Sunday, January 4, 2015

Favorite Films of 2014 So Far...

Overall, I wasn't very impressed with 2014, 2015 already looks to be much more exciting.  That said, there are some films that stood out.  In fact, there are many listed here but that is because less films stood as high as they have in other years.  Also, I'm a procrastinator.  I should have a complete list but I'm slow to catch up, so my complete list will be due once the rest of the movies become available on video.  

X-Men: Days of Future Past: I loved the prequel film, X-Men: First Class, and I love this even more.  This is a prequel and a sequel.  Like Django Unchained, this film introduced me to another hauntingly beautiful Jim Croce song: "Time in a Bottle."  I particularly enjoyed Evan Peters' (of American Horror Story) appearance as Quicksilver (pictured above).  The humor and the drama are here, and this film is a perfect antidote to the likes of X-Men: The Last Stand.

Captain America: Winter Soldier: There's a moment when a smug, charismatic Robert Redford brazenly tells the members of a board that he doesn't care about one ship being overtaken by pirates, he cares about the fleet.  This kind of glib attitude is what makes for a great movie persona.  I just love seeing Robert Redford, period.  This comic book paranoia thriller combines the best of Three Days of the Condor and the current Marvel cinematic universe.  There are plenty of welcome twists.  This is the kind of movie that should overtake your attention.      

Guardians of the Galaxy: Based on the trailer, I dismissed this movie.  I did not want to like it until my parents raved about it, Robert Downey Jr. raved, and others buzzed as well.  Then I had to give it a chance.  This is the most lighthearted, funny of the year's comic book films.  Obviously, the soundtrack is great, the Walkman is wonderful nostalgia, and the film has some moments of vulnerability and grief making the fun that much more crucial.

Edge of Tomorrow: This film is one of the better time-loop movies that I've seen.  Bluntly, Emily Blunt is one of the main reasons I see any given film and she choose so many great projects.  She glows here in this otherwise gritty science fiction thriller.  Tom Cruise is plenty charismatic to carry this madness off.  There's not much to say other than the fact that this had me on the edge of my seat.

Interstellar: I was worried that the laws of relativity would throw a cosmic wrench into Mathew McConaughey's life, and they did.  I almost wanted to abandon this film due to the psychic pain it caused me.  But that's only evidence of the power of this hard-hitting Christopher Nolan masterpiece.  I love that this deals with a futuristic dust bowl as that subject has a special meaning since I watched the Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl earlier in the year and was transfixed (an aquifer is due to be depleted in a couple of decades because of agriculture and they predict another dust bowl will actually ensue).  I love the cornfields.  Mackenzie Foy stole my heart as the young daughter.  McConaughey displayed startling emotional depths and the special effects were sublime.  My only criticism is why the hell couldn't we have gotten to see McConaughey and Hathaway actually reconnect to offset the bitter elements of the film?  I imagine, like Titanic, this will be easier to take upon subsequent viewings once you're prepared for what's coming.

Begin Again: Although this film made appearances in 2013, it didn't get a wide release until 2014.  This film bedazzled me.  This is my favorite Keira Knightley film thus far and one of my favorite Mark Ruffalo films.  I was surprised at how much I responded to the contemporary singer-songwriter material here.  New York is on glorious display.  Any music lover and especially musicians should be able to appreciate this film.  I think this film should be getting more love.  I was sucked into the strained relationship between Ruffalo's character and his daughter.  I hope to see the gorgeous Shannon Maree Walsh in more stuff in the future.

Stage Fright: Allie MacDonald steams up the screen with her innocent, cute, curvaceous final girl here.  This is a musical, a comedy, a horror movie.  It's an acquired taste but if you dig then you should end up with some serious caissons.  This is better than going to camp.  This is cuddly, offbeat madness of the crimson cinema, very sharp. 

Chef: What Begin Again it to music, Chef is to cooking.  This is a great film about rediscovering your passion, your voice in society, and committing to those things.  And in so doing everything else falls into place.  I think this is Jon Favreau's finest performance, certainly my favorite.  This is a road picture on top of being a food picture; I love road pictures.  There is some mild food education to be found here and the presentation of food and movie is premium.  You gotta love a film in which the protagonist insists upon a trip to the farmer's market (a scene I recently discovered for myself).  John Leguizamo may be the beating heart of this film, one of finest performances to be sure.  If you like food, the road, or anything else mentioned: you should enjoy this.

Wild: There is a scene near the beginning when Witherspoon struggles with a mammoth backpack that is comic gold.  She is sexier than she has ever been here, now confirmed as one of my top five beauties.  I never heard of the Pacific Crest Trail until I learned of this movie and I'm a Californian.  Like Big Miracle and Argo, this film is based on true events and presents the real faces at the end of the film during the credits.  The ending is a little rushed but overall this is a gripping, mesmerizing experience.  I love that Thomas Sadoski of The Newsroom is in this movie.  This is a feminine Into the Wild with less poison.   

Ping Pong Summer: This is my lesser known entry on the list.  Honestly, this film didn't work me up as much as the others.  However, I can't say that I've ever seen another film like it.  It is offbeat.  It is languid.  It is youthful and colorful.  A teen must spend summer in a sleepy east coast town that underwhelms him.  Then there is conflict and rivalry.  Then there is a Karate Kid-like final match.  This film doesn't linger as well as others of its ilk but there are elements, such as Susan Sarandon's character, that do linger.  Good 1980's atmosphere and good pizza viewing.    

Lucy: This film isn't really all that intriguing from a dramatic standpoint, tension is rather deflated throughout the film.  Where this film succeeds is as a quasi-documentary/travelogue hosted and guided by the incredibly sexy Scarlett Johansson with a Morgan Freeman narration to boot.  The percentage of brain use is explored here; what if we could use all 100 percent?  Luc Besson gives us a feature-length fireworks show built around this concept. Yum.

Divergent: Kate Winslet's icy villainy is a wonder to behold.  The Dauntless faction really gets under the skin, morals are really out of balance within this group.  Who uses words like "abnegation?" Literary cool.  This film's use of Chicago raised my adrenaline.  Definitely looking forward to Insurgent.

Films that I have not yet seen that may factor into my complete list:

Life Itself
Antarctica: A Year On Ice
John Wick
The Battle of the Five Armies 
Top Five
Big Hero 6
The Babadook 

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