Thursday, February 26, 2015

Nathan's Top 15 Movies of 2014

By almost all measures, 2014 was a down year for me, as far as movies go. The number of films I saw was down drastically compared to previous years - I feel comfortable with the films represented in my list though. I was still able to see most of the big blockbusters and many of the award show darlings. In regards to the total field of movies I did see, I sum it up as a year where there was a lot to like, but not a lot to love. Over the past five years or so, it’s been extremely easy to pick my #1 film. Whether it was by a sequel to a franchise I already loved and was highly invested in (ex: the Harry Potter films, The Dark Knight trilogy) or a film that came out of nowhere and blew me away (ex: Kick-Ass), there were always at least one or two films that were way ahead of the pack. This year didn't have that. I didn't know what I was going to put in my top spot until I was going through my pre-list and crossing films off until I had only one left. There were a handful of films I knew would be in that top group, but no film really separated itself from the pack at any point this year.

In a lot of ways, not knowing my favorite movie of the year for so long could have been a good thing. It made ranking my films a lot more interesting because even I didn't know what it was going to look like when I was done. Like I said before though, the surprise in my rankings also came from not having those one or two films that I absolutely loved and it’s a bummer that this year is missing that. I had a few films going into the year that I was extremely excited for and thought were going to be those standout films, but it didn't work out that way.

Overall, though, there were still a lot of really good movies this year. There were plenty of films that exceeded my expectations, new actors that I will be excited to watch in future projects, films that I hope will have their universe expanded, and films that continued to make me want to keep coming back to their already-established franchises. Yes, there were also those films that didn't meet expectations, or just flat-out bombed, but that’s all part of the experience of film. If you only go to see the films you know you’ll love and never risk stepping outside your comfort zone, you'll miss out on some amazing films.

With that being said, let’s get to it:


