Well, another year has come and gone and as per usual, I saw a ton of movies. One of my favorite traditions of the start of a year is to recap the last one by counting down what I believe to be the best films I saw all year. Before we get started, I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not a list of the best films of the year, but rather the ones that I enjoyed the most.
I saw many more movies in 2014 than I was able to in 2013, so while last year I struggled to come up with ten movies, this year, I had to make serious decisions regarding what should and should not stay on the list. As such, a lot of movies that I really wanted to see make the final cut sadly had to be sacrificed. Therefore, if one of your favorite films of the year didn’t appear on the list, it likely fell into this category. Anywho, we have a lot to get through so let’s not waste any time.
- Dragon Ball Z: Battle of the Gods
I’m probably going to catch heat for including this on the list when so many great films sadly didn’t make the cut. I like to include at least one off the beaten path film in my countdown every year and as someone who has been a DBZ fan since the fifth grade, I felt I needed to give this one the spot.
Goku and the gang are back in a whole new adventure. Sometime after the events of the series, a powerful God of Destruction awakens from his long slumber, and he has his sights set on Earth. The only power prophesized to be able to defeat him if that of a Super Saiyan God, a form of Super Saiyan beyond anything Goku and the others have ever been able to reach.
As I expected from DBZ, this was an absolute blast. It was not without some minor flaws, such as a pointless subplot featuring Emperor Pilaf or Goku’s Super Saiyan God form being incredibly underwhelming given the other forms we’ve seen in the series, but other than that, it’s a solid flick. What really sets it apart is the villain, Lord Beerus, who is simultaneously the most powerful and the most unique villain in the entire franchise. It is made clear from the beginning that he is not a force for evil, but rather a being with far too much power that has grown bored after being unchallenged for countless millennia. As such, he makes an excellent rival for Goku, who is himself constantly training to become the strongest. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice to say, the ending of their battle provides an excellent character moment for both of them.
Overall, it was excellent to see something DBZ related come to the theatres and have it not result in my least favorite movie of all time, and I’m happy it squeezed it’s way on to my list.
- A Walk Among the Tombstones.
By the time this gets posted, Taken 3 will have been out in cinemas for some time. I mention this for no particular reason other than to remind you that Liam Neeson is a badass of the highest caliber.
Liam Neeson play Matt Scudder, a New York City cop turned private investigator. When a mysterious group of serial killers begin abducting the wives and daughters of drug dealers, knowing they cannot go to the police, and then murdering them in the most gruesome of ways, often after having assaulted the poor women sexually. One such drug dealer enlists the help of Scudder to finally bring these monsters to justice.
As usual with a Liam Neeson film, Neeson himself is excellent, carrying with him the cold badass demeanor that he’s continued to display throughout his career. Joining him is a strong supporting cast filled with likeable side characters, including a hilarious conspiracy theorist homeless child whom Neeson takes under his wing, and some disturbing villains. For fans of Liam Neeson, this is a must see.
- Get On Up
Writing 101: No matter the medium, the best way to get your audiences attention right away is to have a strong and memorable opening. As soon as I saw this film’s opening in which James Brown threatens his employees with a rifle because one of them used his private bathroom, all while ranting like a lunatic, I new this film was going to be awesome.
Get On Up is the incredible story of music legend, James Brown. Future Black Panther of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Chadwick Boseman perfectly captures larger than life personality of the Godfather of Soul as well as his more flawed human side and balances both excellently. At times, you swear that James Brown had risen from the dead through Boseman’s performance. The supporting cast is pretty solid as well. One of the more noteworthy appearances is that of Blues Brother and friend of the real James Brown, Dan Aykroyd who, as always, brings his A-game to the film.
Naturally, the film’s soundtrack is filled with James Brown’s classic hits, and as someone who loves Brown’s music, it took all my willpower to keep from dancing in the aisles. With great acting, a strong story and phenomenal music, I Feel Good, about putting this film on my list,
- The Equalizer
To out-badass Liam Neeson is a damn near impossible feat, but on rare occasions, certain individuals have managed to do just that. Denzel Washington in The Equalizer represents one such instance.
Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a seemingly unassuming hardware store employee who likes to read in coffee shops and mostly keeps to himself. However, when a prostitute he’d recently befriended gets roughed up by her pimp, McCall reveals that he was once a very dangerous man and no one you want to piss off.
If you want a movie that leaves you with that “Holy Sh*t” feeling then this is definitely worth checking out. Denzel Washington is an unstoppable and merciless force of destruction that single handedly tries to take down the Russian mob leaving a massive body count in his wake. The best part: in the entire movie, I think he only kills one guy with an actual gun. The rest of the film, Denzel is like MacGuyver if he were a slasher villain, killing his enemies with such tools as cork screws, shot glasses, nail guns, shards of glass and more.
This is a movie that leaves the viewer wanting more and a solid choice for the number 7 spot.
- The Lego Movie
I believe I speak for everyone who saw this movie when I say: F*CK THE OSCARS FOR SNUBBING THIS AWESOME MOVIE! This film is excellent on multiple levels and the fact that it was not given it’s due recognition is simply insulting.
Set in a world completely made of, and populated by, Legos, our story centers around Emmet Brickowski, an average, everyday Lego construction worker who discovers a strange artifact that may be the key to saving the world from certain destruction, along the way he meets several colorful characters including a badass and beautiful goth girl, a 80’s astronaut who loves spaceships a bit too much, a hyper positive talking kitty-unicorn, a blind wizard with a voice that can make 2 hours of staring at penguins seem awesome and finally, the most entertaining animated version of Batman since Kevin Conroy.
This movie is a blast from start to finish. The jokes are hilarious and almost always hit their mark. The characters are all memorable and have an all star voice cast backing them up with names that include Morgan Freeman, Charlie Day, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Will Farrell, and of course Chris Pratt. (Not to tip my hand, but expect to hear that name again later on) Also, beneath all the funny jokes, pop culture references and great action scenes, there’s a surprisingly poignant message about fathers and sons.
Unfortunately, elaborating would require spoilers, so you’ll just have to see the movie.
As incredible as the film’s story is, I think what’s really amazing, and makes the Oscar snub even more frustrating, is the incredible animation. There were several times throughout the film where I was convinced that the film was stop motion using real legos. That couldn’t have been easy. This film’s animation is so brilliantly done that I daresay it deserves to be memorialized alongside groundbreaking works of animation like Toy Story or the works of Hayao Miyazaki.
Oh, and before I forget…
EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!
- Top Five
We kick off the top five with… Top Five. Don’t look at me like that, I’m not trying to be cute by putting this at number 5, this is just how the list lined up.
In this excellent comedy, Chris Rock, who also wrote and directed the film, plays Andre Allen, a stand-up comedian turned actor who is presently dealing with the release of his new movie that he hopes will get the public to take him seriously as an actor, his upcoming media circus wedding to a popular reality TV star, and the everyday struggles of being a recovering alcoholic. All the while, he’s telling his story to a quirky New York Times reporter played by Rosario Dawson.
I think what I like most about Top 5 is the fact that it is a comedy that knows when to be serious. For example, never at any point in time is Allen’s alcoholism ever played for laughs. Things that happen as a result of him being drunk may be funny, but the actual struggles that he deals with as a recovering alcoholic are treated with the seriousness that they deserve.
However, this is not to say that the film isn’t loaded with plenty of solid laughs. This film is filled with hilarious cameos, including Jerry Seinfeld, DMX, Cedric the Entertainer, Whoopi Goldberg, and, funny again for the first time in years, Adam Sandler. However, the funniest moment in the entire movie was the scene in which Rosario Dawson gets revenge on her ex boyfriend. I won’t say what happens, but suffice to say it is established early on that she keeps hot sauce in her purse.
This is easily the most laugh-out-loud funny film of the year and it is a perfect start to my top five.
- Jersey Boys
This Clint Eastwood directed musical tonal blend of Goodfellas and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and does so in style. This movie is a ton of fun from start to finish and, needless to say, has a killer soundtrack.
