Although my love of movies has been one that began at a young age and flourished consistently over the last 20 (give or take a few) years, I can honestly say that 2014 is the first year that I have felt comfortable considering myself a cinephile. By default, I’m a passionate person, and that passion bleeds over into everything I do, but sometimes,admittedly, I limit myself by only diving in to things I already know I enjoy rather than exploring every aspect of it. But as my first year as a writer and editor for this entertaining, smart, blossoming site comes to a close, I realize that it’s changed my perspective and enhanced my love for film tenfold. This year I’ve stretched my interests (albeit occasionally with reluctance) by taking the time to consume and appreciate movies like I never had before, and that’s largely thanks to anyone reading this right now.
All sentiments aside, I may by in the minority here, but I think 2014 has been a fantastic year for film. Sure, there were plenty of pretty shoddy movies that were released this year, and even more mediocre ones. But when is the last time we saw success in such a variety of film genres? We had a film that was shot over many years that will be viewed as a milestone in the art of storytelling. We saw the superhero genre explode and become a movie experience not only for comic fans, but for action, spy thriller, and comedy lovers alike. 2014 brought us some of the best real blockbuster movies that were bursting with both excitement and intelligence and some of the most satisfying book adaptations that have hit the big screen in years. It also gave us enough scares to breathe new life into the horror genre, and several inventive, cutting edge indies that prove you don’t need an unlimited budget and CGI to create a truly great film. We also witnessed some major female talents showcase themselves as serious forces to be reckoned with. Now I may be a glass half full kind of gal, but that all adds up to a pretty impressive year if you ask me.
Here are some of my favorite things about this year in film:
Top 14 Movies of 2014
14. Big Hero 6
When I saw the preview for this comic adaptation featuring a giant marshmallow looking fellow, I never would have this gorgeous animated blast of a film would become one of my all time favorite superhero movies. Baymax and Hiro’s friendship is one of the best I’ve seen all year, and on top of that, this might have been so most carefree fun I had in the theater.
Speaking of fun in the theater, it doesn’t get much more entertaining than a talking raccoon, and a giant tree. I was hooked on a feeling every step of the way in this glorious hodgepodge of comedy, superhero, and space adventure goodness. This movie not only reminded me why I love movies like Star Wars and Serenity, it also sparked the whole world’s giant crush Chris Pratt, because who doesn’t love a guy who’s sexy and funny?
Superhero movies became so much more than just comic adaptations this year, and it all began in the spring with The Winter Soldier, which pushed the boundaries of the genre into new territory. There’s something for everyone here, from the die hard superhero fan to the spy thriller junkie, and everything in between. It also changed the Marvel universe as we know it, revealing events that will be changing the pace of this franchise for the next several years.
I’m ashamed to say I didn’t see Boyhood until yesterday. As the year went on it became one of those films that was touted and praised so much as the months went on I was almost positive I’d end up disappointed. But this film is truly the groundbreaking accomplishment everyone is claiming it to be. It’s the most honest and richly rewarding viewing experience you can expect to have this year.
As a generally fair weather horror fan, color me surprised when this one ended up rounding out my top ten for the year. Oculus is scary, smart, disorienting, and fresh in a way you’d never expect by reading the plot summary. It’s also surprisingly rewatchable.
9. What If
In this British romantic comedy, Daniel Radcliffe is at his most charming since he set foot in Hogwarts almost fifteen years ago. Who knew Radcliffe could be so sharply funny? His chemistry with Zoe Kazan is adorable, and the cheesy romantic elements manage to find a balance with the crass and sometimes sardonic humor.
8. Begin Again
Not one, but two rom coms managed to rise through the ranks this year. This one is more of a musical comedy than a romantic one, and the original songs are one of several reasons not to miss it. Begin Again is about love, but not just the warm and tingly kind. It’s about self love and finding your passion and the journey of discovering both. Keira Knightley is spunky and soulful and Mark Ruffalo is as ruggedly irresistible as ever.
7. Starred Up
By now most have you have probably seen and felt relatively indifferent about Unbroken, but were more than pleasantly surprised by the performance of Jack O’Connell, who his proving to be a rising star. His raw talent is even more blaringly obvious in the brutally violent UK prison drama that revolves around a more than tumultuous reunion between father and son. This unflinching look at the prison lifestyle should be experienced by everyone once.
