Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Best Films of 2014

Another year is done, and it is time again to look back on what good things we found within it. And 2014 was a good year as far as film goes, better than its predecessor, better perhaps than any year I've so far seen save for 2012. This I knew before sitting down to sort the lists out, but one of the reasons why I look forward to the process of ranking the year's films every winter is that there are always surprises to be had. I can't tell you how many films, over the four years this project has spanned, I have walked out of confident that it would make one or the other of my lists, only to sit down and total up the scores and determine that it would do nothing of the sort. Yet this year, the biggest surprise to me was that the best films of 2014 were wholly dominated by two genres of film: children's movies, and superhero films.

There are some who will argue, of course, that this says more about the critic than the films, that these movies topped out my list because I am a nerd who values shallow entertainment over true art, to which my reply is that I saw more indie fare this year than any year previous, including a number of gems that we will be revisiting on another list entirely. But even the indie stuff that I did like tended to rate lower on my scales than the more traditional stuff. This is not actually that common. 2013's best list and to a lesser extent 2012's were both well supplied with indie films, including the number one film of the former year. This year however, a lot of indie movies concentrated first and foremost on being indie movies, placing the concept ahead of the execution. Some succeeded despite this of course, but many others seemed content to let the notion of what they were doing stand rather than the skill with which they did it. Your mileage may, and no doubt will, vary, but the crop of kids films and superhero films this year was particularly strong, and bereft of the need to justify their existence (in all but one case), managed to produce films that were actually... dare I even say it... fun. And I will happily take grief for prioritizing that.

But before we get to the list itself, it's worth considering a few honorable mentions, films I enjoyed but not quite enough to make the final cut:

Noah: The more I thought about Darren Aranofski's batshit crazy take on the story of the Great Flood, the more impressed I was with it. In a year filled with films that tried to be "daring", this movie might have been the most daring of them all, an unflinching exploration of just what the apocalyptic story of Noah and his ark might actually do to the characters involved. With an intriguing villain and secondary characters, and a concept that seemed to take the biblical narrative both literally and as a joke, Noah may or may not have been great, but I sure as hell remember it, a year after first sitting down to watch it.

Locke:  The most interesting movie ever set entirely in a car (I'm confident in that claim), Locke was a desperately-needed breath of fresh air in the stale offerings that indie cinema threw up around the midpoint of the year. Given the concept at work here, a man discussing the collapse of his life by handless phone for two hours, this should have put me right to sleep. Instead, thanks to brilliant acting by Tom Hardy (who had one hell of a year) and an excellent and restrained direction by writer-turned-director Steven Knight, this was a film I was actually ready to watch more of, had more of it been on offer. Not bad for a film with no action, scene changes, or narrative.

A Most Violent Year: Squeaking in just under the wire (it was literally released on New Years' Eve), this quiet, restrained gangster film couldn't quite earn a place in my top ten, but was a fine movie regardless. In addition to finally giving me a reason to like Jessica Chastain, this film insisted on playing against expectations at every turn, regardless of what that did to the narrative rhythm, and presented in consequence one of the more unique takes on the gritty gangster genre I've seen in a good long while. It's no Goodfellas, but then unlike most of its peers, it doesn't seem to want to be, and a movie that wishes to simply be its own thing is always worth considering.

The Grand Budapest Hotel:  Now this was a film I did expect to make the cut, only to find, to my surprise, that when it came time to tally up the totals and ruthlessly trim the list to ten, there just wasn't any room for it. Nevertheless, The Grand Budapest was tremendous fun, a wacky, hijinx-laden romp through the mad halls of professional-maniac Wes Anderson's mind, mixed this time with period flavor from the glory days of interwar central Europe. Boasting a cast-of-the-Gods anchored around Ralph Fiennes, one of my favorite actors, whom I don't get to see enough of, this movie was a delightful addition to Anderson's colorful portfolio. How he intends on topping this one, I have no idea.

And now, without further ado, I present the ten best films of 2014!

# 10  The Drop
I did just mention that Tom Hardy had a hell of a year, didn't I? Well this was one of the primary reasons why, a sharp, quiet, expertly paced gangster flick that served simultaneously as a fitting send-off to James Gandolfini, and a final bullet point marking the ascension of Hardy to the ranks of one of my favorite actors currently working. This movie was director Michaƫl Roskam's debut film, but it plays like the work of a veteran filmmaker, like something Scorsese or Coppola might have done in their primes when wishing to take a quiet year. Though the film's horizons are somewhat limited, it manages to build an astonishing amount of tension out of what little plot and stakes it has. Tom Hardy of course will be helming this year's Mad Max reboot, and it's films like this that lead me to hope that we might actually get something good out of that endeavor, evidence like Total Recall and Robocop to the contrary.

