An ongoing series of movie selections that I consider to be overlooked & underappreciated.
This is a list of the 2014 movies I saw, in the order in which I liked them. I have trouble getting actual reviews posted these days. So instead I have a couple of brief sentences included here on the list, for lack of anything more.
- The LEGO Movie
Everything is awesome! (sorry, couldn’t resist). Like many people did, I loved this movie. It’s silly, insane, hugely action-packed, surprisingly touching and loads upon loads of fun.
- Guardians Of The Galaxy
Who knew? A Marvel franchise I’d never heard of before first reports of the movie going into production. Not only that, but it’s a rather weird one, and it works spectacularly. Unlike most of the modern comic films, this one is less interested in trying to ground itself in reality. It’s layers of sci-fi with wonderful characters, fantastic production, and a witty & fully satisfying script. Easily one of the best comic-based movies in recent decades.
- Veronica Mars
My placement of this movie on the list is unfair and hard for me to do. I’m a rabid fanatic of the series. I was a more-than-trivial Kickstarter backer. I’d feel guilty giving it my top spot on this list since I figure I’m overly biased and can’t objectively rank it. Perhaps by some point in the future, I’ll be able to better rank it. Put simply, I loved it, but as stated, I’m a massive fan of the series.
- Gone Girl
David Fincher is my favorite active director, and this is the kind of movie at which he excels. The plot and characters are very well drawn out and structured. The production is spot-on perfection. Simply put, it’s one of my favorites of the year.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson is easily one of my favorite active directors. It should come
aslittle surprise that I loved this goofy, eclectic and oddly charming movie, which is what one expects when seeing a Wes Anderson movie, of course.
- 22 Jump Street
Like the previous film, this one works way more than it should. It seems that directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord have a talent for making just about anything far more fun and entertaining than it could have been. And, as before, the cast is having an absolute ball with the material. The end credit montage of sequels is absolutely hilarious, and one of my movie-going highlights of the year. This is definitely the year of Lord & Miller. Well, and of Chris Pratt.
This one flew under the RADAR, supposedly because the director wouldn’t cave to the demands of the often-controversial and often-wrong Weinstein brothers to make changes to make the film more “accessible” to domestic audiences. He was right to not make the changes, but as a result the Weinsteins seemingly ignored the movie and tossed it out in release with pretty much zero effort or advertising. It’s a very fun action film. Maybe not terribly practical in its realism considerations, but fun in its execution.
- Edge Of Tomorrow
Probably the biggest surprise of the year. This one comes at many sci-fi genre stereotypes from wonderfully fun new angles. Central to the film are Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, who work perfectly. Starting off Tom Cruise’s character as a self-professed coward is a particularly great touch. The ending is problematic, though apparently
,that was something that was understood well enough for them to do different versions. Overall, probably the best sci-fi movie of the year.
- How To Train Your Dragon 2
Perhaps not quite as magnificent as the first film (which is easily my favorite DreamWorks animated movie), but still quite good. It features more breathtaking action sequences, wonderful charm and sublimely brilliant character animation (Toothless is yet again perfectly animated).
- John Wick
I’dnot even heard of this movie until seeing an advanced preview screening. Overall, a big thumbs up. While the movie is a very typical assassin/revenge genre movie in broad strokes and plot structure, it finds all sorts of ways to come at it from a fresh angle. It builds a surprisingly well-constructed world to inhabit, with all sorts of fun rules and concepts. It looks absolutely fantastic (and deserves high praise for eschewing the modern obsession with horrific shaky-cam cinematography, which I utterly loathe). It has a marvelously dry and fatalistic sense of humor. It also features a very well rounded cast and one of Keanu Reeves’ best performances. It has a couple of weak scenes (including a brief one at the end I absolutely hated).
- Deepsea Challenge
A well-assembled documentary on James Cameron’s deep dive into the Mariana Trench. I probably could have done without the 3D (I’ll find out once I see it in 2D on video if I’ll prefer it that way, which is likely).
- X-Men: Days Of Future Past
The X-Men franchise continues to bridge its mythology rather interestingly. It may have a few weak points, but the cast and production more than compensate for them. And thanks to the time travel components of the story, it gets to do some nifty rebooting of the material as well.
- Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
A worthy successor to the surprising reboot of the classic franchise. Feature excellent action, first-rate visual effects, nice character writing and fairly decent social commentary, it succeeds on most levels.
- The Fault In Our Stars
As a fan of John Green’s online video work, I hadn’t actually managed to read the book this is based on (I still haven’t). I thought the movie was quite good. A bit genre-typical in some ways, but quite good nonetheless.
To be clear, this movie shouldn’t work. It features a central concept that is scientifically idiotic (the whole 10% of the brain thing, which Hollywood seems unwilling to let go of) and a plot that is equal parts overly simple and wildly convoluted. Honestly, this script just plain shouldn’t work. Yet, somehow, against all the odds, it does. That is thanks in large part to Scarlett Johansson. Her performance goes from emotionally human to completely
detached. It’s something of a reversal from her hugely esoteric performance in this year’sUnder The Skin. Luc Besson lends it plenty of energy and style, which also definitely helps.
The ending doesn’t completely work, namely the last 10 minutes, but it doesn’t overly hurt the rest of the movie, which is good. An intriguing script is well produced and thankfully plays for ideas and suspense more than shock tactics or violence. And of course the fantastic cast helps a lot.
- Labor Day
Jason Reitman is a favorite director, and this surprisingly charming but grounded period piece is yet another excellent movie for his filmography. It doesn’t have the typical sarcastic or edgy character work his films usually do, but I still liked it. The nice cast is an extra benefit.
- The Monuments Men
This movie got a surprisingly poor reaction from critics and many audiences. I’m not sure why cause I very much enjoyed it. Then again, I consider George Clooney to be an under-rated director and my WWII fixation certainly helps. Clooney assembled a wonderful cast, which is also a great component.
- Need For Speed
When I saw the first trailers for this movie, I feared the worst. Perhaps that’s why I ended up liking it so much. It’s fairly simple, but not aggressively stupid like many of its genre (eg: some of the Fast & Furious franchise entries). It has spectacular production quality, including some nice stunt work and excellent cinematography. I saw it on a screen with quite possibly the greatest sound presentation I have ever experienced, which is another plus.
- Muppets Most Wanted
Not quite as good as the previous film (of which it picks up from the final seconds), but still plenty of fun. Lots of over-arching bad guy silliness. Plenty of Muppet madness.
- The Equalizer
About as good as one could possibly hope for from a movie that’s filled with genre stereotypes. Put a talented crew behind the camera and an excellent cast in front of it and you at least achieve very solid movie. There are very few actors that can pull off this role as well as Denzel.
One of the biggest surprises of the year. I wasn’t really expecting to like this one. What made many people not like it (and I know people who HATED it) is what actually made me quite like it – grounding the movie with Hercules as a normal human. Overall, I thought it was a solid film for the genre, and better than most of its kind. To those of you that hated it, that’s fine. I know it’s a kinda odd, lumbering action film. For whatever reason, it worked for me.
- Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
A bit paint-by-numbers, but it pulls it all off competently and with good entertainment value. Chris Pine is a good reboot version of Jack Ryan, and Kevin Costner works surprisingly well (though the character greatly benefits from his very dry acting style).
- Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
About as good as a live-action, sweet, family film from Disney can be expected to be. It’s like a more mainstream version of something like Malcolm In The Middle. Whatever imperfections the script might have, the great cast manages to compensate.
- The Maze Runner
Not a great sci-fi film, but pretty good. The ending feels a bit forced, and a bit too ” this is based on a series of books, so we have to quickly try to set up a franchise before the credits roll.” The young cast is overall pretty good, and the production is pretty good.
I rather liked this movie. Granted, I have a soft spot for disaster movies. But surprisingly, I rather liked much of the Roman gladiatorial stuff as well, which is often hit-or-miss for me as a genre. The 3D was actually half decent (for me to say that is quite a compliment). Overall, a great production with a nice cast (Kiefer Sutherland is particularly great). I know it’s totally Hollywoodized, but that’s OK if they get the tone right.
A movie I wish I loved, but I only decently liked. My main problem with the movie was that the main character made too many odd choices that I wouldn’t have made in his place. Still, it’s well produced and features Liam Neeson in an action role, so that’s a major plus.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I liked the first Captain America a lot. I didn’t like this one as much. I refer to it as The Captain Ultimatum due to how much it apes from the Bourne films, in both style and plot. I have many specific problems with the movie but still enjoyed it enough.
