I have one hard-and-fast rule when cobbling together my year-ending lists. I don’t try to get all critical and tell you what I think were the BEST movies of the year – just my favorite. And we all know opinions. Everyone’s got one. The only right one is your own – at least where you’re concerned. So, whatever you may think of this list all you need to know is that you are completely wrong. 😉
One other little footnote – I don’t get out to the theater nearly as much as I did in the days pre-kids… although nowadays, as I am all by my lonesome half-the-week, I do get out a little more than I did in those first few years after Colin & Aria made my acquaintance. So, I’ll list out all of the movies that I saw first-run in 2014 (even though some are technically 2013 releases) and then tell you which five hit me hardest AND WHY.
Without further adieu, here’s the list of everything I saw for the first time in 2014.
Anchorman 2 (2013)
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
About Time (2013)
The Spectacular Now (2013)
Monsters University (2013)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
American Hustle (2013)
Captain Phillips (2013)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
The Lego Movie
3 Days to Kill
Muppets Most Wanted
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
300: Rise of an Empire
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Edge of Tomorrow
21 Jump Street 2
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Transformers: Age of Extinction
X-Men Days of Future Past
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
And now my 5 Favorite Movies Seen in 2014 (in no particular order – I love ’em all equally).
5. Guardians of the Galaxy
Growing up on that awesome L-Shaped street I always like to wax nostalgic about – I found my street was divided. There were those kids who LOVE, LOVE, LOVED Star Wars. Then there were those who thought Indiana Jones flicks were the end-all/be-all. That would be me. Alone. Fortunately, Star Trek didn’t exist in our dojo – too nerdy for the likes of my Whiffle-ball playing, A-Team watching, Big League Chew chomping hive of scum and villainy. Those who loved Star Wars and those who fell on the Indy side of the divide (i.e. me) could find common ground in that lovable rogue, Harrison Ford. Remember this was way back before the actor made the grumpy old man in Up look down-right sprightly.
The thing is – there was a razor-thin line dividing Indy from Han Solo – and I think it is Harrison Ford’s characters in both flicks that acted as the entry point for all of us. The guy was cool, cocky and charismatic as all Hell but not the golden boy goodie-goodie we got in Skywalker. We all wanted to be Han or Indy. They made adventure look good.
Guardians of the Galaxy is the PERFECT summer movie; a rollicking action-adventure littered with rogue’s gallery of new age Han Solos – and maybe one Chewie (when you count Groot). The early buzz pegged this as Marvel’s Star Wars and that’s pretty close – but there’s a whole bunch of playfulness that George Lucas would never indulge in – yet it’s what sets Guardians apart becoming its own freaky-deaky beast. I credit the director James Gunn, a truly inspired choice – who grew up playing with Star Wars figures and then when given the chance to play in the sandbox again as an adult, completely went to town indulging his imagination. The end result is one of the most purely entertaining films I saw this year – a movie lovingly crafted to do one thing; entertain the Hell out of you.
Filmed in black & white – this is not the bleak character study I thought I was getting myself into. Instead, this is a loving, burnished portrait of the disconnect between an old weary man who never really did much of anything and his son who has lived a life trying to forge ties. Bruce Dern and Will Forte are so well paired on this road trip flick; and its through their journey that we’re reminded how a little peek into a person’s origins can suddenly bridge generations of gap.
Nebraska snuck up on me. It’s emotional but never cloying. It’s also deeply hilarious at time; especially once June Squibb arrives on-screen for an extended stay. Her visit to the cemetery to pay respects her respects to the dearly departed is a comic tour de force.
Nebraska was released in 2013 but I didn’t see it until early 2014 so I’m placing this on the list as one of my favorite films seen this year. It hardly matters when it was released. That choice to go black & white was genius; rendering this film timeless.
