Now that I’ve blasted the ten worst films of 2014 it’s time to be a bit more optimistic. Here were my favorite ten movies from last year. Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
Nothing is better than being totally surprised by an awesome movie that seems to come out of nowhere. I knew Jon Javreau skipped directing Iron Man 3 to focus on his own movie but had no idea it would be this awesome. What made it so great was that it’s actually two fantastic movies: the story of redemption for a chef stuck in a rut (complete with awesome food porn shots) and one of the best social media movies ever made. Yes, I’m a social media geek but I get a pass because I’m a professional social media geek. The social media isn’t just gratuitous, it’s an integral part of the story. From causing the main character to lose his job and then being shown (by his young son) how to use it effectively, it’s an accurate portrayal of how social media works rather than just a throwaway and I really liked that (I even hosted a movie screening at the Alamo Drafthouse for social media professionals where we pulled lessons learned from the movie).
It’s also a great food movie in a great food movie year (Hundred Foot Journey didn’t make my top 10 but it was close). Which is great watching in a foodie town like Austin. When we first saw this movie everyone in the theater was impressed by the various shots of awesome food but when the gang visited Franklin BBQ and cut into one of their famous briskets the entire Austin audience let out a collective “mmmmmmm.” Awesome to behold.
9. The Raid 2
This movie starts out a little slow because rather than set up the story in a traditional way it decides to jump across five different times to tell you how you got here. Even figuring out which one was here took a bit of time. But once you got over that introductory hump you were left with some of the most amazing fight and action scenes ever made. EVER. And this is coming after decades of action films. That one movie could create so many fights and scenes that will shock and amaze even the most die-hard action fan is commendable. If you at all enjoy action films you owe it to yourself to see this movie. Get past the first 30 minutes–I know, that seems like a lot. But the rest of the film is an epic that will stun you and leave your jaw hanging open.
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
There is one scene in this movie which not only earned it a spot in my top 10 but will forever be known as one of the greatest, if not the single greatest, superhero movie scenes of all time. If you’ve seen the movie you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen it then I’ll just say this: yes, there’s a hero who can run really quickly and has the silly name of Quicksilver. We’re all used to seeing them on TV or movies–there’s a blur of motion and something appears that wasn’t there before. This scene goes the other way and shows us that same moment from his perspective. Only this time it’s in the middle of a high security prison break. The scene, from its action to its staging to its soundtrack is a slice of superhero perfection that must be seen to be believed. And then it will be remembered forever.
Or at least until someone changes the timeline and the movie never existed.
7. Edge of Tomorrow
I loved this book (with the better name of All You Need is Kill) and had high hopes for the movie version. The movie nailed it. Sure, they made some changes including a much more Hollywood ending, but the main points were all there. Is it the sci-fi/action version of Groundhog Day? YOU BET YOUR TIME TRAVELLING ASS IT IS! And that’s a good thing.
The movie had a horrible marketing campaign and still can’t decide what name it wants to go under. But this Tom Cruise sci-fi film is every bit as good as Oblivion was awful. And that’s saying a lot.
6. Into the Woods
I mentioned in my worst movies that I’m a Broadway and musicals geek. The very first Broadway musical I ever saw was Into the Woods and it holds a fond place in my heart. I am not, however, a die-hard Into the Woods fan or even a Stephen Sondheim purist. I enjoy the show and think he’s brilliant but I know stage and movie musicals need to be different. So I went into the movie with no predisposition towards liking or hating the movie and the changes they had made. Perhaps I was a bit on the negative side only because the director, Rob Marshall, also made the movie of Chicago and I despised that movie for not having actual performers. The scene of Richard Gere tap dancing by only showing his face and then cutting away to someone else’s feet is beyond criminal to me. Still, this movie had a cast full of known talent and interesting unknowns from a musical perspective.
Holy witch in the woods did this cast deliver. The known talents delivered as usual and even the untested musical talent (Chris Pine, Emily Blunt) nailed every song. Anna Kendrick and Meryl Streep were their expected awesomeness. I even liked the changes they made to the script since I thought the original story was a bit too cruel to Rapunzel–every other character gets what they deserve except for her in the original musical. I felt like the movie’s changes made sense and cut out some fat. The result was a fantastic musical movie that also paved the way for Wicked to be greenlit so it gets extra kudos from me.
And it is entirely unfair that Chris Pine gets to look like he does, act like he does, and he can sing. But I’m sure he says the same thing about my uncanny ability to write quippy blog posts so I guess we’ll call it even.
