It’s a shame to admit that my free time has dwindled so much today that I can’t really devote the time to hitting the movie theater enough to warrant a top ten list. How bad is it? Let’s just say that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” cracked it and I didn’t even really like that movie.
Fortunately, I have been able to keep up with the excellent TV debuts from this year. (For those wondering if I fall where I fall in the “movies vs. TV” camp, I’m only going to say that I enjoy both enough to not compare them.) So while I might not be able to bang out a top ten movie list for this year, I can at least bang out a top five for movies AND TV, right? Well I’m doing it anyway.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It’s been widely agreed upon that the first Cap movie was bit of a guilty pleasure. It did nothing more than give the character a good origin story and warmed things up for “The Avengers”. So then it was a pleasant surprise when the second movie came out and turned everything upside down. An intriguing plot regarding S.H.I.E.L.D. was supported by some very good action scenes, along with some inspired casting choices.
- The Lego Movie
Pixar has long been the gold standard for universally liked kids movies. That is, until Phil Lord and Chris Miller got their hands on a classic toy property and make a legit funny family film out of it. The most impressive thing about “The Lego Movie”, besides the awe-inspiring visuals and killer humor, is the fact that the movie never feels like a shill and actually has a heart. Lord/Miller have been making something out of nothing in Hollywood for a while and this is no exception.
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
With the seeds planted in 2013’s surprisingly good reboot “Rise”, “Dawn” finds us transplanted years in the future where the simian flu has wiped out most of humanity and Caesar leads his own army of apes. With a new director and cast, “Dawn” continues the right balance of sci-fi tension and action that the first film defined. Not to mention Andy Serkis continues to blow minds with his rendition of alpha ape Caesar. Bring on the Planet.
- Gone Girl
David Fincher has a penchant for brooding under-your-skin thrillers, so it makes perfect sense that he would be tapped to adapt Gillian Flynn’s breakthrough novel. And what a fine rendition it is. Fincher handles the twists and turns perfectly (aided by a Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score) while Affleck and Pike give some of the best performances of their careers. What results is a spell-binding look into marriage and relationships that never loosens its grip.
- Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel has been making bank for a while now, so it’s come to the point where they are just throwing every property to the wall and seeing if anything sticks. (A great SNL skit from this year emphasizes this.) “Guardians” is a tricky adaptation, but Marvel excels again. Led by James Gunn and a killer cast, “Guardians” never lets down with its action sequences or far-out space visuals. Oh yeah, it’s really funny too. Really.
- The Walking Dead
Talk about a resurrection. I had every reason to bail on AMC’s zombie drama. But this season was different. Led into a new direction by showrunner Scott M. Gimple, “Dead” was given a new life led by new characters and interesting plot lines. Guess you can teach an old corpse new tricks.
- Mad Men
Okay fine, not technically a new season but a new “half-season”. But given AMC’s lackluster post-“Breaking Bad” lineup, “Mad Men” had everything to gain and nothing to lose. So it made the most of it by putting Don Draper in a corner personally and professionally. While there are no super shockers this year, Matthew Weiner still proves he’s one of TV’s best at character development.
- The Missing
A BBC/Starz collaboration, “The Missing” is a one-season, eight-episode tale of an English couple who’s lives are turned upside down when their five-year-old son vanishes during a vacation in France. Many plots and characters make their way as the web of deceit and mystery grows larger. The first few episodes can be a bit underwhelming, but after that you’re rewarded with a completely engrossing TV series.
Showrunner Noah Hawley deserves double the praise. Not only is “Fargo” a great debut season, it also is a damn good adaptation of a sacred cow cult classic. As I’ve reviewed already, the performances are Emmy-worthy across the board and display the same dark dramatic humor that the Coen brothers movie nailed so well.
- True Detective
When HBO’s crime drama debuted this year not much was known except for the huge names attached to it. Those big names (along with director Cary Fukunaga) helped spin a web of murderous intrigue that kept viewers hooked. Plus who could forget Matthew McConaughey’s career-defining role as Rust Cohle? It is a performance for the ages. While HBO may be struggling with “Game of Thrones” as it’s only other big hit, “Detective” is a perfect example of how good they can be when they just let people re-write the TV rules.