Once again, here are my top ten films of the year. Please note that not all of these are appropriate for viewers of all ages. I found these films to be exceptional examples of artistry, or films that impacted me deeply on some level. It was refreshing to see so many original ideas in cinemas in 2014, and the year yielded one of my all time favorite films, this list's number 1 movie!
While they didn't make my top ten, these films were solid enough entries that they are worth mentioning!
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Begin Again
- Edge of Tomorrow
- Fincher's adaptation of the novel by Gillian Flynn is cold, calculated, and cerebral. With a chilling performance by Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck in one of his most solid roles to date, Gone Girl gets under the skin and stays there, infecting your mind like a parasite. Tonally similar to Se7en as opposed to more comfortable fare such as The Social Network, Fincher stays surprisingly true to the source material, even to a shocking end. (This is also due to the fact that Flynn also wrote the screenplay). I would be surprised if this DIDN'T receive some Oscar nominations.
- The Lego Movie was a complete surprise this year. Both witty and charming, Lord and Miller were able to craft a film that appealed to young and old alike. The voice cast was impressive and worked perfectly with their characters. (Will Arnett's Batman - case and point). I was surprised at how self aware this movie was, and it embraced the building aspect of the Lego product creatively. Each time you view The Lego Movie you catch something else hidden in the script or background, so it easily supports the repeated viewings that most kids will require.
- The first English-speaking film from Korean director Joon-ho Bong was a surprise masterpiece of the year. While technically made for 2013 release, Snowpiercer was delayed because of a constant tug of war between the director and the producers. This dystopian futuristic story plays out in segments aboard a single futuristic train, and would take up far too much time to summarize here. What you do need to know is that Snowpiercer is shocking at times, and delves into such topics as social justice, power, regret, love, and control. Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton are both spectacular.
- Angelina Jolie has been full of surprises this year, first starring in the global hit Maleficent and now delivering an incredibly moving and emotional biopic on famed Olympic athlete Louie Zamperini. Jack O'Connell anchors the film with a moving performance, depicting the early life and war years of the real Zamperini. While many people criticize the film for leaving too much out, it truly would be impossible to cover the post war story as well in one film. Jolie wisely chose the portion of Zamperini's story to tell, allowing silence and imagery to aid her story telling just as much as the script. The torture and hardship are never divorced from the spiritual war going on within, and Jolie bravely acknowledges the spiritual aspect of Zamperini's life in one of this year's finest films.
- James Gunn's first foray into the Marvel cinematic universe is undoubtedly the surprise hit of the year. While many sci-fi films take themselves way too seriously, Gunn handles his source material with tongue in cheek humor and pop culture references. Chris Pratt is phenomenal in his second hit of 2014, and Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper steal the show as Groot and Rocket, possibly the most popular on-screen duo since R2-D2 and C-3PO. On top of the unique characters and story and the witty script, the soundtrack stands out due to the clever use of 70's and 80's pop hits.
- Not since Norman Bates in Psycho has an on screen character appeared so believably insane. Jake Gyllenhaal carries Gilroy's somewhat old-fashioned thriller with a chilling performance. Rene Russo and Bill Paxton costar in this film on obsession and power, yet Gyllenhaal steals every scene as Louis Bloom, an eccentric entrepreneur who decides to enter the world of tv news. The plot slowly builds to an explosive finale, revealing the drastic lengths a person will go to in order to achieve personal significance. Gyllenhaal is sure to receive a best actor nod for his acting.
- Wes Anderson is one of my all time favorite directors, thanks to his quirky style and old world charm. One could swear that he was born in the wrong era, as his films evoke a 60's aesthetic in color, style, and setting. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a mystery, yet at times plays as a comedy, anchored by phenomenal performances from Ralph Fiennes, newcomer Tony Revolori, and the massive A-list cast that Anderson assembled. F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Saoirse Ronan, and Jason Schwartzman round out the cast of this retro heist. Anderson's films are always beautiful, and The Grand Budapest Hotel resembles a fancy pop-up book, as he utilizes 3 different aspect ratios to tell the multi layered story.
- There are few films made these days that can be classified as "epics", yet Nolan's latest masterpiece could easily be grouped into this category. At one time, Hollywood produced films that were massive in scope, yet featured such strong leading characters that the viewer would be impacted on a personal level. (Think Lawrence of Arabia, Ben Hur, Star Wars). Matthew McConnaughey brings this personal grounding to the vast, mind-numbing scientific world of wormholes and time travel. Nolan went above and beyond with everything in Interstellar, bringing in physicist Kip Thorne to help develop the black holes, wormholes, and scientific theory of the film. Hans Zimmer delivered a beautiful and sacred score that combines his signature blasting score with icy piano quartets and a hair raising pipe organ. When combined with the deeply emotional performances and heavy stakes to the events within, Interstellar had me hooked for every minute of its twisting 2 hrs and 45 min.
- Birdman is a work of art. While abrasive and clashing at times, Inarritu's film is shot to in such a way that the entire film is basically one long camera shot. Michael Keaton plays a struggling actor trying to transition from film to stage in order to "find himself" while at the same time dealing with family drama, coworker drama, and his identity as "Birdman." Emma Stone, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galiafanakis all deliver stellar supporting roles to Keaton's sure-to-be-nominated turn as Riggan. Even though Keaton swears this role is the furthest from his actual character, Birdman seems to echo his own life to a degree. Examining the smoke and mirrors of real life vs. acting, finding significance in life, and the struggle every artist feels, Birdman is surprisingly moving. The script is smart, the cinematography is ground breaking, and the acting is some of the best I have ever seen.
- Finally, my number one film of 2014! While all of the aforementioned films are excellent in their own right, few films have impacted me as personally as Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Shot over the course of 12 years using the same actors, Linklater has captured what it feels like to grow up, what it feels like to love, to hurt, to grow, to move, to change, to become someone else. Writer and Director of such masterpieces as the Before Sunrise trilogy and Dazed and Confused, Linklater is no stranger to making films that pierce your soul deeply. As an existential director, he is constantly aware of the little moments in life that impact us and the way in which our relationships alter us as people. Frequent Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette give stellar performances as the struggling, divorced parents of Mason, played by the incredible Ellar Coltrane. The film never alerts the viewer to the changing of years, and is at times almost unnoticeable. This sucks the viewer in, as you gradually grow and change with Mason. Linklater never covers cliche moments in a boy's life, choosing to focus on the smaller and more intimate moments that truly shape an individual. As Mason ages, we see the struggle for his own identity slowly grow and then mature, as he transitions from a boy into a young man. At times Boyhood is unpleasant and heartbreaking to watch, but Linklater constantly reminds us that this is necessary to growth, and to healing.