Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Films of 2014

This has been a pretty solid year for movies, particularly the studio pictures. Looking back at my most anticipated list from a year ago, quite a few of the ones I selected actually panned out (sorry, Transcendence). However, I am having to write this list without seeing all of the films I wanted to this year. The ones I haven't seen that probably would have been in contention include Foxcatcher, American Sniper, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Selma, Birdman, Nightcrawler, and Boyhood.  That could easily be somebody's top 10 list right there, but thanks to studios not choosing to release these films in theaters near me (if they released them at all), I'll have to make do with the other great films from this year to make up my list.

<<Just a note to those viewing on a mobile device, you probably won't be able to view the videos embedded in this post, so switch to desktop or click on the title above the video in order to view them.>> 

Honorable Mentions:

My first tip of the hat goes to a film I've wanted since I was a little kid. Godzilla is one of those creatures that has always captured my imagination, and seeing this movie brought back those same feelings. The tension builds slowly throughout this film, which some people may not like, but no one can deny that when the King of Monsters lets loose (particularly with the atomic breath) it's one of the coolest scenes of the year. Hopefully you saw this on a big screen.

Who knew this would be such a controversial film for so many people? I can't tell you all of the ridiculous fanboy complaints I've endured about The Amazing Spider-Man 2, especially since it's actually a really entertaining film! I really wanted to include this on my top 10 list, because it has a great score, amazing visuals, and a really likable cast (particularly Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, whose on-screen chemistry is off the charts).

Big Hero 6

This was one of the most charming films I've seen all year, and one that kids are really going to love. Big Hero 6 has a good message and excellent visuals, but it also has one of the most memorable characters of the year in the adorable Baymax. No doubt every kid is going to want a Baymax toy (heck, even I kind of want one), but it's his nature that makes him so endearing. This was also really hard to keep out of my to 10, as it's easily one of the better animated films of the year.

Top 10 Films of 2014

10 - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Mockingjay Part 1 had a lot to live up to after the excellent film that was Catching Fire, and though it isn't quite as good as that one it mostly keeps the momentum going while setting up what is sure to be a massive blow-out in Part 2. Jennifer Lawrence is awesome as usual, and one of her speeches alone is good enough to get this film on the list. The expansion to two movies isn't wasted, as they use the opportunity to build character and heighten suspense for what's to come next year. Bring on Part 2!

9 - Edge of Tomorrow

Easily one of the biggest surprises of the year, Edge of Tomorrow overcame a terrible ad campaign to become one of the most entertaining films of the year. Tom Cruise is at his comedic best in this apocalyptic adventure, and his gradual character evolution is extremely satisfying to watch. Even though it can't hold its momentum for the entire run time, this is easily one of the best times you'll have with a movie this year. Please check this movie out!

8 - Guardians of the Galaxy

Oh yeah! Easily the funnest movie of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy proved the near infallibility of Marvel Studios and scratched everyone's itch for a Star Wars-esque space opera (at least until next year). With an on-fire Chris Pratt, a hilarious talking raccoon, "I am Groot", and some great action scenes, this was a shoe-in for my top 10 list of 2014. I was so happy to open up the Blu Ray this Christmas, and I'm sure I'll be watching it over and over again.

7 - How to Train Your Dragon 2

HTTYD 2 was probably the most visceral experience I had in the theater all year. The visuals are dazzling as the camera follows the roller coaster-like aerial maneuvers of Toothless and Hiccup, but it's the character arcs that really make this a worthy sequel to the tremendous first movie. If you've seen the trailer you know that Hiccup meets his mother in this film, which is a great place to take the story. The score is also extremely well done, eliciting emotions from pure exhilaration to the deepest sorrow. It's a great movie, and one that I can't wait to see again.

6 - The LEGO Movie

Last year I would never have dreamed that a movie based on a toy would be half as good as The LEGO Movie turned out, let alone that it would nearly crack my top 5 favorite films of the year! Not only is this film hilarious, but it's also a very smart screenplay. Its imagination is off the charts, and the end twist brings a whole other layer to the movie that instantly requires a repeat viewing to fully appreciate. There are endless quotes in The LEGO Movie, but I can pretty much sum it all up with one indelible line... "Everything is awesome!"

5 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Hail Caesar! I was a huge fan of 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes, as you can see on my best of 2011 list, and I couldn't wait to see how they would continue the franchise. Needless to say, they did it brilliantly. With a substantial improvement in VFX and a remarkable performance by Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes somehow outdoes its predecessor and ups the ante in nearly every way. It's hard to believe they'll top this with the inevitable sequel, but I'll be there opening weekend to see what else director Matt Reeves has got up his sleeve.

4 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Man, I cannot tell you how much I love this movie. It's so good that I could almost put it above any other film this year depending on my mood. After a few lackluster efforts following The Avengers (ahem, Iron Man 3), I was so happy to see that Marvel had gotten its act together with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Not only is this one of the most entertaining and exciting films of the year, but it's probably my favorite MCU film to date.

