2014 at the Movies (So Far)

 

2014 has been a relatively disappointing year at the box office. Some superhero movies have carried the torch admirably, but Hollywood as a whole has struggled to find non-franchise hits this year. Interstellar (out now),  should certainly help that, and both upcoming franchise entries The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies have a realistic shot at doing over a billion. But there hasn’t been anything like Gravity ($716 million), Frozen ($1.27 billion), or World War Z ($540 million) this year.

Instead, 2014 has served as bridge year until Star Wars, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice come out in 2015. As we approach the holiday season, which will then turn into awards season, it’s important to look back at Hollywood’s hits and misses this year.

So I’m going to take you through all the movies I’ve seen this year, as quickly as I can.

Ordered by release date, as always, this is just my opinion. I’m not a critic, film student, or even an expert. I just really fucking like movies.

Before I begin I need to list some prominent movies that I’ve heard great things about but haven’t yet seen but surely will eventually, just so you don’t accuse me of forgetting something. Those movies (in no particular order) include: The Lego Movie, Nightcrawler, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Noah, Neighbors, Fury, and John Wick.

Alright, let’s dive in, but first, a gif of Chris Pine drinking wine.

 

pine gif

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Released: Jan. 17th via Paramount Pictures (Skydance Productions)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Starring: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley

Box Office: $135.5 million (on a reported $60 million budget)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55% positive

My Grade: C

Chris Pine, despite being the current face of two of the biggest Hollywood franchises ever (Jack Ryan/Star Trek), still sort of flies under the radar. This is frustrating because he has legit acting chops and the typical leading-man chiseled face (not my words, I swear). Maybe he doesn’t ooze with personality and charisma the way other leading dudes like Chris Pratt or Channing Tatum do, but Pine is certainly a solid actor. Even a good performance out of him could not rescue this movie.

It’s not terrible. There are some extremely impressive action sequences and the stacked cast does a nice job, but this feels like a movie trying to become the next Jason Bourne franchise. The Bourne movies relied upon intelligent scripting, unique action sequences, and an undeniable A-lister in Matt Damon. Instead of forcing the audience to ask questions and stay glued to their seats to find out the answers, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit solves every mystery and plot hole by using computers in some way.

Some of the quicker action sequences lack the tightness that director Paul Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse brought to the Bourne movies. And ultimately, this movie just feels like the generic 21st century action thriller. Again, it’s not bad. If you like action movies and need to kill two hours, give it a play. But Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit failed to re-invent the franchise in the way many of thought it would when we heard the great Kenneth Branagh was taking the helm.

 

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Transformers: Age of Extinction

Released: Feb. 7th via Paramount Pictures (di Bonaventura Pictures)

Directed by: Michael Bay

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci (sigh), Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz

Box Office: $1.1 billion (on a reported budget of $210 million)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 18% positive

My Grade: D-

Before you laugh at me for actually seeing this nonsense, please note that I was dragged to it. And I was incredibly drunk.

I don’t care if the special effects in Transformers: Age of Extinction were impressive. If you spend over $200 million making a movie, it better have damned good effects. Besides, I’m more impressed by directors stretching a budget or making innovations in the field rather than simply just throwing another, more expensive, entry into an already pathetic franchise.

My complaints here are typical, and shared by basically everyone. There aren’t characters, the script feels like it was written by a 12-year old, it’s about an hour too long, etc. There’s obviously an audience for this type of movie seeing as it made over a billion bucks, but I am not that audience. And if you’re reading this, you probably are a movie buff as well, and therefore aren’t that audience either.

Michael Bay sucks. This movie sucks. It even managed to make me hate Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci (two of my favorites). I’m not a movie hipster. I enjoy a mindless action movie as much as anyone…if it’s a good mindless action movie. Nothing about Transformers: Age of Extinction is good, however.

 

cap

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Released: Apr. 4th via Walt Disney Studios (Marvel Studios)

Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Box Office: $714 million (on a reported $170 million budget)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89% positive

My Grade: B+

In a post-Avengers world, a world where the earthlings have already been exposed to extraterrestrial life, portals into other dimensions, and Chris Hemsworth’s pectorals…Captain America: The Winter Solider was the movie Marvel needed to put out.

Grounded in reality to an extent only surpassed in the mainstream superhero canon by Nolan’s Batman trilogy; Cap 2 dealt with themes such as institutional/governmental corruption, mass surveillance, and potentially world-changing weapons innovations. And it did this in an intelligent way without getting overly-political about. The box office smash still brought the impressive action, killer one-liners, and cross-movie connections that Marvel fans have come to expect every time they go to the theatre.

