by A.C. Hall
As another year comes to an end it’s time again to look back at twelve months of movies and praise the triumphs and make fun of the failures. That’s right, it’s time for The Best and Worst movies of 2014, and if you’re not excited then this must be your first time reading one of these. Voted by my roommate to be the most influential end of year movie list in White Settlement (thanks roomie!), this list will see us embark on an odyssey of ups and downs that will take you to the dizzying highest of highs and depressing lowest of lows. Either that, or we’re going to embark on a well thought out list that’ll entertain you. Or, at the very least, we’re going to present you with a huge clump of words and pictures that you hate.
2014 was a great year for movies. Not everything was top notch, obviously, but it felt like the quality of films was definitely strong over the course of the year. The movies I loved I really loved. The movies I hated? Well, we all know I like to have fun with those. This year I wished for my own death as I reviewed one film and delivered a eulogy to the career of an actor while reviewing a different film (more on those movies later). But I also toasted the triumph of film and how it can move us emotionally (more on that movie later). So enough of the intro, let’s get on with the list!
Best Action: Captain America – The Winter Soldier
This was a strong year for action fans but no movie topped the action sequences of Captain America 2. This movie set the bar high early on with an amazing special forces storming of a ship at sea, and continued to get bigger and better from there. The highway bridge sequence late in the film stands out as my favorite action sequence of the year, as it delivered great gunplay as well as inventive and awesome one on one battles. And who can forget the final sequence, as massive helicarriers went to war with our heroes jumping and flying between them? This film was a huge step up from the original Captain America and established directors Anthony and Joe Russo as major players in Hollywood.
Biggest letdown: The Amazing Spiderman 2
I’m a huge Spiderman fan, a huge Andrew Garfield fan, and even a huge fan of this film’s director Marc Webb. I was very forgiving when I reviewed the original Amazing Spiderman in 2012 because I believed in what it was trying to do. Far from perfect, this more emotional take on the character really resonated with me. Garfield was perfect for the role and Webb seemed like a perfect choice for the franchise. Sadly, Amazing Spiderman 2 was a complete and total mess. In my review I called the film impossibly dumb and I stand by that. It’s a mess on so many levels, an avalanche of bad storytelling and filmmaking decisions. What could’ve and should’ve been a fantastic comic book movie instead was a mediocre mishmash of tones and styles capped off by some of the dumbest villains you’ll ever witness on the big screen.
Unlike most Marvel Comics properties, Marvel doesn’t control the films for Spiderman right now. Sony is in charge of the property and is doing a terrible disservice to the character and it’s fans with their handling of it. With a rumored Sinister Six film on the horizon that will focus on Spiderman villains, it appears we’re in for more lackluster Spidey movies. Sadly, I think it’ll either take yet another franchise reboot or the property being returned to Marvel’s film division (something that’s apparently highly unlikely) before we get another great Spiderman movie.
Worst Actress: Cameron Diaz
In my every day life I throw the word HATE around far too often. In my hands, it generally means I have a severe dislike for something or someone and doesn’t necessarily mean I actually hate something. But I’m not so sure how I mean it when I say that I hate Cameron Diaz. One of my all time most hated Hollywood stars, Diaz is a quality vampire, sucking the goodness out of any movie she’s in. While I can’t name her and Renee Zelwegger worst actress every year (as much as I’d like to), in 2014 I can easily justify naming Diaz as the worst actress of the year. Once again, she starred in films of the lowest common denominator, The Other Woman and Sex Tape. The two movies barely average above twenty percent (out of 100) on movie review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes and for good reason. These are bottom of the barrel, paint by numbers movies that aren’t at all unique or charming or good. Plus, they both contain Diaz, who plays the same cool but aloof dirty girl with a heart of gold in every movie ever. I think I remember seeing Diaz give a good performance in a movie once, but then again, I also think I saw UFO’s in the sky above Raymond Street Park when I was a kid. In 2014, Diaz was queen of awfulness, once again dragging down already bad movies into a special place in the dirt where super terrible films lay down to die.
Best Actress: Shailene Woodley
Confession time. When it premiered on the ABC Family network in 2008, I watched the first few episodes of The Secret Life of the American Teenager. The show was the worst, and even a sappy guy like me couldn’t stand to watch much of this terrible teen drama. Who knew that young star Shailene Woodley would go on to do big things in her career after starring on that show? After being generally lifeless and terrible on American Teenager, Woodley has quickly risen to stardom in Hollywood, thanks in large part to her very strong 2014. With Divergent, Woodley proved she had the charisma to carry an action packed franchise. In The Fault In Our Stars, she proved that she’s got the acting skills to absolutely shatter your heart. Woodley is a young actress who seems poised for a great run and if 2014 is any indication, it’s going to be one heck of a career.
