Staff Picks for the Best Films of 2014
I’m still in awe of how much I loved The Lego Movie. Lord & Miller have crafted a movie about embracing creativity, self-expression, all within a project that was conceptualized under corporate greed. They’ve beaten the system in the most heart-warming way possible. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Everything is awesome.
As a movie, Boyhood isn’t perfect. But neither are we. The execution is far from perfunctory, but that’s not what this movie is about. Boyhood is about the struggles of growing up. It’s about the time we might take for granted. It’s about all of us. Boyhood ends with the sentiment that “the moment seizes us,” and this movie is that moment.
Wes Anderson is a director you either love or you don’t. His style has always been used to enhance elements of other stories. The Grand Budapest Hotel is more Wes Anderson than some can handle, but it’s a look into the mind of a distinct creative force in the movie industry. Anderson completely opens himself to audiences, and I love him for it.
The enigmatic structure of plot in Inherent Vice is one of the most brilliant uses of storytelling in 2014. Traditional aspects of noir are still prevalent. A shaggy P.I. getting caught up in multiple cases, the femme fatale, silky smooth dialogue, etc. It all gets easier to understand once the movie reveals itself as intentionally incoherent and the plot becomes a fabricated macguffin to explore the end of an era.
ALLEGORY: THE MOVIE. If you want subtlety, look elsewhere. Snowpiercer doesn’t shy away from its intent at any moment. Classes of society are literally separated by boxcars. The commitment to telling the story of a society fallen into systematic oppression has much to say about those of us outside the train. When you’re just a number, falling slave to an everlasting routine, are you truly living?
I’m a big advocate for the Marvel films. Why? They keep getting better and better. Guardians of the Galaxy is the remnants of a sex party where Firefly hooked up with Star Wars. It’s loud, it’s funny, and is one of the most emotionally powerful movies of the year.
Another Marvel movie; another Chris Evans movie. Somebody should tell Evans to knock it off. Before we know it, he’ll be in all our Best of the Year choices. The expertly choreographed fight scenes in The Winter Soldier would be worth recommending on their own, but the movie takes time to preserve the legacy of Captain America and reminds us what true patriotism is.
8) The Raid 2
This is where it gets difficult. I wish I could have a Top 15 list since I could easily fill it up. I want to mention many more movies but alas, we must make sacrifices. One movie I could not sacrifice was The Raid 2. Where the first film ran at a sleek hour and thirty minutes, nearly perfect in execution and consistency, The Raid 2 exchanges that for a meatier story similar to The Departed/Infernal Affairs. It runs at two and a half hours long with absolute ferocity that left me catching my breath. This is action cinema at its purest.
A movie not for the faint of heart or weak-stomached, Wetlands is an analysis of the raunchiest character of the year. Helen uses her body as an experiment with hygiene (or lack thereof) and the film never berates her for it. She doesn’t need saving. It’s a total denial of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy and I loved every second of it.
10) Edge of Tomorrow
I really wrestled with this choice for a good while. I actually had to sit down and think on what was the last movie worth mentioning on a Best of 2014 list. I’ve gone on and praised Edge to great lengths (especially the ending) but never considered it top 10 material until recently. And why the hell not? It’s absolute in carrying out its own purpose. Edge is ultimately about achieving enlightenment and what it takes to give yourself to a greater cause. The final moment of the film should be a GIF framed on my wall, on loop, just so I can go to sleep knowing there is a blockbuster as wholly satisfying as this.
No other film I saw this year was as rich or rewarding as Jonathan Glazer’s unnerving exploration of loneliness, empathy, and self-image. I initially brushed off its most idiosyncratic elements as just avant-garde artistic flourishes, but repeat viewings revealed Under the Skin to be tightly constructed and far more deliberate than I gave it credit for. I find something new in this film every time I see it, and I expect that will continue to be the case for years to come.
2) Goodbye to Language
For me, Goodbye to Language was further proof that Jean-Luc Godard is the most innovative and boundary-breaking director working today. For others, it’ll be further proof of Godard’s senility and/or insufferable pretentiousness. The latter reaction is, to be honest, probably a fairer one, but I found this film fascinating. Godard uses 3D as less a tool of cinematography and more one of editing, layering separate images on top of each other to create new meaning rather than placing them side-by-side. It’s not a new idea, but it’s used to great effect here.
