Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Top 10 Movies of 2014

10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

I don't know if I like it more for continuing the story of the First Class cast or for rescuing the original cast from the sourness I associated them with after Last Stand. I don't think I like DoFP as much as First Class, but it's a worthy sequel when it could have been an enormous mess. That's faint praise, I know, but I really love both generations of these characters and it was great to see them all treated well. And that Quicksilver scene alone earns it a spot in my Top 10.

9. Noah

I grew up with this story and I know it very well, so I'm extremely impressed and appreciative that Darren Aronofsky was able to make me think about it in a new way. And not just because he threw in some Ents. I wrote a full review of it, but to sum up: the movie makes powerful statements and asks deep questions about the relationship between humanity and nature, the inscrutability of God, and the perils of thinking you've got him all figured out. It has flaws, to be sure, but it moved and provoked me more than any other movie last year.

8. Begin Again

Wow, Keira Knightley had a good year. This is my favorite thing she did though. It looks and smells like a romantic comedy, but it's not. For one thing, though it's funny, it's not really a comedy. For another, though it'll try to fool you a couple of times, romance between the leads isn't the point. The point is about music: both the creation and the business of it. It's only 20% about the music industry though and 80% about what music is and what it means to us. There's a beautiful scene early on - really two different interpretations of the same scene - where Knightley performs a song live and we experience it first from her point of view as the nervous, insecure musician, and then from Mark Ruffalo's point of view as a music producer in the audience. It shows in a powerful way how the same song can give different experiences to different people. There's another moment later on that nails the feeling of putting on headphones in public and letting music change your perception of the world. With such wonderful groundwork laid about what music is, the movie's then able to comment on the way it's commercialized. And it does all this with some great and likable characters, including Knightley and Ruffalo's, but not limited to them.

7. How to Train Your Dragon 2

The first How to Train Your Dragon is one of my favorite animated movies of all time. It's funny, exciting, and emotionally stirring. I had no hope at all that the sequel would top it. And it didn't. But what it did do was go in a whole new direction: an epic fantasy that opened up the world of the first film and raised the stakes. It's a more serious, less joyful film, which means that I didn't enjoy it as much as the first one, but it's just as awe-inspiring in its own way.

6. The Lego Movie

When I was on the Nerd Lunch podcast last year talking about the 75th anniversary of Batman, one of the topics that came up was our favorite Batman movies. I'll never understand how I forgot to rank The Lego Movie just behind Mask of the Phantasm. In fact, since The Lego Movie is actually a Batman/Star Wars crossover, I may have to rethink that number 2 position.

5. Maleficent

I had to see this one twice to appreciate it as much as I do. There are some serious problems with Maleficent, starting with Sharlto Copley's unbelievable character and including some awful CG with Aurora's fairy guardians. That stuff really distracted me on first viewing, but what still stood out was Angelina Jolie's performance as a woman who has been hurt to the point of deeply wanting to hurt back, but hasn't yet lost all capacity to love. It's a powerful struggle and she shows it beautifully and movingly. Meanwhile, Elle Fanning grounds the movie perfectly as the tether that holds Maleficent to... well, "humanity" may not be the right word, but you know what I mean. Anyway, my second time watching it, those are the things I focused on and I loved it.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy

I'd want to call it the Star Wars for this generation if we weren't getting a new Star Wars movie next year. And besides, it's not really the same tone as Star Wars, is it? It's much more snarky and irreverent, but it balances that out with moments of humor, wonder, and just plain coolness. Even though it shares a basic plot structure with many of the other Marvel movies, it does so in its own, joyful way.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Speaking of plot, that's the reason Winter Soldier nudges ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy on this list. Winter Soldier takes some brave chances, not only by changing the status quo of the Marvel Universe, but also by not being about a bunch of people trying to get the same, all-powerful, cosmic object. Instead, it's a conspiracy thriller and a dang good one. I also love Anthony Mackie and that no one tried to force Cap and Black Widow into a romantic relationship. Boys and girls can be friends! Who knew?

