2014 was a pretty great year for movies – especially blockbusters and animated films. I found most of the “artsy” films to be lacking this year (though certainly not all of them), but that didn’t mean my ‘best of’ list was simply the ‘Best of the Rest’. Also, the vast majority of these films are already available at home. So you can watch them now if you haven’t already seen them!
In a year full of unforgettable films, Birdman is going to stay with me for a long time. Everything about this movie is great. The acting is amazing – everyone in the film gives a stellar performance, but Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and especially Edward Norton are just mesmerizing. The visuals are astounding, and the directing is beautiful – the film is packed with long takes that immerse you in the story.
Add to that a story about ambition, legacy and our inability to escape ourselves as we grow older, and you have a powerful, resonant film. Plus, Michael Keaton having been Batman adds a nice layer of meta-commentary to the whole thing. Loved Birdman. Can’t wait to watch it again and again.
2. The Raid 2: Berendal
If you still haven’t seen The Raid (rebranded The Raid: Redemption for its American release), stop reading this right now and go watch it. I’ll wait.
Back? Yes. The Raid revitalized action films. It’s insane. And The Raid 2 – which picks up right where the first film left off – ups the stakes at every point along the way. I was worried the sprawling narrative that skipped years at a time would overreach – Redemption’s tight, contained plot was one of its hallmarks. But I needn’t have worried. The action is several degrees more insane this time around, and director Evans let his imagination run wild. The result is a marvel of action cinema that won’t be matched anytime soon.
Unless The Raid 3 is coming.
I’m still not sure how The Boxtrolls beat out The LEGO Movie for my favorite animated film this year. I saw both twice in the theaters and was enthralled by both. Truthfully, I don’t want to compare them. They’re both masterpieces of stop-motion animation. Both have immersive, creative and incredible world-building. Both are incredibly funny and surprisingly poignant.
But I find myself returning more and more often to The Boxtrolls. I’m going to chalk it up to personal preference and know that I’ll be shouted down by LEGO’s legions. And that’s fine with me. But I did like Boxtrolls better. Or maybe I’m just in the mood for some cheese right now.
Listen. I loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I was impressed by that film, and I wanted a sequel. I got it, but I was not prepared for the masterpiece that was Dawn. I already gushed about it in my review, so I’ll just say that the film continues to impress me several months later. I think it’s highly underrated and very important. Plus, it’s beautiful and weighty and just flat out amazing.
I will be first in line for the sequel (which had better be called Battle for the Planet of the Apes).
Of course this movie is in my top 10. If you’ve seen it, you know why. If you haven’t… seriously?!
An indie gem that is pure devastation. If you haven’t heard of Calvary (and judging from the glazed look I get from most people when I bring it up, you probably haven’t), I don’t want to spoil it for you. I’ll just say this film – about a Catholic priest who’s informed by one of his parishioners that he’s going to be killed precisely because he’s a good priest – is funny, sad, provocative and powerful.
It’s saying something very important (and I’d love to talk with you afterwards about what that is!).
Did Evangelicals get mad about something this year? They sure did – the NOAH movie from Darren Aronofsky. I’ve been on record since March as a fan of the film, and my love for it has only grown after sitting through Exodus: Gods and Kings. Aronofsky threw a lifetime of obsession with the biblical story of Noah and the subsequent midrashic tradition into a huge fantasy epic that was so crazy it worked. To be clear: NOAH wasn’t a perfect movie, but it committed, and it’s a better Bible movie by far than anything else that’s been out in recent years.
The introduction piece I wrote, 5 Things to Know-a Before Seeing Noah, is the most-read thing I’ve ever put on the internet. Which might only prove more people wanted to talk about the movie than actually watch it.
Again, you knew this would be on my list. Marvel proved they can’t lose by turning a C-list comic team-up (in space!) into the biggest blockbuster of the year. Guardians was fun, hilarious and packed with killer tunes. Director James Gunn has long been a favorite of mine, and it’s awesome to see him knock one out of the park. Long live Chris Pratt, and even David Bautista came off looking great!
Plus, they totally nailed Rocket Raccoon, which was my only real requirement for the movie.
9. The Imitation Game
Confession: I had zero desire to see this film, a biopic on Alan Turing. If you’re not familiar with Turing, he led the team that broke Enigma, the German code machine. Turing effectively won World War II and invented the computer. He was also gay, which was illegal in Great Britain at the time, so the government chemically castrated him and he committed suicide.
I didn’t want to see The Imitation Game because I’m sort of over War Movies (especially after Fury). But The Imitation Game was smart, funny and gripping. Cumberbatch turned his Sherlock a bit more shy and even a bit more antisocial for Turing, but somehow made him sympathetic. It’s really, really good.
10. The Babadook
Australian horror film about a single mother who has a kid somewhere on the autism spectrum. The “horror” of her inescapable hardship is personified as a boogeyman called the Babadook. The life of a single mother is hard – horrifyingly hard. Parenting a child who’s “different” from “normal” kids is hard – horrifyingly hard. The Babadook does exactly what good horror should: uses monsters – in this case the boogeyman – to examine the terror in the middle of our ordinary lives.
Plus, it’s flat-out scary on a relatively low budget. My wife Amanda still gets freaked out in the middle of the night. Okay… so do I.
11. Men, Women and Children
This movie is terrible. It’s fantastically assembled – a great ensemble cast (Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Dean Norris and Short Term 12’s Kaitlyn Dever) navigate the modern world of smart phones, online affairs and MMOs. That could easily get preachy, but director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air, Young Adult) has a knack for creating believable worlds where the components speak for themselves. The way we the viewers witness and participate in the various technologies the characters in the film consume is visually stunning – think House of Cards’ texting taken to the extreme (but not unwelcome) degree.
But the film is also brutal. Though saturated with technology, it’s a film about, well, men, women and children. Reitman excels at showcasing our shortcomings, and in this film, it’s clear technology has just made us better at being broken.
After I tried to explain Snowpiercer to a friend of mine, he said, “So it’s Mad Max meets Polar Express?” And that’s basically it. If that sounds crazy, keep in mind this is a Korean film adaptation of a French graphic novel, and it’s post-apocalyptic and set on a train that holds the last surviving humans on earth. This film is not without its problems, but it’s just crazy enough to work. Chris Evans delivers a fantastic performance as the reluctant leader of the resistance, and the film’s visual style is amazing.
Yes, there are plot holes galore, but I promise you won’t care.
Deliver Us from Evil – a creepy new horror installment from director Scott Derickson. Boyhood – Astounding conceit that never really does anything. Maybe it’s because they shot it over 12 years, but you would think in that time, they could’ve figured out something to say. Dear White People – a smart, funny satire of race. Original and provocative. Top Five – Chris Rock is back and he’s hilarious. Probably my favorite comedy of the year. (Except for 22 Jump Street’s end credits). Book of Life – Can three animated films make my list? This movie was so good. Don’t miss it. Please. Tusk – Walrus, Yes! A truly disturbing horror film from the twisted mind of Kevin Smith. Unforgettable and haunting. Gone Girl – One of the better adaptations in recent memory, with a killer cast. I’ve always loved Affleck, and he’s excellent in this film. It’s dark, moody and insane. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – An incredible sequel that was head and shoulders better than anything in Marvel’s Phase One. If you told me this was your favorite Marvel film yet, I wouldn’t fight you. Plus, Falcon!
Haven’t Seen (Yet):
Frank, Chef, Life Itself, A Most Violent Year, Foxcatcher, Big Eyes, Selma