Summer 2014 has been a weak season for movies. But there have been some gems. In July, I got a Moviepass (more on that at the end of this article), which enabled me to watch a lot of movies this summer. So, without further adu, here is a list of the best movies of the summer, from worst to best. (Apologies to Boyhood and Snowpiercer, which never came to our area.)
31. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – I never watched Sin City until the day I watched this movie. I must admit, I didn’t like either movie, probably for the same reason I do not like or watch horror movies. It was just too dark. Furthermore, this sequel throws a major monkey wrench into the exquisitely crafted timeline of the first movie. It was as if the director said, “Hey, people love Jessica Alba, seeing Marv kill people, and Eva Green naked. Let’s just do that, and to heck with plot details.”
30. Sex Tape – Jason Segal strikes out, which I didn’t see coming. The concept seems to be right in his wheelhouse. The problem was that the movie was too raunchy to be wholesome comedy, but decided not to just jump both feet into raunchy comedy. It tries to be a sweet comedy about a couple in love, & it never succeeds.
29. Earth to Echo – My 8 year old cousin loved it, so it succeeds to reach its demographic. But this movie, sold as ET for a new generation, so very much is not ET. The comedy, drama, and aesthetics of this movie all cater to the under 13 age bracket. Furthermore, this movie should be shown in film school as a textbook case about why “found footage” style filmmaking is incredibly dumb, with painfully contrived dialogue designed only to drive the plot, scenes which are unnecessary if the found footage aspect is abandoned. (see Into the Storm, which employs a unique combination of “found footage” and conventional cinematography.)
28. Tammy – There were only 4 movies this summer that I have seen which didn’t like. Tammy is the best of that group. Much like Sex Tape, this movie tries to bridge the gap between raunch and wholesomeness. It fails. Melissa McCarthy is not her usual self in this movie. Instead of self-confident & outrageous, she is toned down, which doesn’t seem to work for her. The movie attempts to promote progressive ideals, but never actually ends up saying anything culturally progressive. But it was a funny movie, just not anywhere near The Heat.
27. Rio 2 – A fun family comedy, nowhere near worth the price of the ticket. This sequel feels unnecessary. It does bring an environmentalist message to the series, but that message fails to be strong enough to warrant a sequel. I guess it was nice to see both Blu & his human companion, Linda, find happy marriages, and the film is reasonably enjoyable.
26. Expendables 3 – Speaking of unnecessary sequels! To be fair, this movie is everything it is supposed to be: stuff blows up, bad people die, action happens, etc. It is an acceptably good popcorn flick. But if you’ve seen Expendables 2, then you’ve seen Expendables 3. The only differences are that the corny jokes are toned down, Barney inexplicably fires his friends to protect them (only to keep them onboard after the crisis is over), and there are more young faces. There, now you’ve basically seen Expendables 3.
25. A Most Wanted Man – The very opposite of Expendables 3. This movie sells itself as an action thriller, but with no action. It is a smart independent film, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a pretty great performance. But this movie is the epitome of why many people do not like indie films: there is no exposition whatsoever. You are thrown into the world of European counterterrorism without any explanation of where you are or what is happening. You have to pay attention to every single detail for over half the movie, lest you become lost. And like so many indie films, A Most Wanted Man leaves you with an unsatisfying ending. The message is profound, however: in our zeal to counter terror threats, we must remember that not all Muslims are terrorists, EVEN those who have been flagged by another nation’s intelligence agencies.
24. Planes: Fire & Rescue – This is the sequel to the spinoff from a sequel to a movie that probably wasn’t quite good enough to get a sequel in the first place. But as it turns out, Planes 2 might just be the best movie in the Cars series. It is certainly better than Planes.
23. The Hundred Foot Journey – This is the kind of movie that appeals to foodies, fans of French or Indian culture, or charming little fish-out-of-water stories. In short, this is not my kind of film. However, it is a great example of why a Moviepass card is so great. I would never have seen this movie, yet I found it charming, lighthearted, and pleasant. I also left the theater hungry!
