Wow! It’s hard to believe it is time to do this again. The 2014 movie year has come and gone and now it’s time to look back on the year that was. To be more specific it’s time to look at the best films of the year. Personally I love doing these lists and comparing them to those of critics and fellow bloggers. It’s a chance to reflect back on 2014 and champion the movies that meant the most to me. Now doing a list like this is tough and it means leaving out some movies that deserve attention. To remedy that I’ll start by simply listing my #11-20 picks.
(Click on the movie title to read my full review of it)
#20 – “Edge of Tomorrow“
#19 – “Nightcrawler“
#18 – “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies“
#17 – “Snowpiercer“
#16 – “The Railway Man”
#15 – “Godzilla“
#14 – “Magic in the Moonlight“
#13 – “The Grand Budapest Hotel“
#12 – “The Immigrant“
#11 – “The Lego Movie“
Now let me share my Top 10 movies of 2014:
#10 – “The Monuments Men“ – I’m sure I will be the only person in the world with “The Monuments Men” on their Top 10 list. So be it. I had such a good time with this film and it held up nicely after a second viewing. Interestingly enough, I don’t recall hearing a single person talk about what I love most about the film – its sense of nostalgia. In several ways this film is a throwback to the buddy war movies of the 1960s and early 70s right through the closing credits. I loved that. It’s also based on a remarkable true story and it features a fabulous ensemble cast. Could it have utilized these things better? I’m sure it could, but I never got hung up on these things. Instead I sat back and watched this transporting bit of nostalgia and was thoroughly entertained from the start.
#9 – “Big Eyes“ – It has been enjoyed yet dismissed by many critics, but “Big Eyes” is a film that has really stuck with me. It’s a surprising and refreshing step outside of the box for Tim Burton, a director known for his dark, macabre style. The film is based on the true story of the popular artist Margaret Keane and her husband Walter yet it rarely feels like a biographical piece. It’s such a strange story and Burton tells it by sitting back and allowing his two top level performers to fully form these characters. Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams are tremendous. They give two very different performances, but each are perfectly in tune with who these characters are. It’s such a good movie filled with heart, heartbreak, self-discovery, courage, and of course art.
#8 – “The Lunchbox“ – One of my favorite finds of 2014 was the Indian romantic drama “The Lunchbox”. The movie was made in 2012, released in India in 2013, and finally hit American theaters in 2014. The romance genre has been plagued by dopey, schmaltzy junk without an ounce of smarts or heart. “The Lunchbox” has a lot of both and all of it from first time feature film director Ritesh Batra. There are several things I love about the film. Batra gives us real people, not caricatures. He also steps back and gives his actors room to work. And I do love the performances from his two leads Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur. Both are incredibly grounded and genuine. I also loved the deliberate pacing, the subtle humor, and the firm focus of the story. This is a real treat of 2014.
#7 – “Ida“ – One of the most penetrating films of 2014 came in a small 80 minute package from director Pawel Pawlikowski. “Ida” has the strength of being both painfully grim and stunningly beautiful. It is a story of self-discovery for a young lady who knows practically nothing about her past. It’s shot in glorious black and white and Pawlikowski tells us so much through his camera. He captures so much emotion from his characters and there are also a number of shots that are simply stunning to look at. Young actress Agata Trzebuchowska is wonderful and perfect for the lead role and she conveys so much through her expressive eyes. Agata Kulesza deserves Oscar consideration for her supporting work. “Ida” was one of 2014’s big surprises. It’s also one of year’s best films.
#6 – “Blue Ruin“ – I love it when a smaller unknown movie comes out of the blue and blows me away. Last year it was “Upstream Color”. This year it is “Blue Ruin”. Writer and director Jeremy Saulnier took a small cast and a minimal budget and crafted one of the most unpredictable and edge-of-your-seat thrillers of the year. It’s a fairly simple story about an act of revenge and the violent domino effect that follows. Saulnier tells as much of his story through his camera as he does through dialogue and you never know where things are heading. It’s smart and strikingly unconventional. The film is also helped by a brilliant and understated performance from Macon Blair. There were several films in 2014 that deserved a bigger audience, none more than the wonderful “Blue Ruin”.
#5 – “Only Lovers Left Alive“ – At the start of the year if you would have told me that a vampire movie would make my Top 10 list I would have called you insane. Well, that is exactly what happened thanks to independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. But as I stated in my review, simplifying this as just a ‘vampire movie’ would be doing it a tremendous disservice. There is so much more to “Only Lovers Left Alive”. Jarmusch uses his vampires to reflect on a number of society’s ills from humanity’s destruction of ourselves and our world to the demise of art and creativity. But this is also a mood piece centered around two fascinating characters played by the great Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. I loved spending time with these two. It’s cool, romantic, poetic, and hypnotic.
#4 – “The Rover“ – David Michôd earned a lot of attention in 2010 with his dark crime drama “Animal Kingdom”. In 2014 he brought us a very different but equally striking film “The Rover”. This dystopian survival drama takes place in the rugged Australian outback after a world economic collapse. But Michôd doesn’t spend time talking about how things came to be the way they are. Instead he places us with two different but equally fascinating characters, Eric (Guy Pearce) and Reynolds (Robert Pattinson). Pearce is mesmerizing, violent, and tortured. Pattinson is simple, dependent, and sympathetic. The visual style of storytelling, the gritting cinematography, and two fabulous lead performances drive this bleak but thoroughly compelling piece of cinema.
#3 – “Captain America: The Winter Soldier“ – 2014 proved to be a very good year for the big tent pole blockbuster. Several big budget movies delivered spectacle and quality to the masses. For me the very best of the lot was “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. Through the 2014 movie year I heard several people talk about superhero fatigue. That’s not a problem for me as long as we get films of this quality. This film gets back to the basics of action movies. Yes it has its signature special effects driven finale, but so much of the film relies on traditional stunt work and hand-to-hand combat. There is also the cool spy element to the story and one of my favorite villains of the year. Add all of these things together and you have a blockbuster that really works.
#2 – “Boyhood“ – Richard Linklater’s crazy idea of filming a movie over a 12 year period using the exact same cast was an ambitious undertaking. It could have been a disaster, but it turned out to be a film that has ended up on many ‘Best of 2014’ lists. But there is a good reason for that. “Boyhood” is a coming-of-age story unlike any I have ever seen. It’s a film not focused on the big moments in life but the small ones that over time define who we are. The film is all about the characters particularly a boy named Mason. We literally grow up with him (and actor Ellar Coltrane) on screen. We also grow with his family and in a sense we feel like family. Most importantly I left feeling the importance of being a dad – of being there for my kids because as Linklater shows us, time goes by fast and we never get those moments back.
#1 – “Interstellar“ – I don’t know if any other movie from 2014 was talked about as much as Christopher Nolan’s epic space opera “Interstellar”. There was more discussion and debate over everything from the film’s meaning to the film’s quality. For me “Interstellar” transcended simple cinematic entertainment. It was an experience. It left me deeply touched and I was thinking about it for days. It’s certainly a movie thick with plot and ideas, but these things never tripped me up or hampered my experience. Instead I was caught up in the story, the deeper themes, and the pure emotional pull of a father’s love for his children. I loved “Interstellar”. I loved its ambition, its cast, its visuals, its heart, and its willingness to follow its own rules. In a year filled with good movies, “Interstellar” has been the film that most reminds me of why I love movies.