2014 at the movies: Favourites, surprises and disappointments

2014 at the movies: Ellen DeGeneres' Oscars selfie taken at the 2014 Academy Awards ceremony
2014: Also the year with the Oscars selfie, in case you forgot.

2014 has come to a close. It hasn’t been a very good year for Hollywood, with movie-going admissions at its lowest since 1995. No film that opened this year hit $400 million in the U.S., and the highest was only Guardians of the Galaxy, which earned US$332 million. (Soon to be overtaken by The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, but only slightly.) Which, if you compare to 2012’s The Avengers at US$623 million, and 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at US$424 million, is very poor showing.

That’s set to change this year, with two of the biggest money-making franchises releasing movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which topped Age of Ultron in a most-anticipated movies poll by Fandango. (Plus there’s Jurassic World, which looks forking awesome, and Furious 7 with Paul Walker’s last screen appearance, etc. etc.) And then the year after that, there’s Captain America: Civil War with RDJ working his magnetic draw as Iron Man, and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, so that should be another bonanza year for Hollywood.

Before we move on to 2015, let me do a roundup of last year’s films.

Favourite movie of the year

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2014 at the movies -- favourite movie: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Chris Evans as Cap in the elevator in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Disregarding the fact that I love Marvel movies, Chris Evans is really hot, and I want to marry Captain America, it is a well-made, gorgeously lit conspiracy thriller that offers a hearty dose of brainy suspense with kickass action while accentuating Cap’s beautiful, righteous, heroic mug at every turn.

Biggest surprises

The Lego Movie

2014 at the movies -- one of the biggest surprises: The Lego Movie
The main characters of The Lego Movie

This was a movie I scoffed at, all the way until reviews started pouring in. I generally don’t trust animated movies that aren’t made by Pixar, and the trailer looked SO SILLY. And then I watched the film, and was blown away by how clever, how tongue-in-cheek, and how unpandering to kids it was. The humour whizzes by, whether you catch it or miss it (unlike a certain movie series I can name *cough* Night at the Museum *cough* that takes a joke and tires it out long past the expiry date. “Oh look at me! I’m so funny! Or I was, until they kept harping on it!”). It catered to adults and their nostalgia for their childhood and was so unlike a commercial — which of course, made it the best commercial for LEGO it could ever be. (On the opposite end of the spectrum, see Transformers: Age of Extinction: a movie that revelled in its status as a 2h 45min long in-your-face commercial.)

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Guardians in Guardians of the Galaxy
The motley Guardians in Guardians of the Galaxy

The least conventional of Marvel’s superhero movies to come out surpassed all expectations to become the second-highest grossing movie of the year in the U.S. I for one didn’t know what to expect of a movie whose heroes are mostly aliens, two of which are a talking tree which only says three words, and a foul-mouthed raccoon. But they were hilarious and easy to root for, even if I don’t love them as much as the Avengers. (And honestly, at this point, people will watch *anything* by Marvel Studios, though as shown, it’s for good reason.)

John Wick

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick
Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick

What I thought would be a forgettable, B-grade run-of-the-mill action movie was a thoroughly entertaining, stylishly executed “shoot-em-up-and-leave-no-survivors” revenge flick that is SO FUN simply because the premise is ludicrous — “They killed his dog. Prepare to die.” And it’s Keanu Reeves back in top form since The Matrix. If you’re a fan of movies, you can’t *not* love it.


Exodus: Gods and Kings

One of the disappointments of 2014: Exodus: Gods and Kings
Joel Edgerton (Ramses), John Turturro (Seti) and Christian Bale (Moses) in Exodus: Gods and Kings

The more I think about Exodus, the more dissatisfied I feel with it. I found out that it got only 30% on Rotten Tomatoes, which puts it almost on par with Annie. A Christian Bale movie on the same level as a hokey movie about orphans? Who would have thought that possible? (Also, I love this quote by Christopher Orr for The Atlantic: “This is the first portrayal of God I’ve ever encountered who looked like he could use a good spanking.”)


The snowy barren planet on Interstellar where they meet Matt Damon's character

Well, it didn’t exactly “disappoint”, but with all the hype that it got, it didn’t meet my expectations. I still wonder why people are so enamoured with it. (Am delighted that since I last checked, Inception has overtaken Interstellar on IMDb’s Top 250 list, which is as it should be.) Maybe if I were a physicist, I would better appreciate the exactness of the science, and how everything is theoretically possible, but I’ve been living with other people’s realms of imaginations for so long that nothing fazes me anymore.

Plus, for a movie that focuses so much on the father-daughter relationship (he didn’t care about his son, apparently), the fact that they never saw each other face-to-face from the time she was nine until she was on her deathbed kind of took away some of the emotion for me. When Cooper was in space, all he wanted to do was go back to his daughter, but when he finally got back to her, it was such a short reunion and she gave him her blessing to leave her again and go look for Brand, since she had the rest of her family to keep her company now. How am I supposed to feel that this is satisfying?!

Things that made me mad

The fact that X-Men: Days of Future Past got a higher rating on IMDb than Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Younger Charles (James McAvoy) meets older Charles (Patrick Stewart) in X-Men: Days of Future Past
Younger Charles (James McAvoy) meets older Charles (Patrick Stewart) in X-Men: Days of Future Past

I liked Days of Future Past as much as the next guy, but Winter Soldier was clearly the better made and smarter film. Did no one else see Erik’s out-of-character behaviour for what it was?

And the film was so uneven! I adore James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence et al., but the “future” scenes were better done than the “past” scenes. I suspect that IMDb is slowly being overtaken by teenagers and fanboys who have no sense of what is actually “good” and just rate an undiscerning 10 for any popular movie of the moment which has been *hyped* to be “good”. GAH.

Things that didn’t make me mad as made me sad

Robin Williams’ death

Robin Williams and director Shawn Levy on the set of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Robin Williams and director Shawn Levy on the set of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb was juvenile and silly, and it didn’t know when to stop when it had a good joke, but watching Robin Williams in it felt like saying goodbye to a film icon so integral to my childhood.

Edge of Tomorrow’s poor box office

Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow
Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in the *way* underappreciated Edge of Tomorrow

It had great action, a kickass heroine, and spades of humour, and is one of Tom Cruise’s more enjoyable films outside of his Mission: Impossible franchise. And what do audiences do? Not watch it, since it earned a paltry US$100 million domestically against a US$178 million production budget. Way to reward a guy for making good movies! And people wonder why Hollywood rarely makes original movies anymore. Because they achieve shitty results even when those movies are great.

I could go on and on about last year’s movies, but I have to stop somewhere, else it’ll turn into a thesis that I don’t actually have time to write. Now that 2014’s done, I’ll see you at the movies this year!