5. John Wick
This should have been a standard action film. Tough guy that doesn’t look tough is wronged and exacts his revenge. The trailer gave that away–retired mob enforcer John Wick left the business but his wife died of cancer. Her last gift to him, a puppy, is killed by some thugs so John comes out of retirement to prove that you never, ever KILL THE PUPPY! So we get the obligatory scene of John arming himself by raiding the armory he kept just in case his wife died, gave him a puppy, and some thugs killed said puppy (that’s thinking ahead!). He gets guns, lots of guns, and some gold coins. I figured that was smart to save gold coins–compact yet valuable.
But that’s exactly where this movie went from find to awesome. Because those gold coins become the basis for this entire underworld of mob bosses and enforcers. They are the currency of an economy we start to learn the rules of (coins can get you a room at a secure hotel or pay for the complete disposal of bodies) and a world we get to peek inside. And it is fascinating. The story itself is straightforward but doesn’t pretend to be something different. When John Wick defends his house from an entire team sent to kill him and a local cop stops by to investigate all the gunshots neighbors heard we get a great scene of the cop seeing the bodies and rather than freaking out just asking John if he’s working again. This movie made its own unique world and lived entirely in it and I want to go there again.
4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
There’s a point in this movie, maybe about an hour in, when I was first watching it and I thought to myself “I am watching cartoon monkeys and it is amazing.” Because CGI has come along so far, combined with motion capture and filmmakers equipped to use these new tools, that we can tell stories like this and they WORK. The main characters in this movie look as good as the real thing but it’s all cartoon monkeys. And yet the cartoon monkeys will make you feel just as much emotion as any person could ever do. The reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, was an unexpected great film. This continues the same path only with 98% less James Franco.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Why tell you why I liked it? You’ve seen this. Or if not then it’s because you’ve made it a point not to see it. Good for you and your causes. Just know you’re missing out on a great mix of action, comedy, and adventure with some of the most bizarre and lovable characters Marvel has ever created. This was a risk for Marvel and it just showed they are masters of their craft. Fantastic film. The only question is what two films could beat it? Read on.
2. Big Hero 6
Yes, I’m calling a kids movie as the second best movie of the year. And it had a good shot at number 1. By a random series of events I ended up seeing this movie four times in the theater. And I loved it each time. Mostly because this is exactly what an optimistic superhero movie should be. It may seem odd to call it optimistic–the main character has to deal with death and loss after all but every hero needs some motivation. The overall tone of the movie is fantastic–supporting family, great friends, even an amazing city of San Fransokyo that I would love to visit. But even though the movie has bad guys to catch and personal challenges to overcome it doesn’t become nearly as dark or scary as the other superhero movies out there. And it shows that superhero movies can be fun and not just intense.
And then there’s Baymax. He is a fantastic, fantastic character. You meet him from his birth until he becomes a hero and even though he’s a robot he will make you cry. Yes, he will. Unless you have no soul.
The movie also has one of the best handshakes ever. It will give you instant cred with all the kids and it was even an integral part of the story. That’s fun and that’s what a fun superhero movie should do.
This leaves room for only one more movie…
First, I recognize this movie has flaws. I even called some of them out when the Gabbing Geek podcast did a MRIYASIODCAS (Movie Review If You’ve Already Seen It Or Don’t Care About Spoilers) on the movie. But to me the flaws don’t matter for what they got right. And what they got right is that this is a science fiction movie that’s BIG. The ideas are big, the scope is big, and the science is big. Most science fiction films could easily be fantasy if you swapped out some of their science-fiction elements for magic. This one could not be because it is using the science of interstellar travel correctly.
Sure, it has some fantastic elements in it–wormholes, fifth dimensional travel, etc.–but what it gets right it gets SPECTACULARLY right. There is a scene where the crew talks about how time passes at different rates based on gravity and how it’s a resource like air or fuel–that one scene is perfect and nails the science so well my eight-year-old understood it when we watched.
How accurate is some of the science of Interstellar? So accurate, it turns out when they built a computer program to create the visuals for the black hole they ended up discovering something completely new about how light functions around black hole event horizons.
I love science fiction and seeing a movie stay true to their vision, holding to the science fiction of it all rather than just ending in a car chase or fighting a robot was amazing. The fact that the movie learned from science and then contributed back to it? That’s pure gravy.