A truly remarkable year, the 2014 blockbuster season turned out to be. The usual summer blockbuster season throws up at most 2 or 3 movies that truly can be considered in a best of the year list but this year proved to be a remarkable outlier necessitating a split in my usual best of the year list. A gobsmacking medley of dragons, future tech and dystopian sci-fi combined with what was a strong year for comic book movies (read Marvel) and unconventional indie directors bringing their A-game for big budget movies elevated this year and in the process, sets up quite an unfair expectation for 2015. (Age of Ultron & Star Wars, please don’t suck please don’t suck)
This is indeed an anti-establishment list. A recognition of movies that inevitably are the ones folks wish to flock to and enjoyed on the big screen. This also serves as a recognition for movies that quite do not harbor pretentions of grandeur to quite attempt to make it to an Oscar list as well. While of course this is not meant as an attempt to belittle the movies that aim for the Oscars but the fundamental underlying truth about movies are they are meant to entertain.
In no particular order,
- The Lego Movie – How does a movie which came out through the very concept of big culture, franchise and money (read Hasbro) turn out to be the very anti-thesis of it. Supremely witty, cool and espousing individuality, the movie is anchored by some truly cool voice acting, an engaging plot and some truly astounding cameos. Gorgeously shot, the wit and humor in the movie adds luster to what is indeed a heartwarming story. And one cannot watch the movie and not hum Everything is Awesome J. Lego Batman has to the character of the year. Lord & Miller direct what is indeed one of the most self-aware, tongue-in-cheek animated comedies of all times
- Snowpiercer – Snowpiercer is one half of the answer to the question if one can truly make smart science fiction movies. Set in a future frozen earth where the only survivors are on a train that runs around the world perpetually, this is a class warfare movie where the rich stay close to the engine and get to enjoy all the luxuries while the poor stay towards the end of the train in cramped horrendous quarters, subject to random examinations and torture whilst waiting for their next meal to be delivered to them. Led by comic book star Chris Evans (the number of non-superhero comic book moves that the guy has done is simply amazing. A true genre star) and supported by Tilda Swinton (unrecognizable), Jamie Bell and the ever awesome Ed Harris, this is a no-holds-barred movie that has deeper philosophical ruminations and fantastic action set pieces even if downright brutal and bloody. The backstories, the betrayals and the twists keep on coming in what is a hugely ambitious, not an easy to follow movie
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Turning a character who was kind of a running joke in Avengers into a more relevant rounded character is probably the greatest achievement of the movie. A tense suave political thriller that deals with the concept of security and freedom, the title is the weakest link of the movie (along with a saggy mid portion). More of a cop buddy team up of Captain America, Black Widow and the Falcon, the movie rockets in what is now a Marvel Studio template with not too many dull moments and unexpected humorous moments along with great action set pieces. The titular character of Winter Soldier is bit of a blank slate while it’s awesome to see Robert Redford display his usual brand of authority and charm and regal elegance in what is effectively a genre movie. A shout out to the terrific background score from Henry Jackman
- Godzilla: Gareth Edwards’ Monsters was a supremely under-rated movie that pretty much told a love story in midst of an alien invasion where the focus was on the story and gimmicks of the monster kept to a minimum. Thankfully the same technique is applied here where the focus on the monster, Godzilla, is kept to a minimum until the right moment wherein Gojira is shown in his full glory. Gareth Edwards tries to craft a human story amidst the carnage which works well when Bryan Cranston is on screen but less successfully with Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Ensuring that one forgets the debacle of the previous Godzilla movie, this is a movie with some cool shots. The HALO jump against the silhouette of the Godzilla is among the shots of the year and there is a great money shot of Godzilla which renders the prior shrouding seem like a minor irritant. Clearly, less is more for Gareth Edwards
- X-Men: Days of the Future Past – Retroactive continuity changes done well is such a treat and X-Men DOFP needed one such retcon to wash away the stink of X-Men: Last Stand. Adapting the seminal Chris Claremont’s Days of Future Past, and ensuring that Logan (the face of the franchise) makes the trip back in time, this is a wonderful adaptation. With 2 timelines in play, albeit the past playing a bigger role, there is nary a dull moment and the character interactions are fantastically wonderful, be it the simmering anger between James McAvoy & Michael Fassbender or the comfortable familiarity of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart or the palpable tension between Hugh Jackman and Fassbender or any interaction of McAvoy or Fassbender with Jennifer Lawrence. In midst of all the lead character interactions, Peter Dinklage admittedly gets a raw deal. But the movie makes up with one of the coolest action sequences of the year with the Magneto jailbreak
- The Raid 2 – How do you top what is the greatest action movie of this decade? By going bigger and being more ambitious. If the Raid was the Godfather of action movie, the Raid 2 is verily the Godfather 2. The action sequences are even more inventive, brutal and violent. This is no-holds barred, take no prisoner level evisceration of the highest order. There is actually an attempt to build a Godfather level storyline which merely serves as moments to catch your breath before the next breathless inventive action set piece is unleashed. Hammers, baseball, and cleaning implements are verily the new weapons of mass destruction.
- Edge of Tomorrow – Originally supremely kick-assedly titled All You Need is Kill, the movie weaves the Gorundhog day concept into a kick-ass action movie that runs through the aid of a tight screenplay, nifty editing and terrific moments of humor. Tom Cruise while looking all his age, still has the requisite charisma and everyman bumbling to make the character work while Emily Blunt has that no-nonsense look and attitude down to the T, making you wonder why she hasn’t been tapped to play any of the upcoming female superheroes. While the ending is a bit of a wimp out, that cannot be extended to the rest of the movie. One of the big disappointments remains on how it was such a box office clunker.
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – I repeat what I have been saying for a few years now. Someone just create a new category for Motion capture and give Andy Serkis the award, although Toby Kebbell runs him pretty close. A worthy follow up to what was a surprise hit in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this takes the confrontation between what is a clearly decimated human group and apes to a new level. With fringe elements causing damage at both ends, this is a nuanced thriller.
- Guardians of the Galaxy – Admittedly the riskiest of the Marvel gambles especially given the unfamiliarity of the characters, this turned out to be easily the movie that provided the most awesome fun of the year. James Gunn has to be given all the credit for doing what it took for movies preceding the Avengers to do, establishing the characters and team dynamics in just over 2 hours and making us care of the characters. Chris Pratt proved to be a surprisingly cool lead with genre actress Zoe Saldana further burnishing her creds in this space. Rocket Raccoon was a surprisingly tragic character for a homicidal trigger happy bounty hunter, Groot, for his 3 words, delivered so much with his voice inflection and Drax with his ability to take words literally, make for a supremely entertaining team up. With music playing such a fascinating role in the movie, its really no surprise that this movie ranks among my favorite movies of the year, with the sore point being the fairly one note underdeveloped villain (waste of a role for Lee Pace sadly). The world building is remarkable for a movie that starts fresh and in true Marvel vein, the humor element make it’s a wonderfully engaging movie
- John Wick – A Keanu Reeves movie that is undeniably solid fun. The last movie I saw with so much gun kata or gun-fu and body count was the Christian Bale starred Equilibrium. This is a movie that is all style and no substance but what glorious style. The movie makes maximum use of the limited expressions Keanu Reeves is capable of and doesn’t waste too much of the audience’s time in making him try to act. Though to be fair, Keanu Reeves’ façade cracks just enough to express grief before he gets on with his act of reducing the world’s population of mobsters. The charm of the movie also lies in the cameos of notable characters as well as the exclusive neutral grounds territory of a hotel where all the baddies stay.
Movies that almost made the list – How to train your dragon 2, Big Hero 6