Year in Review: The Best Films of 2014
The year offered a lot of great films and several unusual trends, like the abundance of exceptional movies with one word titles. Weird. We also had a banner year in great independent horror, excellent blockbusters, some exceptional movies from first time filmmakers (Rosewater, Nightcrawler, Dear White People, Obvious Child and more), and a promising number of well received, well crafted films with female directors (The Babadook, Selma, Unbroken and many more).
One of the joys of counting down the best in film for 2014 is the news that the cinematic wasteland that is January will actually boast three local openings – hooray! But before we get to that, please have a look at the films you may have missed this year, as well as the best in genre filmmaking in 2014.
5. Rosewater: An industry veteran with a connection to the source material, Jon Stewart made his directorial debut this year with the tale of a journalist jailed in Iran partly because of an interview he did with The Daily Show. The story behind Rosewater is fascinating, and Stewart’s direction proves thoughtful, insightful and inventive.
4. Under the Skin: This hypnotic, low-key SciFi thrille, the latest from filmmaker-to-watch Jonathan Glazer , follows Scarlett Johansson around Glasgow in a van. Light on dialogue and void of exposition, Under the Skin demands your attention, but it delivers an enigmatic, breathtaking, utterly unique vision of an alien invasion.
3. The Drop/Locke (tie) The great Tom Hardy made two films this year that no one saw. A masterpiece in simplicity, Locke tags along on a solo car trip: just you, Hardy, and several simultaneous crises he handles on his mobile. Meanwhile, the ensemble drama The Drop sees Hardy, playing a seemingly simple minded bartender in a crime ridden neighborhood, give among the most nuanced and crafty performances of the year.
2. Get On Up: Why did no one see this film? The music is great (obviously), and the performances are masterful. Chadwick Boseman accomplishes the impossible in his role as the incomparable James Brown by recreating the swagger and presence without creating a caricature, while the always brilliant Viola Davis offers an absolute master’s class in acting.
1. Calvary: World-weary humor, brilliant writing and one stellar performance from the always remarkable Brendan Gleeson mark this underseen gem from Ireland about humanity, betrayal, forgiveness and redemption. [click here for review]
BEST BLOCKBUSTERS (because we had some good ones!)
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Equally successful as political allegory and popcorn muncher, the sequel takes the themes and emotional merit of its predecessor and turns them into something grander, more epic and even more amazing.
4. Edge of Tomorrow: Aliens meets Groundhog Day turns out to be epically entertaining! Tom Cruise throws some much appreciated humor at us while he relives the same horrendous day again and again in the hopes of finding a way to defeat an invading army of aliens. He has the help of Emily Blunt, and he – and we – should be grateful. In what amounts to the Sigourney Weaver role, Blunt flat out amazes.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: A witty, clever film that respects the past and keeps an eye on the complexities of modern life, Winter Soldier brings the surprisingly entertaining First Avenger very successfully into the present. Great action pieces, even better hand-to-hand combat, a heart and a brain – not to mention a pretty rockin’ cast – catapult this one into top spot for individual Avenger flicks.
2. The Lego Movie: The tone is fresh and irreverent, the voice talent spot-on, and the direction is endlessly clever. The Lego Movie was the most fun to be had at the cinema in 2014.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy: Director James Gunn nails the tone, the color, the imagery, and the sound of one Earthling dartin’ about space scavenging, smooching, and basically living the dream. The effortlessly likeable Chris Pratt leads a crew of ragtag misfits who collectively become the most enjoyable team of intergalactic scoundrels since Han Solo piloted the Falcon. This is the definition of a great summer movie.
BEST IN HORROR
5. Housebound: Long before Hobbits and dragons, kiwi Peter Jackson filled New Zealand cinemas with laughs and screams while covering their screens in blood and body fluids. The torch has been passed to Gerard Johnstone, whose Housebound is a funny, clever, heart-racing horror flick about a potentially haunted house. It’s also among the very best of the genre released this year.
4. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Ana Lily Amirpour’s first feature – also Iran’s very first vampire film -is a gorgeous, peculiar reimagining of the familiar. Amirpour mixes imagery and themes from a wide range of filmmakers as she updates and twists the common vampire tropes with unique cultural flair. The result is a visually stunning, utterly mesmerizing whole.
