Well, it’s that time of the year again where I countdown my favorite movies of the year. Like always I didn’t see every movie I wanted to. There were other movies I really wanted to see such as The Wind Rises, but best lists of the year are only relevant for so long. (I didn’t have a definitive best of 2013 until June of 2014, for example). So I’m just going to dive into the movies I liked best – that I saw – in 2014. Also, I wanted to make this a Top 10, but I remembered some other movies I wanted to talk about.
Nightmare in Cincinatti
Taken out of contention because they were not commercially available… and they were shorts. But they were the movies I got most excited about. Why? Well, my favorite actor appeared in them…
12. Boyhood – I’m starting my list where most people’s lists will probably end. Even though I like this movie, I have to say there are a few reasons I didn’t go as head over heels in love as a lot of people. Boyhood is kind of dry and slow-paced at times, plus there were a lot of scenes of austere teens that did not sit well with me. Though I have to say this is one of those movies where I liked the whole more than the sum of its parts. First of all, I have to respect this movie just for its ambition. Richard Linklater made this movie over 12 years. The man even had a backup plan in case he died during production! I gotta respect that level of commitment. Making a movie like that isn’t just some cheap gimmick. It actually adds to the experience. We watch this kid actually grow up, we watch wrinkles develop on the other actors’ faces. One of the best scenes in the movie is when Patricia Arquette has a meltdown over realizing that her life has passed her by. Having actually watched those years past, we know the time she’s lost. It wasn’t just makeup added to make her look younger/older. I also liked that there were no time transitions, no cards that said anything like “12 years later”. The movie just cuts to another scene and Mason is a few years older. It really captures the feeling of time just slipping by. So even if this movie didn’t hit me on the same level that it did for everyone else, I still thought it was a worthwhile experience and one of the most unique films in a long time.
11. Non-Stop – Speaking of movies I wanted to, but didn’t, A Walk Among Tombstones ranks pretty high. But at least I got to see one awesome Liam Neeson movie in theaters this past year. While action movies weren’t exactly scarce in 2014, this was one of the best old-school action movies of the year. The movie wasn’t perfect – It was kind of dialogue-heavy and the big reveal was kind of a “so what?” moment, but those are minor gripes in a well-acted and suspenseful thriller.
10. Into the Woods – Of course we get some spillover into 2015 as I saw this on New Year’s Day. This is another movie that was pretty flawed but still overall enjoyable. I know this movie was based on a stage play, but it still felt a little boxed into the one location. I also thought there were too many musical numbers that featured just one person singing by themselves. But what can I say? I liked the songs, I liked the characters, the moments that were meant to be funny made me laugh. So overall, this was a good movie.
9. Jersey Boys – 2o14 may have left me cold, but I feel like it wasn’t as bad as I built it up to be. For example, I did cross 3 films off my Broadway bucket list. There are few shows I wanted to see more than Jersey Boys, and I got tickets to see it for my birthday last year. And I got a double feature of this show as the movie came out in July. Some of you may wonder why I never wrote a review for this movie when I’m such a hardcore fan of the stage show. The problem is that because I love the stage show so much, a review of the film, I was worried that my review would just negatively compare the film to the stage show. And yes, there were issues – Although the music is present, only the final song has a big musical set piece. The characters break the fourth wall as in the stage play. And it left me wondering if this is a more straightforward biopic, why break the fourth wall? (Also, I did not like Eastwood’s decision to film in such muted colors.) Like the previous entries, the good outweighed the bad. So what if they weren’t big, Broadway-style set pieces? The music is still there, and it’s still good. And these are fascinating people with a fascinating story. Since stageplay tickets aren’t cheap, and there’s no guarantee of the next time Jersey Boys will play in my area, this will satisfy my palette for a while.
