Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Movies of 2014 - Part One

Looking back on the movies that came out this year, I feel like 2014 was a pretty good year. In general, I'm not a fan of top ten lists. There's a lot of objective comments that one can make about a movie to defend one's position, and I prefer reading those types of reviews (and hopefully I write those types of reviews). One of my literature professors in school once told us that you can have any opinion or idea about a book, but when you come across the correct meaning -- and I will argue that books do indeed have a correct meaning -- that it feels like a "key" that you've just unlocked the book's secrets with. You can argue that "Hills Like White Elephants" is about a sex change operation, and probably get a long way with that analogy, but in the end, the idea that it's about an abortion makes a bit more sense, and is the key to unlock that story. Movies are the same way.

One of the things that I never liked about top ten lists is that it is more subjective than other forms of criticism and reviewing.  I've argued before that saying a movie is "good" or that I like it or that's it's important are all totally different and not necessarily mutually exclusive things. Did I enjoy watching Ghost Dad more than The General? For sure, but Ghost Dad is still an awful movie and The General  is a classic film that changed cinema. But then, how do I rank those? Which one is "better"?

The other thing is that I haven't seen all the movies that came out in 2014. In fact, I tend to watch more old movies than new releases in general. (More on that in a second.) How can I claim which ten movies are "the best" when I haven't seen most or even a significant number of them? To state this a bit more specifically, I saw only 20 films that came out in 2014, and something like 50 movies this year total. The good news is that even though I saw only 20 movies debuting in 2014, it's hard to narrow that down to ten.

For the record, those twenty movies are:
Days of Future Past (One Two Three)
Muppets Most Wanted
Mr. Peabody and Sherman
The Lego Movie
Justice League: War
Interstellar (One Two)
Hunger Games: Mockingjay
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Guardians of the Galaxy
Gone Girl
Edge of Tomorrow
Dracula Untold
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Captain Winter: The Winter Soldier (One Two Three)
La Belle et El Bete
The Babadook (One Two)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (One Two Three Four Five)
300: Rise of an Empire (한국어)

All that being said, I would like to reflect on what came out this year, because I feel like it was a good year and I'd like to examine that. After that's finished though, I want to write up a second list about all the movies that I've seen in the past year. Again, going back to the example of The General, sometimes a movie just doesn't hold up as well later on and sometimes a movie only looks good in comparison to other films. On the flipside, there are probably some films that I've seen this year that are still much better than films that came out recently. So I'll be making a "Top Ten of 2014" and a "Top Ten Movies Seen in 2014".

Today, we'll start the Top Ten of 2014 list:

10. Gone Girl
Gone Girl is in my mind the best reason to even bother with a top ten list. This movie did make the cut, but as time goes on, my opinion of it keeps getting worse and worse. I definitely liked it best after walking out of the theater. At this moment though, I'm realizing more and more how flawed the plot was, especially in a few potentially misogynistic ways. This was certainly well-made, but compared to some other movies in this year and compared to some of David Fincher's other works, it doesn't stand out too much. Definitely not a bad film, but I'm sure it won't be remembered in 2015.

9. How to Train Your Dragon 2
Admittedly, I am something of a How to Train Your Dragon fanboy. In fact, probably the reason that this made it as high as it did on this list is because I'm a fanboy. I was very pleasantly surprised with the first two-thirds or so of this movie, especially in the changes made to the characters. I cannot stress enough how great it was that they made a sequel with characters aging in real-time instead of directly copying what they had in the first film. Not only did this allow them to essentially introduce us to a brand new cast, but the way they delivered that information was outstanding. I don't want to write a full review at this time, because I want to give this film the space it deserves. Suffice it to say, this did not leave me as wowed as the first one did, but still a very good movie and one that I hope to watch again soon.

8. Edge of Tomorrow
These next two films were very, very close together, and I'm still not sure whether I did the right thing ranking them in this order. It's an interesting debate though: On the one hand, Edge of Tomorrow takes a previously-used premise, adds nothing new to the genre, but does everything almost exactly right, for a dumb action movie. Number seven on this list, Interstellar, takes a huge overarching concept with grand themes about humanity and love and fucked it all up towards the end. Which one is better? Although I can be swayed, I would argue that a perfect rehash of old ideas and themes is not quite as good as a brand new concept done just fine.

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