With 2014 drawing to a close, I figured it’s time to look back at the films that have been released this year and have caught my notice. This list will be in no particular order, and I will be looking at both the best and the worst of the bunch. If anyone has any suggestions or opinions, feel free to comment. Be aware that while I have seen these movies, I may have not reviewed some of them as of yet, so be patient, and I’ll try to get them….eventually. Let’s get this show on the road, eh? I’m going to start this list off with the best of the bunch.
This one came in under the radar. Released in July, Snowpiercer is a thriller set in a new Ice Age where the last survivors of the human race are sheltered on a train that travels the globe on a single track. Unlike other post-apocalyptic films, Snowpiercer really focuses more on the human condition. The action is brutal and relentless and it speaks volumes about how people treat each other during extreme circumstances. Chris Evans delivers one of his best performances ever. This was a fairly low-budget picture that didn’t get the attention that it deserved. Great story, great action, and a fairly unique setting. This one is definitely recommended.
The last time we had an Americanized version of the legendary Godzilla, we ended up with Roland Emmerich’s film which was a disaster. Thankfully, the folks at Toho yanked the rights to Godzilla before even more damage was caused. A few years back, Warner Bros and Legendary Entertainment acquired the rights to the franchise. Directed by Gareth Edwards, the King of the Monsters finally gets the American-made movie that he deserves. While definitely CG, the design of the monster is very much based on the original Japanese design. When he shows up, it’s breathtaking. It’s even better in 3D. Starring Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Godzilla more than lived up to the hype. People complain that he isn’t in the film enough, but have they even seen the original film? It’s a solid monster movie that surprisingly, and wisely reigns in the mass destruction until the end of the film. It’s a blast, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
3. The Giver
I was never really a big fan of Lois Lowry’s young adult novel, but I was surprisingly intrigued by the film. Set in a dark future where most emotion is outlawed and everything appears in black and white, a young man is chosen to be the Receiver of Memory. He’s to get all the history and everything that mankind has done. Stuff that everyone else has forgotten. Brenton Thwaites and Jeff Bridges star in this unusually thoughtful and interesting film. It’s not an action film, but its themes and consequences help draw you into the world. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Performances are strong as is the story. This is definitely one to see.
Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite movies ever, so when I heard they were making movie based on the film’s villain, I was rather curious. Maleficent was one of the most iconic villains that Disney had ever created. Thankfully, the film actually ended up being amazing. It was visually appealing, with colorful landscapes and unique creatures. This is Angelina Jolie’s movie through and through. She is absolutely wonderful in the role. While I don’t think Maleficent will replace Sleeping Beauty, it is a fantastic companion piece to a wonderful film. I think this is Disney’s best effort at doing a live-action adaptation of one of their animated pictures.
5. X-Men: Days of Future Past
After the disasters that were X-Men: The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine, it was hard to expect a serious comeback for the franchise. X-Men: First Class changed all that. A solid reboot gave me hope that the franchise found its footing again. The Wolverine, the second Wolverine film, was a great improvement. When it was revealed the Bryan Singer would return for another X-Men film, I was excited. When it was announced that he would be tackling the Days of Future Past story-line, I couldn’t think of a better man to direct the film. Combining the new cast of First Class with the veterans of the previous films, we have a very unique cast. While Wolverine has an important part to play, he’s not the main focus of the film. First Class and Days of Future Past are about Xavier, Magneto and Mystique. What we have is an emotionally gripping, compelling and exciting film that I have to admit may be the best in the series thus far. This is a great film and an excellent addition to the series.
6. The Raid 2
A few years back, a little martial arts film came out of Indonesia called Merantau starring Iko Uwais. This movie took the world by storm with its unique brand of action. The Raid was next on Uwais’s filmography and it was one of the most spectacularly violent and brutal martial arts flicks ever made. It was universally received as one of the best action movies. It got a sequel which ended up being far more brutal and violent than I would have though possible. But unlike the previous picture, it wasn’t constant action. The Raid 2 expanded on the film’s world and allowed the film to explore the world and characters whilst giving the audience the spectacular action that they craved. It’s one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen. Iko Uwais has certainly made a name for himself, and I hope to see a lot more from him.
7. Wolf Creek 2
In 2005, the world was introduced to a new horror villain: Mick Taylor played by John Jarrett. Wolf Creek was an Australian horror flick that claimed to have been inspired by true events. It stood well enough on its own without the whole “based on true events” motif. It was a slow-burner, but it gave us some really good tension. John Jarrett steals the show as a character that starts off as a pretty charming guy, but ends up becoming people’s worst nightmare, and Jarrett’s performance is exceptional. The sequel takes a different approach and adds a lot more action to the mix. The result is a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride that doesn’t let up. We get to see the extent of the character’s evil, but at the same time, we end up rooting for him because he’s just so damn cool. I had a blast with this one.
8. Edge of Tomorrow
Here’s a movie that’s suffered from some seriously bad marketing. Constant name-changes aside, people really had no idea what to make of this movie. As a result, it didn’t get the attention it needed to be a major success. It’s a shame, because this is one of the best action movies of the year. It’s not only exciting and visually spectacular, it’s also pretty smart. Some people call it Groundhog Day With Aliens. I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it. What I will say is that Tom Cruise just knocks it out of the park. He starts off very unlikable, but becomes the hero that we expect him to be. Great cast, visuals and story make this one of the most underrated films of the decade.
9. How To Train Your Dragon 2
How To Train Your Dragon was one of my favorite animated films of 2010. It had awesome characters, story, humor and a great animation style that still stands up 4 years later. The sequel picks up 5 years after the events of the first film, and follows Hiccup and his dragon as they explore the world. It’s generally difficult to follow-up a successful film with an equally fantastic sequel, but How To Train Your Dragon 2 does just that. It does tackle some darker material, but it’s handled in fairly mature way. Kids will still love it, and adults will find something in here for them as well. Good movie overall.
Here’s my runners up list in no particular order:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet Of The Apes
These are some of the best ones I’ve seen this year. It’s actually been a great year for movies, and as a result I won’t be able to mention them all, because I might not have seen them all. If you have your own lists, I would love to read them. This concludes my list of the best that I have seen this year. Part 2 will consist of the worst movies of the year as well some of the crushing disappointments that I have seen in 2014. Stay tuned.