22. If I Stay – Speaking of movies that are totally not my kind of movie. What is this movie? It is Twilight, without sparkly vampires, and the emotional drama is actually compelling. Since I am not a 17 year old girl, it wasn’t really my kind of movie, but somehow, I enjoyed it. Perhaps “enjoy” is too strong a word. Let’s say that I “appreciate” it as a higher quality addition to the growing YA book/movie scene.
21. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – This movie did not suck, which means that it exceeded my wildest imaginations. It was nice to see the Turtles do what they can do, without the restraints of giant rubber suits. Megan Fox, shockingly, wasn’t horrible (nor was she really all that great). To me, the worst part of the movie was the villain situation. Originally, William Fichtner was to be the Shredder. It was supposed to be a new take on the character: a rich, creepy, white business tycoon who secretly has an evil Iron Man-type monstrosity that makes him Shredder. They even gave the character the name of Eric Sachs, an Anglicized version of Shredder’s real name, Oroku Saki. However, fan reaction was swift, fierce, and rather justified. Michael Bay was whitewashing a great villain. So, rather awkwardly, a shadowy Japanese figure was added to the movie, but no character development was given to him. They also created something for Eric Sachs to do while the Turtles battled the evil Shredder. Unfortunately, that something to do was getting beat up by April O’Neal and a bumbling idiot, but they had to do something for that character, because he received all of the villain character development in the movie.
20. Lucy – I really wanted to like this movie, but I didn’t. The concept is flawed from the outset: humans don’t use only 10% of their brains; they only use 10% at a time. But to make it worse, as Lucy gains the use of previously untapped brain potential, she develops ridiculous superpowers instead of becoming, you know, smarter. The few scenes designed to show how smart she was becoming were poorly written and drenched with nonsense. In a way, Lucy mirrored the Matrix trilogy in that the first 3rd was epic and wonderful, the 2nd third was still cool but started to make me worried that the film was just going to be weird, and the last third was just weird.
19. Into the Storm - … which could have the alternate title: "a better Twister." The visual effects were great. But just like Man of Steel, it is apparent to me that those who live on the coasts or in England don’t really know much about tornados. People hide in school hallways, which are basically wind tunnels in tornados. Richard Armitage was dashing and heroic, but often slipped into an English accent. The amount and size of the tornados was unlikely, but acceptable for a movie. But the part that got me was that this tiny little Oklahoma town had a warehouse with several jumbo jets for the tornado to throw around. Apparently, people in Hollywood think that we have jumbo jets parked in warehouses in Midwestern towns with populations less than 10,000. All of that being said, I rather enjoyed this movie. It was a fun disaster movie. And every single one of us in the theater looked up at the sky as soon as we left the building!
18. How To Train Your Dragon 2 – This movie succeeds to expand the scope of the How To Train Your Dragon universe, but it doesn’t succeed to make a better movie. There is a lot in the movie about Hiccup’s parents that is intended to ramp up the emotions, but I actually thought the first movie had more heart. However, this was still an enjoyable movie. It is exactly what it tries to be: a fun movie for the whole family.
17. Transformers 4 – This movie is Transformers 3, but with Dinobots and Marky Mark, and without “I Am Not Famous Anymore,” whose absence is never addressed. But you get to watch giant robots fight. Just sit back and eat your popcorn.
16. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – There was a lot to like about this movie, but it ultimately fails to live up to its monumental potential. Paul Giamatti explains in the Blu-Ray Behind-the-Scenes feature that he is trying to channel the brutish bully of Rhino, a character that doesn’t bring brains into the equation. OK, granted, but the result was a caricature that any Russian should be offended by. The Electro visuals were occasionally wonderful, especially in the Time Square scene, but the movie takes up over 50% of the time setting up and playing out this showdown, which ends up being little more than the B story to Green Goblin. They should have just done the Green Goblin.
