2014 Recap: Top 10 Best + 5 Worst Movies of the Year

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Well, well, well, it’s that time of the year again where us film bloggers agonize in making these Top 10 list. Yes, agonize is not a hyperbole as it’s REALLY quite an arduous task not only selecting which 10 films would make the list, but also ranking them. But once I decided on my top three, ranking the other seven was a bit easier to do. I did make a Top 10 list from the first half of 2014, and it’s interesting to see which ones stay on the list and which ones are now relegated to my Honorable Mentions.

The same with the previous years, when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Re-watchability is also a factor here and I’d readily re-watch most of the films listed here, in fact, I have seen a few of them at least twice already. The [dis]honor of the WORST films of the year is at the end of the BEST list.

Ok well, without further ado… I present you …

10 BEST FILMS OF 2014

10. The LEGO Movie

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Everything is awesome! And still is. This is actually one of three animated features I absolutely LOVE from last year, but I decided I only wanted to include just ONE. The LEGO Movie wins by a narrow margin, beating out How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6 to make it to my main list. It really comes down to Emmet being such an adorably goofy protagonist, surrounded by spin-off-worthy supporting cast like Lego Batman and Good Cop/Bad Cop, it’s really a fantabulous geekstravaganza that would likely hold up with repeated viewings. Plus, that music is simply, well, awesome! That unabashedly vivacious song makes my Top 5 Songs of the year as well. (full review)

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel

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This is the first Wes Anderson movie that ever made it to my Top 10 of the year list, so I guess you could say it’s now my favorite of his collection. It captivated me from the opening scene all the way until the end and it’s more fast-paced than his previous films. But of course it has all the things you expect from Wes: the quirky characters, the perfect symmetry of every single scene, playful music, etc. The ensemble cast is wonderful once again, led by Ralph Fiennes in a rare comedic role who’s an absolute blast to watch. I also enjoy F. Murray Abraham and newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero Mustafa, the ever-so-resourceful & loyal lobby boy. Mischievously whimsy, but with heart. Like a charming hotel, it’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting again and again. (full review)

8. The Imitation Game

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This is no doubt one of my favorite films at last year’s Twin Cities Film Fest. It won a TCFF 2014 Awards for Best Feature Film and both Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley also won acting honors. It’s a biopic on Alan Turing, a mathematician whose pivotal role in cracking the enigma code during WWII helped the Allies won the war against the Nazis. It’s an important film to be sure, boasted by a fantastic all-British cast led by a terrific Cumberbatch as the unsung hero. Though it may be a bit formulaic and by-the-numbers (pardon the puns), it’s still a highly entertaining, as well as emotionally-poignant film that stays with me after the closing credit. In a year of great ensemble-cast films, this is no doubt one of my favorites. I especially love Mark Strong & Matthew Goode here, two underrated performers who ought to get more leading roles of their own.

7. Citizenfour

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I only saw a few documentaries last year but this is the one that stuck with me the most. It seems like ages ago when we’re introduced to the name Edward Snowden, and since then some see him as either a traitor or a hero. Filmmaker Laura Poitras got an unprecedented access to one of the first of many meetings between reporter Glenn Greenwald (who at the time worked for The Guardian) and Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room. It’s more of an eyewitness type documentary, allowing us the viewer to be a fly-on-the-wall so to speak as Snowden revealed the mechanics of those NSA intelligence leak. I remember vividly when his first photo was broadcasted all over the media and here we saw him wearing the exact same brown-ish shirt he wore for that shot. The doc may contain what’s seemingly mundane series of events of people talking in a hotel room, but it was utterly engrossing to me. It’s the implication of those conversations, and what it means to the central character and all of us who’s watching it that makes the scenes all the more captivating.

6. Selma

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“Selma is at once a peek into the past and a snapshot of the present.” I like the title of this AVClub review because it sums up the film perfectly. I’m glad there’s finally a big-screen adaptation of Martin Luther King’s story, but I’m glad this film isn’t a conventional biopic. Instead, director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb effectively focused on the pivotal event of his life and made this more about the collective struggle for voting rights. Much has been said about the historical inaccuracies about Lyndon B. Johnson’s portrayal, which isn’t the first time liberties are taken on films based on real-life events. But I think apart from that, this is a powerful and gripping film, uncomfortably tense at times, especially during the Bloody Sunday sequence. The issue of police brutality couldn’t be more timely considering the events in Ferguson and NYC, which makes it all the more poignant and heart-wrenching. David Oyelowo embodied the role of King, convincing in both the fiery moments of his speeches, as well as the quieter moments with his wife (portrayed brilliantly by Carmen Ejogo).

