Top 10 Films of the Summer (2014)

Top Ten Summer MoviesWith the summer movie season all but finished, the overall consensus is that this has been a bummer summer at the theater. I am not fast to disagree with this statement, but I will say that there has been a steady flow of films worth seeing. Nonetheless, this summer could have benefitted from a little help, so that’s precisely what I‘ve done with this top ten list. This is not a list of the ten best movies released this summer; this is a list of the ten best movies I watched this summer. For example, The Godfather Part II appears on this list because I watched it on HBO a few weeks ago. I think you’ll find that with a couple of tweaks, this summer easily measures up with the best of the best. Besides, it’s my list, so it’s my rules!

 

Get on Up10.  Get on Up – The number 10 film on this list is a certified summer of 2014 release. The electrifying performance by Chadwick Boseman in this film makes it one that I foresee transitioning from the summer movie season discussion right into the awards season discussion.

 

 

 

juno9.  Juno – Maybe it’s because I’m a nostalgic Gen-Xer, or maybe it’s because my wife and I are expecting our first child, but we decided to revisit Jason Reitman’s 2007 comedy. This is a film that certainly received plenty of recognition in its day, but has faded into the background over the years. Still, this quirky comedy anchored by Ellen Page and skillfully penned by stripper/Oscar winner, Diablo Cody is one that deserves a Renaissance almost as much as the hamburger phone does.

 

 

Snowpiercer8.  Snowpiercer – Like #10, Snowpiercer is another summer movie that contains a performance that deserves some award consideration, this time in the supporting category. Tilda Swinton’s devilishly strong turn as the evil Minister Mason aboard the microcosmic bullet train elevates the film’s already fascinating premise that much more.

 

 

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes7.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – The impressive follow-up to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the finest sci-fi film in some time. The effects are as good as it gets and Andy Serkis is mesmerizing in yet another astonishing motion capture performance. The operatic and Shakespearean subtext also ensure the film does not pander or appear too simple despite its premise.

 

 

 

Magic in the Moonlight6.  Magic in the MoonlightNo summer is complete without the gift of a new Woody Allen movie. While this one does not reach the echelon of the director’s finest works, it delivers. Magic in the Moonlight is a beautifully photographed period piece that follows a snarky magician played by Colin Firth as he falls in love while trying to debunk a suspected phony psychic played by Emma Stone.

 

 

 

Godfather25.  The Godfather: Part II – Once in a while, you find yourself in front of the TV on a rainy day and as you’re searching through the channels you find you’re just in time to catch the beginning of the perfect film for the moment. What is there to say that has not been said about this film? Still, Coppola’s brilliantly conceived sequel not only continues the Corleone crime family’s saga but also explains its origin. Furthermore, the exceptionally quotable script is audacious and daring.

 

 

Boyhood4.  Boyhood – Perhaps the greatest cinematic experiment that I have had the pleasure of seeing in my lifetime. The plot is simple, the direction is appropriate, but the concept is fascinating, Richard Linklater and his small but talented cast headed by the newcomer and suddenly very familiar Ellar Coltrane follows its characters over a 12 year period as they simply live the life they lead. The experimental piece is that the movie was also filmed over 12 years allowing the cast to age along with the characters. This is a wonderfully successful film with great heart and a great use of music as well, including the added bonus of “Post-Beatles Black Album” playlist that is a must for any Beatles fan.

 

Mulholland Dr3.  Mulholland Dr. – A spellbinding puzzle of a movie! This is one that requires multiple viewings anyway, and each time it’s seen, the experience is richer. On the surface, Mulholland Dr. appears to be a simple story about a Hollywood hopeful discovering the price of her dreams, but it quickly becomes much more than that. What’s real and what’s imagined is for you to decide, but director David Lynch does provide an appropriately enigmatic roadmap worth taking a look at.

 

 

life itself2.  Life Itself – In April of 2013, film lovers lost a legend. Eulogized on this blog, Roger Ebert was an inspiration not just for movie fans, but for lovers of the written word. Life Itself, filmed by one of Ebert’s favorite documentarians Steve James, lovingly and truthfully explores Ebert’s life, holding back nothing from Ebert’s inspirational assent in popularity to his heartbreakingly sad battle with cancer.

 

 

Captain American1.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier – I know June 21st is the official start of summer, but cinematically, when the hell does it start? I submit that it starts the moment an Avenger appears on screen; therefore, my number one film that I saw this summer marks both the start of the summer movie season as well as the height of its majesty. While many films of this genre are born into intergalactic conflicts and absurdly fantastic plotlines, the best of them are grounded, at least partially, in reality. The motive for Captain America has always been protecting his homeland from threats, and it is a credit to the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely to put him in an environment where he is doing that very thing.

 

  • Honorable Mentions: Enemy and Under the Skin – Two of the weirdest movies I saw on DVD this summer were also two of the best. Both of these films beg for interpretation and while both are creepy, they are not phony in their intentions to awe and inspire discussion. There is something unseen and haunting at the core of both of these films and I am still thinking about them in terms of what their true meanings are!

