One could easily make an argument that 2014 was a great year for movies, and also that it was a terrible year for movies. The same year that brought us the culmination of a 12-year cinematic experiment (Boyhood) also brought us the dreadful Transformers: Age of Extinction, which, sadly, is the ONLY movie to be released in 2014 that has grossed over $1 billion worldwide. Now that the year is winding down, for better or worse, it's time to look back at 2014 and praise the best films of the year.
As I mentioned in my Most Overlooked Movies of 2014 piece, I didn't see nearly as many movies as I did in the past two years, due to a variety of different circumstances. While the number of movies certainly decreased, I found that, as I became more selective, I saw many more good movies than I saw bad, but I still wish I could have seen more. There are several "awards contenders" you will not find on this list (i.e. Selma, Amerian Sniper, Ida), simply because I could not see them in time before getting this list ready. In case you're curious about what movies I did (or didn't see), you can CLICK HERE for the full list of everything I watched in 2014.
Some of the honorable mentions that didn't quite crack my Top 10 are Inherent Vice, Dear White People, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Imitation Game, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Top Five (although it has one of my favorite endings of the year), Gone Girl, The Homesman, Foxcatcher and Edge of Tomorrow. When I go through the list of movies I have seen throughout the year, I always try to have my top 10 comprised about the films that have stuck with me the most, provoked the most thought after the screening, or just simply made me smile or laugh every time I think about it. Given the films I HAVEN'T seen yet this year, I'm sure there are a few titles I'll later wish I could have added on here, but there's nothing I can really do about that now, unless anyone has a time machine handy... So, without further ado, I present to you my top 10 movies for the year two thousand and fourteen.
I've never been a huge horror hound, but every now and then, a movie like The Babadook comes around and simply scares the living hell out of me. The last movie that literally scared (or scarred, possibly?) me so much was the original Saw, after seeing it in the theater for the first time. What's even more impressive is The Babadook marks the feature writing and directing debut of Jennifer Kent, who, along with another first-time filmmaker, Dear White People's Justin Simien, leads a pack of up and coming filmmakers that we should all keep a very close eye on. The Babadook centers on a disheveled single mother (Essie Davis in a breakthrough performance), still mourning the loss of her husband several years ago, who cannot seem to find a place in her heart for her own son (Noah Wiseman). After reading from a mysterious book, an evil entity known as The Babadook haunts this troubled family to their core, in a film that is just as touching and heartbreaking as it is thrilling and terrifying, and an absolute must-see for any genre fan.
I didn't think it was possible, not for one second. Even though The Raid: Redemption director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais were back for The Raid 2, along with a host of unique characters like Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl, I didn't think there was any way the sequel could possibly top the original. I was thrilled to be proven wrong this time, since The Raid 2 somehow managed to exceed lofty expectations. With such ridiculously kinetic action scenes in this sequel, it makes me wonder if Iko Uwais and the rest of the cast are actually human. I know, it's all movie magic, and all that jazz, but Gareth captures these scenes in camera so well that, that I find myself constantly asking myself not only how he shot these scenes, but how these actors ARE STILL ALIVE! If you discovered The Raid: Redemption in 2012 but haven't gotten around to seeing the sequel yet, you are missing out in ways you can't even comprehend quite yet.
Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the most fun I've had at the movies all year. In past years, I haven't always included "fun" movies on this list, because there were others that were more "important" or "deeper" or any other snooty adjective that applies to this scenario. I'm including Guardians of the Galaxy this year not only because it's just so much damn fun, but, like I explained earlier, GOTG was one of those movies that kept me smiling long after the credits rolled, and I was constantly in awe of how writer/director James Gunn and Marvel genius Kevin Feige managed to make what was perceived to be one of the biggest risks of the year into a global blockbuster, with one of the year's top-selling soundtracks to boot. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista (whose brilliant yet subtle work doesn't get enough credit), Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel all shine as these ragtag outlaws, criminals and killers, who come together to save the galaxy from the nefarious Ronan the Accuser... wait, why am I explaining anything? You all saw this, right? Of course you did, which means you also know that this Marvel adventure surely deserves a spot among the best movies of 2014.
Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker that likes making audiences see things in different ways. He turned the linnear narrative structure of telling a cinematic story on its ear in Memento, gave us the Batman fans had always hoped would be seen on the big screen, and took us on the mind trip of a lifetime in Inception. With Interstellar, Nolan gets to pay homage to his favorite film of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey, while continuing to push the boundaries of our cinematic experience in simply breathtaking ways. Fresh off his Oscar win for Dallas Buyer's Club, Matthew McConaughey proves that the "McConaissance" is no fluke, leading a phenomenal cast including Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck and Michael Caine. McConaughey plays Cooper, a former NASA pilot recruited to take a journey into a wormhole to find a new home for humanity, since the Earth's resources are dwindling rapidly. After watching this 169-minute blockbuster, I can't decide which aspect of Nolan's work deserves more praise, his ability to tell stunning and complex stories that are still (relatively) easy to follow, or his masterful visuals. Either way, Interstellar proves that Christopher Nolan is one of the most talented filmmakers currently working, and he isn't going anywhere.
