Hello, readers! It’s my favorite time of the year here, running down my picks for the top 10 best films of the year 2014.
Now, although there was quite a lot of crap thrown onscreen last year, for as many bad films as there were, there were just as many that were good. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Drop, Edge of Tomorrow, Gone Girl, The Guest, Interstellar, The Lego Movie, Nightcrawler, Snowpiercer and X-Men: Days of Future Past were some of the best films I’ve seen last year; however, 10 other films still beat them all to this list.
So there’s your honorable mentions. Let’s begin the countdown, starting with…
He may have gotten the #8 and #2 spot on my top 10 worst of 2014, but Nicolas Cage delivers the best performance I’ve seen from him in well over a decade in David Gordon Green’s Joe. Green creates a natural, haunting atmosphere that slow burns its way through this Southern Gothic tale, a coming-of-age story that doesn’t shy away from some brutal situations. Cage could’ve easily thrown caution to the wind like he’s known to do, yet he’s refreshingly understated for once here. Tye Sheridan follows up his terrific work in 2013’s Mud with another strong supporting turn, and the late Gary Poulter, who unfortunately died shortly after filming wrapped, gives a terrifying performance that’s hard to shake even long after you’ve seen the movie. Cage may put out 20 crappy films a year, but Joe is proof he’s still capable of putting on a good show.
9) Guardians of the Galaxy
The best film I’ve seen from Marvel Studios since 2008’s Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy’s quirkiness and lack of familiarity, unlike the other Marvel film characters, could’ve backfired for Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige. Yet all the right pieces fall into place here – a writer/director, James Gunn, who knows irreverent comedy better than most today, one of the catchiest soundtracks of the year, and a perfectly cast assembling of talent that includes Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker and John C. Reilly. Having previously put together smaller films, Gunn proves he more than capable of handling the effects heavy blockbusters and Pratt solidifies his status as a go-to leading man. The visuals are colorful and lively, the action is exciting, but most importantly, the fact that this film managed to get me to care about a giant tree should tell you how good this films is.
8) Blue Ruin
From one of the highest grossing summer blockbusters to one of the finest indie films of the year, Blue Ruin was unfortunately overlooked by the moviegoers, but you owe it to yourself to see this film, which is the best revenge thriller of 2014. Clearly influenced by the Coen brothers, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier presents a stripped-down tale of revenge and the consequences that may or may not follow, featuring a haunting lead performance from Saulnier’s childhood friend Macon Blair, as well as two surprisingly strong supporting turns from Devin Ratray and Eve Plumb, aka “Buzz” McCallister and Jan Brady, respectively. Suspenseful, grim and paced to perfection, Blue Ruin shows that minimal and small-scale can still be powerful and engaging cinema.
7) The Babadook
Another small-scale indie effort, this time from Down Under, The Babadook is by far the best horror film I’ve seen since 2008’s Let the Right One In. Writer/director Jennifer Kent, in a terrific feature-length debut that’s based on her 2005 short film The Monster, forgoes the tired, obligatory jump scares in place of spine-tingling suspense that is sure to raise the hair on the back of your necks. Anchored with such depth and emotion by star Essie Davis and child actor Noah Wiseman, this film transcends its genre conventions by focusing on themes of guilt, grief and depression, all of which lend a hand in creating something truly horrifying and heartbreaking. In a day and age when horror films seem to be more about gimmicks, cheap tricks and franchise building, The Babadook is a breath of fresh air to the genre.
This is nothing more than 80-90 minutes of Tom Hardy driving a car, and talking on the phone while he does so, yet it is so riveting. Hardy gives an Oscar-worthy performance as he effortlessly goes solo for the entire film, save those he’s talking to on the other line (strong voice work from Ruth Wilson, Tom Holland and Andrew Scott). From the creative use of shots within and around the car to Haris Zambarloukos’s beautiful cinematography, writer/director Steven Knight does so much with so little, taking an extremely thin narrative and working out a complex character study that has the viewers hooked on every decision Ivan Locke is about to make from the opening shot to the closing credits.