Sometimes one of those under the radar films comes along and sneaks up on you and makes you so damn happy you instantly want to restart it and bask in it all over it. This movie for me was Life Partners. It’s a pitch perfect representation of every woman’s journey through her early 20s: the anxieties, the ups and downs, and the steadfast, although not always perfect, bond that exists in female friendships. Sasha and Page have the same conversations I have with my best friends, and this film is a reminder of how precious those friendships really are.
5. The Drop
I grew up loving mystery and crime dramas, and one of my favorite authors is Dennis Lehane, who penned this screenplay as an expansion of his short story Animal Rescue. In this dark, gritty exploration of one Brooklyn’s criminal underbelly that takes off slow and patient, but rewards its viewers with a shocking ending, James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy serve up a pair of performances that rival any others this year. Their dynamic creates all the tension this film needs, and it’s a more than rewarding final role for Gandolfini, whose career and life were cut far too short.
To be honest, I don’t know if I could watch Whiplash again. It’s one of the most unexpectedly intense films I’ve ever seen, and the anxiety in the audience was so palpable, I wouldn’t want to do it injustice by trying to recreate that unforgettable first watch experience. Three of the most terrifying words I heard all year were “Not quite my tempo.” I can only hope this film continues to gain the exposure and recognition it deserves, along with the electric performances by both Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons.
Not often does a movie really and truly mess with your mind in as satisfying of a way as Coherence. As a film with a practically nonexistent budget and largely improvised script, Coherence is a prime example of what camera work, atmosphere, dialogue, and creativity can do for the science fiction genre. It uses all of its constraints to maximum effectiveness, creating an almost claustrophobic atmosphere that, combined with a mindbending plot results in a head trip I haven’t been able to shake for months.
Cheryl Strayed’s story resonated with me far more than I ever expected it to. Reese Witherspoon proves to be the perfect choice to give life to her journey, cataloging the unraveling and repair, of Strayed’s mind, body, and soul as she strips away her life in order to put it back together again. Cheryl Strayed is one of the most real, genuine, and empowering characters, male or female, to grace the screen this year. Director Jean-Marc Valle and Witherspoon are a match made in cinematic heaven, taking a gorgeous, moving written account and creating a breathtaking and equally moving film that deserves to be basked in.
1. Gone Girl
David Fincher gave fans of Gillian Flynn’s novel exactly what they wanted: a pulpy, trashy, twisted psychological thriller that serves up enough sleeze and shocks to keep even the most screwed up mind reeling by the end. Gone Girl gave us a cinematic villain for the books like we’ve never seen. I almost envy those who got to soak up every ounce of this glorious ride for the first time in theaters without reading the book, but the film adaptation packed plenty of extra punches for well versed viewers. I spent two years eagerly anticipating this movie, and my thirst was more than quenched by the result. All hail Amazing Amy.
My Favorite Movie Moments
5. The final act of Begin Again, when Keira Knightley’s character smiles as she rides her bicycle through the streets of New York City. Sometimes a happy ending doesn’t have be two people living happily every after together. It’s just as satisfying to see someone realize they’re comfortable and happy with things exactly the way they are.
4. The midnight Harry Potter book release party in Boyhood. I immediately flashed back to the time I waited in a line for hours at Barnes & Noble to get my copy. Richard Linklater achieved something truly special when he was able to capture those memories and moments that define a time period and a childhood.
3. “If we burn, you burn with us!” – Katniss Everdeen, Mockingjay: Part 1. We all saw Miss Everdeen deliver this line in the trailers leading up to the release of Mockingjay, but nothing prepared me for the punch those words delivered within the context of the film. Girl on Fire indeed.
2. The moment Emily realizes she’s in the wrong house in Coherence. I won’t elaborate much on this one, as this gem of a film is so underseen it would be a shame to spoil it for those of you who are going to finish reading this and immediately go watch it, but the level and speed to which this head trip spirals after this moment will leave you spinning.
1. When Amy Dunne clicks here heels in the air as she’s walking away from visiting her neighbor. When a film is being adapted from such an insanely popular, thrilling book such as Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, it has to find a way to create something unique and surprising while maintaining the integrity of the source material. This can be particularly challenging when fans who have read the novel are already expecting the twists and turns that wind their way through this story. So when moments like these come along and add something we didn’t even realize we were missing, it makes the experience that much more delightful.
I was planning on closing with some of my biggest disappointments of this year, but I already bragged about my glass half full nature, and why kill all the celebration that’s happening here? So let’s focus on only good things as this year comes to a close. It’s been real, 2014.