I have always been a great lover of trailers. As much talent and skill as making a decent full-length movie requires, there is an equally fine and subtle art to taking a feature film, distilling its essential themes, tones, characters, and moments into a handful of minutes, and making that in and of itself compelling and watchable enough to make anyone who sees it say, “Now, THAT is something I am going to give my money to!”
To provide just one example, I had never even heard of Watchmen before this little ditty played before my Opening Day viewing of The Dark Knight way back in 2008. My first reaction- “Well, that looks stupid.” But something about its ambient mood sat with me. I found myself watching the trailer again and again, and before I knew it I had bullied my Dad into getting me the book as a Christmas gift, plowed through it in a few days, and was right up front in line for the midnight premier of the Snyder film the following Spring.
Another example- I credit a fair amount of my generally positive feelings towards the admittedly mixed and tonally confused Walter Mitty movie from last year to the fact that the trailer was absolutely perfect. The trailer had months to stew in my head, letting my obsession with it build, and by the time I saw the actual film I found myself more than willing to ignore the egregious product placement so that my mind could coo over the crisp cinematography.
Another example- this fan trailer for David Lynch’s The Elephant Man will make you sob.
Okay, okay, I swear, I will stop there. But I really could go on for endless hours, listing all of the expert trailers I have seen in my day, and explain why each one is a piece of art in and of itself. I hope you see now that, for all of its brevity, a well-crafted trailer can contain every bit of the emotional heft of an entire movie. And, for the first time ever, I am here now to recall the best and most effective trailers that came out in 2014. For the purposes of this list, any trailer is eligible if the official version was officially posted to Youtube sometime in 2014, regardless of whether or not said film actually came out before 2014, during 2014, or is yet to grace the big screen.
Sit back, and prepare to get hyped up.
10. Birdman Teaser
Only half of this one shows off the long-take style that gives Birdman its unique feel, but that hardly matters, because throughout the entire thing we have a slowed-down, melancholy version of “Crazy” in the background to set the stage for what seems like a melodramatic tale of someone slipping into insanity.
But then we get the final scene with Michael Keaton and Ed Norton, and we know fun times are about to be had all around.
9. Star Wars Teaser
How good is this trailer? It almost- almost- made me forget that J.J. Abrams directed this thing. Not only that, it made almost no longer worried. That’s not nothing.
8. Tomorrowland Teaser
Like a good teaser, when you first see this one, you aren’t entirely sure what, exactly, you are looking at, but you are certainly intrigued. Seemingly normal out of our own world transported to a fantasy land simply by touching a pin? Huh. Wonder what this is?
And then the title popped up at the end, and I shat myself with joy.
And then the title popped up at the end, and I shat myself with joy.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy Teaser
I think this is one of the best examples of doing what most trailers try to do- give viewers a direct explanation of who in the cast of a movie is who- without making the result feel (like most trailers) artificially forced. Given how unknown this property was prior to the movie’s hype machine getting cranked into gear, they needed us to know fast who each Guardian was and allow us a hint of their powers/motivations. Their solution? Take the headshot/lineup cop scene from early in the movie and repurpose it into trailer form. As a vehicle for getting names and faces into our heads, it works absurdly well.
6. Selma Trailer #1
At first, there’s not much in this trailer to distinguish it from legions of other Black History Oscar-bait movies we’ve gotten in past years (although those aware that we had never actually gotten an MLK film before would certainly have been interested from the get-go, if only out of curiosity). Then the second half kicks in, launched by a hip-hop beat timed to the firing of a police gun, and the trailer kicks into an all-out, in-your-face high gear, and we know that we are in for something special.
5. Inherent Vice Official Trailer
What makes this one is mostly how much fun it is to watch Joaquin Phoenix get beat about by various elements of seedy, 70’s Los Angeles. It tries so hard to make sense, and does, but yet doesn’t. Much like the movie. Also, I cannot get enough of Josh Brolin’s Bigfoot. Molto Panacaku indeed.
4. Interstellar Trailer #2
Now, I happened to like Interstellar a lot. Some people loved it. Many did not. However, regardless of where one falls on the Nolan Spectrum (which is now officially a Thing that Exists), there is no denying the captivating power of this trailer. Did the movie live up to the vibe its trailer created? Perhaps not. Neither did Walter Mitty. But that does not diminish what it achieves in under 3 minutes.
3. Legend of Korra Book 4 Trailer
The Avatar franchises have always set an extremely high bar for their trailers, the best of them all being probably the trailer for Book Two of Legend of Korra. The trailer for the show’s final season continues this great tradition, and indeed follows the example of many of the greatest trailers ever made. The voice-over opening aside (and a highly unnecessary plot spoiler at the very end), this is all visuals, music, and the psych-yourself-up atmosphere the combined two create. A worthy final trailer for a worthy final chapter in the Avatar world.
2. Nichtcrawler Teaser
I had been passively interested in seeing this film after reviews started coming out, but it took just one viewing of this teaser to rocket the film up to the upper echelons of my “must-see” list. This is a perfect teaser. You get just a taste of the main character and story, and then the rest proceeds to freak you the hell out. In the best way possible.
1. Legend of Korra Book 3 Trailer
How many times did I end up watching this trailer before it ceased to get my heart racing like I’d just won a marathon? I don’t know. I lost count somewhere after the 30th viewing, and it took a bit longer after that. No other trailer that came out this year screamed “Sit down and watch this shit NOW” like this one did. Its visuals and editing are arresting, hinting at the extreme tension of the episodes to come, and the pounding music might be the best villain theme the Avatar series has ever had. It was the best, most artistic, and most effective trailer of 2014.
This is not the end of my pre-Oscars look-back at 2014! Check back again soon for a listing of the year’s best soundtracks! To check out my Top 10 Movies of 2014 list, click here.