It’s perhaps a little late, but please enjoy this look back at the best films from 2014. We love you.
Ryan’s Top Ten
As far as film is concerned, 2014 was the year of the reachers. That is, people who strove to achieve something grand, in spite of overwhelming evidence indicating the weren’t up to the challenge. I don’t want to belabor this observation, as the need or desire for something just out of reach is a fundamental aspect of drama in general. But whether it manifested itself as a desperate plan to save the world, or a desire to become an all-time great in one’s chosen field, that spirit of aspiration permeated the best films of 2014. Speaking of which, let’s meet them!
10. Edge of Tomorrow
The best video game movie ever made … and it wasn’t even based on one. Groundhog Day meets The Terminator, this return to form from Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) is clever and surprisingly funny, using its brain-bending premise to its utmost potential.
Was it the transcendent sci-fi experience we were hoping for? Not really; Interstellar is overlong with some rickety storytelling and characterization. But the visuals and music are stunning, and Matthew McConaughey’s performance is a career highlight. This film’s reputation is sure to improve with age.
8. Gone Girl
Cheerfully lurid and unpredictable (unless you read the book) (which I did not) and anchored by a chilling turn from Rosamund Pike. But seriously, who knew Tyler Perry was this good? Is it crazy that I still think he got snubbed out of an acting nomination?
Speaking of snubs … Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is still one of my favorites from this year. Memorably idiosyncratic, vaguely inhuman work that sticks with you long after the movie’s over. The last 25 or so minutes are white-knuckle perfection.
We just reviewed this! It’s great, David Oyelowo is great, the Academy doesn’t care, the end. Well, not the end, really. This will be remembered as one of the best movies to not be sufficiently recognized at Oscar time.
I didn’t love Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ode to artistic integrity when I first saw it, but it’s grown on me over time. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for an expertly executed unbroken take. Michael Keaton has rightly been hoarding awards trophies, but I honestly prefer Edward Norton’s hilariously unhinged method actor.
Here’s a movie we didn’t review, because it was so hard to find a way to watch it! An experience unlike any other in recent cinematic memory, filmed over ten years with the same actors. Watching a group of fictional characters age gradually, and naturally (i.e. without help from special effects or prosthetics) makes Boyhood feel deeply personal, and almost voyeuristic at times. Richard Linklater smartly eschews the standard “cause and effect” mode of storytelling; as a result, Boyhood isn’t about anything more specific than life itself and becomes universally relatable.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Oh look, there goes some of my credibility! I’m just a sucker for a well-executed popcorn flick, and they don’t come much better executed than this. Still my favorite Marvel movie, and still the second funniest film of the year.
2. The LEGO Movie
… And here’s the funniest film of the year. This movie came out in February, and stayed at the top of my list for the next ten months by being visually ingenious and remarkably thoughtful, considering its status as a product tie-in.
A wire-to-wire sensation (it debuted at last year’s Sundance festival to tremendous acclaim) that has only just recently become available to most, Whiplash is a razor-sharp meditation on what it takes to be exceptional, punctuated by a performance from J.K. Simmons that will endure as a high watermark for movie antagonism. All from a first-time director, to boot. If this searing, soaring masterpiece is his freshman effort, who knows what Damien Chazelle will be capable of in a few years? If Whiplash is playing somewhere near you, see it yesterday.
Becca’s Top Ten
My top movies of the year list is a little weird. I’ve got vampires, aliens and time travel. A kid’s movie. A Tom Cruise movie, even. There’s a fair share of lady empowerment on here too.
And in the interest of full disclosure, it also should be noted I saw the beloved awards juggernaut Boyhood and elected to not include it—even as I respect the commitment of Linklater and co. in taking 12 years to film a movie to illuminate the precious nature of time, the film lacks a decent story, sometimes its characterizations rang false, and ultimately, it bored me. This Honest Trailer says it all.
Onto the list!
10. Only Lovers Left Alive
While high camp, this stylized vampire flick by Jim Jarmusch also is a slow, moody experiential film, not so concerned about plot. And some of the dialogue is as cheesy as cheesy gets. But … Tilda Swinton! In a year that saw the revered character actress wearing loads of makeup as a fantastically mousy oppressor in Snowpiercer and an elderly madame in The Grand Budapest Hotel, here she is in a totally different light: she’s sexy, vibrant and joyous. And the film, despite its cool, macabre tone, is too. It’s unfortunate that Only Lovers Left Alive was made at the height of vampire overexposure and didn’t get the box office numbers or acclaim it might have ten years ago.
In Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank, a vacuous but congenial amateur drummer (Domhnall Gleeson) joins an experimental band fronted by a guy who wears a giant papier-mache mask (Michael Fassbender). The troubled lead singer reportedly was inspired by musician Daniel Johnston. Buoyed by strong performances and a touching final act, Frank is a funny and sad rumination on authenticity and friendship reminiscent of Cameron Crowe’s best work (Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire).
8. Edge of Tomorrow
Yes, the ending to this time-travel action pic is lame. But the film still is a sharp and engaging foray into dystopian alien-invasion territory. Though Guardians of the Galaxy is fun, Jon Wick is surprisingly clever, and Snowpiercer has a few terrific moments, this is my favorite action movie of the year.
6. Gone Girl
An immaculately scored and directed offering by David Fincher, Gone Girl is a nasty piece of work, and I mean that with the utmost respect. That it provokes discussion about marriage and gender politics while gleefully satirizing the media only adds to its appeal.
5. (Tie) Wild and Tracks
I hate that I’m putting these two movies together on a list, as if female-driven nature-hike movies shouldn’t be considered as independent entries. But they are similar, and they both did come out this year, and I’m lazy, so they’re going to share. Neither really hit the zeitgeist, although Reese Witherspoon garnered an Oscar nomination for Wild. Both are well shot, well acted, and made me feel things. Oh, and one of these films features a traumatic animal death—I’m a jerk so I’ll let you find out on your own which one it is.
Watching Whiplash is such a stressful experience! My blood pressure has not recovered. Why is it not my number one? While this is a fantastic movie, I’m not sure how I feel about the ending, which sanctifies a trope about artistic greatness going hand and hand with emotional abuse. (Haven’t we all met teachers who use that trope to justify bad behavior? Well, I certainly have.) And there are moments in which the plot uses short cuts to reveal Miles Teller’s drummer’s egomania, a little too similar to the The Social Network’s characterization of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg … the cringe-worthy scenes between Teller’s drummer and his girlfriend, his walking across campus to quiet music to reveal his emotional and physical isolation, etc. But Teller and J.K. Simmons are fantastic, and the direction is outstanding.
3. The Lego Movie
What Ryan says.
It’s funny! The music is great. The cinematography is great. The acting is great. Yes, it’s another self-congratulatory artist movie, upping its supposed award-show allure, but Birdman also manages to connect with themes of relevance and mortality without taking itself too seriously. This is one of the few prestige films of the year I’d sit down and re-watch anytime. Long live the unbroken tracking shot!
1. Under the Skin
Writer/Director Jonathan Glazer’s indie about an alien seductress cruising for male victims in Scotland is weird and terrifying and tragic and mysterious, an understandably divisive film. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. But it’s a movie I can’t quite shake. Glazer uses a B-movie science-fiction (and porn-friendly?) premise to ask difficult questions about humanity and empathy. In a year of showy biopics and noisy blockbuster comic book movies, Under the Skin stands out as quietly brilliant.