3. Big, Bad Wolves: In Isreal’s hypnotic fairy tale nightmare Big Bad Wolves we follow one driven cop, one driven-to-madness father, and one milquetoast teacher who’s been accused of the most heinous acts. Not for the squeamish, the film boasts brilliant performances, nimble writing and disturbing bursts of humor. It treads in dark, dark territory, but repeatedly dares you to look away. It’s a bold and brilliantly realized effort.
2. Only Lovers Left Alive: The great Jim Jarmusch (Ohio boy!) updates the vampire genre with a well conceived twist on the unusual, aided by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful performances as well as his own dry humor and magnificent eye for visuals.
1. The Babadook: A familiar tale given primal urgency, the horror fueled by compassion, the terror unsettling and genuine – this film is more than a scary movie, and it immediately ranks among the freshest and most memorable the genre has to offer.
THE BEST FILMS OF 2014
10. Snowpiercer: Though incompetently marketed and abysmally underseen, Snowpiercer is an immediate dystopian classic. Visionary direction from Joon-ho Bong maximizes claustrophobic tension while brazen casting victories (Oh my God, Tilda Swinton!) and another solid lead turn from Chris Evens work together to create an enthralling allegory of the makers and the takers.
9. Foxcatcher: Director Bennett Miller’s understated true crime film benefits from seriously unusual casting. Steve Carrel is revelatory as John du Pont, millionaire weirdo and wrestling enthusiast who bankrolled Olympic hopefuls (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, both award worthy), ensnaring then in his unpredictable psychosis. It’s riveting stuff. [click here for review]
8. A Most Violent Year: A gem that won’t hit local theaters until January, A Most Violent Year is a film about the merits versus moral compromise of the American dream, and a slow boil drama that keeps you on edge for its full 125 minute running time because there is absolutely no guessing what is coming next.
7. Inherent Vice: Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is another that won’t hit CBus theaters until January, but it’s so good it has to be remembered in this list. The film defies easy summarization as an inebriated PI (played by Joaquin Phoenix as you’ve never seen him) fits together pieces from several different puzzles to create an unpredictable, barely coherent but wildly enjoyable whole.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel: The great eccentric genius Wes Anderson inches his way closer to mainstream acceptance and Oscar with the most meticulously framed, wickedly clever dark comedy. Filled with melancholy and whimsy, full to bursting with fascinating cameos, and boasting an almost unimaginably perfect performance by Ralph Fiennes, it’s a work of genius that could only spring from the mind of Anderson. [click here for review]
5. Whiplash: As sure as J.K. Simmons will walk home with his first Oscar this year, Whiplash will astonish you. No film this year ratchets tension like this one, as one musician and his mentor do battle that makes the Hobbit look light hearted. Brilliantly written, expertly directed, and boasting two excellent performances (not to mention some really great music!), Whiplash is easily one of the best features of 2014.
4. Nightcrawler: No telling why it took so long to combine Network and American Psycho, but Nightcrawler is here now, so buckle down for a helluva ride. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his absolute best in a film that is as scorchingly relevant an image of modern media as it is a brilliant character study in psychosis.
3. Birdman: Meta-magical-realism at its finest, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s look at the transience and transcendence of fame will nab some Oscars this season. This is a brilliant director and a magnificent cast at their playful, creative best. [click here for review]
2. Selma: Ava DuVernay’s account of the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama doesn’t flinch. You can expect the kind of respectful approach common in historical biopics, but don’t let that lull you. This is not a laudable and forgettable historical art piece, and you’ll know that as you watch little girls descend a staircase within the first few minutes. Selma is a straightforward, well crafted punch to the gut. It opens in Columbus on January 9. Do not miss it.
1. Boyhood: Richard Linklater manages the impossible. By checking in on one family every year for 12 years, collecting not the major incidents but all those everyday moments, he provides an achingly, hilariously, touchingly realistic impression of an entire childhood. The cast is brilliant, and the sense of family they evoke is as authentic as anything you will ever see on film. Boyhood is a film like none other ever made, and it is imperative viewing. [click here for review]