Thursday, January 08, 2015

Top 20 Movies of 2014 I've Seen in the Second-Half of the Year (+Top 10 Movies of 2014)

For 2014’s movie list, just like last year, I will be enumerating the top 20 best movies that I’ve seen in the second half of the year – regardless of whether they were released in the first half or second half – and, then, from this list and from my first-half edition list (read that one first), I will pick my top ten movies of the year. 

(And, just like every year, there are a couple of movies that I missed watching that would have likely made the list if I was able to.  These were John Wick, The Imitation Game, Unbroken, and Birdman.)


Just like the earlier sequel film of 2014 based on Frank Miller’s work, 300: Rise of an Empire, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For also carried the same visual and narrative theme of its predecessor.  Though I find the tales of the original 2005 film greatly better in general than the ones in A Dame to Kill For, the stories featured here are still gripping enough to keep me invested.  A lot of critics pan this movie, but, for me, though it’s definitely inferior to the first movie, it still possesses the same gritty neo-noir appeal that made the first movie entertaining.  Also, the performances of Eva Green and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are simply magnetic.       

This is the funniest movie of 2014.  Really.  Just like before, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill killed it.  The goofy chemistry and genuine comical talent of this duo flawlessly carried the comedy of this movie.  I really applaud and appreciate the fact that this movie relied on legitimately hilarious content in creating laughs, instead of going the “crude debauchery” route (i.e. the humor in the overrated This is the End).  Moreover, the closing sequence of this movie – where it makes fun of itself as a sequel, as well as any potential sequels – was gold!                


It was clear that Mockingjay suffered from being split into two parts.  The movie is as thematically rich and dramatically intense as its predecessors, but the action was lacking.  I like how the movie further explored the power of propaganda through Katniss’ struggles while serving as a propaganda tool.  But, seriously, Katniss only gets to shoot one arrow in this movie?  Yes, she took down that aircraft, which is badass, but I saw that in the trailer already.  With the lack of great, notable action sequences, which the previous two films had in droves, Mockingjay Part 1 ended up being tedious at times and not as fun as I was expecting.

I know that Mockingjay Part 1 will work best when watched back-to-back with Part 2 in 2015.   But by its own, clearly, Mockingjay Part 1 is the least of the franchise so far.           

For some, Godzilla was a disappointment.  And I understand why, for the supposed star of the movie – Godzilla – actually only had 8 minutes of screen time.  Out of the movie’s 2-hour running time, that’s just about 7%!  The griping is justified. 

Nonetheless, for me, the movie was able to successfully utilize the human drama that the narrative mainly focused on to enhance the glory and magnitude of when Godzilla is finally revealed – short time his appearance may be.   How?  The human characters and how the existence and emergence of monsters got to affect their lives served as the audience’s lens – a kind of worm’s eye view to the whole thing.  By witnessing it through the point of view of human beings – who are just small, helpless, irrelevant worms beside such something grand as Godzilla – the movie wants us, the audience, to emphatically grasp that, in this movie’s universe, Godzilla’s emergence transcends human history.   And, I think, the movie pulled it off very well.  Godzilla gets an exhilarating re-telling of his origin, and we were awed by it all. 


I would have loved it more if it’s an actual depiction of Hercules’ mythological adventures, but I appreciate the reinvention done here nonetheless.  In this movie, Hercules is actually a leader of a band of interesting mercenaries (one of which is a female archer that would have made my “top 10 fictional archers” list if I had encountered her then).  He is truly a formidable, strong warrior but his great strength isn’t supernatural at all, and his divine parenthood is actually just a ruse.  Stories of his feats and accomplishments are greatly exaggerated so that his fame and reputation will become more legendary, hence, he and his friends will gain more employment, receive greater rewards and payment, and intimidate future opponents.  

The story isn’t particularly smart or original (in fact, most critics hated this movie), but it’s a very entertaining sword-and-sandal film.  The action is top-notch, and there are some legitimate twists that I was not really expecting.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, given his background and physique, really thrives in such “comic bookish” roles like Hercules; he was a great delight to watch.


Afflicted is a “found-footage”-style horror movie done right; it has comprehensibly gorgeous cinematography (considering its genre), thrilling action sequences (especially the stunning first-person action scenes from Derek’s point of view), and genuine scares.  The premise: filmmakers Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, playing fictional versions of themselves, proceeded to go on a year-long travel around the world and make a documentary-vlog about their experiences.  Along the way, Derek hooked up with a girl named Audrey, who left him unconscious and bloodied in his hotel room.  Derek recovered and dismissed the whole incident, but later in their trip, he would discover that he has been dramatically changing into a vampire.                            


I haven’t checked yet, but I bet that the makers of 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom are the same ones that made Grand Budapest Hotel.  The latter simply has the same narrative style, humor, production value, and viewing experience as the former; hence, I got the same enjoyment from Grand Budapest Hotel as I got from Moonrise Kingdom.        


