Saturday, September 13, 2014

Best of 2014 ... So Far (Part I)

As we approach the middle of September, we're about to head into the Fall movie season where dozens of Oscar hopefuls will battle for a chance to reign supreme. But before that happens, I've decided to spend the next two days breaking down my Top 10 Films of 2014 (so far). As it happens every year, many of these early-year releases and summer blockbusters will fade into the background and never find their way to my final list of 2014 in late-December. So if you're seeking a title or two to catch in the upcoming weeks, here's the first portion of this year's releases that you'll want to check out.

(Disclaimer: I haven't seen seen some of the highly regarded superhero films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past)

Honorable Mention: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Blue Ruin, Oculus and Million Dollar Arm.

Back in April we were given one of the year's finest comedies, and you probably didn't even know it. Funny men Nick Frost (The World's End) and Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) star as co-workers rivaling for the affection of their attractive new boss (played by Rashida Jones). And when they discover her hidden love of salsa dancing, Bruce (Frost) attempts to recapture the dance floor skills from his childhood and out-duel his confident jerk of a co-worker. The laughs are endless and a hilarious surprise supporting turn from up-and-comer Kayvan Novak helps propel Cuban Fury well beyond the average comedy.

Next up on my list is another more high-profile comedy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall director, Nicholas Stoller. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne star as the Radners, a younger married couple and parents of a baby girl who are struggling to hold onto their youthful energy. However, when a fraternity lead by Teddy and Pete (Zac Efron and Dave Franco) purchases the house next door, the Radners quickly discover their appreciation for adulthood and will do whatever it takes to get rid of their annoying neighbors. Relying on large volumes of raunchy and vulgar humor obviously generated through tons of improvised footage, Neighbors is never short on laughs and outrageous one-liners.

There are a couple newcomer releases on this list, first is this weekend's debut feature, The Drop. Author Dennis Lehane has witnessed successful adaptations of his stories such as Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island. Lehane's latest offering comes from a short story called Animal Rescue that's been molded into The Drop, the tale of a bartender from Brooklyn (Tom Hardy) and his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) who are robbed at gun point after closing time. Their Chechen bar owners aren't very understanding of the predicament and demand repayment all while local investigators begin snooping around. Sporting top-notch performances from its leading pair and a unique story, The Drop certainly stands out among the crowd.

The 2014 crop of Sundance Film Festival selections proved to be a stellar group. One of the most notable features to debut in Park City, Utah was this weekend's limited release, The Skeleton Twins. Saturday Night Live alumni Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play a pair of siblings who are brought together under a set of unfortunate circumstances after not speaking to each other for nearly a decade. They both discover the imperfections in their lives and struggle to offer mutual support when difficulties begin to mount. Wiig and Hader both deliver brilliant blends of both comedy and drama in their career defining performances. The Skeleton Twins tells an honest and forthright story that only translates as well as it does thanks to a gifted pair of lead performers.

After a successful origin film in 2011, the Planet of the Apes franchise continues on in grand fashion with this summer's blockbuster addition. Following the spread of a virus that's wiped out a large portion of mankind, genetically evolved apes escape deep into the woods and established a harmonious community together. But as a colony of humans expand their search for a much-needed power source to provide electricity, they encounter the community of apes. While Caesar tries his best to work in conjunction with the humans, peace proves too difficult to maintain and a battle between humans and apes must wage on. Sleek writing sets the stage for an insightful and psychological story that transcends the stereotypical blockbuster action flick, clearly marking Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as one of the year's finest offerings.

*** Stay tuned for tomorrow when I headline the Top 5 Films of 2014 ... so far.

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