The Top 25 Films of 2014 (15-11)

Honorable Mention: The Interview

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All the controversy and the censorship prevented this film from entering my top 25, but I still liked the film very much so I thought I’d at least find some way to include it in my list. It’s hard not to watch this movie now and think about all the crazy it caused. People tell me they have to see it now or how they saw the ending already. It’s never been about that.

This is a James Franco and Seth Rogen movie so it’s always one that I had my eyes on. These two have starred together in Freaks and Geeks, Pineapple Express and This is the End so how is any project from the two not going to enter my radar? There’s a crazy premise yes but This is the End also had a crazy premise. The Interview became more than a film, but if it draws more people into watching it then I can’t really complain.

Seth Rogen once again plays the straight man to Franco’s wild and crazy antics. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Franco and Rogen are going to interview the Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un for their TV show and the CIA taps the two to assassinate him. See, wild premise. Still, there’s an opportunity for these two to bring the funny as well as touching on some real issues through that comedy. The duo does not disappoint.

Yes, there are a lot of dick jokes, but so what? We can’t be too serious right? Another great performance comes from Randall Park who plays the Korean dictator. His performance is funny with a layer of sadness added on top yet menacing when it needs to be. Had this movie come out when originally scheduled, I would have found a place for it in my top 25, instead I place it here. I won’t say it needs to be watched out of some patriotic duty, but it certainly should be if you like being entertained.

  1. In Your Eyes

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What a year Zoe Kazan has had. I’m probably biased since she is one of my favorite actresses but still to make my list three times in one year, all in starring roles, is a pretty impressive feat. I’ve mentioned how raw she is and how she has a touch of sadness in her roles yet it’s also quite impressive how different she is in each role. It’s funny how I almost didn’t even see this film before locking my list. I was just scrolling through Netflix and there was her face. Almost immediately I figured out what it was.

Kazan plays Rebecca while Michael Stahl-David plays opposite her as Dylan. Stahl has a familiar face that you feel you’ve seen multiple times before which is funny since I’ve only seen him in Cloverfield. Surprise, surprise, the film has a very somber tone and sadness to it. It’s sort of a supernatural love story. The premise of the two main characters being able to talk to each other even though they are across the country from each other gives is such a unique edge on films doing the same thing. They can also see what the other sees and while it should come off creepy, it’s mostly sweet; that is until the last act where the film turns into something else. Kazan’s husband is so mean-spirited towards her and almost looks at her with disgust that you just can’t help but wonder why she would be married to him. The film was written by Joss Whedon and I didn’t really know he had those subtle, sweet moments in him. Yet, I can also see why the film diverted from its path so much.

The last act felt like I flipped the channel and was suddenly watching another movie. I would have preferred a quieter more subtle yet still happy ending. All the crazy stuff that happens with the car chase or the stuff at the crazy hospital or the jumping on trains, that just wasn’t needed at all. It really draws the attention in a negative way and while I felt with a worthy ending, it could have been so much better. Instead we’re left with an excellent two-thirds and average last act that made the overall film just a good one. It’s disappointing when you think about what could have been, but it’s still Kazan and still worth your attention.

  1. The Lego Movie

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There’s no way this should have worked right. By my ranking, the best animated movie of the year was one based off Lego toys? Well, it could have been just an empty cash grab. I mean, kids would get their parents to buy the toys either way so who cares about quality right? Well, the Lego Movie was more than that and greater than it had any right to be. This movie is smart and funny and delivers some very interesting ideas.

Lego has access to everything so it’s great that they actually show that in the movie, so instead of feeling small, the world of Lego feels huge. Just look at the video games that Lego has released: the world of DC, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars to name a few. Well, with the exception of Indiana Jones, all those characters are here. Not only are the major characters here but they are brought to life by such great voice casting. Will Arnett destroys it as Batman, Liam Neeson brings the funny as a good cop/bad cop and the Jump Street duo of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill bring their chemistry to the characters of Superman and Green Lantern, respectively.

All these huge names are just supporting characters in this story as the main star is Chris Pratt as brand new creation Emmitt. Emmitt is just a regular Joe; bland and forgettable and well, that’s what makes him special. Watching some of the images in the film, you can’t help but say wow as you imagine the man-hours the animation department worked on making look so amazing.

The film switches towards live-action in a last act that involves Will Ferrell and I’ll say I certainly wasn’t expecting that. It speaks to all the man-children who lock up their toys with a refusal to let their children actually play with them; you know, what they’re actually meant for. Have I mentioned the song, “Everything is Awesome.” Well, it certainly is and man is it catchy.

With the success of this film I know sequels and spinoffs will be released that will be huge. Well, there’s no way those films will be able to hit us by surprise the way this film did. We weren’t expecting anything at all. What we did get, however was something pretty great that can be enjoyed by all. That is such a tough feat to pull off.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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In a time when so many superhero movies come out each year, it’s hard to make ones that really stick out. The First Avenger did that by being set during World War II and having such a different tone than the other films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Winter Soldier also goes such a different route, even from the first film. The two films stick out so much from the rest of the pack. I won’t debate which one is the better of the two, but they are both two of my personal favorites.

