No matter what happens, every year, around the last two weeks of December, I start freaking out. And why do you ask? Because I start realizing that many of the films that I kept wanting to see I still haven’t yet and the year is almost out.
How the hell do I write a Top Ten list with out seeing so many great films?
But this year, I decided to not freak out any more. If I didn’t see it ,I didn’t see it. It’s ok. I will eventually.
One of the films I wanted to see last year was Selma, but I didn’t have time to see it earlier. It’s getting a wider release this week so I hope to be checking it out soon. But I have to accept the fact that it’s NOT gonna have a shot to be on my favorites list.
And like I said…that’s ok.
These top ten lists are never permanent. Things changes, taste changes and you eventually see a film much later and realized that it’s one of your new favorites. Like a few months ago I saw the Japanese live action film based on the popular Manga/anime , Rurouni Kenshin, and that films is AMAZING! One of the best samurai action films I’ve seen…but it came out three years ago. If I saw it back in 2012, I would have easily included it in my Top Ten.
So as of right now…this is it. These are my favorite films of 2014 and man, it was a quality year.
But first here are the runner ups and in no particular order;
I’m not gonna lie, Inherent Vice didn’t really connect with me at first. I’ve seen the film on many critics year end list (most of the time as their #1 pick) but it didn’t hit me that hard when I saw it. YET…I couldn’t get the stand out performances of the cast out of my head. I couldn’t let go of the way that Paul Thomas Anderson put this film together. I couldn’t ignore the unique way the film weaves humor and thrills. This movie is a clear case of me needing to see it again and I gotta feeling a second hit would do me justice with this movie. But even right now, this is an amazingly crafted movie that only a talented filmmaker like P.T. Anderson could put together. So even if it didn’t connect with me like crazy, I’d be a fool to not acknowledge that there is some damn fine filmmaking in this flick.
Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is a brilliant character piece and man are these some great characters. I love Adam and Eve and a lot of what works about them is how Tom Hiddelston and Tilda Swinton are mesmerizing in this. Tilda in particular is astounding in this movie, if only that you could compare her performances with this film, her small but memorable appearance in The Grand Budapest Hotel and her out there role as Mason in Snowpiercer. When she could play a horrific character like Mason, yet also craft one of the most beautiful creatures, like her character Eve, in the same year you can’t help but be blown away by Swinton. And Hiddelston is no slouch in this film. He has somehow found a way to making the brooding, sad vampire fresh, which in itself is a feat. Tom’s Adam is fantastically textured, and their relationship is a joy to watch.
Director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu should just be awarded for finally having Michael Keaton as the lead in a film again, but it’s not just that. Keaton is giving it his all in this movie and it’s one of his most memorable performances to date. But using Keaton well isn’t the only reason Birdman should be remembered. Heavens no. Inarritu’s pushing it visually with this film, and he’s getting amazing work from his WHOLE cast. From Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, and Ed Norton, Inarritu is bringing out some of the best from these people. The film also has one of the most realistic sequences of the acting/directing process that I even seen put on a film. This movie continues to wow folks who keep seeing it, and while It’s it didn’t make it to my Top Ten, it’s still an amazing film that’s worth seeing.
A simple, honest to god action film can be really hard to make. Don’t over complicate the plot, make memorable characters with fun personalities, and shoot the action so that it’s clean and clear but still exciting. Generally one or two of these elements gets messed up and the movie ends up feeling short. Some how, John Wick accomplishes all the criteria and in doing so, stands out for American action films. Keanu Reeves is perfectly cast, and the movie’s crazy clever script gave me something to enjoy while the awesome action scenes weren’t playing. Oh, the action scenes….yeah, like I said, they are awesome. This was that rare pleasant surprise movies that came out last year, and I LOVE watching those. I love not having much of an expectation on the flick before hand, only to be BLOWN AWAY when the movie is over. That’s John Wick in a nutshell.
Now I’m not gonna lie, I feel pretty lame because the next few films I’m gonna be talking about now (and that’s including #10 and #9 in the Top Ten) are sequels. So yeah, I feel hackneyed because I shouldn’t be giving that much attention to sequels! I should be giving telling you folks how many great original films came out last year (and there were.) BUT, this year has been an INCREDIBLE year for sequels. How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a phenomenal sequel. It continues the story perfectly, it ups the stakes, it challenges our lead characters and puts them in situations that we are afraid to see them in and most of all it’s a amazing film to watch visually. This is some of the best flying sequences I’ve see in a film. I can only hope that this means the quality can only go up from this point on, and that when How To Train Your Dragon 3 comes out, it will be the best one yet. But even right now, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is still quiet an achievement.
Ok so here we go.
My top ten favorite films of 2014 are…..
