2014 provided to be an incredible year all-around for film. Amazing blockbusters, spectacular indies, and epic Oscar films. It also happened to be the year I saw more movies than I ever have before. I saw 51 films in theaters this year (most of them for free, don’t worry), and 84 films released overall in 2014. It was truly difficult, as it always is, to lay out my top ten films. Some choices were easy, and there were some tough cuts. I even had to cheat a little bit with one tie. These are films that affected me in some way, challenged me, enlightened me, or even simply humored me. Check out the list, along with some honorable mentions.
10. TIE: CHEF, BEGIN AGAIN Okay, okay. So I cheated. But I really couldn’t decide between these two. The reason I paired them together is that I had very similar feelings about them both. They are purely happy films. They’re feel-good, enjoyable experiences. Begin Again was an absolute surprise going in, and I left the theater floored at just how fun the film turned out. Chef has an infectious energy that pervades the whole film. They both deal very much with creatives and the importance of an artist’s free expression. Both are musically driven and have fantastic soundtracks. I couldn’t decide which I like more, and I stand by that. They’re under-seen, happy films, and the world needs more just like them.
9. STILL ALICE The closest thing to a horror movie you’ll find on my list, Still Alice was a terrifying look at Alzheimer’s disease. I expected to like Moore’s performance, but I didn’t realize I would love the movie so much. It’s such a simple film, modestly shot, very few locations, small scale, but it’s so effecting. There are moments of shock at the progress of the disease. It’s frightening. “I wish I had cancer,” she declares at one point, and we get it completely. Moore’s performance is so pitch-perfect, capturing the fear along with the forgetfulness of Alzheimer’s. This a powerful film exploring a real-life killer. Watch it.
8. SELMA What an eerily well-timed film. In my life, the Civil Rights movement has always felt before my time, in the past. Of course as this year has taught us, it’s not that simple. Oyelowo gives an absorbing performance, showing MLK’s powerful authority, his zen-like leadership, and his behind-the-scenes boiling anger. Selma is an excellent, thrilling film, beautifully shot and exciting. It’s not a perfect film, yet I understand the confusion (read: anger) over it’s lack of a real presence at the Oscars, but let’s remember it’s nominated for Best Picture. When other films miss out on nominations, we don’t cry racism. Maybe that’s the reason, or maybe the voters just liked other films more. Either way, Selma works, and it’s a film that will last.
7. BIRDMAN What a captivating, unique film. Wonderfully shot as if in one-take, Birdman draws us in, making the camera, along with the audience, almost feel purely like a spectator of a real event. The performances are top-notch all around. I feel as though I need to see Birdman a second time. The first viewing was more to experience it, but a second time is necessary to really appreciate what Birdman is trying to say. There are plenty of excellent emotional moments, like when Sam rips her father apart, telling him he doesn’t matter. But there are plenty of hilarious moments too, like most of Mike Shiner’s scenes. Birdman is a such a unique creation.
6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Easily the best blockbuster this year, and there were a lot of great ones to choose from. Guardians of the Galaxy is funny, it’s surprising, and it’s just purely, unashamedly awesome. Sure it’s part of a franchise, but it’s a completely new universe. Everything feels fully developed and lived in. Chris Pratt proves he’s a star and gives a great performance. Guardians isn’t perfect, but it’s infectiously fun.
5. GONE GIRL Incredibly written and endlessly intriguing, Gone Girl never stops making you think. It’s a thriller that has you guessing from the moment you finish the trailer. Rosamund Pike gives one of the best performances of the year-or of most years- as Amazing Amy Dunne. The film is so spectacularly woven together, releasing precise pieces of info at very specific moments. Cutting back and forth from real-life to Amy’s diary was a beautiful choice that only muddied the waters even more. This is certainly one of the best written films this year. Gone Girl adds yet another powerful thriller to David Fincher’s near-perfect filmography.
4. INTERSTELLAR Interstellar is more of an experience than most films. I saw the movie in true 70mm IMAX, and it was worth it. It’s an immersive ride that drives you to want more. Story-wise, Interstellar is more interesting than impactful. The family drama is a little cliche, the characters aren’t all-in-all original. I stuck with the exploration aspect the whole time, but it lost me when we were brought into the staircase dimension. Still, in the end, none of that seems to matter. These are minor mistakes in a spectacular film. It didn’t reach the heights it hoped, but it reached farther than most. It’s a beautiful film filled with wonder. Inspiring and intriguing, Interstellar leaves me wanting more films just like it.
3. THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING This was a surprising film, but in many small ways. We go into Theory of Everything expecting an Oscar-caliber performance from Redmayne, and he delivers whole-heartedly. We expect less from Felicity Jones, who succeeds and exceeds these expectations at every turn. Theory is romantic and sad, painful and inspiring. Such a well-crafted film from beginning to end. Despite a sad ending, you can’t help but leave the film happy.
2. WHIPLASH It was a very, very difficult choice between my top two. I swapped the titles multiple times before posting. Despite a tough battle, Whiplash has settled at a very respectable number two. J.K. Simmons’ formidable, intimidating performance is what makes the film. But don’t get me wrong, Whiplash is so much more than just that. Through his screaming and torment, Simmons’ Fletcher forces his students to give him only the best. One of the best lines of the year is spoken more than halfway through the film: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.'” Honestly, it’s hard to disagree with him in the moment. His methods are maddening and horrifying but he begs a tough question: how far would you go for greatness? An intense, well-crafted, exciting, dramatic piece of art, Whiplash simply works.
Boyhood is exactly, perfectly my type of film. It’s an achievement all on it’s own: following a central actor portraying a character over twelve years of his life, filming a little bit each year. It’s a powerful concept flawlessly executed. The acting isn’t all around the best, and the story isn’t the most complex and original, but it doesn’t matter. It simply feels real. It’s life, pure and simple. We watch Mason grow up right before our eyes. It’s a truly effecting experience filled with catharsis. We all grow up searching for answers and meaning, and here we watch one such journey play out. It’s a powerful thing, this search for truth. While Mason certainly hasn’t found absolute truth in the end, his journey impacts us. Boyhood will remain an important film for decades to come. A pure slice of what it was like to grow up in this age. This is film history in the making. This is powerful, raw, emotional storytelling. Boyhood is the best film of 2014, and one of the best films in decades.
Best Animated Film: The Lego Movie
Best Documentary: Citizenfour. Incredible, thought-provoking real-life thriller.
Biggest Surprise: Edge of Tomorrow
Best Under-Seen Film: Snowpiercer
Worst Film of the Year (that I actually saw: Pompeii