15. Let’s Be Cops – Quite funny, but nearly as funny as it could’ve been. The Other Guys eats this movie for breakfast.
14. Hercules – There are two different directions a filmmaker can take when doing a sword-and-sandal film: (1) Remove and explain away all the mythological elements, like Troy, or (2) Just embrace Greek mythology head on, like 300 or Immortals. The previews seemed to sell Hercules as the latter, but in fact, explaining away the Hercules myth was a major part of the plot. In retrospect, I think the movie would have been better if it had been Hercules and his twelve mythological Labors. As it is, Hercules is a fun popcorn film, nothing more.
13. Get On Up – Great music, and great acting by Chadwick Boseman. I also liked much of the style of the film, jumping around in time a little bit, throwing in some 4th-wall-breaking dialogue. It seemed to echo James Brown’s musical style. My only complaint is that every rock biopic seems the same to me. Ray, Walk the Line, Get on Up = Extraordinary talent gets recognized, the new star flourishes, fame gets the best of the star, self-destructive choices are made, a modicum of redemption is achieved in the end.
12. The Giver – One of the better YA adaptations that I have seen. Jeff Bridges is pretty great, and the young actors are wonderful. Stylistic and color choices make for a unique film. The value of human life and of liberty are paramount in this story. My only complaint is that the main character’s journey and the heartlessness of the community are solved in an unexplained & totally Deus ex Machina way. The movie was a realistic drama that ended as a fantasy.
11. Edge of Tomorrow – Totally underrated. The concept was superb. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt had excellent chemistry, which kind of surprised me. The movie was visually stunning, the setting was a gripping combination of late World War II and modern (plus future) technology. This is a great summer movie.
10. Maleficent – Though this movie totally changes the Sleeping Beauty mythos, it is an excellent tale of betrayal, vengeance, and ultimately, redemption. Angelina Jolie was excellent in this film. It was also visually epic, like Avatar, but fantasy instead of sci-fi.
9. 22 Jump Street – Turning 21 Jump Street into a comedy was a brave choice that totally paid off. 21 Jump Street lampooned remakes and the buddy cop movie. There’s no way the sequel could recapture that magic, right? Wrong. 22 Jump Street was incredibly funny. In the same way 21 Jump Street spoofed remakes, 22 Jump Street spoofs Hollywood sequel culture. Nothing is sacred. The movie makes fun of the ages of the leads, recasting, the fact that sequels often have the same plot of the first movie, throwing unnecessary amounts of money into making everything sleek, etc.
8. November Man – I just saw this yesterday, so it is hard to judge it objectively. The movie felt like James Bond in a Bourne movie, which is itself a really great idea. The twist (i.e. what the Russian politician did that is so bad) is believable, and would constitute a serious scandal. Unfortunately, the twist of “Oh! It was that character all along!?” was just a wee bit too obvious. My fear is that the movie, while an enjoyable spy thriller, may be a bit too forgettable. Indeed, I rather enjoyed Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit when I first saw it, but several months later, I never think of it as a great movie. This might be the same situation.
7. Godzilla – The plot is pretty weak, but it doesn’t need to be heavy. In fact, in a movie about giant monsters fighting, plot can get in the way. The entire movie is worth watching just to see Godzilla unleash his dragonfire for the first time.
6. When the Game Stands Tall – This is one of the most realistic portrayals of high school athletics that you will see on film. The actors cast as high school football players actually look like high school football players. Jim Caviezel portrays an almost boring high school coach. The media attention on such a winning program and the jealousy of other teams in the league are all very realistic. The movie doesn’t play with the timeline in order to make all plot threads culminate at one time. It is for this reason that When the Game Stands Tall is one of my favorite sports movies.
