We are quickly approaching the twilight of the summer season which will mean football, brisk temperatures and new seasonal beers to keep us warm. Before I enjoy all those things during THE best time of year, I thought I would look back on the films that defined my 2014 summer at the movies. Below are the films that stood out the most to me, be they positive or negative experiences.
Note that I have excluded films including Guardians of the Galaxy, Begin Again, X-Men: Days of Future Past and They Came Together. I fell down the middle when it came to these and chose to exclude them from this recap. Also, I consider summer movie season to be between May 1 and Labor Day weekend.
The Outstanding Indies
With an almost unanimously positive reception there isn’t much else to say I can say other than agree with them. Though the philosophic ramblings come off more as being from director Richard Linklater’s childhood than a new character, – these rants are to be expected in Linklater films – the performances, along with an appreciation for everyday life rather than plot makes it the film experience of the summer.
It’s the only time I shed a tear in the theater this year. Perhaps it’s because I’m from Chicago, perhaps it’s because I might not be writing this if it wasn’t for the subject but this isn’t just a gush fest for the movie-lover – though I could have watched an extra hour of that – it’s also about the man. Director Steve James makes this absolutely worth checking out.
Easily the most surprising of this bunch, this single-room – or car – that follows a contractor as he makes the 90 minute drive from London to the county to face consequences for a past discretion while speaking to his boss, wife and son. Tom Hardy gives a standout performance – if he didn’t, the film wouldn’t make it here.
The Explosive Blockbusters
This would have been a major blockbuster 10 or even five years ago. It stars the lead of the year’s highest-grossing film and a supporting cast that includes four Oscar nominees – two of which are winners – and takes place in one of those future-dystopia caste systems that are all the rage with the kids right now. The story that follows Curtis (Chris Evans) as he and the rest of the lowest-class passengers fight their way to the front of a train holding the last humans on earth may not be the most unique narrative but its one of the year’s best-executed. All is only reinforced by Tilda Swinton’s pitch perfect performance as the Thatcher-inspired Mason who is as funny as she is frightening. I won’t say any more at risk of giving it away but I can say this is the one to catch-up with at home.
Dawn of The Planet of The Apes
Where the original iteration of the franchise fell into slightly-hard core science fiction, relying heavily the on time travel, the newest version is a full-fledged, post-apocalyptic action story. All the praise given to Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell as the main apes Caesar and Koba is well deserved but director Matt Reeves deserves as much credit for taking the very human world of the previous film and making it believable and fantastic at the same time. With a plot that wears Shakespeare on its sleeve, this could have easily fallen into camp but thanks to him and the outstanding work by the special effects team at WETA Workshop, this is the the most adult blockbuster of the year.
Edge of Tomorrow
Before release, this was the most unlikely film of the summer to be worth anyone’s time. This Tom Cruise vehicle, directed by Doug Liman appeared dead-on-arrival. While the commonly used synopsis “Groundhog Day with guns and aliens,” isn’t as much an over-simplification as one would like, the film executes that plot in the best possible way. It draws on the video game technique of Live. Die. Repeat. – which also appears to be the new title – which makes it the first film to use the comparison as a positive, rather than a negative. Cruise is at the top of his action-game and Emily Blunt gives her character the strength few others could. While I am one of many who take issue with the ending, it’s a footnote in an otherwise satisfying call back to the pre-Marvel blockbuster.
Comedies, Few but Strong
A bigger risk after the first glance with Seth Rogen as the straight-man and Zach Efron as the villain who’s also a bit of a loser yet every risk pay off to make the best bro-comedy of the summer. A bro-comedy even when the central relationship is between Rogen’s character and his wife, played by Rose Byrne who fits well with the Apatow/Rogen crew. She’s as active in the film as any of the secondary characters to the point where she supplants James Franco as the third lead. While other comedies were content to rehash what we’ve seen before, Neighbors gave a new twist on the genre.
I was never the biggest fan of Jenny Slate but I was only familiar with her as Mona-Lisa Saperstein which she’s good as because the character is extremely grating. She couldn’t be more likeable playing Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern who has to face a new relationship and an unwanted pregnancy. While it wouldn’t be surprising if the character was based on Slate, she isn’t credited as a writer. That credit belongs solely to Gillian Robespierre who also directed the film and shows strong potential with her debut.
22 Jump Street
The best film in this category simply because I laughed enough to tell those who liked the first that it’s worth seeing. Though for every joke that hits, there are two more that fall flat. This is mainly due to the constant reminders that this is a sequel that serve more as justification for the film falling victim to the tropes of its brethren. Much of the film also relies on the “bromance-jokes” that were played out in every post-2009 comedy after I Love You, Man brought them to the mainstream. After the films first half, these jokes are played up to the edge of homophobia that made me question whether we should be laughing at them. I can, however, fully endorse Jillian Bell’s performance which steals every scene she’s in. It’s a shame that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller couldn’t deliver better when The Lego Movie remains one of my favorites of the year.
Last year, Pacifc Rim set the standard for the modern Kaiju movie so the OG Kaiju film should have refined it and by all accounts director Gareth Edwards was set to deliver, with a grown-up cast to boot. What we got instead was a film, focused on non-titular monsters that aren’t nearly as exciting or creatively designed and a bait and switch for a main character who perpetually sees something else on the horizon. The last 30 minutes are excellent but refusing to show the legendary monster for the film’s other 90 minutes, didn’t build up the reveal the way I assume it was meant to.
Amazing Spider-Man 2
I debated including the second film in Sony’s second run with the Spider-Man franchise as the first film didn’t leave me with much of an opinion. That being said, I thought it laid a solid-enough foundation and early images gave hints the sequel would draw from one of the comic’s iconic issues. While Andrew Garfield does a fine job, as does Emma Stone, the story is flimsy and everything outside their relationship exists to build the world for sequels and spin-offs rather than serve the characters.
What was your favorite movie of the summer? What disappointed you the most? What are you still looking forward to? Let me know in the comments. Also be sure to follow me on Twitter for my personal thoughts and musings. My videos are on my YouTube channel and you can keep up with the movies I’ve been watching over on Letterboxd. You can also shoot me an email at email@example.com.