Another year of movies is underway, but don’t forget about last year just yet. 2014 had a lot of cinematic gems, from small indie films with tremendous heart and soul, to mainstream blockbusters that challenged audiences intellectually. What I’ve compiled here is my top ten favorite films of 2014. Keep in mind, this was not an easy list to create. I went back and forth on a lot of these, and lamented those that I had to leave by the wayside. Nevertheless, these are all films that define the unique variety that 2014 had to offer, and I believe they are still worth seeing if you haven’t already.
It’s been out since last February and I’m still singing “Everything Is Awesome.” And I gotta say, this is one catchy ass movie. Directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller had two films out this year (LEGO and 22 Jump Street), both of which were the funniest movies of 2014. But LEGO had a much stronger bite with its wicked sense of humor. The jokes are rapid-fire, the emotion, surprisingly heartfelt and tender. It’s inventive, charming, and quotable by the minute. LEGO found its way into our hearts like a relentless SPACESHIP and set a new standard for future animated films. Not bad for a movie that’s not under the Disney brand.
“Where are we?” Connor asks, looking ahead towards a brighter future. Eleanor stares deeply into his eyes and says, “Someplace good.” Thus represents the most romantic exchange I’ve heard all year, one that continues to haunt me like a memory. The same could be said of the film. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a painting of love in its truest and rawest form, a love shared, broken and mended again. The film follows James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain as their characters attempt to navigate their lives in the wake of a personal tragedy. We don’t get flashbacks, nor does the film spell out their entire relationship. But there’s something refreshing about getting swept up in the present moment with them. Fair warning, this film wrestles with a lot of pain. But it’s still one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen.
This film exceeded my expectations every step of the way. On the surface, it’s an obvious play on class warfare. But as the film progresses, it has much more to say about society and the revolutions we find ourselves in, both literal and metaphorical. The film also features Chris Evans’ in his most intense performance yet. As a man thrust towards the vanguard of a rebellion, he has to make pivotal choices in order to keep moving forward, much like the perpetual motion of the train. Over the course of the film, he realizes he isn’t liberating his people so much as he is confined to a tragic system. This is director Bong Joon-ho’s English-language debut, and it is a kick-ass roller-coaster ride that’s got a ton of substance and style to spare.
As a fan of John Green’s beloved novel, I was hesitant at the prospects of a film adaptation. Imagine my surprise when the film managed to breathe new life to an already spectacular story. Shailene Woodley deserves serious Oscar contention for her performance here. She shines a light on Hazel’s soul and captures the fear of someone yearning to live yet at the same time knowing she could go at any moment. Ansel Elgort, too, is equally memorable as the spontaneous Augustus. He counteracts Hazel’s firm beliefs and becomes an integral part of her life while also being the very thing that could end her. This isn’t strictly a love story or a cancer story. It’s simply a film about the sweet agony of life, one that we’re all doomed to endure. Though this movie made me cry like a baby, I’m still looking forward to seeing it again. Because that’s the thing about great films; they demand to be seen.
By all accounts, this film should not have succeeded as an entertaining popcorn flick. It’s got a constricted set-up (a man forced to relive the same day) and stars Tom Cruise (who’s done action movies a thousand times over). Oh, and it centers on an alien war, one that we’re all but fated to lose. Any of this sound familiar? So it comes as a welcome surprise that the film breaks new ground using all of the above. A fiercely badass Emily Blunt? I’ll take it. Tom Cruise in peak form? I’ll take that too. There’s no better movie that serves as the ultimate metaphor for Tom Cruise’s career, a guy who you think is done for but just keeps coming back stronger than ever. This is, hands down, the best action film of 2014.
