There’s a lot of talk in the movie world right now about how the giant blockbusters and studio system have signaled the death of movies as we know it. Each year studios are betting big on their tent pole movies (those that must do well in order to keep the studio afloat) like Transformers: Age of Extinction. As such these films are generally designed to appeal to the largest common denominator and end up not being very good. The result is there is less and less money out there for the smaller, quality films that many of us love so much.
2014 is an argument against this fear. The sheer number of amazing films on display this year shows that cinema is alive and well. The surprising thing is not only are the smaller independent films having a strong showing, but Marvel showed once again that blockbuster movies don’t have to be terrible. Unfortunately, Transformers showed that they still can be really…really awful.
Frankly, I think ranking movies in lists like this are kind of dumb. There were way more than 10 movies that I loved this year, and the fact that I have to kick some out of the list seems stupid. But everyone loves lists! So here’s mine.
10) 22 Jump Street – Chris Miller & Phil Lord
Making a good comedy sequel is one of the hardest things to do in film. We enjoy original comedies because they’re unexpected. Nobody expected 21 Jump Street to be any good, but it ended up being hilarious (and one of my top 10 of 2012). But how do you top that? 22 Jump Street decided to do it by making a movie about a comedy sequel and embracing everything that’s wrong about them. The result is brilliant and hilarious. 22 Jump Street is not only one of the best movies of this year, but one of the best comedy sequels ever.
9) Love is Strange – Ira Sachs
This indie film caught me a little off guard. Based on the trailers I saw this as a movie about two gay men who get married and subsequently lose their jobs because of that marriage. I was expected a very politically charged drama arguing for the rights of same-sex marriage, which probably would have been a very interesting film. But what I got was something more profound: a beautiful little story about love and relationships (new and old) and how those relationships react to strain caused by unexpected events in life. The best part of Love is Strange is that it isn’t trying to make any kind of political statement and in doing so makes the most convincing statement of all.
8) Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
In preparing to write this portion of the article I tried to think of a recent Wes Anderson movie I have not absolutely loved. I couldn’t do it (I’m not counting Darjeeling Limited for…reasons). Grand Budapest Hotel has all the quirky charm, beautiful set design & costuming, and skilled acting that we’ve come to expect out of the director, but turned up to 11. The film feels like Wes Anderson’s response to his critics who said his movies were getting too ridiculous and outlandish, too ‘Wes Anderson-y’. It’s the pinnacle of a Wes Anderson movie and his masterpiece.
7) John Wick – Chad Stahelski
Do not fuck with Keanu Reeve’s dog. John Wick sees Keanu return to his acting strengths. That is, being a guy who doesn’t talk much and shoots people in the head a lot. The action in this movie is amazing, in my opinion the best of the year. Unsurprising when an experienced stunt coordinated who worked on The Matrix movies decides he’s going to direct a film. The best part about John Wick, however, is the world building. This is a world in which gold coins are currency. Where expertly trained assassins all hang out in a hotel bar together. Where unwritten rules require them to all leave each other alone as long as they’re in this assassin hotel and the consequences for breaking these rules are dire. It’s this amazing world that makes John Wick one of the best of 2014. Well…that and the hundreds of dudes Keanu totally shoots in the head.
6) The Babadook – Jennifer Kent
I love scary movies. I’ve seen so many of them to the point that it’s rare that I find one that scares me. So when I say that The Babadook is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, I don’t say it lightly. But The Babadook is great because it doesn’t want to just scare you, it wants to examine grief, loss, the struggle of raising a child alone. The movie wrestles with the maternal instincts to protect your child and the natural instincts to hate bratty, annoying children who keep misbehaving (maybe pass on this one if you’re thinking of having children soon). Suspense and tone are expertly held and built up as strange occurrences begin happen, all centered around a mysterious children’s book “Mister Babadook”. If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, I can’t help but love The Babadook.
