I hate and love this time of year. Clearly, I love making lists. However, it’s really difficult to summarize the year into a best/worst category. I have my obvious favorites, but when it comes to tier two movies, my opinion changes based on the weather. Also, I’ve made terrible mistakes in creating my top ten lists too hastily in the past, so I’ve put far
too much more effort into this one.
After making said mistakes, I now look at my top ten list as a collection of movies that affected me in the theater, challenged me and even defied my expectations. Also, replay value had to be considered. There are many films that I considered to be great in the past, that I wouldn’t ever watch again. I could proudly own each of these movies and watch them repeatedly.
I took the time to see 100 new releases this past year and there were some incredibly bad flicks and a few spectacular experiences. The majority of movies released were somewhere in the middle. All in all, it was a very good year for film. The blockbusters were few and far between, but the quality of a few franchises reached a new standard. Because of the lesser focus on “big” movies, creativity got a chance to flourish and smaller films succeeded.
The hardest part of making this list was coming up with the 10 spot. There are at least 15 movies that I really enjoyed. So deciding where the honorable mentions end and the top ten begin was incredibly difficult. Yet, for my official list, I had to go with…
10 – Cold in July
Birdman almost made it. It showed enormous amounts of creativity and character. Yet, it all gets lost in the end. Also, you know what kind of ride you’re in for based on the trailers. Cold in July, on the other hand, was completely unpredictable. I must admit that there is bias here. January-March provided a solid three months of garbage on the big screen. Sundance basically saved the winter movie season. Cold in July was the strongest of the selection I chose to see and it remained at the top of my movie list for a couple months. Cold in July starts out as a basic home invasion flick, but doesn’t let you get too comfortable with genre cliches. Soon, Michael C. Hall joins forces with his would-be killer, Sam Shepard. The story eventually touches on police corruption and the Dixie Mafia. This new grindhouse classic delves into some dark matter, but it’s a blast to watch.
Best Scene – Private investigator, Jim Bob Luke, shows up in this sleepy town driving a bright red Cadillac. Don Johnson, playing Jim Bob, is hilarious and manages to steal the movie from Hall and Shepard.
9 – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
One of the biggest surprises of 2011 was the reboot/prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. James Franco aside, the standout performance was that of motion-captured Andy Serkis. He brought realistic motion and emotion to what could have easily been a CG joke. The surprise of Rise was replaced by hype for the sequel. Dawn picks up years after the events of Rise. The majority of humankind has been wiped out by disease. Thankfully, that gives us more time with what we paid to see, the apes. Dawn achieves original blockbuster status by focusing on CG characters that audiences came to see. (I’m looking at you Godzilla.) The power struggle between Caesar (Serkis) and Koba (Toby Kebbell) is very Shakespearean in nature. I’m hoping that, with a third movie, they leave out the human characters altogether.
Best Scene – It’s hard to beat an ape with double machine guns blazing, while riding horseback. However, the scene depicting the cunningly playful behavior of Koba as he befriends a few soldiers and manages to get his hands on a semi-automatic machine gun and kills them without an ounce of remorse, is the best.
8 – X-Men: Days of Future Past
Earlier in the year, I had written off Days of Future Past, thinking it could only be a time-traveling hot mess. First Class set up a new beginning for the flailing X-Men franchise and Days of Future Past redeemed everything that had every gone wrong before. Bryan Singer returned to the series and managed to balance the old and new cast. Mixing continuity was always going to be a struggle, but he made the experience entertaining enough that you wouldn’t care too much about time travel dynamics. I know it’s wrong to hold out hope, but after DoFP, I have post-X2 level of expectations for X-Men: Apocalypse.
Best Scene – Quicksilver redefines bullet-time in the Pentagon escape. In five short minutes, an iconic movie character was created and shut down every critic who previously hated him for his costume.
7 – Gone Girl
Having read the Gillian Flynn novel, I hadn’t expected to be so surprised by David Fincher’s adaptation. Yet, everything worked. I can now say that I’ve let go of my Affleck acting hate and am willing to accept his role as Batman. Even with the talented cast, Rosamund Pike owns the movie. This is the first of two movies on this list where I couldn’t make myself like a character, but was still captivated. I cannot recommend this movie if you plan to watch it with a significant other. You are now warned that you may never trust your spouse/better half again.
Best Scene – The opening scene shows the back of Rosamund Pike’s resting head as Affleck’s voiceover says, “When I think of my wife, I always think of the back of her head. I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers. The primal questions of a marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?” It’s so wonderfully Hitchcockian.