There’s a lot going on in this film, so I’ll try and break it down to the most important elements. The minutiae of human behavior is juxtaposed with the grandiosity of nature, and we can only see the latter through the reactions of the former. The travelogue genre is deconstructed by placing viewers on the same playing field as the subjects, never cutting away or allowing us a different view. The ability of technology to facilitate spiritual activities (such as climbing a mountain to a sacred temple) is discussed directly by the people on screen but also meta-textually — the entire film uses technology to allow us to experience that journey. I’ll leave it at that, but go watch this movie! It’s streaming on Netflix.
Lars von Trier’s magnum opus is just as fearless, thought-provoking, and uncomfortable as his two previous films, Melancholia and Antichrist. While it lacks the surrealism of its predecessors in von Trier’s loose “Depression Trilogy,” its constant “academic digressions” make this far from a straightforward narrative. I haven’t seen the epic 5.5-hour director’s cut yet, but the theatrical cut was good enough to place this high on my list.
What a weird film this is. It filters a zany detective spoof of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker variety through the hazy, dreamlike pacing of Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent output. The plot is as labyrinthine as it is irrelevant, and if you’re willing to roll with those punches you’ll find some compelling commentary on corporate cultural invasion. Plus, Josh Brolin eating a frozen banana never stops being funny.
6) The Babadook
This is horror-as-metaphor done right, though I’d be happy to see more horror-as-metaphor done at all. Jennifer Kent pulls scares not from the titular monster, but from what the characters might be driven to due to its presence. Not that the Babadook isn’t terrifying, of course. Kent has it move closer and closer to our reality — it starts in an in-film storybook, then it enters the world of the film, and then it starts to take the reigns of the film itself. This is one hell of a debut feature, and I can’t wait to see what Kent does next.
7) Listen Up Philip
The most bitter and cynical film of 2014? Probably. But even though these characters are mostly despicable, their acidic personalities are consistently hilarious.
“Realism” is one of my least favorite words in film discussion, so I fell hard for this movie’s brutal assault on reality. Sure, its heavy leaning on a “Movies are awesome, guys!!!” theme can come across as pandering, but this was the most fun I had with a film this year.
9) The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
I regret not being able to see this in subtitled form, as the dubbed version has at least one distractingly awful performance, but its emotional heft still came through. This movie is a real heartbreaker. I can’t even think about the ending without starting to feel melancholy.
10) Obvious Child
This film got almost all of its attention for being “the abortion comedy.” While it does a commendable job of exploring abortion honestly and apolitically, it’s also a charming, sweet, and very funny rom-com.
An American seeking his past with the help of juvenile girl, simplistically direct and unprocessed, an unfiltered lens. Like many adults who seek their calling, Copenhagen, retracts from the usual wisdom of elders and startlingly features the sage advice of the youth.
A diverse team of anti-heroes, consisting of a traveling galactic mercenary, an adopted daughter of the supervillain, Thanos, a revenge-seeking alien, a genetically modified raccoon, and a tree-like entity. Their unconventional solutions, the timely humor, and the individual personas are memorable in the best way possible.
The lost history of a painting is the inspiration behind Belle. As Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s first headlining movie, Belle provides a British perspective on the first uprisings of racial equality.
4. Big Hero 6
An animated movie with band of heroes appropriate for inspiring younger audiences to wield technology and innovation in the modern city of San Fransokyo. To take on the villain, an inflatable caretaker robot is the core to this team; being nerdy has never been cooler.
Chef, although fictional, is an accurate representation of trends for the past year or so: social media, food trucks, and damn good food. Not only did Carl the Chef (Jon Favreau) reinforce the importance of creative passion but also how the most influential people are intertwined.
A romantic-comedy that I actually laughed at, with Donna (Jenny Slate), who I can easily see surpassing the greatness and brutal candor of Tina Fey. As a woman struggling in an industry predominantly male comedians, a woman dealing with the after effects of a bad break-up, and an unplanned pregnancy, Obvious Child is unexpectedly relatable with unconventional jokes.
7. Into the Woods
You will never know how important the words “into the woods” are unless you watch this movie. Into the Woods is a firestorm of fairytales coming together without being diluted, a host of characters forcing you to reimagine the tales you’ve been told, and Meryl Streep who, without fail, is enchanting.
8. The Notebook (Le Grand Cahier)
Often, battle-ready soldiers are the main focus in wartime movies, not two young, Hungarian brothers. The Notebook is disturbingly beautiful as the two twins rely on one another against the cruelty of the world they live in.
