steve Carell is brilliant as the slightly off heir to one of the richest families in America, John E. Du Pont. The film is a slow burn as it focuses mostly on three relationships: Mark Schultz and Du Pont, Schultz and his older brother Dave and the dynamic between the three of them.

It is very much a character focused piece and focuses on a small period of time between 1987 and 1988. Each actor Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz and Carell as Du Pont were spectacular in the moments that they were called upon to carry a scene. The only negative is the ending jumps ahead eight years and never alludes to why Du Pont did what he did. For those not familiar with the true story, this detail is inconsequential, but for those of us that remember the two-day standoff with police, this is a glaring omission and a missed opportunity for Carell.

4. Captain America: Winter Solider

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I remember a time when comic book movies were geared toward children, and even when they weren’t, they stuck too close to the comic to be anything but laughable. Thankfully, in the last few years this trend has gone in the other direction and Captain America: Winter Solider was another step forward for the genre.

The idea of taking a character such as Captain America and grounding his story in as much reality as you can is a harder task than one would think. But in Winter Solider, they find a way to make the movie feel more like a spy movie in the vein of a James Bond film than a comic book adaptation, while still allowing it to feel like a comic book. Chris Evans once again is the perfect Cap and a larger role by Scarlett Johansson doesn’t hurt. It does the best job so far of setting up Avengers 2.

 

Before we go to the top three, I would like to point out that their order has changed on a regular basis and was only locked in because the deadline for posting this was coming up, so these three are very close from my perspective and much, much better than the seven before.

3. Gone Girl

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This movie. It was my most anticipated non-sequel of the year, and it didn’t disappoint. There’s not much I can say about it really, except go see it. Ben Affelck is great, Rosamund Pike is even better; hell the whole cast is amazing in their own ways. It is the biggest mindfuck of a movie that I’ve seen in a long time and definitely deserves some Oscar gold.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

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This was the first successful example of creating a funny comic book movie without it feeling too cheesy. I don’t know how much of this is because of the casting selections or the ability of writer/director James Gunn, who is well-known for comedic filmmaking.

The breakout star of the film is Chris Pratt, who went from fourth star of an NBC sitcom to the next action star in Hollywood. He is beyond perfect for the role of Peter Quill; much like Robert Downey Jr. was as Tony Stark before him. Guardians would have probably made my top ten if the only good performance came from Pratt, but what makes it a top three film is the supporting actors around him, including Bradley Cooper’s voice work as tough-as-nails raccoon, Rocket. Because of the writing, direction and performance, Guardians was the most fun I had at the movies this year.

1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

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I am still in amazement about how good this series of films have been. After sitting through my fair share of garbage that is the Young Adult novels turned into movies genre, I absolutely love what adaptors of the Hunger Games have done with its source material. While there is still the requisite love triangle, it’s not shoved in your face every few scenes. The action and the story are front and center which is one reason the series stands out.

Every time I mention casting, I feel like I’m beating a dead horse. It is by far the most important aspect of a movie, yet so many studios mess it up. It’s not just getting the main character casting of Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson correct, but rather, convincing Donald Sutherland, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, etc. to hop on board for big and small roles. Unlike the two-part Harry Potter finale, the slower paced part 1 was probably the best film in the series, and if history stays true, part 2 will blow this one out of the water; it already has a spot on my 2015 list.

 

Follow Mark Myers on Twitter. 

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