Well, now that 2014 has officially closed, let's now look at what I thought were the good films, the ones that I thought elevated the year. In the 40 films I officially reviewed, these were the ones that found themselves in my Top Ten of 2014 so far.
I figure I'm going to be trashed for this, but I'm one of the few people who really liked Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. I really don't get the hate it gets. Yes, Kenneth Branagh was a ham, and Kiera Knightley wasn't the greatest, but truthfully I didn't mind one bit. I'm told that I should hate it because it's a generic action film, but I found it much better and more interesting than something like Skyfall (a film so full of itself).
Well, well, imagine my surprise to find GOTG was fun, told its story well, and managed to make such implausible things like Rocket Raccoon and Chris Pratt possible. I think that is what makes GOTG an excellent film: it's unapologetically fun. I still can't say I'm a Chris Pratt fan in terms of him being an actor (I can't picture him playing say, King Lear), but Guardians of the Galaxy shows he at least can be entertaining (and I actually like him as a person).
I found The Maze Runner to be highly clever and exciting, two things I wasn't expecting from a young adult novel given the dearth of dumbed-down YA fiction rolling around. Dylan O'Brien, best known for being the goofy Styles on Teen Wolf, shows he can be dramatic and action-oriented, and I would make The Maze Runner to be a star-making performance. O'Brien is an actor to watch for, and despite a bit of a jumbled ending, I find myself eager for the sequel. That is extremely rare for someone as sequel-phobic as me, so The Maze Runner really turned out to be much better than I thought going in.
Belle is an interesting film: a costume drama that is also an exploration of racism and sexism. The based-on-the-true story of the daughter of a wealthy titled sea captain and the slave-woman he loved, who finds herself both a privileged lady and a social outcast due to her race and gender is a fascinating story that now will be more known (as it should be). It's a pity that Gugu Mbatha-Raw has been lost in the mix of potential Best Actress nominees, for her performance as Dido Belle, the woman caught in this strange universe of being a noblewoman and a slave simultaneously, is a rich and beautiful performance. The only plus is that Mbatha-Raw, like O'Brien in The Maze Runner, has given a star-making turn and I hope that Mbatha-Raw will be, like Dido Belle, better known to filmgoers.
I'm not Wes Anderson's biggest fan, finding his film overtly and self-consciously cute. However, I was won over by The Grand Budapest Hotel, an elegy to a lost time of elegance, a wry (if self-conscious) comedy, and a lovely confection of silliness. Ralph Fiennes I don't think has been better in a film since certainly Schindler's List, and if you see the two one after another you cannot believe it is the same person. It's good to be reminded that Fiennes is a really good actor, and that people like Fiennes and Adrien Brody can be in on the joke. Granted, parts of GBH weren't to my liking (Anderson still being a bit of block to me), but I give the guy credit: he made a film perfectly suited to his world and stuck with it.
The fact that they managed to keep this story relatively together, to tie in both groups from the two franchises without one making the other redundant, and to not require a great deal of knowledge about what came before is a credit to Bryan Singer. We also have some simply great performances, particularly by this generation's Magneto and Professor X. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy make a terrific double-act, and for me, it is McAvoy (who in my eyes can't do wrong) who is the standout as Charles Xavier; like Dr. Manette in A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Xavier is 'recalled to life' through the angry Wolverine, who now must be something other than himself to help Charles be who he has to be.
Few comic book films can be both so entertaining and so deep at the same time, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, is that.
Again, it's another loss that the push for Oscars is including the mechanical performance of an Eddie Redmayne, because I think in a just world, Bill Hader would be the man to beat for his performance in The Skeleton Twins. This story of siblings who find they do love each other moved me emotionally. I could see both Hader and Kristen Wiig as real people, with flaws and virtues that made them who they were.
I don't think it was a perfect film (sometimes the symbolism was a little blatant) but what impressed me was that Hader's Milo might appear to come close to being a gay stereotype but who was really a complicated, troubled human being who happened to be gay. It's a pity that people have forgotten about the complexity Bill Hader brought to the character over the physicality Redmayne brought to his soulless Stephen Hawking. I at least take comfort that both Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are much better actors than their personas would suggest.
The Skeleton Twins was the only film so far to get an A from me, and both people who know me and long-time readers know how tough I can be on movies.
The Skeleton Twins: 2014's Best Film So Far.