Another year in cinema has come to a close and it is time to take a look back and see which films really stood out this year. In 2014, I saw over 225 films in the theater and while that may seem like a lot to most, for a film critic or film lover that high number isn’t all that surprising. My initial goal was 250. I didn’t reach my goal but there is always 2015.
Also, one must point out that while I saw the vast majority of critically acclaimed films, I did, unfortunately miss a handful of them.
The following films are the ones that I did not see but are ones that have been well received and may have made my list if I saw them:
A Most Violent Year
A Most Wanted Man
Now, with all that out of the way, here are my picks for the 10 Best Films of 2014:
10. Rudderless –Back in January, I walked into a Sundance press screening for this film completely blind. I knew nothing about it other than the fact that William H. Macy directed it. I walked out of the screening praising the music and how the film’s plot took the cliched idea of losing someone and doing something fairly unique with it. Rudderless was one of those films that the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Upon my second viewing, I raised my grade from a 7 to a 9 out of 10. The film tackles guilt, loss, and the power of music while boasting incredible performances from Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin. If you haven’t seen Rudderless, do yourself a favor and seek out this small, touching, and highly underrated indie gem!
9. Big Eyes –Tim Burton is the reason why I love film as much as I do and while I wish I could tell you that every Tim Burton film is great, I would be lying to you if I did. There is no denying that some of his recent films like Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland left me fairly disappointed. However, this luckily isn’t the case at all with this film. Big Eyes is Burton returning to the top of his game by telling the incredible real story of Margaret and Walter Keane. You can clearly see when watching this film that Burton was passionate about the project and wanted to do it justice. Christoph Waltz is amazing as the manipulative and kooky Walter Keane and Amy Adams is absolutely delightful as the naïve painter who lets her husband steal her art. The direction by Burton is near perfect and the score by Danny Elfman is toned down but terrific. This is a great bio-pic that also serves as a look back in time at how different America was in the 1950s and 1960s compared to today. Sadly, I think Big Eyes will be overlooked by many this holiday season. I urge all of you to seek it out as it’s one of the best Burton live action films in several years and this is coming from someone who was raised on Burton classics like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Beetlejuice.
8. The Good Lie – I saw this for the first time back at TIFF in 2014. It was one of my favorite films from the fest but had a bad feeling it was going to bomb hardcore when it was eventually released. Sure enough, less than two months later, the film opened and was no where to be found after two weeks of it’s release, even in L.A. This is definitely one of the best films of 2014 mainly because for the story that it told. This film is based on the true-life tale of the Lost Boys of Sudan. This group of Sudanese refugees came to America after 13 years of struggling in Kenya. Their move to America happened right before 9/11 and this film showcases all the struggles that they faced prior to America and while in America. Besides the story being such a great one, the overall film has a wide range of emotions that blend together so well. You will laugh, you will cry, and you might even learn a thing or two about culture and history when watching this film. I don’t know when Warner Brothers plans on releasing this on Blu-Ray as of yet, but I do recommend finding out it’s DVD/Blu-Ray release date and checking it out whenever you have the chance. Oh and one last thing, even though Reese Witherspoon is billed as the star, the real stars of this film are Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, and Emmanuel Jal
7. Selma – After 12 Years A Slave last year, I didn’t think we would see another well-made film about an iconic black man so soon but I was very wrong. Selma is not the story of Martin Luther King Jr., but rather just a film about one event in his life. There are so many positive things one can say about this film from the solid direction from Ava DuVernay to every performance in this film from David Oyelowo to Keith Stanfield but there is one thing that makes this film really stand out. What truly makes Selma great is how focused it is as a film. It never tries to tackle too much and it never makes King into this god or flawless human. It is a story about humanity and racism that is still to this day very much alive. Selma is a really great film and what is even more incredible that I didn’t know until after seeing the film is that all the speeches heard in this film aren’t actually Dr. King’s speeches but rather ones that Ava wrote herself. She had to do this when she learned that another film had already purchased the rights to use his speeches. This is a great and powerful film that should be shown in history classes.
6. Nightcrawler – I have always dug Jake Gyllenhaal and will openly admit that I think Bubble Boy is a underrated comedic gem. Now, I am not comparing Bubble Boy to Nightcrawler but I will say it’s pretty incredible to see how far Jake has come as an actor since 2001. He has starred in so many different types of films but I really believe this is his best performance to date. As Lou Bloom, Jake becomes this distant and heartless alien-like creature. He is smart, manipulative, and you won’t be able to take your eyes off of him. This is one of those rare films that I like more and more every time I bring it up. I love films that criticize the media and this is the best film about media criticism since Network. First-time feature film make Dan Gilroy, who also penned the film, should be incredibly proud of Nightcrawler, as it tells a fascinating story that will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Outside of maybe Whiplash, I doubt you will find a more beautifully shot and more suspenseful film this year.
