Once again, it’s that time of year when Hollywood’s snobbery surfaces with Oscar-sized pats on the back for pretentious cinematic achievements that didn’t make much money…
Okay, that’s harsh, but I have an annual sized cinematic migraine every time the Academy looks down their nose at movies that matter simply because they’re blockbusters, or apparently have too many special effects. God forbid they please the masses! When the Best Visual Effects category contains some of the year’s best films, not nominated for anything else, it’s obvious people with bias are stacking the deck. Plus any Academy who snubs The Lego Movie is obviously comprised of blockheads.
With that in mind, Cinemagogue is kicking off the year with 14 movies worth mentioning: our top 10, plus 2 honorable mentions, and 2 that, well, we agree considerably lowered the bar for cinema.
Deeper reviews for our Top 10 – and more – will be explored in months to come.
Cinemagogue’s Top 10 for 2014
We’re not saying we don’t have our own preferences, but here’s the countdown that includes 2 entries from Chris Evans and Chris Pratt, and the butt-kicking return of Keanu Reeves:
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Part of why this movie made the cut was the fact that it defied my expectations. While I thought Rise of the Planet of the Apes was decent, this one takes a daring turn by having far more ape screen time than human, and a bold amount of the film using subtitles. Instead of a one-sided “humans are abusers” story, we get a balanced tale of both factions assuming the worst, acting from vengeance and fear, and the consequences for those actions.
And if Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbel aren’t going to get nominated because their performances are motion capture, they should create a new category.
9. How to Train Your Dragon 2
It really was the year of superior sequels, expanding on their originals with an Empire Strikes Back aplomb. Dragon 2 gave us familial reconciliation, growing up and facing responsibilities, and the striking leadership differences of tyrannical control versus relational influence. Oh, and Toothless: adorable as usual.
8. John Wick
“My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless…” – Exodus 22
Keanu Reeves is back in fine fighting force, and sometimes we need a good old-fashioned vengeance movie to remind us there are consequences for sinful actions…and that you shouldn’t hurt puppies. This throwback gives us a sense of 70s cinema, with a noir-ish sensibility and a raw intensity we haven’t seen since the first (and only?) Taken film.
The train is the world, the cars are the caste system, and the struggle is as circular as the tracks that the bullet train runs endlessly along…
Snowpiercer presents us with a strange, claustrophobic future, or perhaps a glimpse of our present reality in a Terry Gilliam-style microcosm. From a Film & Theology perspective, perhaps one of the best movies to fuel conversation this year had to offer.
While not as biographical as some would like to believe, Michael Keaton’s perfect casting lifts this film into a soaring, surreal look at our quest for identity and meaning, respect and legacy. Emma Stone and Edward Norton add different shades and life stages to the mix, in a world where it’s increasingly easy to have a moment of fleeting glory and watch it fade before our eyes.
I’ve been more satisfied with this franchise than many naysayers, but like it or love it, Bryan Singer is back to get the mutants – and his directing career – back on track. Wolverine leads us into a narrative in which he’s not the focus: we see a strong woman choosing between ideologies, a man shaken out of apathetic resignation, and a long-troubled disciple who is forced to man up and become the teacher. The future of the franchise looks X-cellent. Click here for the podcast I took part in regarding the film.
While not my favorite Nolan film, this year he’s given us a 2001 for the 21st century (that won’t put you to sleep). Dealing with space travel and time theories that – while perhaps not perfect – strive for scientific accuracy in ways that bend the mind, it makes you feel smarter…and makes you want more money put into our space programs. The robots in the film also feel like a fresh, curious take on form and function. Ultimately, it’s a story of a father struggling, internally and externally – for what’s truly important, and what it will really take to change the world.
Everything (about this movie) is awesome. Conformity, limitations, teamwork, creativity, reconciliation…this one has it all. While I can’t say enough for it, I’ll settle for our 2-part review.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
My wife’s affection for Rocket invariably adds to my enjoyment, but this was one of those rare, unexpected sci-fantasy triumphs the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1977. Providing a wild space romp that’s self-contained perfection, while also being part of the expanding Marvel mythos, makes this a win on multiple fronts.
I can rave more about this movie later, but now…without further adieu…our winner of the year!
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
As mentioned, it’s a banner year for “second” films (which, save for The Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight, are usually second best). Proving that comic book movies aren’t a genre – or beholden to any particular one, for that matter – this political action thriller plays more like a Bourne movie wherein the protagonist simply wears more colorful clothing. From car chases to knife fights, and Chris Evans holding his own in a scene with Robert Redford, the movie bears a maturity that moves the Marvel films to another level.
This film clearly cements the reality that movies based on comic books aren’t “comic book movies”. Like any movie adapted from another source medium, they’re just movies.
Admittedly biased, a story this year where an institution has been corrupted from within, to the extent that it has to be entirely dismantled, has personal resonance for me…but that’s another story.
Our top 10 list is obviously peppered with a lot of popular movies, which always raises eyebrows. So, lest anyone think I’m a sucker for all comic, toy, or enhanced hero movies, let’s point out the bottom of 2014’s barrel…
2. Transformers: Age of Extinction
From a murderous Optimus Prime to the most senseless plot ever, this pandering Bay film made money using international marketing tactics but lost any sense of dignity in the process. Even Optimus Prime himself denounced his characterization.
But hey, we’ve got dinosaurs at the beginning! Which…has absolutely nothing to do with the Dinobots’ nameless inclusion later. And don’t forget an entire scene to spotlight how it’s acceptable for an adult to sleep with a minor! CGI characters ramble aimlessly and don’t seem in any way to be interacting with accompanying live action characters…who also just seem to yell things at the camera and have no interaction with each other. This one makes even Revenge of the Fallen look like a masterpiece. The story includes the brain-challenged Grimlock, so I’m thinking he wrote the screenplay.
If you can stomach the offensive language, just about everything bad about this movie is summed up HERE.
Scarlett Johanssen is in my number one film of the year, so I’ll cut her some slack on also being in one of the worst films of the year. Edited so that even a bad premise gets even more incoherent, I actually thought perhaps the film had been assembled out of order in the theater (until I remembered it was digital). I can handle a story that’s scientifically ridiculous, but there’s no excuse for the mess they made of this cheese. It’s a moldy cheese that’s been shredded: cinematic limburger.
I didn’t see Transcendence, but they sound like a great double feature (for the Mystery Science Theater treatment).
These didn’t make my top 10, but I felt they deserved to be noted:
2. Under the Skin
Again, Scarlett Johanssen…this time in a true, thought-provoking science fiction piece that requires thought and conversation to unpack what’s going on. While I wasn’t impressed with Jake Gyllenhaal’s similarly mind-boggling Enemy, this exploration of an entity that is truly alien, and its emerging sense of identity, individuality – and identification with humanity – make for a fascinating character study.
For many, the amount of skin in Under the Skin may be an understandable deterrent to viewing, so check the rating details and follow your conscience.
After the absurd, anemic and shoddy Matthew Broderick movie in the 90s – that failed to capture the heart or capitalize on the enduring Japanese icon – we finally have a movie that gives us nine blessed minutes of the real Godzilla. While it had a surprising lack of the title character – not to mention Bryan Cranston – this monster movie is a monumental step toward getting the radiation-breathing lizard back to his former glory. Now all we need is a sequel in which the focus is less on “that kid from Kick-Ass” and more about Godzilla kicking ass.
In closing, as this is a site that deals with film, God, and scripture, some are likely thinking I should probably have mentioned the controversial Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings…
There. I just did.
What were YOUR top 10, and what would you like Cinemagogue to review? Let us know.