In my Disappointments list yesterday, I said that it was going to be my most controversial year-end list of the three. That’s how it generally is every year. But looking over this next list, I’m starting to think things may be different this time.
The “Wild Rides” category was conceived as a way to recognize those films that were all-around good times at the theater, without necessarily bringing artistic merit into the equation. There were so many films this year that were a blast to sit through, and some very difficult judgment calls had to be made. Moreover, a lot of the movies listed here have already earned massive followings and I have no doubt that there will be many disagreements about the decisions made here. I know this because my correspondents have already roasted me alive for my initial reviews of such movies and I’ve apparently learned nothing.
So before you leave some hot-headed comment below, just remember that this list is all about having fun. So let’s look back at the funniest, scariest, most fucking awesome movies of 2014.
Best Action Movie
I’ve seen The Raid 2 occupy quite a few “Best of 2014” lists, and it’s easy to see why. The franchise’s unique style of bloody and brutal combat is still every bit as potent as ever, and it’s still absolutely glorious to watch. Even so, there’s no denying that it’s inferior to the first one. It’s strange to see a sequel so bogged down in convoluted mob squabbles and undercover double-dealings when the first film proved that the best action premise is usually the simplest one. Even so, The Raid 2 readily delivers fight scenes like most Hollywood films could never even dream of, and I fully expected it to be the year’s best action film.
But then, of all people, Keanu Reeves stepped in.
John Wick was much more of the straightforward brainless action fun I had been looking for. The action scenes may not have been as good as those in Raid 2, but John Wick had so many more of them, all strung together with a far less intrusive plot. And don’t get me wrong, the fight scenes in John Wick were phenomenal, very cleverly delivering lightning-quick brutality in a satisfying variety of ways. As much as I love The Raid 2, this is the movie I’d rather watch while getting drunk with my friends, and isn’t that what fun action films are all about?
In spite of Ouija, Annabelle, Devil’s Due, and other putrid horror films I knew enough to stay away from, 2014 did give us two notable scarefests. And they’re both so good that I could go back and forth all year trying to decide between them.
On the one hand is Oculus, which uses the theme of mental instability to turn the main characters into their own worst enemies and show how we are all ultimately slaves to our own senses. On the other hand is The Babadook, in which mental instability is the result of a broken home, a dead father, a child with an overactive imagination, and a mother dealing with more stress than one human can take. I’d personally argue that Oculus had more inventive scares that were better-paced throughout the movie, and that counts for a lot. Oculus also had the better ending; sorry, but I maintain that Babadook had an ending that was awfully cheap.
Yet Babadook has a powerful advantage because it has the better characters. It has two leads, both of which are masterfully performed and endlessly compelling, compared to Oculus‘ three good leads out of six. The characters of Babadook are also much smarter, and they never go asking for trouble like those of Oculus. Last but not least, the central concept of a demon who latches onto a grieving family (or perhaps a demon created by their grief) is a much more powerful hook than a mirror that’s (possibly) evil just because.
It’s a very tough call, and Oculus is a very good movie, but I’m giving the edge to The Babadook. It’s the superior film, flaws and all.
Best Superhero Movie
Oh so many to choose from, all with their own unique mix of strengths and flaws. Big Hero 6? A fun and colorful movie, but the plot is hopelessly predictable and its pacing is all wrong. X-Men: Days of Future Past? Great stuff, but it fell way short of the epic mutant battle royale/teamup we were promised. Guardians of the Galaxy? Enjoyable and inventive, sure, but it suffers for having one of Marvel’s weakest villains and romance subplots yet. Plus, its central theme of “friendship is magic!” was overplayed and frankly quite dull.
No, I’m giving this one to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Here’s a film that succeeded where The Dark Knight and Star Trek Into Darkness previously failed by making an intelligent and coherent commentary about modern American military policy in a way that was also unobtrusive and fun. Bringing a retro spy flavor to Captain America was an inspired move, and putting Cap in stealthier action sequences was a fantastic way to showcase the character’s abilities in a new and interesting way. Perhaps most importantly, the film’s treatment of SHIELD and HYDRA was a bold stroke of genius, with effects that will assuredly ripple throughout the MCU for years to come.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a pivotal entry in the superfranchise that continues to redefine blockbuster cinema and superhero films. Plus it’s a fantastic film in its own right that manages to be smart without even slightly diminishing or distracting from a good time.
Best Animated Film
Again, we have such an embarrassment of riches to choose from. The Boxtrolls? Solid. The Book of Life? Very impressive. Big Hero 6? A great time at the movies. How to Train Your Dragon 2? Oh my fucking God, that movie was awesome.
But of course the one that stands above them all is The Lego Movie. The concept of a movie based on Legos had absolutely no right to work even slightly, and the plot is a “Chosen Hero’s Journey” as basic and cliche as it gets. Yet the movie was easily one of the most fun, colorful, charming, humorous, energetic, and creative films we got all year. More than that, it’s an uplifting and empowering movie that celebrates creativity and motivates the audience to start building something. I don’t think we knew how badly we needed a movie like this until it came along, and I’m very grateful that we have it now.
Wow, this was a good year for musicals as well! Frank is very charming, but a little too avant-garde for its own good. Whiplash is an exceptional movie, at the expense of some grotesque exaggerations about drumming, jazz, and musical education. Into the Woods is far better than it had any right to be, but still weighed down by the baggage that comes with being a stage-to-screen adaptation.
So I’m giving this one to Begin Again, a charming little movie that works as a compelling romance and a satisfying comedy. It also serves up some incisive satire of the music industry, with witty jabs that are very sharp without ever coming off as mean-spirited. Perhaps most importantly, given this particular category, Begin Again has what is indisputably the best original soundtrack of the year. “Everything is Awesome!!!” may have gone viral, but “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home” should have been a Top 40 hit. Keira Knightley also shines in the sweet and poignant “Like A Fool,” and “Coming Up Roses” is a fun little ditty as well. There’s also “Lost Stars,” which could easily be the best song that Adam Levine has ever put on record.
Begin Again is a delightful movie enhanced by a stellar soundtrack, deserving of far more recognition than it’s gotten.
Best Light Romance
Much slimmer pickings for this one, but that’s no surprise; worthwhile romantic comedies are always so difficult to come by. Even so, we still got Magic in the Moonlight, a Woody Allen film with all the charms and drawbacks that come with Woody Allen behind the camera. There’s also The Hundred-Foot Journey, which aimed for mediocrity and hit the mark surprisingly well.
Then there’s What If (that’s “The F Word” to those outside the US), which was admittedly a little too quirky for its own good and ran about five minutes too long. Still, it was a delightful little movie powered by overwhelming chemistry between Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. The supporting cast is also very strong, the dialogue is excellent throughout, and the plot is loaded with more than enough twists and turns to keep this from being your usual predictable romcom. Definitely give it a watch if you haven’t already.
I was pleasantly surprised by how many comedies this year dared to go outside the audience’s comfort zone, getting laughs while exposing the audience to new ideas like great comedy is supposed to do. The Interview is of course the most famous example, risking international condemnation to poke some humor at the USA and North Korea. But this was also the year of Obvious Child, a film about abortion that somehow managed to be funny and sweet without turning preachy or distasteful. Still, neither of those films were as consistently humorous as Bad Words, featuring a comedically unlikeable protagonist with the most acidic, profane, withering, quicksilver wit since the death of Joan Rivers.
But Bad Words only had one hysterically awesome performance. Top Five had at least a dozen.
It was so incredibly refreshing to see genuinely funny people on the screen, joking and laughing around like they didn’t give a fuck. Every single moment in Top Five felt authentic and sincere, without resorting to canned and unfunny jokes or rambling and directionless improv. No, these were very talented actors playing fleshed-out characters baring their souls on the screen, with results that are instantly sympathetic and a whole lot of fun. It felt like I was hanging out with these characters, and it was an amazing time from start to finish.
Best Wild Ride
My choice for the year’s most entertaining film may seem a bit strange, especially since there were so many great movies to choose from. Hell, I never even got around to mentioning Godzilla (2014) or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, both perfectly worthy films. But here’s the thing about my top choice: There were movies that delivered bigger spectacle. There were movies with more terrifying scares. There were movies with better action scenes, funnier jokes, and more charming romances.
But of all the movies released this year, none of them — not a single one — could ever hope to deliver all of the above like Edge of Tomorrow did.
I am an absolute sucker for movies that somehow achieve the improbable act of mixing several different genres into something greater than the sum of its parts, and Edge of Tomorrow is one such movie. It still astounds me that this film got so badly screwed over by the studio and the moviegoing public, because there truly is something in here for everyone. What’s more, Tom Cruise is at the top of his game, Emily Blunt delivers a performance worthy for entrance into the A-list, the central time-looping premise is superbly utilized with laughs and heart, and its statements about war are just subtle enough to register without distracting from everything else going on.
As an action film, a romance, a comedy, and even a sci-fi thriller/horror, this movie somehow improbably works on so many different levels all at once. It’s easily one of the year’s most unfairly neglected films and I can’t wait for more people to discover it.
Thank you all for joining me through this year of blogging. Here’s hoping 2015 is every bit as amazing as promised.