This is, hands down, the greatest direct-to-video animated movie from DC this year.  Set in the universe of the Batman: Arkham video game franchise, the focus of this film is actually on the Suicide Squad, with Batman serving a supporting role, as they are tasked by Amanda Waller to break in Arkham and extract information from the Riddler.  As expected from such set-up – and with the Joker notably incarcerated in Arkham – chaos ensues, to us viewers’ delight.    


We’ve already seen countless movies that feature a sociopath, but this neo-noir crime thriller was able to deliver a unique sociopath tale.  It’s a dark but enthralling story about a sociopathic thief named Lou Bloom (great performance from Jake Gyllenhaal) that underwent a “career change” after discovering the thrill and money from being a “nightcrawler” – an independent media man that shoots footages of crimes and accidents and then sells them to news agencies.  That may sound like a boring premise at first, but, I assure you, it’s not.  I know, I first thought so, too, but I gave it a shot, and found it a very compelling watch.      


In this movie, J.K. Simmons magnificently plays a hotheaded, terrorizing jazz maestro who verbally abuses his students at a regular basis (it was revealed later on that he’s that fearfully intense so that he can squeeze the best out of his musicians and hopefully transform them into jazz legends).  Simmons’ character, Terence Fletcher, spews insults and scoldings that would make hardened drill sergeants cry; it’s quite entrancing to watch.   Only an actor like Simmons, who got to flawlessly bring J. Jonah Jameson to screen in the Spider-Man franchise, can truly deliver such electrifying performance.        

Oh, Miles Teller’s character is actually the main protagonist of this movie, a drummer who trains under Fletcher and who is determined to win his approval.  But Simmons’ intensity and prime A-holery truly stole the show. 

This movie is also worth watching over because of its music.  “Whiplash” and “Caravan” are pure eargasm.   


These are, technically, two movies.  But in essence, they are actually just one movie-story split into two parts, and released into two separate dates during the year.  So I evaluated them as if they are just one movie, and allocated a spot for them as if they are just one movie.   

The Rurouni Kenshin movies – including the first one in 2012 – are the greatest live-action adaptations of an anime ever done (as of writing, I haven’t seen the new Lupin III live-action movie yet, and, from the trailer, it looks amazing.  I also have high hopes for the Attack on Titan live-action movie in 2015).  The production value is fantastic – really bringing to life the characters and setting of the anime.  I truly appreciate the movies’ effort to be as authentic and accurate as possible. 

The story from Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends is based from the anime’s arc with Shishio and his Juppongatana.  The movies were, understandably, unable to be faithful to the detail and there were a couple of notable liberties.  However, the theme was generally faithful. (I was, however, disappointed that Cho’s whip-like Hakujin-no-Tachi sword was not featured in his appearance in Kyoto Inferno.) I also noticed some dumb details in the plot – like, why is there a need to ride a boat and get on Shishio’s ironclad to fight the bad guys there, when it’s possible to just pound it with cannons and sink it from shore? – but the positives still overwhelm the negatives.    

The fight scenes were gorgeous – especially the climax in The Legend Ends wherein everybody wanted a piece of Shishio.  Next to The Raid 2, the Rurouni Kenshin movies have the best fight scenes of 2014.         

This 2014 Australian movie is to be generally released early this year, but since I’ve seen it in 2014 already, I will consider this for this list.  I won’t give much detail regarding the plot – only that it’s a captivating and clever time traveling tale – for the narrative relied on some twists to blow the viewer away.  I’ll let you have the pleasure of having these twists – and the rest of the story – be unfolded for you.  Now, personally, I was able to easily predict what these twists would be (there were too many clues, actually), but I was still able to enjoy them when they were revealed.  


Begin Again is supposed to be a 2013 movie, but it was only seen in film festivals.  It was only released theatrically for mass audience in 2014, so I will consider this a 2014 movie. 

At first, I thought that this was going to be a shallow rom-com flick, but it’s not.  It’s actually a thoughtful musical comedy-drama, and, no, (SPOILERS?) the characters of Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley didn’t romantically hook-up at all.  And it’s actually brilliant.  When the narrative seems to be teasing of going there, it just stops itself in a fun way – developing their friendship instead.  It was truly more satisfying than making them a couple.  

The story is about a down-on-his-luck, ex-record label executive (Ruffalo) and a singer-songwriter (Knightley), who recently broke up with her longtime boyfriend/songwriting partner after he became a pop star, as they collaborate into recording an album set in different places around New York City.  And going through this unique recording project – as they bond, share their musical tastes with each other, learn more about themselves, and turn into better individuals – a beautiful story of friendship and music unfolds.      

My favorite part of the movie was when Ruffalo’s character heard Knightley’s character sing for the first time.  It was in a bar, and Knightley’s character, who has just recently been broken-hearted, was invited to sing by a friend that had a set that night.  She was singing an originally composed song of hers while playing an acoustic guitar.  But Ruffalo’s character was revealed to have a special talent: when drunk, he can imagine out how musical instruments will sound like.  So while she was singing, he imagined out an entire band arrangement for the song.  It was awesome.    


