As another year comes to a close, it’s time to look back at the best films of the year. Though some films will not be on this list because they will not be released in my area until 2015 (Selma, A Most Violent Year, Mr. Turner, Inherent Vice, Still Alice, Cake), I did get to see a great selection of films this year. Here are my picks for the best films released in 2014.
The Lego Movie
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Edge of Tomorrow
22 Jump Street
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
This is Where I Leave You
Big Hero 6
Into the Woods
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Nightcrawler is a fascinating look into a deeply disturbed character that uses sharp directing and witty writing to convey a convincing look at a psychopath, as portrayed excellently by Jake Gyllenhaal, who completely nails the role of Lou. Gyllenhaal’s performance, along with writer/director Dan Gilroy’s great screenplay, explore the motivations of this odd character, while still keeping much of it a mystery. There’s a lot being said about the way news affects us, but its primarily secondary to the mystery behind Gyllenhaal’s character, and while this takes the film to very dark places, there are moments of dark comedy that make the film more enjoyable, and essentially make his character even more of an enigma. Gilroy’s excellent direction also adds an additional layer of suspense to the film that builds up to some great set pieces and answer inquires about Lou, as shown in the film’s final shot. Nightcrawler tells a great story, and takes a frightening look at one of the year’s most bizarre characters.
A dark and slow character study, Foxcatcher is a riveting film that examines the highly unusual relationship between its central characters. Director Bennet Miller provides a look at the obsession of a craft and the role of personal relationships with achievement. The film’s three leads all deliver career best performances; Steve Carell in unrecognizable and at points terrifying as the disillusioned John Du Pont, while Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are both great as Mark and Dave Schultz, selling the legitimacy of their character’s profession and shedding the movie star status. While the morose pace of the plot is undeniable, it provides opportunity for the characters to take stage in an intense psychological breakdown, which relies on the actors to be both expressive in their subtleties and poignant in their delivery of lines. The film builds up incredible tension, laying way for an emotional finale that while tragically true, is some of the best filmmaking seen all year. Foxcatcher is a great study of competition that examines both actual conflict with internal struggle.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
With The Grand Budapest Hotel, director Wes Anderson delivers his finest project yet, combining hilariously quirky humor and one of the year’s best screenplays. The entire film is bursting with energy, emphasized by its bright color palettes, hilarious set pieces, and witty dialogue. The story is mostly secondary here; it’s essentially many situations that allow characters to have different interactions, and in this case that is a good thing. The diverse and uniquely humorous characters are what make the film so special, particularly in the case of Ralph Finnes’s amazing lead performance as Gustave, who sells the role of the very strange, yet charismatic hotel concierge whose mishaps and adventures suggest he’s in the wrong era, and Tony Revolori’s straight man, who provides a great addition to the strange comic duo. But Wes Anderson’s style of storytelling, which essentially (and literally) reads as a friend telling a story allows the film’s focus to be primarily on the consistently exciting moments of the film, and only briefly dwelling on the solemn, while keeping a few poignant moments at the film’s end, allows the film to be as comedic and over-the-top a possible, as it essentially is a translation of certain events. A quirky, yet strangely inspired film, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a charming piece of entertainment.
- The Theory of Everything
In a year full of biographies, The Theory of Everything stands out as the most full of life and poignant. The struggle of Stephen Hawking’s disease is a major aspect of the film, but the film deals with much more universal themes of love, loss, and life. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are brilliant, as the actors deal with the complexities of life, as well as the burden of achievement. The performances bring the script to life in a compelling way, tying personal experience to discovery, brilliantly showing Hawking’s discoveries in a tangible way, while providing a strong narrative in the relationship between the two leads, which is surprisingly realistic, and doesn’t hide the faults in these iconic figures. The emotion really draws on the universal life experiences, which are unchanging, despite differences in class and stature. The Theory of Everything is a brilliant bio that brings the icon of Stephen Hawking to life in an unsentimental, but touching way.
- The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game is a unique film, as it seamlessly combines three different timelines, and a personal and professional insight into the character of Alan Turing. Morten Tydlum’s excellent thriller gives a fascinating insight into the larger than life historical figure, giving the audience just enough to know about the character through its clever storytelling, and by the excellent lead performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, who gives the best performance of his career as the nuanced, haunted genius. The multiple timelines are blended together with ease, and give a very solid look at the past, present, and future of Turing, providing an interesting cause and effect relationship that develops over time, and serves as an effective way to handle exposition and character development. Considering the real life events that transpired, it’s remarkable that the film could avoid focusing on the anger of tragedy, and instead on the success of achievement.
- Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) serves as our society’s first modern satire, brilliantly establishing a familiar world that is a few witty changes away from ours, and explores it with some of the year’s most inventive filmmaking. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu gives the film a beautifully ascetic and audacious feel, combining a fascinating character study of the former movie star Riggan Thompson with strong commentary of our modern entertainment industry, exploring theatre, independent films versus blockbusters, the aura of movie stars, the ignorance of film critics, and the effect of the media. In one of the year’s best performances, Michael Keaton delivers an amazing performance as a struggling actor that remarkably never descends into self-parody, and explores it themes justly. Edward Norton and Emma Stone are also strong, but it’s the film’s screenplay and direction that tie its many efforts into one masterwork. A major accomplishment for the recognition of our modern faults, Birdman is a fantastic film.
Interstellar is a visually stunning and emotionally astounding work of cinema that takes the story of an old fashioned adventure and gives it a modern twist. Though never diluting its sense of wonder, the modern setting gives the film an added emotional weight which sells the genuine emotions, specifically in the relationship between Matthew McConaughey lead character of Cooper and his daughter, played by Mackenzie Foy and Jessica Chastain. This beautiful connection is what drives the plot over any consequences on a grander scale, as it plays on a quintessential human emotion that remains realistic throughout. Christopher Nolan’s scope of filmmaking is also astounding, as his grand vision is completely awe inspiring, and gives the audience many answers, though it never seeks to give a clear answer or make a direct statement. Its science is sound enough and its supporting cast is brilliant, providing one of the year’s finest achievement in science fiction filmmaking. Interstellar is a vivid and engrossing film that combines the wonders of adventure with the warmth of love.
Whiplash is essentially a film about the trials involved in the pursuit of art, and director Damien Chazelle goes full on in an amazingly vivid portrayal of the jazz music scene. The intense psychological battle that brews between the film’s two main characters is an incredible one, as rarely do these characters have intense verbal exchanges, instead relying on the nearly tangible tension built in the direction and the complex performances. Miles Teller is completely immersed as the film’s lead Andrew, and sells the effect of his pursuit vividly, especially in the film’s final scenes. J.K. Simmons provides one of the best performances of the year as his intense, but motivated instructor, and gives the film a terrifying and abusive, yet completely understandable feel, especially in his rare, yet very moving moments of emotion. It’s edited to complete precision and equipped with one of the best finales of the year, and never stops from its consistently engrossing storytelling. Whiplash is a riveting piece of filmmaking that explores a universal theme with two of the year’s best characters.
- Gone Girl
Rarely has a film been so daring in its construction or stunning in its message, but David Fincher does both in the excellent adaptation of Gone Girl. The film is not only a riveting thriller with brilliant uses of tension, but also a witty dark comedy that brings up issues of media, marriage, and the perils of ordinary life. Fincher’s stellar direction, which balances point of view and flashbacks in a way that increases tension and character development, is some of his finest work, ranking among his best work. Rosamund Pike gives the best leading female performance of the year as the title’s titular catalyst, and nails the wide range of emotions and interactions the character requires, while Ben Affleck is a stunning double giving a great performance that showcases the film’s themes, specifically media attraction, in a way that is both relevant, and a t times disturbingly realistic. The brilliance in the film is in its engaging story, constant twists that only improve the plot, and the fantastic dialogue from Gillian Flynn. Gone Girl is a topical thriller, a sharply savage satire, and a seamlessly well executed film.
Boyhood is an incredible film experience that succeeds at its narrative goals as well as its remarkable emotional depth and realistic nature. The essence of life that is captured here is incredible, as it never seeks to capture an entire subplot or story, instead focusing on the moments and achievements that make up an individual’s life. Richard Linklater does this with great skill, as the audience is in a constant state of empathy and relation to Ellar Coltrane’s Mason, and the similar plights of his parent’s, portrayed beautifully and organically by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. But the point of the film is not to make any statement, nor is it a commentary on life, but its events are seen through many perspectives, and to celebrate the joys, and occasional hardships, in life. A stunning achievement, Boyhood is a cinematic masterpiece, and a film for the ages.
So what do you guys think? What are your favorite films of the year? What do you think of my list? Comment below to talk about the best films of 2014.