5. Birdman – Michael Keaton is back! I grew up watching Keaton in films like Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, Batman, and several others. He was always a great actor in my eyes and played several iconic and memorable characters. In Birdman, Keaton has proven that he still has what it takes to be a star in Hollywood. His performance in Birdman has so many layers to it and the way that he handles the role is just incredible. It’s one of those performances that you have to see to believe. It is difficult to explain what makes the performance so great but you know it’s truly brilliant when you watch it. The supporting cast here is also amazing. Emma Stone plays Keaton daughter; Zach Galifianakis is a stressed out stage manager; and Edward Norton is a cocky and arrogant actor. Birdman is about life imitating art and vice versa but also showcases the struggles that any artist faces in the film, television, and theatre. It’s social commentary and pretty damn brilliant all around. Also, I can’t forget to mention that the score by Antonio Sanchez and direction by Alejandro González Iñárritu is nothing short of phenomenal.
4. The One I Love – Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss star in this unique film about marriage and love. This was another film that I saw at Sundance and walked out raving about it. The film is hard to discuss without spoiling it’s magic but let me say that I think this is a film that anyone who has been in a very long term relationship or marriage will appreciate and can relate to. It is about a couple that goes to this cottage in the middle of nowhere to try to fix their marriage. While they are up in the cottage there are strange things that begin to happen. The One I Love got a very small release and is now streaming on Netflix. This is probably one of the most unique films I have seen all year and definitely one that will leave most talking once the end credits begin to roll. Both Duplass and Moss are fantastic in this film and the direction by Charlie McDowell isn’t too shabby either. If you have Netflix, do yourself the favor and check out this unique and extremely underrated film.
3. Still Alice – I won’t lie, I went to see Still Alice at TIFF simply because I really dig Kristen Stewart in most independent films. I didn’t expect to walk out of the film and say this is the best performance of Julianne Moore‘s career. I think Still Alice is one of those films that so few know about simply because Sony Classics doesn’t know how to market the film. The movie tells the story of a Dr. Alice Howland, a world-renowned Linguistics professor who has just recently learned that she has Alzheimer’s. The film showcases the struggle Alice must face to save her memory and keep her family from falling apart. This is definitely a film that relies very heavily on the performances, but Moore, Stewart, and Baldwin deliver some of the best performances of their career, if not their best. This is a film that realistically portrays how a disease can destroy a person and how so many lives are changed in the process. I truly believe anyone can relate to Still Alice in some degree even if you don’t know someone with Alzheimer’s.
2. The Fault in Our Stars – When I interviewed Shailene Woodley at Sundance after the premiere of White Bird in a Blizzard, we discussed her upcoming film roles and discussed The Fault in Our Stars for several minutes. She warned me that I would probably cry when I watched it and she wasn’t kidding. I give any film a lot of credit nowadays if it can make me shed a tear but what’s even more impressive about Stars is the fact that this isn’t a sugar coated film about cancer. I truly believe this film is a realistic look at cancer and how it effects teenagers. I haven’t felt this moved by a story in quite sometime. Both Ansel Elgort and Shaliene Woodley are incredible. Their chemistry is flawless and their personalities are just so damn likable. The struggle that these two face was really inspiring to see and I like how the film didn’t try to shove religion down our throats. This film doesn’t end in a typical Hollywood manor either. It is still a film that I think about several times per week and I cannot believe that it is being overlooked now by so many. Fault in Our Stars is more than a cheesy teen love story; it’s a film about appreciating and living life to the fullest. It is an extraordinary film that I won’t soon forget.
1. The Imitation Game – I absolutely LOVED this film. I saw it initially at it’s TIFF premiere and saw it again a few weeks prior to its release at a special screening here in L.A. Benedict Cumberbatch is incredible as Alan Turing and the film’s story is fascinating, funny, and somehow still relevant to today even though it focuses on WW2 and Hitler and the Nazis. The film tells several stories during its speedy 2-hour runtime and never feels overlong or boring. The supporting cast that includes Mark Strong, Keira Knightley, and Matthew Goode are all excellent and just a delight to watch interact on-screen. The direction is wonderful and the score is superb as well. I don’t think there was any other film this year that was as entertaining, interesting, informative, historical, and well acted as the Imitation Game was.
Honorable Mentions: Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Obvious Child, The Skeleton Twins, Foxcatcher, Men Women & Children, Edge of Tomorrow, Laggies, Kill the Messenger, Mommy, The Theory of Everything, Into the Woods, and About Alex