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Friday, January 16, 2015

My Top 10 Movies Of 2014 ... And The Worst

It sort of depends on how you look at it. Either 2014 was a great year for movies with dozens of under-the-radar independent films to enjoy, or a rather dull year with many disappointing blockbusters. I'm of the latter opinion—2014 was a disaster.

North American box-office revenue was down by 5 percent over 2013, which is the biggest decline in nine years, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The summer, which was supposed to be Hollywood's biggest money-making time, was actually its worst, with revenue tumbling 15 percent from 2013.

Movie attendance was at its lowest in 20 years, with an estimated 1.26 billion consumers purchasing movie tickets between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31. That's the lowest number since 1.21 billion in 1995.

For me, making a top 10 list for the best movies of 2014 wasn't easy. Back in January I thought it was going to be a great year because there were a ton of movies I really wanted to see, but time and time again 2014 saw me emerging from the theater with my old pal Disappointment. So here's my top 10 best movies of 2014 carefully compiled after much humming-and-hawing, which will be immediately followed by my 10 worst movies of 2014, a list which came together quiet easily.

#10 — American Sniper

As a director, Clint Eastwood has grown leaps and bounds ahead of his peers—Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby, Space Cowboys, The Bridges of Madison County. His work over the last 20 years has been surprisingly genuine, sophisticated, and beautiful. American Sniper, the true story of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, is no exception. It's a difficult film to watch as it exposes the true horrors of fighting Islamic extremists in Iraq and the brave American soldiers dealing with PTSD on the homefront. Actor Bradely Cooper gives the performance of, not just his life, but perhaps the year. A brutal film that's brutally honest and well worth seeing!

#9 — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Consider this entry my shameless self-indulgence. Okay, so Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was loaded with flaws, I'm not denying that, but as a life-long Ninja Turtles fan the film was fun for me from start to finish. The four main characters, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello, were exactly who they were supposed to be, their personalities shined through, they rocked, they were awesome, but was the plot smart? No. Were the villains threatening? No. Was the story tight and well-executed? No. Was the movie a good time? Cowabunga!

#8 — X-Men: Days of Future Past

Director Bryan Singer, the original director of X-Men and X-Men 2, returns to bring the franchise back to glory and he does so in spectacular fashion. The action scenes are exciting. The story was touching. The movie deals with worthwhile themes like hope and family. Oh, and—one word—Quicksilver. Just remember that—Quicksilver. Watch the movie and you'll know what I mean.

#7 — Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The first entry in this rebooted series back in 2011 convinced me that a franchise about genetically altered apes taking over the world could actually be interesting. But this second installment officially made me a fan! Performing just as well, if not better, than its predecessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a gripping thriller from the first few minutes of its intense opening sequence to the final brutal showdown high atop a crumbling tower. With an Oscar-worthy performance by motion-capture master Andy Serkis the film is a technological marvel that shouldn't be missed.

#6 — Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I give this movie credit for one main reason—it had balls! The story is brave enough to take directions that are new and interesting and even dangerous for a major motion picture franchise. But that's what I love about Marvel, they're not afraid to take risks. Captain America has always been a tricky character to write because it's so easy for him to become a one dimensional, puritan, all-American goody-two-shoe, but this movie keeps him interesting, grounded, human, and fun to watch. Winter Solider isn't just a great 2014 flick, it's one of the best films in the Avengers franchise.

#5 — How to Train Your Dragon 2

A sequel seemed irrelevant, yet inevitable, after How to Train Your Dragon was released to critical and audience acclaim. I baulked at the idea of a second installment, until I saw it and realized that this series actually had a lot more to say. I loved the way this movie handled everything, from its story points to the age of its animated characters to the family drama that unfolds in smart and surprising ways. It's a truly touching film with some great visuals and moral lessons.

#4 — Edge of Tomorrow

During production it was called All You Need is Kill, which I thought sounded retarded. The name was changed to Edge of Tomorrow for its theatrical release, and then changed again to Live. Die. Repeat. for the home video release. *rolls eyes* Whatever. It'll always be Edge of Tomorrow to me, a fascinating Groundhog Day-meets-Aliens time-travel thriller that doesn't let up. Seriously, when the story gets going, it is an all-go no-quit action thriller with enough story and wit in between to keep your eyes glued. Tom Cruise gives a notable and surprisingly humorous performance as a military desk jockey turned reluctant soldier who finds himself stuck reliving the same day every time he dies. The plot twists will keep you guessing and the ending is a full-on mind job!

#3 — Guardians of the Galaxy

As much as 2014 sucked for movies, there is hardly a top 10 list anywhere that doesn't have Guardians of the Galaxy on it somewhere. This is another entry into Marvel Studio's ambitious Avengers franchise that takes a lesser-known group of comic book heroes and throws them into the Marvel cinematic universe. The film was a surprise hit on many levels—it out-grossed almost every other movie in 2014, it told a powerful, deeply personal story about family and redemption, and it took a bunch of B-list characters and brought them up to the same level as Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. Guardians of the Galaxy is a hilarious thrill-a-minute ride.

