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!

 

Magic in the Moonlight

Magic in the MoonlightWoody Allen’s directorial career can be described as nothing less than industrious. While some would agree with this term due to his ability to “churn” out a movie year after year, I choose to use it because of his ability to diligently construct such beautiful films that always build towards something truly worth thinking about. In fact, Allen even appeared not as a director but as an actor in John Turturro’s film Fading Gigolo, released earlier this year. This industriousness is something unmatched by any filmmaker working today.

Magic in the Moonlight is Allen’s latest film and the 39th feature length film he has written, directed, and released within a year of his previous film. This uninterrupted string dates all the way back to 1977’s Annie Hall! Of course, some of these films are stronger than others, I hesitate to call any of them failures.  On a Podcast interview with Josh Horowtiz, Allen confesses that he is always displeased with the final product but that “if you just keep working, you’ll have your share of good stuff over the years.” Advice-wise, it doesn’t get much more simple and sweet than that and as movies go, they don’t get much more simple and sweet than Magic in the Moonlight.

Following last year’s tragically comic Blue Jasmine with a tour-de-force performance from Cate Blanchett that won her an Oscar, Magic in the Moonlight has a far more breezy and light tone. Set in Europe in the late 1920s, Colin Firth plays Stanley, a tightly wound and cynical magician who performs in disguise as the mysterious illusionist of the orient, Wei Ling Soo. Stanley is excellent at his craft and has made a habit in his spare time of exposing false mystics and people claiming to be psychics. One such character is a young American woman hired by a wealthy widow Grace Catledge (Jackie Weaver) in the south of France to help her contact her dead husband. When Stanley’s friend Howard (Simon McBurney) asks Stanley to accompany him to the Catledge estate in order to judge the authenticity of this so-called medium, Stanley takes the challenge. Unexpectedly, Stanley is taken off guard by the allure and inexplicable talent of this clairvoyant beauty named Sophie (Emma Stone). The film spends its remaining time building an unlikely bond between the two as Stanley begins to doubt his certainty in the non-existence of the spirit world. The relationship between Stanley and Sophie is further complicated by the relentless wooing of Lady Catledge’s wealthy and persistent son, Brice (Hamish Linklater) who promises Sophie a life showered in luxury.

On the surface, Magic in the Moonlight is a simple love story and while it certainly is that, there is also a more serious story beneath the surface about skepticism and its role in the concept of existence. Stanley is so abruptly tugged back and forth between the joys of fantasy and the doldrums of certainty that it becomes clear that Allen himself as writer/director may be using this film as a somewhat veiled exploration of his own existence. The writing at times has a ring of Mark Twain in it especially in its tongue-in-cheek assault on hypocrisy and ease in defrauding the foolish. These serious subtexts, however, are quite subtle; this is an entirely sweet film overall.

And a beautiful one as well. Allen’s photography of the Southern region of France is absorbingly beautiful. Full of sunsets, landscapes, and lush picturesque locations, the setting comes alive and functions as a character of its own. As usual, the acting is crisp and alive. Firth’s bravado as a stubbornly conceited Englishman is impeccable and enjoyable and Stone’s appealingly goofy American psychic is charming. The element that is so curiously minimal, however, is magic. Of course the magic does refer to the metaphorical sense of connection between the leads, but in a film with so many magicians as characters, I expected more of Allen’s trademarked prestidigitations! The film opens with Firth’s Wei Ling Soo performing one of his illusions, but that is simply to establish him as an expert in the trade. I would have also liked to see some of the defrauding and debunking of con-artist illusionists that Stanley so often brags about. Still this is another well crafted entry into Allen’s immaculate resume and Stone appears to be his next go-to leading lady as she is already cast as the lead in his next project. This is a slighter movie than his previous effort, but it is not without charisma! B+

Magic in the Moonlight is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes.