So I will get this out of the way, the only reason “Boyhood” is not my number one film of the year like everyone else’s list is because I haven’t seen it yet. I know, I know. But even more shocking is the amount of movies I even saw this year, which was just over 25. Not even close to the other half of The Cine-Men who saw over 200. While I was more selective, and was limited by time and children who could only view children’s films, I’m aware that there was tons of Hollywood crap. However I still need to see films that could have changed this list like “The Rover”, “Ida”, “Blue Ruin” “Snowpiercer”, “Selma”, “Whiplash”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Nightcralwer”, “The Imitation Game”, “Inherent Vice” and “Gone Girl”. But based on what I did see, here is my list:
10) The Babadook – Mixing the horrors of Saturday late night movies, the haunted house, the boogeyman, and the scariest of all…raising a child, “The Babadook” is brilliant in its telling of a single mother (Essie Davis) dealing with her difficult son who is terrorized by a spooky creature who lives in the pages of an equally terrifying pop-up book. Still relying on cheap jump-scares and a noticeable shoe-string budget, Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent brings to the screen something most American horror has failed at for years. Originality. It is one worth checking out, especially on a late Saturday night.
9) The One I Love – This one caught me off guard as I thought I was watching a typical romantic dramedy with my wife one night. Then some crazy Twilight Zone stuff starts to happen. With two outstanding performances by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, this intimate look at relationships and the true differences in what we want and what we get is explored in a really interesting way.
8) Veronica Mars – As a huge fan of the TV series that ended too soon, I will admit my bias to love anything series creator Rob Thomas would put out that had anything to do with my favorite little girl detective. And though there was a lot of inside-baseball to the film, I still think it was well done and gave me and the other fans of the show an overdue peek back into the Mars world after all these years.
7) How to Train Your Dragon 2– While the first “How to Train Your Dragon” film was not quite Star Wars, the follow-up is certainly in the realm of “The Empire Strikes Back” in its approach. It’s a bit darker, there is a great tragedy/revelation, and even a medieval lightsaber. Plus, hey, dragons. This is one both me and my kids loved.
6) X-Men: Days of Future Past– After the misstep of “Last Stand” and the abomination that was “Origins” director Bryan Singer used “Days” to bring back the X-Men to their rightful place. Utilizing both the original cast and the ‘First Class’ together in this epic 70’s adventure, it sets the stage for more greatness to come. And that Quicksilver scene is still the best moment on film this year.
5) The Lego Movie– Not since “Toy Story” has a film about toys worked on so many levels. This original and funny look into what should be a boring movie about building blocks still continues to amaze me upon multiple viewings. Thanks to my kids keeping it on heavy rotation on the DVD player at home I was able to see the utter genius and love directors Lord and Miller put into this film with its deep themes of conformity vs. rebellion and what it means to be an individual. And an ending that continues to impress me.
4) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)– Even though it should, it probably will not win most of the awards this year, but everything about this story of a man (Michael Keaton) who is trying desperately step out of the shadow of the superhero he once played has it all. Great writing, brilliant cinematography, amazing performances by the entire cast, all lead by director Iñárritu in what I consider his best film yet.
3) Captain America: The Winter Soldier– This one just took the Marvel universe to another level. They’re “all growns-up” as Vince Vaughn in “Swingers” would say. Taking Captain America from where he worked best in the 40’s of the first film to the present and a natural progression into modern day paranoia and terrorism with a sprinkle of 70’s spy thriller complete with Robert Redford. Filled with one awesome action set piece after another it felt like Marvel could only go downhill from here, yet months later I was proven wrong when my second favorite film of the year went to the stars.
2) Guardians of the Galaxy– This was the most fun I had at the theater this year. Even after the fourth time seeing it on the big screen when I started to notice the cracks in this formulaic space opera. The truth is, I didn’t care. I love this movie, from the heartbreaking ‘Disney’ type opening, to the brilliant opening credit sequence, the fun character’s (both CG and live-action) and every single music queue, this is an all-around entertaining piece of work.
1) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes– All I can say to defend my number 1 is that someone (Matt Reeves) made a live-action film where the main character is completely computer generated. And it totally works in every way imaginable. Even going as far as attempting to tie this current series of “Apes” films with the ones they made almost 50 years ago is mind-boggling. And while the biggest weakness of the film is in the human cast, the apes more than make up for it in a story that’s worthy of Shakespeare. And I still can’t say enough about the state of the motion capture technology that is bringing these characters to life. All with the help of fantastic performances by Andy Serkis as Cesar and Toby Kebbell as Koba. This one is the complete package for me, it’s sci-fi at its best, with one great scene after another, a build-up that delivers by its climax, and what else can I say, an ape that goes from looking amazing on a horse to looking bad-ass on a tank.
Honorable Mentions: Chef, Edge of Tomorrow, Neighbors, The Raid 2: Berandal, Tusk, Big Hero 6, The Guest
So that was 2014. 2015 will bring us, lightsabers, dinosaurs, Hulkbuster armor, Bond, Tarantino cowboys, Spielberg and Hanks together again, a 5th Impossible Mission, a Furious 7 and another Mad Max. I can’t wait to get started.
–Robert L. Castillo