J.D. Balthazar's Look Back at 2014 Movies

This was an interesting year for cinema.  For the most part things were good, but it was fascinating what turned out to be excellent, and what didn't live up to expectations.  There were a handful of films that I consider the best of the year, a few that were disappointing, and several that I'd recommend. To clarify, I tend to go to genre films so you probably won't find the movie that wins Best Picture on this list.

The Best

The LEGO Movie was so unexpected. When I stepped into the theater I'd read some pretty positive buzz about the film, but I didn't expect it to be so excellent all around, from the animation to the voice performances, to the unexpected places the plot went. Anyone who has ever loved LEGOS must see this one. It'll pull at that place of nostalgia in the best possible way.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier wasn't just a comic book movie. It had such a great tone and wit that it felt like a new genre, the superhero spy action epic. Mark spoke at length about its strengths as a film, but I'd like to add that I consider this one of the best comic book movies, and also flat out one of the best films of the year.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes wasn't quite my favorite film of the year. But damn, was it good.  Not only did it improve on the first film (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), it had some of the best realized digital performances I've ever seen, and treated the ape characters with as much care as the human characters. The plot had a tangible sense of inevitability without feeling predictable.

Guardians of the Galaxy was labeled immediately as a giant risk by Marvel. Looking back, it doesn't seem like one. But a year ago, no one could've guessed how much fun Guardians would end up being. It wasn't just the writing, acting, and soundtrack that made this one impressive. It managed to create a world all on its own without having to depend on the rest of the Marvel movies. Mark again went into more detail about this film, and I agree with pretty much everything he has to say.  Except that I feel this was my favorite film of the year.

The Good

I won't go into super detail here, but I wanted to mention all the good movies that came out this year. In no particular order:

X-Men: Days of Future Past had some the best resolution I've seen in years, plus it managed to patch up some of the horrible mistakes that previous installments have made. I'm just wondering if maybe they should be doing a reboot instead of another sequel.

Big Hero 6 was so much fun, and managed to explore the superhero origin in a new way. I just wish it had been a bit longer so more of the characters were explored. That being said, it was still a solid Marvel/Disney superhero film and an excellent animated movie.

John Wick was one of the most brutal (without being gory), unapologetic, and outright badass action movies I've seen in a while. It brought back Keanu Reeves and developed a fascinating new fantasy world. There were a few flaws, but they were easy to overlook when everything else was so much fun.

Maleficent nailed a lot of things perfectly, but wow was it dark. There were some rather significant issues with themes and content, and I'm not sure why Disney was compelled to make something so dark. Sunbunny broke down this film to a much greater degree.

Lucy went to places I wasn't expecting, and had some of the most interesting ideas this year. Perhaps the concept was silly, and a bit unoriginal. But the execution was well done, even if was a little bizarre. One thing I did get out of it: Scarlett Johansson can act and carry a movie on her own.

Veronica Mars, you made me a marshmallow and then gave me the ending I wanted. It wasn't the best mystery, but you brought it all back and made me happy. I'm not sure I could ask for more.

Edge of Tomorrow was an interesting exploration in character in a fairly straight forward sci-fi actioner. Tom Cruise managed to subvert his usual role, and gave some weight to his character's journey. But for me, the real star of this film was Emily Blunt, who stole every scene she was in. Will someone give her a big action franchise already?

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One captured the first half of the book in a really wonderful way, and our readers have convinced me that the set up was worth splitting up the book into two installments.

I didn't see Oculus in the theater. No, I had to see it at home, at night, in a dark room. I'm an idiot. I don't get frightened of horror movies much anymore, and this one got to me. I didn't like the ending at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized how well it fit. I just hope this film doesn't turn into one of those horrible franchises that goes on for far too long.

The Bad

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles took a beloved franchise and missed the mark on nearly every level. Okay, I take that back a bit. The Turtles themselves were fun, but the character design, plot, acting, and even the special effects were all fairly bland and uninspired. Add to that a central performance by Megan Fox and well, damn you Michael Bay.

The Amazing Spider-man 2 could've been so good. But they tried to shove too much into the story, and by doing so they basically destroyed any advantages the amazing onscreen chemistry the leads had. The romance was the most believable and genuine thing in this film, and it wasn't utilized in a way that made any real sense. Add to that a villain that was woefully underused, and you get a mess. I tried three times to write a review, but in the end I didn't have the heart to rip this to shreds.