I knew right after seeing Snowpiercer that it would land somewhere in my top 10, because this unforgettable portrayal of a world iced over and its survivors is truly unforgettable. After directing critically-acclaimed foreign films such as The Host and Mother, South Korean director Joon-ho Bong makes his English-language debut with the truly fascinating Snowpiercer. The story is set years after a global ice age swept over the planet, with a perpetual motion train dubbed v carrying the only survivors left on Earth. Chris Evans stars as Curtis, who leads an uprising against the train's authoritarian leader Mason (Tilda Swinton) in this thrilling adaptation of the novel Le Transperceneige. John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, etc, leads a wonderful supporting cast, with an incredible script adaptation by Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson. Now that he has his English-language debut out of the way, I'm hoping we get to see more fro director Joon-ho Bong in the very near future.
I'm perfectly content with getting a new movie from director Wes Anderson every two years... until right after I see his most recent film, which, in this case, was The Grand Budapest Hotel. After watching the filmmaker's latest whimsical adventure, I wanted another one, right then and there. This delightful tale follows the enigmatic concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), who has a penchant for bedding much older women. He takes into his employ a young lobby boy named Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori), as both of their lives change in dangerous and mysterious ways. Another year, another quirky and wonderful hit for director Wes Anderson, which only makes me want to see his next film (whatever that is) ever more.
In the four years since his big box office bomb Price of Persia: Sands of Time, actor Jake Gyllenhaal has been making some wonderful choices, advancing his career to the point where he could land his first Oscar nomination (check if that's true or not) for the gritty Los Angeles crime drama Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a borderline sociopath, who has a unique way of looking at the world. Whlie his outlook is somewhat of a hindrance in practically every other profession, since we see him drifting aimlessly without purpose in the beginning of the film, Lou is tailor-made to be a "nightcrawler." Every night, Lou and his assistant (Riz Ahmed in another fantastic performance) take to the streets of L.A., filming footage of car crashes and murder scenes for whatever local news network wants to buy it.
At various points throughout the last few months, I've had these each of these next three movies in the top spot. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's ridiculously compelling Birdman was at the top spot for perhaps the longest of the three, but just because it got downgraded to the bronze medal position doesn't make the movie any less incredible. Edited to look like one, massive, continuous shot, Birdman is simply unrelenting, tearing through his fes. ast-pace theater world to show us the comeback of washed up movie star Riggan Thompson, played to utter perfection by Michael Keaton, who was once a world-famous actor who played the popular superhero Birdman. He takes another stab at reviving his acting career by putting on a short play, which is rapidly falling apart before Riggan's own eyes. As he tries to make his play a hit, Riggan must deal with an abrasive co-star (Edward Norton Jr.) who is also flirting with his daughter (Emma Stone), and a tough critic dead-set about ruining his play before she has even seen a single scene. While this isn't exactly for everyone, Birdman is a stark look inside the psyche of a performer, crafted with biting percision by Inarrritu.
Every year there is a film or two that I wish I was at Sundance for, to see the very first screening and see how audiences reacted to it after the world premiere. That film this year was Whiplash, which I heard nothing but raves about my everyone who saw it at Sundance and every other festival, until I finally got to see it for myself in October. Critics have been raving about J.K. Simmons (a surefire lock for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nomination) and Miles Teller's incredibly intense performances all year, and they deserve every single shred of recognition they get. For one, it's just so wonderful to see J.K. Simmons finally be recognized as the brilliance he's put on the big and small screen over the past few decades, and Miles Teller deserves tons of praise for his ability to go toe-to-toe with Simons, and for his incredible drumming abilities, which makes the last 20 minutes of this movie the most memorable ending of the year, by far. Writer-director Damien Chazelle brilliantly mines his own personal experiences (the filmmaker was also a drum prodigy and had an abrassive teacher similar to Simmons) to craft a powerful, gut-wrenching and touching drama that fires on all emotional cylinders, and truly can't be missed by anyone with a beating heart. Yes, it's that damn great, but still, as phenomenal as Whiplash is, my top film of 2014 is just that much better because it's a film that literally no one would ever dare to make.
Filmmaking is a long and arduous process, and there aren't many directors who would elect to make it actually longer... by a decade or so, but Richard Linklater's 12-year process of making Boyhood truly stands out, and the film itself is an achievement that will be remembered for decades. Watching Ellar Coltrane's Mason literally grow up before our very eyes in such a condensed period of time is so magical there are hardly words to describe how special it really is. Patricia Arquette is also phenomenal as Mason's mother, with Ethan Hawke turning in a stellar performance as the young lad's dad. The filmmaker's daughter, Lorelei Linklater, also deserves much more recognition than she gets for playing Mason's sister Samantha. The term "high-concept" is often thrown around when discussing a story or a script that is particularly original or ingenious, but it's Linklater and the cast's 12-year commitment to this fairly simple story of a boy becoming a man, that re-defines what "high-concept," and cinematic storytelling as a whole.
That wraps up my Top 10 Movies for 2014. Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Chime in with your thoughts below, or let me know on Twitter @GallagherMW. Regardless of whether you think 2014 was a good or bad year for movies, one thing is for certain: it was certainly memorable.