A family drama that is the most indicative of a brother-sister relationship: effed up and incredibly close at the same time. With surmounting personal problems, it’s a subtle reminder to rediscover the qualities of a sibling that mustered the most love out of you.
Vivid colors and a cast of actors in roles seemingly outside their usual line up, The Grand Budapest Hotel is witty in its prose while distinctive in its stylistic mediums. With angled and structured camera sweeps, the narrative and progress of events is storytelling of a new kind.
This movie could have been gimmicky or lackluster with its long shooting schedule and huge gaps between filming. Instead we get something beautifully real.
Once Emmet had fallen off the table and into the world, I was in love. This movie was just layers and layers of good stuff with the perfect amounts of comedy, lunacy, Batman, pathos, meta-commentary, Morgan Freeman, and gorgeous animation.
I love Nick Cave. He is the coolest guy I can think of (and even cool in real life when my wife and I bumped into him shopping last week *swoon*) and this movie is a wonderful documentary about the nature of creativity and growing old.
An amazingly gorgeous movie about standing up for people who need help, even when you yourself aren’t in the best of positions. Great performances all round, but my hat is off to Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton who are both incredible in this movie.
One of the only comic book movies to get the right balance between cartoon-y action and real drama. This is Marvel Studio’s Dark Knight in terms of its quality as not just a superhero movie but as simply a movie.
How do you make a movie in which two of the characters are a talking raccoon and a talking tree? You make the movie funny as hell, cast Chris Pratt in the lead, and just fully invest in the craziness. The result? One of the most fun movies of the summer.
I want to put this on here just for the scene on the water planet. So I will. P.S. I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it too.
I can’t remember the last time an ending to a movie made me gasp so loudly.
Wes Anderson has really cornered the market in beautiful movies that overflow with quirk and emotion. I eagerly await whatever he has coming next.
10. Jodorowsky’s Dune
Jodorowsky is like a cult leader, baiting you in with honeyed promises of a movie starring Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, and Mick Jagger, and you believe him and follow him because he is crazy and charming. And then you wake up. A fantastic documentary about what could have been.
When I first bought a ticket for Whiplash, little did I expect I would be watching the tensest movie of the year. To put things in perspective: I usually don’t sit through the credits, but the film was such a punch in the gut that I couldn’t move until after the house lights came up.
Guardians is the most fun I had at a movie theatre all year, and it’s clear that everything from its performances, direction, and awesome mix are done with love. As a lifelong comics fan, I can attest that James Gunn celebrated the weirdness of the Marvel Universe, and introduced characters I never through I’d see on the big screen.
A Shakespearian drama by way of apes, Dawn brought allegorical gravity to the summer movie season. Andy Serkis is a cinematic treasure and if anyone still had any doubts that motion capture could stand with regular performances, this movie should clear that right up.
Linklater’s magnum opus takes full advantage of the capabilities of film, continuing the philosophical themes and experimentation with time that made many of his previous films so remarkable. Boyhood is one of the best coming of age movies, one that works with just as much intelligence as it does heart.
5. Gone Girl
David Fincher dangles his audience on a string, swinging us from scenes of caustic, honest humor to those of shocking horror. With Amy Elliot Dunne, Fincher and Flynn create one of the year’s most memorable and complex characters.
With Interstellar, Christopher Nolan creates a thrilling science-fiction film whose answers you have to work for. The film undoubtedly has its flaws, but when so many films play it safe, it is undeniably exciting to see a director aim so high with his ambition.
The Russos, who had ironically been my last pick on the shortlist of Cap 2 directors, delivered one of the best and most politically relevant comic based films of the decade. Winter Soldier doesn’t just operate under 2001 notions of terrorism, but looks at the world today while offering all the excitement and humor we’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios.
There hasn’t been a satire of genre movies this smart and fun since Mel Brooks rode in with Blazing Saddles. The Lego Movie was an unexpected surprise, an exercise in wit that’s more than just an animated kids’ movie.
Godzilla relies on atmosphere more than action scenes, and instead of wearing the audience out with battle fatigue, Gareth Edwards ensures the climax is worth the weight. In it’s focus on family and an impending sense of doom, Godzilla is reminiscent of blockbusters from the 70s and 80s while remaining modern in its examination of man’s arrogance.
10. Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson’s ’70s set neo-noir eschews modern plot sensibilities, yet still manages to craft complex characters that are parodic yet honest. It’s one of the year’s funniest films, and one that I had to learn how to watch in order to fully appreciate it.