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past – I’m not going to lie, this is another movie I wanted to like more than I did. I never read the comics – I’ve actually never read any X-Men comics – so I guess some of the flaws in the story stuck out in the story. Like the fact that Wolverine just HAPPENS to be the only one who can go back, or the fact that the plot is basically The Terminator with X-Men. We also didn’t see as much of the future as I would have liked. At the expense of sounding like a broken record, despite the flaws I liked this movie. There’s a reason I’ve stuck with the X-Men movies – I like these characters, and jokes aside, Wolverine is a badass. Though we didn’t see as much of my personal favorite, Ian McKellan’s Magneto. The new addition of Quicksilver was awesome. The action scenes were incredible. I feel like the marketing may have lead to me not being completely satisfied with this movie. It wasn’t the end-all-be-all X-Men movie I thought it would be, but it was a solid action film, and the best X-Men movie so far.
Also, with the news of the Rogue cut, I’m mixed. Yes, I’m happy to hear about that – especially with how angered I was that Rogue was cut (yet Anna Paquin still got star billing for 3 seconds of screen time – I guess the good news is she still got paid a ton of money). But at the same time, I’m irked that it’s not an extended cut for the DVD/Blu release. I guess that’s one way to get us to see the same movie twice. Don’t expect the Rogue cut to appear on my best of 2015 (unless 2015 ends up being a very slow year). If I count movies just because I saw them in theaters, Saving Mr. Banks and even Ghostbusters would be on this list. And that would just be unfair to the other movies I saw.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy – Confession: I really liked this movie, but I didn’t go as crazy about it as everyone else. Though I think the fact that it’s on this list is indicative of how much I liked this. I hate to quote another critic like this, because it sounds like I only feel that way because they feel that way, but Oancitizen pretty aptly summarized how I felt about this one. The action set pieces kind of went on too long, the villains were forgetful (Come to think of it, I’ve most of the Marvel villains not named Loki forgettable), and there’s an undercurrent of sexism that rubbed me the wrong way. (Womanizer just happens to find “the one”, huh?) But this movie was too much fun to think about it. I’ve always valued character more than story, and this movie delivered on that – I really wanted to spend time with these characters. I wrestled with whether I wanted to rank this or X-Men higher. I think the difference is that while both movies were hyped to the gils, Guardians of the Galaxy lived up to what it promised.
6. Interstellar – I’ve liked all of Christopher Nolan’s films up to this point. Though I’m sorry to say, this may be the one I liked the least. But I think it speaks volumes, that a movie this good is the one I liked least. This movie was just spectacular. There was a great combination of the excitement of space exploration but knowing the risk and emotional impact of what was involved. I loved watching these people explore space and the real danger that they experienced back up by science that… SOUNDED accurate. Also for a movie that was nearly 3 hours, Interstellar was pretty briskly paced. The final act had me on the edge of my seat with its concurrent action. Still, I had some issues. The twist felt a little crowbarred in, Nolan needs to learn a thing or two about showing instead of telling, and the characters weren’t the most well-defined.
5. How to Train Your Dragon 2 – If there was one movie from this year, that I personally underrated, this is it. It wasn’t until I started compiling this list that I remembered how much I really loved this movie. I think it’s fair to point out that after having issues with every movie prior, this is the first movie on the list that worked on pretty much every level. The animation: Incredible. The fight scenes: Epic. The comedy: Funny. The characters: Lovable. I’ve mentioned not liking 3D in theaters, but this was one of the more worthwhile 3D experiences. Although there were movies I liked better from the year, this is the one I’m really glad I saw in theaters.
