The Top 25 Films of 2014 (10-6)

  1. Wild

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I wasn’t expecting too much from Wild. The title itself isn’t too original. I mean, it’s just a rip-off of Into the Wild (one of my favorite movies) right? That thought probably did jump into my head, would this just be a female version? Well despite the similar titles, the two really aren’t connected at all. Wild is funnier in places yet it also hurts more. If it makes sense, ‘Wild’ is also more satisfying. So yes, Wild hits all of those notes and that all falls onto the shoulders of actress Reese Witherspoon. The role of Cheryl Strayed isn’t glamorous, it isn’t about being liked or being viewed as pretty or sexy. The road to forgiveness or redemption isn’t always pretty, but it’s real.

Witherspoon is solo for most of the film, minus some interaction with a couple hikers she comes across as well as a few others. Yet we are always invested in her story, good or bad. There are flashbacks in the film, but really they’re memories. They come quick, randomly and out of sequence much like they do in real life. Those memories show us such a painful past with a young girl looking to ease that pain in all of the wrong places.

Witherspoon sees herself as a horrible person and for her the only way to put the past behind her is by doing something damn near impossible and that’s hiking along the PCT, even though she had almost no hiking experience. There are times where it would have been so easy for her to just pack it up and go home, just like some of the people she encountered did. But no, that’s not even an option for her. You get the feeling that she would rather die than live another day with the regrets and baggage she carries. With every mile, every step she takes, it’s another mistake left behind.

This is about a personal journey, but also I love the physical part of it; the lighthearted stuff. I’m not a huge fan of hiking, I prefer the run, still anything involving the human body and pushing yourself past the point of what people think you can or can’t do, that’s the stuff I crave and love watching. You mix that with the real and gritty moments of life and it’s a perfect recipe.

It’s not always easy to watch though. We watch Witherspoon engage in so much promiscuous sex with strangers, she cheats on her husband and she shares needles; injecting her body with poison. We want to pull her to the side and save her from all of it, but we are helpless to do anything about it much like she is. I’m sure in her mind she believed that she had to make those mistakes. As she says in the end, as much as it hurt she wouldn’t change a thing. She got to the place she needed to be, even if it wasn’t s straight line to get there.

  1. Interstellar

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A Christopher Nolan film set primarily in outer space, how can you not get excited about that? Based on that alone, the film would get compared to Kubrick or 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only comparison I see is that they both involve outer space. Nolan is aiming high but also for something different. The thing that sets his film apart is that it has heart. It’s not a love story, at least not in the traditional sense, but yeah it’s full of heart.

Despite the beautiful images and huge ideas, it’s a personal story about a father and daughter. Matthew McConaughy plays the father, a former NASA pilot who has been tasked with finding the human race a new place to live. Okay, it sounds huge when you put it that way. Still, it is about a man trying to ensure a place for his daughter to thrive and live to see her potential. Well, for his kids and everyone else’s kids. We spent short time on Earth but we see that the planet is becoming less and less hospitable. If something isn’t done, the way we live will end as the human race faces the threat of extinction. So there aren’t any crazy aliens or anything like that. Much like it’s always been, our greatest threat is ourselves.

So McConaughy leaves his family behind as he travels through a wormhole in search for another hospitable planet. Luckily for us, there are three possible candidates on the other side of that wormhole. This movie can be ridiculous or confuse the hell out of you if you let it, don’t. There are very trippy things on display here, but what matters beyond that is that human connection. Nolan realizes that which is why he focuses on that bond between us. It’s no surprise that the film looks gorgeous. It looks huge which in turn makes the rest of us all look tiny which we are compared to the rest of the universe.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t all there for the screening of the film so there were parts that I missed that really prevented me from loving this film so much more. Instead I’m left to fill in the blanks and I’m left with a ton of admiration for the ambition instead. It doesn’t take a genius though to realize that Interstellar is something special and so different.

By the time we get to the ending and to the bookcase, you’re either with it or you’re not. I can understand it from both sides and why viewers would be turned off by the outrageous implications. I can also say that it didn’t bother me. It’s not that I don’t want to put too much thought into it, to me that would be missing the point. I appreciate what Nolan was attempting and in such a stale industry where so many ideas get recycled, I’d give him a standing ovation for that alone.
8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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I love the Planet of the Apes series and I loved the previous installment as well. I don’t think I could articulate how much I loved it. Still, Dawn of the Apes is not the same. I don’t think I was prepared for what this was, it’s almost something I didn’t want. I couldn’t really explain it as I finished watching it for the first time. It just wasn’t pretty, but war never is. That’s what this sequel is, a war movie with boneheads on both sides.

It’s not about apes good, man bad. To me, it’s about good and bad people on both sides but also it’s about asking, ‘why must we kill each other?’ And yet, it’s inevitable. There’s no way to stop it. The second Koba gets his hand on the rifles, you just know that everything has changed and it hurts to watch. It might be silly to some for people to get so invested into a film involving talking apes, but it’s not just that. It’s hard to not see the real world parallels.

Dawn takes place ten years after Rise and by now we’re full into the ‘Simian Flu’ and millions of humans being wiped off the face of the Earth. Caesar is the leader of his pack of Apes and they’re just building their civilization, minding their own business. They don’t know if humans still live and they don’t really care. That all changes as ‘The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,’ very much comparable to the one that led to World War I, sets the story in motion. One of the humans who would be considered a member of the ‘bad side’ shoots one of the apes and well, that peace is broken.

