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Sean’s End Of Summer Movie Round Up

As Labor day passes us by, I think we can all agree that 2014 has been a pretty underwhelming year for music thus far. There have been some bright spots, but there haven’t been many true triumphs. Even the biggest selling albums of the year, Beyonce and the Frozen soundtrack, had the good sense to be released in 2013. While a tepid music year is always a bummer, 2014 has been counterbalanced by one of the best summer blockbuster seasons in a while. While it’s tough to judge the merits of a time traveling comic book plot against the story of a Polish immigrant in 1921, here is how I felt the movies I saw this summer ranked against each other*, with the caveat that I considered all of them to be some measure of a success.

Note: I’ll avoid specific plot reveals, but there will be mild spoilers from here on.

1) Edge Of Tomorrow: By far the greatest “video game movie” that is in no way based on an actual video game, Edge Of Tomorrow is the best Hollywood action movie I’ve seen in recent memory. Set around the Groundhog Day premise of a soldier who is forced to relive the battle that decides the fate of humanity over and over again, Tom Cruise plays against his own action hero pedigree beautifully, as a hapless PR man who ends up on the front lines. A great supporting cast including Brendan Gleeson and Bill Paxton is led by the criminally under appreciated Emily Blunt. As we slowly watch Cruise become a better soldier and advance further towards his goal, the movie never misses a chance to show how routine death has become, as he reacts more in childish frustration than terror when he meets his demise. While it wasn’t quite a flop or a hit, I have no doubt that Edge Of Tomorrow will live on as one of the all time great sci-fi action movies.

2) Snow Piercer: Some have dubbed Snow Piercer this summer’s thinking man’s action movie. I think that title is insulting, as it presumes that the fast paced, non stop momentum of Snow Piercer wouldn’t be dumb enough to appeal to the average film goer. While it disguises it’s crowd appeal in layers of well appointed social allegory, Snow Piercer is one long battle, broken up intermittently for scenes so surreal and specific they are as engaging and memorable as the beautifully choreographed action. South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho’s first English Film, he proves adept at capturing great performances, as Chris Evans gives a career best as the put upon rebel leader, and Tilda Swinton gives us another stand out role in a career full of them. Snow Piercer may have higher minded idea’s than the average popcorn fare, but it never let’s those ideas get in the way of being an entertaining film.

3) Guardians Of The Galaxy: As every other studio is racing to build their own interconnected super hero worlds, regardless of whether anyone wants them to, Marvel continues to run laps around their competitors with Guardians Of The Galaxy. Set so far off their expanded map that they don’t so much as mention any of the other Marvel heroes, Guardians is less a super hero movie than a space western in the vane of Firefly and the original Star Wars. Chris Pratt gives a breakout performance as Star Lord, the cocky smuggler abducted from Earth in his youth, and the titular Guardians are rounded out by Gamora, Groot, Rocket Raccoon and Drax, all well defined, fleshed out characters that make the film one of the most fun comic adaptations ever made. While DC’s new film universe seems to be bogged down by self seriousness, and Sony keeps making Spider Man movies just so no one else can, Marvel continues to confidently execute the story model they invented.

4) The Immigrant: The definition of summer counter programming, The Immigrant is director James Gray’s sweeping period piece about the dangerous and confusing story of immigrating to the United States in the 1920’s. Following Marion Cotillard’s journey as a Polish immigrant, she is forced to sneak into America with the help of Joaquin Phoenix’s mysterious stranger. One of the most strikingly beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time, The Immigrant never gets burdened by the weight of many prestige drama’s. The first film to ever shoot on Ellis Island, we never gets lost in side plot’s or atmosphere, and over a tight 2 hours Gray delivers a great story, while using that narrative to comment on the American experience as a whole.

5) Obvious Child: While Obvious Child has gotten a lot of press for it’s treatment of abortion, what has gotten lost is that Jenny Slate made the best Apatow-style comedy in years. Focusing around a fledgling stand up comedian as her life implodes, Slate plays her character as someone wounded and confused, but innately likable, who just wants to make people laugh. Despite the abortion that drives the story, the movie never pauses to become dour, simply taking it as an unfortunate event and moving on. At a tight hour and 25 minutes, Obvious Child is this summers ruder, funnier companion to 2013’s Frances Ha.

6) X-Men: Days Of Future Past: The idea of doing a time travel adventure that merges the two ends of the X-men series was risky, but Bryan Singer pulls it off. Sending series favorite Wolverine back in time to the 1970‘s allowed the set designer to have some fun, but also set up a great chase caper that blends perfectly with the desperate struggle for survival going on in the present day. The incredible A list cast all bring their best, and remind us why this is the best non-Marvel Studio’s Marvel franchise by a wide margin. While not the best film in the series (that honor still goes to the incredible X-Men 2), Days Of Future Past puts the original Comic movie franchise at a solid 4/5 success rate, with no sign of losing steam.

(*) Boyhood: If I’m being honest, Boyhood was the best movie I saw this summer, and likely the best movie I’ve seen in years. The problem is that it doesn’t feel fair to compare Boyhood to any other film. Shot by Richard Linklater over 11 years, as the cast would reconvene annually to add more scenes, Boyhood is truly a one of a kind experience. While there is no central “plot” to speak of, the movie tells the story of a child becoming a young man, as scenes depicting pivotal moments in his life are often left out, replaced by more mundane events. This creates the true sensation of growing with these people, as our lives have no true arc, and are comprised of mostly meaningless events that none the less stay with us. While it may not be fair to compare Boyhood to other films, it is none the less a true masterpiece of film making.

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