22 Jump Street and The Raid 2For those who love: sequels done right.
The rare sequels worth celebrating – your Godfather IIs, your The Empire Strikes Backs, your Alienses - all have one thing in common: they expand on a successful formula instead of trying to recreate it.
The wink-nudge self-awareness of 21 Jump Street and bone-shattering action of The Raid can still be found in their respective sequels, but each builds on the framework established by their predecessor. The Raid 2 unleashes director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais on an entire city instead of just an apartment complex, spinning a wide-spanning crime epic in the process. 22 Jump Street, meanwhile, follows the franchise’s meta sense of humor to its absurd, inevitable conclusion, gleefully salting the earth behind it along the way.
While few will argue either sequel is superior to the original, they both maintain the essence of what made those originals great while admirably trying to do something fresh.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1For those who love: blockbusters with a side of food for thought.
As two of the top-grossing films of 2014, there’s a decent chance you’ve already seen both Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1. Alone, they’re further evidence of how the global box office has become dependent on comic books and YA novels for a sure-fire hit. Together, though, they show how such blockbusters are starting to age along with the trend.
Most don’t expect their popcorn flicks to hold up a mirror to society, so if you aren’t looking to be reminded of government surveillance, media manipulation, and the cost of maintaining a secure state, these aren’t the movies for you. But, if you’re looking for two blockbusters that dare (within the limitations of studio approval) to thread modern sociopolitical concerns through the familiar bones of a gargantuan crowd-pleaser, then Katniss and Cap would like a word with you.
John Wick and The GuestFor those who love: action movies with style to spare.
(Point+Shoot)^2 is a formula that anyone can use to film a gunfight, but it takes real talent to turn blunt action into kinetic poetry. Even more challenging is building a whole film around said action that holds your attention when the fists and lead aren’t flying.
With its seductive electronic score and open-arm appreciation for the work of John Carpenter, The Guest flits between genres and decades as smoothly as David, the hunky stranger rippling with abs and secrets, works his way into an unassuming Midwest community.
By contrast, the dapper John Wick is the closest thing to “normal” in a New York underworld populated by ridiculous gangsters and quirky assassins. What Wick and David have in common is that they’re both ass-kickers of the highest caliber, and each embodies a world or aesthetic that will make an indelible impression on any viewer jaded enough to think they’ve seen all that the action genre has to offer.
Nightcrawler and WhiplashFor those who love: horrible life coaches.
It’s probably for the good of all that Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom chooses to devote himself to videography instead of drumming. If the self-styled self-made man ever found his way into the classroom of Whiplash’s Terrance Fletcher, you’d see what happens when an unstoppable force meets an implacable motivator.
Forget conquering the
world of jazz: by their powers combined, this psychotically driven pair could be running the world within a week. Both Nightcrawler and Whiplash feature nail-biting sequences of suspense, but the most nerve-racking aspect of each is in how the films reward, rather than reprimand their antagonists for seeking greatness by any means necessary. Can you blame them? The cult of personality behind Lou and Fletcher is derived from the same basic lesson we’ve been taught our entire lives: try hard enough, and you’ll succeed.
If you’re after a source of unrestrained inspiration, look no further than these two films. If you’d also like to be able to look yourself in the mirror, maybe stick to motivational posters.
Obvious Child and Beyond the LightsFor those who love: backstage romance.
On paper, about the only time Obvious Child’s Donna and Beyond the Lights’ Noni ever overlap is on stage. One is a struggling Brooklyn comedian, and the other is a Katy Perry/Rihanna mash-up of a pop star with fame to match. Both women occupy worlds as different as the tones of their films, one being a romantic comedy, the other being a romantic melodrama. But the great uniting factor of Obvious Child and Beyond the Lights is in how they use their romantic side to illuminate the crossroad in life Noni and Donna find themselves at, rather than make that romance the crossroad itself.
Donna’s relationship with her one night stand-turned potential baby daddy can still be sweet and charming without consuming her world, just as Noni’s blossoming romance with police officer Kaz can owe as much to mutual attraction as it does a shared desire to escape life under someone else’s control. Both movies exemplify some of the best qualities of their genres, while still being romantic in a way that doesn’t treat love as a one-size-fits-all concept.
Edge of Tomorrow and Only Lovers Left AliveFor those who love: genre stories with soul.
Which would be worse: to be the same person eternally while the rest of the world changes around you, or to be the only one evolving in a world that’s forever stuck in place? The two scenarios are about as antithetical to one another as Only Lovers Left Alive is to Edge of Tomorrow, the former being a languid vampire hangout movie, and the latter being a slam-bang sci-fi blockbuster. Where the two meet, though, is in how they use the familiar tropes of their respective genres to explore the universal curse of mortality.
Each pursues its own definition of “cool,” whether its music and Tangier, or mechsuits and time travel. But hiding beneath the aloof, or brain-teasing exterior of each film is a well-observed examination of how being alive is very different from simply not being dead.
Under the Skin and Inherent ViceFor those who love: WTF literary adaptations.
Even if 2000’s Under the Skin had a following big enough to warrant the usual outrage readers have for their favorites being altered for the screen, most would likely be too dumbstruck by the impenetrability of Jonathan Glazer’s film adaptation to complain. Perhaps as a reference to how closely it plays things to the vest, Under the Skin lets you know from the title that it’s your job to sift through the darkly hypnotic images Glazer has collected, in order to see the audacious sci-fi trip hiding just beneath the surface.
Conversely, Paul Thomas Anderson’s take on Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is a largely faithful recreation of the 2009 novel. Only problem is, that novel is so loaded with noir plot twists, hippie mysticism, and surf rock conspiracies that Anderson’s adaptation is often as confusing as the book. All the more reason then to watch both multiple times, not just so that you get the full story, but so you can also enjoy two of the films that will likely be looked back on as among the finest 2014 had to offer.