Instead of reviewing the last couple of films I’ve seen, I thought I’d compile an end of the year Best of 2014 list. Really it’s not a true best of but, rather, a list of my favorite movies from the year. It’s highly likely I’ll leave off better films because, well, I live in a really small town and don’t have the opportunity to see every movie (like I did when I lived in Southern California). But of the movies I did see, several made the cut on my list of films I considered to be the most enjoyable of 2014.
Unfortunately, I don’t think 2014 was the best year for movies. Certainly, there were good films, films I really enjoyed on many levels. But the majority of the movies on my list are more action-oriented films. I like action movies; they’re fun to watch. Some of them (like the ones listed below) are done really, really well. But action flicks aren’t always the best at having something genuine to say about the human condition, which is really what a movie needs if I’m to consider it to be great.
So, let’s get on with it. I give you Ten Movies That Really Didn’t Suck This Year.
10. The Hundred-Foot Journey
A little art film, starring Helen Mirren and produced by Spielberg and Oprah, about an immigrant family opening an Indian food joint across the street from a Michelin-star restaurant in France and about a young chef’s subsequent rise to culinary greatness. I don’t have much to say about this film other than it’s exceedingly charming and moving and was probably the best movie nobody really saw this year. It’s available for rent now, so if you haven’t seen it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
9. Edge of Tomorrow
This Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt sci-fi action flick that deals with time travel (sort of) asks the question, how would you do things differently if you could go back and fix your mistakes. Well, it kind of asks that question. Here’s a movie I really need to go back and watch again because I feel like there’s a lot more in it than what I perceived the first time. It didn’t do very well at the box office, which kind of boggles my mind because I thought it was a really, really cool movie. It’s available for rent now, so if you missed it this summer, you should definitely check it out.
8. The LEGO Movie
Who would have thought a movie about Legos would be this entertaining? I admit I had zero interest in The Lego Movie when it was announced, but after seeing it, I think it was probably the best comedy of the entire year. And a pretty darn good action movie to boot. I don’t know. I think if a filmmaker can make me care about a bunch of Lego minifigs (one of them some kind of freaky cat-unicorn hybrid thing) as people, then I’d say it has earned a place in at least one year’s best list: mine.
7. Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
Very rarely do sequels outshine their predecessors. But The Winter Soldier is a prime example of a movie that does. Not only was the action expertly staged, this movie actually makes you feel something. And whereas I sometimes feel like Chris Evans phones it in in his movies (with the exception of his abbreviated performance in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), he really begins to bring some depth to the character of Steve Rogers in this one. Winter Soldier is of the best installments in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe so far. Hail Hydra!
6. X-Men: Days of Future Past
I absolutely LOVE what they’ve been doing with the X-Men franchise in recent years. Outside of the cohesive Marvel Cinematic Universe, Fox seems to be the only studio handling their Marvel properties correctly (let’s all keep our fingers crossed for that Sony/Marvel crossover deal which will see Spider-Man make an appearance in Captain America: Civil War). I wasn’t a huge fan of X3. I hated what that movie did to Professor X and to Cyclops. DOFP gives the franchise the reboot, a la J.J. Abrams Star Trek, pretty much eradicating the mistakes of X3. I really enjoyed seeing the development of Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique (didn’t love her in First Class, I must say), as well as the return of characters from the earlier films. Fassbender and McAvoy are also just so great. So. Great. I’m basically salivating for X-Men: Apocalypse.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
What? Three comic book movies in my year’s best list? Maybe it seems ludicrous, and you probably won’t see these movies in a lot of year’s bests. But it’s no secret that I’m a massive comic nerd. If I could afford it, I would still be purchasing comics by the truck load on a weekly basis. Even so, I wouldn’t put these movies on my list if I didn’t think they were really great movies. With Guardians of the Galaxy, director James Gunn took a Marvel property not many people had heard of or cared about (I certainly didn’t) and turned it into something special. While DC is struggling to make its movie properties relatable, Marvel is saying, “Here’s a raccoon with a machine gun,”*** and NAILING IT! Maybe Guardians is a little higher on the list than it needs to be; after all, it is just a sci-fi comedy. But it was probably the most fun I had at the theater this year (good Lord, that sounds like a lame movie critic quote. Please forgive me).
