Top Ten Movies of 2014

Oh heavens, these lists are complicated to make!

What makes the ranking is partly due to whether or not I think it’s a “good movie” and partly due to sheer enjoyment in the theater. So today, you’re getting a taste of the serious film critic and a bit of the fan-girl who walks out of the theater crowing, “That was AWEsome!”

1. The Skeleton Twins

I saw this movie for the first time last January at Sundance and was so impressed with the performances of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. The room was full of electricity and that experience was one of the best I had at the movies all year. A great dark comedy about family drama.

2. Gone Girl 

Another packed theater where the emotions of the whole audience were palpable. I already knew how the movie would end, but I was still riveted the whole way through. Rosamund Pike deserves an Oscar or at least a Golden Globe for her powerhouse performance as Amy Dunne.

3. Interstellar

One of the best original science fiction films in years. Stunningly beautiful cinematography and a real achievement for Nolan as a director. It’s not a perfect film by any means but it was one of the most compelling movies I saw all year.

4. Fury

This movie made me a David Ayers fan. I think for many moviegoers this film flew under the radar and didn’t get a ton of attention, but for me Fury was one of the most heart-wrenching, brutal, stirring, and honest films I saw in 2014. Or in any other year.

5. Birdman

Birdman is a movie that grew on me, to the point that a film I was kind of “meh” about when I first saw it is now on my top ten list. If you enjoy meta movies about the film industry, then here is a dark and quirky film for you to feast on. I’m hoping to see some statuettes given to the wonderful people who worked on this film during awards season: everything from sound design to editing to the acting was on point.

6. The Lego Movie

Because everything really is awesome, and you know it too! Such a fun movie to see in theaters. Or a fun movie to watch period. The obvious creativity coming from this film is what makes The Lego Movie so exciting, even months later.

7. X-Men Days of Future Past

This is one of those movies that makes the list because of the ecstatic experience I had in the theaters. The recent X-Men movies have been inventive and on point in a way that the genre needed. Plus for me as a fan, seeing one of my favorite lesser-known characters on the screen–Blink–was a big moment.

8. The Fault in Our Stars

Now I realize what I am about to type might be somewhat controversial (so don’t hate me): I liked the movie better than the book. So rare, but it does indeed happen! Plain and simple, the movie made me bawl and the book did not make me shed a single tear. The book is still wonderful, but for me the movie was just a better experience.

9. Snowpiercer

There’s just something gripping about this movie. Snowpiercer is at its best the first time you see it. Look too close and the flaws start to become more obvious than you’d like. But that first roaring experience trumps the later doubt.

10. The One I Love

If you are a fan of “The Twilight Zone”, The One I Love is a modern twist on those science fiction thrillers. Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss both give stellar performances that assert their range and capability as actors.

Honorable Mentions:

What If

An adorable romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan about the dynamics of a falling for someone when they’re already in a relationship. Quirky, relevant, and witty What If was one of the best romantic comedies I have seen in a long while.


Michael Fassbinder stars in this offbeat, trippy independent film about a musician who wears a paper mache head. Sounds weird and it is weird, but in the best way possible.

Well, there you have it, my best of list for films in 2014. Now I should also mention that I haven’t seen some of the stunners that are still making the rounds like Big Eyes, Into the Woods, or Wild. I’d like to see all these films and more, but I can’t judge what I haven’t seen yet.

What were some of your favorite films last year?

Thanks for popping in!

Mockingjay Part 1: A Rant With A Dash of Critique

I made a big mistake. I broke my own rules. I read the book first.

Finishing The Hunger Games trilogy was just too tempting. I read Mockingjay about three months ago and then saw the film the weekend it opened. I know the third book is a tad controversial for some readers because of how it ended the series, but I loved Mockingjay and could not wait for the movie to come out.

I won’t say I was disappointed in the movie, but perhaps I let my expectations get too high.

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For one thing, the movie started slow. At this point in the series, I am already invested in Katniss’ story but that does not mean I am willing to accept poor storytelling just to finish the series.

This is where reading the book first became a problem.

For the first half of the film, all I could see were missed opportunities. The novel takes time to build the tension between District 13’s President Coin and Katniss by showing the regimented nature of the District’s lifestyle. This tension is vital to the story. The pervasive schedule, the severe food rationing, and the methodical coldness of the underground fortress were lacking in the film. Most of these elements are not dealt with or discussed only in passing.

Katniss agrees to be the Mockingjay within fifteen–maybe twenty–minutes and for me that felt too soon. There needed to be more tension in so many of the relationships in The Mockingjay. There is tension between President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) but not enough for my liking, and I think that affects the dynamic of all the other interpersonal relationships in the movie.

For example, there is not enough push-and-pull between Katniss and Haymitch. When Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) first appears there are supposed to be rage there for Katniss, but nothing much happens. She’s supposed to hit him! Who doesn’t want to see Jennifer Lawrence sucker-punch Woody Harrelson, just for giggles?

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Another major problem for me was that there was not enough development between Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The whole series is bracketed by the choice between Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale. This first half of the story is where we are supposed to see Katniss and Gale connect further as well as experience that budding friction of their relationship. Gale’s willingness to drink the District 13 Kool Aid is downplayed in the film, as is his growing responsibility within the District. Katniss has a brief line expressing her distaste for Gale’s closeness with President Coin, but it does not lead to anything significant story-wise.

Other, smaller issues bothered me too. The bonding between Finnick (Sam Clafin)  and Katniss was less present, as was Finnick’s clear struggle to hold onto sanity. Though I absolutely adored Elizabeth Banks’ performance as Effie in this film, I think the scene from the book where Katniss discovers her prep team starved and covered in filth is a much more powerful narrative play. Also there was not enough Boggs in this movie, goshdarnit!

