Though Warner Bros. certainly did everything they could to put Edge of Tomorrow on people’s radar, I really don’t think that anyone knew what an intelligent, fast-paced and gripping sci-fi adventure the film would turn out to be. With its Groundhog Day-esque plot and confusing title, I certainly wasn’t particularly looking forward to this one. However, director Doug Liman took a familiar premise and gave it a clever spin, resulting in an inventive blockbuster that was just pure, unadulterated fun the whole way through. I’ll be the first to admit that I was not a fan of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Sure, WETA deserved a big round of applause for their terrific effects work, but the film placed too big a focus on the human element and aside from the final third, was a bit of a bore. But then came Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, one of the most intelligent and well-executed blockbusters that I’ve seen in years. And one that I was not at all expecting to enjoy. Some of the best surprises in cinema are when a first time director steps behind the camera and just absolutely knocks it out of the park. And that’s exactly the case with Dan Gilroy and his 2014 film, Nightcrawler. Featuring a career-best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and some chilling, thought-provoking material, Nightcrawler is hands down one of the most gripping and thrilling films of the year. Liam Neeson plus action/thriller usually equals success. But as we all know, the actor has done this bit to death by now and seeing as Non-Stop was being marketed as yet another thriller where Neeson barks and growls his way to the end, my expectations were quite low. Surprisingly, Non-Stop turned out to be a rather enjoyable thriller. With its (for the most part) one-setting location, intelligent twists and turns and a tense setup, the film won me over and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. I was always excited about X-Men: Days of Future Past, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t extremely skeptical as to how Bryan Singer would pull off such an ambitious project. Thankfully, the film pleasantly surprised me by succeeding on every count. Clever in the way it handled the tricky story, seriously funny at times, and an absolute rollercoaster ride full of impressive set pieces from beginning to end, X-Men: Days of Future Past turned out to be a sublime, thrilling and remarkably cool adventure that I can’t wait to embark on again. While I wouldn’t say that John Wick ranked amongst my best films of the year, it did truly surprise me. And that’s mostly thanks to directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who delivered an exhilarating action romp featuring Reeves’ best performance in years and well-shot, fluid and engaging action scenes that rivalled some of the best that Hollywood had to offer in 2014. Taking a relative unknown property like Guardians of the Galaxy (which is, admittedly, a bit out there), and giving it to a director who had never before handled a big blockbuster, was a risky move indeed. So, imagine how surprised myself, along with almost every other film critic was, when Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be one of 2014’s finest efforts. A stunning achievement in every sense of the word, the film made a star out of leading man Chris Pratt, gave us some of the most loveable characters of the year, showed off the creative genius of director James Gunn and had us begging for more at the end. I think that for me personally, The LEGO Movie was such a surprise because I went in expecting a simple, watered down children’s movie that would likely be more of a cash grab than anything else. Instead, what I got was one of the most emotionally satisfying, genuinely funny and thoughtful films that I saw in 2014. Between the spectacular animation, an all-star voice cast and endless creativity, The LEGO Movie is truly one of the gems from this year.