#2 — Godzilla

You'll see this movie panned as often as it is hailed, and here's why: the current generation of movie-goers raised in a cushy American lifestyle of immediate gratification can't tell a good movie from a hole in the ground. If the story isn't spoon fed down their throats with exploding computer graphics every ten minutes, they have no patience for it. This makes a slow-burn thriller like Godzilla a hard pill to swallow. The monster himself doesn't even make an appearance until more than halfway through the movie, while the main action sequence isn't until the very end, but—sweet, fancy Moses!—what a jaw-dropping action sequence it is! Unlike most movies today, Godzilla goes with a "less is more" approach, which, when dealing with something we've already seen dozens and dozens of times, makes the movie all the more thrilling. If you have the patience, Godzilla's payoff is epic!

#1 — The Lego Movie

Some of the best movies today are happening in the field of animation, and The Lego Movie stands head-and-shoulders above them all as an example of just how clever, creative, and fun they can be. The first three-quarters of this movie play out like a hyper-active child's imagination gone on a binge, but eventually you realize that there's a reason for that. The film isn't just an off-the-wall comedy. There's a second story running along in the background that deals with some powerful family issues, and when it all comes together at the end you'll be smiling with happy tears. The Lego Movie is a laugh-a-minute flick with a big heart at its core. Oh, and did I mention Batman steals the show? Just sayin'.

The Worst Movies of 2014

The Nut Job - worst movie of 2014
#10 — The Nut Job
A heartless animated film full of animated movie cliches and a predictable plot. I was hoping voice actor maestro Will Arnett would save the film, but, unfortunately, his character is surrounded by too much clumsy filmmaking.

Sabotage - worst movie of 2014
#9 — Sabotage
Arnold Schwarzenegger continues his attempts at making action movie comebacks and fails more spectacularly than ever before. Sabotage should've been a great Whodunnit? thriller of bad guys vs. badder guys, but it ends up being a bland serving of been there/done that.

Transformers: Age of Extinction
#8 — Transformers: Age of Extinction
I keep waiting for Director Michael Bay to realize that vomiting computer graphics onto a movie screen doesn't make for a good movie, but he seems determined to remain stuck a prepubescent boy's CGI fantasy land. Apparently his vomit is good enough for China because 74 percent of the film's gross came from overseas markets.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
#7 — The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
I'm not one to gripe about book-to-screen story changes, but I did get nervous when talk arose about Director Peter Jackson splitting Tolkein's The Hobbit into three movies. Sadly, by this final entry, the weariness is felt. The movie is two hours of violence, with little story, little to do with its titular Hobbit, and much to do with plots and characters that have nothing to do with the book. Peter Jackson finally let me down.

Interstellar - worst movie of 2014
#6 — Interstellar
I've come to the conclusion that outside of his epic Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan can't make a comprehensible movie. Interstellar is another overly long, self-indulgent mess of a movie with an absolutely nonsensical ending.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 - worst movie of 2014
#5 — The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1
I didn't really like the first movie. I hesitantly enjoyed the second. And I went into the third movie hoping Katniss Everdeen would finally stop her griping about war and become the woman of action she needs to be in order to stop the tyrannical government and save her people. Alas, she remains the dull, unambitious, sobbing heroine whom thousands of secondary characters inexplicably rally behind. I can't be bothered with any more of these movies. I just don't care anymore.

3 Days to Kill - worst movies of 2014
#4 — 3 Days to Kill
Kevin Costner tries to do what Liam Neeson did in Taken and doesn't quite make it. It's not his fault though. The writing is where this movie suffers with a terrible balancing act between a hitman's violent secret life and his struggles to reconnect with his angst-ridden daughter. The whole thing is just a bland serving of "meh."

#3 — The Expendables 3
The whole premise of this franchise is about taking old, washed-up action stars and throwing them together for the first time so they can blow stuff up. In the first 10 minutes of the movie, The Expendables 3 takes that entire concept and throws it out the window, then proceeds to adopt a younger cast and a hipper storyline, until the very ending when the senior citizens return, but, by that point, who cares?

Hercules - worst movie of 2014
#2 — Hercules
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has proven that he's not that bad an actor, so it was a disappointing surprise to see him return to The Scorpion King levels of silliness in this poorly conceived cliche of a movie. Fortunately for The Rock, the fault here isn't entirely his, it's Director Brett Ratner who displays the same movie-making ineptitude that ruined Rush Hour 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand.

#1 — Tusk
One of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen, Tusk left a bad taste in my mouth for days. It's a movie about a young blogger on the hunt for a new story when he gets captured by a demented old man determined to medically transform him into a walrus so he can have an affair with him. Truly unsettling content + very poor execution + a darkly comedic tone = a very unsatisfying movie.

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