Best Horror Movie: As Above So Below
A two decade long crippling fear of Freddy Krueger made me reluctant to embrace the horror genre but in 2014 I dove into the realm of scary films and found myself happy to have done so. Horror movies are notoriously terrible, and it’s true, this is a genre that’s been stagnant for a lot of years. Thankfully though, some talented people are working in Horror these days and this is a genre on the rise. So with that in mind, I decided to introduce this all new category to my end of the year list.
As Above So Below may not be the most traditional horror movie ever, but it was my favorite experience getting scared at the theater in 2014. Claustrophobic and creepy to the core, this movie was part Indiana Jones and part horror, giving it a cool mix of genres that made it both exciting and scary. When the scares did pop up in the film they were hugely successful. This movie makes you feel like you’re stuck underground right alongside the characters. It releases on home video soon and I can’t wait to rent it and watch it again.
Best rental: About Time
For as many movies as I see in theaters, there are always those that I don’t catch until they’re on home video. I saw so many great films this way in 2014 that I decided to introduce this new category to highlight the best rental of the year.
About Time is a movie that contains time travel in which you really don’t care at all about time travel. It’s mainly just an emotional ride in the life of an awkward British young man who finds his soulmate, loves his dad, and loves his wacky sister. And oh yeah, he can travel through time. Charming, heartbreaking, and heartwarming, this movie absolutely blew me away with how good it was. Star Domhnall Gleeson is a true joy, and teamed up with Rachel McAdams he brings to life what is easiest the most charming film I rented in 2014.
Honorable mentions for this category are The Hundred Foot Journey, The Signal, Snowpiercer, and Chef.
Worst Actor: Zac Efron
I found myself weirdly disappointed in Zac Efron in 2014. After getting his start in High School Musical, Efron has really stepped out on his own as a star and I’ve been greatly enjoying his career. Then, in 2014, he gave us That Awkward Moment and Neighbors, two movies that glorify some of the worst qualities in our culture. Treating women like objects, showing no respect for your fellow man, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, these are the things that Efron portrayed to be awesome in 2014. I was really put off by both of these movies because they not only accepted ideals like the disrespect of women, but they treated these ideals like something to be celebrated. I especially found it upsetting to watch This Awkward Moment, a movie that lovingly embraced the idea that guys care little about anything other than sex and that girls are nothing more than physical things to be used and then discarded. Efron’s career isn’t dead, but I think he did a lot of damage to it in 2014 by cozying up to these edgy, profane films.
Best Actor: Jake Gyllenhaal
Every once in a while talented actors drop off the Hollywood A-list for no discernible reason, and that happened in recent years to Gyllenhaal. Well, Jake’s back, thanks to his award worthy performance in Nightcrawler. Bringing to life scuzzy maniac Louis Bloom, Gyllenhaal is brilliant in this dark movie. I was captivated by this performance from the first second to the final one. I’ve since thought about it hundreds of times, as Bloom is one of the most memorable characters we’ve had in a movie in the past decade. As dark and twisted as he is, you can’t help but get totally drawn into his story. It’s rare for an actor to be able to so completely and absolutely carry a film almost totally on their own, but Gyllenhaal does it with Nightcrawler and it’s a masterpiece of a performance. By far one of my favorite performances in recent memory, this one was an easy category for me to decide.
The one critics got wrong: Gone Girl
Maybe I’m delusional, but I don’t feel like I’m a typical movie critic. I like to believe I take a more average approach to film critiques, looking for fun and enjoyment more than editing techniques and camera angles. Thusly, I often find that my opinion can greatly differ from the big critics of the world, and this year that was most obvious when it came to the David Fincher drama Gone Girl. Critics have elevated this to an 88 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes but even their positive reviews are strewn with negativity. Somehow critics simultaneously trashed the film en route to giving it super high marks and recommending that people go give up their hard earned money to see it.
Let me weigh in on Gone Girl. This is a slow moving, uninteresting drama about super horrible people. Sure, it’s beautifully shot, but the movie under-delivers at every turn. The performances aren’t that memorable, the story isn’t that interesting, it’s just a movie that isn’t that good. Add on the insanely unlikable characters, and you’ve got a terrible movie that somehow got propped up by most movie critics as being some sort of brilliant thriller. But this is the one that critics got wrong for 2014, and I stand by my review of 1 out of 5 stars as being a more accurate look at the quality of this film.