5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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I haven’t re-watched this film since I saw it back in July, yet I still remember much about how I felt about the main character, Caesar. The fact that he’s not even a human being says a lot about how good the character development of the last two ‘Apes’ films and this sequel took us a step further into Caesar’s journey. The ‘king of mo-cap acting’ Andy Serkis once again delivered a phenomenal portrayal of the apes leader. His eyes convey so much that they’re practically hypnotic. Director Matt Reeves created a suspenseful & atmospheric piece here that’s immediately engrossing. At times it’s so sinister and eerie that I felt like I was watching a horror film, as well as genuinely poignant moments that tug my heartstrings. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is not just one of the best offerings of the Summer, but of the entire year. It succeeds because the special effects punctuates and supports the story/character instead of the other way around. (full review)

4. Belle

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I feel like a broken record when it comes to miss Gugu Mbatha-Raw, but she’s truly one of the best talent discoveries in a good long while. She’s the heart and soul of this film, displaying a nuanced and charismatic performance in nearly every scene. I’m also glad to have discovered director Amma Assante, who shows such dexterity in her sophomore feature, crafting a beautifully layered and affecting historical drama. There are so many things to love here, and after having seen this four times already, I’m still mesmerized. Visually it’s just a stunning film, the gorgeous lighting brings out the best of the costumes, set pieces, etc. But it’s the rich, engrossing story and brilliant performances by the all-British cast that make this such a rewarding film to see over and over. (full review)

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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I knew this film would make my final Top 10 from the first time I watched it. This is another movie on this list I’ve seen more than twice and I still absolutely loved it! It’s one of the rare sequel that easily surpasses the the first one. Billed as a ’70s political thriller masquerading as a superhero movie’, The Winter Soldier delivers on that promise and gives us something that’s genuinely intriguing and massively entertaining. It’s filled with adrenaline-pumping geek-gasm scenes without being banal or vapid. Chris Evans‘ much more confident in the role which makes him even more watchable, and Robert Redford + Anthony Mackie are great additions to an already-fantastic cast. This one has become my favorite Marvel stand-alone feature and Cap my favorite Marvel superhero! (full review)

2. Gone Girl

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It’s a testament of a great film when it clocks in at 2.5 hours and it went by like a breeze. Dark, twisted, stylish, and even mesmerizing, Gone Girl is one of those movies that play like a thrilling roller coaster ride. Instead of a straight who-dun-it type of thriller, David Fincher and writer Gillian Flynn made this more of a psychological character study of a couple in a crumbling marriage that turns more sinister by the minute. Rosamund Pike was nothing short of amazing as the year’s certifiable female anti-hero you love to hate. She gave an intense and haunting performance that’s absolutely Oscar-worthy. Props to Fincher and Flynn for making a story that might not translate well to film into something cinematic, gripping and wildly entertaining. (full review)

1. Birdman

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This is an easy pick for number 1. It’s one of the most unique and unusual films I’ve seen in a while, and the level of artistry that goes into it is off the charts. Technically it’s simply astounding, especially in terms of cinematography. The use of the continuous long takes helps tell the story in such a unique and immersive way that completely absorbs you. But the story itself is rich and full of thought-provoking allegory, brought to life by Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s adept direction. It’s one of those rare films where style actually meets substance, as the story brilliantly blends fantasy & reality, drama & comedy in a way that can be both deep as well as entertaining. It has its darker and even vulgar moments I don’t typically embrace, but it never overpowers the protagonist’s journey, which is the heart of the story. On top of all that is the phenomenal performances across the board, led by Michael Keaton in the lead role, one that I’ll been rooting for the entire award season. (full review)

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Some of these movies were actually in my Top 10 list of the first half of 2014. I marked those with an * (asterisk), this time I’m NOT ranking these, so they’re listed in alphabetical order:

  1. Begin Again
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Chef
  4. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
  5. Edge of Tomorrow*
  6. Foxcatcher
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy
  8. The Grand Seduction*
  9. How To Train Your Dragon 2*
  10. The Hundred Foot Journey
  11. John Wick
  12. Locke*
  13. The Machine*
  14. Time Lapse
  15. X-Men: Days of Future Past*

What I missed from 2014:

Boyhood, Calvary, Ida, Mr. Turner, Nightcrawler, Only Lovers Left Alive, Theory of Everything, Still Alice, Under the Skin, and Whiplash.


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Now, I wish I could get my 2+ hours back from each of these awful movies! Ok I saw most of these at press screening, so thankfully I didn’t have to pay for them, but still they’re such a waste of my time. Avoid these if you can help it, consider yourself warned.

Bullets Dodged:

Glad I missed some terrible ones like  I Frankenstein, Pompeii, Blended, Transcendence, The Best of Me, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.


So that’s my Best/Worst list of 2014. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d love to hear it!

5 Reasons I’m looking forward to Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT

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Normally I don’t get too excited about films opening in January, but when it’s a Michael Mann movie, that changes everything. His cyber-thriller Blackhat opens this Friday and I definitely will see this on opening night!

