So after scribing a list of the best movies I didn’t see there’s only one natural follow up – my favourite movies of the year! After all my quick-and-dirty defences of ranking and lists I’m totally going to cheat. It’s not that I couldn’t rank the films on my list, it’s that there’s no point. Really most of the movies on my list are pretty flawed in some way. Maybe some of the movies I missed would’ve helped with that, made for a better list. But because so many of these movies are great without being anything more than that it seems silly to rank them. Let’s do this!
Best Action Movie of the Year: The Raid 2
How can it get better than The Raid 2? A spectacular and diverse action movie that might even improve on the first one. Cars and crazy new characters and phenomenal and intense action sequences. There’s even some good theme/character stuff with the main character slowly increasing confusion over the moral framework of the groups he’s associated with. How corrupt are the police? Are some of these crooks redeemable? Nothing groundbreaking on that front but still thrilling.
Best American Action Movie: John Wick
Normally we wouldn’t even need this category. Most American action flicks are a sorry display. Lacklustre choreography, dumb plots, unintentionally goofy nonsense. There’s only so many ways to show two people shooting at each other. Until now. John Wick alleviates all of this by being one of the coolest action movies in years. It’s a lean, direct movie without an ounce of fat. Or thought behind the action. But it doesn’t matter because the movie is so fiercely awesome. This is where lists get tricky. Only so many ways to say “fucking awesome.”
Best Superhero Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy
Well duh doy. A great character driven burst of fun. When was the last time almost unknown characters took off to this degree? It’s a shining testament to the accomplishments of James Gunn and the cast of the film. The movie is a skillful exercise in character based humour that actually adds to and accentuates character development and exploration. We can argue over the logic as much as you want, but that character driven style alone merits recognition.
Best Abstract Pseudo Horror Movie: Borgman
Borgman is probably one of the better movies I saw this year. If this was a ranked list it might be number two. Or three. Definitely in the top three. Or Five. The eerie and deliberately obtuse movie has stayed with me in exactly the way I predicted. There are some seriously haunting images in that movie, and some clever themes about class and religion. The movie’s conspiracy is so far removed from the audience, so hidden, and so abstracted that it drenches the movie in the fear of the unknown. I still don’t know what’s going on, and it starts to consume me when I try to sort it out. I’ll have to approach it like Hotline Miami and really dive in there sometime.
Best Movie That Was Almost Great But Dicked the Ending: Edge of Tomorrow/Live.Die.Repeat
This movie. So great. So seriously great. Grim and compelling action. Great characters. Great eschewing of stifling three-act structure, hero’s journey, and the generalized approaches that tend to pop up and sink modern blockbusters. Every part of this movie is legitimately amazing and inspiring. But the end doesn’t make a lick of sense and that’s disappointing. I will still watch this movie a million times and recommend it to those that will listen, but always with the caveat “the end doesn’t make a lick of sense.” Still though, I wish this movie had made money. This team should’ve been rewarded. And then Shane Carruth should have explained time travel to them.
Best Bad Movie: Hercules
The more I think about Hercules the more I stand by it. Some of the editing is a little shitty (magically appearing bottomless pit anyone) and at times it kind of loses sight of its themes in favour of climactic action. That being said it has themes! Clumsy themes, but themes that still direct most of the plot choices! That’s more than Michael Bay has ever managed. Hell, if I’m being honest that’s more than John Wick has. Plus the Rock flips a horse upside down.
Best Crime Against the Concept of Cinema: Trans4mers: The Age of Extinction
The worst part of Trans4mers: Then there’s the fucking scene in the gas station. Mark Wahlberg confronts his daughter about her secret boyfriend. Turns out he’s not underage. He’s twenty and she’s seventeen. He fucking whips out a little cut-out of the Texas laws that declare their relationship legal and gives this prepared speech and it’s stomach-churning. It’s so wildly unneeded in the film. You can practically feel Michael Bay’s breath on your ear as he leans in to tell you about these laws he read about and how interesting they are. He probably says something really awful like “makes you reevaluate some things doesn’t it” before you sidle away from this clearly unpleasant man. Bay is clearly a scuzzy guy but this is next level, future court case debacle type stuff.
