(Artwork by Anthony Bauer)
I saw more movies in 2014 than any other year before it. While some people had qualms with the amount of quality movies released last year, I felt like there were lots of movies that I loved in so many different ways. So much so, that I felt hard pressed to do anything less than a top 50 without feeling like I leaving something out that deserved some recognition.
Believe me, I really did want to post this a lot sooner than March of 2015, but life has been kicking my ass of late and I wasn’t able to complete this arduous task until now. But even though people may have been moving on from 2014, maybe you’ll discover a new film you never heard of here, or see a film in a new light and reconsider your previous opinion on it and give it another chance. Or stir up an argument with me and tell me how wrong I am. Either way, I found it worthwhile to still compile and share this list, so that’s worth it enough for me.
And best films doesn’t mean the films I think are the technical “best.” More like favorites. Either way, here’s 50 films I enjoyed from 2014:
50. 22 Jump Street
49. Big Hero 6
48. Palo Alto
45. We Are The Best!
44. A Most Wanted Man
43. How To Train Your Dragon 2
41. Land Ho!
40. Obvious Child
39. The Skeleton Twins
38. Begin Again
37. Life Itself
36. Love Is Strange
34. John Wick
31. Under The Skin
30. Force Majure
29. Edge Of Tomorrow
28. Mistaken For Strangers
27. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
26. The Immigrant
25. The Drop
The Drop happens to the last film for the late James Gandolfini, thankfully it’s a one hell of a way to go out. It’s a bit of a slow burn but the explosive climax is a payoff totally worth the wait.
24. The One I Love
I went in knowing nothing about it except that was the best way to watch the movie. I’m glad I did, as The One I Love was a wonderful experience that had me guessing until the very last frame.
Locke is the second Tom Hardy film in this list. This is literally his film, as the whole thing revolves around a long car ride he takes and the life changing phone calls that take place along the way. It’s surprisingly captivating stuff, and you forget that aside from the beginning, you never once leave the car.
22. Inherent Vice
Inherent Vice, the latest from Paul Thomas Anderson, was a bit of a bewildering first watch. It’s when I returned to it for a 2nd viewing (Inherent Twice indeed) where I was able to put plot details behind me and take the smoked-filled journey properly. You can’t help but take in the era and atmosphere, as well as the wonderful performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Katherine Waterson.
Frank is a film that was very much itself, just like the eccentric lead character that it’s based around. We hardly get a good look at Michael Fassbender under the mask, but we still feel the layers of emotion. It’s hilarious, oddly touching, and memorable.
20. Starred Up
Forget Unbroken, Starred Up is the Jack O’Connell breakthrough performance that people should be talking about. It’s a harrowing look at life inside a prison that tells a simple story but does it extremely well. The whole thing is an intense ride that had me glued to the screen from start to finish.
19. The Guest
I ended up catching Adam Wingard’s The Guest at SXSW last year with zero expectations. While watching it I couldn’t stop grinning in enjoyment. It tackles and combines so many genres at once, creating a hilarious and thrilling action comedy with an eye and an ear for the 80’s. It knows what it is and goes all the way with it. Dan Stevens needs to be starring in more films immediately.
18. Two Days, One Night
The Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night is a simple tale of a women trying to keep her job. But in order to do so, she needs others to give up their bonuses. Thanks to a powerful performance by the always great Marion Cotillard, we are sucked in to film and pulling for her all the way. At the end of it all you’re wondering what you would do if you were asked to give up your own bonus, which makes the whole thing that much more compelling.
17. Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive has a lot going for it, from the wonderfully eccentric mood and atmosphere, the great soundtrack, as well as the strong duel performances from Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. Jarmusch breathes plenty of new life into the somewhat tired Vampire genre, creating something distinctly memorable.
16. The Raid 2
It’s amazing how few people saw The Raid 2 (or The Raid), considering that they feature some of the best action in cinema in recent memory. This time around they throw in a more complex storyline, but the action sequences are what you’re here for. Mud fights in a prison yard, a fight within a moving car that’s in a car chase, a guy who kills using a baseball and bat. It’s utterly ridiculous and even more utterly enjoyable.
Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer is a crazy ride. He creates many different worlds among the train, with colorful characters each stop of the way. The action sequences are mesmerizing, as is his direction. Chris Evans gives the best performance of his career (Sorry Marvel fans), and Tilda Swinton plays a different gender in insanely believable fashion. There are tons of surprises and twists and turns to keep you guessing, but ultimately Snowpiercer is just a damn enjoyable flick.
14. Blue Ruin
Blue Ruin isn’t your typical revenge film where the protagonist suddenly becomes this unstoppable killing machine over night. Dwight does fare pretty well for someone whose never killed before, but he has plenty of fumbles around the way, which was rather refreshing. Blue Ruin is a smart and a tense thrilling ride. When it does turn to violence, it’s unrelenting and brutal. But it’s the moments in between that are even more revealing, making it one of the best thrillers of the year.
Interstellar isn’t without its flaws, but its the amount of heart and passion that Christopher Nolan poured into it that won me over. There aren’t many blockbusters where you can find defined characters you actually care about, along with heavy hitting layers of emotion. There was no film I saw more in theaters this year, and for good reason. With each new viewing I was able to dive into this world an experience the magic all over again, which is what movie making is all about, isn’t it?
12. The Lego Movie
If you told me that The Lego Movie would not only be good, but one of the best movies of the year when it was originally announced, I never would have believed you. I’m sure I’m not alone on that. But damn, The Lego Movie was one of the best surprises of the year, a hilarious film that also has something to say. It’s still insane to think that The Academy didn’t even nominate it, but we all know that it was the only choice for Animated Film of the year.
11. A Most Violent Year
J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year was shamefully left out of all the Awards discussion, which made absolutely no sense to me. It was a extremely well directed film by Chandor who perfectly captured the essence of New York City in the 80’s. Throw in two equally great performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, and we got ourselves a well made picture that feels like it came from a totally different era.
Calvary features yet another outstanding performance from Brendan Gleeson, that not enough people were talking about. He’s terrific in the John Michael McDonagh directed film, a wonderfully shot movie that takes on some pretty heavy religious issues and does with a smart and witty sense of humor. There’s some truly beautiful shots here, but it’s the performance from Gleeson that has earned its spot as one of the best flicks of 2014. Go see it if you haven’t already. It’s powerful stuff.
There’s not much of a happy ending in Leviathan, a harsh look at the crimes and corruption that occur in Russia, from its government, to the people closest to you. The Russian film directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev is a well made and assured drama that packs one hell of a punch. There are some well needed bits of humor to be found, but make no mistake, Leviathan is a grim film. If you’re looking for an uplifting story brimming with positivity and hope, look elsewhere. But the power of Leviathan is undeniable. It lingers with you long after, whether you like it or not.
8. Guardians Of The Galaxy
Everything about James Gunn’sGuardians Of The Galaxy shouldn’t have worked, but man did it win me over. It’s my favorite Marvel entry to date, because it really does stand on its own two feet. It has its own feeling and flavor, mixing elements of some of the best blockbusters of recent memory and making it all feel new and exciting again. It was the first Marvel film that tapped into something much more. Chris Pratt proved he had the chops to be a leading man in a major way. But it was the amount of depth given to the least human characters, Groot and Rocket, that captured all of our collective hearts.
7. Gone Girl
I honestly didn’t know how I felt after my first watch of Gone Girl at the New York Film Festival this year. It was upon my second visit to the dark twisted world of Amy Dunne where I became even more enamored, large in part to David Fincher’s typically riveting direction, and the terrifying performance from Rosamund Pike. She’s rightfully stealing all the spotlight, but Ben Affleck was also the best he’s been in some time, and Tyler Perry somehow nearly stole the whole damn show. The mood and the atmosphere are all a part of the fun, as is it’s truly whacked out ending which originally left me puzzled, but now I’m with it all the way.
Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher took a insanely ridiculous true life story about a murdered wrestler and made it into something beautifully tragic. Miller lets the film unravel at its own pace, to a point where it seems disturbingly real, as if you’re trapped in du Ponts estate right there alongside Mark. Yes Steve Carell is scary good as du Pont and Mark Ruffalo got the award recognition he deserved. But what left me truly impressed was the performance of Channing Tatum, who quietly gave the best performance of his career. There’s a haunting ghostly presence to Foxcatcher that I just couldn’t shake. Even when you know the tragic ending is coming, you’re still not prepared for it.
It’s a damn shame that Nightcralwer got absolutely nothing from the Oscars. Dan Gilroy’s picutre is way too refined for a debut directorial effort. But then again, when you have a leading performance like the one that Jake Gyllenhaal gives as Louis Bloom, you’re working with fire. Gyllenhaal’s snub really hurt, because his performance was truly transformative and unshakeable. Then there’s the strong supporting turns from Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed as well as the landscape of nighttime Los Angeles, which was practically its own character completely. Nightcrawler somehow finds a way to get better with each viewing, a surefire sign that this is a film that we will be talking about a few years down the line.
That first viewing of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is a special experience, as you let your mind take in exactly what is happening for the first time. The fluidity of tracking shots are indeed spectacular, and its easy to get lost in amazement as it unfolds with a lovely soundtrack to go along with it. Then you take the mighty comeback performance from Michael Keaton, along with some of the best work from Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis in their entire careers. And yeah, of course Edward Norton is great. While I didn’t love Birdman’s ending, at first, each viewing has me interpreting it in a different fashion than before.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a hilarious delight that never manages to get old. In fact, each new viewing brings out new elements of joy or humor that I missed the first time. What’s not to love bout Wes Anderson’s latest? From the absolutely stacked cast, to the beautiful set pieces, and that score. Anderson has created his biggest, most colorful world yet, and he works his intimate magical charm all the same. It’s hard to believe that it’s Ralph Fiennes first time in the world of Anderson, as he’s absolutely perfect as Monsieur Gustave H. It’s really hard for me to rank the work of Anderson, but there’s no doubt that The Grand Budapest Hotel ranks high on that list.
I still get goosebumps at the final scene in Whiplash, when Andrew and Fletcher lock eyes for once in sync with one another, seeing eye to eye after going at each others throats for so long. The thrilling climatic ending works so well because of how expertly director Damien Chazelle paves the path to get there. J.K. Simmons delivers a career defining performance, and for once The Oscars got it right. He’s amazing as the terrifying Terence Fletcher, but it’s Miles Teller’s performance as Andrew who anchors the film and holds his own. From the dazzling editing to the lively music, Whiplash is a electric ride that continuously leaves me impressed. It’s hard to imagine how Damien Chazelle will match this, but at only 30 years he’s got plenty of time to figure it out. At his own tempo, of course.
Imagine if you looked back on the formative years of your life, what would you see? You growing up with your parents, going to school, making new friends, falling in love for the first time. It may not seem all that exciting, but if we looked back on them years later in the way that Boyhood touches upon them, we’d see that they are part of a much larger picture that helped shape the person that we grew up to be. Boyhood captures those little moments in life, those that we probably take for granted, and never fully appreciate.
We literally get to see a boy and his family grow together and then apart in real time, as the actors themselves are aging and changing. It’s indeed an amazing feat. On this unique journey I saw flashes of my own life within Mason, remember moments in my life, both big and small. The way director Richard Linklater lets it unfold so naturally made the effect resonate that much more. All the actors, from newcomer Ellar Coltrane, to veterans Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, deliver performances that are all the more impressive when you consider that they’d go on to live their lives and do other projects, and then return to film, once again becoming their characters after so much time away from them.
Last March at SXSW I stood alongside a thousand other fans giving Boyhood a standing ovation. I knew that I was likely looking at the best movie I saw all year. And here we are, almost a year later, and my passion for the film has never deterred. It may not have won Best Picture, best by the end of the decade, Boyhood will still resonate in the same way, as its story and themes are universal.