5) Guardians of the Galaxy – James Gunn
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the nature of blockbuster film. Marvel took a big gamble with phase 1 of their universe; using multiple multi-million dollar movies to set up one climactic event, 2012’s The Avengers. The gamble paid off and other studios are now scrambling to copy Marvel’s winning strategy. Not to be content, Marvel took another big risk with Guardians of the Galaxy, taping into the far reaches of their comic book lore to create a movie and world with D list characters most of us had never heard of. Once again, it worked. Guardians of the Galaxy is an incredible ride. Not since the original Star Wars has there been a space adventure of its kind; a hilarious movie with great action, amazing characters, real emotion, and an engaging story. It is the best Marvel Studios film to date and continues to prove that the studio completely understands what makes movies great. At this point I’m beginning to believe that Marvel can do no wrong.
4) Under the Skin – Jonathan Glazer
Under the Skin is a film about a nameless alien being who comes to earth to harvest the insides of men. The alien woman, played by Scarlett Johansson uses her sexuality to isolate and draw men into her trap and their death. I’m a sucker for original science fiction and this film captivated me with its powerful imagery, killer soundtrack, and solid performances. I only learned after I watched the movie that the men lured to their death were not actors, but rather random people off the street that weren’t aware they were being filmed at first. It’s a perfect choice and cements everything the movie is trying to say about sexuality and the objectification of women. Under the Skin is not a perfect film. There is very sparse dialogue and the movie doesn’t hold your hand, making it difficult for some people to watch. But it’s a movie dripping with substance and meaning and like any good science fiction, shines a light on some uncomfortable truths within our own society.
3) Snowpiercer – Bong Joon-ho
Snowpiercer is one of the most original and fascinating science fiction movies I’ve seen this year. Chris Evan’s rebellion to the front of the train is filled with great and wonderfully weird moments. This is the first western movie by the Korean director and he’s perfectly mixed styles. To a western audience some of these weird stylistic choices might seem like unusual nonsense, but they work so well here! Bong Joon-ho manages to make a film that takes place entirely on a train feel much bigger than it is. He uses all the space expertly, both in the action sequences and still shots. Snowpiercer is a movie that lives in the grey area between right and wrong. A movie that examines the nature of classes, social positions, and the power of order and control. There are tons of questions, but no easy answers.
2) Locke – Stephen Knight
I watched Locke again while putting together this list and I am still completely enamored by the film. Tom Hardy’s performance is the best of his career in a film that requires his best to work. Ivan Locke is a fascinating character and the story is structured to keep a high level of intensity throughout. It continues to amaze me what this film manages to pull off with one man in a car. Read my full review here
1) Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy
When I was putting together this article, I originally had Locke in this top spot. The more I thought about Nightcrawler, however, the more I realized that no other movie this year effected me as much. Nightcrawler is brilliant on so many different levels. It is a scalding criticism of both the American media machine and the traditional “American Dream” mentality. A system that lets a person like Lou Bloom, a sociopath by every definition of the word, succeed and flourish. More than that, however, Nightcrawler succeeds on a technical level. It’s a wild, suspenseful ride from beginning to end. Like those that eagerly tune in to watch the death and carnage that Lou Bloom films, I found I could not look away from the carnage that was Lou’s quest for success. Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his career as Lou Bloom. Lou is calm, cold, and calculated throughout the film, but you can always see the madness just below the surface. It is absolutely terrifying.
So there we have it! My top 10 of the year. As mentioned above there were a ton of good movies this year, so getting my list down to 10 was really difficult. I had to cut out a lot of films I really did love, some of which might have been your favorite. There were also a bunch of good movies that I wanted to see, that might have made this list, but I never got to. Movies like Whiplash, Inherent Vice, Boyhood, Selma and Birdman. There’s a chance my list would have looked really different had I gotten to see those films.
So what do you think? Do you agree/disagree with me? What would your top 10 be? Let me know in the comments!