The kids are back in school, the weather is cooling down, and studios are switching out all their fun blockbusters in favor of so-called Oscar bait.
Summer is all but over, so let's take a look back at this year's ensemble presented by the months that make all the money.
[This article recalls the 2014 Summer Movie Guide. Also, spoiler alert.]
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
What I Said: "Another Spidey flick with marked potential... which will allegedly do whatever 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man did for you."
What We Learned: The word that crossed the Atlantic - where it released over two weeks earlier - told that Amazing Spidey 2 was more of the same. Having seen the movie twice now, I can't disagree. Director Marc Webb's second entry continued the series' faithful exhibition of Spider-Man's playfulness, Peter Parker's heartbreak, and the villains' mediocrity. Thank goodness for the exceptional cast and everyone's commitment to historic plot points pulled from Marvel's comic.
What I Said: "At first glance, it doesn’t hold much promise.... However, the film could be carried by its reputably entertaining stars."
What We Learned: "The late Philip Seymour Hoffman has a couple more movies due to be released before we can finally draw the curtains on his career, which is just as well, because no actor deserves to go out on a film as bad as God's Pocket." - Eric Hillis, TheMovieWaffler
What I Said: "It looks like we’re in for a treat with Edwards’ not-so-low-budget take on one of the most classic of movie monsters."
What We Learned: I dislike painting with broad strokes and generalizations, but it was immediately clear that this Godzilla is one of those things that you either love or you hate. I loved Godzilla. It easily ranks among the most satisfying movie-going experiences this summer. Yes, the King of the Monsters himself had few moments that were far between; but that simply serves to make those sequences all the more rewarding.
Also, if anyone was handing out statues for this summer's slate of flicks, Bryan Cranston and Seamus McGarvey would take home the awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Achievement in Cinematography, respectively.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
What I Said: "Bryan Singer is steering the X-Men ship once again, and for that I am thankful. First Class was entertaining for a while, but Singer’s first two X-Men movies stand head and shoulders above every other entry in the franchise. The sheer number of characters involved worries me just a little though."
What We Learned: Many now regard Days of Future Past as one of the best Marvel's film stable has on offer, next to The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Setting aside my feelings about calling any of those the best of the bunch, I'd have to agree - I like Singer's latest at least as much, if not more than, The Avengers and This Whole Movie Is About Nick Fury Being Dead Oh Wait Just Kidding We Can't Kill Characters.
The cast was indeed so large that we didn't get to spend enough time with some characters, but ultimately Days of Future Past was a commendable effort at merging the two sets of X-Men films.
What I Said: "Angelina Jolie as Maleficent is just about as spot-on as casting can get."
What We Learned: Angelina Jolie was, in fact, the best thing about Maleficent. Granted, the only way that wasn't going to happen was if Sharlto Copley stole the show the way Sharlto Copley does (District 9, The A-Team, Elysium). His role was largely forgettable; the rest of the movie, meanwhile, offered little else besides unexpected [for some?] plot developments and, yes, Jolie commanding the screen the way few others can.
A Million Ways to Die in the West
What I Said: "It’s more of the same from Mr. Family Guy."
What We Learned: "Now if you have been living under a rock and know nothing about Seth MacFarlane’s previous work, this movie is riddled with jokes that span the whole offensive region. It also has some awesome and pretty gruesome death scenes.
It’s an enjoyable and funny movie, definitely worth a watch if you are a fan of Ted or Family Guy and can handle the humour." - Matthew Chapman
Edge of Tomorrow
What I Said: "Edge of Tomorrow reminds me a lot of Oblivion: there’s an abundance of potential, in this case thanks to Emily Blunt and a pretty good trailer, but the sight of Tom Cruise takes me right out of any movie."