Cap 2 was directed by the Russo Bros, whose only real significant work prior to this were a handful of episodes for the outstanding TV sitcoms Community and Arrested Development. I have no clue how they got this gig but, as always, Marvel Studios head-honcho Kevin Feige made a great call.

Bonus points for casting Robert Redford in a movie that was in a way an homage to the espionage thrillers Redford starred in back in the day. The main complaint people had is that despite having “The Winter Soldier” in the title, that character wasn’t really that big a part of the movie. Though, thanks to the awesome Sebastian Stan, the scenes where he did make an appearance were great.

 

garfield

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Released: May 2nd via Sony (Columbia/Marvel)

Directed By: Marc Webb (hehe)

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jaime Foxx, Dane DeHaan

Box Office: $709 million (reported budget of $200 million)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 53% positive

My Grade: C-

“Only through the careful study of history can we assure that we learn from our mistakes in order to not be doomed by them over and over again.”

I just made that quote up, but it’s pretty dope, right?

You know how when something so tragic, so painful, so heart-breaking happens, you just try as hard as you can to delete it from your memory entirely? That’s what I did with Spider-Man 3. I had done a successful job of this until I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is a movie plagued by many of the same flaws.

The biggest two being that simply too much happens, and that the movie made a misguided attempt to be cool. First off, can we agree that three villains are too many for one movie? Second, can we agree that turning Peter Parker into a hipster, the cool kind though, is sort of lame? What’s strange is that the producers wasted the best actor in the cast, Paul Giamatti, in a role that got about five minutes of screen time. Unless he pulled a Brando, I don’t see why this happened.

The visual effects were a little too colorful and the music was a little too modern. Spidey probably isn’t going to appeal to the Bonnaroo crowd, so why try to? Jaime Foxx was also awful as Electro, and he continues to prove my theory that if he’s not playing Ray Charles, he’s a shitty actor/

For the record, going back to the last entry, I think the casting of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were both good decisions. They, along with newcomer Dane DeHaan, are fine here. But the movie is bogged down by over-doing everything.

blackzilla

Godzilla

Released: May 16th via Warner Bros. (Legendary Pictures)

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston

Box Office: $525 million (on a reported $160 million budget)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 73% positive

My Grade: B-

It’s hard to be upset with Godzilla because it is what you expect it to be. It fulfills our desire to watch a monster wreck havoc, albeit a monster who was absent for the first hour of the movie. Gareth Edwards, who brought outstanding visual effects to the screen in the tiny movie Monsters (budget of less than $500,000), does not disappoint when it comes to making Godzilla look, move, and feel awesome.

I don’t really have a problem with the decision to keep Godzilla on the sidelines for so long. It was paced like the original and allowed the always-outstanding Bryan Cranston some time to shine, despite not really being the star of this movie.

What I do have a problem with is the real star of this movie. It’s not Cranston, it’s not even Godzilla. It’s Aaron freakin’-Taylor-Johnson. He was fine in Kick-Ass, but here, they cast him as the hero, the badass, and I just don’t buy it. Not only that, but in the scenes that require him to do real acting, he’s completely upstaged by whoever else is on camera (mostly Elizabeth Olsen) and it makes those scenes feel really awkward.

Aaron freakin’-Taylor-Johnson is in the next Avengers movie and is starring in the 50 Shades of Grey adaptation so I should probably get used to him being a big deal.

Still don’t like him though.

 

xmen

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Released: May 23rd via 20th Century Fox (Marvel/Bad Hat Harry)

Directed by: Jerry Sandus..I mean, Bryan Singer

Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage

Box Office: $746 million (on a reported $200 million budget

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% positive

My Grade: C+

This is the movie this year that I disagree with the masses on. Most are calling it the best X-Men yet…I’d rank it 4th (behind 1,2, and First Class in any order).

You may have noticed that other than Wolverine I didn’t give the cast from the older movies, like the Patrick Stewart’s and the Ian McKellen’s, top billing. THAT IS WHAT FOX SHOULD HAVE DONE. Selling this movie as a convergence of both generations of X-Men casts was such a falsity. As I’ve said before, the real premise was to send Hugh Jackman back in time to hang out with the prettier, younger people from X-Men: First Class.

