by Madison Mathews// Contributing Writer
“Edge of Tomorrow,” directed by Doug Liman
Director Doug Liman’s sci-fi action flick was one of the best surprises from the summer season. Tom Cruise stars as a soldier who dies on a futuristic battlefield over and over again, reliving the same day he’s dropped into action. Emily Blunt plays the face of the military, who just so happens to hold the key to Cruise’s “Groundhog Day” scenario. With “Edge of Tomorrow,” Liman is more interested in the journey than sticking the landing. The final act is a bit of a mess, but Cruise and Blunt’s chemistry and the action make the film a must-see adventure.
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” directed by James Gunn
Marvel Studios stepped their game up this summer with the release of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a film about a group of outcasts who band together to take down a threat to the universe. Yes, there’s a talking raccoon and a walking tree, but don’t let that kind of weirdness keep you from seeing one of the best blockbusters to be released this decade. James Gunn’s film is full of humor, heart, and action. It’s an old fashioned adventure in the vein of the original “Star Wars.” “Guardians” is the type of film you’ll come back to time and time again, and that’s the mark of a truly great movie.
“Gone Girl,” directed by David Fincher
I never read Gillian Flynn’s novel, but based on her screenplay David Fincher was the perfect person to adapt her story of marriage. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike play the couple at the center of this pulpy story of romance, lies, and murder. Fincher is an A-list director, but his sensibilities are perfectly suited for this kind of material. It’s a dark, cynical film, but the murder mystery at the center will keep you pinned to your seat.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” directed by Matt Reeves
The “Planet of the Apes” series is one the staples of science fiction cinema. It was given a fresh approach a few years ago with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” With “Dawn,” the new approach went even further, taking more time to craft the world of the apes as we get to know Caesar and his community. The motion capture technology has grown so much just within the last few years, and Andy Serkis’ work as Caesar has never been better.
“Interstellar,” directed by Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. The release of a new Nolan joint has become reason for celebration. Matthew McConaughey leads an all-star cast in this tale that spans both time and space. The film might not make a lot of sense, and some of the characters might be horribly underwritten, but Nolan’s visuals are worth the entry price. There are some tremendous set pieces throughout the film, and McConaughey’s performance ties all of the loose ends together. “Interstellar” is Nolan’s most divisive film, but it’s also his most ambitious, and that’s something to praise.
“The Lego Movie,” directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
The joy of playing with Legos comes to life in Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s latest comedic masterpiece. “The Lego Movie” is the best animated film of 2014, and one of the best animated films released in a very, very long time. On paper, the idea of a moved based on Legos sounds terrible, but Lord and Miller’s inventiveness creates a fresh and truly hilarious story that celebrates creativity. In the world of Lego, anything is possible and everything is awesome.
“Boyhood,” directed by Richard Linklater
The passage of time has long been a thematic through line in the work of Richard Linklater. In “Boyhood,” that fascination is taken literally as we watching a group of characters mature over the course of 12 years. Filmed over the same time period, Linklater captures life as it happens in one family. We see the characters grow and change both physically and emotionally. It’s an amazing cinematic achievement that something like “Boyhood” exists.
“Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay
Biopics can be a tricky thing, but Ava DuVernay skips the paint-by-numbers approach and focuses on one singular event in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. instead of telling us the story of his entire life. By following the march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965 DuVernay captures the raw emotion that was at the tipping point of the civil rights movement. David Oyelowo performance as King anchors the entire film. For a film that follows events that took place in the mid-1960s, DuVernay’s film is just as relevant today. “Selma” is required viewing.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” directed by Wes Anderson
It’s no wonder Wes Anderson has finally been nominated for an Oscar for his work directing “Grand Budapest Hotel.” It’s his crowning achievement, and that’s saying something for a guy whose entire filmography has been included in the prestigious Criterion Collection. His decades-spanning tale weaves together a quirky cast of characters in an alternate history version of Europe in between the two great wars. Anderson’s penchant for quirk over substance has gone by the wayside. If you were tired of his schtick before, give “Grand Budapest Hotel” a chance. You won’t be disappointed.
“Nightcrawler,” directed by Dan Gilroy
Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a throwback to the kinds of unnerving characters studies from the 1970s. It’s old fashioned in the best kind of way. Jake Gyllenhaal embodies the role of Lou Bloom, a bloodthirsty cameraman at the center of a seedy news network. Gilroy takes a page from “Network’s” Paddy Chayefsky and skews the news cycle of today’s 24 hour world. It’s a dark satire, but Gilroy balances a story that manages to be both hilarious and disgusting.