Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Best of Summer 2014, As Voted by Me.


     Best of lists are hard. 

Oh, worst of lists are easy. Basically I just think about the movies that made me want to get up and leave the theater, or bored me to the point that I didn’t want to watch a movie anymore.

It’s really easy to say what I liked. It’s even easier to say what I hated. But Best of lists… they’re really difficult to put together. Especially because, looking at my best of list, it really doesn’t match a lot of what the critics say. Not that I care much about critics, I’m going to like what I’m going to like, but when you start think about what makes something “best” how do you narrow it down? Do you look for actors you like? Do you look for great moments in cinema history? Or do you just think back to the movies you enjoyed. I’m not famous enough yet to be bribed into writing good reviews. 

I can remember one of my favorite websites, the AV Club, once gave a great review to A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas. Some people went nuts, but the guy who wrote it said that it delivered on all it’s promises, and he liked it. So with that in mind, I’m presenting my favorite movies… not because they matched some scale of “goodness” but because I liked them. They were my favorite movies this summer.

But first… 

There’s always a “but first” with me. That’s just how I roll. First, let’s talk about the ones that were just below what I decided my top five of the summer were going to be.  These didn’t make the list of my favorites, but they’re worth checking out.

Wish I Was Here. As I’ve mentioned, we’re all supposed to hate Zach Braff. I understand that, and I don’t care. But I didn’t see another movie this summer that managed to speak to me the same way as this one. It wasn’t the overlong music video, but it was about a man reconnecting with his family, his past, and his imagination, while following his dream. There were just a few things that made it hang just below my list, thought.

If I Stay/The Fault In Our Stars. I’m lumping these together. These show that you don’t have to add in a bunch of scenes or try to insult the intelligence of people who didn’t read the book… you present the story as it was written. A few things were changed, and Fault isn’t on my best of list because it managed to cut my favorite line from the book, and the scene in the Anne Frank house was a little too long and a little too… something. I can’t quite put my finger on it. However they were both pretty good movies that are good for a nice cry. I was particularly happy with the endings, which could have been changed for movie goers, but the filmmakers stuck to their guns. Especially Stay, which really could have been changed to bring more closure.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Perhaps one of the best stories about war and the people who want it that I’ve ever seen, but with apes. This one stuck with me for a little bit, because it was a great story about a leader who just wanted to save his people. When Oscar time comes, they’ll overlook this, and they’ll overlook Andy Serkis’ performance, and that’s a shame. 

Those are the four that are hanging out just below my top five, in no particular order. They’re ones you should check out if you enjoy movies. 

So, without further ado or gilding the lily, here are my top five movies of Summer 2014, starting with number five.

5. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. One of the things I measure in a movie is whether or not I wanted  it to end. As much as I wanted Transformers: Age of Extinction to end with the  fifteenth giant robot fight, I was actually a little sad when the credits came up on this one. Shot just as the first one in black and white with some coloring and the same noir feel, I just couldn’t leave the world that Frank Miller put into this. 

I never thought I’d enjoy spending so much time in a crime ridden city. I enjoyed all of the extra touches, I enjoyed the voice overs, and yes, I even enjoyed the cheesy dialogue.  This was an amazing film that I think will get overlooked because it did manage to bomb in the box office, and that’s sad. It really captured the look and the feel of the comics.

The performances were amazing. Noir acting takes a special kind of ability. Oh, you can do bad acting (Nicolas Cage) or do fantastic acting (Nicolas Cage, when he’s trying) but to get the noir acting down… to be bad but make it sound good… that’s tough. That’s some extra special Nicolas Cage acting right there. The tough thing about casting The titular Dame to kill for, Ava, is that you need someone who is believable enough, even in the noir setting, to pull off a character that people will… well, kill for. I wish I could say it more elegantly than that. But Eva Green manages to vamp it up in a way that spoke to old school black and white noir but still modern. 

Just… fantastic. I don’t know there’s another word for it. 

4. Let’s Be Cops. Enjoy this, Let’s Be Cops. I have a feeling that you’re going to be on exactly one best of list this year, but I’m honored that it’s mine.

So, why is Let’s Be Cops on here when I just went through a list of four perfectly good movies. Because it’s fun. Every summer there’s a comedy that comes out that everyone overlooks. Maybe because it doesn’t have the biggest names. Maybe it’s dumped later in August. Maybe It just doesn’t have the biggest advertising budget. Maybe it was pushed back from January and everyone assumes it’s going to be bad. Who knows. But that comedy holds a special place, because it’s just fun. 

Let’s Be Cops is on here because it wasn’t a big vehicle/comeback for Adam Sandler in his comedy days. It wasn’t sponsored by Apple and tried to reteam Jason Segal with Cameron Diaz. It didn’t spend it’s entire movie with one message, then pull back to another message that they thought you should know. It was fun. It was a buddy action comedy about two nothings that decide to masquerade as cops. They made stupid jokes. They realized they were doing something illegal. 

It was a fun movie. And sometimes, we’re so serious in our “fun” that we tend to forget that movies should be fun. I admire Let’s Be Cops and it’s makers for just coming up with a dumb premise and going with it, big time. Also, it had some fun action sequences, and a pretty decent story that got mixed up in the previews that just wanted to show the dumb fun they were going to be. The sad part is, this will be forgotten, when what we really need are more movies like this. Movies where the actors, writers, directors… all just have fun.

Plus, it probably has the best use of the song “Wrecking Ball” that I’ve ever seen. Almost one of the funniest movies of the summer, but sadly, lost out to my next pick.


