2014 was a great year. Seriously, I’m prepared to go on record right now as saying this is the best year for films out of the three that I’ve blogged in (2012 and 2013). It took a while to get this good, there’s no doubt about that, but once 2014 rolled out the big guns, the films were quite something to see. Perhaps there were just as many films I’d consider great (4/4 stars) from the previous two years, but in 2014 there were many more films that I’d consider really, really good (3.5/4 stars). Of course, all of this is just about impossible to quantify, but looking back over my previous two lists of this nature has me feeling pretty good about 2014. This is all the more impressive in that I had no idea 2014 would be this good going in.
Back in the summer of 2014, I was feeling a little lukewarm about the year as a whole. I had seen three awesome movies up to that point, but was dismayed because only one of them was a 2014 release, the other two were delayed from 2013. I’ve been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to include them on this list, but after thinking long and hard and seeing many other lists include them, I decided to do so. So I’ve decided to expand the list to a top 13, with three of the films actually representing 2013. Ignore those three movies, and you’ll have my traditional top 10 list for 2014. I thought this was a good way to strike a bargain between including and excluding the three 2013 films that I absolutely loved from this year.
So, as a recap, here are the 2014 films I saw this past year:
American Sniper, Big Eyes, Birdman, Boyhood, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Drop, Edge of Tomorrow, Foxcatcher, Fury, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, Interstellar, Into the Woods, A Most Violent Year, A Most Wanted Man, The Monuments Men, Muppets Most Wanted, Nightcrawler, Noah, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Whiplash, Wild, Winter’s Tale, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, making 29 films in all.
Delayed releases from 2013 I saw this year:
Honorable Mentions: A Most Violent Year, The Imitation Game, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Noah, and Edge of Tomorrow
Coming in at number 13 is…
Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar
I have this thing with Christopher Nolan’s films were I initially think they’re awesome, but then forget almost everything about them that I initially liked. I remember seeing Interstellar in the theater and thinking it was really cool, despite some of its issues. Still, I appreciated the special effects and some of the film’s themes, along with the touching relationship between McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy (sadly, Jessica Chastain didn’t live up to this early promise, and that’s probably the only time I’ve ever said that). The film has a lot of issues, but I appreciated its own ambition even if it didn’t totally pay off. (3.5/4 stars)
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”
Coming in at number 11 is…
Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher
Foxcatcher may not be my favorite film out these, but it is a very good one. My problem with the ending appears to be how the actual events played out, which is pretty shocking to think about. It also means it should have given it some more slack on that front probably. Nevertheless, I did recognize the greatness of the three central performances. The whole film is shot very deliberately, something I definitely appreciated. All in all, it may not be the most entertaining film on this list, but it is one of the best films of the year. (3.5/4 stars)
“I just don’t want to let you down.”
Coming in at number 11 is….
Pawil Pawilkowski’s Ida (2013)
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Ida going in, but the more I think about this film the more I like it. Some of the cinematography choices are jarring on a first watch, but as I consider this film more the more they make sense with the story its trying to tell. Ida is a very striking film, dealing with two women’s reactions to the revelation of a family secret. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 10 is…
Ava DuVernay’s Selma
Even though I may have been pretty hard on it my review, I still believe Selma is important film, and a powerful one. The fact that it got made with Ava DuVernay directing is significant in itself. That said, it’s still a really good movie, showing the community of Selma working together under the leadership of David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King Jr. It may get a tad too manipulative at times, but overall it’s an incredibly moving film. (3.5/4 stars)
Coming in at number 9 is…
Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods
I know a lot of people weren’t too fond of this movie, but with my weakness for movie musicals I just loved this one. It’s more thematically deep than most you’ll see, which I appreciated. It’s all about the existential angst of growing up and realizing that getting everything you want is not necessarily the best thing. The music is great and the performances are great as well (everybody can actually sing!). It may be structured in a weird way, but it makes sense with the story it’s presenting. It may not be for everybody, but I loved it, and it’s one of the best recent movie musicals. (3.5/4 stars)
“I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”
Coming in at number 8 is…
Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler
Nightcrawler‘s points may not be super-original, but nevertheless it is an incredibly involving film with great performances and cinematography. I wish it had gone a bit further in its criticism of the media, we all know by now that they’ll do anything for ratings, but still the actions of the main character and just his general demeanor is pretty unsettling. The images of LA at night harken back to those of New York in Taxi Driver, and the similarities don’t end there. The car chases are great, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is on a whole ‘nother level. (3.5/4 stars)
“On TV, it looks so real.”
Coming in at number 7 is…
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice
I may not have any clue what happened in this movie, but that’s the genius of it. Paul Thomas Anderson and star Joaquin Phoenix are back after one of my favorite movies of 2012, The Master, with a completely different film. Adapting the Thomas Pynchon novel (which I sadly have still not read, but I’m dying to), PTA crafts a story that makes little to no sense but manages to get you involved nevertheless. Displaying great production design and costumes building 1970s LA., and with a soundtrack to match, Inherent Vice may not make any sense but it sure makes a good movie. (3.5/4 stars)
“Back when they were together, she could go weeks without anything more complicated than a pout. Now she was laying some heavy combination of face ingredients on Doc that he couldn’t read at all.”
Coming in at number 6 is….
Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer (2013)
Literally every (okay, it’s only been three, but still) Korean film I’ve watched has managed to completely blow me away. Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer is no exception to that rule. Following a train through a frozen wasteland of an apocalyptic future, Snowpiercer is an interesting and stylish look at the haves and have-nots in a closed off environment. It’s only fault is requiring an immense suspension of disbelief, but I don’t think the film would have had quite as much charm had it been totally believable. Led by Captain America himself (in a genius piece of casting) Chris Evans, Snowpiercer has an incredible cast of international actors, all contributing themselves to the darkly ridiculous milieu. I can only hope that the Koreans continue to make films this good. (3.5/4 stars)
“Know your place. Accept your place. Be a shoe.”
