The Top 10 Movie Trailers of 2014

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Ah, movie trailers. We love them, we hate them, we don’t quite understand them. We complain that they tell us too much, or deride them for including all the good jokes/explosions/scares, but there’s no doubt that we rely on them to make our movie-going decisions — and that they’ve becoming something of an art of their own. So join us for a look back at the year in trailers, and at ten spots whose artistry and craft rose above mere hype.

Dear White People

The year’s smartest and funniest satire gets the sell-job it deserves, with a brilliant ad campaign that not only trafficked in provocative viral videos, but trailers that convey the movie’s intelligence and wit while only hinting at its depth. (So you’ve got something to hook in to, and something to discover). The official trailer is a damn fine one, but your correspondent prefers this first teaser, which taps into the picture’s gleeful eagerness to put cinematic sacred cows on blast: The Butler, The Help, Gremlins, and especially (and most entertainingly) Tyler Perry.

Nightcrawler

Another case of the first teaser topping the final trailer — which, in this case, divulges far too much of the narrative for its own good. However, the first teaser for Dan Gilroy’s moody, Taxi Driver­-esque thriller sticks to the basics: the way the city looks at night, the way it feels to course through it, and the considerable darkness at the center of Jake Gyllenhaal’s protagonist. (Plus, it’s full of moments that didn’t make the film’s final cut, which makes it particularly interesting to revisit after the fact.)

The Babadook

When you get right down to it, trailers are about rhythm. It’s one of the easiest ways to draw an audience in when you’ve only got two-and-half to three minutes; set the scene, throw in the spice, increase that pace, and hook ‘em. That’s what happens in the trailer to Jennifer Kent’s masterful horror flick; watch the way the speed of the cuts increase, the way the trailer grabs that repeated “Don’t let him in” incantation, and twists.

Better Living Through Chemistry

Trailers don’t just give you a look at what a movie might be — they show you what the people who made or distributed it hope it could have been. Take, for example, this dark comedy, which came and went with little fanfare back in the spring, perhaps rightly. But it still packs plenty of punch into two minutes, between Olivia Wilde being sexy and the fleeing glimpses of one of our favorite sights in moviedom: Sam Rockwell dancing.

Blackhat

Its January opening date isn’t promising, its premise even less so (to catch a hacker, they’ll have to use a hacker). But who cares — it’s Michael Mann’s first directorial effort in five very long years, and so chill out and luxuriate in the slo-mo-tough-walking-digital-sheen-to-slow-dreamy-pop-music glory of a new Michael Mann movie.

Interstellar

The film itself had its problems, but you’ve gotta give it to the second trailer for Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi drama for promising what the movie delivered: billowing dust, bananas effects, down-home McConaughey, plenty of tears, and Michael Caine reciting Dylan Thomas (a touch so effective here, you almost wonder if they put it in the movie just so they could put it in the trailer).

Guardians of the Galaxy

Though it plays it disappointingly safe in the home stretch, James Gunn’s summer hit aimed to break the Marvel mold and sculpt the comic book blockbuster into something looser and funkier. So this first trailer was key in establishing that tone — and it did so masterfully, thanks to generous doses of wry Chris Pratt and particularly inspired use of Blue Suede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron

With the Avengers, on the other hand, Marvel barely even needs to put out a trailer; it’s not like it won’t make a bajillion dollars when it his theaters next summer. And on one level, this first teaser is pretty typical summer blockbuster stuff: lots of characters looking up in awe, an abundance of hero shots, mysterious introductions of new characters, and plenty of “hey, they’ll be doing this and that and the other thing, whaddaya reckon it all means?” But presuming, as we so often do, that writer/director Joss Whedon is up to more than meets the money-printing franchise eye, there are two lovely touches that indicate the filmmaker is giving us all a little wink. First of all, there’s the creepy-kid-singing version of “I’ve Got No Strings,” a sly shout-out to Marvel’s corporate overlords at Disney. And secondly, right in the middle of all the carnage and smashing, there’s that WTF shot of the ballet dancers, which could only be in there to make people scratch their heads and over-analyze. (Mission accomplished.)

American Sniper

Watch enough trailers and the formulas can get utterly maddening: quickie exposition, rapid-cut explosions and gunfire, build build build, climax and cut to black. So the trailer to Clint Eastwood’s forthcoming military drama is refreshingly unique in style and structure: rather than smashing highlights from the entire movie into its 2.5 minutes, we’re instead shown one tense scene with some quick cut-ins, summing up the movie’s spirit and horror efficiently and effectively.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

On Black Friday, 88 seconds (even less, once you take out black leaders and titles) unspooled in theaters and on YouTube, and everyone lost their minds. It’s easy to sneer at the already deafening fanboy rhapsodizing and comical over-analysis, but y’know what? When they cut in from black to that iconic theme and that glorious image of the Millennium Falcon, it’s all over. That moment, and the little goosebumps accompanying it, are what movie trailers are all about.