Nursing a movie review blog has been a bit difficult this year. Aside from full time work keeping me drained on weeknights and other commitments keeping me occupied on weekends, I have to be opportunistic to sneak in a film here and there. And even when I plan to see one, the local cinemas only screen them on average screens them a week to a month after the rest of the world. So by the time I do get to see it, there are already thousands of other movie blogs, columns and youtube shows who have already given their thoughts on the film, and generally my opinion is covered in those intersects so the need to write diminishes.
Nonetheless, 2014 has been a decent year in film compared to the last, with equally many franchise continuations saturating the cinemas, but of a much higher quality than expected. I watched more films than this blog would indicate, but given that I'm unlikely to see another film this year or have the time to write anything else before the New Year, I figured I would do an early wrap up. So here are the top 10 best films that I've watched ordered from least good to most good, strictly from my opinion, so take from it what you will.
From Wes Anderson, a director known to have visually distinctive films, comes a semi-artsy story about quirky people doing quirky things. This film is definitely one of the most visually interesting I've ever seen, but the visuals can at times distract from the story itself. I also didn't really know how to talk about this film, because I don't have obtain a film major to discuss the shooting or choreography properly.
Despite being a more 'critically' acclaimed movie than the other 9 on this list, I put it pretty low because I do consider the entertainment value aspect of a film. A cohesive story that isn't captivating is worse than a messy story that actually makes you care. And honestly the premise and setting of this film wasn't interesting or easy to follow for that matter; they were just setups to give an excuse for Anderson to do cool shots.
Transcendence is a film that wants to be deep and meaningful, and for the most part it succeeds in its essay on superintelligence and humanity. It is one of the most poignanted sci-fi films that have come out this decade. It has far more problems than Interstellar which I think caused its low box office turnout, but I still liked it a lot because it doesn't exaggerate the science to make for good science fiction. Everything Will Caster's AI does is very possible; it is the human's actions and behaviors' that make less sense and render the debate ineffective.
I initially thought this was the top contender to be my favourite movie this year, but it turns out it was a good year with many more enjoyable films that came out later, and in terms of rewatchability, Transcendence isn't on par with the next few. So while I really do like the conflict in this film, I think this is more an essay film, a bit of foresight into humanity's likely reaction to the real technological singularity that is poised to arrive within our lifetime. Everything in the film is an analogy, which can translate to a sense of soullessness depending how you prefer to experience it. So overall, it was a far less successful film as a character-driven story than the next two sci-fi films on this list, but still one worth a viewing.
When I first saw it, plenty of things about it bugged me; how it didn't deliver the ambitious story it marketed itself to be, the unnecessarily long and convoluted storyline, and a few questionable aspects of the astronauts' journey and events that made the scientifically accurate aspects of the film feel like it was made up too. This could have been an equally effective and philosophically deep movie as 2001 if you took away everything Hollywood about it, and Matt Damon.
However, now that the disappointment has cooled off, the good bits of this film does surface, and the good aspects of this film are extremely good. The wormhole and extra-dimensional spaces are amazing effects, and the drama between the main two characters was very compelling and relateable. Some of the ideas in this film are on par with the best sci-fi films around, particularly the aspect about a world where technology solved everything except the most basics of human needs. If you have patience to sit through the dull bits, Interstellar is a film that meets most benchmarks, except its own, which is actually high enough to deserve the eighth spot on this list.
Everytime Tom Cruise's stars in sci-fi films, it's never him that makes me want to go see it; it is the premise of the film alone. So I guess he really deserves credit for constantly picking the right films to be in, even if the film doesn't turn out to be good. Edge of Tomorrow, being Groundhog Day with aliens and machine guns, had not just a fun premise, but an excellent execution too. The pacing and character development was perfect from a story-telling standpoint, and even though the resolution is a bit non-sensical, you enjoy the ride. In fact there's almost something about it that feels like a video game. You fail the mission? No worries, respawn and try again!
I consider this a must-watch because it is kind of timeless and doesn't try to connect itself to any current events. There is no indication that this story takes place in the near future or present, but you get a feeling that this story won't date 10 years from now. Like the Terminator series; the story isn't about the sophistication of the science in the film, but rather the imbalance between the protagonist and their adversary's strength, thus an underdog epic. I think a healthy dose of alien invasion story now and then is fine as long as it is done well, even if it adds nothing new to the genre, and Edge of Tomorrow is exactly this.
Marvel has been this decade's genius in Hollywood, turning itself from a nerd subculture back in the 60s to 80s into a god of the franchise film industry today. They are not only drawing big profits from the box office, they have also managed to set the standard on how to make a summer popcorn film using nothing original and nothing special, making even bigger name comic publisher DC look amateurish in comparison.
Guardians of the Galaxy really is just The Avengers in space, but despite my initial reservations, I have found myself playing it on repeat quite a few times because of its perfect, formulaic execution. It has heart, it has energy, some surprises, knows exactly what it wants to be and delivers all the way. At first I hated how generic and underdeveloped the villains were, but on a rewatch it actually works in its own weird way. If the villain was too interesting a character the lighthearted goofiness of this film would be undermined. So yeah, this is a film that I've ended up watching the most this year.
