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.
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.
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?
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.