In this biopic, we see Frankie Valli’s rise from a nobody sweeping up hair in a barber shop to massive superstar alongside the rest of the four seasons, Tommy Devito, Nick Massi and Bob Gaudio. We see the highs, like when they record three number one hits in a row, and the lows, like Tommy Devito getting the band deep in debt to some dangerous people. All the while, we hear the sweet sounds of Frankie Valli’s timeless hits like Sherri, Walk like a Man, and my personal favorite, December ’63.
The cast is absolutely superb, with all of the actors playing the Four Seasons being fantastic actors as well as singers. John Lloyd Young, who plays Valli himself, is especially great, sounding exactly like the original. I’m not sure what the real Frankie Valli thought of this film, but I’m sure he would have been proud. However, special attention needs to go to the biggest name actor in the film, the incomparable Christopher Walken, who play Mafioso and friend to Frankie Valli, Gyp DeCarlo. Walken plays the character like your eccentric and loveable uncle, who just so happens to be a gangster, all the while delivering lines in a way that only he can.
Not having seen the play that this is based on, I can’t say for sure whether or not this version is superior, but one way or another, any fan of Frankie Valli’s music will not be disappointed.
2014 was certainly a big year for the King of the Monsters. Not only did the big guy celebrate his 60th birthday, but after ten long years, Godzilla made his triumphant return to the silver screen where he belongs and what a return it was.
Like many films in the Godzilla series, this film is a direct sequel to the original, ignoring all others that came before it. Most of you should know how the original story goes. Godzilla is a powerful monster awakened by nuclear testing and wreaks havoc on the city of Tokyo. The original 1954 piece, and by extension, Godzilla himself, is intended to serve as a metaphor for nuclear attacks for a country that was still reeling from the after effects of World War II. However, in this new film, we learn that Godzilla wasn’t the only thing awakened by the nuclear tests. Two new, extremely powerful monsters known as the Mutos have risen and are now causing havoc that could devastate the entire world, especially when we find out the two monsters are in the process of mating. There is only one thing that can stop the Mutos. The alpha predator, the king of the monsters, the one, the only, Godzilla. From the moment I heard his mighty roar, I knew that this was going to be an epic film.
Sure the human element is a little on the bland side, minus standouts like Ken Watanbe and the always Excellent Brian Cranston who give stellar performances, but you have to remember, this is a Godzilla film. You don’t watch a baseball game just because you want some peanuts. When I pop in my copy of Invasion of the Astro-Monster, I do it because I want to see some giant monsters kicking ass, and this movie delivers on that and then some.
There’s also some unintentionally hilarious subtext to the movie when you realize that Godzilla was awakened by the Muto’s Mating call, essentially equating Godzilla to a man in an apartment building who’s pissed off that he didn’t get any sleep because his neighbors kept him up all night having sex.
Godzilla’s long awaited return was nothing short of incredible, and with a new film from Toho announced, a direct sequel that promises to feature some of Godzilla’s classic foes on the way, the big G ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
- John Wick
In his 1993 film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, Kenneth Branagh made the bizarre choice of casting Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves as brothers. Though I often used to make jokes about this unusual bit of casting, after seeing this and The Equalizer within the same month, for the first time, I found myself able to see the family resemblance.
Once upon a time, John Wick, played by Reeves, was the deadliest assassin known to man. The Russians called him Baba Yaga or The Boogeyman though that wasn’t entirely accurate. More appropriately, John Wick was the man you hired when you wanted to kill the Boogeyman. However, after the death of his wife, John retired and went to live the quiet life with his dog. But, when the ignorant son of a Russian mob boss breaks into his house, kills his dog and steals his car, Wick reminds everyone why it’s a really bad idea to piss him off.
Wick’s quest for revenge leads him to this fascinating concept known as the continental, a hotel specifically for professional assassins, complete with it’s own code of conduct, personal clean up crew for bodies left behind by jobs and my favorite part, their own set of currency in the form of Spanish doubloons. There is nothing about that that isn’t awesome.
Like Denzel in the equalizer, Reeves in this movie is a stone cold badass who even intimidates police officers who have every right to arrest him. One thing I especially love is how everyone is so intimidated by John Wick to the point where they pretty much know that they’re already dead once he’s coming for them.
