Sunday, January 10, 2016

Standout Films of the Decade: 2014

WRITER'S NOTE: Though not the best year for box-office hits, this year was still, in some ways, exceptional, particularly for Marvel.

1. Unbroken
Powerful true story of Olympic gold medalist and war hero/survivor Louis Zamperini, chronicling five periods in his life, from youth, running, war service, 47 days aboard a raft, and finally his captivity in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. Brilliantly directed and executed by Angelina Jolie, this adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s (Seabiscuit) bestselling book shows the perseverance of a man who reminded himself (and the world), “If I can take it, I can make it.”

WRITER'S NOTE: The real Zamperini (pictured above, with Jolie) passed away five months before the film’s release.

2. The LEGO Movie
Probably the best movie of the year for everybody and anybody. Far exceeds the expectations of those who initially sneered at the idea of another cash-cow decision from Hollywood for a feature film based on toys (a la Transformers). Though CGI, the look and feel of the film very much mirrors old-school stop-motion, signifying the essence of the Danish company. And the story actually works, with “normal guy” Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) as the one “specially” chosen to save the Lego universe from being glued together by the maniacal Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell). Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who also made the entertaining Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) add clever gags, cameos, and fun to the mix. Like the film’s song, “everything is awesome!”

3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Those who thought Iron Man was an obscure-but-surprising Marvel hit back in 2008 get a pleasant surprise in this out-of-this-world action-romp about space criminals who form an unlikely alliance to stop a madman from galactic destruction. Funny, off-color, visceral, nostalgic (with its 70s-music soundtrack), impeccably cast (Chris Pratt is a breakout, supported by Zoe Saldana as lethal Gamora, Dave Bautista as vengeful Drax, and vocal efforts from Vin Deisel as tree-like Groot and Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon), and entertaining.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel Studios continues Phase Two in its “Cinematic Universe” as Steve Rogers (Captain America) struggles in the modern world, and has good reason for who to trust and who not to. What follows is a plot that drives more as an intense (and sometimes frightening) political thriller than a superhero adventure, allowing Marvel to stretch its legs into new territory a la The Dark Knight. Brilliant cast (including Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Redford), and explosive direction from brothers Anthony & Joe Russo.

5. Interstellar
Director Christopher Nolan's ambitious and intellectual science-fiction drama sends Matthew McConaughay and Anne Hathaway, leading a small team of astronauts, to the far reaches of space as they discover a wormhole that could lead to another world for the inhabitants of a dying earth. Epic in its scope and emotion, provocative in its subject matter, and mesmerizing altogether. Looks great in IMAX.

6. Still Alice
Julianne Moore gives a well-deserved performance in this moving drama of a college professor who contracts early Alzheimer's disease and slowly begins to deteriorate mentally. A painful yet loving portrait, written for the screen and directed by Wash Westmoreland and the late Richard Glatzer, based on Lisa Genova’s bestselling novel.

7. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Follow-up to the 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes picks up ten years later, as a pandemic has wiped out a majority of the human race (leaving a few survivors, led by Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman), and a tribe of intelligent chimpanzees (led by Caesar) roams the woods. Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In), Dawn is more than just a visual triumph. This film is a provocative, intense, and emotional story of interspecies communication and conflict. The always-incredible Andy Serkis (Caesar) makes another significant contribution to motion-capture technology as well as to cinema.

8. Big Hero 6 
The folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios follow their surprisingly-successful hits Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen with an obscure Marvel comic series, with the Mouse House’s own pizzazz thrown in. Blending the architecture of San Francisco and Tokyo, as well as presenting a colorful Avengers-for-teens team, Big Hero 6 features worthy morals that transcend mere-Disney magic. The result is a colorful, action-packed, entertaining, and emotional ride.

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