Almost everything is awesome in this film. The only thing that is not is the live action bit. Just seemed too corny and I felt a bit squeamish when sitting through those character superpositions during the climax.
Lego falls in the same category as Guardians in being that fun popcorn film we all need from time to time. Too much seriousness or drama and you can get worn out quickly. I ranked it higher than Guardians because it actually had a healthy message about balancing individuality and teamwork, which I think makes it a tiny bit beneficial for kids as well. Not much else to say but that almost everything is awesome!
With this film, Pixar has been officially overtaken by Dreamworks. Ever since their acquisition by Disney they have yet to produce a convincing independent story, and have reduced itself to merchandise-generating franchises that are quite mediocre compared to their older line-up. In many ways Dreamworks has stepped up from being the parodic underdog of the animation industry to being a leader on how to nurse multiple franchises simultaneously and write coming-of-age stories.
I have already talked about this film in length, but Dragon 2 has replaced Kung Fu Panda 2 to being my favourite Dreamworks movie so far, and has done so purely on merit. It did everything a sequel should: expanding the world, growing the characters, building on top of the existing story, and lots and lots of dragons. It has effective use of animation, effective drama, good music, genuinely touching scenes and ends on a satisfactory note rather than cliffhangers that most franchises rely on to get more butts in seats for the next film. It is a great film with greatness imbued.
This was the anti-Guardians film of Marvel, not in terms of being bad, but in terms of everything being taken seriously in its story. On second watch, I really can't find anything I don't like about this film. Sure I am a bit fatigued with spy films about government surveillance and terrorism, but I think of all the Avengers in Marvel's cinematic universe, Steve Rogers as Captain America is the most relatable, realistic and relevant superhero to the general audience. He is the embodiment of the western everyman, the spirit of freedom and rights and a respectable authority on ethics.
I enjoyed his relationship with Black Widow, who does get an expanded role in this film, and for the better. They have the potential to become romantic, but they see their friendship as being something of greater value. His relationship with the Winter Soldier is surprisingly less engaging, but then again it's not a normal situation they're in. Guess they will explore that in Civil Wars.
This was the final film I saw this year, and despite a fairly lukewarm reception by many of my friends, I really loved this installment. Mockingjay Part 1 covers the beginning of the rebellion against The Capitol, with Katniss being coerced into doing propaganda films to unite all the other districts against Persident Snow. It is almost a war film, but is mostly an exploration of war themes such as propaganda, erosion of morale and morailty, torture and militarisation of the population.
A common complaint I hear about this film is that the pacing was too slow and there was barely any action in it, but that is what makes this film so powerful! The scenes were long but they were full of atmosphere and tension. We don't need to see Katniss constantly shooting arrows because the struggle is mostly psychological, not physical. Her power is in being a symbol rather than a fighter. She isn't a Batman or Wonder Woman, in fact I would argue she isn't a hero at all in the ideological sense. She is just a troubled young girl who is skilled, things happened around her, and was inevitably forced into a position where her choices will affect the fate of a populace.
To me, the Hunger Games saga is this decade's Lord of the Rings. While it may not be an Oscar-deserving series since it neither revived nor pioneered a genre, it certainly blows all its YAF competitions out of the water both in terms of content, execution and success. I highly recommend you check out this entire saga if you haven't already.
Now before I reveal the top film of the year, here are some honorable mentions of films that didn't make it to my top 10, though I do think they were good in one way or another:
Speaking of Oscar-winning performances, Andy Serkis really deserves one. He's played so many modern icons in film, from Gollum from Lord of the Rings to King Kong from, well, King Kong, and now Caesar, the alpha ape in this film. While we hardly see his real face, and a lot of credit does go to the CGI artists who actually generate the character, Serkis' contribution to the art of film is not something to be pushed aside. If he doesn't at least get nominated for this film, I will have lost all respect for the Academy Awards and might begin handing out my own!
My love for Serkis aside, this was a great film, yet another sequel that disproved my earlier belief that franchises are dying. I never thought you could create a film that placed so much emphasis on an ape community that largely speaks through sign language, and make it engaging and thought-provoking for 2 hours, but they found a way. This film successfully tricked the audience into watching a Shakespearean play, and when compared to the other offerings this year, it is without a doubt my favourite film this year. Must watch!
So that's it for 2014 in film. As you may be aware I'm going to put more emphasis on the project aspect of my site this coming year, so I may only be posting about films on a monthly basis (as I sort of already do now). I've actually considered closing off this blog altogether, as I thought that one-way talking about films is a bit dull; I much prefer to have a conversation with another film lover like Siskel and Ebert or the Walker brothers, which doesn't really suit blog-format reviews. However, given my love for movies and my continued desire to do my part to inform friends of films that they shoud watch or must avoid, I'll push this thread of writing for another year, even if the readership is limited to a few dozens.
Hope you all have a merry Christmas and I look forward to sharing with you more of my projects in the exciting year ahead!
Joey 2014 out