I spent a lengthy time over the last few days looking at other lists compiled by fellow film fans and what I found was plenty of love for films released late into the year and the odd few summer blockbusters. However the next 10 films on this list were mostly summer releases that made me laugh so here are numbers 40 – 31.
Warning Spoiler Alert
- How to Train Your Dragon 2 – It cannot be overstated how much I adored the first How to Train Your Dragon. It was smart, cute in just the right ways and most of all it had a great insight into the idea of the relationship between fathers and sons. The sequel expands upon this idea of distorted families but by expanding the world Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) spent the majority of his time changing it feels almost like a step back. The introduction of many new dragons with their own unique personalities took time away from Hiccup and Toothless and therefore made their interaction less special. That being said, the sequel is still beautifully animated and thought out and a major twist late into the films run has just the right emotional weight to work but it is followed up by a rushed finale that while poignant doesn’t feel complete. Then again those looking for some adorable Toothless antics will not be disappointed and although the film doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor its a darn sight better than most films out this year and although I quibble about some points this was still more than enjoyable enough to make the list.
- What If – When Harry Potter ended I assumed much like Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe would just return to some hole in the ground, never to be heard from again. However in the years since he has made a name for himself with some impressive little indie pictures like The Woman in Black and Horns. What If also fits into this category. While some may see it strictly as a rom com, What If is a clever little character study of friendship and the complications that can arise from any kind of camaraderie. The film follows Radcliffe’s Wallace as he pines for Chantry (Indie darling Zoe Kazan), a girl he meets and instantly connects with but is in a relationship. What makes What If so captivating besides the great turns by Radcliffe and Kazan is the friendships they have outside of their own. Be it Wallace’s disturbingly sexual conversations with Allan (Adam Driver) or Chantry’s bitchy yet loving conversations with sister Dalia (Megan Park), the script manages to make each character charming in their own way, warts and all. Although you can predict the ending from the very start the film is all about the journey and the milestones in each relationship and the memories that cling to you even if you don’t want them to.
- If I Stay – Although the central premise of If I Stay is a little played out it cuts together its story in a delicate and heartfelt way that makes it more than worth a watch. The film follows Chloe Moretz’s Mia as she is forced to watch the aftermath of a tragic car accident that takes the lives of her entire family from a place between life and death. The films title and central premise is whether or not she should move on with the rest of her family or stick around to be with the remainder of the people who love her, including her grandfather (an excellent Stacy Keach) and Adam (Jamie Blackley), the boy she loves. It’s all very high school but there is a delicacy to the story that raises it above your average manipulative drivel. Moretz grounds the fantastical story in a sense of realism and the constant cuts to the past to add colour to Mia and everything she has lost in one horrific moment frame the film in a way that transitions the film through various stages of grief. If there is anything negative to be said its that the ending, although expected would have been much more powerful without that final moment. Her awakening damages the films overall message and the viewers interpretation of the film despite giving you a happy ending. Sometimes they just aren’t needed.
- Draft Day – This Kevin Costner starrer may be a family friendly film but it shows a character at his very lowest without him even realising. The film follows the day of the NFL draft and General Manager Sonny Weavers attempts to get his team out of the dog house that he found himself in after taking over from his father. The film may seem to be about football but in my eyes it was a film about guilt, the guilt Sonny has for pushing his father out of a job he loved (even if it was for the best of reasons), the guilt he has for the way he has treated his girlfriend and fellow co-worker Ali (An understated Jennifer Garner) as well as how he has cut out his employees and avoided any kind of constructive criticism. Sonny isn’t the best of company but everyones assumption that he isn’t a decent guy are completely wrong. The film dives into his character completely through his love of the game that he has worked so hard to celebrate during his tenure at the Cleveland Browns. It doesn’t hurt that the last 30 minutes are rip roaring fun as the draft kicks off and Sonny goes to the races with trades and manipulations until he has everything he could ask for. The side story about his impending fatherhood feels tagged on but ultimately it doesn’t impede the story or the filmmaking it just another aspect of a surprisingly deep film.
- Need For Speed – Most critics loathed Need For Speed because it was either a unnecessary video game adaptation or the films story could be shoehorned into about 30 minutes of an over 2 hour film. What they failed to see was a film that didn’t care how much story it had to tell as long as it told it well and accompanied it with some excellently filmed car chases. Sure the film has the perpetually bad Dominic Cooper in it as the main villain but watching him get royally screwed over is enjoyable because well, he’s just that bad. In fact the film works because the actors involved look like they are having a whale of a time making the movie and it adds another layer of fun to the film despite the dark revenge fantasy that lead character Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is playing out. Imogen Poots is also an entertaining addition to the film as the assistant to a motor mogul but really the film is all about fast cars, ridiculously over the top crashes and a whole lot of constipated driving faces and thats why its so damn entertaining.
