The Movies We Wanted in 2014 vs The Movies We Got

By  · Published on January 20th, 2015

Paramount Pictures

Every year we put out a list of the movies we’re most anticipated in the coming 12 months. Most every site does, and most every site does it on the tail-end of exploring the year that came before.

Yet those are really two different conversations happening in the same room. When we all look back on the best of a year, we’re doing so with the glorious benefit of experience, trading it immediately for the naivete that comes with future optimism. In other words, we tend to judge a cinematic year through one set of clear eyes while forgetting what we were excited about at the outset.

So I wanted to “grade” our Most Anticipated Movies of 2014 (The Final Member to Interstellar) by judging it against how we felt about the movies in reviews – not as an exercise in how good or bad we were at predicting, but as an exercise to see how well the narrative of hope matches up with the narrative of experience.

Consider it one more way of gauging the cinematic year. I’ll look at our original explanation for why we were excited for a film (numbered according to its placement on the Most Anticipated list), the ultimate review/grade it got and a brief list of excellent movies that we weren’t smart enough to anticipate at the beginning of the year.

#1. Interstellar

What we anticipated: “Let’s try this one more time: Christopher Nolan directed it. Need more? No? Didn’t think so.”

What we saw: Interstellar is in many ways as ambitious and messy a film as the sci-fi adventure it’s portraying, and its themes, visuals and pockets of bald emotion are guaranteed to appeal to fans of director Christopher Nolan‘s (who also co-wrote with his brother Jonathan Nolan) previous films. It walks his usual line between science and heart, hope and cynicism – that’s not a knock – and delivers an experience well worth a trip to the theater, but it’s also a disappointing series of diminishing returns. As the ideas and images grow in scale to epic proportions across its nearly three hour running time their actual effect becomes less and less satisfying.”

Review Grade: B-

#2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Fox Searchlight

What we anticipated: “It’s like Wes Anderson read a book about Wes Anderson before writing the script on a mirror. Everything about this feels like Royal Tenenbaum is about to roll up and ask if his room is ready.”

What we saw: “Thematically, structurally, and visually, Anderson’s movie is dense, but emotionally it can be distancing. Since this is a crime caper, though, that’s slightly excusable because everything else about the film is immensely enjoyable. The picture’s energy is consistently on a high, with the richness of Anderson’s playful camerawork, gorgeous production design, and an ensemble of characters never facing a shortage of charisma.”

Review Grade: B+

#3. 22 Jump Street

Sony Pictures

What we anticipated: “Phil Lord and Chris Miller nab another spot on the list, fulfilling our theme of sequels to surprisingly fun movies and continuing to prove their ability to beat back reboot cynicism. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill owned 21 Jump Street, making it a smart, funny send-up that could have been a bland nightmare in the wrong hands.”

What we saw: “Many of the same beats follow, just with the two main roles reversed, and that’s exactly what sequels usually deliver. The difference here, for both better and worse, is that Lord, Miller and friends know better. Where the first film gave brief play to a meta-awareness in its scene featuring Nick Offerman, the sequel does what sequels do and magnifies it greatly. Offerman returns here, but his observations about the investigation’s/film’s budget, damage and success (“It’s never as good the second time.”) move beyond his office to include other characters and sequences.

The filmmakers are aware and happily poking fun, and they succeed in delivering several of the year’s biggest and most consistent laughs throughout the film, but maybe they could have gone a step further?”

Review Grade: B

#4. Inherent Vice

Warner Bros.

What we anticipated: “Paul Thomas Anderson directed it. Need more? Why? You did this with David Fincher, too. The point is that Anderson is delivering a detective story (set, like all movies are legally required to be now, in the 1970s) with Joaquin Phoenix, Jena Malone, Josh Brolin and more. BASED ON A THOMAS PYNCHON NOVEL. Just absolutely incredible.”

What we saw: “There seems to be an appealing sense of impenetrability to PT Anderson’s films, something similar to the way people usually say that you can only begin to understand Stanley Kubrick films ten years after their initial release. Anderson has surely gotten many comparisons to Kubrick in recent years, and they aren’t far off. He has reached a certain similar level of creative autonomy and critical recognition that not many other filmmakers can claim, and continues to make some of the most undeniably engrossing films that render equal amounts of legitimate reactions both for and against them. Inherent Vice is no different, and should rouse healthy conversation on both sides of the argument, but for my money’s worth it’s another excellent chapter in the career of one of the contemporary greats.”

Review Grade: A

#5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

What we anticipated: “Can we get Andy Serkis that Oscar now? There’s a sort of pattern emerging here with sequels to surprisingly great movies, but while the inclusion of Gary Oldman is exciting, and the continuation of a terrible saga gets the heart beating, it’s really Matt Reeves as director that’s most electrifying. After Cloverfield and Let the Right One In, an intimate monster movie seems perfect for his talents.”

What we saw: “This is a drama first and foremost, with some action sprinkled in. Best of all, nothing in this movie feels calculated, prepackaged or made solely to sell toys. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes isn’t just a great time at the theater, but a genuinely great movie without a single dull moment.”

Review Grade: A-

#6. X-Men: Days of Future Past

20th Century Fox

What we anticipated: “Another sequel to a surprise hit, this return into the mutant world sees Bryan Singer back in the mix. That’s overwhelmingly cool, and if they can juggle the time travel element alongside a crowd of old familiars and newcomers, this could be one for the ages.”

What we saw: X-Men: Days of Future Past keeps the personality of Matthew Vaughn’s First Class but does so without any of that film’s cheesy dialogue or decade-defining bits of oppressiveness. The action here is first-rate and impresses with both the visual effects and dramatic intent. It’s the best film Singer’s made in years.”