I never knew I liked Captain America so much until the films came out. Thinking about it now, it’s a no-brainer. Steve Rogers is everything we would like to be. He’s a great person even before the super serum, and well after he’s turned into human perfection, he still retains those qualities that made him the perfect candidate for the experiment. Steve Rogers is that good ol’ boy that Clark Kent is, both are cut from the same cloth.

The First Avenger ended on such a dark note with Rogers waking up 70 years into the future. Since The Avengers followed right after, a lot of that could not be explored and had to be pushed to the side. With The Winter Soldier we finally could get to the real good stuff. I mean think about it, everyone Steve ever knew is dead and gone. Well, with the exception of Peggy.

The scene between Steve and Peggy on her death bed, that is the movie to me. That says so much and puts so much on your mind even though it’s such a short scene. There’s so much regret and sadness in that scene of a life that could have been. Imagine looking at the love of your life in her prime and soon after you’re looking into those same eyes, but now you’re looking into someone you hardly recognize. All the while, you look the same.

One thing that does bug me about the MCU films, is how no one stays dead. I mean come on, how are we supposed to take anyone ‘dying’ seriously from now on. Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury is the latest to ‘come back to life’ after meeting his demise. I’m not craving death or anything like that but dead should be dead.

Besides that, the film is tight with great new additions. Black Widow and The Falcon fit perfectly into Captain America’s world. The stuff with Bucky and the flashbacks really hit a sincere note. Iron Man gets all the attention but Captain America has really been the MVP of the MCU.

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Who knew this would be such a great movie right? All the ingredients were certainly there but the question always remained, could they pull it off? The answer was an astounding yes. The biggest wildcards: a talking raccoon and tree are arguably the ones that connected with audiences the most. I know personally, Rocket was my favorite.

Marvel really took a chance with several things. First off, they put director James Gunn in charge of the whole thing. That’s the smartest thing they could have done. With Gunn leading the charge, everything else naturally fell into place. Well at least Gunn made it seem that way. The two biggest stars in the cast, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel were nowhere to be seen as they voiced Rocket and Groot, respectively.

It shouldn’t have worked right? And now they all look like a million bucks. Chris Pratt went from tubby funny man into a fit leading man who was a natural for the Han Solo-type Star Lord. Pratt is the anchor holding it all together. It’s not a huge stretch to compare him to Robert Downey Jr. and his initial performance as Iron Man. This is one of those times where the actor and character fit perfectly together and create something truly special.

I’m sure Marvel was confident with what they had but I’m certain that they were in no way expecting this to be bigger than The Winter Soldier and the highest grossing domestic film of the year, depending on the Hunger Games. Word of mouth just spread and audiences connected with the film in such a special way. Guardians of the Galaxy certainly has its ties to other films in the MCU but the best thing they did was make it stand on its own. No one wants to feel like they have to do homework or play catch up on other films in a series when watching a movie. I’d venture a guess that most people who saw the film didn’t even know there was a connection to the other Marvel films. While the association doesn’t hurt, this was a case where it benefited from standing on its own.

James Gunn and Marvel embraced the weird and the opportunity to tell a huge Star Wars-influenced story. I won’t say original since the comparisons to The Avengers are certainly there, still this feels bigger since it’s not contained to just one place. With so many films in the MCU having the same kind of tone, it’s pretty impressive for Guardians of the Galaxy to stand out so much.

  1. X-Men: Days of Future Past

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This new young cast has injected the X-Men films with so much energy and such a great second life. While it never hurts to have Jennifer Lawrence in your film, her role as Mystique still seems to take a back seat despite her larger role in these films. The real stars of these films are Magneto and Professor X. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, how much did they luck out by being able to cast these two. They were the best part of the first film, First Class and no surprises they are also the best parts of this film.

Days of Future Past is such a huge story featuring so many characters. It could have been such a disaster, but luckily for us everything works here. I have no objections about Wolverine being the one sent back in time. Yes, it was Kitty Pride originally, but come on in these films, who else would it be besides Wolverine. It makes so much sense on a story level.

Director Matthew Vaughn had so much fun setting First Class during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1960’s, here Bryan Singer gets to have his fun in the 1970’s. These settings are such a huge part of the story that it never feels like just a gimmick. Now it’s a time travel story so it’s also set in the future with the older versions of these characters being used. It gives us a great opportunity to bring back Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan among others and blend them with the younger cast.

So from the start of the film, it feels like we’re watching something special as the stakes feel huge from the jump. The main focus of the film remains the bond between Magneto, Charles and Raven/Mystique. It continues that story from the first film where we saw how these characters met and are connected. There’s the pain in all of their hearts as they attempt to find their place in the world. There’s pain in sacrificing your powers for the chance to walk, there’s pain in saying goodbye to old friends and there’s pain in knowing that things can never go back to how they were.

The other thing that Days of Future Past does is fix the mess that is the X-Men continuity; it pretty much erases X-3 and gives opportunity to tell stories with the older cast of X-Men characters. I don’t think that will happen though because honestly I’d rather see the new cast at work. While I’ll never turn down the chance to see Stewart or McKellen, you just get the feeling you’re watching something special as you watch Fassbender and McAvoy interact. It is such a great problem to have.

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