This list has been filled with films that boast a terrific supporting cast and this one probably has the best one yet, including names like Michael Nyqvist, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, David Patrick Kelly and my personal favorite, Big Sexy himself, Kevin Nash.
This movie was an incredibly pleasant surprise for me as well as an action packed thrill ride that left me wanting more. This movie could easily have topped the list in any other year, however, I still highly recommend it and am proud to give it the respectful number two spot.
Before we get to number one, here’s a few honorable mentions that just missed the cut.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The hardest movie to keep off my list and a very strong entry in Marvel’s incredibly popular cinematic universe.
Fury – A highly intense look at World War II tank warfare that proves that even without Quentin Tarantino in the director’s seat, Brad Pitt is still really good at killing “Nahzis.”
Into The Woods – A dark musical that examines the consequences of “happily ever after” for several classic fairy tales in which Meryl Streep steals the show.
X-Men: Days of Future Past – Hands down, my favorite X-Men movie to date that reignited my love of X-Men that was born in during the days of the 90’s animated series.
Gone Girl – An intense thriller for which Rosamund Pike more than earned her Oscar nomination that also gave us stellar out-of-their-comfort-zone performances from the likes of Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry.
And now, on to number 1.
*sigh* Like it was ever going to be anything else
- Guardians of the Galaxy
I think this movie was always going to be my number one. From the moment I first saw the trailer, this movie was destined to be my number one. It is extremely rare when a film with this much hype behind it not only lives up to that hype, but far surpasses it. This feels like a movie tailor-made for me. It’s a comic book film, it has quirky humor, great characters and most importantly, a kick ass soundtrack, but we’ll cover that in a little bit.
Chris Pratt, fresh of the huge success of the Lego movie, plays Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, a child of the ’80s who was abducted by aliens as a little kid and now travels the galaxy as a self-proclaimed legendary outlaw. In his travels, he comes across an item that of unimaginable power that is coveted by a fanatical war-monger.
Along the way, he picks up some colorful allies including Gamora, the green skinned femme fatale played by Zoe Saldana, Rocket, a talking Raccoon, technical genius who has a weird obsession with artificial limbs played by Bradley Cooper, Groot, a talking tree who’s vocabulistics are limited to “I” “Am” and “Groot”, exclusively in that order played by the Iron Giant himself, Vin Diesel, and finally, the biggest and most pleasant surprise for me, Drax, the ruthless warrior who’s as badass as he is literal played by former WWE superstar Dave Bautista, who despite being a boring and overrated crybaby in the wrestling world, manages to be one of the most fun parts of the movie. A little side note: Leading up to this film, Batista’s performance was my biggest concern about the film, being primarily familiar with his wrestling persona. However, when I saw the film, it hit me: who better to play a single-minded idiotic muscle-head than an actual single-minded idiotic muscle-head.
This film, of course is part of the incredibly popular Marvel Cinematic Universe and will more than likely be remembered alongside Avengers as one of the most popular. What I personally like about it’s popularity is that now, characters heretofore unknown to those who aren’t hardcore comic book readers like myself are now household names alongside Batman and Spider-Man.
And finally, I cannot discuss this film without discussing it’s phenomenal soundtrack. This film is loaded with classic hit songs from the 70’s and 809’s that had me grooving more than Get on Up and Jersey Boys combined. Even on the way to the theatre with my cousins we pumped ourselves up by listening to the films signature track “Hooked on a Feeling.” Awesome Mix Vol. 1 was so incredibly popular that kids who are usually the target demographic of Iggy Izalea and Jason Derulo started downloading songs from Marvin Gaye, Blue Swede and The Jackson 5.
There are simply not enough good things I can say about this film. I cannot remember the last time a film left me with such an overwhelming feeling of positivity, and for that reason, I cannot in good conscience give it any less than the number 1 spot.
And that’ll do it for my top 10 films of the past year. I hope you enjoyed it and saw a few of your favorites in the mix. Here’s hoping that this coming year will bring several more great films for next years list. Until then, keep your eyes on The Geek Initiative for more comic book reviews.