There was plenty to love about this movie. Fassbender, Dinklage, and Jackman were great as always. The climactic scene, if the horrible plot kept your attention long enough, was fantastic. The inclusion of Evan Peters as Quicksilver made for one of the funniest and most impressive sequences of the year.

But that wasn’t enough to distract me from the lame story, McAvoy’s constant over-acting, and the movie trying to suck every last dollar it could out of Jennifer Lawrence’s stardom. As a longtime fan of the franchise, not only was this movie not at all what I expected, but it was terribly disappointing. I understand that it’s difficult to have this big of a cast and give them all the attention they deserve. That’s cool, just don’t market your movie that way then.

The team will be back in 2016 and I’m at least one person who is hoping for (and expecting) a major improvement.

 

22 jump

22 Jump Street

Released: June 13th via Columbia/MGM (Media Rights Capital)

Directed by: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Wyatt Russell….AND JIMMY TATRO

Box Office: $330.3 million (on a reported budget of $65 million)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84% positive

My Grade: B+

22 Jump Street was great for reasons that stretch beyond the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Tatum and Hill, but they really are the great comedy bromance of our time. In this sequel, we see their dynamic get a little more interesting than the typical “nerd and jock” contrast the first one relied on.

For those other reasons:

22 Jump Street is a predictable, overly-confident, more expensive sequel that pounces on every opportunity it can to make fun of predictable, overly-confident, more expensive sequels. It’s a movie that movie-lovers can appreciate. Add that to the fact that it also functions perfectly fine as a date movie or as a raunchy dude comedy, and it’s not hard to see why this franchise has been so successful.

There were some great action sequences and the script gave Ice Cube more chances to yell obscenities (which is always a good thing).

Many other recent R-rated comedy franchises, like The Hangover or Harold & Kumar, have faltered in handling sequels. Lord & Miller did not let that happen here, so it’s sort of disappointing that they’re reportedly only going to be producing the franchises third entry.

 

evans

Snowpiercer

Released: June 27th via the Weinstein Company (MoHo Films)

Directed By: Bong Joon-ho

Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, (spoiler alert) Ed Harris

Box Office: $86.7 million (on a reported budget of $39.2 million)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95% positive

My Grade: A-

I, along with most people, didn’t actually catch Snowpiercer on the big screen. But thanks to the Weinsteins, it’s been on Netflix for a while. Watch it. You’ll be glad you did.

Here’s the general premise void of any spoilers: the world ends because of a misguided attempt at combatting climate change, the only people left were those smart enough to get on a super-train (Snowpiercer), the train develops its own class system, Captain America attempts to lead the lower class folk up to the front of the train and confront the mysterious owner who only reveals himself in the final act.

Spoiler alert: Mysterious owner who only reveals himself in the final act is played by Ed Harris, because, OF COURSE. If there’s ever a mysterious figure to reveal themselves in the final act, it’s probably Ed Harris.

The movie unflinchingly explores some deeper themes than my premise implies. More importantly; it features some gut-wrenching moments, brutal but beautifully choreographed fight scenes, and a breakthrough performance by Chris Evans.

So about that Chris Evans guy. Holy shit. Director Bong Joon-ho, whose previous films are less accessible to me or you due to the dialogue being almost entirely in Korean, was initially hesitant to hiring Evans due to him being typecast as Captain America. But Snowpiercer needed a star in order to make any money outside of South Korea, and when Dicaprio’s reported interest never materialized, Evans was chosen. He shed some weight, grew a beard, and turned in one of the years best performances. There’s a specific tasty scene towards the end which certainly qualifies as an “Oscar scene” for him.

Snowpiercer manages to be smart and mindless at the same time. For every piece of political allegory there’s a not-very-realistic shot of someone getting their ass beat. Bong Joon-ho has made one of the best Sci-Fi/Action movies in a long time, and he did it keeping all his characters in one location. Impressive.

 

apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Released: July 11th via 20th Century Fox (Chermin Entertainment)

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell

Box Office: $707.5 million (on a reported budget of $170 million)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90% positive

My Grade: B+

I was legitimately surprised when the last Apes movie was good. You know, the one starring James Dave Franco’s brother. So my expectations for this were pretty damn high. I’m a longtime Gary Oldman fanboy as well so him joining the cast shot those expectations through the roof.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, with a budget almost double that of the last one, met my expectations. The motion capture was outstanding, and an upgrade on the already impressive motion capture we’ve seen in this franchise and in some of Peter Jackson’s work. Andy Serkis deserves to be viewed as every bit the artist other actors are. He is, undeniably, the best in the world at what he does. How many artists, in any medium, can realistically claim that?

