Ah. Now we get to the cream of the crop! The ten best films of 2014! Hope you enjoyed your year of films as much as I did mine. This was a strong year for movies; both blockbuster and arthouse. While there wasn’t an all-time Hall of Fame entry (like Dark Knight or Godfather), we did have many 5 star worthy films. Any of these ten films would have been a worthy choice for #1, in fact many of them even flirted with the top spot during the year, but when the dust settled here was the final list.
Slipping in at #10 was the true story of the relationship between the 1988 Men’s U.S. Olympic Wrestling team and batshit crazy rich guy, John DuPont; played terrifyingly by funnyman (not here!) Steve Carrell. Carrell is getting a lot of (deserved) plaudits for his performance, but I thought the heart of the movie was Mark Ruffalo (who is climbing the ladder towards being one of my favorite actors). Channing Tatum has an important role playing Channing Tatum in the movie.
- GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Wow did I love this movie. In a just world, Ralph Fiennes will get an Oscar nomination for his HILARIOUS and sentimental turn as a lothario hotel manager in early 20th Century Budapest. Though I believe Fiennes gives best individual performance ever in a Wes Anderson movie (BOLD STATEMENT THERE!), he will likely miss out because comedy is not appreciated properly by the Academy… and it was released two girlfriends ago (a timekeeping methodology that somehow makes sense to me). This movie is second only to the Royal Tenenbaums amongst Anderson’s filmography for me. It is that amazing. If I had to describe this movie in one word, I’d fail because I’ve already used several dozen in this entry. But if I HAD to, it would be “delightful”!
- CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLIDER
This was the film that really showed what the MCU was now capable of: making a movie of any genre using iconic superhero characters. This isn’t really a superhero movie. This is a stylistic spy thriller that HAPPENS to feature a man from the 1940’s who was given super solider serum, defeated the Nazis, and then lay frozen for 70+ years until he could join the Avengers. With a few tweaks, this movie could have starred characters originated by Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, or Bruce Willis (for Willis it would have had to be set in December because his action movies are all Christmas classics!) This was my favorite superhero movie of the year until….
- GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
For most of the year, this was one spot behind Cap 2. At one point, it was even behind X-Men: Days of Future Past. But the more I thought about and the further I got away from all three, GotG resonated the most. If Cap2 introduced what Marvel could do with their universe, GotG proved that there were absolutely no limits. This is a very different kind of movie that we don’t see too often. It starred a supporting player from a sitcom with middling ratings, a Wrestler I’d never heard of, a talking raccoon, and a living tree who could only say three words. The biggest box office draws were the voices of Rocket Raccoon and Groot; leaving only Zoe Saldana (Star Trek and Avatar) as the recognizable face for the marketing. Oh, and did I mention it is a comedy based on a comic that many comic fans didn’t read? I guess Marvel knows what they are doing. It was excellent and grossed more than any 2014 release in North America until the Hunger Games 3 passed it recently.
- THE SKELETON TWINS
This movie flirted with #1 for part of the year but ultimately settled just outside the top five. The Skelton Twins stars some very funny people (Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, and Ty Burrell) but it definitely isn’t a comedy. In fact, though it has some funny moments, it isn’t even a dramedy. It is pretty much a full on drama that sees Wiig and Hader make a shift from SNL to this complete triumph without missing a beat. They lead a serious film about childhood emotional scars, depression, infidelity, suicide, and lip-syncing to 80’s Starship ballads (ok…that part was hilarious!)
JK Simmons (best known for J Jonah Jameson from the original Spiderman trilogy) should win EVERY SINGLE TROPHY this award season. He should even win Best Costume design he was so fantastic.His role as a sadistic jazz instructor at one of the world’s preeminent jazz conservatories is on par with Joe Pesci’s role in Goodfellas (which I still consider the benchmark of Best Supporting Actor performances). Miles Teller was strong as well, and the story is surprisingly fast paced despite the subject matter (a mean music teacher?), but without Simmons this would have been an unmemorable film and landed somewhere in the middle of the pack. He’s that damn good!
Ryan and I debated whether this film about a creepy, would-be freelance videographer in the L.A. local news scene was a drama or a black comedy. We both left the conversation unconvinced of the other’s opinion (mine was right, but I don’t recall which position I took) and that ambiguity is what makes this movie special. It was just so dark and awful but at the same time you find yourself smiling in disbelief of how bizarre and fascinating the lead character is. I have never been a fan of Jake Gyllenhal (not a hater, but I figure most things he’s in, 10 other actors got a look before he got the part), but there was no one who could have played this role better. He was amazing and I hope he jumps ahead of some other actors to get an Oscar nod.
- DAWN OF THE PLANET OF APES
Apes was my favorite blockbuster of the year. This is another movie that hung around as my #1 film for much of the year. This movie is illustrative of the quality blockbuster era that has captured Hollywood. While there is legitimate concern that the $50M budgeted “grown up” film is dying off, there is consolation here that the big budget films can reach such quality; this was simply an amazing FILM! In fact, it is the best SFX/CGI ever utilized. Combing motion capture with excellent computer graphics, the apes became genuine characters that I cared about and rooted for. For Pete’s sake, there was an ape, riding a horse, firing a machine gun at people, and I didn’t laugh for a second. I was hooked and never once considered standing on my chair and yelling “MONKEY FIGHT!” Special call out to the king of motion capture, Andy Serkis (previously Gollum from LotR). He deserves consideration for Best Actor because he clearly as important to this film as any other actor this year except JK Simmons. If he fails nomination (he will), there needs to be a new Best Offscreen Performance Oscar to account for the brilliant work being done by motion capture and Animated Vocal performances.
This brilliant arthouse flick held the#1 spot until the very last week of the year. It connected with me because it encompassed many of my favorite things: arthouse films, theater, superhero movies, celebrities, and getting boners on stage (Once again, I apologize to my fellow castmates in A Music Man. Who knew singing “Wells Fargo Wagon” was my latent fetish?) The acting in this film was amazing. Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, and Ed Norton all deserve serious consideration to WIN their respective Oscars (nomination is all but assured). But beyond great acting, direction, and subject matter, I have to say that the best thing about this film is the cinematography. I’ve never seen better use of the camera as a “character” in the movie. This was a very unique film that isn’t for everyone, but it was right up my alley.
- IMITATION GAME
I saw Imitation Game the last week of the year and it was worth the wait! Out of 145 new releases I saw this year, this one connected all the dots and deserves the #1 spot. It was smart, had just enough humor, covered a fascinating subject, and was entertaining all at once. A movie about a gay mathematician breaking Nazi codes in 1930s England could have been dry as toast, but this film keeps you engaged the whole two hours. Before he stars in the role that will elevate him from fangirl/fanboy dreamboat to Global A-List superstar (Marvel’s upcoming Dr. Strange) it is fortunate that Benedict Cumberbatch (best known as title character in the BBC series Sherlock and for his controversial role in Star Trek 2) was able to show that he has elite Oscar level acting chops. In Imitation Game he absolutely proves he has more moves in his actor’s toolbag than just Sherlock. Cumberbatch is supported by a wonderful supporting cast including Kiera Knightly, Mark Strong (the only good thing about the ill-fated Green Lantern flick), Matthew Goode (Ozymandis from Watchmen), and Tywin Lannister. This is a movie that is pure arthouse, but like The King’s Speech could have mainstream crossover appeal should it get hot on the award circuit. A great #1 choice for a year full of awesome (and not so awesome) movies.