We now find ourselves at the end of the long road of a calendar year, ready to look back on all we achieved in this year while looking forward with anticipation to the next. This is no different for movie lovers, who are expecting a genre-iffic 2015 similar to the one we enjoyed back in 2012 with films like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. However, that might have meant that we began to overlook this year and all the gems that were within it. This was a year for character driven films, films that looked at humanity through sometimes a prolonged lens and gave many actors the opportunity to turn in their best performances to date. We got to see new talent rise to the occasion and also entertain us, making us laugh or despise them in equal measure, one actor appears twice (or is it three times?) on this list as well.
Overall, this has been a great year for film and therefore I felt it would be a disservice to only contain the list to the Top 10. Therefore, I have opened 5 spots to make a Top 15, and added spots for the most overrated and underrated film of the years as well as the 5 films I’m anticipating in the coming year.
So without further adieu, we begin with honorable mentions and work our way down to number one:
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
The LEGO Movie
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Fault in Our Stars
X-Men: Days of Future Past
15. Wild (directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern): This was a pleasant surprise this year with Reese Witherspoon giving one of her best performances in years. The way Vallee also told the story, not through a linear memory progression on top of the story of her on the hike, but through jumbled memories and voice-overs as well helped the film a great deal and allowed it it avoid comparisons to the flaws of movies like Gravity which some found too talky for a lone performer. Witherspoon an Dern’s performances also make this movie hold a real emotional core.they both gave their all and should be nominated for their efforts.
14. Nightcrawler (directed by Dan Gilroy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton): Another movie that was made by an awards worthy performance from its main actor, Jake Gyllenhaal impresses and terrifies as the ambitious Lou Bloom, a man who sets out making money by getting accident footage for news teams to show on the air. It was a compelling story and first time director Dan Gilroy knew to let his actors take over the material and not introduce any sort of stylistic flair to the piece. It is truly a remarkable film full of good ideas and rich character.
13. The Theory of Everything (directed by James Marsh, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones): The life story of physicist Steven Hawking is a rich story worth telling, aided with stunning visuals and a good sense of pacing, director James Marsh makes this movie as big and ambitious as well as small and personal as he can. He is helped as well by a pair of fantastic performances by Redmayne and Jones, who shared effervescent chemistry even as Hawking’s health declines. This is a great biopic with only a few flaws (one scene was a bit gratuitous, but that’s about it), and totally is worthy of your time.
12. Interstellar (directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Matthew McCounaghey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain): Speaking of movies that are big and ambitious as well as small and personal, none hit those notes better at the same time than Christopher Nolan’s newest film. The film had clear narrative issues, and Nolan’s vice of expository dialogue was on full display here, but the performances were strong, and his direction was assured as always, and the visuals were breath-taking and pristine. Even Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson saw little flaw with the film’ science as well as it’s reprsentation of scientists and female scientists at that. See this movie in theaters if its still even remotely close to you, and if not, buy the Blu Ray and hope to have a giant TV, this was a theater experience that should not be missed.
11. Obvious Child (directed by Gillian Robespierre, starring Jenny Slate): In one of the nicest surprises of the year came Obvious Child a witty, intelligent look at a controversial issue through the eyes of an impressive writer/director on the rise as well as a branching out for one of the most promising comediennes. Jenny Slate threw herself into the role of Donna and really made this movie something special, she also possibly had a hand in crafting some of the humor of her character and the movie succeeded because of it. Robespierre also wisely avoided having any scene go to long or be to gratuitous to make a pleasant little film that should be sought out by all.
10. Locke (directed by Steven Knight, starring Tom Hardy): This movie was almost like a stage play as it’s central concept surrounded a man in a car looking to solve a problem. That is all you need to know about Steven Knight’s Locke going in to it. The movie also demanded a one man performance by a competent actor who would provide the anchor for this film, and we got it from the best actor out there today, Tom Hardy, he seems calm and collected but allows himself to unravel slowly throughout the film, this is one to see if you haven’t already and don’t even spoil yourself by looking up the problem at hand, just go on in and enjoy the ride.
