1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The crown jewel of the MCU as far I’m concerned, by virtue of a beautiful confluence. Let’s start with Cap himself. He’s transported to the 21st Century, an old-fashioned guy out of his time. The directors and writers here make full use of that idea without losing sight of who Cap is. Just like in The First Avenger, he could so easily be a condescending caricature. Instead, he’s thrust into impossible situations to see if he’ll bend or break, if his moral righteousness, his very identity as a hero, can sustain (this is an idea The Dark Knight also tapped into so strongly). Robert Redford is genius casting, as is putting the seemingly-omniscient Nick Fury through the wringer, to communicate exactly how dire the straits are.
Importantly, the consequences match the stakes. This is the movie where Marvel said, “We’re not only going to blow up S.H.I.E.L.D., but we’re going to reveal they were HYDRA all along.” This is the movie where they said “We’re going to bring back Bucky with almost no lines and you will still tear up when Cap tells him ‘I’m with you to the end of the line.'” Those consequences are felt The Winter Soldier ends with our hero at his lowest point, in his life, possibly. And yet, Bucky ultimately saved Steve and, now, he remembers his old life. It’s an affecting film with big ideas about government surveillance and proper use of power. But it’s also a simple film about two best friends trying to live with the scars of the past. Who just happen to be America’s superhero and a brainwashed assassin.
We’ll find out together where Doctor Strange stands when it hits theaters November 4, but I’ll say this: I’m looking forward to it more than I was for Civil War.