In the past few years, the Hype Machine that is Hollywood makes it pretty hard to be surprised by any movie. That is why I get a special enjoyment out of films that are better than my expectations. After the break, read my list of the five motion pictures that surprised me the most this year.
First, a disclaimer. I am in no way saying these are the best films of the year, nor are they the only films that were better than I expected. This is just the five movies that MOST surprised me this year, in order of how much I liked them.
Disney’s latest animated adventure Frozen was one of my favorite movies of the year. I should have expected it to be good considering the recent track record of Walt Disney Animation Studios (re: Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph), but I actually didn’t know much about this film. Staff writer and soon-to-be Editor in Chief took point on covering the film, so I got to go into my screening without much information. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my lack of excitement for the film was unwarranted. I would argue that this is the best non-Pixar animated film since the Disney Renaissance. It has great music, beautiful imagery, an interesting story with a twist, relatable characters, and genuine humor. With Pixar’s latest endeavors hovering around mediocrity, I’m glad to see Disney taking the animation baton and running with it. Also, who knew that Kristen Bell could sing?
As you’ll soon see, I have two zombie films on this list, which is another discussion all by itself. I’d argue that Warm Bodies is the best zombie flick since Zombieland, which I would never have guessed when word of the project first came out. The buzz around the film before any footage was shown was that it was Twilight with zombies. The one mythical creature in modern pop culture that we thought was safe from “sexifying” was safe no more. However, when the first trailer came out, my opinion did a 180. It looked more like a parody of the Twilight concept, which I could be down with. The film itself is more subtle than that, teetering between parody and earnestness. It took what could have been a terrible idea and turned it into a clever romantic comedy that never took itself too seriously.
This is the End
I should have had more faith in This is the End before I saw it. The apocalyptic comedy had some of the funniest actors of this generation playing themselves, was written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who previously teamed up to write Pineapple Express and Superbad), and had a cool sic-fi premise that didn’t look cheap. It seemed too good to be true, which is why I was so skeptical. However, this turned out to be one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, including some great cameos. I loved that no one was afraid to take shots at themselves, and the plot tied in nicely with the main characters and the personalities of celebrities.
World War Z
There is no reason why World War Z should be good. It had everything stacked against it. First of all, it has very little in common with the popular novel it’s based on. The film follows a completely different story structure (while keeping a select few elements from the book) and even makes the zombies move fast when author Max Brooks was very specific about how zombies would move slowly. There were also all kinds of issues with the production, which ran over budget and had several rewrites and reshoots. Even the initial trailers didn’t look very good, focusing almost exclusively on star Brad Pitt and never showing a zombie up close. The experiment of making a big budget zombie film looked to be a failure, but then the first reviews came in. People actually liked it (“not bad” is probably the most common phrase I saw used). Still, I went into the theater skeptical. I came out a believer. I don’t know how they did it, but the filmmakers made a cohesive film that was entertaining, scary, and even a little thought-provoking. Sign me up for the sequel.
Wow, did The Croods look dumb. I didn’t even catch it until it came out on home release (read my review here). However, I was surprised to see a genuinely heartwarming and adventurous film with quite a few laughs. The film is about a family of cavemen who have to leave their secure home after an earthquake. They meet a more evolved caveboy, leading to possibly the first interspecies relationship I’ve seen in a Dreamworks Animation feature. Even so, Emma Stone is lovable as ever as Eep Crood, and Nicolas Cage plays the protective father Grug with a great sincerity. The film doesn’t rival Disney’s latest projects, but I still enjoyed it.
What movies surprised you this year? Let us know in the comments below.