I delayed posting this list because I was hoping to see some of the films I missed but still wanted to view (Gone Girl, Whiplash, Exodus: Gods and Kings, etc.). Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. But I think I still came up with a quality list that would mostly hold pretty tight were those others added in. Per usual, these are my favorites, for the reasons I’ve explained below. You will probably disagree, but that’s ok. Movies are awesome and I think there were some really great ones this year. (Quotes are from previous reviews/LC Recommends.)
10. The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Despite the facts that there were some times in this movie that I laughed out loud at parts that weren’t supposed to be funny, and that there were some differences from the book, AND that it’s ridiculous that Peter Jackson broke this one book up into three unbelievably long movies, this is still part of the Lord of the Rings saga, and I still really enjoyed it. Getting to spend more time with these characters, especially Martin Freeman’s spot-on Bilbo Baggins, and see some good ol’ Middle Earth orc-slaughtering battles, is still a good time at the movies. Just please, let’s stop making so many movies out of single books. Please.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While I wasn’t as crazy about this Marvel sequel as some were, it did impress me, and I think it earned a spot in the upper tier of the franchise. “The Winter Soldier is supremely entertaining and the character development/chemistry of Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff (Captain America and the Black Widow) is refreshingly well done for a superhero flick. The plot is quite important in the Marvel/Avengers universe (and its ramifications for the Agents of SHIELDtelevision show are proving awesome), but as a stand alone movie, it’s not that exceptional of a storyline. The main highlight of this film is, as it should be, the action. It’s a thrill ride from start to finish.”
8. Unbroken. I so terribly wanted this film to top this list. While it was a very well-made adaptation of Louie Zamperini’s incredible true story, it only told part of the tale. I came away from the film feeling relieved, but not redeemed and inspired, as I did after I read Laura Hillenbrand’s book, on which the film is based. Part of the beauty of Louie’s story is what happens after [sort-of spoiler alert] he survives a WWII plane crash, living weeks adrift at sea, and a Japanese POW camp. Nevertheless, the survival story itself is one for the ages, and what parts of the story the move tells, it tells very well. And since Louie himself gave the film his stamp of approval before he passed away earlier this year, I think it’s ok for me to like it, too. That said, I can’t encourage you enough to read the far superior book. It’s the best biography I’ve ever read.
7. X-Men: Days of Future Past. This was a really great installment in a franchise that is historically hit-or-miss. It offers great actors, ridiculously intriguing characters (though as always, heavy on the Wolverine-centricity), and super cool action, all the while plotting plot-icide by destroying almost everything the rest of the X-Men movies established. Yet I’m optimistic about where this blank slate might take us. Instead of cramming everything into an overcrowded universe and setting the franchise up for endless reboots of the same stories, we have a whole new parallel universe of possibilities. Rock on, X-Men. As long as there’s more Quicksilver in the rest of these movies. Let’s be honest– he stole the show with one scene. And that scene has my vote for the best of the year.
6. Fury. I’m a big fan of historical war films. Though Fury is not exactly fun, it’s a great movie, a solid addition to the WWII canon, alongside the ranks of Saving Private Ryan, etc. It boasts stellar acting from the likes of Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, and Logan Lerman, engaging battle scenes, and a haunting score. It begins with one of the best opening shots I’ve ever seen. I remember sitting in the theater through this ridiculously slow, subtle opening sequence, amped up for an intense action and suspense, thinking, “Wow, I’m not even annoyed because this is freaking brilliant.” Fury is a raw look at the search for (& loss of) humanity in the face of total war. It’s not sentimental like many war films, yet it’s also not as cynical as it could be. There was one seemingly unnecessary scene I really didn’t like and one very gross moment near the beginning, but other than that, this is a great film.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy. “This movie might actually live up to its hype. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the Marvel franchise, somewhere up there in the top echelon with The Avengers (but not above it), the first Iron Man, and the latest Captain America. It’s definitely the most playful of the films, with plenty of comedy and joviality to fit its awesome 80’s soundtrack. I was impressed by its family vibe, showing that the guardians were far stronger together than any of them were on their own. Some of the action scenes felt creative and original, not the same-old tired fights and flights we’re almost desensitized to anymore. Chris Pratt, of course, is his ever charming self, his character and occupation reminding me a lot of Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly (aka the greatest TV show ever to be canceled in its first season). I’m crossing my fingers for some kind of Parks and Rec crossover or at least a nod to the role in Andy’s dialogue. Anyway, props to this movie. It’s just plain fun. Besides the pervasive language I thought was inappropriate for a movie that so many young kids will see, my only complaint would be that Marvel needs to move away from the repeatedly recycled plot that revolves around some vague powerful object.”