5. Ghostbusters – Can you believe Ghostbusters is back in theaters!!! Awesome!
4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – This is a great movie. Because of the nature of the storyline, Dawn is actually a totally different movie from Rise. Where Rise is a bioethics thriller, Dawn is a post-apocalyptic struggle. It bothers me a little bit that Commissioner Gordon has a cameo (Gary Oldman’s character in this movie is almost carbon copy of his character in The Dark Knight). I am intrigued to see how many prequels they are planning to do, however, as there is still a LOT of story left to tell until we get to Planet of the Apes.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel holds the top 3 spots, and each movie could be 1a, 1b, & 1c. Guardians is a monumental achievement, in that many comic book fans had never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy. None of the characters in this film (except Thanos) are major players in the Marvel universe. (Lately, Marvel has been emphasizing Guardians a lot more. It is probably in the hope that Guardians becomes the new Fantastic Four, whose movie rights belong to FOX.) Stylistically, GotG is more of a comedy than anything. It is the gem of the late summer cinema.
2. X-Men: Days of Future Past – If Guardians of the Galaxy was the late summer gem, X-Men: Days of Future Past was the gem of the early summer cinema. Bryan Singer successfully merged the old X-Men franchise with the new X-Men franchise and managed to draw first blood from Avengers 2 by producing a wonderful Quicksilver scene. This is the best X-movie, and that is saying a lot.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – OK, so April 4th isn’t summer. (I was in The Philippines, and got to see it in March!) But this movie was so good that it is the honorary first summer movie of 2014. The only weakness is its willful acceptance of ridiculous conspiracy theories as a legitimate storytelling device (somewhere, Oliver Stone is smiling). As with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, this is the rare sequel that successfully flips genres, from historically-shaky period piece action to political thriller action. This is also the rare sequel that is better than its predecessor. Furthermore, two black heroes got legitimate screen time, and looked dang cool. Black Widow got to stretch her character even more. Great villains, pacing, etc. I cannot WAIT for Avengers: Age of Ultron!
This rest of this article is a shameless advertisement for Moviepass.
I love movies. But let’s face it, going to the theaters can get expensive. It is not unheard of for standard tickets to be in the $13 range, and 3D tickets to be north of $20. Even if you go early in the day to matinée showings, it could cost you $7 or so. The solutions: (1) Just rent the movies, but true movie lovers know that that is just not the same. (2) Just go to a few movies a year. (3) Moviepass.
For $30 a month (plus an extra $30 at startup), you can watch unlimited movies in theaters. There are some fairly reasonable restrictions:
1. As of right now, the system only works for 2D movies. Supposedly, they are trying to work it out for 3D, where you pay the upcharge, but Moviepass is currently 2D only.
2. You can only see a movie once. This restriction actually bummed me out a bit. I was going to see Guardians of the Galaxy 10 times! But actually using the card shows me that this is a blessing, because I am branching out & watching other movies, often movies I would never watch in theaters. Now, obviously, you can see a movie as many times in theaters as you want (I watched Guardians & Dawn of the Planet of the Apes twice), but only one viewing is paid for by Moviepass.
3. You can only watch one movie per 24 hour period. This causes you to check showtimes a few days in advance. If you watch Action Movie at 3 PM on Friday, you will have to wait until 3:01PM on Saturday to watch Romantic Comedy. Nevertheless, with good planning, you can realistically see 12-20 movies a month! I’ve had my Moviepass card for exactly 2 months, during which, I watched 27 of the movies on this list.
4. You have to have a smartphone, and you have to “check-in” within a football field’s length of the theater. This keeps you from just giving your card to friends to use. If you do that, you’d have to give them your phone, too.
Also, every time you add a person, you get $10 added to your account. Anyone who is interested, email me at [email protected] with an obvious title like "I'M INTERESTED IN MOVIEPASS, BRO!" and I will set you up. Check it out, and if it is something you wanna try, do me a solid & let me refer you.
In a typical summer, I will watch 5 movies. But thanks to Moviepass, I saw over 30!