Other than the motion capture, the movie features a genuinely interesting story and good performances by all the actors (Oldman is, as always, a scene-stealer). It’s hard for me to take some of the political statements too seriously because at the end of the days this is a movie about shotgun-toting apes riding around on horses but perhaps more so than any in the entire series, Dawn feels smart.

 

groot

Guardians of the Galaxy

Released: August 1st via Disney (Marvel Studios)

Directed By: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel

Box Office: $765.3 million (on a reported budget of $170 million)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91% positive

My Grade: A

Before I salivate on the keyboard over this flawless film, let’s take a moment to look back at the months leading up to its release.

Marvel spent $170 million making (and probably another $50 million or so marketing) a movie about a bunch of superheros only the biggest geeks had heard of. This isn’t Iron Man or Captain America or something else that everyone who has grown up with American pop culture is familiar with. Making this movie took balls. And it paid off. For my money, it’s the best movie in the Marvel catalogue to date.

James Gunn was hired to direct/re-work the script. His unique blend of humor and self doubt is all over this movie. Not only is this clearly the funniest Marvel movie ever (the “if I had a blacklight it’d look like a Jackson Pollock painting in her line” is pure gold) and another visual achievement, it’s also Marvel’s most interesting character study. We fall for these characters. So however corny them all holding hands in the end may be on the surface, it really is the perfect way to conclude the first chapter of what will surely be a successful franchise.

Much of the credit for these characters being so fully-fleshed out despite the medium belongs to the cast. Chris Pratt, thanks to good turns in Zero Dark Thirty and Moneyball as well as being the best part of Parks & Recreation, has been on the rise for a couple years now. He’s now a clear A-list star. Robert Downey Jr. is getting old. Pratt has become Marvel’s most valuable asset, and fans will be happy to learn he’s been locked up for a multi-movie deal.

The rest of the Guardians deserve praise as well, as does Gunn, and Nicole Pearlman (who wrote the original script and was the first person who thought this could actually be a movie). Also, that soundtrack….

Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t going to win any Oscars. Film students aren’t going to study it. But who gives a shit? It was the most thoroughly enjoyable movie of the year. The numbers prove that more than just comic book dudes enjoy these movies. Guardians is the perfect blockbuster. In an era where so many blockbusters are held back by the same fundamental flaws, that says something.

 

gone girl

Gone Girl

Released: October 3rd via 20th Century Fox (Regency Enterprises)

Directed By: David Fincher

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Ben Affleck’s penis

Box Office: $318.8 million (on a reported budget of $61 million)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86% positive

My Grade: C+

Spoilers galore coming up so skip to the next movie if you haven’t seen this or read the book and plan to.

I haven’t read the book, for the record. And I’m not going to. Many of my complaints about the movie revolve around the plot so it may be unfair to hold the filmmakers responsible.

Main complaint: How are we supposed to take any of themes about modern marriage from Gone Girl seriously when it’s clear that the wife is just A FUCKING CRAZY PERSON???? I mean, she slit Neil Patrick Harris’ throat while she was banging him. Neil Patrick Harris is most lovable dude ever. This makes no sense. What kind of a-hole would slits Barney Stinsons throat while banging him? This movie, that was entirely dependent on plot twists, unraveled as it went on. What started off as a legitimately intelligent and thrilling mystery became something else entirely, and not in a good way.

The positives: The entire cast was great. Affleck was fine even though his role didn’t require much. Rosamund Pike was intriguing even though her character wasn’t. Carrie Coon stole the show. Tyler Perry was actually funny and impressive in his lawyer role. We even got a brief cameo of Affleck’s bat-dong towards the end.

The first half of the movie was as tight and compelling as any Fincher film. The music, courtesy of the Nine Inch Nails guys, was awesome.

But again, the more the story revealed itself, the stupider this movie became. It’s a Fincher adaption of a beloved book so I understand why it did so well critically and commercially, but five years from now, is anybody going to remember this movie? I actually initially forgot about it when putting together this list, despite the fact that I saw it a month ago.

Here’s to hoping Fincher goes back to more unique material rather than simply picking whatever he sees on the best-sellers rack and Barnes-n-Noble or on his moms bookshelf.

