I didn’t make it to the movies nearly as often this year as I have in the past, time was more of a crunch and frankly, there was so much good television available. Between shows like Sleepy Hollow and Hannibal it was more entertaining to stay home. Not really what Hollywood wants to hear per se, but true. But even though I didn’t check off everything from my anticipated list, the movies I did manage to see included some truly great ones, along with some that were pure fun. Hopefully studios trend more towards these offerings next year.
10. Star Trek: Into Darkness: There was a ton of backlash over this movie, and I can’t say a whole lot of it wasn’t deserved, but it was still highly entertaining. Coupled with the 2009 film, and with the biggest Classic Trek villain (solo category) nicely dispatched, they hopefully move past the trend of the Earth is in peril storytelling and focus on more intimate, episodic films. Star Trek really does come out of the same era and culture as The Twilight Zone, and is well designed for philosophical storytelling. Focusing on the same “The Planet’s About To Blow!!” story is a lot like using an iPad to play solitaire. You’ve got a charismatic, attractive cast and a premise that lets you go literally anywhere, it’ll be fun to see what’s possible if they really use those tools.
9. Thor: The Dark World: Thor continues to put the lie to DC’s claim Wonder Woman’s too complicated a property for a feature film. Further, at a time when David Goyer and Zack Snyder are claiming their tone-deaf Man of Steel ending was designed to make Superman mythic in tone, Thor showed how actual mythic heroes don’t need to be heartless – in every possible interpretation – to be entertaining.
8. Iron Man 3: Marvel is clearly now to superhero films as Disney proper is to animated musicals, in that they’ve got their formula locked down and running on all cylinders. In terms of tone and attitude, Shane Black proved a perfect fit for the Iron Man series. What I particularly like about the Marvel movies is the way each is now intended to move these characters into position for Avengers films, but never at the cost of being entertaining on their own. Now if only they can figure out how to do that with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.…
7. Much Ado About Nothing: Joss Whedon’s downtime project between principle filming for The Avengers and effects supervision of the same ends up being an interesting object lesson in what happens when a vanity project is made by a team whose vanity is fed by entertaining others. What could have been an insufferable indulgence ends up being absolutely delightful entertainment.
6. The Heat: Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock leading a cast packed with excellent character actors and a whipsmart, vulgar as all get out script by Paul Feig was nearly the most fun I had watching a movie all year. Also, if we could find a way to have a movie where Melissa McCarthy and Peter Capaldi just swear at each other for 90 minutes, that’d make me very, very happy.
5. Pacific Rim: Pacific Rim was, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve had at the movies. Outsized in all possible ways, Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham put together an incredible, entertaining movie. While there were definitely parts one could quibble should have been better, the areas where they excelled far outweigh any nitpicking.
4. The Conjuring: It’s possible the Warrens, the ghost hunters at the center of The Conjuring, are the most functional married couple we’ve seen in movies in years. Loving and supportive of each other, even in the face of truly harrowing demonic possessions. By starting with a sense of genuine concern for likable characters, James Wan makes a nearly no-gore horror movie that’s frightening, but also quite moving.
3. The World’s End: The capper in the Wright/Pegg/Frost Cornetto Trilogy, the tale of Derek King and his merry men’s return home for one last hurrah was the perfect balance of bitter and wry. While the lower profile Shaun of the Dead gets more praise right now among those looking to burnish their “before it was cool” cred, I believe World’s End is only going to grow in esteem over time.
2. Gravity: Alfonso Cuaron put every technical filmmaking trick to excellent use to create a beautiful masterpiece of a film, anchored by a perfect human performance from Sandra Bullock. It’s worth noting that while both of Bullock’s major movies were arguably sold on other qualities (the raucous, Bridesmaids style comedy for The Heat, jaw dropping effects for Gravity), you can make an equally strong case neither would have succeeded without her sharp acting to humanize them.
1. Before Midnight: Another third in a series, but in this case hopefully not the last. Richard Linklater has created a beautiful, smart film about what happens when the romantic dream settles into reality. Hard but not harsh, worn but not stale, just genuine and true even if it’s not always happy. Of all the movies I looked forward to this year, Before Midnight exceeded my wildest expectations by far.