The Fried Critic's Favorite Movies of 2014
Last year was pretty great for movies, not even going to lie. But this year? This year was a godsend. Some of my favorite movies in years were released in 2014. So many that a "Top 5" couldn't even begin to do them justice. So instead? I'm putting together a nice list of flicks that I saw and loved, in no particular order, and hoping you'll check 'em out! Let's do this.
Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow is, to me, the best sci-fi movie I've seen since Dredd and Looper hit theaters in 2012. Actually, it's probably one of the best science fiction movies that I've watched since Terminator 2. Or even Alien. The point I'm trying to make here is that this time-travel-sort-of-but-not-really yarn is an intricate, nuanced, complex film that only looks like a slam-bang flick on the surface. But instead of being just another action-y Tom Cruise vehicle, this is a film that's meditative and subtle, one that takes its central premise not as a neat gimmick, but as a serious plot device to be feared and respected.
Quite honestly, despite all of the other films on this list being bloody fantastic, this might be my favorite of the pack. It's been far too long that a sci-fi movie both excited me and made me think about things for more than a few seconds. Hollywood needs more stuff like this, plain and simple. It's a killer movie that I dare say anybody would enjoy. But it's not the only good time travel movie this year...
X-Men: Days of Future Past
This is it. This is the X-Men movie the world deserved. Yes, the other films were fine slam-bang action flicks, but they always felt a bit artificial to me. A bit too Hollywood, a bit too mindless. And while perhaps Days of Future Past isn't exactly a thought-provoking art film by any means, it definitely adds more layers to established characters. More specifically, it digs into the psyches of series favorites Wolverine and Mystique. And while Hugh Jackman unsurprisingly delivers the goods (I'm convinced he gets out of bed like that at this point,) it's Jennifer Lawrence that surprises. She takes a role made famous by Rebecca Romijn and ups the ante in every single way, creating a fantastic female lead in a sub-genre sorely in need of them.
On top of that? The movie is just good fun. There are some amazing action sequences, like a sequence in which time is stopped for all but one character, or Magneto using his powers to lift up an entire baseball stadium. Production values are top notch, making all of the concepts come to life to such an extent where it almost feels like real stuff that's just being recorded. Throw in some time-travel hijinks and the one-off line that a famous US president was actually a mutant, and you've got a fun comic book movie. And speaking of fun comic book movies...
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy has an assload of problems, let's just get that out there. Its portrayals of women are dubious at best, insulting to some at worst. Star Lord is the same "banging space ladies, making wise cracks, shooting lasers first asking questions later" type of space cowboy we saw JJ Abrams turn James Tiberius Kirk into. And, let's face it, it's not the most original movie under the sun, either. So why is it here? Because despite all of that, I still thought it was a slick thrill ride of a movie. The soundtrack was godly. The action sequences were fantastic. The acting was top-notch. The writing was stellar. Basically? Everything aside from those core problems was so good that I still enjoyed it.
Yes, I'm aware that it wasn't really a perfect movie, and that its formula is pretty bog-standard at this point. But you know what? It's still an entertaining movie, and has some of the most memorable moments in any film this year. I saw it twice in theaters, loved it both times, and plan to get it on Blu Ray to enjoy it several times in the foreseeable future. So, yeah, I had problems with it, and I hated how it treated women with a passion, but it's still a nice time nevertheless. Perhaps I could call it a "guilty pleasure"? Not every Marvel movie treated women dubiously, though.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Last comic book movie, I promise.
Let me state that, for the record, I thought Captain America: The First Avenger was a steaming pile of a movie. It had no solid foundation, yet still slopped on a whole cast that I didn't care about and expected me to stay invested, all while throwing a bunch of disjointed action scenes at me. Yeah, no, it was garbage. But Winter Soldier isn't. Actually, it may be the best addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet. Because it's not a good superhero movie. Well, it is, but it's not just that. It's actually just a great movie in its own right.
Winter Soldier is a film that just works on a multitude of levels. Is it a complex political conspiracy thriller? Is it a superhero movie? Is it an action movie? Yes, and so much more. It's all aided by some fantastic performances, especially from Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson. Johansson, in particular, owns the role of Black Widow, and I pity any actress who might ever have to pick up that role again. She's strong, crafty, and independent, and never just a throwaway side character like she has been in the past. In fact, she steals the show so much, it's amazing that she just doesn't get her own fucking movie already. Ah well. Anyway. Winter Soldier is a great movie. Check it out. And now for something completely different.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Quick show of hands: who actually saw this movie? Come on, be honest. W-what? Are you serious? Get bent. Seriously, though, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the most fantastic film this year that I feel like nobody else saw. Wes Anderson, a director who I barely know jack about (he did a movie about a kid in a beret who rides go karts, right?) impressed the hell out of me with this film. From intricate, handmade sets to an intoxicating score to a story that is full of more layers than... um, than some type of witty thing with layers, Budapest is just a whimsical, fun movie.
