Top 10 Films of 2014
By Daniel Rester
Follow this link for Daniel Rester and Scott Menzel’s video on the best films of 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iwS7RBYdG4
Another year has gone by and with it passes another terrific year in cinema. The year 2014 had its stinkers but it had many quality films as well. And so comes the tedious but interesting task of making my annual “best films of the year” list.
My list, like every year, will go by official United States release dates; this means the films had to have had a limited or wide release in theaters in the U.S. in the year 2014 to qualify.
I saw around 150 films from the year 2014 (some still in very limited release), so far more than the average viewer. But my goal is to see more and more each year so I can let people know which ones are really worth their time and money. Keep in mind that this list is subjective and I always encourage readers to look at many “best of” lists and weigh in with their opinions as well in the comment section.
I did miss a few well-regarded movies for one reason or another that I will eventually catch up on. That’s not to say they would have made my list, but one never knows. Some of the ones I missed were: The Book of Life, The Good Lie, The Homesman, The Judge, A Most Violent Year, Rosewater, Rudderless, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Winter Sleep, and The Zero Theorem.
This was a particularly hard year to do a list because there were many really good films. But in my opinion there were only three truly great ones, which will obviously be my top three picks. Still, it was such an excellent year that even awesome films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Edge of Tomorrow, and Fury didn’t even make my main honorable mentions list. Without further ado, though, here are my picks for the best films of 2014:
15 major honorable mentions (alphabetical order):
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
The Raid 2
The Skeleton Twins
The Theory of Everything
The Top 10:
10. Before I Disappear
One of the more overlooked and underrated films of the year was Shawn Christensen’s feature film debut Before I Disappear, which was based on the writer-director’s Oscar-winning short Curfew (2012). In dealing with the subjects of suicide and redemption while telling the story of a druggie and his niece bonding over one night, Christensen delivers an indie gem that’s brimming with heart and style. With a stellar supporting cast, rich cinematography that captures the underbelly of New York, a rock-filled soundtrack, and memorable characters and situations, Disappear deserves more credit than it’s getting. I can only hope more people find it over time and that Christensen continues to make a name for himself as a promising talent.
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson brings his quirky and idiosyncratic style to perhaps his funniest film yet with The Grand Budapest Hotel. Ralph Fiennes is outstanding as a hotel concierge and newcomer Tony Revolori shines as his lobby boy, with the two of them wrapped up in a mystery involving a painting in the 1930s. From the cotton candy-colored production design and costumes to the many welcome supporting performances to the poetic and witty writing to the varied aspect ratios, Hotel is exquisitely detailed and very entertaining from start to finish.
8. TIE: Selma and Unbroken
I’m cheating a little bit with my #8 spot by doing a tie. But both Selma and Unbroken had many similar elements and I loved both of the films. For starters, the two were directed by women on the top of their game and both deal with real-life men facing unspeakable odds. Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay, is a focused, stinging, and thought-provoking slice of history that tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. (played incredibly by David Oyelowo) and others marching for their civil rights. Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the story of Louis Zamperini (played by star-in-the-making Jack O’Connell), an Olympic runner who also survived being lost at sea before also surviving a WWII POW camp. Jolie’s picture is a bit more sprawling and sentimental, but I found it to be epic and excellently crafted. If you love inspiring stories with quality filmmaking behind them, make sure to see Selma and Unbroken.
Cold as ice and slow-paced to a fault, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher isn’t the type of biographical sports drama that will be for everyone. In telling the true story of billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) and wrestlers/brothers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), Miller crafts a film that examines themes of acceptance, loyalty, and more in a dark but mesmerizing way. All three of the lead actors have never been better.
With Mommy, young writer-director Xavier Dolan made the best foreign language film of 2014 in my opinion. An emotionally raw but visually artistic study of motherhood and ADHD, Mommy floors the viewer with its brutal honesty and beauty. The acting by Anne Dorval (as a struggling mother) and Antoine-Olivier Pilon (as her rowdy son) is tremendous, and the use of the rare 1:1 aspect ratio pushes the audience to admire the camera framing even more. The smooth editing and the pop-rock soundtrack are the cherries on top. The film is in very limited release right now, but it is well worth seeking out when it expands more later in January.
5. Under the Skin
One of the most polarizing films of 2014 was Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Abstract and strange, some have found Glazer’s film to be pretentious garbage while others see it as artful and intelligent sci-fi. I’m on the latter side, though I openly admit the film definitely isn’t for all tastes. Yet there is something about it that hooked me. The first 30 minutes are tedious as a mysterious woman (Scarlett Johansson) repeatedly harvests bodies, but the film begins to subtly explore identity, sexuality, and more as it moves forward in putting “what it means to be human” under the microscope. Those who called Interstellar Kubrick-esque clearly didn’t see Skin, which is more along the lines of the late director’s style in terms of its chilling and though-provoking ways.
Speaking of chilling, enter Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler, one of the slimiest and most interesting characters from 2014. Bloom, masterfully played by Jake Gyllenhaal, seeks the “American Dream” by capturing footage of car crashes, murders, etc. to sell to news stations. Writer-director Dan Gilroy’s dark satire/neo-noir takes sharp stabs at the media while being wrapped in plenty of smarts and thrills. I really liked Gilroy’s film when I first saw it, but I loved it more and more as I continued to think about it. And if anyone needs further proof that Gyllenhaal is becoming one of the finest actors of his generation, look no further: this is a performance and character for the ages.
As I said above, I saw many excellent films in 2014 but only three that I thought were truly great. That begins with Whiplash. Damien Chazelle’s film tells the story of a young drummer (Miles Teller) and his abusive instructor (J.K. Simmons) as the former goes through hell to try and become “one of the greats.” On the surface Whiplash is about jazz drumming, but that shouldn’t turn non-jazz fans away. Chazelle’s picture makes you think about what is worth giving up and what pain is worth enduring in order to fulfill a dream. It’s also more intense than any action film to release in 2014, with the film editing and performances giving off high-level energy from start to finish. What a ride.
A film to get you high on film creativity, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is a top-level achievement in the medium. Michael Keaton gives a career-best performance (and should win the Oscar) as Riggan, a once-famous film actor trying to make a comeback by writing, directing, and starring in a play on Broadway. Keaton is surrounded by an incredible cast including Emma Stone and Edward Norton, with everyone bringing their A-game. The screenplay makes stinging and smart observations about theater, film, and critics while Iñárritu and the brilliant cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki glide the camera around smoothly as if the entire film was shot in one take – though it wasn’t; kudos to editors Douglas Crise Stephen Mirrione for helping pull off such a look. Birdman may be a bit too offbeat for some viewers, but passionate film buffs won’t want to miss it.
It’s almost a cliché to call Boyhood the best film of 2014 since so many critics are doing so. But that just shows the power and appeal of the film. Filming over 12 years and telling the story of one Texas family, writer-director Richard Linklater and his wonderful cast did something special with Boyhood. Perhaps never before has a film captured the little moments of growing up in America so well, with family dynamics, pop culture, and more organically and gracefully blending together to observe life. The film has received some backlash for “being too long” or “not really being about anything,” which I guess it could be for those who relate to the characters less than others. But to me the film is about nothing and everything at the same time, like a collection of snapshots that all have their own little meanings but add up to something more in the end. I love finding films that I walk out of and know that they will be among my all-time favorites from that point forward. Boyhood is among those films.
Make sure to comment and let me know what your favorite films of 2014 were!