As someone who was born in the 90’s, I have been part of the generation that has been inundated with nostalgia. The majority of our pop culture is not looking to the future for the next big thing, but rather it is looking to the past. Whether it be music, video games or film, everybody wants to revisit where we have been before. Some of the most popular bands today have found their sound in playing a simpler music from the 70’s. Certain video game developers are dead set on rehashing their tried and true franchises rather than blaze ahead. The film industry is no different, name recognition is everything.
This may seem like an overtly negative post, that was not my intention. As I looked back on summer 2014 I was reminded of two things. Our current Hollywood system is desperate for franchises and name recognition. Every film on the summer’s Top 10 box office chart is based on some pre-existing property. This does not have to mean the summer gave us bad films. On the contrary, I feel as though Summer 2014 was one of the best summers we have ever had. Even though every entry on this post is an adaptation of some kind, we were shown that there is some real talent working today. Between the writing, directing and acting, blockbuster cinema is alive and well and Summer 2014 has shown us that blockbusters can surpass the expectations given to it by its release date.
Below are my five favorite films from this summer. To avoid the temptation of ranking the films before the end of the year, let’s take a look at them in alphabetical order.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I wrote a lot about the Apes Franchise this summer. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was my favorite movie of 2011, and its sequel did not fail to deliver. Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a smart science fiction film (a theme seen on this list as a whole) that follows the journey of the ape Caesar’s rise to power. Caesar is brought to life by the amazing performance-capture by Andy Serkis, and his journey is so powerful thanks to the screenplay and Reeves’ direction.
Though Dawn of Apes features some amazing action spectacle, it has stuck with me this summer thanks to its emotional performances and the themes it explores. I’m not usually one to pick up on themes, but I was drawn into Dawn of Apes’ (especially when reflecting upon it after the fact) exploration of family, leadership, and war. The contrast between humans and apes in this film is such great storytelling as there are parallels between both societies that can be seen in our world today. The film does not feature black and white conflict, and that is what is so rich about the film. The film can be summed up in its most beautiful scene. A lesser film would relish in the opportunity to show apes taking over a human city, Reeves plays this section of the film very dramatically and confronts the audience with the horrors of war. Never did I expect this from a series of movies featuring apes shooting machine guns (while riding horses).
Edge of Tomorrow
As far as surpassing expectations, Edge of Tomorrow takes the cake. The film was plagued with a horrible marketing campaign, even leading Warner Brothers attempting to try and rename the film after it was released. Sadly, the film did not make much at the box office, but don’t let that dissuade you from seeing it. Edge of Tomorrow is a powerhouse of blockbuster filmmaking and it is not to be missed.
Although it is based on a book, for all intents and purposes this is an orignial sci-fi film featuring a world invaded by aliens and some great movie science mumbo jumbo that gives us the ultimate premise: Tom Cruise dying over and over again. The film is not focused on why the aliens have invaded. It’s already happened, they are here, and they are winning. Our unlikely hero William Cage (Tom Cruise) is forced into combat and has been given the ability/curse of reliving the same day over and over. This gives the film real momentum. Not only are we learning the ins and outs of the aliens and the war, but we get to go on Cage’s journey of learning his time-traveling abilities. The film moves forward with great momentum, features great performences by Crusie and Emily Blunt, and includes some amazing scenes of bombastic action as well as closed-quarter combat. Orignial premise, big action, sci-fi world, AND (surprisingly) a good amount of humor, Edge of Tomorrow is a thrilling experience and we need more films like it.
Wow. That is all one can say after viewing a film like Snowpiercer. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, let me recap the history for you. Snowpiercer marks the english debut of Korean director Joon-ho Bong and the film stars Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton and many others. There was a lot of news about the film in regards to how it was going to be edited from its original version, but we were delivered the original cut the director made. The film is the story of Curtis, who lives in the lower-class of a train that holds the only survivors of the world after a disaster. The train is divided up into sections, seperating the people into various classes, the train cart that Curtis belongs to is the lowest of the low, and they are going to change that.
Snowpiercer is a film that is as much about spectacle as it is about exposing the prejudices in our world today. As Curtis and his crew journey from one train cart to the next, they are moving through the various classes and the film displays some smart thematic material about the world we live in. I don’t want to comment too much on the film’s deeper elements, as the film is just as successful as an extremely smart action movie. The film creates a world that is dark and gritty, you feel the depravity of the situation. There are good guys and bad guys, and you care about our protagonists. This leads to some of the most thrilling and tense actions scenes released this year. The film was released on the VOD Market weeks after its release, so I was able to watch it in my living room vs. the theater. Although I would have preferred to see it in a theater, the film is so well made I was sucked in from the opening minutes and went on the journey Joon-ho Bong wanted to take me on.
22 Jump Street
With all this talk of science-gone-wrong leading to the end of the world, how about a movie that is the comedy sequel to an R-rated reboot of an 80’s tv show. 22 Jump Street is a winner in every sense of the word, and is also a peculiar piece of meta-filmmaking. The film is both a ripoff and original at the same time. Like The Hangover Part II it pretty much follows the same plot of its predecessor. Unlike The Hangover franchise, 22 Jump Street is fully aware of its repeating story and goes through the motions on purpose.
Just like in my review, I don’t want to get caught up in the meta element of the film. Instead, lets stay focused on just how successful 22 Jump Street is. It is so much fun, featuring really inventive comedic direction from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, amazing chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum and tons of laughs. Seriously, in the midst of this meta film about a bromance, there are so many jokes that it demands repeat viewings to experience them all.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
In my opening paragraph it may have seemed like I was going to say the 2014 has shown us the worst when it comes to franchise fatigue. While some movies this year may prove that true (Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Amazing Spider-Man 2), X-Men: Days of Future Past defies all expectations and not only becomes the best X-Men film, but what I think is the best film of the summer.
The film was released at the end of May and was sandwiched between other great films like Godzilla, 22 Jump Street, Edge of Tomorrow and How to Train Your Dragon 2. It was a great couple weeks for film-lovers, but there was too much going on for you to properly appreciate a film on its own. I knew I liked Days of Future Past when I first saw it, but it wasn’t until a second viewing months later that I would fall in love with the film.
Though it may technically be a “superhero” movie, Days of Future Past is an extremely well-written and well-directed character-driven piece of science fiction filmmaking. Bryan Singer directs these movies with such gravitas, you feel the weight of the world and the characters, yet there is also breathing room and some great comedic moments. Although Wolverine may be guiding the audience through the narrative, the film is about Charles Xavier, Mystique and Magneto. These three characters are still growing and their journeys are so rich and filled with emotion, the film rewards the viewer for getting invested. Expect a review to come soon, but for the time being, just know that X-Men:Days of Future Past is extremely satisfying and is not to be missed.
There you have it, my five favorite films from Summer 2014. I had to limit myself to just five due to the fact that there were so many good films released this summer. I could have easily done a top 10 for this summer, AND I haven’t even seen everything that I want to from this summer (I really need to see Boyhood before the end of the year). Looking onward to the rest of the year and we see that we pretty much get a break for September, but then we jump full steam ahead into the prestigious Fall movie season.
What were some of your favorite movies released this summer? Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments below!
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