2. Godzilla

I had this at number one for quite a while. It was easily the best time I had at a movie theater last year. A lot of that was manufactured by me and David though. We undertook a massive Godzillathon in the months leading up to May 16, filling in as many holes in our viewing as we had access to. We even made it to a local screening of the 1954 original. When it came time to watch the new one, we had a boys' night out (Diane had a previous commitment) at our favorite theater with the cushy lounge chairs, the Dolby Atmos, and the 30' x 70' screen. We were primed. And the movie didn't let us down. We loved the slow build to the final battle and the epic moments in that battle. When Ken Watanabe says, "Let them fight," we were screaming and whooping and we - and the rest of our audience - just got louder and more excited as the movie went on. The only thing that bumped it down to number two was Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I don't think he's bad in the movie, but he's certainly the only thing about it that I didn't find completely exciting. And that's a bit of a problem when he's the lead actor.

1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A perfect sequel. It continues the story of the first movie, expands on it, raises the stakes, and does all that in a way that's just as emotionally powerful if not more so. Incredibly, it met and exceeded my impossibly high hopes for it. I don't have one bad thing to say about it and that's why it's Number 1.


Paxton said...

We are simpatico on many of these. My list will come out next week. And it's very similar.

You've also given me some other movies to watch like Begin Again and I STILL have not seen The Lego Movie.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I liked but didn't love Days of Future Past. It was off to a great start but lost me at the halfway to end point. We're going to be doing a multi-part X-Men movie retrospective on the Geek Fallout podcast in the next few weeks so I'm sure I'll get into it more then.

Dragon 2 was quite surprising. I wasn't as "digestible" as the original's archetypical plot and much like Kung Fu Panda 2, really delved into a lot of high fantasy concepts and great artistic shots.

Winter Solider easily rocks my top spot for all the reasons you said. Plus it was nice to have one last "grounded" adventure before going into space.

Michael May said...

Erik, I'll look forward to your X-Men episodes. Those movies deserve pulling apart and analyzing. Really enjoyed Pax and the Nerd Lunch guys' doing that with the first three.

Pax, looking forward to your list too! And I really want to hear your thoughts on the Lego Movie when you see it.

Siskoid said...

Hey! I saw most of these!

X-Men DOFP: Had some good stuff, especially the future sequences and the Quicksilver bit, but once you realize the latter is just tacked on (to stick it to Marvel?), the movie quickly devolves into big dumb action. Made me feel like it existed only to make X-Men Origins unhappen. It brought to mind how convoluted the comics franchise was when I dropped it and walked away.

Noah: Has Aronofsky ever made a bad or even ordinary movie? I liked Noah a lot, a grand mythology. You know, I said I'd be happy with it if they included the scene where the sons find the father drunk and cover him up, and it was in there! (Never been entirely sure why that little bit is so important to me...)

Begin Again sounds interesting, if only I can get over my general dislike of Kiera... tell me she doesn't play an American and I might be sold.

Lego Movie: Loved it. It was on this year's Top 5 for me.

Guardians: A lot of fun. I don't think I'll love it as much on subsequent viewings, but that's probably just me.

Winter Soldier: I'm much more interested in seeing this one again. I admit that part of it is snickering at Batroc's Quebecker accent. The one flaw - I have no use for Robert Redford as a villain in a superhero movie.

Godzilla: No surprise there, as we're both big Godzilla fans. Only people who didn't really know Godzilla from Adam thought this movie was poor because it focused on human beings, not just monsters.

Dawn of the PotApes: The Apes revival from Rise on has been spectacular. Apes hasn't been this good since the original film.

Michael May said...

Keira plays a Brit in Begin Again. :)

The new Godzilla stood up especially well after watching all the others again. As you point out, they all focus heavily on the humans. The new one does it better than most, with the '54 Gojira being the only one I'm totally confident about placing ahead of it.

Siskoid said...

My Godzilla lore really ends in the mid-70s - I've never seen the modern Japanese ones - but I too came out of the 2014 one putting it just behind the original.

Not to say I don't love the goofy wrestling antics of the early 70s, or ANY team-up with my favorite, Mothra, etc., but objectively.


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