Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Half-Year Favorite Movies for 2014

Time seems to move more quickly the older I get. In my thirtieth year, I can't believe this season has gone already and summer is nearly fully upon us. I wish I had the opportunity to see more foreign and limited-released films; unfortunately, I've only seen the films given major releases in theatres. With the year of 2014 at a halfway point, here are five of my favorite movies from the first half of the year (this is, of course, subject to change by the end of 2014, as opinions ebb and flow with the tide of time and multiple viewings):

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Thrilling action and ethical gravitas made this my favorite sequel so far in the Marvel "Avengers" franchise. This film comes across more in the vein of a spy/thriller story, with government conspiracy and the "lone framed man on the run" motif. The action is brutal and impressive--Captain America is a much more physical hand-to-hand fighter than many of his Avenger friends, the Hulk notwithstanding--and the weight of every punch and every moral decision is felt.

4. X-Men: Days of Future Past. The latest installment to the X-Men franchise is this year's X-Men: Days of Future Past, a thrilling time-travel ensemble film that attempts to harmonize the previous films while embarking into new territory with familiar characters. Literally, this film changes everything. This is a comic book film driven by its characters, not by their powers or the action scenes.The final showdown is less about the externals and more about the inner choices each character must make for themselves, a choice between violence or peace, fear or love. (My review)

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Quirky and outlandish, The Grand Budapest Hotel tells its complex narrative with a dry wit and a twinkle in its ornate eye. Every scene is beautifully constructed with precise detail and a reverence for design. The story is layered with fascinating characters that could only exist in a Wes Anderson world of weirdness and wonder. I want to rent this film and just watch it frame by frame, noting the intricacies of each scene. Love him or hate him, Anderson has a unique style that he infuses in each of his films, and The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like the most Andersonian of the lot. (Note: My favorite Wes Anderson film remains Moonrise Kingdom, and I doubt that film will be superseded.)

2. NoahThe book is nearly always better than the movie, and Darren Aronofsky's fantastic Noah is no exception. But this doesn't mean the movie isn't a worthy work of artistic merit on its own. A dream project for the filmmaker, Noah is the filmic mashup between a Narnian-like fantasy story, a Shakespearian family drama, and a Biblical morality tale, all rolled into an epic cinematic experience. More than anything, Noah raises deep spiritual questions, and invites discerning viewers into discussion and exploration of moral themes and paradoxes. In the end, Noah isn't a perfect film, but it's certainly a fantastic film, in both senses of the word--extraordinarily good and imaginative and fanciful. For those who are hesitant about Noah--particularly those who claim it isn't "biblical" enough--I would invite them to watch again with open minds and hearts, seeking truth and beauty in the flood of this tale. (My review)

1. The LEGO Movie. An animated kids' movie about toys is my favorite film of the year thus far? It's true. Everything, in fact, is awesome about The LEGO Movie, a hilarious and colourful exploration of artistic creativity and the beauty of wise moderation. The imagination and world-building in The LEGO Movie are par none; the humour is the most laugh-inducing I've had in a year; and the surprises in storyline, character cameos, and direction the film takes are all delightful. While this story seems like a typical "good Rebels versus evil Empire" tale, the final act takes the film to a new level of creativity and depth. Without spoiling anything, The LEGO Movie wonderfully explores the spiritual nature of creativity and our relationship with the Creator. More than anything, it sends a deeper message of moderation and discernment, where the abundant life is experienced by neither "following the rules" or "just doing what feels right." The LEGO Movie offers a Third Way, a way between polarization and politics, a way that is far more difficult to navigate but offers copious rewards when embraced with wisdom and discernment. (My review)

What have been your favorite films from the first half of 2014? Share in a comment!

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