Review Grade: B

#7. Monuments Men

Columbia Pictures

What we anticipated: “Here’s something interesting. Maybe it was the trailer, or maybe it was the buzz, but the George Clooney pro-art, anti-Nazi picture was on last year’s anticipated list, but it wasn’t this low in the count. Somehow, we’re looking forward to it even more.”

What we saw: “There’s no doubting Clooney is a talented director. He takes chances as a filmmaker, but in the case of The Monuments Men, those tonal risks fall flat. Sadly, this is a movie with all the right ingredients that have trouble coming together.”

Review Grade: C

#8. How to Train Your Dragon 2

DreamWorks Animation

What we anticipated: “Our first adventure with Toothless and Hiccup was a surprise delight, so this is a welcome one. Plus, beyond the typical expectations for animated sequels, it’s encouraging to see them jump ahead in time for the story (and to keep the same writer/director who surprised us).”

What we saw: “What’s meant to be an emotional entry point instead feels like a distinctly formulaic development, and though this ‘toon doesn’t lack heart amid all the high-flying antics, it may have benefited from a heartier dose of imagination.”

Review Grade: B-

#9. Godzilla

Warner Bros.

What we anticipated: “Gareth Edwards did so much work on Monsters that he’s earned the opportunity to deliver an old monster for a new audience. It’ll be particularly intriguing to see it a year after we watched the kaiju of Pacific Rim tearing our world apart. If the challenge for blockbuster filmmakers is scale, Edwards has a unique advantage and challenge ahead of him.”

What we saw: “What’s not-so-wise is how Edwards treats Godzilla like a total tease. Building suspense is one thing, but it’s frustrating that the big guy becomes an all-you-can-eat buffet that we’re not allowed to touch for an hour and a half. What’s worse is that the movie continues that pattern of deflating promises into the third act. The most egregious example comes late in the game when Godzilla and one of these monsters lock eyes, the music intensifies and then… Edwards cuts away, only to return later to show the aftermath of a fight that would have been a lot of fun to actually see.”

Review Grade: C+

#10. Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel/Disney

What we anticipated: “It’s slightly telling that this beat out Captain America because it echoes a sentiment that we’re all more than ready for Marvel to move on. They’ve done a fantastic job slowly building their universe from the metal helmet up, but it’s impossible to ignore the next big thing on the horizon. Because it’s a sentient tree hanging with a talking raccoon. We love how bonkers this is, and we also love that they’ve turned to James Gunn for it. A perfect pick.”

What we saw: “If Serenity and Ice Pirates spent a drunken night of debauchery together without using protection, the result would be something like Marvel’s latest (and least Marvel-like) feature, Guardians of the Galaxy. To be clear, that’s a good thing. Hell, that’s a great thing as the resulting film is a vibrantly exciting, immensely entertaining and frequently hilarious sci-fi adventure.”

Review Grade: B+

Review Grades for the Other Anticipated Entries

11. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (A-)

12. Jupiter Ascending (Release Date Pushed to 2015)

13. Nymphomaniac (A)

14. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (B)

15. Jane Got a Gun (Release Date Pushed to 2015)

16. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (C+)

17. Gone Girl (B-)

18. Transcendence (D+)

19. The LEGO Movie (B+)

20. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (C+)

21. That Awkward Moment (D+)

22. Noah (B+)

23. Cesar Chavez: An American Hero (No Review)

24. Only Lovers Left Alive (A)

25. Big Hero 6 (C+)

26. Edge of Tomorrow (A-)

27. Snowpiercer (B-)

28. Cheap Thrills (B+)

29. Divergent (D+)

30. Veronica Mars (B-)

31. Jodorowsky’s Dune (A)

32. Muppets Most Wanted (B-)

33. Dom Hemingway (C)

34. Deliver Us From Evil (B)

35. Under the Skin (A-)

36. The Wind Rises (B-)

37. Open Grave (C+)

38. Maleficent (B-)

39. Blood Ties (C-)

40. The Fault in Our Stars (B-)

41. Big Bad Wolves (B+)

42. 300: Rise of an Empire (C+)

43. The Boxtrolls (A)

44. The Immigrant (B+)

45. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (C-)

46. The Giver (B)

47. The Interview (No Review)

48. Mojave (Release Still Pending)

49. Child’s Pose (No Letter Grade)

50. RoboCop (C+)

51. Life Itself (No Letter Grade)

52. The Final Member (B+)

Our Best Reviewed Movies of 2014 and Favorites

Accepting that we have a broad range of tastes, and that our reviewers aren’t always as easily impressed as others (a B grade from Rob Hunter is like an A++ from some critics), the bell curve is alive and well for a decently solid year. Like any, it doesn’t seem like the most excitement came from expected sources (except movies like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Only Lovers Left Alive and the like).

In fact, we didn’t award any movie in 2014 an A+ grade, except for The Look of Silence, which won’t see theaters until this summer.

A grades were a little easier to come by. Movies that weren’t on our Most Anticipated list that ended up with A grades included:

There were also movies like Obvious Child, Force Majeure Birdman and Still Alice that we loved, but didn’t see coming a year ago.

There are also these to consider, adding a bit of context beyond the letter grade:

Generally, I find all of this really encouraging. People seem to agree that 2014 was a strong year for movies, and here we have a bit of proof that 1) some of the things we hope to be fantastic turn out to be fantastic and 2) there are enough surprising things to love to overshadow the clunking disappointments.

That’s a realistic reason to remain optimistic while we wonder how many of our Most Anticipated for 2015 will turn out the way we want.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.