This time last year I did a list of my favourite films of 2014. I’ve decided to make that a tradition of that but with a tweek: I’m going to do two lists. I find blockbusters hard to compare with arthouse and indie films. So I’m doing a separate countdown for each.*My list of favourite smaller films will be along shortly but to start here are my top blockbusters.
Obviously, this is a subjective exercise and my list is only going to include films released this year that I’ve actually seen. That’s much less of a constraint with this list than it will be when we come to arthouse stuff. I’ve seen most of the year’s ‘big’ movies – Furious 7 and American Sniper are the most conspicuous exceptions – and I can venture a guess that the ones I haven’t seen probably weren’t going to appeal to me enough to make the list.
Last year, I felt that the big budget action films I saw were rather dependable. This year, by contrast they’ve been patchy and unpredictable. Back in January, I would have given you long odds on my preferring Ant Man to Age of Ultron. A fair number of films were disappointing – Spectre being the worst example. And a lot of films that wound up being much discussed – though not necessarily liked by me – were things like Fury Road, Kingsman and above all Jurassic World were things that weren’t high on many people’s agendas at the start of the year. As a result my top 5 is quite an odd list.
Despite that it’s an impressive collection of films. When this year’s blockbusters have worked they’ve really worked. It’s just not necessarily been the films I was expecting that did that. However, I’m not going to be complaining about mainstream cinema surprising me once in a while.
Honourable mentions: Minions, Ant Man and the Man from Uncle.
Dishonourable mention: the Fantastic Four
This wound up being considerably better than it was trying to be. Rogue Nation was a departure for the franchise. Previously a succession of directors were given apparently free reign to imprint their signature style on the different episodes. But Rogue Nation’s director Christopher McQuarrie blends the styles of his predecessors. So we get the ludicrously over the top visuals, stunts and banter of the third and fourth films. But that’s counterpoised with some of the darkness and pathos of the David Mamet penned first film. This balance exists largely because of Rebecca Fergusson’s performance. She’s a spy adrift in amongst a global conspiracy – sympathetic but definitely not trustworthy. She and McQuarrie manage to make a film that might be cartoonish fun seem like it has some stakes and emotional depth. And do it without sacrificing the fun.
Normally, I wouldn’t have gone near this one. But I was stuck on a plane for sixteen hours. Seeing it almost made the experience worthwhile. Not that it’s a film I would recommend watching on a plane. Unless of course you enjoy wondering how many of the sex scenes your fellow passengers have noticed.
It’s Incisive and funny. The opening sequence of a dad trying to excuse his philandering by telling his pre-teen daughters that monogamy is like being told ‘you can only play with one doll for the rest of your life’ is one of the funniest things I’ve seen this year. There are plenty of other great scenes along the way.
#3 The Martian
A film about the will to survive and the power of science could easily have been hideously sentimental. A witty script, a talented ensemble and a massive dose of disco music ensure that isn’t a problem.
#2 Inside Out
Even by the Pixar’s standards Inside Out has a strange premise but it’s genius. It allows for a story as mundane as a girl struggling to fit-in in a new town to be told as the most fantastic, exuberant colourful epic imaginable.
It’s remarkably profound. It touches on a lot of real psychology and neuroscience. Its touching conclusion is that all emotions, even sadness, are valuable. So ever so subtly it becomes a critique of the cult of positive thinking.
Also the running joke about the jingle from a gum commercial becoming an earworm is inspired.
If there were an objective way to judge these things then that would probably reveal that Inside Out is better than the Force Awakens. But this is a list of my personal favourites and no other film has given me anywhere near as much joy as this one. That’s partly a function of the fact that I’m probably more emotionally invested in Star Wars than in any other franchise. But this was a film that knew how to put plentiful audience excitement to good use. Indeed the anticipation of this film, heightened by a staggeringly good marketing campaign that made it look awesome without revealing much, was more fun than actually watching 95% of films. It successfully harnessed the nostalgia for the original trilogy whilst creating its own immediately lovable cast of characters. And as you would expect of a film directed by JJ Abrams it looks amazing. It’s a year till Rogue One is released and I’m already bursting to see it.
*As a rule of thumb I am taking a blockbuster to be a film with a budget of more than $30 million.