2014’s summer movie season comes to an end in a week or so, but while some folks will be editorializing about the box office being down 15-20% compared to last summer and others express surprise that a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy could be days away from becoming the year’s highest grossing domestic hit, we here at FSR have a different agenda.
Simply put, we saw a lot of great movies this summer, and we hope you did too.
The year’s best “big” movie (per me anyway), Captain America: The Winter Soldier, missed the summer cutoff as it opened in early April, but there were still some fantastic blockbuster-type flicks that entertained the hell out of us over the past four months. Of course, there were also some brilliant smaller films too. An informal staff survey revealed a mix of both to be our favorites of the summer. Keep reading to see which movies moved us the most from May through August.
Nothing happens in Boyhood. Everything happens in Boyhood. It’s a movie made entirely of small moments, each of them placed years apart (and, in reality, filmed years apart). But the small moments add up to something much more, a complete portrait of childhood and adolescence. It’s subdued yet incredibly emotional. It’s almost three hours long and passes by in a blink. It’s a movie unlike any other, and it’s one of the best of the year. – Dan Schindel
Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a good man and a good priest, and that’s precisely why he’s been given one week before a mysterious gunman plans to kill him. Gleeson — who’s in every scene but one in the film — gives a performance that grounds the film even as he soars. Darkly comic yet remarkably humane, the film manages both a scathing commentary on the church and a respectful testament to faith, and it does it all in a story that moves deftly between the comedic, the devastating and the suspenseful. – Rob Hunter
Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise is no stranger to action/sci-fi flicks, but one of his strengths is creating big budget entertainment that doesn’t drown out the character with CGI or massive effects set-pieces. His latest is no different in that it retains a personable touch while telling a tale of alien invasion and time travel. Sure the ending’s a bit on the dumb side, but far more of the film walks a perfect balance of entertainment and excitement. Cruise also deserves credit for poking fun at his own persona while essentially playing second fiddle to the film’s true hero (played by Emily Blunt’s toned arms). – Rob Hunter
Guardians of the Galaxy
I knew nothing about these characters going in and I expected even less, but by the time the credits rolled on James Gunn’s entry into the Marvel canon I was hooked. Sure it helped that the film is an action/comedy at its core and that it’s loaded with pop culture references I get as opposed to comic book nods I miss, but the bottom line is that the film and its characters are marvelously entertaining despite a handful of faults and missteps. – Rob Hunter
Another powerful drama from director James Gray (Two Lovers), this story of a Polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard) hoping to find the American dream is a quietly devastating love story. Cotillard may play the lead, but this is Joaquin Phoenix’s movie. He’s funny and heartbreaking as a C-level pimp. He has a dream too, and like every other character in The Immigrant, he won’t have an easy time achieving it. His journey and Phoenix’s performance is what makes this one of the finest films of the summer. – Jack Giroux
The One I Love
Heavily influenced by the inimitable minds of Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman and Dostoevsky, The One I Love uniquely explores a struggling marriage through a sci-fi lens. With indie film moguls Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss at his disposal, Charlie McDowell’s directorial debut constructs an ingenious premise that will both entice and repel audiences. If you can accept the conceit, then you’ll be happily surprised to find a resourceful film in the creatively hungry month of August. – Sam Fragoso
Some films hit you right away with their greatness while others take time, slowly settling into your brain and heart before taking hold. David Michod’s follow-up to Animal Kingdom is an example of the latter. There’s a simplicity to it in the main character’s single-minded quest for what’s been taken from him. It’s not all he’s lost, not by a long shot, but it’s the only thing capable of being retrieved, and that makes it more valuable than life itself. Guy Pearce is fantastic as the man on that journey, but it’s Robert Pattinson who surprises with a down and dirty performance revealing true talent beneath his creepy British pallor. – Rob Hunter
Despite The Weinstein Company’s controversial struggle to cut Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer and make it more “commercial,” when the film was finally released in the US in the director’s preferred form, the most shocking thing to many audiences was how accessible the film actually was. Snowpiercer is in many ways the perfect summer movie – filled with great action set pieces, overflowing with kinetic style, and engaging in a dedicated contribution to the sci-fi genre. At the same time, the film is a fresh departure from redundant multiplex entertainment – a truly global film in an age of supposedly global blockbusters, and one that isn’t afraid to dip into some glorious weirdness. And without spoiling anything, it also offers a much-needed spin on the subgenre of dystopian uprisings. A perfect example of how a thinking film is in no way exclusive to a fun film, Snowpiercer was both the perfect antidote to a largely predictable summer as well as a rousing glimpse into what summer entertainment could be. – Landon Palmer
X-Men: Days of Future Past
After a couple stumbles over the past fourteen years, the X-Men franchise is alive and well again, drawing a beloved original storyline from the comics without totally screwing the pooch the way X-Men: The Last Stand did. Sure, X-Men: Days of Future Past contains all the foibles of a time travel story, but it is such fun to go back to another decade with a retro story. Now that the X-Men characters and backstory has become part of our pop culture, the new movie allowed director Bryan Singer to have more fun without slogging his way through a half-dozen origin stories. The film hit the ground running and gave us a cool action film with plenty of in-jokes and meta references. Plus, Peter Dinklage is the man. – Kevin Carr
We Are the Best!
Summertime cinema isn’t typically known for foreign language films, but this Swedish import has stuck with me since May when I first experienced the pure joy it radiates and creates. The film follows three young teenage girls in the ’80s who decide to start a punk band despite both the sexist times and their lack of musical talent. It’s about the casually tumultuous time between childhood and adulthood when everything is possible and the future is always one more day with friends away. It’s funny and sweet and will have you reflecting with a smile on your own early years. And it is glorious. – Rob Hunter
Other films chosen by our staff as the summer’s best, but not included above, are: Begin Again, Closed Curtain, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Double, Frank, Happy Christmas, I Origins, Magic in the Moonlight, Norte: The End of History, Obvious Child, What Now? Remind Me.