We’re down to the Top 10 and 2015 is already 25% over, so I’m gonna cut to the chase and (try to) keep it short and sweet.
10. The LEGO Movie
I thought this would be a cute, semi-original kid’s movie. I didn’t expect it to make me tear up. The animation— which while done on a computer, looked remarkably similar to the Brickfilms that are so popular on YouTube— was the real draw for me, but within minutes I fell in love with The LEGO Movie’s world, characters, wit and charm.
For any kid who’s ever played with LEGOs and/or had difficulties with their fathers, this movie will touch your heart. The final act— in which Chris Pratt’s protagonist minifig travels to the real world, and we learn the whole movie has been generated by the imagination of a depressed kid sneaking into his dad’s (Will Ferrell) personal LEGO diorama— shouldn’t have worked, but it did, and turned what was a fun animated movie into a real treasure. Robbed of any awards or recognition as a movie full of whismy and originality is clearly inferior to by-the-books biopics about stuffy English scientists, The LEGO Movie will nonetheless remain a classic among kids and adults alike, for years to come.
9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I probably enjoyed this film more than most, as I think it’s hard for your average moviegoer to get past the fact that this is a movie full of talking apes. I’ve only seen snippets of the original Charlton Heston film and have never been particularly enamored of the universe. Tim Burton’s ill-advised remake was a disaster, but I found the James Franco-starring Rise of the Planet of the Apes to be entertaining, thought-provoking and well-written, despite some flaws.
Dawn is far better than its predecessor, though the human characters take a backseat to the apes, ultimately becoming tools of the plot rather than fully-formed people. This bothered my wife and other critics but I didn’t really mind, as Caesar and Koba were the true stars of the movie; the humans were more allegories than characters, and I’m fine with that.
A summer blockbuster with a stunning action sequence, Dawn, like Winter Soldier, excels by having its action focus on character, not spectacle. Just as in A Song of Ice of Fire’s major battles, in which there are characters on both sides to root for, I found the scene where Koba and his apes raid the human settlement to be both thrilling and emotional, as even in this new world, the cycles of war and violence rage on undeterred.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
While The Winter Soldier had the superior script, Guardians had the superior imagination, and thus is the best Marvel Cinematic Universe entry of 2014. Chris Pratt nails it as Starlord, essentially a bumbling version of Han Solo, and is accompanied by a vivid cast of supporting characters that are each equally lovable in their own right. Like most fans, my favorites are Groot and Rocket, and I was surprised by how versatile Bradley Cooper was as a voice actor. Who would have thought talking apes and raccoons would have been my favorite characters of Summer 2014?
Marvel movies are predictable, generally hinging around one-note villains questing for Macguffins that will give them ultimate power, though the versatile Lee Pace adds a bit of flair to Guardians’ Ronan the Accuser. I think the main reason this film resonated with me and so many other moviegoers is not because of its story, but because of its world, because it was original. So many modern movies feel like bloated corporate messes designed by committee and not artists, and as such a movie with a unique visual style and a story you can actually follow has become the norm for quality in the 2010s.
7. Edge of Tomorrow
A.K.A. All You Need is Kill A.K.A. Live. Die. Repeat, this underrated gem suffered from a series of poor titles, bad marketing, and the unfortunate casting of Tom Cruise. Now don’t get me wrong—Tom Cruise is a fine actor, and has given us many noteworthy performances, from Born on the Fourth of July to Magnolia. But he’s also a man who can’t seem to accept the fact that he’s aging, and as such he keeps getting cast as a 30 year-old action star alongside Emily Blunt and other 20 year-old women in big, sci-fi spectacles.
The fact that this film was released only a year after Cruise and Blunt co-starred in Oblivion, another twisty-turny cerebral sci-fi actioner, most likely hurt its chances at the box office, as did 2013’s Elysium, which featured a similar, and much more aesthetically-pleasing exo-suit than the bulky monstrosities Cruise and his allies wear here. The film was also mocked as an action movie version of Groundhog Day due to its intriguing time travel premise.
But if you look past all that and just accept that a clearly 50 year-old man is playing a 30 year-old, this film is a true gem, which like most of my favorite films of the year, succeeds thanks to a smart, easy-to-follow script and characters with definable personalities and arcs. I think my favorite part of this movie is that Tom Cruise, once the most likable star in Hollywood, portrays an absolute dick, a coward who literally tries to book it as soon as he realizes he’ll be on the front lines of an alien counter-invasion. Watching him transform into a hero was as exciting as it was rewarding, and for all the Cruise haters out there, you get to watch him die dozens of times. The film is rich with black comedy, and mines Cruise’s death for laughs on multiple occasions. It’s great.
6. Gone Girl
After reading Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel last year, I had no idea how it would be adapted into a movie as its plot is split between two unreliable narrators, but David Fincher was the right pick for director, and oh boy was Ben Affleck the right pick for star. The soon-to-be-Batman has never been one of my favorite actors, though I think he gets a bad rap for marrying J Lo and starring in so many shitty movies in the early 2000s (e.g. Daredevil & Gigli). In reality, he seems like a pretty cool dude, a normal guy with some moderate acting talent and above-average directing talent.
Though the film and novel have been criticized for misogyny, I think Flynn is less interested in a crazy psycho bitch than she is the ways in which the media and the court of public opinion declare high profile murder suspects guilty before they’ve even gone to trial. There is some mild satire/social commentary to Gone Girl that gives it a bit more of an edge than some of Fincher’s other work, satire that I think keeps the film from straying too far into the murky waters of sexual politics. Flynn simply wanted to create a more nuanced and intelligent version of Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct serial killer, and thanks to a stellar performance by Rosamund Pike, she’s achieved just that.
Continue to #5-1