4. In Your Eyes. This Joss Whedon-written film was never in theaters, but was instead released online after its film festival debut (and is now available on Netflix). It’s by no means a blockbuster like many of the films on my list, but it was certainly one of the most original I saw this year. The sci-fi/fantasy premise of the film is two strangers in different parts of America being inexplicably linked to one another their entire lives, being able to feel and even see things the other is experiencing at certain times, especially at traumatic moments. It’s wonderfully sweet and sometimes funny, a real treat for the imagination. It’s one of the best romantic movies I’ve seen in years.
3. Divergent. I’m going to bite the bullet and shake off any fear of judgement for this choice. I’d say this is the movie that most exceeded my expectations this year. I truly enjoyed it, and it was good to have in a year when the annual Hunger Games book clearly shouldn’t have been separated into two films. “While its dystopian setting and young heroine focus is reminiscent of The Hunger Games, it’s a different story. While The Hunger Games is mostly a story of survival, Divergent is also a story of self-discovery and identity. The movie is wonderfully entertaining, with plenty of thrilling action, an intriguing story, and solid performances (I’m becoming a Shailene Woodley fan). One thing that impressed me was Divergent‘s impeccable pacing. I find that many movies don’t do this well anymore, but Divergent felt right on track, allowing adequate room for both good character development and the action sequences.”
2. Interstellar. I watched this Christopher Nolan film in a friend’s car at a drive-in in November. We had to defrost the windows every few minutes just to see the movie. Still, no other film in 2014 made me think as much as this one did. Sure, it had brilliant performances (McConaughey is boss) and beautiful cinematography and CGI, but the concept itself, the worlds it created, and the intricate plot were the things that will drive me to watch this one again. I won’t say too much for the sake of spoilers, but I watched many, many YouTube videos and read many articles about the concepts presented in Interstellar, and I still scratch my head when I think about it. I might not rank it up there with Inception, but it’s still special– an extremely original, well-made, entertaining, thought-provoking film.
1. The LEGO Movie. I doubt many of you saw this coming. I went back and forth about it for a while, because it’s not cool to admit you liked a animated children’s movie better than grown-up films, but I believe in writing with honesty and vulnerability, and darnit, this was my favorite movie of 2014! Did it live up to my expectations? It exceeded them. Did I enjoy watching it and want to watch it again? Yes! It was a super fun time and I bought the DVD for that exact purpose. Was it well made? It was very well made, with a unique style of Lego-mation, and name-brand voice actors. Did it both entertain me and make me think? It was extremely entertaining, creative, and hilarious, combining many different pop cultural universes and making them work together. But there were also some great, thought-provoking messages in this movie about culture, courage, imagination, and community. Speaking about the movie’s ridiculously catchy theme song, Chris Pratt (who voices Emmett, the main character), said, “I think it follows the theme of this movie, which you think is just some Lego movie made to sell toys — and it’s actually a really subversive, interesting, thought-provoking commentary on society.” I agree, Chris. But then again, who would disagree with Star-Lord? I believe that where Toy Story 3 was a brilliant consideration of nostalgia and saying good-bye to childhood for my generation, The LEGO Movie meets us where we are in the present, imaginatively longing for substance, quality, and truth where we can find them, in the midst of the everything-is-awesome culture that strictly dictates that the surface level is most important.
- Honorable Mentions: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Still a good film, but was all rising action– another movie that really suffered because they split it up into multiple parts.), The Fault in Our Stars (John Green is awesome, the movie was good, but the book was better.), Dear White People (An extremely timely conversation-starter.), Rich Hill (I don’t watch many documentaries, but this one is worth it), The Maze Runner (I was surprised how much I liked this one. It’s a lot of fun action.), Edge of Tomorrow (A somewhat original Tom Cruise role– what?!), The Giver (It’s tasteful, imagery-rich adaptation of the brilliant young adult novel, but it was released at the wrong time.), Noah (see my full review here).