2014 was the best year for cinema in 15 years – and not just for superhero, horror, and sci-fi/fantasy flicks, but for damn near every genre there is. What’s even crazier to think about is that 2015 could be even better, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Jurassic World, Terminator: Genesis, the final Hunger Games film, and tons more geek culture event pictures headed our way. But let’s step out of the DeLorean for a second and focus on the superheroes, monsters, robots, spaceships, explosions, and talking raccoons that thrilled us over the course of the past year.
10.) Big Hero 6
A bold, bright piece of animated spectacle from Disney that nevertheless was actually about grief and how it can either consume you and twist you into something terrible, or open your eyes to what’s really important in life. Baymax is a breakout merchandising machine for the studio, and rightly so, because he’s an absolute blast of a character. Not only does Big Hero 6 deliver a rollicking, dynamic, sci-fi/superhero action; it’s also a love letter the sciences, robotics, and ingenuity in general. Movies, at their best, can be immensely inspiring, and I think a lot of wide-eyed kids came out of this movie itching to get into engineering, physics, and robotics.[divider]
If you count yourself among the folks who hated this movie, I totally get it. This was not the fun, popcorn munching monster slugfest you were hoping for. Instead, you got director Gareth Edwards channeling his inner Spielberg and denying you full-on looks at the mayhem reigning down on the poor citizens of Las Vegas, Honolulu, and San Francisco. Edwards’ blueprint for Godzilla seemed to be more Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind than Pacific Rim, and that really rubbed people the wrong way, but I enjoyed the tension-building and the delayed gratification. The effects were also impeccable and awe-inspiring; no one can make you feel the scale of these gargantuan creatures like Edwards. I look forward to what this Spielberg/Nolan hybrid director has in store for his Star Wars spin-off.
8.) The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Another serving of epic fantasy storytelling and emotional character beats mixed with a preponderance of awful CGI, fakey green screen environments, and oh so much narrative padding from a beleaguered Peter Jackson. The titular battle is one of the longest, craziest, silliest, wildest, and admittedly pretty fun sequences in the history of cinema, and there’s just enough resonance to the arcs of Thorin Oakenshield and Bilbo Baggins to get this trilogy past the finish line in a respectable place. It’s a bronze medal winner.
7.) X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Days Of Future Past is one of those movies that really had no right being as good as it eventually turned out. Despite Bryan Singer’s insistence on keeping all of his superheroes clad in utilitarian black leather or street clothes (making the production feel instantly dated in light of just about every modern comic book movie embracing page-accurate attire), the film works because of the compelling narrative fireworks among its three strong leads – James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence. Days also surprised jaded audiences ready to hate Singer’s goofy version of Quicksilver by delivering what is arguably the most innovative and fun action sequence of the year.
6.) Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Bleak, haunting, brutal, and compelling, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes expands upon its surprising predecessor and improves on it in just about every way. Andy Serkis once again provides masterful voice work and motion capture performance as the ape leader Ceasar, but Toby Kebell may have just been slightly better as Caesar’s terrifying chief antagonist, Koba. The CGI mo-cap ape effects are photorealistic and astounding, the conflict with the human cast and cultural allegories are poignant, and it all ends in a fiery showdown between man and apes that leaves this rejuvenated franchise rife with endless possibilities and directions to explore in future installments.
5.) The Lego Movie
What looked to be a shameless marketing ploy with unlimited product tie-ins turned out to be a wildly funny, sharp, and irreverent comedy-action home run from the winning directing tandem of Lord & Miller (you know, those 21 & 22 Jumpstreet guys). I was absolutely gobsmacked by how much this film thrilled me and tickled my funny bone; my sides were literally aching from laughing at the ceaseless, frantic gags flying fast and furious at the screen. Will Arnett’s comically tormented, narcissistic Batman is simply masterful stuff, as is Chris Pratt’s star-turn as everyday shmoe Lego denizen Emmet. The Lego Movie teaches us that you don’t need an instruction manual to play, or to create something wonderful. While at the same time, it ends up being a very meta parable which reminds us you don’t need one to live, either.
4.) Edge Of Tomorrow
The trailers were underwhelming, the title of the movie bland and disposable, and it starred Tom Cruise. That added up to a “three strikes and you’re out” scenario for many moviegoers (myself included) before this high-concept Groundhog Day meets Gears Of War film even had a chance to open. Predictably, it didn’t perform well at the box office (earning only $100 million domestic), but those willing to give the movie a chance were rewarded with a well-paced, dynamic, intriguing, and intense sci-fi actioner that effectively reproduced the sensation of playing an immersive video game, while effectively conveying themes of personal redemption at the same time. The ending remains a polarizing topic, but the consensus on
All You Need Is Kill, Live Die Repeat, Edge Of Tomorrow, is that it’s a genre film worth revisiting over and over.
An incendiary sci-fi masterpiece from director Bong Joon-Ho, Snowpiercer is a perpetually running powder keg of societal allegory. Forced to live in cramped squalor in the rear section of a supertrain endlessly traversing the frozen earth in the aftermath of an experiment to reverse global climate change gone horribly awry – Chris Evans’ Curtis leads an uprising of the lower class against the bureaucrats and plutocracy oppressing them while living a life of luxury in the front cars of the locomotive. Battling his way through cars—each one offering up different obstacles and class system metaphors—Curtis ultimately arrives at the “sacred engine” and comes to several horrific realizations. Joon-Ho lends a wonderfully gritty and weird aesthetic to the film, creating an environment akin to a George Miller Mad Max film fused with Terry Gilliam surreality and Asian action cinema brutality. It’s one of the most wildly original and thought-provoking sci-fi films in years.
2.) Captain America: The Winter Solider
The Russo Brothers instantly shot to the upper echelon of superhero action directors with this hard-hitting Cap sequel that posited the unwaveringly virtuous Sentinel of Liberty into the morally grey modern-day, where he not only had to contend with complex political ideologies and an America embroiled in ethical controversies like drone strikes, Patriot acts, and NSA wire tapping; but a personal ghost from his past as well in the form of the titular Winter Soldier. Packed with face-smashing fisticuffs, daring escapes, high-octane car-chases, blazing gun battles, and intense superhero thrills – this ode to ’70s political thrillers like 3 Days Of The Condor mixed with some good, ol’ fashioned sci-fi/fantasy comic book twistery is instantly in the running for the title of best Marvel Studios movie, if not the best superhero movie ever made, period.
1.) Guardians Of The Galaxy
Have you ever been with a group of friends or family and lamented, “Why don’t they make movies like Star Wars/Indiana Jones/insert ’70s or ’80s-era adventure blockbuster here/ anymore?” Well, Marvel Studios made one in 2014 that combined the best elements of those misty, magic rollercoaster rides with the modern sensibilities and whiz-bang spectacle of their cinematic superhero universe. The result was a movie that restored faith in many that summer blockbusters could be fun again and have actual, you know, characters to give a shit about. Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket were real people…err…aliens…err…raccoons…err…trees…that made us laugh, made us feel their emotional trauma, and made us root for a rag-tag group of beings simply searching for something to fill the void in their existences – something we all do every single day. Throw in an instantly iconic ’70s soul, pop, and rock soundtrack and some spectacular Star Wars-style action and adventure, and you’ve got the #1 reason to head to the theater in 2014.
Oh, and once again, THIS:
*Just missed: John Wick, Interstellar, Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.
Top 5 WORST of 2014:
5.) I, Frankenstein
4.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
2.) Amazing Spider-Man 2
1.) Transformers: Age of Extinction