Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reviews: The Films of 2014

2014 has been, well, quite a ride, to put it charitably.  Here's a look back at the films I've seen this year, reviewed and ranked from best to worst.

1.  The Lego Movie

Ordinary Lego figure Emmet gets mistaken for a Master Builder and has to stop Lord Business from destroying the universe with the Kragle.  Full of in-jokes, cameos, and heartwarming moments, The Lego Movie was the most fun I've had at the cinema in years.  Yes, the message of "don't follow the rules" does seem a bit incongruous coming from a massive corporation like Lego, but the story delivers it well.  Everything is awesome!

2.  Guardians of the Galaxy

Peter "Starlord" Quill teams up with Gamora, a deadly daughter of the god-like super-villain Thanos, the muscular, literal Drax, badass talking raccoon Rocket, and a sort-of talking ("I am Groot") tree to stop the genocidal Ronan from getting an Infinity Gem and destroying the universe.  My first reaction was "What was Stan Lee smoking?", but Guardians of the Galaxy was the kind of summer blockbuster we haven't seen for a long time.  It's got well developed characters and plot, humor, exciting action, looked amazing, and has a soundtrack full of awesomely cheesy 70s pop.  Proof, perhaps, that the comic book movie is far from becoming stale.  

3.  Paddington

Marmalade-obsessed talking bear from Deepest, Darkest Peru Paddington arrives in London looking for an old friend of his aunt and uncle's, gets taken in by the Browns, and, after they save him from an evil taxidermist, becomes part of their family.  Imaginatively directed by Paul King (who directed The Mighty Boosh on stage and TV), the film does justice to the beloved children's stories by Michael Bond:  it's funny, heartwarming, and gives a much needed reminder to British audiences about how you should treat the people who choose to come live in your country.  The one drawback is that the two villains, the Browns's racist neighbor and the unhinged taxidermist, were a bit over the top; their motivations didn't seem very believable.

4.  Captain America:  The Winter Solider

Someone within S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to kill Nick Fury, so, with no one they can trust, Captain America and Black Widow team up to stop them and the mysterious Winter Soldier.  Great action, solid story with a lot of intrigue and suspense.  I think Hydra have become my favorite Marvel villain (and meme).  There's a lot that can be done with Steve Rogers as a concept and a character, and that's perhaps why the Captain America franchise is the best one in the Avengers universe.

5.  X-Men:  Days of Future Past

Wolverine travels back in time to the 70s to get Magneto and Professor X back together to stop Mystique from setting in motion the chain of events that will lead to the future annihilation of mutants and humans alike.  Highly entertaining with engaging action sequences, loads of laughs, and appearances from beloved characters we haven't see for a while.  Sadly falls back on an overblown, slightly implausible final battle, but still holds exciting prospects for a reboot of the X-Men franchise.

6.  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay, Part 1

Lead by the militaristic and previously thought destroyed District 13, the people of Panem rebel against the Capitol.  Katniss is roped in as a propaganda tool to rally the nation; meanwhile, Peeta, captured after a daring escape at the last Hunger Games, is being tortured by President Snow.  As with the previous two Hunger Games films, Katniss's world is brought excellently to life, fleshing out the bits we don't see (but wanted to) in the books, and subtly showing us that which Suzanne Collins bluntly tells us.  Unfortunately, Mockingjay was the weakest of the trilogy, and, as with many book adaptations that have been split into two or more parts, it does not give a proper sense of ending.  

7.  The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies

Smaug attacks Laketown, Thorin Oakenshield lusts for power, and then Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Orcs all fight each other.  There is a lot of criticism to levy against Peter Jackson for trying to make less than 1/3 of The Hobbit into a feature length film that I won't go into here but that can be summed up as such:  amid the (needlessly) extended action sequences, material nicked from The Silmarillion, and made-up Elven girls, Jackson appears to have forgotten that the main character is, in fact, Bilbo Baggins.  Still, The Desolation of Smaug lowered my expectations so much that I was able to get some enjoyment out of the battle scenes.

8.  Muppets Most Wanted

Kermit gets mistaken for the world's most wanted frog, who uses the Muppets' European tour to pull off the ultimate heist.  The movie opened with the brilliant musical number "We're Doing a Sequel", which was about how sequels are never as good as the original.  Sadly, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Aside from some good jokes and the wonderful double act between CIA agent Sam the Eagle and his "European" counterpart from Interpol, it just didn't live up to the promise of The Muppets.  The story was a bit weak, and Walter is starting to get (even more) annoying.

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