Coming in at number 5 is…
Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel
I never seem to know what Wes Anderson is getting at in his films, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying them immensely. His style may be overbearing at times, but taken in small doses is quite delightful. Though many have been touting this as Wes Anderson’s best film, for me it is more of a complete embodiment of his style (I haven’t seen every film of his yet, but I still kind of like Moonrise Kingdom better than this one). Led by the formidable Ralph Fiennes, the entire cast puts in pitch perfect performances, even though most of them are not much more than cameos. Fiennes in particular does a good job of livening things up, he manages to convey the classic Andersonian dead-pan humor without seeming dead in the least. It’s a shame he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, but what can you do? (3.5/4 stars)
“Get your hands off my lobby boy!”
Coming in at number 4 is…
Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash
Here is a film that completely surprised me. I did not expect the film to be as good as it was. Implausible, yes, but I totally get where this film is coming from. The pressure that comes with trying to be the best in any human endeavor really is incredibly great. Having that embodied in another person is just that much more of a struggle. The film may not go much deeper than that, but it’s incredibly crafted. The quick and kinetic editing keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the performances are great as well. It may not be one I’ll come back to again and again, but it was great the first time around. (3.5/4 stars)
“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”
Coming in at number 3 is…
Alejandro Gonzalez Innitaru’s Birdman
Much like Whiplash and a lot of other great films, Birdman deals with the nature of art. Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson is a washed up superhero actor trying to make a name for himself by doing an important play. He encounters his own fear and doubt, all the while dealing with a complicated cast with their own problems. Like all great films about art, it shows the cost that comes along with baring one’s soul to the public, but it also shows the rewards. Perhaps more importantly, Birdman does all of this with an incredible energy, a unique beat that I’ve not seen in any other film. (4/4 stars)
“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”
Coming in at number 2 is…
David Fincher’s Gone Girl
Aww man. I love this movie. I have seen again since it’s theatrical release and don’t worry, it still definitely holds up. I’ve also read the screenplay and the book, as well as the two other books Gillian Flynn has written. To say I’m obsessed with this story would be an understatement. I love almost everything about it, and the film captures the book perfectly. It may not be quite as disturbing because you don’t quite get every sick, twist, inner though these characters have, but it does a pretty darn good job at trying. It may be my own personal bias talking, but I can’t think of a single negative thing to say against this film. Fincher’s control over every frame is apparent, while still giving Flynn’s story it’s chance to shine. Rosamund Pike is a revelation. The film not only works as a condemnation of modern media, but an examination of modern gender roles and marriage, as well as an investigation into how all people ultimately work to present themselves as someone better than who they are. I certainly will be coming back to this film for years to come. (4/4 stars)
“I feel like something to be jettisoned if necessary. I feel like I could disappear.”
Coming in at number 1 is…
Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013)
Though it saddens me a bit that Gone Girl couldn’t be number one, I have to give that honor to Under the Skin. I love this movie, and have just watched it again and like Gone Girl it still holds up. I love Glazer’s use of conflicting styles, realistic and expressive, to show the difference between the alien trying to be human and abandoning that effort. It’s a film that perhaps were never be 100% clear, but one can always learn something new or feel something different through watching it again. Scarlett Johansson’s performance is amazing, and the soundtrack by Mica Levi is equally fantastic and goes a long way in establishing the film’s atmosphere. I can only hope Glazer continues to make movies this striking and thought-provoking. (4/4 stars)
“Do you think I’m pretty?”
So that’s my look back on the year that was, 2014. I couldn’t ignore some of the delayed releases from 2013, so perhaps 2014 wasn’t as good as I made it out to be, but nevertheless all of these films I viewed in the last year were fantastic. While I’ve never singled out individual contributions before, I’m going to do that perfunctorily this year, and quickly state my top picks before the Oscars steal my thunder.
Director has to automatically go to best film, so I’ll pick Glazer for that one (with Fincher, Innaritu, Chazelle, and Anderson rounding out the top five). Best Actor I’ll have to give to Jake Gyllenhaal, and yes I’m biased on that one, I’ll fully admit. However, I still think he’s as good a choice as any, and contributed much to the film he was in (the other five being Ralph Fiennes, Michael Keaton, Channing Tatum, and Joaquin Phoenix, in order). Best Actress goes to Rosamund Pike, no question (other four: Scarlett Johannson, Agata Kulesza, Reese Witherspoon, and Emily Blunt for Into the Woods). Cinematography has to go to Lubezki for Birdman, the 1-take gimmick paid off in a big way (rounding out the five are: Lukasz Zall and Ryszard Lenczewski for Ida, Robert Elswit for Nightcrawler, Robert Elswit for Inherent Vice, and Bradford Young for A Most Violent Year). Finally, I have to give score to Mica Levi for Under the Skin (runner up would have to be Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for Gone Girl, and sadly I don’t have strong enough opinions on the other scores this year to fill out a top five).
I don’t really have any more on my radar for 2015 besides what I talked about in my post last month, especially because Scorsese’s Silence is officially a 2016 movie now. There were a couple of films that I heard about from Sundance that seem cool, so hopefully they will get released to the rest of the world soon. I am looking forward to circling back eventually and seeing some stuff I missed from 2014, especially James Gray’s The Immigrant which seems like something I would love, I just didn’t get around to seeing it. Otherwise, stay tuned for best picture month starting on Sunday with my review of 1983’s winner, Terms of Endearment. Until then, let me know what you think about my views on the films of 2014, and feel free to shout out to your own winners as well. And thank you, as always, for reading and commenting on the blog! Here’s to another great year for 2015!