This, my friends, is why I try to read the book after seeing the movie.

One thing Mockingjay Part 1 did perfectly was Peeta. The interviews with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) are powerful and well-done, as is the character’s swift mental and physical decline. Two gold stars for Josh Hutcherson!

Another reason expectations were so high is because of the film’s phenomenal marketing campaign. Image respectfully borrowed from


Part of the reason I’m a tad bit disappointed is that Suzanne Collins is attached to the film and gets a writing credit. When a writer is attached to the project, I hope for a stronger adaptation. The other two screenwriters, Peter Craig and Danny Strong, are signed on to do Part 2 but have not been with the franchise previously. I’m hoping my issues with the narrative do not extend to Mockingjay Part 2.

On the other hand, there were some absolutely stunning moments that the film offered that could not be found in the book due to the novel’s first person point of view. I loved seeing more of the district’s perspective on the rebellion. The sequences in Districts 5 and 7 gave necessary depth to the rebellion. And Katniss’ singing of The Hanging Tree is beautifully realized–plaintive and poignant all at once. The scene where the citizens of District 5 march towards the dam singing that song gave me chills.

I might have purchased The Hanging Tree on iTunes and I might have been listening to it non-stop.

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Natalie Dormer as Cressida was also a brilliant casting choice. Cressida is an intriguing character in the novel and Dormer brings nuance to a character with little dialogue. Philip Seymour Hoffman continues to be the ideal Plutarch Heavensbee, though it is sad to see him on-screen now. Overall, there are some strong performances in The Mockingjay, my central issue is how the story itself is being handled.

Despite my problems with this film, I think The Mockingjay Part 1 does a great job of setting the audience up for Part 2. I think director, Francis Lawrence, ended the film in a smart way for maximum impact. I won’t say more than that because I have probably spoiled enough in my wee rant here.

My hope is that the second half of the story is better paced and takes the ample opportunities that Collins’ book provides.

As for The Mockingjay Part 1, I give it 3 Film Bubbles–Suitably Poppable. There may be problems with this movie but I still had a good time in the theater.

Thanks for popping in!


Movie Going: Brave

Brave (2012)

Rating: PG

My Going Rate: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes: 77% Fresh

I’m a huge Pixar fan. From their shorts to their feature length films, this is a studio you can bank on doing well at the movies. And their latest creation, Brave, has captured about $131.8 million dollars from the box office so far. Part of Pixar’s success is due to their traditional emphasis on story. Animation enhances Brave’s story rather than dominating it, and that is the genius of Pixar.

I was particularly excited to see this movie because it is Pixar’s first foray into having a female lead. Brave is a coming of age story that takes place in the Scottish highlands. Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a spirited princess with a mane of red-gold curls and a passion for archery. Her every move is guided by her mother, Queen Elinor, (Emma Thompson) who wants Merida to behave more like a lady. Much to Merida’s consternation, her parents arrange for a tournament where her hand in marriage is the prize.

*Spoilers Beyond This Point*

Merida believes she has found a loophole in the tournament when only the firstborns are allowed to compete, and she is allowed to choose the event that will win her hand. Naturally, she chooses archery, and enters the tournament herself as her father’s firstborn. Merida easily out-shoots the competition but her mother denies Merida’s victory. Mother and daughter fight, and Merida runs off into the woods. Following the will-o-the-wisps (humming, mystical blue lights that are supposed to lead you to your fate) Merida finds a witch’s cottage. The witch gives the young princess a spell to change her fate–to change her mother–in the form of a pastry.

And bippity-boppity-boo the Queen eats the pastry and…she turns in to a bear. A very prissy bear of grizzly proportions. Merida and her (pardon me) Mama Bear escape the castle with the help of her rambunctious triplet brothers. When they return to the cottage, the witch has disappeared but leaves Merida a message that the spell will be permanent after the second sunrise unless they can mend the bond torn by pride. What follows is a journey through the woods filled with mother bear-daughter bonding. Queen Elinor has to fight her increasingly bear dominated nature and Merida realizes how much her mother means to her. It’s a fight against time as they attempt to break the spell and fix their relationship.

As with all movies meant for kids, there are some overarching messages aimed at the audience. One of the trailer’s key phrases is “family is king”, and the idea rings true throughout. This may have been a movie better released before mother’s day because this is a definite mother-daughter movie. Brave also emphasizes following your heart and learning from the past, both ideas meant to inspire or encourage young audiences.

Brave is a movie that succeeds without many of the hallmarks of Disney/Pixar films. There is no discernible love interest, no Prince Charming for Merida to unwittingly fall for. At the close of the film, Merida is still firmly independent and resistant to suitors (perhaps a subtle hint that sixteen-year-olds don’t need to be in life or death love scenarios?). There is no real villain. The witch is eccentric and a bit cooky, but not menacing or malicious. Even the big scary bear (not the mother) gets a sense of redemption in the end. And there are a set of characters who don’t speak. The triplets giggle, scarf down food, and make a cacophony of other sounds but don’t actually talk. Pixar has proven they can pull off speechless characters with Wall-E and the opening sequence of Up, but it still impresses me that they can give such in-depth characterization without dialogue. With so much lacking from the traditional Disney/Pixar formula, it seems like Brave should be missing major story elements as well, but it isn’t. Brave is a fully realized film that Pixar will be happy to add to their successful ranks.

I gave Brave 3 and 1/2 stars because I enjoyed it, but I didn’t have the instant, deep emotional response I felt with Up or Finding Nemo. I would, however, still call Brave a good movie.