Happy New Year, everyone! 2014 is about to come to a close (or just has, depending on where you are), which means it’s time to take a look back and appreciate all of the great films that graced our cinema screens over the past 365 days. I’ve already picked out my favorite movie moments of the year, and now it’s time for my top ten films.
I’m not big on “best” lists – as film is a wholly subjective thing – so instead I’ve compiled a list of my favorites. I didn’t see everything that I wanted to (sorry Birdman fans), but still found plenty to love this year.
10. Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn’s darkly twisted novel was one of the best books I read this year, and David Fincher succeeded in bringing it to life in a faithful and surprisingly fun way. Much of the credit belongs to Flynn, who wrote the screenplay herself, and of course Rosamund Pike, who absolutely steals the show as Amazing Amy. The film may not be up there with Fincher’s best, but it’s still quite an achievement and a movie I can’t wait to watch again.
9. X-Men: Days of Future Past
As much as I love comic book movies, I’d grown a bit tired of the X-Men franchise over the years. It never struck the same chord with me that the DC films had, and though I liked movies like X-Men, X2: X-Men United, and X-Men: First Class, it was never a franchise I ever felt strongly about.
That all changed this year, thanks to Bryan Singer’s stylish time-travel epic Days of Future Past. The film wipes away all that we hate about the series and leaves the 7-film franchise in a fun place. It may have taken Singer 14 years, but he finally made an X-Men movie worthy of not only my favorites of the year list, but of my list of favorite comic book films period.
I’m a sucker for films about space travel, and an even bigger fan of Christopher Nolan. Put the two together, and you’ve easily got my most anticipated film of the year. Interstellar may have failed to completely meet all of my heightened expectations, but I won’t hold that against it.
Interstellar has been heavily criticized for its big ideas and in-depth exploration of quantum physics, but I appreciate it for all of its heavy themes and deep psychological questions. Plus, it gave us TARS, the best robot we’ve seen on film since R2-D2, so that has to count for something.
Like all of Nolan’s films, this is one that demands a rewatch, which is something I’m much looking forward to.
Chef was nowhere near my radar at the beginning of the year, and I have to admit that I put off watching it for quite some time after release. I’m glad I eventually came to my senses, because it may just be the feel-good movie of the year.
The film succeeds in its simplicity, it’s told with passion and heart, which unfortunately can’t be said for a lot of films made nowadays. Chef is a film without a villain and devoid of Hollywood studio notes. Many have already pointed out the fact that it’s as much an examination on Favreau’s own career as a director as it is a story about a chef looking to express his passion for food, and when viewed as such I love the film even more. Any way that it’s viewed, Chef is simply delightful, and deserving of praise.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
I was actually dreading James Gunn’s quirky space opera before its release – I’m not the biggest Marvel Studios fan, and was initially turned off by the film’s quirkiness. Thankfully, I was wrong. So, so wrong.
Guardians is easily one of the most fun films I’ve seen in years, and the best movie to come out of Marvel Studios so far. Its strength lies in its ability to harness its weirdness and put its memorable characters before some studio-mandated need for world-building. Plus, it gave us Groot, my favorite movie character of the year. We are Groot, indeed.
I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts on Nightcrawler into words. The film is truly a tour de force, and should simply been seen rather than explained. I will say that it’s a fantastic directorial debut for Dan Gilroy, and another phenomenal performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors.
Nightcrawler is a dark, twisted character study, juxtaposed against an exhilarating, heart-pounding allegory for modern culture that unfolds in clever (and at times fun) ways.
4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
2014 was full of films that were better than they had any right to be. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to the similarly surprising 2011 reboot of the long-running (and troubled) franchise, is just one example.
Director Matt Reeves made a smart choice by turning the film’s focus toward the apes themselves, led of course by motion-capture extraordinaire Andy Serkis as Caesar. The human story is almost background noise to the character study in place around the apes. The film is actually about something, which cannot be said for a majority of Hollywood blockbusters, and it delivered my favorite villain performance of the year in Toby Kebbell’s Koba.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’m a big Wes Anderson fan, and walked away from The Grand Budapest Hotel with a huge smile on my face. The film is simply Anderson at his best and most ambitious. Ralph Fiennes gives a performance unlike anything he’s done before, and he’s aided of course by a lovable and star-studded cast. The 1930s setting, whimsical tone, clever set design, and non-stop comedy elements made it one of the most enjoyable movies of the year, and one of the films I’ve revisited the most.
2. The LEGO Movie
Anyone who knows me or anyone who’s spent five minutes on this site knows how much I love LEGOs. They’re immensely important to me, and have been since childhood. So, it should come without surprise that The LEGO Movie is one of my favorite films of the year.
The film is yet another example of a movie that was better than it had any right to be. We have directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller to thank for that. They turned what could have easily been a cynical 2 hour LEGO commercial into a fun, inventive, innovative, delightful, beautiful, funny, and thoughtful story about the importance of imagination and creativity. And on top of all of that, it’s still a great commercial for LEGO!
I think I still have “Everything is Awesome” stuck in my head.
1. Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow was, without a doubt, the most surprising film I saw this year. I went in expecting another generic science fiction blockbuster, and walked out of an ambitious, smart, fun, and flat-out awesome sci-fi masterpiece.
Doug Liman succeeds in keeping Edge of Tomorrow from falling off the rails and into muddied time travel trappings – and is aided by stellar editing, a heart-pounding soundtrack, and two great performances from Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise.
- Stretch – An underrated comedy from Joe Carnahan, with an incredible performance from Chris Pine. Universal totally dropped the ball on distributing the film and unceremoniously sent it to VOD instead. It’s on Netflix, and I highly recommend checking it out.
- The One I Love – A smart little film starring Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss that is about way more than it initially lets on. Don’t look up the film before seeing it. Just go into it blind, and enjoy the ride.
- They Came Together – David Wain’s comic sensibilities don’t always jive with mine, but he strikes quite the chord with They Came Together, a quirky and ridiculous pastiche/satire/parody of romantic comedies starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler.
- Snowpiercer – This film is simply fantastic. Packed with stellar action set pieces that never feel claustrophobic and a crazy ass performance by Tilda Swinton, it’s another movie that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s also on Netflix, so check it out ASAP!