Despite low numbers, 2014 summer movie season a strong one

(Photo Courtesy of Marvel) (Photo Courtesy of Marvel)

Summer movie season is typically described as the time of year in which some of the biggest films are released. Not yet awards season and just past the time of year in which studios release their “dump" films, the summer is meant to be that time of year in which people can just go to the movies to beat the heat and enjoy themselves.

That’s not to say, however, that good movies don’t come out in the summer. Some of the best films get released between the months of May and August, and this year was no exception. While movies like “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and “Maleficent” saw time at the top of the box-office rankings, other movies with heart, soul and critical praise made it to the screen as well. While it might have been a challenge to find those movies this year, I did the legwork and found five personal favorite summer movies.

5. “How to Train Your Dragon 2”

When the first “How to Train Your Dragon” was released in 2009, Dreamworks ended up having another hit franchise on their hands. After spawning its own television series on Cartoon Network as well as three film sequels, Dreamworks continues to make money off of what could be their best property since “Shrek.”

The big concern about “How to Train Your Dragon 2” was whether or not the magic of the first film would be able to be duplicated — fortunately, it was. In fact, I would argue that “Dragon 2” is the rare sequel that manages to surpass its predecessor. Jay Baruchel’s voice work is second-to-none as is the rest of the casts and the sweeping visuals of an entire group of dragons flying to John Powell’s iconic score (which I believe was greatly snubbed in losing to “The Social Network” at the Oscars that year) was absolutely breathtaking. Add that the film managed to tackle surprisingly mature themes for an animated movie, and there’s something here for everyone. It’s a shame the film underperformed a bit at the box office, though that doesn’t seem to be stopping Dreamworks from moving ahead with upcoming iterations.

4. “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

After the atrocities that were “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (not to be confused with James Mangold’s 2013 “The Wolverine” which I quite enjoyed), Bryan Singer had his work cut out for him in making fans excited to see the original cast back together. His work was made easier for him, though, by Matthew Vaughn’s outstanding “X-Men: First Class,” and there was great buzz surrounding the film in seeing how the two casts would interact. The film also follows one of the comic book’s most iconic story lines, and Singer faced a seemingly daunting task.

Fortunately, the end result was an outstanding film that managed to put a pulse back into the group of mutants everyone knows and loves. Hugh Jackman always managed to turn in an outstanding performance as Logan and there’s no denying how magnificent it was to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen back as Professor X and Magneto, respectively. The film managed to make up for pointlessly axing characters in “The Last Stand” as well as set up the next film in the franchise, “Apocalypse,” which will also tackle an incredibly iconic storyline in 2016.

3. "Edge of Tomorrow"

Without a doubt the most underrated movie of the summer, “Edge of Tomorrow” is one of the best films of the summer, let alone one of the best science fiction movies of the past five years. The Tom Cruise vehicle, based on the novel "All You Need is Kill" by Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka, follows a soldier who is forced to live the same day on repeat until he can defeat the enemy “mimics,” which the film manages to make one of the best designed and creepiest aliens in recent memory.

There’s no denying that the film was hurt by Warner Brothers changing the title to "Edge of Tomorrow." Rather than using a bold, memorable title, the company resorted to a generic, throwaway title. Ultimately, I believe the film’s underperformance was a direct result of this biff. It’s a shame, too, because “Edge of Tomorrow” is truly a great film.

2. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

“Cloverfield” director Matt Reeves managed to seemingly do the impossible: make a movie in which the audience cares more about the apes than the humans in the background. By far one of the best, if not the best entry in the entire franchise, the film shows that, if done properly, time lapse in film can be quite effective. In the 10 years since “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” Caesar has come into his own as a bona fide leader, and the clan of apes he watches over is clearly a force of nature. WETA’s special effects work on the film is absolutely remarkable, as is Andy Serkis’s performance. Although I think it’s far too early in the year to predict (I’m sure there will be many more worthy performances in the coming months), I think it would be quite smart of the Academy to give Serkis a well deserved Best Actor nomination when awards season comes around. If not, the film’s special effects will win an Oscar for sure. It’s an absolute sin if they don’t.

1. “Guardians of the Galaxy”

At this point in time, Marvel is absolutely unstoppable. As a comic book fan, “Guardians” has been one of my most anticipated films ever since it was announced years ago at Comic-Con. Sort of the B-grade heroes of the comic book world, "Guardians of the Galaxy" were an incredibly obscure group that only die-hard geeks would recognize. Yet the film has managed to become one of Marvel’s biggest ever.

All of the credit is due to writer/director, James Gunn, who created the absolutely perfect film for the heroes of the cosmos. On paper, a talking raccoon and a tree that can only say three words seems like an absolutely insane thing to bring to the screen. Somehow, Gunn managed to not only bring them to life, but make the masses care about them. I think a large part of this is Gunn’s writing, which never takes the film too seriously and feels like the B-grade movies of the '80s. I had my doubts about Bradley Cooper being cast as Rocket, but he absolutely kills it. Chris Pratt is charismatic as hell as Peter Quill, Zoe Saldana is fantastic as Gamora, and words can hardly describe how Vin Diesel’s voice work on Groot made my inner fan-boy scream with joy. Not only is the film the perfect superhero film, it is the text book definition of what a good summer movie should be: a smart, fun, edge of your seat ride for the entire family.


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