The Most Disappointing

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies wasn't a bad movie. But damn did it fail my expectations. I'll admit I haven't been super thrilled with the trilogy so far, but at least the character choices and pacing made sense.

Interstellar was so close to being brilliant. There were so many little things wrong with this film that despite the quality that went into it, I left feeling underwhelmed and ultimately disappointed.

I'm looking forward to next year where there are so many potentially good movies that the list is even more impressive than last year. Perhaps that's because we don't have two Michael Bay blockbusters.

Taken 3, Jupiter Ascending, Seventh Son, What We Do in the Shadows, Chappie, Insurgent, Furious 7, The Age of Adaline, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Pitch Perfect 2, Mad Max: Fury Road, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World, Ted 2, Terminator Genisys, Ant-Man, Pan, The Fantastic Four, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Hitman: Agent 47, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Spectre, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, The Martian, Mission Impossible 5...
and last but certainly not least...


J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.

7 comments:

Jess Lynde said...

Yay, more ideas for my DVD queue! Thanks, J.D. Surprisingly, I've actually managed to see (and enjoy) a bunch of the films you mentioned already. We must have made a better effort to squeeze in movie viewing along with all our television viewing this year. :)

I want to again second your praise for The LEGO Movie. I was totally surprised by how much I loved this film, but it was terrific in so many ways. Chris Pratt had quite the year, didn't he?

And how great to see Edge of Tomorrow on your list! I saw it recently and really liked it. The structure was very fun and effective, the special effects were pretty great, and Emily Blunt was indeed fantastic. I don't think "total badass" generally comes to mind when people think of her, but damn was she a completely convincing badass. And just an all-around strong character. And now that I've seen the film, I actually kind of like the title. I get why people thought it was a lame title going in, but once you've seen the story, it is quite fitting.

Laure Mack said...

I'm right there with you on the ninja turtle movie. As an avid TMNT lover, I was shocked when it was difficult to even pay attention. Maybe my lowest point of 2014.

Also, I saw Lucy with someone that hates scifi/fantasy, and she really liked it. For whatever that's worth.

drnanamom said...

Thanks for the review J.D. I loved many of the movies you loved especially the Lego movie and Guardians of the Galaxy. I will have to check the other movies out - as I said before Doux Reviews tells me what to watch. There have been some suggestions where I've gone - hmmm I don't know but then if I stick with it I always end up enjoying whatever has been suggested.

TJ said...

Great review JD.

I agree with a lot of what you said.

I think my biggest surprise this year was 'Edge of Tomorrow'. I expected another standard kinda-boring-but-still-good-Cruise movie. And I got something completely different. Maybe that was just because Cruise was not his usual standard-kinda-boring-self.

I thought X-Men was disappointing.

But my biggest disappointment this year was Maleficent. That was just overboard feministic in a bad way. The frickin' Prince couldn't even get the 'kiss of love' right. The whole movie just screamed - Men bad - Women good. Very b/w and insulting to men that are working for equal rights.

The Hunger Games movies - I just don't get them at all. And I think this year we had the worst one...

I loooved GotG! What a fun adventure that was. But I realize now, after multiple re-watching, that it was the soundtrack that pulled me in. Hmmm...am I that easily manipulated...I guess, yes!

Best movie this year though...for me that is Captain Am and the WS. Loved everything about it. I never liked Redford, but here he was just perfect...

Haven't seen the latest Hobbit - I am going to this Sunday - but I am not expecting it to shake my ups-and-downs-movie-conclusions this year.

Kathy said...

I also think that Maleficent was a disappointment.

But, I absolutely agree with your best of.

Next year ought to be spectacular for movies. Although... I'm both looking forward to and dreading "The Man from UNCLE." I'm such a big fan of the original series...

Kat

ChrisB said...

Yet another year in which I saw a woeful number of films. Must make "go to the cinema" one of my resolutions for 2015.

I loved this post. I have already added a bunch of them to my list. Thanks, J.D.

Heather said...

J.D.:
Thank you for your thoughts on the 2014 films. I agree wholeheartedly about Interstellar. 'Twas sort of fascinating but in the end, empty. Still a huge Nolan fan though. :)