The BEST and WORST Films of 2014…Thus Far

Starting from scratch never tasted so good.

You know you are in the first half of the year when your list of the worst films of the year has twice as many entries as your best film list. Alas, welcome to the world of entertainment; where the first six months of the year are a dumping ground for most studios who hang onto their serious award contenders to be premiered at Sundance, Cannes, TIFF or released between July and December.

2014 is flying by like the Millennium Falcon in hyper-drive. If you’re not a Star Wars fan, or have been buried under a rock in terms of films all your life, it’s going by fast. It feels like only yesterday I was sitting in my living room, enjoying the 86th Annual Academy Awards with my family and close friends. Yet, here we are, the second week of July and time couldn’t be going by any faster. With Sundance and Cannes behind us, and TIFF around the corner, in what is usually the unofficial commencement of Award Season, the quality of films will only get better starting now.

2014 has proven to be a slow-paced year for films, and a year, given my top seven worst and best films, that will surely improve with time. There are very few holdover films that I except to see on the final “best list” as opposed to last year’s list, but you never know what 2014 may hold. Unfortunately, since many limited release movies like The Signal, Snowpiercer, Boyhood and Life Itself have yet to make their way north of the 49th parallel, the following list can be deemed incomplete. Fear not, however, as we atNight Film Reviews will make sure to have many of these films watched and reviewed in the weeks to follow.

This year many will find that the taste and choices of Night Film Reviews best and worst list will differ greatly. But, nonetheless, we will support this list and defend it for all the right reasons. So, without further ado, please enjoy the best and worst films of 2014…thus far:

WORST

7. The Lego Movie

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I know I am going to be in the clear minority with this entry, but The Lego Movie was one of the most excruciating animated films I have had to sit through for a long time. The film, made by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, feels like an exercise on what its like to have Attention Deficit Disorder, going all over the place quickly, incoherently and without rhyme or reason. The film is trying very hard to send children the message that, everyone is special, despite what others think, but if you want to believe that even more so, check out our #6 on our Best list. The Lego Movie , despite its annoying soundtrack and title song, is ANYTHING BUT awesome.

6. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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If espionage series like the Mission Impossible and 007 franchises are upping their antes, why isn’t the world of Jack Ryan? Director Kenneth Branagh brings a tired, slow burning, and action-less film with boring characters, lame chemistry and very little to offer its audience in terms of danger and mystery. Pine does what he can with a worn-out formula of clichés, while Costner continues his rise as Liam Neeson’s carbon copy and Kiera Knightley seems to just want to be in front of the camera. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is recruiting the wrong tropes of a genre and ignoring all the talent.

5. Ride Along

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Earning a little over $150 million at the Worldwide box office on a $25 million dollar budget for a January film, Kevin Hart flexed his little muscles and proved his star-power presence. The film was a clear victory for the studio, whose intention to release a sequel in the coming months is no surprise. What lacks in Ride Along is any presence of talent, thought and comedy. Sure, it stars Ice Cube, John Leguizamo and Lawrence Fishburne, who are surely all just cashing in, but Kevin Hart is front and center playing Ben Barber AKA the Black Hammer AKA the most clichéd name for unoriginal characters ever. Ride Along is an example of a lazy film that simply cashes in on the general population’s love affair with mindless entertainment.

4. The Other Woman

THE OTHER WOMAN

Since Paul Feig’s revolutionary female-centric comedy Bridesmaids changed the face of comedy in 2011, female comedy has gotten a kick in the butt and made some big time money and laughs. The Other Woman sure knew how to make money, but the laughs are few and far in-between. Part borderline raunchy comedy, part borderline slap-stick mess, the film makes awful use of its stars with the exception of the hardly subtle attempt at eye-candy that is Kate Upton. Upton surely brightens the viewing experience for the males in the audience, but makes it excruciating for all when she acts. The film is trying very hard to show married women, career women and young women the choices they have and that the world they live in is their domain as much as it is for men. Sadly, the film is less about Girl Power and more about the misuse of sex appeal. But did we mention Kate Upton is in it, plus she does a slow-mo run on the beach in a virgin white bikini. Maybe I should re-think this entry?

3. The Nut Job

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Pixar and Disney are powerhouses in animated motion pictures. Occasionally, other studios deliver heart-warming animated films that give them a run for their money. The Nut Job is not this movie. Although the animation is fun, bright, and full of life, the film’s characters fail to gain any empathy or emotion from its audience. Their struggles are scoffed at; their conflicts are mildly interesting and the film as a whole is one with nothing new to offer animated films, storytelling or children. This is and will surely hold as one of the lamest animated films of 2014.