Worst Movies of 2014
I’ve encountered some awful movies in my eight years as a movie critic, but 2014 contained some of the absolute worst movies I’ve ever seen. While it can be fun to go crazy and tear a movie apart when reviewing it, having to actually sit through some of these stinkers can be torturous. So here they are, the five worst movies of 2014
#5 A Most Wanted Man
The thing I most wanted when suffering through this awful film was for a Karate master to break into my house and deliver a stiff spin kick to my thorax. The pain and inconvenience of having my chest bones crushed under the powerful foot of Karate would’ve been a welcome distraction from the boredom of A Most Wanted Man. I’m saddened by the death of star Phillip Seymour Hoffman, he truly was a gifted actor. However, watching Hoffman wander about a German city while smoking cigarettes and drinking scotch is not my idea of entertainment, yet that’s what made up about half of A Most Wanted Man. Add on a hilariously unsatisfying ending and you’ve got a movie that certainly earned it’s way onto this list.
#4 Dumb and Dumber To
I don’t know there have been many times when I felt beat up by a bad movie, but this movie beat me up. This humorless and charmless sequel to the decades old original film represents a complete lack of understanding about what humor is. The movie featured Jim Carey making stupid faces and Jeff Daniels making stupid comments. And that’s it. Daniels would point at a fire hydrant and say something like “Why do they call it a fire hydrant if it’s never even on fire?” and Carey would make an over the top face at the hydrant and then pretend to pee on it. And sadly, my fake example is actually funnier than anything that happened in the movie. Then there’s the mean and vulgar tone of the film that rears it’s ugly head again and again and you’ve got my fourth most hated film of 2014.
#3 Transformers: Age of Extinction
If only this was the age of extinction, because at least then we’d be spared from ever having to see another Transformers film. This fourth installment in the much maligned by critics and yet somehow financially successful franchise saw Mark Wahlberg introduced as the new star. Beyond that, it also saw some of the most random and gratuitous things you’ll ever experience. Cars exploding and flying into the air, buildings blowing up even though there’s nothing going on around them, the action and mayhem in this film wasn’t just over the top, it was completely and absolutely meaningless. Then there were the numerous lingering camera shots that zoom in on female stars body parts, the crude language that even the good guys use throughout, and you’ve got yet another installment in the ugly Transformers series. Mix in the plethora of reused action sequences from the previous films, many of them lifted nearly shot for shot from the earlier Transformers films, and you’ve got a movie that I couldn’t have hated more.
#2 I, Frankenstein
Here lies the career of Aaron Eckhart. Thus began my review of this film, which was one of the all time crappiest movies I’ve ever seen. The plot of the movie was laughably bad and saw soulless (and charmless) Frankenstein wandering back and forth from the church of the Gargoyle order to the hideout of the demon horde. That was seriously the whole plot of the movie. Eckhart delivered one liners like “Descend in pain, demon” which will go down in history as one of the all time worst one liners. And then he goes back to the Gargoyle church, then back to the demon hideout… and then back to the church. The character was as lost as the film’s writers obviously were, and in a true unfortunate twist of fate, I was one of the few people who went to the theater to watch this nonsense play out. I owe a deep apology to my best friend over this film, because I dragged him along with me to see it. I’ll never forget how when this movie was over we looked at one another and laughed. We laughed and laughed and laughed, because it was either that or cry, and we all know men are weird about crying in public.
By the time the volcano erupts at the end of this film and kills every single character (yes, they all die, and no, I don’t feel bad about spoiling it) you find yourself feeling a strange emotion. You’re envious. Envious that they get the sweet release of death and you don’t. You’re left behind, stuck with the crushing burden of having watched such a bad movie. It’s about a 20 hour drive to Colima, Mexico, and I know that because after I watched Pompeii I researched the nearest active volcanoes to my house. Instead of returning my copy of Pompeii to Redbox, I strongly considered driving the 20 hours to Colima, climbing the side of the volcano, and tossing myself into the warm embrace of the lava below, secure in the knowledge that I was taking a copy of Pompeii down with me. Turns out I was low on gas and didn’t have any extra cash that week though, so instead I returned the movie to Redbox and ate Lean Pockets (way healthier than Hot Pockets, let me tell ya) for the rest of the week.
Yes, that’s how bad Pompeii was. The worst acting of 2014, the worst love story of 2014, the worst action of 2014, the worst writing of 2014, the worst directing of 2014, the worst everything of 2014. I briefly considered making all five of my worst movies of 2014 Pompeii, because yes, that’s how bad it really was.