Caesar must be a strong leader and yet also stay true to himself. His comrades all follow him and show loyalty without question, but there are ‘bad seeds’ even among his own kind. That bad seed would be Koba who has only seen the bad side of man and believes that all humans are evil. Koba, disfigured has been experimented on in labs since birth and so he has nothing but hatred for man. With all of the things Caesar has on his mind, he fails to see how Koba will be his downfall. He sees it once it’s too late as Koba turns out to be the Brutus to his Julius Caesar.

The technology in these films continues to amaze as we’ve certainly come a long way from the men in monkey suits. These new films take it to a new level through breath-taking realism. Of course it wouldn’t work it if was all just the technical side that dazzles. It always starts with the script and the story it what matters most. Dawn and Rise do not disappoint.

I don’t know what I was expecting, I mean it’s not like man and ape would be able to just peacefully co-exist right? The war and the loss of lives was a given and there was no way to avoid it. I think I still wasn’t prepared though for how different the film was than its predecessor. It’s a great film in every way, but great films aren’t always easy to watch.

  1. Foxcatcher

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Foxcatcher is America as its darkest. It’s Steve Carrell as millionaire John Du Pont. Carrell is nearly unrecognizable and always creepy as the wacko Du Pont. From the moment Du Pont comes on screen you just know that the man isn’t all there and that this is not going to end well for somebody. Foxcatcher is all about the actors, with all due respect to director Bennett Miller of course. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo also deliver career-best work as Olympic Gold-medalists the Schwartz brothers.

The film feels real and hurts that much more because it is a true story. We see what desperation and jealousy leads to as we see the true face of the country. Like I said, Du Pont isn’t all there. There are so many warning signs that so many people, from the brothers to the local law enforcement, ignore. Why does it all go ignored? Well, because of the old money that Du Pont possessed. Money can make a lot of people turn their heads.

The films starts off with Tatum at a low point, an Olympic Gold medalist going through the same routine daily, seemingly abandoned by his country. Tatum has the looks and the body, but his brother is the charismatic one; he’s the one that people want. So Tatum carries around this feeling of jealousy that he will never be better than his brother even though they are both Olympic champions. So enter Du Pont into the lives of the Schwartz brothers. He can’t get Dave so he targets Tatum’s Mark.

He feeds into that insecurity and tells Tatum what he wants to hear about how much his country owes him and how he wants the nation to be great again. Du Pont offers the money and a place for Mark to train, having already been turned down by Dave. Mark devotes his life to Du Pont and gets caught up in his crazy lifestyle. He gets into cocaine and begins to lose focus.

Ruffalo wants nothing but the best for his little brother and so as he sees how rough Tatum is doing, he actually loses his cool and has to smack some sense into him. Ruffalo realizes that the best way to protect Tatum from himself is to train alongside him so he accepts the offer from Du Pont to stay at the Foxcatcher estate. This only triggers more jealousy from Tatum.

Much like Wild, the movie is dark but the physical side of it makes it a bit easier to watch. In this instance, the physical part is the wrestling instead of hiking. Wrestling and getting your hands dirty is what Du Pont has always wanted, even though he possesses none of those athletic abilities. He does however have his wallet and sometimes that’s more important.

The film begins dark and also ends on a dark note, but something about it still makes it easy to watch. These three great actors make you feel something for their characters; whether it’s hate or anger or sympathy. You’re going to leave this film with strong feelings one way or the other.

  1. Top Five

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Chris Rock really came out of nowhere right? Now, obviously Rock is one of the funniest men alive and his stand-up in nothing short of revolutionary. What I meant was that as a director/writer, Rock came out of nowhere and knocked it out of the park. No one was expecting this. Yet what we have is one of the funniest and smartest movies of the year. I see Rock and the film getting a lot of critical praise but not too many actually showing their love for the film. Hands down, I love this film.

So many times when you have a film with an all-black cast, that’s what it’s labeled as. That’s wrong in itself of course, but this isn’t that type of film. It’s hard to avoid talks of race, but it’s also about more than that. It’s just funny. From the larger roles to the cameos, everyone here is at the top of their game. I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I got was such a great surprise.

The ‘Top Five’ of it comes from discussions between Rock and some of his friends about who’s in their top five greatest rappers list. There are plenty of discussions in the film period, I mean thoughtful discussion. Watching Chris Rock and actress Rosario Dawson open the film, walking and talking, I got that Before Sunrise feeling. It’s not that film of course but still the feeling hit me.

Rosario Dawson in my opinion is what takes the film to the next level. The talks between her and Rock just come so natural and she just has such as easy smile. Dawson has a complicated past in the film and yet somehow you never feel the need to judge her. It’s almost like, ‘who cares?’ You see without a doubt why Rock would question his relationship with Gabrielle Union and would be interested in her.

The cameos; they all hit. You get such a strong feeling that the comedic community is such a strong one since Rock pretty much got all of his friends to at least show their face on-screen. I love that despite comedy being such a competitive field, you see how much they all support each other. It’s hard to single out one person since everyone from Cedric the Entertainer to Tracy Morgan to Kevin Hart to Adam Sandler all bring the funny in roles both big and small. And of course it wouldn’t be possible without Rock.

Even though Chris Rock is not as huge as he portrays himself to be in the film, it still seems so real and autobiographical. I see how it could have been modeled after someone like Sandler. Still, Rock manages to balance it all and make it all feel so fresh. He manages to be able to blend in any environment and have a conversation with anyone. Of course it’s not all smart humor, as there’s plenty of gross-out gags as well. It’s such a great mixture of the two.

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