# 9  Edge of Tomorrow
I've been waiting for Tom Cruise to make a movie like this, I think, a movie that embraces the fact that there's a large segment of the moviegoing public that he annoys, and who seek to watch him suffer. After 2013's Oblivion, I had thought that Edge of Tomorrow might provide some cheap entertainment, but it provided considerably more than that, proving to be a riotously funny action film featuring three stand-out performances in Cruise himself, Emily Blunt, and Bill Paxton. The movie does get a bit over-formulaic at the end, and I'm still not convinced it holds all that much water, but in terms of pure enjoyment, Edge of Tomorrow was a treat. Though I do wish they'd stuck with the original title...

# 8  How to Train Your Dragon 2
In an age where animation is dominated by Pixar and Disney, it's worth remembering that there are other players in the game, particularly the OGs of the 3D animation world, Dreamworks. How to Train Your Dragon, sequel to their finest work ever, is not quite the equal of its predecessor perhaps, but is still a staggeringly good film, lush and beautiful, well written and well acted, a triumph for a series that had the guts to allow their characters to change significantly between films and over the course of the new one. The movie is held back somewhat by a weaker third act, but even a weaker section of the dragon series is quite a thing, and the richness of imagination which infuses the film makes it the equal of anything the Mouse Lords could contrive to produce.

# 7  Big Hero 6
Which is not to say that Disney was asleep this year. Despite a well-plowed concept and a trailer I could not have cared less about, Disney's dedication to the detail of realizing the insane, cross-pollinated world sold me from the opening shot. I'm a sucker for movies showcasing my fair city of course, but I'm even more of a sucker for a film with vision and creativity, and Big Hero 6 was dripping with both. The plot is nothing to write home about certainly, but the richness of both the world and the characters that inhabit it more than made up for any failings in that direction. After Frozen, I was eager to see what Disney would make next. After Big Hero 6, I simply want to see how long what is now clearly their third golden age can run for.

# 6  X-Men:  Days of Future Past
I struggled with the rankings for this movie and the one that follows, for I loved both of them equally, despite the fact that they were vastly different movies. Obviously I chose to rank X-Men lower than its counterpart, but in no way should anyone take that as a slur upon this tremendous film. Sequel to the earth-shatteringly good X-Men First Class from 2011, Days of Future Past is not merely a great movie, but it is a great movie that retroactively eliminates non-great ones, tying the oft-confusing X-men continuity up into one coherent, workable whole. Stuffed with actors I love playing characters I cherish, the film's minor miscues were the last things on my mind walking out of the theater, and if this film restarts the entire series into a new horizon, then I for one could not be happier.

# 5  Fury
Fury is the finest war film I have seen since Saving Private Ryan, a lustrous canvas of violence and destruction which manages to be poignant without being saccharine or sanctimonious, filled with great performances by actors I was not expecting anything from. Haunting, beautiful, and exceptionally well-made, this film not only re-enforced my appreciation for Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman, but actually managed to sell me on Shia LeBoeuf, who not only turns in the best performance of his career, but manages to out-act everyone else present while doing it. Scored and shot with incredible skill, Fury was a revelation, and images from it still remain vivid in my mind today. If nothing else, Fury proves that even in a genre as overdone as World War II, there is a possibility of doing something great.

# 4  Guardians of the Galaxy
I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot! I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I AM GROOT!!! I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I. Am. Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot.

We are Groot.

# 3  The Raid 2:  Berendal
If Fury was the best war film I've seen in more than a decade, then The Raid 2 may be the best martial arts film from that period. Absolutely riven with badass moments, piled high with action so good as to reduce one to tears, this movie is a must-see for any fan of martial arts or action movies in general. The gradual migration of the heart of martial arts films away from China and towards South-East Asia has produced quite a few hidden gems, but nothing quite like this, a film of such stature as to reduce everything in its path to rubble. The Raid 2 kicks ass. Go forth and be rocked.

# 2  Captain America:  The Winter Soldier
A staggeringly good movie, released right when I was starting to doubt Marvel's infallibility, the second Captain America movie is not only miles beyond its predecessor, but may actually be the best Marvel film of them all. Replete with awesome action, interesting characters, hilarious in-jokes, and general competence, the film showcases just why Captain America remains one of the brightest stars on Marvel's flag. Not many studios would have the guts to do what is done to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in this movie, but Marvel is not many studios, and the sure hand of a studio that has barely put a foot wrong since beginning this epochal journey so many years ago is more evident here than I've ever seen it. Godspeed, Cap. See you in Avengers 2.

# 1  The Lego Movie

This movie was awesome!
This movie exploded right off of the screen!
This movie was awesome!
Like an eight-year-old's dream!

Every part of this film just flowed right together
Filled with charm, witty lines, and a sense of wonder
With hardly a blunder!

Never once did I think this could work
But it's clear now we all agree.

All these films were awesome!
Fun, well-crafted films that deserve to be seen
Every one was awesome!
Now for Twenty-Fifteen...


  1. You have terrible taste! You suck! You must make a sincere apology!

    1. I suppose a finger isn't going to suffice this time?


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