Best Flawed Movie I’ll Rewatch a Million Times (part one): Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I’m a Planet of the Apes convert. I love the franchise so much, and this summer’s entry was great.
Despite not having a franchise-shatteringly weird ending Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is far more deserving of the Apes title than Rise of the Planet of the Apes, or even Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The main thing that sets it apart from Rise is the fact that the apes are the film’s true main characters. Sure it’s not a Planet of the Apes movie without some wooden human characters, but it has some of most engaging ape characters yet. Certainly the most engaging ape characters not played by Roddy McDowall. It even has a more engaging secondary ape character than any other modern Apes movie.
Another element that clearly sets Dawn of the Planet of the Apes firmly in the category of “true Apes film” is the ending. In true Planet of the Apes fashion the movie has a bleak and devastating conclusion. It’s a pointed thematic barb wonderfully designed to catch in your brain, and it works as well as the best Ape endings. I would say it wasn’t as iconic as the original, but to be honest I’ve already quoted it a ton. Its clearly one of the more functional finales the Apes series has to offer.
Best Flawed Movie I’ll Rewatch a Million Times (part two): Godzilla
I’ve already written all I can about this movie.
Some people are claiming that Gareth Edwards waits too long to show you Godzilla. They tend to throw around terms like “manipulative” and “cheap.” These are probably the kind of people who find Jaws boring. They are not to be trusted. We exist right now in a cinematic landscape that thrives on spectacle, so much so that it’s killing spectacle. Spectacular visual effects are a dime a dozen. Audiences are becoming increasingly jaded and unaffected by massive, spectacular destruction and giant creatures and space battles and explosions. By reserving his dramatic images for later in the film, Edwards magnifies their effect exponentially. Sure he teases you ruthlessly, even the first clear shot of Godzilla (and that dramatic first roar) is immediately followed by a kaiju battle that happens on a TV screen…in the background…in grainy news footage. But because he teases you, the final fights are unbelievably climatic. They’re seriously “leap to your feet in excitement type stuff.” If there had been a plethora of kaiju on kaiju action before these fights, they just simply wouldn’t have the same effect.
Nothing in the film is cooler than that final fight. The scene is so wonderfully built up that the simple shot of the two monsters facing off across the city is fist-pumpingly exciting. The mere fact that we can suddenly see the entirety of these creatures sells the coming fight better than you could possibly believe. And then they start fighting. They fly and bite and grab each other, but that’s not what’s unexpected about it. What’s unexpected is that they move like men in suits. Godzilla clumsily grapples with the monsters like a wrestler. He kicks one in the head. And it looks like men in suits! I have absolutely no idea how this fight scene looked to people unfamiliar with kaiju films, and I can’t hear them over the sound of Godzilla throwing a MUTO through a building like he’s in a fucking wrestling ring. I guess the filmmakers looked at komodo dragons and bears for inspiration. They didn’t make Godzilla fight like an animal or monster though, they even did motion capture work to ensure the creatures looked right (Andy Serkis consulted, because of course he did). Guys, a massive summer blockbuster spent many many thousands of dollars making two clusters of pixels look like clumsy guys in suits. This is a good world we live in.
Best Movie That Slightly Misjudges Its Themes: Gone Girl
Gone Girl is meant to be a satire on marriage. But the power balance is off and it starts to read like a movie with a villain invented by Men’s Rights Activists. Which is shame because that’s not the intended effect and so much of the movie is amazing. Fischer always has trouble with themes.
Best Audacious Attempt: Noah
Noah is amazing. Tense, beautiful, philosophical. But just a little ragged around the edges to be my number one.
Best New Movie I Saw This Year: Grand Budapest Hotel
Great themes. Accomplishes everything it sets out to do. Amazing across the board.