3. The Lego Movie
I’ve had it pretty good when it comes to family movies with the kids. Around the time they matured to become theater-goers, I explained to them that I used to write film reviews – using their Grade School report card as a metaphor for what I did back in college. Since they had already grasped the concept of Exceeds versus Needs Improvement and knew to avoid anything marked Fail – we used that scale (and its equivalent in Thumbs Up or Down) when choosing what to see; which neatly explains how I deftly avoided seeing things like Hop or The Smurfs.
So when The Lego Movie released to unanimous acclaim, we made it appointment viewing for one cold, snowy Saturday afternoon in February. Knowing Chris Miller and Phil Lord directed the flick, I had a hunch we were in for something special. These two have taken properties that have no business being any good and somehow made gold from it. They took the slight Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and turned it into something special. Same goes for 21 Jump Street and its sequel. Both of those films have no business being as subversive and funny as they are.
The Lego Movie is far from a corporate cash-in. It is a lovely mash note to the power of creativity. It also boasts a third act twist that lands like a hefty ton of bricks for that segment of my peer group who has grown old, had kids and refused to share their toys. It’s in that third act that The Lego Movie goes from a very good film to a great one.
2. Edge of Tomorrow
I can separate fact from fiction. Tom Cruise may be a nut in real life BUT there is no question that the dude delivers nothing less than 100% in his movies so while I may not want to sit down for dinner with him, I’ll happily line up to see whatever manner of chaos he has managed to throw himself into.
Edge of Tomorrow was let down by the marketing. For starters, it’s got a terrible title (a last-minute change from the equally awful All You Need is Kill). The ad campaign made the flick look like a generic action flick; totally missing the boat on what Cruise and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) were actually up to.
Yes, it’s a Groundhog Day rift BUT a surprisingly clever AND funny one – with Cruise cast in the role of a coward sent into battle against an enemy that can always see three steps ahead. There’s a great deal of fun mined in watching Cruise’s character live, die, and repeat the same day – dying day-after-day as he learns more and more about his predicament. Hollywood has had a devil of a time trying to adapt video games into movies with middling results. Edge of Tomorrow, while not based on any real video game, is the first movie to get the concept of playing a game correct – with Cruise respawning over-and-over again steadily becoming more skillful the longer he “plays”.
Audiences really missed out last Summer. While flocking to the the repetitive, excessive bloat of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, their money would have been better spent here. The film is full of wildly inventive action scenes. It’s fierce and funny as Hell. Emily Blunt proves she can rock a mech suit just as much as the devil wears Prada. And for you Cruise haters, you get to watch Liman torture and kill him over-and-over again for an entire film; so really it’s win-win.
1. The Spectacular Now
In 2013, I watched Perks of Being a Wallflower – a film that just hit me where it counts with its bracing teenage honesty. That was a film my teenage self would have crushed hard on.
I mention The Spectacular Now in the same reverent breath. This is the Say Anything for a new generation; although The Spectacular Now is even more unflinching in its tale of two teens from different social strata coming together inexplicably and finding a true and honest young love.
The film hurts and touches in the same way those sticky emotions pack a punch when you’re just on that verge of really breaking free from your teens to adulthood. The two leads, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are perfectly paired. These aren’t the usual generic hotties ripped from Twilight. They feel genuine and real. Yes, both are now poised for greater stardom (with Teller appearing in next Summer’s Fantastic Four reboot and Woodley helming the Divergent series) but the gravity they carry should only help inform their future roles.
No film hit me harder on a primal, emotional level than The Spectacular Now – especially when Teller’s character takes a road trip to visit his estranged father played by Kyle Chandler. As a huge Friday Night Lights fan, Chandler never fails to make me sit up and take notice anytime he appears on-screen. This is the first time I’ve wanted to punch him in the face.
Raw, visceral, natural emotions. That’s your teen years all rolled up in 4 short words.
That’s The Spectacular Now.
Honorable Mention Award
I really enjoyed 22 Jump Street BUT I loved the End Credits Sequence. I won’t spoil it (aside from that still above) BUT Miller and Lord worked overtime to give us every possible sequel variant over the course of those fast and furious 2 & 1/2 minutes. How can they ever make another one of these flicks? That was a perfect ending to a pretty great sequel.