Except when it's not. Aside from being a playful bundle of joy, it's also a sad story of love and loss. It's also downright horrific at times. And then it gets funny again? It's such a difficult film to describe, really, but it's unlike anything else that came out. Definitely something more people need to keep a lookout for, as it's definitely one of the most original and passionate movies I've seen in a while. Oh, yeah, speaking of passion...
The Wind Rises
Hayao Miyazaki is a plane nut. I mean, Studio Ghibli is named after an Italian plane, and he's made a movie about a pig man flying elaborately detailed planes around. Are you shocked that he finally made a movie about a guy who makes planes? Because I'm not. I am shocked, and saddened I might add, that this is his last movie. The guy's had a good run, for sure, ever since starting on old Lupin III episodes in the 60's. But at least he's going out with a bang. The Wind Rises is one of his best movies, and that's saying a lot from the man who has literally never made a bad film in his life.
Everything about this movie screams that it was a passion project. It's a loving tribute to pretty metal things that fly through the air and the people that make them. But not only that, it's a semi-modern fairy tale, one that takes elements from our world distorts them ever so slightly to make something that feels plausible, yet entirely unlike anything found in reality. It's a tragedy, yes, and it does tackle some serious issues pertaining to war and the people behind weapons used in it, but it really does feel like an excuse to animate beautiful planes flying through fanciful landscapes... on top of, you know, reminding us of how shitty Japan was during World War II.
But I digress. It's some of the best anime I've seen in a while, either in theaters or on TV. Oh, yeah, and TV reminds me of another movie I dug.
Muppets: Most Wanted
Some people didn't like this movie, for some reason. Said it wasn't as good as the "first" one, with Jason Segal and Amy Adams. Channeling Miss Piggy, I'd just tell 'em to stuff it. Most Wanted was one of the most infectious and fun movies this year. Actually, it was the only comedy to come out that I really thought was worth a damn, seeing as it made me laugh so hard I was gasping for air on a few occasions. While, in some ways, it's inferior to the 2011 film, I really liked this one better. And that boils down to one thing: it feels more... I dunno, man, more Muppet-y.
The humor in this film is off-the-wall, zany, and barely makes any sort of coherent sense at times. There are cameos that are entirely random. There are songs that border on completely ridiculous (they're all incredible, though.) And there are numerous, numerous jokes that only adults would really find funny. In other words? It's a movie for people like me. The older set who love the Muppets and grew up with them. Packed full of weirdly adult humor and held together by a threadbare plot that only exists to drive us from one gag to the next, Most Wanted is a hilarious farce of a movie. Kids will definitely like it, I'd say, but they don't feel like the target audience. It feels like a throwback movies like Muppets From Space and Muppets Take Manhattan.
And personally? I don't think that's a bad thing.
The Book of Life
If nobody saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, then it could be inferred that a negative portion of people saw The Book of Life. Now, I've talked about this movie in depth on my blog before, so I won't get too much into it. But I will say that it's a feast for the eyes. I will say that it's a deeply inspiring and inspired film. And I will say that it's incredibly refreshing to see an animated movie that isn't blindingly white, about something that isn't Eurocentric as all fuck. It's just... it's just refreshing. And I'm sad that more people haven't seen it, to be totally honest.
Like, if more people saw The Book of Life, they'd learn valuable life lessons, I think. Real talk, guys. It talks about death in a candid and frank way, not as some gloomy fate. It teaches young boys that when women say no, they need to back the fuck off and respect them. It shows us a part of Latino culture that is rarely touched upon here. Really, truly, I feel like it's a really, truly enriching movie. It feels like it has a soul. And while I certainly liked other animated movies this year, like The Lego Movie and How To Train Your Dragon 2, this is the one I keep coming back to. This is the one I wanted to show to my kids, if I have any. And I think that says a lot.
Well, I think that just about does it. There were a lot of other good movies this year (The Lego Movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Divergent, and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles... don't judge,) but none of them really blew me away like these did. And there you have it. Any favorites you want to share? Post 'em in the comments, share 'em on Twitter, or hit me up Facebook to discuss. Until next time, y'all!