10.) The Raid 2
Listen, John Wick was great and if it was any other year John Wick would have had a chance at the top ten list for it’s action alone. BUT, that’s how good 2014 was, and that’s how GREAT The Raid 2 is.The action choreography, the cinematography, and the stunt work was the best out of ANY film to come out last year. It’s was that good.The car chase alone is one the most amazingly executed action sequences I have seen in modern cinema.
But it isn’t just the action. The films narrative is huge compared to the last film, and I appreciate the ballsy move of making pretty much a different movie from the first The Raid. The first film was a blast of adrenaline, an almost nonstop action bonanza. The Raid 2 slows things down considerably and instead tells a epic crime story. Far more characters and settings, but it’s still compelling and the characters are fascinating (even the ones who don’t talk, like Hammer Girl.)The films plot gets a wee-bit muddy near the end, but it pulls through and comes together in the epic finale. Overall, The Raid 2 is a true achievement of action movie storytelling. This an action movie that doesn’t just deliver on what we want out of action films, but it should be studied (along with the first film) to showcase how to make these movies right.
9.) Captain America: The Winter Solider
“On your left.” It was that first scene with Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson that reminds me why I’ve been a huge supporter of the Marvel Studio films. The opening scene of the movie is a great bit of back and fourth dialogue, with two guys who started to find a common ground. It’s the birth of a new friendship, and we can see right away these two connect. One of them just happens to be a superhero from the 1940’s who’s been frozen, defrosted and just fought off an alien invasion. YET, it’s this first moment of two well written characters that made me instantly fell in love with the movie. Way before the incredible action even starts (and the first sequence on the boat is a stunner), this is way before the big spy movie twists and surprises… it was a well done quiet opening that reminds us why the Marvel movies work so well; it’s because the characters are so damn good.
Anthony Mackie is great as Sam Wilson. Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans have fantastic rapport. Cap is still my personal favorite character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Evans continues to impress in the role. Oh, and did I mention the action in this flick is incredible? Well apparently the directors of this film (the Russo Brothers) DID study movies like The Raid and applied it to making the action here some of the best in any Marvel movie. While I can say that The Raid 2 has the best action out of any movie of last year, the reason I put Captain America: The Winter Solider above it is simply I love the characters far more.
8.) The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson has been on a really nice roll. Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom was one of my favorite films of 2012 , and he’s done it again this year. Funny enough, I used to say that Moonrise Kingdom was Wes Anderson at his most Wes Andersony. I will say that no longer. THIS movie is the most Wes Andersony film that Wes Anderson has ever made, yet it might be the best movie he’s ever made. It’s quiet a film to mix slapstick cartoonish humor, sharp witted dialogue, lush visuals, complex narrative, heart, sadness, and have it all feel effortless.
This is a film that also is filled with actors who don’t believe in the concept of “no small roles.” Every single actor, no matter how big or small their part is, brings in a memorable performance. Be it the leads like Ralph Finnes as Gustave (in my absolute favorite role he’s played.) to bit roles like Harvey Keitel as Ludwig, every single actor came to this film to play, and every single actor was fantastic in this film. This is one of Anderson’s most re-watchable films and every time I see it, I keep discovering new details. The Grand Budapest Hotel is just a treat.
7.) The Lego Movie
This….shouldn’t have been as good as it was. This a movie based on a toy. This is a movie filled with cameos to trick people into seeing a movie because “Batman” is in it. Even the plot sounds just like every single “chosen” one movie ever made…yet somehow, it works. It all works. This movie is full of charm and comedy. It’s really hard to not fall in love with the film. But it wasn’t just the great energy that the whole film had or the memorable lines, The Lego Movie had one of the best third acts out of any movie this whole year. It was the third act that made this a movie that I really like to flat out a movie that I loved. Oh, and for me, this movie might very well be the best use of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman that we’re going to get on film for the next few years….just saying. I could be wrong. Besides that, and I know it’s cliche to say this, but truly this movie really is AWESOME.
The hope for greatness is what drives every artist, and the fear of failure could either push you to the end, or get you closer to said greatness. This film nails the intense feeling of being an artist that just hopes to be recognized for their talents, but pushes those hopes into degrees that makes the audience question our leads dreams and purpose. Damien Chazelle makes an amazing directorial debut , and he creates a film full of confidence and powerful visuals. The editing alone is some of most artistic and energetic I’m seen out of any film this year. Miles Teller continues to impress, showcasing a range that I didn’t know he had. But this film lives in the power that is J.K. Simmons magnetic performance as Jazz instructor Fletcher. I’ve been a fan of Simmons for years, but this performance is on another level. Fletcher is one of the most complex and rich characters out of any film this year, and Simmons sinks into the role like a champ.