2. Think Like A Man Too

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Kevin Hart is on a roll on the worst side of things. Making his second appearance on Night Film Review’s Worst 7 of 2014…Thus Far, Think Like A Man Too does no thinking, whether it be like a man or a woman. The film is a sad excuse to cash in on the original’s surprise presence at the box office years prior, but the film completely abandons its source material written by Steve Harvey. Instead, Think Like A Man Too becomes a mix of The Hangover, The Wood and faint traces of the original film all over-exaggerated, over-glamorized and saturated with Hollywood fluff and artificial sweetener. Think Like A Man Too is too much of a disaster for its own good.

1. A Million Ways To Die In The West 

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I know another way you could have died in the west: by watching this sad excuse of a film. Seth MacFarlane is on such a high from the success of Ted, A Million Ways To Die In The West almost acts as a big smack to the face of his fans for being vein and showing that he is able to make anything and have everyone’s approval. With a stellar cast of actors who all shoot comedic blanks, MacFarlane’s latest is an exercise of patience. Crude, rude and disappointing on every level, A Million Ways To Die In The West buries itself in an early grave and proves that the man behind the fluffy, cursing teddy bear, should stick with that for now before he comes up with something else that might kill his career.

BEST

As promised, here are the Seven Best Films of 2014…Thus Far. Have fun with this list, because if this list did anything for us here at Night Film Reviews, it was to reassure the presence fun can still be adopted into filmmaking.

7. Need For Speed 

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I know I am going to be subjected to a lot of criticism for this entry, but I stand by my number seven, because it actually deserves a spot on this list. The film was one of the most fun experiences for me at the movies in 2014. The use of real stunt cars and drivers fuels the action in the film and the authentic feel that is lacking in many other racing films. Aaron Paul plays the perfect blend of a Vin Diesel-esk brooding maniac and Paul Walker-esk mysterious mastermind that was prevalent in the Fast franchise. The supporting cast of Poots, Cooper, Rodriguez and Mescudi are all perfect in their roles as characters who don’t have much to work with. Need for Speed was the first fun film of 2014 and one that had the little boy who loved to play with toy race cars laughing, giggling and content inside.

6. Earth To Echo

EARTH TO ECHO

I’m not sure if it’s me or just the film of 2014, but there is a certain sense of nostalgia that I am feeling on my list all of a sudden. My sixth entry is the Speilbergian-Amblin inspired found-footage feature film Earth To Echo. Following in the footsteps and blending in the likes of recent films Chronicle, Super 8 and the shooting style of Cloverfield, the film is a simple children’s story of the power of friendships and the bonds children make that will dictate so much of their adult lives. Don’t go into Echo expected a lavish set, revolutionary CGI or crazy effects (save that for entry #4), because the film makes use of its greatest tools by way of the talented child-actor cast. From Theo Halm, Astro to Reese Hartwig, the group of three close-knit boys who make their friendship, hardships and achievements believable and request a strong emotional response from children and parents alike are the film’s true stars. This a small film with big dreams, one that should be seen by everyone who loves a good adventure, real laughs and a simple message about the importance and bonds of brotherhood.

5. Jersey Boys 

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I have never been able to see the stage production of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, but from the sound of it the film does an excellent job of mimicking one of the longest running stage shows of all time. Clint Eastwood directs his first musical in a large career of firsts, and at 84, delivers one of 2014’s most enjoyable films about one of music’s most underrated and forgotten singers of all time. What made this film quite a remarkable feat and an impressive entry onto the list is the fact that many Hollywood actors are absent from the film (with the exception of Christopher Walken), at the request of Eastwood, who shot the actors and the film all in real time, and who sang live onset. Jersey Boys makes great use of its star, John Llyod Young, a talented actor and Tony Award winning stage performer who reprised his role as Valli on stage and shows that he has just as much talent on screen as he does live. Jersey Boys is another one to put on a list of 2014’s guilty pleasure, remembering the fantastic music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Jersey Boys is a film that will have you beggin’ for more, dancing in your seat and your eyes glued to the screen.