4. Gone Girl – I was late to the party on this one, but boy am I glad I saw it. I really hope my review of Man of Steel didn’t create the impression that I dislike non-linear storytelling because I do like it when it’s done right. And Gone Girl demonstrates how to effectively use that style. I love the way the fairy tale romance is juxtaposed with its not-so-fairy tale outcome. The film builds suspense and kept me guessing for the entire movie. The film’s criticism of the way the media sensationalize murder cases like this was on the money. While seeing Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry in the cast threw me off, they were both excellent in their roles (I’m less-surprised about NPH delivering a good performance though). Do I have any issues with this movie? Well, it dragged in a few spots – I did find myself checking my wristwatch a few times. The ending goes on for too long – it takes about 20 minutes to say what could have been said in a few lines.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel – I’ve been a fan of Wes Anderson’s work since I was in middle school. This was the first one of his movies I’ve ever seen in theaters, and boy was this a great one to see on the big screen. Alhtough 2 other movies are ahead of this, The Grand Budapest Hotel was the best LOOKING movie I saw in 2014. But this movie wasn’t just all dressed up with nowhere to go. It has an all-star cast headed by Ralph Fiennes who is so dashing and lovable as the lead. Everyone in this movie is amazing, offering so much energy and playing some of the most memorable characters of the year. I laughed, I was dazzled by the energetic action scenes in this film, I loved just looking at this film. I remember this was one of those movies I just wanted to see again as soon as I saw it.
Before I get to my top 2, I just want to point out that I wrestled with which movie would be number one. I feel like I may be a little biased because obviously, I’ve a chance to rewatch one of these movies and not the other.
2. Birdman – If there was one movie I wanted to see more than any other in 2014, this was it. And I got nervous when I almost didn’t. There were concerns about whether or not any theater around me would actually be playing this movie at all. I even debated going to Columbus – a two hour drive for yours truly – to see this one. A friend of mine told me there are theaters that actually play films on request. I put serious thought into doing that because of how badly I wanted to see this. Luckily, my local theater did pick this one up and although the experience of seeing it was somewhat irksome (that’s a long story), but boy was this movie worth the wait. This movie has been hailed as Michael Keaton’s big comeback and for good reason. I remember being kind of surprised that this movie was directed to look like one long take. Even if it is obvious takes were done (There are a few scenes that take place hours apart, for example), I can’t help but admire the actors’ craft at being able to do these long takes. Like in Boyhood, the style compliments the story. By the end of this movie, I felt the exhaustion that these actors were feeling. It’s also not just Michael Keaton – he and Edward Norton have amazing chemistry as does Naomi Watts – who I’ve always believed deserves to be a bigger star. Emma Stone and Zach Galifanakis show amazing turns in more serious work. The movie doesn’t overplay the Batman mythos the way I thought it would, but I liked the way the movie does use it, and I liked the movies observations about show business. This was
1.The Lego Movie – When I select my favorite movie of the year, it’s not just the way the movie stimulated my mind, but I have to ask myself what movie I would most enjoy watching again. In terms of the most fun I had at the movies this year (at least a movie that came out in the calender year) I would pick the Lego Movie. The funny thing is if Birdman was the movie I wanted to see most, The Lego Movie was one I didn’t exactly have sky high hopes for. I remember seeing trailers when I saw Frozen, and I thought it looked okay but skippable. It was coming out the same time as The Monuments Men. At the time that was the movie I wanted to see. But between the amazing reviews I heard for the Lego Movie and the lukewarm reviews I heard for the Monuments Men, I decided to switch movies. Whether or not The Monuments Men is as bad as everyone says, I still think I made the right choice.
So what do I love about this movie? Let me count the ways. I love the animation, the way it looks like it was actually animated with Legos – down to the water. I loved these characters. Many reviewers compared this to Roger Rabbit – one of my all-time favorites – in the way that it mixed pop culture characters. I have to say, I did love seeing the Ninja Turtles mix with S… oh, that’s too good to give away. As a Batman fanatic, I loved that he was full-fledged character, not just a cameo. The original characters are fun too – from Charlie Day’s hyper astronaut to Liam Neeson’s Bad Cop. Funny? You want funny? Yeah, this movie delivered with some of the most laugh-out-loud hilarious moments of the year. The Lego Movie was not only imaginative, but it was a film that encouraged imagination. I applauded this movie for its sheer entertainment value, but the more I think about it, the more I realize just what a great piece of cinema The Leg0 Movie was.