20. JACK RYAN:
Reboots have gotten a bad rep recently, as for every Casino Royale remake, there’s a Planet of the Apes re-imagining and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles do-over. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit comes after The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears, but takes place before them all, introducing us to the man who hasn’t yet become the Jack Ryan we know — and it does an amazing job of it. Kenneth Branagh does double-duty as both the director and the villainous Viktor Cherevin, excelling at each. The movie starts quickly, moves along without taking a breath, and races to a climactic finish. It’s not overlong, but sleek, brisk, and one of the most refreshing thrillers of the year.
DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
Not to miss the boat of superhero supergroup movies like The Avengers and Justice League, the X-Men franchise delivered their own attempt, which unites the cast of the 2000-2005 X-Men trilogy and the cast of the 2011 prequel-boot X-Men: First Class. X-Men: Days of Future Past works as a time-travel movie, a period piece, a dystopian thriller, and a superhero movie. While the science of its time travel is gobbledegook, it’s treated with the grit and gravitas of the Terminator movies. Much as The Avengers was really a sequel to Thor yet didn’t require foreknowledge of it, X-Men: Days of Future Past is actually less a crossover picture of the old and new generations than it is purely a sequel to X-Men: First Class, but it succeeds perfectly well without having seen the 2011 origin story. Most impressive of all, Days of Future Past is the all-around best X-Men movie yet.
When it comes to grim murder mysteries where the deceased woman’s significant other is the sole suspect, who then takes it upon himself to try and prove his innocence when nobody believes him, Horns is the movie Gone Girl wanted to be. When Ig (Daniel Radcliffe) wakes up after a post-breakup bender to discover his now-ex-girlfriend (Juno Temple) has been brutally murdered, the entire town believes Ig killed her and shuns him. After two weeks of proclaiming his innocence to deaf ears, Ig awakens one morning with horns starting to grow from his forehead. Stranger still, he soon discovers the horns persuade anyone he talks to to reveal their darkest secrets to him. With his new ability, Ig takes it upon himself to clear his name and find the real murderer, leading him on a twisting tale of red herrings, deception, and ulterior motives that comes together to create one of the most original and unpredictable detective stories in years.
17. A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
Writer-director J.C. Chandor’s first movie, Margin Call, was one of the best dramas of 2011. His second, the brilliant All is Lost, was the best movie of 2013 not called Gravity. His third conclusively demonstrates he’s one of the greatest filmmakers working today. Set in New York City in 1981 (when there were more robberies and murders than in any other year of NYC history), A Most Violent Year follows Abel (Oscar Isaac), the owner of an oil company struggling to stay honest in a world of guns, underhanded deals, blackmail, and hijackings – all while dealing with a hot-headed wife (a riveting Jessica Chastain), defaulting loans from every angle, and an invasive investigation by an Assistant D.A. (David Oyelowo). It’s a completely different movie that Margin Call or All is Lost, and is wholly successful at creating both a distinct world and a crime movie that doesn’t feel like it steals wholesale from Martin Scorsese.
16. THE LEGO MOVIE
Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a blissfully optimistic LEGO construction worker whose uninteresting life is interrupted when he becomes tangled in a plot involving President Business (Will Ferrell) trying to destroy the world and a prophecy that just might apply to Emmet. Plus there’s Batman. So many family movies nowadays either pander to children with insulting antics or are too busy being kinetic and colourful to attempt to be clever or funny, but The LEGO Movie has an effortless power behind it. The comedy is legitimately funny, the animation is simple yet detailed, and the action careens from one random moment of genius to the next. It’s the type of movie that a kid could come up with, but in treating its whimsy with thoughtfulness, it also makes you feel like a kid again.