2014 Mid-Year Recap

Hello, readers. We’re halfway through film year 2014, so I’m gonna do a quick rundown of what’s worth seeing that’s still in theaters or available to rent, as well as the top 5 best and worst films of the year up to this point.

So far, 2014’s had its fair share of disappointments with The Monuments Men, Divergent, Transcendence, Neighbors, Godzilla, Maleficent, A Million Ways to Die in the West, and Jersey Boys all not turning out to be as good as I was hoping, especially considering the talent both behind and in front of the camera those films all had. For a while, animated films have mostly been a letdown, with the exception of The Lego Movie, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 has joined The Lego Movie to balance the good with bad more. Comedies have also been a big letdown this year, but we still have Tammy (Melissa McCarthy) and Sex Tape (Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel) due out this July, so hopefully that changes.

That said, it’s been a great year so far for independent films with Blue Ruin, Joe, Under the Skin, Hellion and The Rover offering some breakthroughs in both acting and filmmaking, with also some standout performances from Nicolas Cage (Joe), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Aaron Paul (Hellion) and Robert Pattinson (The Rover).

Having gotten that out of the way, here’s what’s worth your time so far.

In theaters:
Edge of Tomorrow (A, ★★★½)
Action/Science-Fiction: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive material

X-Men: Days of Future Past (A, ★★★½)
Action/Comic Book/Science-Fiction: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language

How to Train Your Dragon 2(A-, ★★★½)
Animated/Family/Fantasy: Rated PG for adventure action and some mild rude humor

The Fault in Our Stars(A-, ★★★½)
Comedy/Drama/Romance: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language

The Rover (B+, ★★★)
Thriller: Rated R for language and some bloody violence

Chef(B+, ★★★)
Comedy/Drama: Rated R for language, including some suggestive references

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (B, ★★★)
Action/Comic Book/Science-Fiction: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence

Available to Rent:
The Grand Budapest Hotel (A+, ★★★★)
Comedy/Mystery: Rated R language, some sexual content and violence

The Lego Movie(A, ★★★½)
Action/Animated/Family: Rated PG for action and crude humor

Labor Day (A-, ★★★½)
Drama: Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief violence and sexuality

300: Rise of an Empire(B+, ★★★)
Action/Fantasy: Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language

Gimme Shelter (B+, ★★★)
Drama: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence and language – all concerning teens

Non-Stop(B, ★★★)
Action/Thriller: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references

About Last Night (B, ★★★)
Comedy/Romance: Rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use

Okay, here you go. Top 5 worst of 2014 so far will be first, followed by the top 5 best.

Top 5 Worst Films of 2014:
5) The Legend of Hercules (D-, ½★)
At least Kellan Lutz has The Expendables 3 to look forward to this year. The effects are cheesy, the romantic angle’s laughable, no one can act their way out of a paper bag, and the villain chews the scenery with a gnashing of teeth style delivery that had me wondering if he was passing a kidney stone. Somewhere Dwayne Johnson and Brett Ratner are high-fiving each other.

4) Sabotage (D-, ½★)
Arnold’s still gonna have to wait for the post-politics comeback he’s hoping to get.
Sabotage tries desperately to be the gritty, brutal “whodunit” thriller it wants to be, but if anyone out of Schwarzenegger’s crew here doesn’t pass for dumb, then they’re an insufferable, unlikeable psychopath. The sloppy direction and poor writing doesn’t help, but overall it’s hard for me to care about who the killer is when I’m pulling for everyone to get killed.

3) Walk of Shame (D-, ½★)
Even someone as beautiful, likeable and charming as Elizabeth Banks is capable of annoying the hell out of you. Then again, who doesn’t like sitting through 90 minutes of the same “She’s wearing a tight dress, so she must be a hooker” joke over and over again. Unlike other critics, I don’t find the joke offensive. It’s just unfunny and nonsensical. This film’s biggest crime, though, is after throwing slut joke after slut joke at us, we get the obligatory hypocritical lecture about how we’re wrong for laughing at those jokes.

2) A Haunted House 2 (F, 0 stars)
Okay, this is too easy. If you’re a fan of poop jokes, crotch kicks, punches to the face and Marlon Wayans going to town on a ventriloquist dummy in every imaginable position, then good for you. You’ll love this film. What else is there to say?

1) The Other Woman (F, 0 stars)
I ain’t hopping on the “we need more films about female empowerment” bandwagon anytime soon, but if you’re gonna give me that film, at least give me three female characters that aren’t dumb asses void of any wit, charm or intelligence. Then again, in the spirit of equality, everyone in this film is void of any wit, charm or intelligence. If there’s any credit I can remotely give to anyone involved in this steaming pile of crap, it’s writer Melissa Stack and the casting department for assessing the amount of acting talent within Kate Upton and giving her the character with the least amount of lines.

Top 5 Best Films of 2014
5) Joe (A, ★★★½)
Director David Gordon Green returns to his indie film roots and Nicolas Cage gives easily his best performance in well over a decade in this dark, brooding coming-of-age story. Sheridan delivers another fine turn in a role similar to his breakthrough in 2013’s Mud, but the real standout here is the late Gary Poulter as Sheridan’s despicable, abusive, and alcoholic father. Poulter was homeless at the time he was cast. It was quite a risk for Green and his casting crew to take, but kudos to them for taking a risk that worked like a charm.

4) Blue Ruin (A, ★★★½)
Influenced by the likes of the Coen brothers, with a dash of Tarantino in the mix, Jeremy Saulnier’s feature-length debut is a smartly written, stripped down revenge tale that excels in creating heart-pounding suspense when it’s at its quietest. Saulnier’s childhood pal Macon Blair delivers a restrained yet haunting lead performance, and keep an eye out for two strong supporting turns from Devin Ratray (Buzz from Home Alone) and Eve Plumb (Jan from The Brady Bunch).

3) The Lego Movie (A, ★★★½)
In the midst of all the crap that came out of January and February, this witty animated film stood tall amongst them all. What I was expecting to be one 100 minute long toy commercial, turned out to be the top contender for Best Animated Feature at next year’s Oscars. co-writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller score with every fast-paced joke that references everything from Batman, Star Wars to pretty much every single other Lego theme possible. Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman headline the perfectly cast voice-talent. Kids will love and their parents will get a kick out of it just as much.

2) The Grand Budapest Hotel (A+, ★★★★)
Featuring an all-star cast of Wes Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe, writer/director Wes Anderson delivers another dose of his trademark visual style and dry, screwball wit in this superbly crafted crime-comedy. For being mostly known for his intense, dramatic roles, Ralph Fiennes doesn’t get enough credit for his comic touch. He gives one of the best lead performances I’ve seen this year. It should even merit Best Actor consideration, the only thing preventing it is loss of momentum from being released early on in the year.

1) Under the Skin (A+, ★★★★)
This is the slow burn of all slow burns for 2014, but no film was as mesmerizing or effectively unnerving as Jonathan Glazer’s first film in ten years. This is a quiet sci-fi film that’s slow-paced and yet never loses the viewer’s attention. Scarlett Johannson was never known for being an expressive actress, but she uses what some might deem a criticism to her advantage here, giving one of her best, if not the best performance of her career. It’s certainly her most daring. Between Johannson, Glazer’s confident, uncompromising direction and the immaculate technical work from Glazer’s crew, it should be no surprise that this is my top pick for best of the year so far.

Well, there you have it. That’s my recap for the first half of 2014. The year’s had some disappointments, but here’s hoping the remainder of the year finishes out strong.

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