6 – How to Train Your Dragon 2
Yeah, I’m not sure how this one made the list either. The first one was decent, even better than most CG animated flicks, but nowhere near the ten best in any year. As I sat in the theater for this sequel, my arms were folded in hesitation. As the movie progressed, I opened up and realized that, yes, I could love this movie. The soundtrack, the characters and brilliant animation give this movie staying power. Both The Lego Movie and Big Hero 6 quickly lost steam, while Dragon 2 was emotional and funny throughout. Who knew Dreamworks had the capacity to create a film that equals mid-90s Disney masterpieces?
Best Scene – The reunion of Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler) and Valka (voiced by Cate Blanchett). Stoick sings the ballad that he once sang to win the heart of Valka. In the process, this movie won my heart.
5 – Edge of Tomorrow
I complained about this mediocre title in my original review. I never thought or hoped that they’d change the title post-release. Now it will be known as Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow. Awkward title aside, this was the best original movie of the summer. The only downside about this fun movie is that it was lost in the shuffle of other summer flicks. If you still haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to rent it now. While it’s based on a book, Edge of Tomorrow should be considered the first great video game movie based on its reset/respawn storytelling technique. Tom Cruise is fantastic playing against his typical bravado. Also, Emily Blunt may be the coolest actress in the business. Basically, this movie succeeded where so many blockbusters could not. It was popcorn that doesn’t require you to turn off your brain.
Best Scene – Each death scene. The most memorable probably being the moment where he is run over by the army jeep.
4 – Whiplash
This was the early Sundance favorite that I sadly didn’t see until last month. I heard several reviews, most positive and some negative, but this was a movie I needed to see for myself. It’s unbelievable how tense this film about a prestigious music school can be. This tension somehow is built withing the story of one hopeful drummer trying to improve his craft and one drill-sergeant-esque music teacher not accepting anything but perfection. Once Whiplash ended, I couldn’t tell if J.K. Simmons character was meant to be the hero or villain of the story. Also, I think I now enjoy drum solos. Whiplash is fantastic by making you completely invested in a topic you never thought you cared about.
Best Scene – The final ten minutes. I don’t want to say too much. The betrayal, the embarrassment and the payoff is so great.
3 – Nightcrawler
My top five movies are based on how emotionally invested I was in each. Each of these films evoked different feelings. Edge of Tomorrow was straight fun, Whiplash brought tension and Nightcrawler made me feel disgust. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a disgusting movie. It’s just that Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is such a despicable character, yet at the same time, you can’t help but be fixated on him. If I could pick the Oscars, Gyllenhaal would win Best Actor. I am now officially excited for any future project he’s involved with. Lou Bloom is seriously the best sadistic anti-hero since Travis Bickle.
Best Scene – Lou and Nina (Rene Russo) on a date in a Mexican restaurant. The conversation could not be more awkward, yet Lou controls it completely by being two steps ahead of Nina.
2 – Boyhood
Richard Linklater is one of my favorite directors. He is the indie auteur for the middle class. Last year, Before Midnight was among my favorite films and he’s now managed to outdo himself. The hype around Boyhood is a strange thing. This is not a standard three act movie. Instead, it’s a series of vignettes played out over the course of 12 years. This filmmaking technique, done by anyone else, would seem gimmicky. Yet with it, Linklater has possibly crafted his masterpiece. There are few other movies in existence that capture the small moments that make up our lives and who we become.
Best Scene – Patricia Arquette’s final scene. She breaks down in tears in front of her son, who is on his way to college. With both of her children out of the house, she feels defeated, wondering what she is meant to do now that she’s not raising children.
This should come as no surprise to those that read my original review, but my favorite movie of the year is…
1 – Interstellar
Christopher Nolan is apparently a divisive filmmaker. It’s strange because the content in his movies is not controversial. Instead, he devotes his talents as a writer and director fully to each of his films. If there is one flaw or plothole found by critics, they write off his entire career. The man truly does not get enough credit.
Interstellar somehow manages to outdo Inception in terms of scope. At the same time, he created his most emotional story by focusing on the relationship between a father and daughter. This emotional connection adds the backbone and weight that is felt in every struggle that Cooper (McConaughey) goes through in space. There are a number of underlying themes that balance out the movie and come together beautifully. As I learned, seeing Interstellar once is not enough. This film requires a minimum of two viewings to fully understand its scope and development.
Best Scene – I love the water planet, but I was floored when Cooper attempted to latch onto the damaged ship, Endurance. The entire scene is played out wonderfully, from the explosion on the Endeavor, to Tars matching the orbiting spin of the ship. Everything that Gravity had accomplished a year previous has now been one-upped.