Top 25 Films of 2014 (25-21)

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25. Lone Survivor

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When you think about it, this movie has a lot in common with Man of Steel. Both films take their time to build to the madness but once it gets there, it is balls-to-the-wall action. The second half of both films are non-stop battles.

Lone Survivor is not pretty whatsoever. It poses a no-win dilemma that leads to the death of good men who believe they are doing good things. Beyond that, these men just want to survive this trip through hell and make it home in one piece. The title of the movie is of course a spoiler that tells you only one of these men will actually make it home.

Mark Wahlberg does fine work as Marcus Litrell, but he is surpassed by all three men playing his battle buddies. Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster all bring such a vulnerability to their roles and your heart almost breaks as you watch these three men meet their demise. The film is based on real life events so it’d be harsh to say the wrong or the least interesting person lived, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t at least admit that the thought popped into my head.

The beginning of the film is so quiet and reflective that it hurts that much more once it all goes to hell. It does such a great job of showing what it is that these men are fighting for and what they sacrifice by just being out there. Each gunshot wound, each cut and each bruise is felt. Like I said, it’s not pretty but war never is.

  1. 22 Jump Street

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Well, it’s not better than 21 Jump Street, but regardless of that, 22 Jump Street is still a great film by sequel standards. It pokes fun at sequels in general and of course at itself. I say that it’s not better than the original but of course few films actually are. That initial shock of how funny Channing Tatum was and how a film based on an old teenage cop show could actually be great, well that wasn’t there anymore.

By now, we know how natural Channing Tatum fits into this world and we’re no longer blindsided. I neglected to mention Jonah Hill since we already know what he can do, at this point Hill can play this type of role in his sleep. A lot of the characters and a lot of the ideas are back for this second installment, but the people involved with making the film believe it’s fine as long as they address it. I don’t think it really works that way.

Where 22 Jump Street really excels is when they introduce new characters and new ideas. There are a lot of new additions this time around and they all manage to keep up and shine. Instead of attempting to make Hill cool again, one of the misses of the first film, this time they address his awkwardness and how he most likely would be treated. The same can be said of Tatum. A guy like Tatum would be instantly cool and a jock so there’s no surprises there. They do throw a twist on it though as he forms a deep friendship with a fellow teammate that may not be quite what it seems. Another highlight? It features the best ending credits of any film this year…as long as those ideas don’t actually come true.

  1. Palo Alto

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To me this film is all about mood. I love how quiet the film seems, it’s something that is hard to explain but just watch the film and you’ll know what I mean. The film is based on a book of short stories written by James Franco. Franco has a small role in the film as a creepy gym teacher who has his eyes on the teenage girls he teaches. It’s as sleazy as it sounds and Franco seems to be having fun with it.

The anchor of the film however, is Emma Roberts. You sense that something is up with her and yet you can never quite put your finger on what. Perhaps this is why she gravitates towards Franco’s gym teacher. Roberts has her crush and yet when he sees that crush move to someone else, she does the same.

You get the sense that she wants someone to talk to her and be there for her and yet you still get the sense she’s so self-aware. When Franco is on the outs with Roberts for ignoring her during class and hitting on some of the other girls, she calls him on it. His response is something I’m sure he hits all the girls with, he tells Roberts he loves her. Confused, Roberts wonders why he would even say that. Needless to say, Roberts then puts an end to the ‘relationship.’

The rest of the films is a very realistic look into the lives of teenagers on the road to adulthood. There’s sex, there’s drug use, basically these kids are just looking to have a good time and forget whatever problems they may be going through. It’s very relatable and a very honest look into the minds of our youth. In case you haven’t pieced it together, it’s not always pretty.

  1. Neighbors

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Neighbors is loud and wacky, has outrageous and hysterical moments and yet when you break it down, it’s quite personal. This could be a sequel to Knocked Up, just substitute Rose Byrne for Katherine Heigl. Byrne is funnier here, by being as absolute clueless as Seth Rogen is. She breaks that stereotype that just because she’s a woman, she’s a natural mother.

The ending of Knocked Up has Rogen and Heigl driving home on their way from the hospital, having just gave birth to their first baby. That’s a huge step. The next big step is raising the baby and settling into their new home. That’s a huge challenge onto itself. Of course, we know what happens next. They just happened to buy their house right next to a fraternity.

Even the frat group members, led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco, aren’t just clichés. Yeah, they party all night and keep up the neighborhood, but there’s also more there. Franco knows there’s more to life than their current parties and so he’s prepared for the next steps and transitioning into a career. Efron on the other hand isn’t a complete moron, but he doesn’t have things as planned out as his Frat brother does.

The initial connection between Rogen and Efron is special to watch, but once Efron feels he’s been betrayed, there’s no turning back and that’s where the wacky hilarious stuff comes in. I mentioned Byrne earlier and she really is the MVP as she easily steals every scene she is in. Efron is another stand-out as he gets his Channing Tatum on. There really are no weak links in this talented cast.

  1. White Bird in a Blizzard

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This is the Shailene Woodley show. The film succeeds solely on her shoulders. That’s not to say someone like Eva Green, playing Woodley’s mother is not good, but Woodley just seems to be on another level. Fans of Woodley who only know her from Divergent or The Fault in Our Stars would wonder what the hell she was doing in a film like this.

Having watched her in other films like The Descendants or The Spectacular Now, I am aware or her range and so I get the appeal of her in a film like this. She’s nude quite a bit in the film but it never feels like a dirty film. It’s plays up quite a nice mystery and while I can see why it didn’t set the world on fire. I still liked it quite a bit.

Much like in all her films, Woodley is the center of attention and any scene she is in is instantly elevated. Eva Green doesn’t get too much to do except play crazy. She’s defined in the film more by her absence that by her presence. At first Woodley believes that her mother just walked out of her life so she attempts to forget the whole situation. As the years pass by however, things don’t quite seem to add up.

Woodley seduces a detective played by Thomas Jane, though honestly she doesn’t have to do much. Jane much like the audience stands no chance up against her charms. The thing that sets her apart is not just her looks, but her vulnerability. She wants the attention she wasn’t getting from her boyfriend and she wants to grow up too fast.

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