I’ve certainly had my say on this film (review here) and my feelings on it has not changed. Being a fan of director Bong Joon-Ho’s work, I’m glad to see him make an amazing English language debut that doesn’t feel like it was a compromise. In a year I got Chris Evans playing Captain America perfectly yet again, he also gives the best performance of his career in this film. Tilda Swinton is unrecognizable in this as the compellingly disturbed Mason. They don’t make Sci-Fi films like this anymore, and I look forward to more revisits to this unique apocalyptic future.
Jon Favreau returns to his more character driven movie roots with Chef and for me, I absolutely adore the film. See, this movie is all about making foodies drool, and folks I am such a foodie. I’m the guy who watches food shows on television and YouTube. I’m the guy who likes to cook as much as possible. This movie completely appeals to me on that element alone, but it also works based on how strong the characters are. This is one of Favreau’s best performance, and the chemistry he has with Emjay Anthony (who plays his son Percy) is delightful and sweet. I also love it when someone knows how to use John Leguizamo, and he is at his most charming in this film.
The film also has one of the most accurate portrayal of social media I’ve seen in a movie. It helps that Favreau is pretty apt at social media himself, but most films only get the broad strokes of social media. The way the film uses Twitter and Facebook feels real and helps make the movie feel like a true product of our times (but in a good way). It showcases the positives of social media, and I really loved that. This is a film full of charm, and it was such a fun movie to revisit. I saw it with Agents Nate, Agent Patrick and Agent Denise first. I saw it again with my family. And both times ended with us getting something good to eat afterwards and talking about how much we enjoyed the film. Couldn’t ask for a better reason to love a film more then the interaction I had with it after.
This is not a movie about a mans slow decent into madness. This is not a movie that has an “arc” for our lead character. This movie IS a BRILLIANT character film that showcases 2014’s most defining cinematic character. Another directorial debut on my list, writer/director Dan Gilroy knew exactly how to lay out our lead, Lou Bloom. Within the first scene of the movie we understand EVERYTHING about what kind of person Lou Bloom is. This film makes no excuses for Lou Bloom and it makes no apologies for him. Lou is disturbing, but completely compelling. Jake Gyllenhal just disappears in this movie, and he has crafted a character that I feel is the equivalent of a 21st century Travis Bickle. And this film is just gorgeous to look at.Cinematographer Robert Elswit knows how to shoot Los Angeles (Compare his work here to his work in Inherent Vice!), it’s a movie crafted with the right amount noir and ’70’s grit. Nightcrawler is a character study, a horrifying reflection of modern news, and an intense thriller all at once.
2.) Guardians of the Galaxy
I had a feeling, judging from the first teaser for this movie, that this movie would be really special and very unique. What I NEVER saw coming was that this movie became another huge sensation for Marvel Studios. Marvel Studios seems to get what makes these big blockbuster movies work. I said it before when I talked about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but Marvel Studio movies work because of the CHARACTERS!! This group of “losers” are instantly likable. This is a fantastic cast that knew exactly how to act in this movie. I’ve been a fan of writer/director James Gunn for years, and I’m glad to see a movie that feels so much like his movie YET still is based on another companies property. The film is flat out funny, exciting and beautiful to look at. It also found a way to make all the ’70s pop songs fit into the narrative of a movie that’s entirely set in space. As much as I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy in the theaters far more. To put it simply, this movie makes me as happy as a baby Groot dancing to the Jackson 5.
I hardly can think of any other film of last year that hit me as hard as Boyhood did. For me, it wasn’t just admiring the technical, artistic achievement of writer/director Richard Linklater, his cast and his crew did for the movie. That would have been enough to celebrate it, but the film did something more then that. It showcase something that I wasn’t sure there was a proper way of doing it in film, but it showcased life truly as it is. While watching Mason (not to be confused with Snowpiercers Mason of course.) , his mother, his sister and his father grow up in front of us, I kinda had this weird triple viewing experience.
I wasn’t JUST seeing the characters grow and change in this film, but the movie also got me thinking about what I was like when I was growing and changing, AND seeing my own nephews grown and change in front of my eyes. As I saw Mason at age 5, I remember what it was like when I was 5. Then, I started remembering my nephews when they were 5. The movie made me think of the people in my life (both the good and the bad) and how crazy it was for me to that I haven’t thought about some of these people in a while. I saw a lot of my sister in Patricia Arquette’s incredible performance as Mason’s mother, and that personally hit me in a way that I’m not sure other folks will get with this movie. And that’s how you know art is such a personal thing to enjoy.
I know why Boyhood hit so high for some folks, or why some folks enjoyed it but it never even cracked their top ten list. Right now, as I am officially in my 30’s , Boyhood affected me so much that when the movie was over I could hardly stand. I saw my life, and my families life, reflected on a movie with a group of characters (of whom I started to like and grow fond of) struggle and enjoy their lives. No other movie had that unique of an experience for me. Only Boyhood did, and it’s just more impressive thinking about the film and seeing how Linklater, his cast and crew just made the whole affair feel seamless and effortless.