Top 25 Films of 2014 (20-16)

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20. The Pretty One

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If you knew nothing about this film or Zoe Kazan, you would swear that she actually had a twin sister. That’s how great Kazan is and how she gives you two distinct characters. Even knowing that she was pulling double duty, I completely bought it. It’s not just some flashy gimmick and it’s also not quite the film I thought it would be.

At first I thought that it was a bad thing, the more I think about it I realize that it’s what separates it from so many similar films I saw this year. Zoe Kazan isn’t really known at all to mainstream audiences and yet because of the quality in which she chooses her roles, anything with her in it is a must see for me. I can see why she’s not a huge star since she doesn’t necessarily fit that Hollywood mold, but that is what makes her one of the greatest actresses of her generation.

Kazan nose dives into every role she does. She’s so raw, so emotionally naked and she makes you feel what she is feeling. Her Audrey is strong and confident while her Laurel is very insecure and full of doubt. There is something broken about her. We buy her as both sisters. I knew what would happen but I certainly didn’t expect it to get so dark so quick.

What separates Kazan’s films from the norm is that it seems her films aren’t too concerned with the big moments. It’s not about glamming things up and making it all look pretty. There’s an honesty to her work. Speaking of honesty, that’s what Jake Johnson brings to everything he does. Watching him in something like this it’s hard to recognize him from how he plays Nick Miller in New Girl or his character in Let’s Be Cops. He’s more subdued here and tones things down quite a bit.

Still, it’s about more than just the romantic relationship between Kazan and Johnson. It’s about Kazan herself and no longer craving to be her sister. It’s about accepting who she is. That’s what I mean about how different this film is from what I expecting. As I read that back, how can that be a bad thing?

  1. The Fault in Our Stars

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It’s easy for people to look at any movie and classify it as just that superhero movie, that animated movie or that teen love story. Anytime you do that, you are depriving yourself from something potentially great. That is why I will always go into any movie giving it a fair shot. Teenage girls will look at the way they market this film as they are told they have to weep until tomorrow. They’re not really seeing what’s on-screen.

I mean I get it, any life that ends before it can reach any kind of potential, yeah that’s tragic. But this is not a sappy film. It’s honest and it avoids that sentimentality. That begins and ends with its main character played by Shailene Woodley. Surprise, surprise, Woodley is once again great. This is a completely different character as Woodley does a complete 180 from anything she’s ever been associated with.

It’s not glamorous, she rocks the short hair and she has cancer. It’s not your typical teenage role. Woodley plays Hazel and we instantly realize that besides being sick, she is super smart and sarcastic. She’s not necessarily a positive person either, but then again it’s understandable. She meets a boy names Augustus very early on and they hit it off right away. They are both sick so how could it have a happy ending.

Is it worth getting into something serious knowing for a fact that it has such a short expiration date? These two young kids prove to be mature beyond their ages as they deal with all of these issues head on. They prove that sometimes it’s more about the journey than the ending. Imagine attending your own funeral and hearing your own eulogy.

I love how smart Woodley’s Hazel is. You can’t get nothing past her about mythical beings or any other wild tales. Trying to b.s. her will not work and she puts an end to that before it even begins. What a great year for Woodley, the sky really is the limit for this wonderful young actress.

  1. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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What a great romantic pairing of Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy…and yet nobody saw this film. It’s so disappointing because there are two other versions of this film: one from his perspective and one from hers. However, because the film did so bad financially, we’ll most likely never get to see those versions. This is the ‘Them’ version which was combined into one film.

The film is a slow burn. We see Chastain going through some difficult things, including an early suicide attempt and yet the blanks don’t get filled in until much later. Patience is definitely the key. There are a lot of tough situations in the film but there are also so many beautiful ones.

Chastain and McAvoy play a married couple who are separated because of issues concerning their young child. There are flashbacks to their early days and even their interactions as they attempt to reconcile something all show how these two share something special. It’s the type of relationship that just makes you smile and yet you don’t even know why.

