This cinematic year will most likely be remembered for only two things – even big name blockbusters can still surprise us (in their “failures” but, more so, in a success like Guardians of the Galaxy) and sometimes it takes 12 years to make the best movie of the year. And even though Boyhood and Guardians of the Galaxy have become the East Egg and West Egg (respectively) not all movies that reside in the Valley of the Ashes should be forgotten. Not all of those movies are the indie darlings, in fact quite a few might have been some of those aforementioned “disappointing blockbusters,” but all are certainly worth your time.
Unfortunately not even I can make it to every movie I would like, so here are the honorable mentions of movies I have yet to see: A Most Wanted Man, The Wind Rises, Get On Up, Inherent Vice (though that is because it has yet to be released where I live), Top Five, and Dear White People. Who knows what this list may have looked like had I seen them, but I haven’t. C’est la vie.
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10) Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier – April 4
So maybe this is a little bit of a cheat. Or maybe you forgot this movie even came out this year due to your brain thinking no superhero movie worth while came out before Guardians of the Galaxy. Cap 2 was the rare sequel that was actually better than the original. It was an integral part of Marvel’s Movie Universe Phase 2 and introduced the kiddies to Robert Redford. And it may have introduced you to a very important hero for the future in Falcon. Even for those suffering from Marvel fatigue Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is certainly worth your time if you’re looking for some entertainment and a little commentary on the role of government in the 21st century.
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9) Non-Stop – February 24
Liam Neeson owns the post-Christmas winter months (I rest my case with the upcoming Taken 3) and Non-Stop fits nicely into his action/thriller phase. It’s a fun and fairly quick movie with twists upon twists. And it is a nice introduction to the permanently disgruntled, on the precipice of a mental breakdown characters of Scoot McNairy. More importantly, however, is the fact that there are some actors whose characters in every movie should somehow be tied into all his previous characters. And I believe Liam Neeson needs to be the inaugural member.
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8) Noah – March 28th
Receiving the ire of Christians and Aronofsky fans alike for its more mystical take on the tale of Noah’s Ark was Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. It wasn’t Aronofsky’s best but Noah at least tried to add a new take on the religious tale. Some of what he tried really worked and some really didn’t but Noah remains a watch for someone looking for something a little different. Russell Crowe’s Noah was both performed and conceived well and there is some very beautiful cinematography in parts.
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7) Lucy – July 25th
In a few years it should be interesting to see which Scarlett Johansson movie from 2014 will be best remembered (she starred in 3 movies and was featured in the aforementioned Captain America 2). Like Noah,Lucy was in the “blockbuster with brains” vein. But when you’re going up against the big boys, especially in the heat of summer, you need to have action scenes by the handful. Unfortunately Lucy didn’t quite deliver on that front. Still, Luc Besson created a thought provoking action/sci-fi movie that has one of the more interesting climaxes of a blockbuster-type movie you’ll see.
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6) John Wick – October 24th
John Wick was all about style. Keanu Reeves played the titular character, a hitman out for revenge, and it may have been his best performance in years and a superb supporting cast joined him. It was classic B-movie action that had a slick gloss on top, showing off a New York City that somehow felt completely different from what you’ve become accustomed. And while you may not necessarily need anymore John Wick after the movie, don’t be surprised if you wouldn’t mind returning to The Continental to follow a couple other characters sometime.
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5) Nightcrawler – October 31st
I’m not sure what the movie would have been without Jake Gyllenhaal but I have a feeling it wouldn’t have been nearly as good. Gyllenhaal gives a great performance as the creepy, obsessed with success Louis Bloom. Nightcrawler is rife with commentary about TV news shows, the “American dream”, and bloodlust but none of the commentary quite pays off like you would expect. Still, Nightcrawler is solid and should be seen, if for nothing else, because of Gyllenhaal and his character Louis bloom.
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4) Snowpiercer – June 27th in the U.S.
Snowpiercer is Chris Evans’s Lucy. Another action/sci-fi “blockbuster with brains” overshadowed by the mindless schlock of summer sequels. Snowpiercer takes classism and makes a train out of it, a different class in every train car. It moves quickly and stays entertaining throughout, even with the reluctant hero in Evans. There’s also quite a nice shocking reveal in the climax.
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3) Edge of Tomorrow/Live. Die. Repeat – June 6th
Edge of Tomorrow/Live. Die. Repeat may go down as the poster boy for the disappointing 2014 blockbusters. Even though its flop status is highly in question (it didn’t actually lose any money), it was not the huge hit Hollywood expected. But it should have been. What transpires is the first movie that resembles a video game and actually works. Tom Cruise dies over and over again, learning something new each time, in hopes of saving the world from an alien invasion. Film critic Wesley Morris pointed out the simple brilliance of casting Tom Cruise in a role in which he dies over and over again, after being the unkillable star of so many blockbusters of the past 30 years. Emily Blunt also kicks some ass as the Master Chief, if you will, of the war. Disappointingly the Groundhog Day aspect in terms of Cruise’s relationship with Blunt was not explored to its fullest but it added an extra layer to the “love interest” that succeeded where most blockbusters fail.
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2) Whiplash – October 10th (Wide Release)
If you follow movie award season then you will hear of this movie, or probably J.K. Simmons in this movie. And while Simmons deserves all the accolades, Whiplash was much more than just Simmons’s performance. Exploring the gray area of insanity in perseverance – all for something the culture world has basically forgotten – Whiplash becomes an interesting watch. The music is good and Miles Teller more than holds his own up against the maniacal Simmons. Though you may have to like jazz to make it through.
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1) The Grand Budapest Hotel – March 7th
For my expanded view feel free to read my review . If you aren’t a Wes Anderson fan this may be the best movie to introduce yourself to his work. The world he creates for Grand Budapest is his most lively yet and I certainly wouldn’t mind some companion films for some of the lesser focused upon characters (The Society of the Crossed Keys, I’m looking at you). It’s playful and tongue-in-cheek like all Anderson films and perhaps nothing quite typifies his style as masterwork “Boy With Apple”.