4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Matt Reeves has been under the radar for quite some time, never getting his due praise for the revolutionary creature-feature Cloverfield and proving that American remakes CAN be better than foreign originals with Let Me In. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may be Reeves’ big break, and will hopefully encourage cinemagoers to revisit his previous work, being able to akin his talents then, to his masterpiece now. I do not think I am too off by saying this, but Dawn is surely the BEST Ape movie ever made, and perhaps one of the best science-fiction movies of the year. Reeves, who has been noted of directing some scenes (including the final scene in the film) over Skype, does a remarkable job of showcasing the ape world and the performances of the talented actors in motion capture suits (Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, etc.) as much as the human world. I have been an avid fan and believer in the art Andy Serkis has brought to the world of cinema, and as much as I love him as an actor and as a revolutionary visionary, I didn’t think his role as Gollum in the Lord of the Ring franchise was enough for an Academy Award nomination in acting. As Caesar, I believe it is finally time that an actor who has reshaped the use of motion capture in films, finally gets the first ever motion capture nomination for a film at this year’s Oscar, because his presence as the titular Caesar in the film, puts to shame all of the acting in every single entry of our Worst List. Dawn is The Dark Knight of the Apes franchise and a film that will show how to infuse reality into the science fiction genre, for decades to come.

3. How To Train Your Dragon 2 

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Toothless and Hiccup are back for an epic adventure of endless possibilities and proportions. How To Train Your Dragon 2 does everything the original does, just bigger, better and on a much larger emotional scale. The film’s underlining messages of animal treatment and the importance of the bond between nature and humanity is one that I wish was implemented and reinforced more in children. Dreamworks keeps their franchise alive and in fine form with their second installment; a sure lock for a nomination for Best Animated Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards. If you have any doubts with the level of talent associated with the film, just look at the voice actors; Oscar nominated Jonah Hill, Djimon Hounsou, Kristen Wiig and fresh-off her Oscar win, the one and only Cate Blanchett. Dragon is by far the best animated film of the year, and one film I am sure will hold its position even with the coming release of the “better” movies of the year.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 

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The Avengers were undoubtedly a high point for the success of the Marvel-Disney partnership, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows how successful a stand-alone Marvel film can be. Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson kicked some major ass in a film that went above and beyond The First Avenger could have ever imagined. Making espionage cool again and implementing some of the stylistics from vintage spy-films of the 70’s, The Winter Soldier was a massive critical and box office success. It’s big, bold, grand, explosive and just plain popcorn enjoyment.

1. Chef 

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One thing my Top Seven Films of 2014…Thus Far is showing is that Night Film Reviews isn’t scared to include quality studio films on its list. But if one thing is true about us, it’s that no matter how big and brash a film may be, we are suckers for small gems. If there were one film that I would bet will holdover to my final list of the best of 2014, Chef would be that movie. Feel-good, delicious and simmering with endless talent, Chef has been one of my favourite films and most thought about films in a long time. One of the beauties of Chef is how it allows you to fall in love with much more than just cinema; you fall in love with a vibrant, spicy culture, you fall in love with food, music and most of all, Scarlett Johansson (but let’s be honest, how hard is it to fall in love with her over and over again). Favreau delivers as writer/director, his sweetest film yet that will have audiences cheering, smacking their lips and wanting more. Robert Downey Jr., Bobby Cannavale, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Russell Peters and Gary Clark Jr. all make this feast of a film that much more enjoyable when it already has our salivating with delight and joy. Thankfully, the film has a lot more to say than just going head-first into the world and doing what makes you happy, it also gives us a clear understanding of how disconnected and lost the older generations are with social media and the importance and trend between social media marketing and old-school marketing. Now, whether it is you tweet, instgram, email, pin or text your friends, make sure you get everyone together and see Chef, and bring a large cinematic appetite ready to be filled by Favreau, one of the finest cinematic chefs working today.

So there you have it, half of 2014 in 14 entries. The beauty about the year 2014 in cinema is that we haven’t even scratched the surface. There are so many films that we are still looking so forward to.  From Steve James’ Life Itself, Mike Cahill’s I,Origins,  John Carney’s Begin Again, James DeMonaco’s The Purge: Anarchy, Luc Besson’s Lucy, Woody Allen’s Magic In the Moonlight, Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man, Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas, 2014 is looking bright and that’s only in the month of July. Not to mention new movies from Fincher, Nolan, Jolie, Ayer, and Miller, 2014 is going to be amazing. So stay tuned and leave your thoughts on our best and worst list of the year…thus far.

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