What We Learned: "Seemingly coming out of nowhere to a landscape filled with characters we’ve gotten to know and sequels to past blockbusters, it carved its own mark on the indelible summer landscape. Anchored by a great turn for some guy called Tom Cruise, it shows that this is not your average sci-fi action flick and awaits your perceptions to be blown away." - Adlai Noonan
The Fault in Our Stars
What I Said: "The book is a well-told tale, and if director Josh Boone has done his job, there is a great chance you will cry more than you did while watching Toy Story 3. Didn't cry watching Toy Story 3? Neither did I, let's be friends."
What We Learned: Josh Boone did his job. People cried - I nearly cried! The entire cast, Shailene Woodley (continuing her upward trajectory), Ansel Elgort (wonderful in portraying a difficult character), Nat Wolff (bringing a sort of cool straight out of John Hughes' greats), Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe (ever reliable), everyone... knocked it out of the park. This TFiOS adaptation has me excited for Paper Towns, the next Hollywood take on a John Green book, and Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children, which appears to play host to another impressive turn by Mr. Elgort.
22 Jump Street
What I Said: "All of the key players from 21 Jump Street are back, along with a couple additional screenwriters, so you can probably expect more of the same."
What We Learned: "Everything which was successful with 21 Jump Street was transferred and reflected here, self-mockery, great writing, acting and overall comedy makes for a hard to hate comedy release which I couldn’t help but enjoy." - Liam Smith
How to Train Your Dragon 2
What I Said: "Something special is happening over at Dreamworks, and I can’t wait to continue the ride."
What We Learned: Something special IS happening over at Dreamworks, and I can't wait to continue the ride. My immediate reaction to Dragon 2 went something like 'holy hell, my goodness, they actually topped the first film.' In hindsight, that's remains the case, however... I worry that with repeated viewings HTTYD 2 will suffer for the same reasons I don't love the Toy Story sequels - too much of the same territory is tread.
Having said that, when you take each installment on its own, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is simply phenomenal. It's my favorite movie of the year so far, in fact. The visuals are outrageously stunning (this concept work will give you an idea), the characters and their relationships are wonderfully realized, and the risks taken in tackling seriously emotional beats continue to pay off.
Dean DeBlois, John Powell, and the whole team behind the Dragon films are well on their way to reaching peerless status. [Shout out to Chris Sanders for his contributions on Lilo & Stitch and the first Dragon.]
What I Said: "It has Christopher Walken, and I don’t think that’s ever a bad thing."
What We Learned: "I think Jersey Boys could have benefited from a bit more focus on Frankie Valli, he is the leader of the group but for a lot of this film it feels like he takes a supporting role to the rest of the group. The other three actors do an okay job and their surrounding by a fine supporting cast. Christopher Walken has a small role in the movie and it was nice to see a recognizable face in the midst of all these new ones." - James Porter
Transformers: Age of Extinction
What I Said: "Personally, I liked the Age of Extinction trailer well enough. I’ve got little reason to believe the full feature will be exceptionally different from its predecessors though. However, the new cast... is a step in the right direction."
What We Learned: No. The first trilogy had some action set pieces that amounted to not much more than appreciated eye candy, but even that element was absent from Age of Extinction. No. There's nothing here to justify watching AoE. Ugh. Don't.
Earth to Echo
What I Said: "Earth to Echo is a found footage film led by young ones - will the movie find a large enough audience not bothered by those aspects?"
What We Learned: "Earth to Echo, while I’ve given it a hard time, will most likely work for kids and young teens. It has some fun sci-fi elements and Echo is adorable, which is really all that matters right?" - JD Duran
Deliver Us from Evil
What I Said: "On one hand, it has Eric Bana. On the other... Olivia Munn and Joel McHale?"
What We Learned: "The further the story progresses, the more it begins to resemble a third rate episode of The X-Files, and the climax descends into a noisy and overly bombastic riff on every exorcism movie that came before.
Deliver Us From Evil purports to be inspired by a real-life cop/priest duo in the NYPD. That sounds like the basis for a very interesting movie, but this isn't it." - Eric Hillis, TheMovieWaffler
What I Said: "The trailer for this one reminds me of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which I loved. Another good sign is that Begin Again is written and directed by the guy who made the well-regarded music drama Once."
