A little late on this, but I wanted to make sure I got a chance to see as many films that came out in 2014 as I possibly could. Looking forward to comments.
- Whiplash – A movie that just hit me in so many ways. It’s raw, it’s significant, and it feels about as real as it could. Sure, I’ll bet there are some issues with the film’s content in terms of accuracy, but the script and the acting is so well executed, those little discrepancies don’t matter much. J.K. Simmons is insane in this movie and well worthy of the praise heaped upon him, and Miles Teller is under-appreciated in his role (although it is a stacked year in the male acting categories) that really makes the film work. Still the most incredible thing about the film is that the director wasn’t even 30 when he made this, a film that is so confident in its existence, it’s difficult to overlook.
- Gone Girl – David Fincher, to his credit, never makes the same movie twice. That’s why we’ll never get him to make the sequels to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it’s just not in his nature (well, maybe not: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1703246/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1). In any respect, the director’s latest might be his most bombastic and insane film yet, which, considering his filmography is saying a great deal. This is a film driven by mood and actors, especially Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike as the titular lost wife Amy Dunne, who is absolutely terrifying in a role that no person who’s ever seen her on film could have seen coming (she was a Bond girl, for goodness sake). Fincher has never been one to stray from difficult topics, and this film is not different, and for possibly the first time he hits his viewers in places that they can connect with (just look at how successful this film was and that should tell you what you need to know). If the Academy didn’t have some sort of issue with Fincher, this should certainly have made its way into the Best Picture conversation. Either way, this is certainly one of the best films I saw in 2014.
- Boyhood – The scope of this film is really what makes this film as fantastic as it is. On the surface, it’s a simple story about a boy who grows up and the life he experiences along the way. Richard Linklater has done a wonderful thing in that he manages to always find those moments that feel of great importance, even if they feel insignificant as the film progresses. Yet the whole is greater than the some of its parts, and you cannot take away from the hugeness of the project that Linklater takes on. For that reason alone, Boyhood should go down as one of the most important films in recent memory, regardless of what happens in a Los Angeles theater in late February.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel – I love Wes Anderson, and honestly can’t say that he’s really made a bad film as of yet. He’s made lesser films, for sure (probably The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited would fall into that category), but of late it really feels like Anderson has hit his stride. After The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and now this, The Grand Budapest Hotel, we might be at the height of Anderson’s powers. This is the first time I’ve started to get the feeling that Anderson might have something to say in the midst of his quirky sentimentality. His normal sensibility is still here, but there’s an importance here, a greater reason for existence, and while it doesn’t always work (the slight comeuppance at the Nazi regime doesn’t really work, for example), I give Anderson credit for pushing himself. This might be his best film yet.
- Edge of Tomorrow – What a sad thing it is that hardly anybody went to see this movie, but it really is one of the best films that Tom Cruise has ever been a part of, and certainly one of the most overlooked films of the year. It is a thought-provoking, action-packed romp, filled with great performances from Cruise and Emily Blunt, who really carries the film in many ways. It says a lot about the failure of this film that Cruise’s response is to go back to his fall back franchises: his next three films listed on IMDb are Mission: Impossible 5, Top Gun 2 and Jack Reacher 2. Sad but true.
- The Lego Movie – I just don’t get how one of the most successful and most original animated films of 2014 is not considered to be one of the best 5 animated films of the year. The movie made a quarter of a billion dollars stateside, and has launched a sequel to this film, as well as various other LEGO based films over the next 4-5 years (including a Batman film staring this film’s Will Arnett-voiced Batman). All that said, this is definitely one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a movie all year (even if I did go at 10PM on a weekday all by myself), and it just doesn’t make any sense to disregard it as anything but a well-exectued, smart film, regardless of how it was made.
- Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – This is one of the most odd films I’ve seen in a while, and it really is remarkable that it is as well received as it has been. I’m not convinced it’s the best film of the year, nor that it has as much importance as Boyhood does, but I can see why it is so respected by varied groups of film critics. Equal parts uncomfortable comedy and satire, it is very much a departure for director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who generally focuses on more sombre topics, yet this works really well, mostly because of the career-defining performances from the likes of Michael Keaton and Emma Stone (who probably as the biggest, most expressive eyes in Hollywood right now), as well as Edward Norton, who is basically doing a quirky riff on himself. I won’t be upset if this wins Best Picture, as I do think it has interesting things to say and takes on experiments in terms of its cinematography and style.
- Fury – This one is one I did not see coming. I still have yet to see David Ayer’s End of Watch or Training Day, so I cannot comment on whether this film is better than those two, but I can say that this film did effect me, mostly because of how well shot and acted it is. The claustrophobic cinematography featured throughout allows the actors to go to work, and they are all in top form, especially Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman, as the latter gets to handle the emotional progression of the film. Well worth checking out if you are a fan of war films or just films that are really excellent.
- Interstellar – Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a Christopher Nolan fanboy, so you may take this with a grain of salt. I’m not willing to say that this is his greatest work, mostly because the scope of it and the master class of technical work being put on here sometimes overwhelm the story that Nolan and his brother Jonathan are trying to tell. I saw it three times in theaters, and each time I was able to appreciate different things about it. One thing that can’t be overlooked, however, is Nolan’s commitment to making greatness with whatever he does. He didn’t hit a perfect shot here, but it is yet another fantastic entry into a nearly flawless filmography in terms of making films that have interesting and important things to say and help to progress the field of filmmaking overall.
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – The final entry in the top 10 is yet another science-fiction film. The second entry in the sequel series of Apes films, this one leaves off where 2011’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes left off, with apes and humans cut off from one another in what is essentially a barren wasteland that used to be San Francisco. Once again, this film hinges on the breathtaking motion capture performance of Andy Serkis, who gives life to Caesar, the ape who has taken up a leadership role amongst his species, and wants to, fueled by memories of his past, create a place where humans and apes can live symbiotically. Without Serkis’ fantastic work, the entire movie would fall apart, and it is to the credit of the filmmakers that they understand this and allow him to do great work. Throw in some excellent set pieces and wonderful supporting turns from the human actors (especially a sombre Jason Clarke, who will spend 2015 in both the newest Terrance Malick film and as the new John Connor), and you’ve got one of the better and easier to respect blockbusters in recent memory.
- The One I Love
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Inherent Vice
- The Fault in Our Stars
- The Imitation Game
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
- Big Hero 6
- The Theory of Everything
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1
- Captain American: The Winter Soldier
- The Maze Runner
- Wish I Was Here
- Big Eyes
- Obvious Child
- The Monuments Men
- Into the Woods
Movies that were…fine
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Muppets Most Wanted
Movies that were anywhere from terrible to disappointing…
Still to see:
A Most Violent Year
The Book of Life
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Dear White People