- A Million Ways to Die in the West – This is another film many were unsure about when it was released but for the average viewer its a hoot. Sure a few jokes don’t work and fart humour never really works in the way people want it to but the film has two excellent performances by Seth MacFarlane and Charlize Theron as two born in the wrong era jokesters that hate the west and everything it conceivably do to you and not for you. Be it the ridiculous cameos from the likes of Ryan Reynolds and Ewan McGregor or the out of time references, there is plenty here to find entertaining and as a follow up to Ted it avoids most of the expectations by changing up the genre but not the humour. Sure it probably would have been funnier with a talking teddy bear as well but it does its job well enough without and MacFarlane has plenty of fun spoofing the western genre while ensuring he doesn’t play into Blazing Saddles territory too much.
- Veronica Mars – The first of two Kickstarter funded movies on the list, Veronica Mars brings back a much loved television character but this time on the big screen and while the film does feel like an extended episode of the show there are many reasons to praise it also. Not only does that cast return from their extended hiatus on top form but creator Rob Thomas hasn’t lost Mars’ distinctive voice and sass along the way. The film may have been made on a shoestring budget thanks to donations from people all over the world but it doesn’t look it, in fact it looks just like any other big budget picture with a whole new colour tint to go with it. The shows bright shiny yellows are replaced with a darker blue to represent the darker Neptune that Veronica (Kristen Bell) is returning to. The film feels like the next step, the logical progression for this new grown up Veronica and while she will still be good for a snappy one liner this Veronica doesn’t seem as cynical and yet she also isn’t naive either. She could always think for herself but the film does a good job of showing how much she has grown in the time she’s been away. Although a side story within the film about corruption in Neptune is brought up and dropped from time to time as if its groundwork for a sequel if Warner Bros see fit to make one, it doesn’t really add to the feel of the film. The darkness in this world we once remembered so fondly has crept in and we don’t need an attempted murder to tell us that, we can see it all over the characters faces. Overall though, I loved the series and I liked how the film acted both as a progression of the series and as its own entity for anyone to enjoy so I advise you do.
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – I have to admit I hated Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I hated almost everything about it from James Franco’s smug scientist to the way suddenly all apes were intelligent just in time for the big action set piece despite the fact it took Caesar years to gain his knowledge. An action set piece I might add that looked like it was designed on Flash. Dawn however is a far superior film and a damn enjoyable one at that. Not only are actors like Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis doing incredible work in it but it has an entertaining parable about good and evil and the ways intelligence has brought about a primal kind of evil in the Apes that the humans oddly enough had tried to suppress all this time. The film flips the idea of the end of the human world on its head as the apes start the inevitable conflict that many saw coming but hoped wouldn’t. Director Matt Reeves must be commended for a finale so bold and action packed and human light that this finally felt like an Apes movie and not some drivel designed to line James Francos pockets with gold. But Dawn will always be remembered by most for a giant ape riding a horse at a tank, dual wielding machine guns and looking like hes having a blast doing it and why shouldn’t it be remembered for it, it looked awesome.
- Lets Be Cops – I’ve never been a huge fan of Jake Johnson as an actor, he always reaches too far with his acting and his comedy always feels ever so slightly smug but his portrayal of man child Ryan in Let’s be Cops is a stroke of genius. It’s equal parts tragic, hilarious and smug that it works perfectly opposite Damon Wayans Jr’s cowardly Justin. The two of them decide to pretend to be cops for a costume party and it spirals out of control from there. Sure the film is childish but so are they and the comedy works because they give themselves over to the films stupidity completely. Be it Justin trying to infiltrate a weapons dealers hangout while tripping out on crystal meth or Ryan trying to avoid wrestling a 300 pound naked man, the film manages to make fresh some very basic comedy. Where the film falls down is how its side characters are represented. They are almost as stupid as this duo of slackers and the fact they play into their delusions that they are in fact good enough to be cops is almost enough to ruin the film but Wayans and Johnson make it work well enough to ignore the idiocy of the premise. Another plus is a cameo by up and coming comedian Keegan Michael Key whose rastafarian gangster is the opposite of what you would expect in all the right ways. The film works just right if you block out your sense of reality and just enjoy the ride.
- Bad Neighbours – I didn’t know what to expect from this Seth Rogen starring comedy and although the first 20 minutes made me expect one of the worst films of the year with almost no comedic moments at all it suddenly perks up when Zac Efron and Dave Franco show up and outshine Rogen at his own game. Featuring one of the funniest fight scenes I have seen in a long time, Bad Neighbours really shines when the film concentrates on the fraternity that moves in next door to Rogen’s family and starts causing mayhem. Be it Franco imitating Robert DeNiro with surprising skill or Efron impersonating batman, the film works when they share the screen. However it must be said that Rogen is equally entertaining when riffing with Efron as well as he appears to bring out the best in his costars, much like he does in That Awkward Moment. The only weak note is Rose Byrne who tries her hardest to keep up but never really feels part of the fun despite her many scenes to suggest shes just as fun as the rest of them. The film may start badly and 20 minutes is a long time in comedy to go without laughing, the rest of the film is more than enough to stick around for and more than enough to make it onto the list.
The next part which will hopefully be up tomorrow barring complications is a mixture of all kinds of films including the first Superhero movie, an oscar winner as well as a Young Adult adaptation that really surprised me. See you then.