Movie fans will remember 2014 with ambivalence. There were plenty of good movies, but not many great ones.
In many ways, 2014 felt more notable for what happened away from the screen. Parents across America endured the cultural aftershocks of 2013’s “Frozen.” Churchgoers noted an uptick in Hollywood-produced biblical films, but felt let down by the results. And what can you say when an 88-second teaser trailer for the upcoming Star Wars installment gets more attention than any of the films actually released during the year?
Still, in a year that saw theater chains pulling political comedies after terrorism threats, and the kings of the big screen foretelling the doom of the summer blockbuster, there were some high points.
“The Lego Movie” used clever writing and animation to create the best toy-to-movie adaptation we’ve seen so far (or just the first good one?). “Interstellar” was 2014’s reminder of why it’s still worthwhile to get out of the house and buy a theater ticket once in a while.
But even these movies struggled to appeal to the whole family because of either inappropriate content or the kind of content that can’t hold the attention of a 4-year-old. Too often, the term “family friendly” automatically translates to “animated” or “dumbed down.” Films bereft of offensive content are often absent of quality, and quality films are too rough for the little kids.
Part of the reason for this is the so-called death of the PG rating. When I was a kid growing up in the ’80s, my family made regular expeditions to the drive-in to take in all sorts of high-quality PG movies. You could argue that films like “Back to the Future” and “Ghostbusters” weren’t squeaky clean, but these days, your comedy options are a choice between an animated children’s film or a raunchy mess from Adam Sandler or the Farrelly brothers.
Often, 2014 films that seemed to be family friendly weren’t. “Maleficent” was an interesting take on an old Disney character, but many parents found the film too dark for their youngest children. The screening for the Nicholas Sparks romance “The Best of Me” was filled with mothers and their teenage daughters, but the PG-13-straining results were disastrous.
Michael Bay insists he’s making his sophomoric Transformers movies for teenage boys, but what eighth-grader is going to wrap his mind around a jarring piece of exposition that tries to justify the hero’s romantic relationship with an underage girl?
Comic book movies and young adult adaptations frequently feel like the best candidates for family friendly outings, which works great as long as you like comic book heroes and science fiction or don’t mind sequels, prequels and reboots galore. But even these films can make up for a lack of sex and profanity with generous action violence.
This is why, for better or for worse, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the best film to define the cinema of 2014. It was one of the only breakout hits in a dismal box office, and the closest thing 2014 produced to a universally appealing film.
“Guardians” was genuinely fun. Speaking as someone who went in as a skeptic — can Marvel really succeed with a film based on characters approximately 13 people have heard of? — “Guardians” provided the kind of refreshing good time few films did in 2014.
As a summer popcorn flick, it lacked the depth of a truly moving drama. And, yes, the film is not without profanity and off-color moments. But the dysfunctional family of cosmic bounty hunters was fun to watch and strangely easy to relate with, thanks largely to a soundtrack of classic ’70s hits playing in the background.
The sight of Chris Pratt drop-kicking alien worm-rats while lip-syncing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” over the film’s opening credits gets my vote for feel-good moment of the year. It was the perfect introduction to a film that offered a welcome change of pace from the too-serious barrage of comic book offerings we’ve seen over the last few years (and are scheduled to see for many years to come).
James Gunn’s movie may never make the American Film Institute's list of 100 greatest films, but it put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces.
Admittedly, choosing “Guardians” as my movie of the year belies a strong personal bias. “Guardians” was the last movie I saw with my dad before he passed away in September. It was also the movie I took the rest of my family to when we had to get away from the pressure of funeral plans and viewings and all the condolences coming our way.
Somehow the sight of a cast of oddballs making the best of a lousy situation hit home for us in a way few 2014 offerings could. There’s no question that if it came out in 1985, my family would have zipped out to the Redwood Drive-In to see “Guardians” on a warm Friday night, fully loaded with Twizzlers and Mr. Salty Pretzel Twists.
Yes, we’re still talking about a film with enough violence to nab a PG-13 rating. Does that mean the true family film is a myth? A cinematic Holy Grail that parents will have to keep dreaming about behind 3-D glasses while they sit through another animated production with a cast of talking animals? Maybe.
Ask me again once the new Star Wars movie comes out.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.