With the unfortunate death of Cinemasquid’s spectacular Blu-ray aggregation, we’ve decided to do something different for 2014’s best of list. Instead of categories, we’re simply picking personal stand outs. Maybe it’s for video, maybe it’s for the movie, or maybe some other random factor. Whatever the case, you’ll have two meaty lists this year, one from myself below and the other soon to come from Chris.
As usual, the only discs that count were the ones actually released in 2014 – the movie’s theatrical release date or any other factors are irrelevant.
Dawn re-established this franchise with force. For a movie which limits human actors in screen time, this mammoth undertaking of visual effects creates full blown emotion in a bunch of startlingly real, hyper-intelligent simians. What is lost in physical make-up craftsmanship has been regained by unbelievable reality, all without the loss of absorbing, parable-laced storytelling. It’s the best sequel of the series, joining 1971’s wholly original Escape from Planet of the Apes at the top.
Many were put off by the twisting of a classic Disney villain into something more sympathetic than heartlessly cold, but that’s what works – it’s different without the cynicism. Plus, Maleficent is visually boisterous and lush, setting the live action fairy tale in a realm which was totally believable in context of this unreal story. It’s also one of 2014’s top demo discs, further adding to the pain of Disney’s decision not to bring the 3D edition Stateside.
Of all of 2014’s slate, the one which kept coming back to me was the unassuming Philomena. Steven Coogan’s closed, pessimistic journalist pairs with an idealistic elderly woman (Judi Dench) in search of her long lost son. What follows is a story of life’s changes, rich in perspective and soft comedy. The film leaves the camera in place to let the leads perform, earning four deserved Oscar noms in the process.
In an uncomfortable year, Fruitvale Station’s story of police brutality approached the social and political issue with perspective, unknowingly growing the film in importance as these situations were blasted into the news cycle with unnerving frequency. Oscar Grant’s inexcusable death at the hands of a rookie BART officer is portrayed on screen through both innocence and aggression. Grant is played as imperfect, in opposition to many true stories which laud their central figures. Michael B. Jordan’s performance – following Grant on his final day and the totality of his last moments – is gut wrenching in this (unfortunately) forward thinking masterpiece.
George Pal’s replacement animation shorts are a joy to behold, remastered here with impeccable definition. But, for as good as the technicals are, it’s the slate of extras which send this disc into a tier which was unmatched in 2014. Further remastering creates two whole additional features, one bulging with shorts, the other a kooky classic, The Great Rupert. The commentary is thick, interviews are deep (including Ray Harryhausen), featurettes are superb, and a look at George Pal’s career should be considered definitive. That’s not even all of it. Sadly, the set was a limited edition and now commands collector pricing.
Fargo. RoboCop. Ghostbusters II. Rocky. With the move toward low quality streams on miniature screens as the dominating format for home cinema, these “Mastered in 4K” discs show just how much power Blu-ray has left as a format – at least until true 4K is the standard. Not only do these releases trounce the previous editions, they show the films as full of life, depth, and fidelity. If every disc received this type of careful, deserving treatment, we wouldn’t need to be here.
“Godzilla wasn’t in the movie enough.”
“The characters were plain.”
You’re right. But the movie was still tremendous when it found its groove. Godzilla finds the perfect Western niche for this decidedly Japanese creation – an accidental super hero who saves us all from the villainous MUTOs. Intelligent use of the camera during the finale keeps seamlessly slipping between human and monster level drama for ever rising stakes. See? Time spent with character development DID matter. What Godzilla lost in his nuclear origins, he quickly make up for in scale, weight, and unflinching bad assery, all assisted by one of the most monstrous (sorry) DTS-HD tracks of the year.
While other more established studios (cough, Sony, Media Blasters, cough) fumbled their Godzilla catalog, Kraken popped up with three beautiful masters of the series’ middle films. While Godzilla vs Gigan may have some compression bothers, the other two – Godzilla vs the Sea Monster, Godzilla vs Hedorah – are the best these films have ever looked. Maligned camp classics or not, Kraken shows better care than home studio Toho with regards to HD.
While most summer fare bleeds stupid because it can, here’s Edge of Tomorrow (or Live, Die, Repeat; depends who you ask), a thick and intellectually provocative sci-fi thriller, plus it has all of the action mannerisms demanded of such blockbusters. Tom Cruise is flawless as a squirrely PR man forced into combat duty against alien forces who unwittingly becomes the savior of humanity in the process. In-between is all manner of expertly handled exposition, nestled between a bunch of time travel quirks.
Thoughtful, somber, and enjoyably odd, the technophobic but progressive Her sticks around. While many films depict the terrifying reality of invasive artificial intelligence, few do it with such grace (Automata is another recent if lesser piece). Her is a back-and-forth about the intrusion of advancements and how rapidly growing tech has affected us as a species, both in terms of our acceptance and addiction to electronically delivered media. If the film is important now (and it is), Her will be increasingly crucial as it ages.
The AIDS crisis happened around me as a small child. It wasn’t clear what the consequences were or how they occurred. Thus, Dallas Buyers Club was enormously insightful and rich in its depiction of self-destruction, self-worth, denial, and panic. Matthew McConaugey portrays a broad stereotype of down south Texas living, rife with homophobia and misunderstanding. People change. Dallas Buyers Club carries the message of personal transformation through to the definitive end, and does so with an expressive sense of context.
I’ll be honest: The only reason this is here is because of how long it took to come to Blu-ray and how massively forgotten this Spielberg gem truly is. Tom Hanks has never been better as a trapped Krakozhian making due in an American airport. Terminal is a movie of tender romance, national tensions, improvisation, and bountiful characters. Paramount’s Blu-ray treatment handles a complex source, from Spielberg’s usual cinematographer collaborator Janusz Kaminski, with care. The Terminal deserves another pass and this disc is more than enough reason to pursue it.