2014 was a strange year for movies. While there were awesome blockbusters and fascinating indies, the box office was down 5% from last year. A foreign country hijacked one of our premier studios, airing its dirty laundry and forcing it to pull its movie from theaters and then release it anyway in an unconventional way, prompting questions about how movies will be released in the future.
I don’t know what the movie industry is going to look like later on, but it’ll do for now. I didn’t get to the movies as often as I would’ve liked in 2014, so there’s only three movies for this list.
Ernest & Celestine: We’re all happy and content with our Pixar movies and our How to Train Your Dragons and our Disney princesses here in America, but every now and then its nice to see how the rest of the world does things. Ernest & Celestine is a French cartoon about an unlikely friendship between a mouse and a bear. Not only is the hand-drawn animation a refreshing difference from the status quo here in American animation, Ernest & Celestine includes far more direct political implications than most of our animated movies would dare to even hint at. It’s all centered around the titular characters’ unconventional and heartwarming relationship.
Neighbors: Seth Rogen & Co’s man-child shtick has been getting tiresome. Every comedy seems to want their version of the boy who won’t grow up, telling the same old dick jokes and smoking the same old pot. Neighbors uses this as an advantage, centering its plot and its comedy around a couple of parents (Rogen and Rose Byrne) who feel themselves growing up and aren’t sure how to cope with it. The realization that they’re getting old is exacerbated by a college fraternity moving into the house next door. Their attempts to maintain their hip status lead to the kind of trouble that makes for great comedy and great drama alike.
X-Men: Days of Future Past: It’s not that people hated Days of Future Past, but critics had a hard time taking it seriously. But why do we have to take it seriously? Were we taking Guardians of the Galaxy seriously? If there’s one thing Days of Future Past did a great job of, it was the spectacle, from that hilarious Quicksilver scene to that brilliant climactic showdown at the end. In fact, there was a reason to take Days seriously- in its final minutes, the filmmakers handed the plot’s reins not to an action scene but to a scene in which a woman decided the fate of the world.
Three Underrated Performers
Macon Blair, Blue Ruin: Actors from little-seen indies don’t usually receive awards attention. Blair won’t be any different; the only thing he’s nominated for so far is a Gotham Independent Award for “Breakthrough” Actor. But his naive desperation that carries Blue Ruin as a thriller and a drama place him among the year’s best and not just its most underrated.
Zac Efron, Neighbors: Guys who starred in High School Musical don’t receive awards attention either, and let’s not even start on awards-givers ignoring comedies in general. With Neighbors, Efron proved he could hang with the toughest comedy minds, delivering some of the movie’s best moments as a fraternity president unwilling to face life after graduation. Efron’s reputation has changed after Neighbors in ways that make it exciting to picture his future in the movies.
Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and X-Men: Days of Future Past: Lawrence is hardly underrated in general. She’s already won an Oscar and been nominated for two more. But these two performances will go overlooked, because they’re blockbusters and not awards movies, because they’re ensemble movies, because they’re movies based on comic books and children’s books. Make no mistake though: the quality of these movies depends almost solely on the ferocity of Lawrence’s performances. She’s a big reason why X-Men and The Hunger Games are among the best blockbuster franchises.