3 - Gone Girl

This isn't a film for the faint of heart, but it's a thrilling, nail-biting experience that really delves into the darkness of the human psyche in a fascinating way. Gone Girl is expertly written, gorgeously shot, and skillfully acted, especially Rosamund Pike's amazing (pun-intended) portrayal of Amy, the titular gone girl. It may make you question the motive of everyone around you for a good week or so, but if you're up for it this is one of David Fincher's best films and easily one of the best of the year.

2 - X-Men: Days of Future Past

It's so rare for a comic book movie to have the most dramatic scene of an entire year, but that's exactly what X-Men: Days of Future Past accomplished. There are multiple moments in this film that take my breath away, whether it be the future Sentinels' vicious attacks, Magneto suddenly turning on Raven, or the wonderful slow-motion hijinks of the scene-stealing Quicksilver. With a legendary cast assembled to portray two generations of mutants and the return of X-Men superstar director Bryan Singer, it's no wonder this film crushed it. I cannot freaking wait for X-Men: Apocalypse!

1 - Interstellar

If you've read my review then this certainly won't come as any surprise. I was looking forward to this film so much that it could have easily run the risk of becoming a crushing disappointment. Thankfully, Christopher Nolan delivered a mind-blowing spectacle with very human themes and existential ideas in equal measure. It's bizarre that so many people could have such wildly divergent reactions to this movie, but count me among the multitude that admire both the ambition and the artistry of Interstellar. I doubt it will get the credit it deserves, but I cannot discount the incredible experience that seeing this film in IMAX gave me. I'm an unabashed Nolan fan, but to me this is one of his best films. It may always be an under-appreciated film in his body of work, but hopefully people will eventually come to recognize the complexity of this vision. If you still can, do yourself a favor and go see Interstellar!

** So, what are your favorite films of the year? Let me know in the comments section below, and don't forget to like my Facebook page! **

But wait, there's more! I'm not going to stop at just the top 10 movies of the year. I'm also going to be listing IMDb's highest rated films as well as ranking the top 10 scores of the year, the top 5 action scenes of the year, and the top 10 trailers of the year! Enjoy!

IMDb's Top 10 Films of 2014

1 - Interstellar (8.9/10)
2 - Boyhood (8.4/10)
3 - Gone Girl (8.3/10)
4 - Guardians of the Galaxy (8.2/10)
5 - The Grand Budapest Hotel (8.1/10)
6 - X-Men: Days of Future Past (8.1/10)
7 - The Raid 2 (8.1/10)
8 - How to Train Your Dragon 2 (8.0/10)
9 - Edge of Tomorrow (8.0/10)
10 - The Fault in Our Stars (8.0/10)

Top 10 Scores of 2014

10 - The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat)

I haven't seen this film yet, but Alexandre Desplat is one of my favorite composers working today, and thanks to the entire score being on YouTube, I've been able to listen to it without seeing the movie. It's not extremely different from his other works for films like The Ghost Writer or even the Harry Potter films, but it's a style I really enjoy.

9 - Fury (Steven Price)

Scored by the Oscar-winning composer of last year's Gravity, Steven Price does a great job of capturing the grit and noise of battle with a backbone of sorrow and regret. His music has a way of instantly grabbing you, but also keeping your attention with the mix of choral, electronic, and symphonic music throughout. It's a solid follow-up for Price, and one of the better scores of this year.

8 - The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Hans Zimmer)

Okay, this one probably isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea... but I really enjoy this score! Hans Zimmer is my favorite composer, and he has a knack for coming up with captivating music that pulls an audience into the film. Here he's collaborated with a few other unusual people such as Pharrell Williams, Junkie XL and Johnny Marr among others, but the combination of their styles actually works. The coolest part of the score is the electronic bass (go to 6:30 in the video) which is used liberally during the Electro scenes, and it's an interesting musical translation of what's portrayed on screen.

7 - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (James Newton Howard)

Though the film wasn't quite as good as Catching Fire, this score composed by James Newton Howard is probably the best in the series so far. Headlined by the beautifully orchestrated "The Hanging Tree" performed by Jennifer Lawrence, Howard produced a haunting, intense soundtrack that is instrumental (no pun intended) in bringing this world to life. Not many of the old themes are reused here, which I always appreciate in a sequel, and the new music seems to mirror the heightened stakes that the Mockingjay films will introduce.

6 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Michael Giacchino)

Speaking of my favorite composers, Michael Giacchino (Up, Star Trek, The IncrediblesSuper 8, etc.) is certainly up there. Paying homage to great sci-fi works like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and honoring what Jerry Goldsmith did with the original Planet of the Apes back in 1968, Giacchino creates an exciting action score while also laying the emotional groundwork that the characters will build on throughout the movie (though it's a tad reminiscent of his previous works).

5 - How To Train Your Dragon 2 (John Powell)

The music for the first How to Train Your Dragon is one of my favorite scores of all time, so really all I expected John Powell to do was repeat the magnificent themes he created for the first movie. While that is mostly what he did, there are some new tunes in the sequel that warranted a spot on this list. Powell is a disciple of Hans Zimmer, and his versatility is evidence that he learned a great deal from his former mentor (see The Bourne Identity). He combines the epic adventure with heart and emotion perfectly, and it's a worthy follow up to his Oscar-nominated work for the first film.