5) The Grand Budapest Hotel
Writer/director Wes Anderson once again immerses his viewers into another one of his fantastically creative worlds that’s inhabited by so many diverse characters. Moving into much darker territory than he’s normally known for, Anderson weaves together a stylish, beautiful looking, and whimsical whodunit that is brimming with sharp humor and witty dialogue. Led by Ralph Fiennes in a magnificently funny and heartfelt performance, his best in years, and backed up by an all-star supporting cast which includes newcomer Tony Revolori, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and a scene-stealing Adrien Brody, The Grand Budapest Hotel may not be needed to prove it, but it’s nonetheless further evidence that Wes Anderson is one of the most imaginative filmmakers of the past 20 years.
4) Under the Skin
The mark of any great film is one that sticks with you long after you’ve seen it, and the utterly bizarre, haunting and mesmerizing Under the Skin accomplished just that. Scarlett Johansson may not be the most expressive actress that we have, but her performance here is revelatory, captivating audiences with a screen presence that’s nothing short of magnetic. Co-writer/director Jonathan Glazer, channeling his inner Stanley Kubrick, moves things at a deliberately slow pace, hinging his film on mood, atmosphere and tension. What this film is truly about will be open to many interpretations – the power of lust on man, predation, gender roles, loneliness – and thankfully, Glazer treats his viewers intelligently enough for them to decide. Between Daniel Landin’s gorgeous cinematography and Mica Levi’s eery, Oscar-worthy score (which captures the predatory tone perfectly), Under the Skin defines hypnotic film experience. It definitely falls into the love it/hate it camp, but either way, it’s a film that’s hard to forget.
2014 had its share of ambitious films and Boyhood was amongst the most ambitious. Filmed over the course of 12 years, so many things could’ve gone wrong with this movie, but writer/director Richard Linklater’s risky endeavor pays off so well. Boyhood follows the life of one family, particularly Mason, Jr., as they grow up. It’s a simple narrative, but it’s the little things that they experience together that draws you in to this film. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette deliver some of the strongest work of their careers, yet the two standouts are Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane. Either of them could’ve backed out at some point during the filmmaking, or their acting could’ve regressed as they got older, but Linklater manages to draw such natural performances from the both of them. Even at nearly three hours in length, there wasn’t a single moment that dragged for me.
A stunning breakthrough for filmmaker Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is a feverishly paced thrill ride set to jazz music. J. K. Simmons gives the performance of his career, one that is sure to garner him a Best Supporting Actor nomination, as the cruelly intimidating Shaffer music instructor Terence Fletcher. Equally strong, opposite Simmons, is Miles Teller (who made last year’s top 10 best list with The Spectacular Now) in his best performance to date that hopefully gets him the respect his acting talent deserves. Whiplash is electric, exhilarating, and more thrilling and intense than any thriller that came out the same year as it tests the breaking points of each character, finishing with an applause-inducing musical finale that will leave you hanging on the edge of your seat.
Well, here we are, the #1 spot. The best film of 2014 is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles… Oh, whoops. My bad. Let’s try that again, drum roll please…
1) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
After over a decade of laying low in mediocre films, Michael Keaton bounces back in full comeback mode with the best performance of his career and is backed up by an amazing supporting cast that features a revelatory dramatic turn from Zach Galifianakis and the best work Edward Norton’s done in years. Centering around Keaton’s Riggan Thomson, a washed-up film superhero star trying to revitalize his career with a risky stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Birdman held my fascination more than any other movie that I’ve seen this year. Normally known for his grim films that deal with themes of depression, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu switches gears with a snappy, upbeat and lively look at everything from Broadway, film criticism, pop culture and celebrity status. It’s all brought to vivid life through Inarritu’s unique vision and Emmanuel Lubezki’s beautifully inventive cinematography that, with help from Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione’s editing, gives the film the appearance of what looks like one long tracking shot. For the love of God, if you have not seen this film, you are missing out!
Well, readers, there are my picks for the best of 2014. If you’re upset that Ride Along didn’t make the list, please feel free to send your hate mail and (or) death threats to the email provided in the contact section. 2014 was a great year; here’s hoping 2015 is just as great!