What We Learned: "How much you appreciate music will likely be the deciding factor when it comes to your enjoyment of Begin Again, as it's a romantic drama whose protagonists are in love, not with each other, but with the music they make together." - Eric Hillis, TheMovieWaffler
What I Said: "In a word? Ambitious. This is one of those movies whose trailers I don’t watch because I’m already sold on the project."
What We Learned: "There has never been anything quite like Boyhood. It's almost like a documentary because it feels completely real. The transformation of these people over the years is incredible to watch.
Nothing particularly exciting ever happens in Boyhood and that's why I love it. The family go through some very hard times but they aren't unlike what most families experience in the real world." - James Porter
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
What I Said: "2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes turned out better than I think most people expected it to. This time around, Dawn just might exceed expectations again, despite the bar now being set pretty high."
What We Learned: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes proved to be a more thought-provoking and beautiful movie than most folks counted on. Many people called it the new summer blockbuster to beat in 2014, even after X-Men: Days of Future Past had graced the local cinemas.
It's pretty startling what a talented director can do for iffy source material [helloooo Catching Fire]. Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Toby Kebbell, and a couple of underused talents in Keri Russell and Gary Oldman do great justice to a film that aspires to be more than its predecessors ever even hinted at being.
Also, that shot of Koba on the tank... goodness me.
What I Said: "It’s a comedy. Apparently."
What We Learned: "A comedy, which was executed poorly due to it's fail attempt at making drama in a bizarre situation." - Rhianna
Planes: Fire & Rescue
What I Said: "The sequel to a major motion picture that was originally meant to be merely a direct-to-DVD spin-off of two movies that not many people seem to like. Take whatever expectations you’d like out of that, if it even made any sense."
What We Learned: "...this isn’t a terrible movie, none of the Cars or Planes movies are bad enough for me to pull my hair out and go on an explosive rant, unlike other certain family films that I know of (Free Birds, The Smurfs, the Alvin and the Chipmunks Squeakquels)." - Nico Beland
Wish I Was Here
What I Said: "The film stars Braff as a 30-something father who learns things about himself as he takes a more direct approach in teaching his two kids about life. If nothing else, it will probably have an enjoyable soundtrack."
What We Learned: "Wish I Was Here is a good movie that has a lot to say. The messages do get muddled in characters that as a friend put it, are one minute the worst life has to offer yet are transformed by the end. There is a lot here and many of the answers are not satisfying completely, but the questions themselves are worth wrestling with." - Matthew Rushing
What I Said: "Poor title, but excellent promise. ...do yourself a favor and don’t watch any trailers."
What We Learned: No one published a written review of I Origins on Moviepilot. A shame, since I have heard good things and am still looking forward to watching it one day.
What I Said: "Another ambitious, expansive effort from the Wachowski siblings."
What We Learned: We learned that the movie is too ambitious and too expansive. The studio pushed Jupiter Ascending's US release date back to February 6, 2015.
What I Said: "Earlier this year, Renny Harlin and Kellan Lutz told The Legend of Hercules... with little success. Are Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson a more well-suited pair? Probably. Hercules might be a good bit of mindless fun."
What We Learned: "The man, the myth, the legend that is Hercules is told in a tale unlike anything you have seen really before, its not so much on the myth and mythology, than so much the man that lived who came from tragedy to be the true hero. Keeps you really guessing, but is still a fun ride and very enjoyable if you come in without high or demanding expectations of what you have seen before in the character." - Sam Leggett
Guardians of the Galaxy
What I Said: "It’s Marvel, a violent raccoon, a walking talking tree, and Chris Pratt. Sounds like a crowd pleaser of the highest order."
What We Learned: James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy went on to become a bigger critical and commercial success than Captain America: The “Best Marvel Movie Yet” Winter Soldier. That makes me so, so happy.