4 - Gone Girl (Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are the kings of atmospheric scores that build and build tension without taking too much attention away from what's on screen. They won an Oscar for their work on 2010's The Social Network, and will likely get another nomination for their moody work here as well. The music is designed to unsettle, and as the events of the film unfold it transitions seamlessly from plot point to plot point. With an emphasis on electronic beats and distortion effects, their music can epitomize chaos and madness unlike almost any other composer out there.

3 - Godzilla (Alexandre Desplat)

Yet another score composed by Desplat, his ominous work for Godzilla is quite underrated in my opinion. With the forboding horns, urgent strings, punctuated with the occasional percussive pound, Desplat sets the stage for a massive and frightening encounter with a god-like beast. One of the highlights of the score also comes at the power plant, where the intensity ratchets up to critical levels and culminates in a mournful piece that's actually quite beautiful. Despite the recognition Desplat will receive for The Imitation Game, I still think Godzilla might be his best work of the year.

2 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Henry Jackman)

Another composer who is climbing the ranks, Henry Jackman does his best work to date with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This score is memorable not only for the pulse-pounding action scenes with alarming scream-like distortions, but also the heart-breaking simplicity of the piano in pieces like "End of the Line". It fits perfectly with the action packed, yet emotional story of Steve Rogers trying to reach out to his corrupted and brain-washed best friend while struggling to bring down an evil organization that threatens to destroy their freedom. Such a great score!

1 - Interstellar (Hans Zimmer)

This was a pretty obvious choice for me. Like I said, Zimmer is my favorite composer out there, and given his incredible track record when working with Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception), I couldn't wait to hear what he cooked up for the science-based space epic, Interstellar. Zimmer courageously abandons the string heavy action music he made famous for the Batman films as well as the rumbling drum kit utilized for Man of Steel and stepped outside the box for what is probably his most ambitious work to date. With a stroke of brilliance, Nolan and Zimmer decided to focus on woodwinds and, most notably, the church organ. At times it seems to penetrate your very skin when you're in the IMAX theater, but it works extremely well with headphones on an iPod as well. There are so many wonderful tracks that I could spend a whole review just talking about them, but some of the standouts are the heartbreaking "Stay", the clock-inspired "Mountains", and the incredibly intense "No Time for Caution". Please go see this movie in theaters, and if you're interested in film music at all pick up the score on iTunes!

**  What are your favorite scores of 2014? Did you even notice them? If not, hopefully you will start to!  **

Top 5 Action Scenes of 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

It's almost impossible to choose a scene from this film, but the first major action moment in the movie is a really hard one to top. I love all the in-camera effects that are happening, giving the whole scene a much more tactile physicality that really grips you. Enjoy!

X-Men: Days of Future Past

This video might not be the best quality, but this scene was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Everyone (including me) thought that Quicksilver looked stupid in the pre-release photos that were coming out on news outlets. No one was prepared for the awesome display that would absolutely steal the show from even the most beloved X-Men.


Unlike the last scene which was a total surprise, this one was what everyone was waiting for the entire movie. Godzilla hadn't had a battle against another monster in a long time, and most American audiences had probably never seen one (even the cheesy ones where both monsters are clearly guys in suits surrounded by model trains). The battle is epic, and definitely worth the wait as Godzilla takes on two Mutos at once. However, it isn't until his back plates begin to illuminate that the crowd (meaning me) felt like getting up and cheering.

Edge of Tomorrow

This whole movie was a surprise to me, and this first battle scene really sets the stage for how difficult their overall task is going to be. People are dropping like flies all around Cage (Tom Cruise) and as he has zero training for this situation, he's solely dedicated to staying out of the line of fire. It's a really intense moment, and one that works best while viewing the movie as a whole.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I couldn't find a decent video, but how could I forget one of the most heart-stopping moments of 2014 by omitting Koba's frightening attack on the human settlement? The 360 degree shot atop a swerving tank is easily one of the best visuals of the year, and it's an extremely creative way to organically pray the chaos of battle.

** What did you think of my top 5 (in no particular order) action scenes of the year? Let me know what yours were in the comments below!  **

Top 10 Trailers of 2014

Now for this list it would be easy to include all trailers that were released during 2014, but instead I'm going to limit my selections to trailers whose films were coming out in 2014. Some of these movies weren't all that great, but the trailers really got me excited for them nonetheless. (For mobile users, please tap the title above each video to view directly in YouTube.) Enjoy!

10 - Noah

9 - The Theory of Everything

8 - American Sniper

7 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

6 - Guardians of the Galaxy

5 - Godzilla

4 - X-Men: Days of Future Past

3 - Interstellar

2 - Unbroken

1 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

** So there you have it! Happy new years everyone! What did you think of my mega end-of-year list this time? Also, be sure to check out my most anticipated films of 2015 list coming out soon! **