     15. Big Hero 6
I had zero interest in seeing this movie in theaters. It wasn't until I saw some random conversation online talking about its darker elements that I decided I wanted to give it a shot. I mean, I reference my unwavering love of The Dark Knight films all the time so you tell me dark-toned superhero movie and I'll give it a shot. I was so glad I did. While it's definitely got enough light-hearted stuff to grab kids' attention, this is absolutely a film I think adults can enjoy just as much, if not more, than kids. The animation is beautiful, and the story and characters are all engaging. It's also got a very effective villain. The first time he shows up, I immediately thought he was better than any villain I've seen in other Marvel films. This really is an all-around fantastic superhero movie.
     14. Edge of Tomorrow
I know our group as a whole loves Tom Cruise so I don’t have to tell any of them this, but for audiences as a whole, are people recognizing just how good Cruise continues to be at putting out exciting sci-fi/action films? The man doesn't miss. I thought "Oblivion" was great last year, and "Edge of Tomorrow" is another rock-solid entry into this genre. This has some of the highest watchability of any film on my list this year. I predict a heavy dose of this film on the TNT and TBS types of channels in a few years once they're able to play it. I know I probably wouldn't change the channel.
     13. Monuments Men
I didn't actually get around to seeing this until about a month ago because of all the negative reviews it got. Shame on me for doing what I know not to do, listening to those trolls (i.e. critics). Why did they hate it so much? I enjoyed it from start to finish. Is it silly, yeah, but it’s also plenty serious as well as far as what’s going on. I’m not an art person by any measurable standard, but I can still recognize how big the stakes were in this film and how tragic it would've been had the Nazi’s succeeded in destroying all that history. The film tells a great story, and it did it in a very entertaining way.
     12. The Fault in Our Stars
Just another solid entry into the dramedy genre. I could see most people over the age of 20 not giving it a shot because it looks like any other teen romance film. While that’s what it is at its most basic level, there is so much more the film brings to the table. It really shows cancer with an openness that I don’t think most films that deal with the subject show. One of my favorite films of 2011 was "50/50", yet I think "The Fault in Our Stars" did an ever better job of showing how brutal cancer can be on the person suffering from it as well as family and friends who are also trying to cope. Also, the main actor in the film, Ansel Elgort, was one of the breakout performers of the year. I hope he continues to get great roles, and doesn't settle for getting locked into some pre-teen bait franchise.
     11. The Skeleton Twins
Lets keep rolling with the dramedies, shall we? This was my favorite film from that genre this year. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have loads of chemistry and it makes for an incredibly easy and enjoyable movie experience. This is one of the few films on my list that I know I could watch on a regular basis.
     10. Guardians of the Galaxy
This movie is a double-edged sword. It shows just how fun the Marvel Universe and superhero films can be, but it’s also a great example of why I can’t take them seriously anymore and never get as hyped as I used to. Basically, The Dark Knight films ruined superhero films for me. They were so grounded in reality so there was always that sense of dread that every other superhero film to this point has been missing. You know these films are always going to turn out fine in the end, the "good guys" always win, so there is basically zero suspense. Still, I fully knew that going into this film and didn't hold it to the same standards that I hold The Avengers because nothing about this film is supposed to be plausible. Plus that soundtrack is great. Now, once I have to see this group of characters combined with other Marvel characters, I have serious doubts that it will continue to work. But for the Guardians' first standalone film, it worked great.
     9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This is almost the exact opposite of GOTG. It was very grounded as far as Marvel films go, and that’s why it’s a spot higher. They didn't try and force a bunch of jokes down our throats and instead went heavy on the action. Even though everything worked out in the end (like it always does), there were genuine moments where I thought major things wouldn't go right. They did, but I thought they might not, and the fact that it got me to think so is why it gets extra props. This right now might be my favorite Marvel Universe film. I want them all to have the tone of this film.
     8. Snowpiercer
What a great and original sci-fi/action movie. Something that I've come to learn: small spaces make for phenomenal action sequences, especially when the action is more hand-to-hand combat instead of big gun fights. Think of movies like "The Raid" and the original version of "Oldboy". The pacing of the movie is flawless, and the setup of seeing what's in the next car forward provided for a great amount of tension. The film watches like a film based on a video game, even though it isn't. Unlike all other films based on video games, though, this is actually an awesome movie. This is a must-see for genre fans.
     7. Boyhood
Let me start by saying this film deserved to win Best Picture. Of all the films that came out this year, this is the one that has the biggest chance of being an important piece of cinematic history. It’s so unique. Yes, the story is basic, some of the acting isn't the best - although plenty of the acting is brilliant and easily overshadows any of the bad performances - yet it’s such a grand journey of a film. You actually get to see people grow up in a little under three hours. That was such a cool experience. I don’t care that the story is uneventful, that’s the way life is a lot of times. It’s such an accurate and honest look at normal life. It’s literally the opposite of the people you see in "Birdman" (thankfully), and it feels like one of the most genuine films I've ever seen. No, it’s not a film you’re going to watch over and over, but it really only needs to be seen once and is a film that I think everyone should see.
     6. Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal should have been nominated for Best Actor. This guy is one of the most under-appreciated actors in the business. I feel like he’s going through the same thing Matthew McConaughey was going through a couple of years ago. People are slowly realizing how good this guy is, but it didn't happen soon enough. I wouldn't want to spend five minutes with Gyllenhaal’s character in the film, but I respect the hell out of his drive and ambition.
     5. Interstellar
I referenced how, in previous years, I've always had that one film that was the obvious #1 pick - this was supposed to be that. It was easily my most anticipated film of the year, by a light-year (see what I did there, I could write jokes for the Oscars with those wordplay skills (see what I did there!)). Yet somehow it didn't meet those expectations. I really do think the movie is brilliant. The concepts are fascinating, it all looked great, the performances were solid, yet it was still missing that ingredient that was going to push it to the level I wanted it to get to. I've thought about what that was, and I think at the end of the day, it just wasn't as entertaining as I wanted it to be. It simply didn't have the watchability level that past #1 films had. All four films ahead of it right now are so because of watchability. But this film had the most powerful scenes of any film this year. Specifically, the scene where McConaughey is watching those videos of his kids getting older - that's easily my favorite moment from any film this year. When it all starts to hit him, what he missed out on, was one of the most powerful scenes I can remember from a film. I hope one day I look back on this film and go, why didn't I have that at #1 the whole time? For this particular list though, it didn't feel right to give the film a boost based on what it has the potential to one day become. So for this particular moment in time, the film sits at #5. Be sure to check back five or ten years from now to see if I've revised it, okay?
     4. American Sniper
This particular film spent a good deal of time with me thinking it was going be tops on the list. Then I watched it a second time and it didn't hold up as well as the first viewing. I still I think it’s right there with The Hurt Locker as arguably (although, not much of one) the two greatest modern war films that have been made. It was a great look at how hard it can be for soldiers even after they are back from war. Cooper’s performance was great, as they almost always are. I don’t know that there is an actor working today that is such a recognizable star, but while they’re playing a character, I never think I’m watching the actor; all I see is the character. I don’t know that I can give an actor higher praise than that. I wouldn't have been unhappy nor would I think it was undeserved if he had won Best Actor.
     3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
I love the world Tolkien has created. He created the world and story that my all time favorite film, The Lord of the Rings (don’t make me do the whole "it’s all one big film" explanation), was adapted from, so anytime I get to see this world brought to film is awesome. Now, the first two Hobbit films took a major step back from the level of filmmaking that went into LOTR, but I was so happy to see The Battle of the Five Armies return to form with how great this world can be. The film's biggest strengths were its deviations from the source material. I mean, come on, seeing Elrond and Sarumon fighting The Nine was the most awesome moment on screen this year. And they actually killed off a main character (it always made me scratch my head that Tolkien had everyone of importance surviving both LOTR and The Hobbit). This film doesn't quite reach LOTR levels of greatness, but it was still a blast to watch.
     2. Gone Girl
This was the surprise of the year for me. I didn't really know anything about it going in, and that is the only true way you can see this film and get the whole effect. If you know the spoilers, the film loses all of its effect. So really, I don’t want to talk about it too much so that anyone reading this who hasn't seen it yet doesn't have anything ruined for them. Just know that you’re in for a wild ride.
     1. Whiplash
I didn't see "Whiplash" before we did our Top 5 J.K. Simmons list, so I think it’s kind of cool that this gives me the chance to talk about it now and as the top film on my end-of-year list. In a way, it’s kind of a blessing because I don’t have to repeat the same thing I probably would've said in that posting. This film is here for three reasons: First, the acting was great. Miles Teller and obviously Simmons give two of the best performances of the year. Second, the drumming is awesome. The payoff solo at the end of the film was such a great moment. Last, because I think the methods of Simmons character are so great, not to mention important. I support his style of teaching 100%. This is the part where I could go on a rant about how weak-minded, overly sensitive, and accepting of average this country has become as a whole and how we need people like Simmons' character to snap us out of that. But I think that one long sentence says enough. Also, I know not to try and change anyone’s mind on the internet. There are plenty of people who will disagree with me and don’t like Simmons' character, as well as his methods and ideals, but that’s OK; we don’t like you either.