 

Apes and a Train: A Summer Action Double Feature

After the fourth worst July 4th weekend in box office history, I’m sure many of you have been waiting for a movie finally worth seeing. Well The People’s Critic is here to the rescue with not one but TWO great films to see right now: Snowpiercer and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The amazing thing is that these two films have more in common than their release dates! Both take place 10 years after a cataclysmic event that nearly wipes out the entire human race. Both warn against the effects of totalitarianism. Both star a different British guy from Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy. Both are excellent.

SnowpiercerSnowpiercer stars Chis Evans as Curtis who exists with the last handful of humanity left alive after a failed experiment to reverse Earth’s rising climate resulted in another ice age. The only survivors are those who boarded a bullet train that was designed by an enigmatic billionaire named Wilford (Ed Harris) to perpetually cycle the earth in annual rotations with no need for fuel. Curtis is a “Freeloader.” Freeloaders are the poor who are permitted to board the train but are relegated to the tail-end of the train and live in deplorable conditions. The train features a second and first class passage for those wealthy enough to afford the tickets, each with far more luxurious accommodations.

Unsurprisingly, the Freeloaders get fed up with their position in the train and the conditions that they are forced to live with such as the mysterious gelatinous “Protein bars” that are their sole food supply. As the film progresses, director Joon-Ho Bong (The Host, the Korean monster one, not the lame Saoirse Ronan one) slowly reveals exactly what the Freeloaders have had to do and live with in order to survive in their compartments. Curtis with the help of an aging leader named Gillian (John Hurt) stage a rebellion that will take them through the entire length of the train with the goal of reaching and taking control of the sacred engine car. This fight to the front is the main action of the movie, and it is really exciting. Every car is wildly different with new and interesting experiences for the characters that keep the movie fresh and engaging.

Snowpiercer is a witty and enjoyable allegory about class warfare and the dangers of totalitarianism. Directed by a South Korean, it is hard to not see this film as a somewhat veiled criticism on the state of North Korea. Political and allegorical messages aside, Snowpiercer is a solid, intelligent summer action film with great performances. Tilda Swinton may give the first Oscar-worthy performance of 2014 as the deliciously evil Minister Mason who combats Curtis and his army in the most sly and conniving of ways. Snowpiercer easily could be labeled the best film of the summer, if not for….

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the follow-up to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and truly Dawn of the Planet of the Apesputs the mesmerizingly talented Andy Serkis in the spotlight that he truly deserves. Serkis reprises his motion-capture role as Caesar, leader of the now highly evolved population of apes. Ten years have passed since the battle of San Francisco. The H5N1 virus, nicknamed the Simian Flu, has killed off most of humanity except for a miniscule group of people immune to the virus. The apes have migrated to the forests and have evolved to such a degree that they have built a civilization that has allowed them to develop an entire culture. Oddly the fantastic score by Michael Giacchino during an early scene where the apes demonstrate a highly advanced hunting technique is reminiscent of the score from 2001 A Space Odyssey that accompanies that film’s apes making an important evolutionary step.

It is this kind of subtext that makes the film so impressive. As the surviving humans realize they are running out of fuel, they conclude that their only hope is repairing a power-generating dam that is smack in the middle of the apes’ new civilization. Fear and paranoia mount on both sides as a stage is set worthy of Shakespeare, Serkis’s character being named Caesar clearly being intentional. Caesar’s memory of compassionate humans causes him to hesitantly permit a group of humans lead by Ellie (Keri Russel) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) to repair the dam. Ellie and Malcolm are two ‘Chimp-athetic’ humans, if I may use a phrase coined by Entertainment Weekly’s film critic Chris Nashawaty, but many of the other humans are not including the desperate human leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) who will not allow his people to sink back to the uncivilized life they had before setting up their current compound in San Francisco.

Of course, misplaced trust and a few bad apples on both sides threaten the safety and livelihood of both man and ape resulting in the threat of another all-out war. Caesar and Malcolm are tasked with the mission of trying to maintain peace.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an incredibly good looking movie and one with momentary glances of brilliance. Most of the film’s success can be attributed to the expressive Andy Serkis, however. Never in all of his underrated performances has he given a performance so emotional, raw, and empathetic. Caesar is an ape of few words, regardless of his ability to speak, and his face (and consequently Serkis’s) communicates complex emotions unlike anything we have seen him convey before. If Tilda Swinton’s performance in Snowpiercer starts the Summer Oscar conversation, Serkis’s totally immersive performance as Caesar certainly adds to it.

These two films come just in time to save the summer from total mediocrity. If you’re looking for something to wash that bad taste Transformers: Age of Extinction left in your mouth, then a Snowpiercer/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes double feature is just the thing. Snowpiercer: A-, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: A-

Snowpiercer is also available on VOD and is rated R with a running time of 2 hours and 6 minutes. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 10 minutes.