 

matthew

Interstellar

Released: November 7th via Paramount (Syncopy/Legendary Pictures)

Directed By: I forgot, someone please tell me again.

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Bill Irwin, bearded Casey Affleck, (spoiler) Matt Damon

Box Office: $322.7 million (on a reported budget of $165 million)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 72% positive

My Grade: B-

Before we get into this, let me disprove a myth. Interstellar is NOT a mind-bending psychological thriller. Neither was Inception. While both dabble in some intriguing concepts, they are ultimately rather typical sci-fi/action movies. Stop acting like they’re Memento or something. If you didn’t get this movie, that’s your fault, considering that like a third of the dialogue was boring-ass explanation.

Before you all call me a hipster for critiquing this movie, let’s go over what I liked. Visually, it was a spectacle (even if some of the shots seem like a direct rip-off of Malick’s Tree of Life). Hans Zimmer killed it again with his score (even though I thought the mixing was WAY off at times). McConaughey was great, as was Jessica Chastain, per usual.

There was simply too much explaining going on. I understand that the scope of this project was so large that some exposition was to be expected, but still, “show, don’t tell”, as the saying goes.

nolan

I was also underwhelmed by both Hathaway and Caine, which is strange, because those are two of my favorites. In fact, once they got into space, the scenes on earth felt like a waste of time. Casey Affleck and Topher Grace were both laughably bad. I expect horrible turns out of Grace because, frankly, he sucks. But not Casey Affleck.

The movie completely fell apart in its third act, I don’t care what Nolan-fanboys say. Again, I understood what went down, I just didn’t buy it. Love is a powerful thing capable of traveling through time and dimensions? Okay, Christopher Nolan. Spare us the poetry next time. In fact, get David S. Goyer to write your next movie.

Bonus critique (spoiler): Matt Damon’s inclusion was fucking stupid and just an excuse to have one A-lister fight another A-lister. Once he got them to come to his planet, why they hell would he try to kill them all, knowing he wouldn’t be able to commandeer his way home? They were there. He was going back with them on the ship regardless of whatever they found on the planet.

On many levels, Interstellar was a crowning cinematic achievement. It deserves to be seen experienced in theaters. But it was flawed on just as many levels as well, too many levels to be considered a great movie. It’s one of Nolan’s weakest efforts.

 

birdman

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Released: limited on October 17th via Fox Searchlight (Regency/Worldview)

Directed By: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone

Box Office: $11.6 million (on a reported budget of $18 million)

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94% positive

My Grade: A+

Birdman is, by a mile, the best movie I’ve seen this year.

General lowdown: A washed-up actor (Michael Keaton) who used to play a popular superhero attempts a broadway rendition of a classic short story (Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) to reclaim his former glory. Along the way he deals with some strange folks, including his recovering-addict daughter (Emma Stone) and a crazy actor (Edward Norton).

Side-note: for Raymond Carver fans, there are plenty of cookies and subtle references to his work in the script.

In its final act, Birdman becomes very weird. But it works thanks to the strong character development early on.

On a technical level, the movie is simply beautiful. The camera work is groundbreaking, it’s shot as if it was just one long, uninterrupted take, much like a play. The score from acclaimed jazz drummer Antonio Sánchez is perfect. When Birdman utilizes visual effects, it does so on a level equal to the big-budget superhero movies. It’s something to marvel at (see what I did there).

The script moves flawlessly from scene-to-scene and character-to-character while never loosing focus of Keaton and how all of the these things are impacting him. It’s littered with enough current pop culture references to make younger audiences laugh out loud, yet contains enough serious thought about life and art to intrigue the older, high-art loving types.

The entire cast is phenomenal. Keaton’s layered turn feels strangely personal, due to the fact that he was once Batman and has had a relatively quite career since then, and should vault him right into the Best Actor race. The same can be said for Norton. Emma Stone steps way out of her comfort zone to give the best performance of her young career. Hell, even Zach Galifianakis is great.

I’ve written too many words about Birdman already. Just go see it. Iñárritu has crafted a masterpiece, a movie that will surely be studied, imitated, and loved for years to come. It deserves all of the Oscars it will likely be nominated for.

Shit. Now I really want to go see Birdman again.

If you’ve made it this far (pushing 4,500 words now), thanks for hanging in there. Now go back to whatever you were doing, or go watch Birdman. Actually, just go watch Birdman.

Okay, one more meme.

pratt

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