Guardians reminded me of movies like Star Wars and Star Trek, though a more appropriate comparison is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Star-Lord is Hans Solo and Indiana Jones rolled into one. Who knew that a winning performance from Chris Pratt would do the job? This easily became my favorite Marvel film out of the bunch, which is still surprising because it was also Marvel’s biggest risk yet. A foul-mouthed raccoon, a talking tree that’s essentially a Pokémon, and a flurry of eccentric characters all wrapped in Marvel’s first-ever space opera. Apparently, these were the ingredients for a bona fide blockbuster. I can only imagine where they’ll go from here. I’m already giddy at the thought of Tony Stark and Peter Quill trading verbal jabs while Cap stands flabbergasted over a ferociously vile Rocket. Avengers 3 cannot get here fast enough.
I can watch David Fincher direct anything at this point. His films are so precise in technique and overall execution that you can just sit back, relax, and bask in cinematic heaven. Gone Girl is no different. In fact, he’s crafted the perfect date movie by adapting Gillian Flynn’s excellent source material. At a glance, the film seems like a straightforward mystery-thriller. What unravels is a bitingly funny satire of the media, and a cold yet honest film about courtship. It acknowledges the roles we play, the facades we put up to reel in our ideal mates. The drama then comes out of the struggle to keep up those appearances for the sake of keeping a marriage, not a love, alive. It’s a hard truth, and only a talented filmmaker like David Fincher can tell it with such finesse.
The film starts off with a young Mason staring into the sky, transfixed by the clouds above – a scene that’s more than appropriate because the film itself is a wonder to behold. Boyhood isn’t just about watching these characters grow before your eyes; it’s about the ordinary events that we’ve all been through, and the extraordinary moments in between that make each of our lives so unique. It feels wrong to even call this a movie because writer-director Richard Linklater offers us a rare glimpse of a life in all of its awe and beauty. 12 years in the making, Boyhood is the most original film of 2014 and also the most heartfelt. Just as Mason looks up at the clouds, we are looking down at him, amazed to see a little bit of ourselves in what appears to be an ordinary boy in an ordinary world. Richard Linklater then shows us otherwise. So if you think you’re living an average life, Linklater dares you to reconsider.
I was in band for 7 years and I know the agony of living up to perfection. So to watch Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash felt more like reliving an all-too-familiar nightmare. This isn’t a feel-good movie about music; this is a brutal film about ambition. Miles Teller, who continues to wow audiences every year, is superb as Andrew Neyman, an aspiring drummer who walks a lonely road to become one of the greats. J.K. Simmons’ role may seem like the antithesis of that pursuit, but he is actually the one who helps Andrew get there better than anyone, though his methods don’t necessarily make Andrew a better person. Step aside Godzilla, Simmons is the most memorable monster of the year. As Fletcher, he has no problem abusing any one of his students. He has a strict philosophy, yet he never comes across as one-dimensional because his beliefs come out of a genuine love for jazz. But don’t be fooled by the film’s setting. This is as exciting as any action movie, thanks in large part to the film’s rapid-fire editing. Whether Andrew is dodging a chair for rushing tempo, or playing for hours on end until his hands are covered in blood; the dynamic between Andrew and Fletcher is pulse-pounding. You never know who’s gonna come out on top, a tension that carries from the first scene to the very end. And it all comes to a stunning close with a finale that will leave you breathless.
Those who wanted to dive deeper into the science component walked away sorely disappointed. But this was a film that didn’t need to be understood; it needed to be felt. I, for one, felt every bit of it. The science was merely a platform to tell this story that spanned across the vast distances of space. In turn, it achieved an everlasting impact that resounds deep in the soul. As I’ve stated in my own review, this film could’ve been about virtually anything so long as it retained its crucial father-daughter relationship at its core. That was always the appeal for me personally. I still tear up thinking about Cooper as he says goodbye to Murph, or when he pleads for his past self to stay, both of which are sentiments that I share as a father myself. It’s the simplest of stories told on a grand scale, further heightened by Hans Zimmer’s cathedral of sound. This film broke me, inspired me, and challenged me to reach for the stars. I am forever affected by Interstellar, and for that, Christopher Nolan, I thank you.