- Under The Skin
This one is wildly experimental and incredibly abstract. It’s very hard to describe because it leaves so much open to interpretation. I suppose it’s something of an impressionistic alien abduction story. The biggest advantage the movie has going for it is an amazingly detached performance from Scarlett Johansson.
- Into The Storm
OK, so I’m a nerd when it comes to Tornado Chasing. Not a lot of film and TV has been super-realistic on the topic. Sadly, it’s the
“”reality “”shows about it that are utterly intolerable (seriously, how can you make something as awesome as tornado chasing so insufferable as the reality shows do?). Into The Storm is well produced and the script is adequate, though not particularly great. The movie has good action set pieces but feels a little uneven. It lacks the flow of the superior Twister. Still, I found it entertaining enough, and will probably enjoy additional viewings on video well enough.
Who knew? They actually made a passable Godzilla reboot. This one may not be perfect, but it’s likely as good as I could have hoped for (I’m not particularly a fan of the classic franchise). It has it where it counts, and is moderately clever when it needs to be.
- The Expendables 3
Probably my favorite of the franchise so far. Granted, that’s not a super-high bar to clear, though I’ve moderately enjoyed the previous two films. The movies wouldn’t really work all too well if it wasn’t for the honestly impressive parade of cast members featured throughout.
- The November Man
Yeah, so it’s a bit derivative for the genre, full of stereotypes and kinda obvious plotting and characters. Having said that, I did enjoy it. It’s a solid production with a cast that can do their roles blindfolded. If you’re gonna make a fairly obvious movie of the genre, this is at least an example of how to make it work. Special mention goes to Marco Beltrami’s music score.
- Sin City: A Dame To Die For
It’s not as good as the great first film, but still worthy enough to compliment it. At least it’s a LOT better than The Spirit (now there’s a low bar to clear). Production and cast make it feel like a natural continuation of the first film.
- Vampire Academy
This movie got a poor reception, but I generally enjoyed it. Certainly not the best work of either of the Waters brothers, but fun and funny enough. If it were more aggressively satirical it could have been fantastic.
I rather liked the first 2/3 of the movie. Last 1/3, not so much. Still, better than many of the recent “from the international best selling series of books” fad films. A nice cast is a definite help.
- The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Some of the scenes in this movie work wonderfully. Some very much don’t. The last act of the movie is quite problematic. Not as good as the first Amazing Spider-Man, but at least better than the third Raimi movie.
I wasn’t expecting too much from this remake – after all, the sequels sucked. While not perfect, or even particularly great, I did like it a bit more than I was expecting.
The very definition of a hit-or-miss movie. Much of it is jaw-droppingly insane, yet a lot of it is indie character drama. While I often admire movies that blend genre, style
andtone, this one essentially strips the transmission trying to shift gears so drastically and so often.
- I, Frankenstein
A mixed bag in most ways. The cast is generally the strongest component. Barely entertaining enough for one viewing.
While it may be very well produced, with a great cast and some interesting ideas, this one misses the mark too much of the time. I really wanted to like it more, but I couldn’t manage more than an
“”eh, it’s OK. “”
I’m a fan of director Darren Aronofsky. I was doubtful about this one from the start, and I was kinda right to be so. It adapts events of Genesis with the typically laughable level of Hollywood
film making. Put simply, it bears laughably little similarity beyond character names and the most basic of plot points. Oddly, it’s one of the biggest departures that I found most interesting (the dark and nihilistic Noah of the final act). Most of the movie actually getsthe intention of the original text completely backwards. Production quality is mixed, surprisingly. The great cast is the primary good thing it has going for it. Clint Mansell’s score is pretty good, but not as good as his other Aronofsky film scores. All things being equal, this was a poor movie choice for Aronofsky to take on.
- Mr. Peabody & Sherman
I wanted to like this movie, but I have to reluctantly give it a mild thumb down. This was simply targeted too specifically at kids. There was way too much of the humor that made me wince, and not in a good way. A good amount of it just fell flat for
- The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies
Been a while since I’ve been so happy for a movie to finally end. The only points this movie gets are thanks to Martin Freeman (well, and I suppose Howard Shore, though he seemed to be a bit on auto-pilot).
- Nothing Yet
- Nothing Yet (Huzzah!)