Best Movies of 2014
Thankfully, not every movie this year made me think about wanting to die. The quality of films overall in 2014 was incredibly high, and this may be the strongest top 5 list I’ve put together in my many years of doing these lists.
#5 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The scope of this film was incredible. Anyone expecting cheesy sci-fi out of this movie will be sorely disappointed, as instead you’re treated to a deep look at society, life after an apocalyptic event, the dangers and triumphs of trusting those different than yourself, family, and war. It was a brave filmmaking choice to spend so much time with the ape society and characters and it paid off in a big way, bringing these animal characters to life and making you care about their struggle and well being. The human side of things was just as captivating, and as these two societies slowly but surely tipped towards war you found yourself swallowed up by this awesome story. I have no clue where they’re going with this franchise next, but I know I’ll be there on opening day to enjoy it.
#4 Guardians of the Galaxy
In a lot of ways, it’s a disservice to call this a comic book movie. Guardians is a space epic, a Star Wars for a new generation. This movie is hilarious, thrilling, smart, and visually astonishing. It’s also incredibly cosmic, which is such a wonderful breakaway from what we usually get from comic book movies. It’s hard to launch a new franchise these days, especially with the long and enduring runs characters like Batman, Iron Man, and others have had, but Guardians immediately established itself as a must watch film and a must follow franchise. This isn’t just a great movie, this is a great movie that will endure for decades, and will still be a great movie when shown to your children or their children or even their children. After that we’ll probably be on some weird virtual reality movies that get beamed straight into the unconscious mind though, so I doubt your children’s children’s children’s children will be all that interested in Guardians of the Galaxy. But until then, this is most certainly a new classic sure to be loved for a long time.
#3 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It was a struggle for me deciding between this or Guardians of the Galaxy for the number 3 spot, but ultimately Captain America 2 won out. This movie took the aging comic book movie formula and injected a huge amount of espionage into the mix, making this the first ever James Bond style comic book movie. The film is stuffed with inventive and smart plot and delivers awesome action sequences at every turn. Getting to fully experience this character as he grapples with life in the modern era is a real joy, and his confusion and sadness over his long passed era really come through. The film also gets a major lift with some great supporting actors like Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, and Robert Redford. The Marvel movie universe is becoming a deep place that has taken audiences on a lot of neat adventures, but Captain America 2 is hands down the best Marvel movie yet. The blend of action, espionage, and super heroics somehow works perfectly, which is a true testament to the filmmakers.
I haven’t loved a movie the way I love this one in a long time. Yes, it’s a dark tale about a messed up character, buy my gosh, this is about as captivating as films get. Jake Gyllenhaal is amazing as maniac Louis Bloom, a man who will do anything to get ahead. Bloom discovers the grisly world of disaster journalism and finds that his lack of morals makes him the perfect person to race to the scenes of horrific events to film the immediate aftermath. Watching his masterful rise to the top of this industry is nothing short of a storytelling triumph, and something I’ve long remembered since my time watching the movie. Movies just don’t get much better than this, and this is one that’ll probably stand at or near the top of my favorite movies of all time list for a long time to come.
I flip flopped the positions of this and Nightcrawler several times, but ultimately Interstellar won out because of how it made me feel. This movie inspired me and made me yearn for exploration. It made me marvel at the night sky. Christopher Nolan has been my favorite filmmaker for a long time and he proved why again with this movie. Interstellar is visually breathtaking and it’s also incredibly diverse. The movie has some very distinct phases, each good enough to stand on their own as films. But together they form a masterpiece, and one that has profound things to say about the universe, about time and love and family, about the Earth and our place on it. Matthew McConaughey was the perfect choice for this film, and teaming him up with the always wonderful Anne Hathaway was a smart move. Together they give this cosmic film a very true emotional foundation. As they race against time to find a new home for humanity you feel like you’re right there on the mission alongside them. With some inventive and amazing use of theater speaker systems, the movie enveloped you both visually and audibly. I loved a lot of movies in 2014, but none moved me and inspired me quite like Interstellar did. Add on some amazing action sequences, a beautifully crafted story, and some superb performances and you’ve got the top movie of 2014.
So there you have it friends, another year has come and gone. It was a really fun year at the movies with plenty to talk about and enjoy and all signs point to 2015 being exactly the same way. Movies continue to be a shared tradition in our society, one that can make us laugh, can make us cry, and can bring us together with our friends and family. I’m very much looking forward to reviewing as many movies as possible in 2015 and hope you’ll come along for the ride with me.