Image from Green People Soup
This is the first year in a long time that I’ve been gainfully employed. In previous years, movies (more so than video games, peculiarly) were kind of a form of escapism for me from the drudgery of my reality. Two movies during those dark days in particular, Kick-Ass (it’s a shame how the sequel turned out) and Pacific Rim were ones that I latched on to. I also became very critical of movies during that period, with my analytical mind ripping them apart in terms of bad direction, plotting, or acting. I’m not sure why that was.
But I really hate Zak Snyder and J.J. Abrams. Ridley Scott is kind of on my shit list, too. But then I never cared for Blade Runner all that much, and I hold the very unpopular position of liking Aliens more than Alien. At this point the snobs are probably considering my tastes in low regard, considering 1) I’m talking primarily about genre movies and 2) I’m not even liking the well-respected ones.
I approach movies from the perspective of wanting spectacle. These are movies, dammit, and while I can appreciate a well-acted drama, if it’s something that would translate just fine to a stage play (or a book!) it wasn’t really taking advantage of the medium. At least give me an innovative shot like in Goodfellas or have some really unique set design like the 2012 Anna Karenina adaptation.
So, with me not being in as angry/emotionally crippled state and able to enjoy movies for their own sake, I have to say that looking at major theatrical releases it’s been a pretty amazing year! Let’s run down the ones that have really struck me …
- The Raid 2: If you’re looking for martial arts action, this is the movie of the year. I was most impressed by the fact that every fight scene was kept unique, and never simply “here’s the hero facing off against another martial artist.” Be it through employing the environment or the character’s tactics, or to some degree their emotional state each sequence was completely engaging. On top of that, the drama on screen wasn’t simply filler between outbursts of excitement as it did a great job of establishing the stakes and motivation for each character. As much as I love violence in my movies, I’ve hit the cynical point where I need to have a reason to care about it, and this movie provided that.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier & Guardians of the Galaxy: Due to the interconnectedness of the Marvel cinematic universe, you could almost consider the movies one continuous series, a sort of return to the serials of yesteryear. Also, as a continuous series, it’s held up remarkably well for being about ten films into the run. Sure, it has its clunkers (Thor, Hulk) but even those were still entirely watchable. I haven’t seen one yet that’s left me with a reaction of “why was that made?” This year’s Captain America was great because it resolved the nagging issue I’d had with the terrible Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series, which was “aren’t these the bad guys?” But both provided audiences with spectacular action sequences which fully take advantage of the fact that they’re superhero movies without completely abandoning the need to be good movies (unlike, say, Michael Bay’s Transformers) by providing fun (albeit stock) characters and a good storyline to frame all of the action.
- Snowpiercer: If you’d prefer your action a little more weird, there’s this indie darling. Very well received by critics, but practically buried by the distributor, this movie has an almost surreal quality to it as it details a brutal revolution on board a train carrying the last bastions of humanity, and all the horrors humanity brings with it. Fascinating, exciting, and bleak; I was enthralled the whole time.
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: I might be a little impartial on this one as I’ve been a big fan of Planet of the Apes movies for a long time. I have fond memories of discovering the series over the period of a month or two on the Disney Channel back in high school and being surprised by how good they really were. I enjoyed 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes–misguided homages aside–and was eagerly awaiting this year’s sequel. What amazed me was how the whole thing played out almost like a foreign film, especially with the wordless opening sequence and the eschewing of speaking apes until later in the movie. It’s not a flick that relies on action sequences, with the main one, the assault on the human shelter, being downright terrifying with its use of lighting and hopelessness against unexpectedly insurmountable odds.
- Edge of Tomorrow: You know, I like Tom Cruise. This is funny, because the stuff from when he was really famous never interested me much (notoriety of Top Gun notwithstanding.) But over the past few years, he’s proven to have a keen eye for picking projects which, while hardly brilliant, never fail to be eminently watchable. From the action tour-de-force that was Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (seriously, the whole sequence in Mumbai is three action sequences seamlessly woven together into one tense chunk of movie) to the largely forgettable (but never boring) Jack Reacher, I’m a total mark for his work at this point. So Edge of Tomorrow proved to be a surprisingly sharp sci fi action movie that brings in enough levity to keep the proceedings going and from ever getting too overwhelming. Probably less intellectual than Oblivion (which itself was hardly taxing, but again, totally watchable) but still an under-rated science fiction entry, it’s a shame audiences passed this one by in favor of crap. Heck, it did so poorly that the studio is distancing the movie from itself for its video release.