by Patrick Bromley
We're still a few weeks away from publishing our Top 10 lists for the year at F This Movie!, which I'm both super excited about and dreading at the same time because I don't think there's any way I can narrow down to just 10 movies. It's been a great year.
How great? So great that even the $100 million tentpole movies -- the sequels, franchise films, reboots and remakes -- have even been terrific (for the most part; there are still a few that are among the year's worst movies...I'm looking at you, Maleficent). While I don't think any of these will make my list of 10 favorites for the year, there's a few that certainly could have. They are movies that succeed on the level on which they are intended and beyond -- big, sweeping, expensive and entertaining movies that even manage to have something on their minds beyond CGI spectacle. They made going to the movies fun in the best way.
Here are my 10 favorite blockbusters of the year:
1. Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn) One of the year's biggest gambles turned out to be the highest-grossing blockbuster (domestically) as well as the most unabashedly entertaining movie of 2014. Here's a superhero movie based on a comic very few people were familiar with (it's the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to take place outside of the Avengers series) and directed by a guy who got his start working for Lloyd Kaufman at Troma. It's a funky, funny space opera with a sentient tree and a talking raccoon and they steal the fucking movie. That audiences embraced this movie -- which could have been a disaster for Marvel -- in such a big, big way is a testament to the power of MAKING A GOOD MOVIE. James Gunn made a very good movie. Great characters, funny dialogue, gorgeous production design and tons of fun make GotG the kind of film that you want to revisit again and again.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (dir. Matt Reeves) The prequel/reboot series of Planet of the Apes takes a giant leap forward in its second installment courtesy of director Matt Reeves, who opens up the scope and doubles down on the premise, devoting as much time or more to the apes as to the humans. It's the right call, as the series still has a human problem but is fucking awesome when it focuses on the now-grown Caesar and his attempts to lead the ape civilization outside the influence of the now-decimated human population. The script and Reeves' direction are unusually thoughtful for a movie of this size. The motion capture effects are remarkable. Toby Kebbell's Koba is one of the best and most sympathetic villains of the year. I really, really like this movie.
3. Edge of Tomorrow (dir. Doug Liman) I wanted to call this the only "original" movie on the list, but Edge of Tomorrow (aka All You Need is Kill, aka Live Die Repeat) is actually based on a 2004 novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka...which means there's not a single "original" movie on the list (though I guess Noah counts despite being based on a story that's 3,000 years old). This is smart, thrilling science-fiction with two great movie star performances and an impressive ability to keep its potentially one-note premise fresh. Like so many BIG movies (actually, like so many movies period) this one has a hard time sustaining itself all the way to the finish, but it's a testament to the power of an intelligently made spectacle -- the kind that's all to rare these days. Except maybe in 2014.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (dir. Joe and Anthony Russo) If not for Number One on this list, the second Captain America movie might just be my favorite Marvel movie to date. Moving the action up to present day and doing the superhero film as '70s-era (era) paranoid thriller, The Winter Soldier features great action, major stakes for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and gives its excellent cast plenty to do. Chris Evans continues to be perfect as Cap, but it's Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow who really steals the sequel. This is one of the few superhero movies that manages to be about something more than its about, and the "team" dynamic that slowly develops through the movie pays off in ways that made me almost as happy as I was watching The Avengers. If you're a movie fan, Robert Redford's last scene is one of the most subversive things you'll see this year.
5. The Lego Movie (dir. Phil Lord/Christopher Miller) There are so many ways this movie should have been a cynical, marketing-driven piece of IP shit. Instead, it's an endlessly inventive comedy and one of the year's funniest movies. Even the animation fails to grow tiresome, as Lord and Miller keep coming up with new ways to create both wonder and jokes out of how they represent things with Lego blocks. The story is overly familiar and there are some problematic messages about the female character, but there are some wonderful messages about the importance of creativity and how adult collectors can lose sight of the fact that toys are meant to be fucking fun. This was just supposed to be a mindless commercial for a popular toy; instead, it advocates throwing out the instructions and using your own imagination. It did the exact opposite of what I thought it was going to do -- and is still a great commercial for Lego.
7. X-Men: Days of Future Past (dir. Bryan Singer) Yes, there are far too many superhero movies on this list, but those are the blockbusters that Hollywood is making now -- and it just so happens that we got three good ones this year. After leaving the franchise for two sequels and two spinoffs, Bryan Singer returned to the series and made what might be the best X-Men movie to date. It cleverly combines the best elements from his series and Matthew Vaughn's prequel, tells a good story with a focus on character (even if Mystique is given too much do, but J. Law's gotta J. Law) and even manages to retcon the series to undo most of the damage done by The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It's not an all-timer, but it's a solid summer movie and one that will actually be worth revisiting in the future.
22 Jump Street (dir. Phil Lord/Christopher Miller) An improbable sequel to an improbable smash hit, 22 Jump Street is this year's most meta blockbuster (yes, I'm getting sick of that word too) and also one of the funniest. Though it loses some of the sweetness that made 21 Jump Street such a pleasant surprise, 22 Jump Street works overtime for laughs and succeeds much more than it fails. How did Phil Lord and Chris Miller get two movies on this list?
9. Noah (dir. Darren Aronofsky) Here's a blockbuster to come from the unlikeliest of places: a $100+ epic made by an indie auteur that retells one of the most famous of all biblical stories but removing many of the religious aspects. There's a lot of the movie that doesn't work, particularly in the third act, but the movie is so ambitious and sincere and willing to be weird that I can't help but respect it. Rather than the traditional religious epic, Aronofsky has turned the story of Noah into a kind of science fiction fantasy complete with giant rock monsters. When it's great, Noah is truly great. Even when it isn't, it coasts by one the strength of its earlier greatness. I love that we live in a time in which big spectacle movies aren't being given to music video or commercial directors (as much, at least) and are instead being given to deeply personal, idiosyncratic filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky, James Gunn and Rian Johnson.
Godzilla (dir. Gareth Edwards) I'm the first to admit that a lot of this movie did not work for me, and it goes beyond a general lack of screen time for Godzilla. I don't think it's a great movie, but it belongs on the list for the chances it takes -- there are parts of Gareth Edwards take on Big G that feel like the summer blockbuster as art film. While I might not agree with some of the choices he makes, I respect that they are very specific, very conscious choices with more on their mind than just appealing to the lowest-common denominator with crowd-pleasing bang for the buck (that parts of the movie still feel very dumb is a shortcoming of the script and not necessarily deliberate pandering). Plus, the moments that work really, really work. Half a year later I'm not remembering the non-existent characterization and problematic plotting. I'm remembering the aerial shot of Godzilla swimming silently through the water and how the theater seemed to shake the first time he let out his roar and, of course, the atomic kiss, one of the most satisfying moments of any movie this year. Godzilla may not be the year's best blockbuster, but for better and for worse it is one of the most interesting.