Like in any marriage, there are ups and downs. Both characters make iffy choices and yet I can’t blame either since they are technically separated. I felt so close to their relationship and their separation. When she shows up at his work and she’s all smiles, you almost wonder if it’s some sort of trick. It’s a no-win scenario and you feel like no matter what you do you’re going to mess it up. I found that so relatable. And of course, a big fight where she pretends it didn’t bother her is imminent.

Another scene that hit close to home was when she visited his place and it feels like they’ll get back together but instead it feels like she uses him. While at the very end is seems like they will get back together, at that point it’s not really about that. Chastain and McAvoy are so believable as a couple, you can’t help but root for them to reconcile and fix whatever issues that are holding them back.

  1. What If

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The original title for this film was The F Word. I can see why it would have to be change, but I mean come on now it’s obviously referring to being in the friend zone. I just always found The F Word to be such a better title than the very generic what if. Zoe Kazan plays against Daniel Radcliffe as friends who may be attracted to each other.

Kazan is always great but the wild card here was always going to be Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe has played several different roles post-Harry Potter but the question remained, could he play the romantic lead? There is something weird about Radcliffe, not necessarily a bad thing, and he is quite shorter than your typical romantic lead but for the most part those end up being positives as Kazan brings out the best in him.

I mentioned how raw Kazan is and so she forces whoever she matches up with to also come with those same qualities. Kazan is used to playing a very vulnerable character and so her relationship with Radcliffe is very sweet even if the two are determined to keep it as just friends. After all, even though the recently broken up Radcliffe is single, Kazan is very much in a loving relationship. So there are boundaries the two most now cross…even if they do make a better match that Kazan and her boyfriend.

What If breaks no new ground but few films in the genre do. What will always separate these films from one another is the cast and their chemistry with one another. Anytime you cast Zoe Kazan, well you already have a great head start. Even with that, you can’t just throw her up against anybody and expect it to work. I’ll admit I had my doubts about Daniel Radcliffe. Would his inexperience lead to a missed opportunity and leave us wondering what if? Well no, for the most part Radcliffe holds his own against Kazan; giving us a very smart and sweet film.

  1. Edge of Tomorrow

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Once again you go from a very interesting title, All You Need is Kill, into a very generic one. Hell, even the tag line, ‘Live, Die, Repeat,’ would have made a better title. It doesn’t take anything away from the finished film of course, but perhaps it did alter the perception of it and who would or would not see it.

Beyond that though, this is such a great action/sci-fi film with such an interesting premise. It’s basically a video game brought to life. You die, but each time you die you learn a little bit more which prepares you for your next life. Oh yeah, it also has Tom Cruise as a coward, Emily Blunt as a bad ass and some crazy looking aliens to throw it over the top.

Tom Cruise plays a role which he never plays. Cruise is used to playing the hero by now, it’s a role I’m sure he could play in his sleep. While he does get to be the hero by the end of the film, it’s how he gets there that makes this something special. Cruise starts off as a weasel, knowing for a fact that he wants nowhere near the battlefield. Circumstances change and he’s forced into battle.

This is where Emily Blunt comes in. It’s such a stereotype-defying role that I’m certain she salivated at the thought of it. Blunt plays the actual hero of the war. Blunt plays the respected war veteran who much teach Cruise how to fight and how to survive so they can put an end to this crazy alien threat.

Naturally, since Cruise dies over and over, we see a lot of the same scenes with a twist here and there. The repetition allows for numerous comedic moments of Cruise getting himself into some crazy situations. Cruise hasn’t really played this role before, neither has Blunt. It’s a nice change of pace and refreshing to see both individuals change things up a bit. I’m still stumped as to why this film didn’t really connect with audiences. It’s an original idea, not a sequel; it’s just an extremely fun and smart movie which is so rare these days.

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