In the process of becoming this summer’s box office champion, Guardians climbed to the top of the charts twice - first on its opening weekend in early August, and again three (and four, and five…) weeks later, practically unchallenged by newer releases like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Expendables 3.
The MCU’s introduction of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot was gloriously confident (the excessively large title card still amuses me), endlessly entertaining, and a visual feast - and I can’t express how excited I am for the sequel to this adaptation.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
What I Said: "The TMNT by way of the Michael Bay machine."
What We Learned: "This film obviously has some terrible writing in it. I mean I know that the concept of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is just plain silly from head-to-toe, but at least it deserves a decent writing and logic to it.
But I will say this, the film has some pretty hardcore action scenes. The first couple of fights, the fight on the snow and even the The Amazing Spider-Man-esque climax, they all looked really awesome." - Jehu Calderon
Into the Storm
What I Said: "Ever wonder what it would look like if Twister was produced in this age of handheld cameras and excessive CGI? Into the Storm presents an answer."
What We Learned: "While the film is obviously very unrealistic, it is still a fun ride for those who can enjoy the visuals of the tornadoes and the destruction which they cause." - Nick Pell
What I Said: "Luc Besson aims to deliver a respectable action vehicle for leading-lady Scarlett Johansson."
What We Learned: "Lucy is an interesting film with a cool idea, nice visual effects and some decent action sequences. But in the end the film doesn’t ever get that exciting or capitalize on its fascinating premise." - Curt Headley
The Expendables 3
What I Said: "These sequels don’t need descriptions, do they? This franchise's third entry has fallen into the relatively inexperienced hands of director Patrick Hughes (Red Hill)."
What We Learned: "Expendables 3 delivers. It's just that simple. It delivers because it doesn't promise a twist ending, or that it will break new ground. It doesn't promise to be the best movie you've ever seen, or that anyone in it will win an academy award. Expendables 3 is an action film with legendary action stars. A movie with large explosions, even larger body counts, and testosterone to spare, and that's it." - James Weeks
What I Said: "Jeff Bridges’ passion project finally arrives. Based on a novel that predates the current dystopian Young Adult franchise obsession by almost twenty years, The Giver tells the tale of a teenager who learns of love and loss through memories transmitted to him by an elder they call... the Giver."
What We Learned: "Do you remember going to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in theaters for the first time? Remember how filled with glee you were when you finally got to see Hogwarts, exactly as you had imagined it? The thrill of seeing your imaginary world come to life is like no other. And The Giver did not give me that amazing thrill." - Maria Garcia
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
What I Said: "...it appears as if the Sin City sequel many of us have been clamoring for for years has finally arrived. Is it too late to reel in whatever fans the first film made? Counting myself as one of them, I’d say no."
What We Learned: I was very wrong. Apparently, A Dame to Kill For did in fact arrive too late. Nobody, not even little ol' "I can’t wait to feast my eyes on it" me, saw Sin City 2.
If I Stay
What I Said: "Chloë Grace Moretz looks to remind everyone that she’s one of the most talented and entertaining actors of her age."
What We Learned: "You don't connect with these characters, so their romance means nothing to you. Whether they get together, don't get together, you find yourself really not giving a damn, and instead wonder what this all has to do with her comatose body in the present day lying on the operating table." - Christina Tenisha
What I Said: Nothing interesting.
What We Learned: Well, "the film... was originally scheduled to be released on January 10, 2014 by Lions Gate Entertainment. On September 17, 2013, the film was pushed back from January 10, 2014, until August 29, 2014. Then in July 2014, its release would be pushed back again till November 7, 2014 for a limited release and will be giving a video-on-demand release the same day."
We wait patiently for sure-fire greats like The Boxtrolls (9/26), Gone Girl (10/3), Whiplash (10/10 limited release), Fury (10/17), Birdman (10/17 limited release), Nightcrawler (10/31), Interstellar (11/7), Big Hero 6 (11/7), Foxcatcher (11/14), Inherent Vice (12/12), and The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies (12/19)... among a few others.