3. 22 Jump Street. Reboots had no business being as good as 21 Jump Street. Sequels have no business being as good as 22 Jump Street, which isn’t so much a movie sequel about the two cops that supposedly look young, but a movie about sequels.

“Just do what you did last time” is the mantra for most of the movie. And the characters follow it, for the most part. But the real fun comes when they start to realize that they’re just doing everything they did last time, and start to do things differently. 

Plus, the fact that they went ahead and spoofed all of the other sequels at the end, complete with a “contract dispute” replacement from Seth Rogen made it all the funnier.

And, to be honest, I never had a harder time catching my breath in a theater because I was laughing so hard. The actors just seemed to nail every line, even if they thought it was stupid (or it was stupid), but they sold it. 

I also particularly enjoyed the roommate from hell. Jillan Bell stole the show from the leads, which isn’t an easy task when a scene features Channing Tatum high fiving a room full of police officers because Jonah Hill just had sex with Ice Cube’s daughter. He does so with gusto. A little too much gusto. 

I was afraid this movie wouldn’t be as good. Now I’m afraid because they spoofed sequels already, they may not make another.


2. Begin Again. This was a quiet movie. Quieter than I’d expect for a summer full of big releases, but I remember not really noticing when this came out. Even the movie itself is quiet at first, featuring an open mic night where no one really cares that Kiera Knightly is sining a heartfelt song about heartbreak, getting ready to go home.

Of course, it leads to the best scene of the summer, where we get to see the whole thing again through the eyes of a washed up producer who arranges the song in his head, adding drums, piano, and a lot of other instruments. 

This was another wow movie for me, thinking I could go in and see how Adam Levine could act, and how Kiera Knightly could sing. Turns out, both do pretty well, although they never do explain how Adam Levine doesn’t have a British accent despite meeting Kiera Knightly and James Corday in England. 

Moving on…

The best part about this movie is that it’s a love story. Not really between Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightly, but it’s a love story about music, and passion, and not giving up on what really matters. So many good performances. This was one of two movies that, had I not seen it’s last showing, I probably would have turned around and walked right back into the theater to watch it.

I also enjoyed the fact that despite the heavy themes, they managed to keep things funny, mostly with James Corday as the wacky sidekick, and Cee-Lo as… well, Cee-Lo. But they were never overused, and the main relationship: Mark Ruffalo and music, is never overshadowed at any point.

Plus, like my top movie this summer, it has a really good soundtrack. The premise of the movie is that they’re recording an album on the Streets of New York, and the soundtrack really plays into that. 

My number one pick of the summer is…


1.  Guardians of the Galaxy. If you can remember way back in the day, Disney came out with a movie called The Emperor’s New Groove. Originally it was called Empire of the Sun, a Prince and the Pauper type tale about a spoiled prince who learns to love with the help of several Sting Songs. It was supposed to be a sweeping epic, filled with drama, love, and all the Disney stuff we’ve come to know.

Then a bunch of animated movies like that flopped, so the writers, actors, and animators went back to the drawing board and said, “forget this. Let’s just do whatever we want.” They replaced Sting with Tom Jones, made the whole thing a wacky buddy comedy, and came up with what I think is one of the best Disney movies of all time. 

I imagine the writer’s room of Guardians of the Galaxy was a lot like that. After watching Iron Man 3 (Tony Stark with PTSD… somehow still less dark than Man of Steel, according to critics) and the thriller that was Captain America: Winter Soldier, they decided that… hey, let’s embrace the weirdness of the Marvel Universe that is Guardians of the Galaxy. 

The movie features, among other things, the half human half whatever Peter Quill, played by noted Parks and Recreation slacker, Chris Pratt. A raccoon that’s been genetically altered and despite the comedy shows more pathos in four seconds than in the entirety of Hercules. A giant tree, who’s death (Oh, you’ve all seen the Dancing Baby Groot clip. Don’t pretend you didn’t know this) actually brings sadness despite the fact that he technically only has the one line. A genetically engineered killer that… oh, forget it, she’s actually kind of cool. And a massive maniac played by a former WWE Champion.

Quick show of hands… how many people ever thought that three academy award nominees and one academy award winner would be in a movie with a talking space raccoon and a former WWE Champion? There should be zero, by the way. I should point out, a former WWE Champion that stole every scene he was in, and was one of the best things in the movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy was just fun. The first few moments that established it… Peter Quill being space abducted just after his mother dies of cancer was a little traumatic, but the movie quickly recovers by having Chris Pratt sing into a lizard microphone while he’s stealing this movie’s particular Macguffin. Yes, I know it’s an infinity stone that’s going to be very important to the next next Avengers movie (not the one coming up. That’s all Ultron.) 

Nothing ever seemed cheesy or forced. It held up well to the comic book, which as undergone a lot of changes. It was endlessly quotable, and had a million and a half easter eggs that brought me back to the theater twice. 

Plus, it was just good. You didn’t need to know a thing about the Guardians of the Galaxy, or any other Marvel movie for that matter, to simply enjoy the craziness. It was just different. I didn’t feel like I was watching the same blockbuster. Even with Captain America: Winter Soldier, which was a great movie, I still felt I was watching a superhero movie. Not a bad thing. But this is just so different. 

Plus… how could you not love dancing baby Groot?


That about wraps up this Best of edition of Bad Shakespeare, and our Summer 2014 movie coverage. Barring a robot uprising, I’ll be covering The Summer 2015 season, which is already shaping up quite nicely. 

If you enjoyed it, make sure you include your dancing baby Groot moments in the comments, or share us on Facebook. Tomorrow, we offer up our prayer to Tom Hanks for the Prestige/Horror movie season. 

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