Up front, let me be clear that this my list of my favorite films of 2014. This is not necessarily a list of which films should be nominated for any Oscars in particular. When I’m thinking of a list like this, I’m focusing on enjoyability, as well as rewatchability. I can watch a film and recognize that someone has a particularly outstanding performance , or that the film overall is technically superb, or even those few films that are so clearly, wholly phenomenal that they should garner an Oscar nod. Thus, this list may overlap with those we’ve been talking about this past weeks. However, I have to expand a bit: just because a film gets–and deserves–an Oscar nod doesn’t mean that it’s enjoyable or that I’d watch it over and over.
I’m looking for a whole moviegoing experience. Would I recommend it to others? Is it impactful or particularly important? Was it fun? Visually appealing? Obviously, this is largely a matter of taste, and it’s an incredibly unscientific process to formulate a result.
Here goes, in order:
Chef might be my favorite film of 2014. It’s not the best, most technical film. I didn’t break new ground in cinematography; it didn’t have an actor contorting himself into a wholly different persona; it didn’t hit new heights of sexuality; and it won’t win Best Picture this Oscars Season. But I think it’s my favorite anyway–it’s just a joyful film. From the addictive, upbeat soundtrack to the redemptive relationship between a nearly estranged father and son, it hits on all cylinders. It’s a truly heartwarming film, yet it doesn’t fall into the cheesy category, something that I think has been missing of late.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
3. American Sniper
This film reminded me of Zero Dark Thirty, which is a film I can watch and rewatch. I see that happening here. It is still an intriguing film, well-made and thoughtful. Bradley Cooper’s intense and true portrayal of PTSD, as well as the juxtaposition of war life and home life was poignant and significant. The quickness of the film was needed to highlight the blur of war, and the struggle that soldiers and their families must go through during transitions.
4. Gone Girl
Gone Girl was a crazy, intense film. First of all, I almost never like a film more than the book from which it is adapted: Gone with the Wind, the Bourne Trilogy, The Godfather, Parts I & II, and The Hunger Games series. In this case, it’s hard for me to decide which I liked better, because this film is quite faithful. The book is deeply mysterious and emotional, as is the film, yet the film was more visceral and impactful than the book. Usually I don’t think that, because my imagination is pretty vivid, but in this case it was more gripping.
Interstellar was one of those movies that I wanted but didn’t even know that I wanted. I love films like this: films that mess with time travel and space travel, that explore the ideas of what lengths we might have to go to in order to preserve the human race. That, combined with McConaughey, Chastain, and Hathaway’s stellar acting sells the gravity (puns intended!) of the situation that they’re in. Finally, add in Hans Zimmer’s rich organ-oriented score and the captivating visuals, and you have a perfect storm of a film.
I had to pick my jaw up from the floor at multiple points throughout Whiplash. It was a deeply dark and disturbing film, but one that also probes the depths of passion and perseverance. This isn’t an inspirational film, but it is a film that readily delves into the dark corners of the drive to achieve greatness, not necessarily for the love of the creativity of art, but for the notoriety of that greatness. I loved the film, but I would have to think twice before getting ready to sit through it again, because it brought me to a dark place. The opening scene, however, is maybe the most precise and concise piece of characterization I have seen in a long time.
Birdman was a singularly immersive experience. From the opening moments, I was enraptured by almost every element: Keaton’s (dare I say) breakout performance, the single-take conceit, the seamlessly woven play within a film, and the slow psychological burn that underpins everything we see. Each performance was spot on, though not all are nomination-worthy. This film will battle for Best Director as well, and I think it may deserve both awards (as well as Keaton’s Best Actor nod). However, no other film on this list tries to do what this one accomplishes, nor possibly leaves such an impact.
I was riveted by Selma, from the bombing early on to the frenetic, emotional riots and brutality throughout. This move easily deserves its place on this list of nominees, if only to balance out The Imitation Game‘s shortcomings. The acting is superb from all angles (every actor is British, except for Common and Oprah), the music accents everything emotionally, the story is relevant and impactful, and they didn’t have to hit anyone over the head with the message of peace and equality. It does it on its own without being underscored by epigrams at the end.
9. Jodorowsky’s Dune
Jodorowsky’s Dune is a film that is many things at once, and they all work together to form a compelling narrative about a madman’s dream about a hippie’s trippy novel about drugs and war. It was described as the greatest movie never made, an influential film that preceded seminal movies like Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner. To see the inner workings of the making of this film, as well as the exploration of Jodorowsky’s film career, is like a bit of a film history class, but the most exciting one you’ll ever take.
10. Still Alice
Still Alice was excellent, and Julianne Moore is the quiet, yet standalone winner for me. Even with the other good performances on this list, Moore is clearly at the forefront. Where Felicity Jones is the rock next to Redmayne’s deteriorating academic husband, Moore is both the rock and the quicksand, clasping desperately at sanity, hoping that it will remain, and preparing herself and her family for the inevitable. It was a heart-rending performance, and one that is all-too applicable to audiences today.
I understand that, with some of the films above, you may be scratching your heads a bit. There are some surprises on my list. To comfort you, here’s my long list (in no particular order) of the top films of the year overall. Remember that I was looking for rewatchability, more than simply the greatness of the film itself.
- Theory of Everything
- Begin Again
- Big Eyes
- The Judge
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
- Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
- The Lego Movie