I posted the first trailer here a few months ago, and here are five reasons why I’m excited for this movie:

1. Michael Mann – one of my all time favorite directors

Even though I was underwhelmed by Public Enemies, I still consider Mr. Mann amongst my faves and I always look forward to his films. Manhunter, Heat, The Insider, The Last of the Mohicans, and Collateral are some of cinema’s finest films and he always takes his time in making his films.

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I love how LA Times describes him, “…Mann, 71, crafts sharp, sleek thrillers with a moody, existentialist bent” and per IMDb trivia, Blackhat also marks the very first Michael Mann movie to be shot entirely in digital. According to Variety, Mann has been up to his eyeballs in the worlds of cyber intrusion and espionage for the past three years, ever since he first read about Stuxnet, the computer worm (widely believed to have been deployed, at least in part, by the U.S. government) credited with creating major disruptions in Iran’s production of enriched uranium.

Sounds like Mr. Mann has done extensive research on the subject, consulting microchips engineers, cyber-intrusion experts, and the likes. I also read that hackers served as on-set consultants during filming.

2. The eerily-timely & intriguing premise

Considering the major SONY hack is still fresh in everyone’s minds, and just yesterday there are reports of U.S. military social media accounts being hacked by Islamic State sympathizers, this cyber-crime premise is as timely as it ever was.

Set within the world of global cybercrime, Legendary’s BLACKHAT follows a furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners as they hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.

According to this NY Times article, [Mann] became interested in a hacker-centered story after spending time in Washington with government cyberdefense officials. “What became apparent is that Washington knew — the White House, defense, law enforcement — how truly vulnerable we are to cyberintrusion.”

3. The international setting, including my hometown Jakarta!

There are no international barriers to cybercrimes and so naturally I’d expect the film would have a global appeal. I LOVE films that are shot on location, especially during the Winter months when escapism is why you go to the movies for! Plus, I’m super excited to see my hometown Jakarta on the big screen, woo hoo!!

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Per LA Times, Blackhat was shot over 66 days in the U.S., Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia, and the production used a variety of cameras, from top-of-the-line digital equipment to cheaper, smaller consumer-grade models. There’s supposed to be a sequence where Mann re-created the annual Balinese Nyepi Day celebration with some 3,000 extras. WOW, can’t wait to see THAT!!

Here’s a behind-the-scene video of Man filming in Jakarta:

 

4. Curious to see if Chris Hemsworth can carry a movie as an action hero

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For sure Hemsworth makes a good superhero, but can he be an action hero sans his red cape and Mjölnir? Truthfully, I still see him as more brawn than brain, and so I was quite dismayed surprised by his casting. I mean, Mann has worked with the likes of De Niro & Pacino, Brian Cox, Daniel Day Lewis, Russell Crowe, and Tom Cruise, so Hemsworth isn’t exactly in those leagues just yet. Besides, most hackers probably don’t have abs and biceps like these …

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But I read in this article on how Mann came to casting Hemsworth:

“I first saw Chris in `Thor,’ and I thought he was great. Then I talked to Ron Howard, who had worked with him on `Rush,’ and Ron had a great experience and was kind enough to show me about 45 minutes of the film. Chris was just terrific. Then, I really wanted to meet him. So I went down to Costa Rica, where he was vacationing with his family, and we spent about two days together just talking about the film. I decided, at that point, this guy’s it.”


So y’know what, I’m going to give Chris the benefit of the doubt. Heck if Matthew McConaughey can play an astronaut and fly a spaceship through a wormhole to save humankind, who’s to say a beefcake can’t hack? 😉 I do love the ethnically-diverse supporting cast, starting with the always-excellent Viola Davis, character actor William Mapother (who happens to be Tom Cruise’s cousin), Chinese actress Tang Wei and Taiwanese-American Wang Leehom.

5. Promises to be a dynamic, entertaining, & cerebral action thriller

If there’s a director who could make the convoluted world of cyber-crime cinematic, I’d think that’d be Mr. Mann. I mean, he made a what seemingly tedious story about tobacco whistle-blowing case tense and suspenseful in The Insider and cyber thriller is inherently more exciting than that.

Plus, I think we can expect a good looking film, as most Mann movies are. Here he’s working with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, an Oscar nominee for The Piano who first worked with Mann on the pilot for his TV series Luck, noted that as much as possible they shot using available light, whether the dazzling neon of Kowloon or mostly by torchlight for the final confrontation in Jakarta.

It’s been a while since I saw a really good cyber-crime thriller. I mean I enjoyed Sneakers, The Net, and of course The Matrix, but Blackhat promises to be something more visceral and the fact that the premise is ripped from today’s headline makes it all the more intriguing.

Fingers crossed all of this adds up to one heck of a great thriller!


Here’s the latest trailer:


So are you going to check out Blackhat?