Being a Christopher Nolan movie starring Matthew McConaughey, there was a lot of expectations for this movie.  Personally, it didn’t meet my expectations.  It’s a truly good sci-fi movie, but I was hoping to be blown away, and I wasn’t, really.  Nonetheless, Interstellar is a well-acted, well-directed, thought-provoking, and visually appealing film that possesses the same emotional depth and charm of 2001: A Space Odyssey.         


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ praiseworthy acting, directing, plot, and visual effects (especially the work on the apes) magnificently worked together to deliver an emotional and intelligent story that considerably improved – and outdid – the original franchise it was based from. 

The story takes place a decade after the events of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Human civilization has collapsed, and humanity itself is in the brink of extinction.  The ape community that Caesar has started in the woods outside of San Francisco at the end of the first movie is now thriving.  However, tensions are mounting high between the apes and the human survivors living in the ruins of San Francisco.  And despite Caesar’s best efforts of keeping peace, the war between apes and humans is inevitable. 


Gone Girl is an intense and absorbing mystery thriller from start to finish.  Set in a small town in the US Midwest, the story is about a man (played by Ben Afleck) suspected of murdering his wife (played by Rosamund Pike) who has gone missing in their 5th anniversary.  In the public eye, the two were having a blissful marriage, but after her disappearance, details slowly unraveled regarding their marital turmoils; evidences start to pile up against the husband.  But did the husband really murder his wife, or was he merely set up?

4.) FURY

This movie, about an American tank crew (their tank is the one nicknamed “Fury”, hence, the title) during the Allied invasion of Germany in WW2, could be the greatest war movie I’ve ever seen since Saving Private Ryan.   The action scenes were grippingly terrific – completely capturing both the awful brutality and stirring animation of war.  The narrative is well-layered, emotionally rich, and dynamic.  These two – the great action and narrative – kept me completely engrossed all throughout the movie.         

There was stellar acting all around – from Brad Pitt to Logan Lerman – making the characters all easy to invest on.  But the surprise is Shia LaBeouf.  He was genuinely fantastic here.  I never liked the man this much ever since his goofy days in Even Stevens.          


The Desolation of Smaug is still my most favorite movie in the trilogy, but The Battle of the Five Armies is nonetheless a pleasurable and satisfying conclusion.  I appreciate the beautiful and intense battle scenes, the strong character moments, and the usual spectacular visuals.  I never had any dull moment at all.               

The Hobbit trilogy isn’t as good as the LOTR trilogy, but I’m glad it happened.  Seriously, I don’t understand the hate on Peter Jackson’s decision to expand The Hobbit into three movies.  It’s not as if the padding done on the story has been sloppy work, nor did it compromise the theme and general plot of its source material.  In fact, the additions of Jackson – despite the needlessness of some details and subplots – have been awesome.  Yes, stretching it was a clear cash-grab tactic.  But, on the other hand, we get to have a delightful, enjoyable piece of epic fantasy three times in the past three years – one for each year.  I, for one, am thankful. 

2.) BIG HERO 6

Big Hero 6’s plot makes an effort to be unpredictable, but, because of this, actually ends up being predictable instead.  Moreover, it feels that this has been meticulously engineered, down to the last detail, to become a perfectly charming, adorable animated movie that would have both critical and commercial success.  And it worked!  Despite being sort of “artificial”, everybody – including yours truly – loved it.   

I believe that Disney will make more animated movies based on Marvel Comics properties (I hope I’m right).  Big Hero 6 has been a great start.  Shared Marvel animated universe, anyone?         


I wrote during the first-half that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the “Best. Marvel. Movie. Ever.”  Months later, GotG handily took that title.  (It’s awesome.  Marvel Studios’ movies are getting better and better.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Age of Ultron ends up taking the title from GotG, and then Ant-Man takes the title from AoU, and so on...) Though it doesn’t have the depth and thoughtfulness of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, GotG is still the better film for being a delightfully perfect mix of wackiness, fun, humor, heart, and charm; nostalgic music; remarkable characters; fantastic visuals; engaging action; and an exciting, light-hearted comic book narrative.    

Back in February 2014, I already called for it being terrific:  
Guardians of the Galaxy could likely turn out to be Marvel Studios’ greatest hit.  I’m not just optimistic about it, I’ll even dare say that GotG could even become a bigger thing than Star Trek and Star Wars
The potential is there… I’m predicting that it’s going to be bizarre, dynamic, funny, action-packed, and thrilling.
It’s almost scary how accurate I was.  Okay, it’s probably not yet close of becoming a bigger thing than Star Trek and Star Wars.  But I believe that GotG has brought the same sense of awed enjoyability as these two.   Nonetheless, Guardians of the Galaxy, for me, is the greatest thing that ever came out of the big screen in 2014.  

*   *   *

7.) FURY
4.) BIG HERO 6

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