Corey’s Film Favorites from 2014
In no particular order:
Hugh Jackman is the heart of the X-Men franchise, despite his first stand alone (ish) movie being the worst of them all. DoFP took us into the future and the past in a Bryan Singer-driven fusion of the original three movies with the truly enjoyable X-Men: First Class. Coming off of 2013’s accessible and enjoyable The Wolverine, Jackman has his consciousness projected into the past so he can work with Xavier and Magneto in an effort to prevent a catastrophic future in which robots have destroyed everything. The overtaxed Jennifer Lawrence plays a pivotal role but is ultimately underutilized. In essence, this movie is an X-Men fanboys fantasy, especially when the 1990’s school mansion is brought to life with the original cast for a brief flash-forward scene toward the end. Despite a lackluster younger Beast, all of the characters are a delight and Hugh Jackman carries the movie, which is exciting from start to finish.
2014 was truly the year of Chris Pratt. How he didn’t make Sexiest Man Alive is a mystery to me. I always assumed the award went to whatever Hollywood dude was totally crushing it. In this fun-loving animated feature (originally reviewed by Ric), Pratt voices an ordinary construction worker name Emmet who is swept up in a revolution against the evil President Business and included in a Prophecy about a Chosen One. Dozens of other celebrities and characters make appearances, including Batman and other DC Comics characters voiced by Will Arnett, Channing Tatum, and others. It’s all delightfully generic, fun, and eventually really meta with a funny little cameo towards the end. It’s one of those really smart kids movies that adults can forever enjoy as well.
Richard Linklater remains one of my favorite filmmakers today. He’s always striving to do something new with the camera. 2013 saw the third movie in the “Before” series and 2014 offered us what is probably his best film to date: Boyhood. We follow a young boy, Mason, over the course of 12 years on camera and in real life as he grows up. All the same actors reprise the same roles and production ran a couple weeks each year since 2001. It’s poignant, insightful, relatable, and undeniably real. Mason’s parents are divorced and his mother struggles through varying types of abuse from new relationships. His childish father grows up as Mason does. Patricia Arquette excels as Mason’s mother in an award-worthy performance that was sadly under-appreciated. It was definitely one of 2014’s must-see films.
I initially found myself really skeptical about this movie. The bizarre space team of heroes struck a different chord than typical superhero fare, but thankfully James Gunn did the story justice and people ate it up. Chris Pratt impresses with abs and acting chops in this delightfully well-rounded and well-paced space odyssey. We talked about it at great length, but in a market saturated with super hero movies, particularly of the Marvel kind, they were able to do something unique and enjoyable with Guardians of the Galaxy.
Marvel is doing really, really good at this whole movie thing. Arguably the least interesting Avenger, Cap had a middling first movie but came into his own in the first Avengers movie. All of Marvel phases 1 and 2 have been pretty dominated by Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, but The Winter Soldier made Captain America a superhero again. It made him cool in his own right without him needing to rely on the godly powers of Thor or the inhuman strength of Hulk. Better yet, the story incorporated Rogers’ past, grappled with his personal trauma, and offered a satisfying arc for Rogers as a character while also influencing the overall Marvel Universe on a big scale. This is another one that we talked about at great lengths, and also take a look at Tim’s review.
You could write an article or book about how awesome Matthew McConaughey has become these past couple years. In fact, that might be next on my to do list. True Detective and Dallas Buyer’s Club earned him Best Acting nods in TV and Film and proved that he is a damn good actor. If it weren’t for friggin’ Heisenberg, Matty would have won both too. Between his acting chops and the erudite story construction of Christopher Nolan (of Inception and Dark Knight Trilogy fame), things were bound to be great.
Interstellar is a visually ambitious space expedition in which humanity is starving itself out and needs to find a new home. Through the use of wormholes, black holes, and other technology that’s hard to understand, let alone visualize, McConaughey’s NASA pilot Cooper must find humanity a new home or face extinction. Because of time dilation, he basically has to say goodbye to his children for good, a choice he doesn’t make lightly. The cinematic journey is ultimately one that feels masterful, but is a little too heavy to digest easily. Nonetheless, it easily remains one of the best movies of the year.
I managed to read the book by Gillian Flynn just before the film’s release. Flynn actually wrote the screenplay brought to life by David Fincher, whose last best thing was The Social Network. Gone Girl thus offers a faithful adaptation that thunders along at a blistering pace, which is no easy feat considering the narrative structure of the book, where Amy’s older diary entries are juxtaposed with Nick’s present day accounts of his wife’s disappearance. Perhaps it’s because Flynn was so integral in the making of the movie, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that’s better casted. I know Ben Affleck was always her first choice for the lead role of Nick and oh my lord is Rosamund Pike enchanting as Amazing Amy. Even minor characters are cast with careful precision. The film is exciting, surreal, and visceral, but ultimately not Fincher’s best.
The Fault in Our Stars
Another instance of a book I got to read before the movie, The Fault in Our Stars is a film written by the writers from (500) Days of Summer, a personal favorite of mine. The story chronicles the first-person account of a love affair between two cancer-stricken teens. The author of the book, John Green, has the habit of writing these one liners that just give you “all tha feeelllss”. In Looking for Alaska it was:
I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.
Here in TFioS, Hazel Grace keeps Augustus Waters at arms reach, fearing that her dismal health will only devastate him in the end. Eventually, even she is overcome by his insufferable charm and offers up this squeal-worthy one-liner:
As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.
Their relationship drifts between the realms of love and loss and if anything, reminded me of how romantic I truly am, even in my old age of 25.
Snowpiercer was one of those more indie, limited releases I caught at a local theater. It’s Joon-ho Bong’s first English-language directorial attempt and an impressive one at that. In an icy apocalypse, the last remnant of humanity rides aboard a perpetual moving train of dystopian horror and mind-bending violence. A small portion of the riders enjoy a drug-laced lavish haze in the front cars with a large contingent of dirty people living in the slummish caboose. A leaner, hungrier Captain America is the one to lead them in a bloody revolt against the rest of the train. Infused with symbolism throughout and pregnant with meaning, Snowpiercer is a shocking and riveting tale that convinces us that Chris Evans can act really well even in a movie that feels like an exciting video game.
Speaking of movies that felt like exciting video games, Edge of Tomorrow was perhaps the most fun I had in theaters this year. Tom Cruise plays a PR henchman turned military grunt in a war against a strange alien race on Earth. When a political power maneuver goes awry, Cruise is forced into an exoskeleton and sent to the front lines. He manages to kill an alien enemy but dies himself…only to wake up and restart the day. Through a gimmicky trick involving magic alien blood, Cruise must relive the same day a bajillion times to try and figure out a way to stop the enemy for good. With the aid of the always delightful Emily Blunt, Cruise must hit the grind and level up enough to kill the boss and beat the game. Wait wait, this is a movie!
What began as a really cool gimmick made me worried that the film would collapse under the weight of its boggling premise. The story introduces other external forces and explains just enough sci fi to make it comprehensible. Cruise brings enough heart to the role to make the ending a satisfying one and the overall experience one that is not only fun, but totally worthwhile
Note: I only talked about what I’ve seen, so if one of your favorites didn’t make the list, let us know in the comments!