It was another good year for the movies. Was it a great year? I don't think so. There were many good and very good films, but only a handful them broke through to greatness. One of the most surprising things of the year, was that the best films of the year weren't all packed into "Awards Season." Early in the year, we actually saw good movies being released rather than the usual dumps and rejects. These unexpected appetizers of good filmmaking whet our appetite for a summer packed with sequels and a winter full of Oscar hopefuls.
I saw 68 movies that were released this year, and I have to say, very few of them disappointed. Maybe I've gotten better at picking and choosing what to see, but I think it's more of a reflection of the quality of the year. There were a lot of good movies and I had a wonderful time at the cinema and on my proverbial couch. Below, I've assembled my favorite movies of the year and wrote a little something about each. I've also stolen a few special award categories to talk about movies that vexed me and performances that astounded me.
Boyhood was a lot like watching home movies no one would ever record. It’s this divisive atmosphere that has caused some critical backlash to the film. To me though, every beat in the film rang true because they didn’t register as beats. Linklater didn’t highlight the moments you’d expect, he decided to focus on moments you couldn’t help but look back on in your own life.
Chef is a "feel good movie" and those don't come around too often these days. While it has a happy, somewhat predictable, ending, the movie's heart and soul is in its journey. There's nothing quite like watching someone make and take their second chance in life by dedicating themselves to their craft and accepting the support around them.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
When you have humans rooting against humanity's survival, you've done something special. Through the leadership of Ceaser, the apes show us how fear rules us all and that, sadly, there's no escaping it. It does however show that fear doesn't have to corrupt us, as long as we can trust in one another.
I love a good mystery and I love a good guessing game. I got both out of Gone Girl this year as David Fincher and Gillian Flynn explored missing white woman syndrome. Not only was the media turning on Nick in the film, but audiences were making judgements too. I was so glad I saw this in a packed theater. You could feel the audience picking and changing sides.
Inherent Vice is a colorful film noir with great characters and a purposefully convoluted plot. And once I gave up on trying to figure out what was going on, I was able to go with the flow and love the film. I laughed harder watching this film than any other I saw this year. It was easily the funniest non-comedy.
Listen Up Philip
The characters in Listen Up Philip are hilariously mean people. They are "the worst" in the way your asshole friend is "the worst." Now, watching a bunch of people cut one another down with words may not sound like a good time at the movies, but you're wrong. I couldn't take my eyes off the self-destructive, righteous way they move through their own selfish worlds. What really helped Listen Up Philip stay fresh and not let Philip alienate the audience too much was the perspective shift about halfway through the film. Following Elizabeth Moss' character balanced the movie in an unexpected way. My favorite thing about the film though was the way it treated its caustic charts by never letting them off the hook. Philip is an ass. That doesn't make him special, it makes him an ass. You don't need to accept his behavior because it justifies his brilliance, because it doesn't.
Only Lovers Left Alive
I like these kinds of vampires. They're dealing with immortality the way real people would. By wavering between existential crises and contempt for humanity they reflect true humanity. The relationship Adam and Eve share transcends time and place, but they're always better together. The double edged sword of eternal life plays a role in the film, but not a crucial role. Only Lovers Left Alive is more interested in exploring what it means to share an endless life with someone you truly love.
The Skeleton Twins
I'm a sucker for deeply flawed characters and dysfunctional families. The Skeleton Twins has both in spades. I loved watching Kristin Wig, Bill Hader and Luke Wilson play off one another in moments of joy and despair. The film felt real. It was rooted in truth and the world the relationships on display feel lived in. It's a credit to both the performances and the screenplay that what could have easily been melodramatic, felt so poignant.
I can't believe how fascinating I found this documentary. I really watched the film on a whim, and damn am I glad I did. The subject matter is a rather interesting mystery hypothesis that combines modern cinematic techniques with classic painting. Exited? Didn't think so. But the film shifts focus from the technical hypothesis and begins to chronicle the man. Tim's passion, excitement, patience and unwavering belief is inspiring to anyone who has tried to create anything.
Edge of your seat cinema tends to have lots of explosions, but Whiplash makes it happen with a camera, two guys and a pair of drum sticks. That's not to say the film is bare bones, far from it in fact. The look and feel of Whiplash is drenched in over saturation in tight rehearsal rooms and bathed in grand lighting during performances. These are the moments that Miles Teller and JK Simmons' characters live for. The consuming spotlight glaring on them as opposed to the rest of the film with the drab, stilted light of normal life. The film explores the lengths artists, students and teachers must go to produce "greatness," but it never comes down on one side or the other. Instead it challenges you to make the decision on your own. Also, it has easily the best third act I've seen in years.
A Most Wanted Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Life Itself, Million Dollar Arm, Snowpiercer, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, The Lego Movie, The One I Love, The Theory of Everything.
The "I Didn't Get It" Award
Tie: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Under the Skin
Yeah, I didn't get it. I'm a huge fan of Wes Anderson but Grand Budapest just didn't do anything for me. Under the Skin was just a little too esoteric for me to connect to. Both of them deserve a re-watch and will receive one very soon.
The "They Didn't Get It" Award
Winner: Edge of Tomorrow
I've never seen a movie with a story like this. I mean, the plot was kind of familiar, but what happened to the movie leading up to and after its release is really fascinating. First, the studio had no idea how to market it. They were selling all the big action beats, which while impressive, have little to do with the enjoyment of the film. And then after the movie unsparingly underperformed, the studio seemed to blame the name of the movie for its failure. They began referring to the movie as "Edge of Tomorrow: Live. Die. Repeat." running up to the VOD, disc and streaming release. By the time it was featured on iTunes it was simply "Live. Die. Repeat." No matter what you call it, it was a hell of a good time at the movies.
Best Performance In a Bad Movie
Winner: Eva Green in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
As the titular dame, Eva Green knows exactly what kind of movie she is in even if no one else seems to. It's a barely B level movie with nothing going for it other than its over the top style. She matches the visuals with her performance by chewing the post-processed scenery and reveling in the hokey dialogue.
Best Fight Scene
Winner: The Axe Fight in Snowpiercer
The claustrophobia of the train cars, the lights going out and the night vision goggles turn this bloody mess of a fight scene into something to behold.
Best On Screen Chemistry
Winner: Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson in Top Five
So these two mostly win for their chemistry in the bathroom scene. The rest of the time, they're pretty charismatic together and play off one another rather well, but the script lets them both down along the way.
Best Use of Song
Winner: Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now by Starship in The Skeleton Twins
Just pure joy. That's what I experienced watching this scene in theaters and every time since on YouTube.
The Ones I Missed/Need to See
21 Years: Richard Linklater, A Most Violant Year, The Babadook, Citizenfour, Comet, Dear White People, The Double, Force Majeure, Ida, The Immigrant, John Wick, Love is Strange, Mr. Turner, Showrunners