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I adore Wes Anderson. I’ve loved every single one of his films. From Bottle Rocket to The Fantastic Mr. Fox and even Darjeeling Limited. The Royal Tenenbaums is still one of my all-time favorite films. Anderson’s quirky style is right in my wheelhouse. The man is a true artist. The art direction in his films is some of the best in the history of cinema (granted, it’s highly stylistic). And the stories in his films are some of the most original I’ve ever seen. It’s as if Anderson has limitless pools of creativity to draw from, and The Grand Budapest Hotel proves it. It’s infinitely charming and endearingly funny. And Saoirse Ronan! Please, more Saoirse. Put her in everything. Anyway, I’m hoping this is the year Anderson sees some love from the Academy.
3. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
I feel like this movie got a lot of flack online, and I don’t know why. I really dug this final installment of the Hobbit trilogy. If awesome fantasy action is your thing, as it is mine, BOTFA should be a lock for you. Here’s the thing. I have been a fan of this story as long as I can remember. The Hobbit was the book that got me into fantasy when I was just a wee thing, back in the early 80s. It got me into reading books. It’s probably responsible for me becoming a writer, truth be told. As as a Rings fan back then, we didn’t have cool Peter Jackson movies to lean on. We drew our own maps of Middle-Earth. We rented the animated movies (even the terrible 1978 Lord of the Rings directed by Ralph Bakshi, which was kind of this weird hybrid animation-live action thing–wait, who am I kidding? All the animated movies were terrible, not just that one) again and again. It was all we had. We bought the Middle-Earth art calendars every year. Point is I AM A FAN. And when Peter Jackson sticks an apocryphal scene in The Hobbit where Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman fight off Sauron and ALL NINE NAZGUL, I am sold, man! And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Oh, except this: please put Evangeline Lilly in everything, too. Saoirse and Evangeline. She’s just awesome. And I love Tauriel (even though she’s not a character from the book).
Another movie that surprised the heck out of me. I wasn’t particularly excited about a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. And sometimes I feel like I’ve seen enough Angelina Jolie to last a lifetime. I saw Maleficent several weeks after its release, and I was kind of sorry I waited so long. Maleficent is a movie that takes a familiar story and tells it from the perspective of the villain. Only, the villain maybe isn’t so villainous after all. It made me hopeful for Disney’s future because it signals a veering away from the “damsel in distress” trope, challenging the notion that the princess needs a prince to rescue her. If you haven’t seen Maleficent yet, you should consider whether it’s because you think it’s a certain type of movie–a froofy fairy tale for little kids. It probably isn’t what you think.
1. Into the Woods
I only saw this movie yesterday, and for the moment, I’m considering it my favorite of the year. Some people don’t like musicals, and I get that (not really, but we’ll leave that there for now). Into the Woods is a musical with which I’ve been familiar since high school (when I first discovered my interest in professional theater). Oddly enough, it was one of the few musicals I’d never seen performed live. I saw the stage version starring Bernadette Peters on TV, and I was quite familiar with the music. But as far as musical adaptations are concerned, Disney pretty much nailed it with their cinematic version of Into the Woods. It is as close to a perfect adaptation as you could hope for. But what really makes this movie great is the cast. There is not a single weak link among them. Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, and Emily Blunt are all spectacular. Even Chris Pine, even CAPTAIN KIRK is awesome in this. I’m already looking forward to seeing it a second time.
Well, there you have it folks. My end-of-year favorite movies list. If there’s something on this list you haven’t yet seen, I encourage you go rectify that situation post haste. And let me know in the comments if there were movies not on my list that you really liked. 2015 is shaping up to be a pretty good year, what with all Marvel has to offer us and a new Star Wars coming out next December (all Disney stuff–man, they are just killing it), not to mention the completion of The Hunger Games series, which I think is going to rock. I’m really looking forward to it all.
So, as my hero, Roger Ebert, used to say: I’ll see you at the movies!
***Full disclosure: I didn’t make up that “raccoon with a machine gun” joke/observation. Can’t remember where I first heard it, but I thought it was funny and so I stole it. Sorry.