9. Gone Girl (directed by David Fincher, starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Tyler Perry): Gone Girl was a fantastic book full of rich characters, strong writing and a twisted plot full of black humor and thrills. When Gillian Flynn adapted her work for David Fincher to film, there was no doubt that this movie was going to be good. Fincher captures the real and bleak moments of the book, while adding his own personal style on top, alongside great music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Flynn works her book so that it would be a good film, and adds more things that would work in a film rather than a book to get the more central messages across. Finally, the performances from Affleck and Pike were amazing, as Affleck pulls off playing a man hounded by the media and looking for his wife, while Pike shines as the wife, who has her own arcs and story of her own. This was an efficient and stylish thriller that may actually be Fincher’s best film to date.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy (directed by James Gunn, starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista): Marvel released two great films this year with the aforementioned Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as this unexpected gem. This movie was a lot of fun, full of great laughs, great visuals effects and make up work as well as a heartfelt story in between all the action. Chris Pratt solidifies himself as a genuine movie star in his role as Star Lord, and Zoe Saldana maintains her sci-fi dominance in her role as Gamora. Dave Bautista surprised in his role of Drax showing that he could really act and have great comic timing to sometimes steal the show, Bradly Cooper also was great in a voice role as Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, while Vin Diesel melted hearts as the lovable tree alien Groot. This would all be for naught if not for the assured direction of James Gunn, who kept things moving at a good pace and saw the big picture of the MCU through something as independent and great as Guardians (we got our first look at a pretty Big Bad in this one) if you haven’t seen this movie yet, do yourself a favor and see it.
7. Calvary (directed by John Michael McDonagh, starring Brendan Gleeseon, Chris O’Dowd, and Kelly Reilly): Outside of big tentpole blockbusters, it is sometimes nice to see a ponderous character stud that posits big questions while given actors a chance to shine. None did that better this year that Calvary, Entertaining issues concerning faith, God, violence, politics, religion, society, sin and forgiveness was no small feat, and with a strong script full of revelation and dark humor from McDonagh as well as a career best performance from veteran character actor Brendan Gleeseon, Calvary shines as a conversation piece worth sitting back and watching (the cinematography of Ireland is also worth looking at as well).
6. The Homesman (directed by Tommy Lee Jones, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank): Keeping up with smaller, more character driven films comes this progressive Western from Tommy Lee Jones alongside Hilary Swank as a strong but lonely woman who enlists the help of a claims jumper to escort three insane women back East. This was a very well shot and acted movie full of surprises. The script also followed suit as well, just when you thought you knew how this movie was going to end, it gets strange and then throws you for a loop. Jones clearly knows his stuff in front of and behind the camera and it pays off big time in this great movie.
5. A Most Wanted Man (directed by Anton Corbijn, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams and Willem DeFoe): This spy thriller flew a little bit under the radar this year, which was surprising given its pedigree (based off a novel by John le Carre) as well as being the last lead role of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman who died earlier this year. This is an expertly crafted film as multiple countries and legions of spies look for how a man who recently washed up on the shores of Hamburg will react given his Islamic extremist ties. This movies twists and turns at gives one of the most jaw-dropping endings of the year. That, added alongside a slew of great performances makes this movie completely worth the watch, rent it now of you can.
4. Snowpiercer (directed by Bong Joon-Ho, starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Jamie Bell): A startlingly original science fiction movie that addresses the themes of inequality and class warfare all inside a train cradling the last of humanity after a failed global warming experiment went totally awry, anchored by emotional depth? This movie is that and even more thanks to a fast paced script, solid direction that shows appreciation for the likes of Edgar Wright and Terry Gilliam, and has great performances fro Chris Evans, John, Hurt, Tilda Swinton and many more. This movie has been available for a while now and you are doing yourself a disservice by not having seen it yet, it is one of the best science fiction films in a while that should not be missed.
3. Enemy (directed by Denis Villenueve, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon and Melanie Laurent): A beautifully shot, twisted thriller from the director of Prisoners pits Jake Gyllenhaal against, well, Jake Gyllenhaal as he plays two characters set in the yellow and black vistas of Ontario, one a history professor, the other an actor, their world’s collide when they become aware of each others existence. This is a mind-bending, eerie, well acted journey into the human psyche that is deftly shot and acted on top of great use of some motif and clever wordplay. This is a riveting film, was unable to take my eyes away, I had to remind myself to blink and breathe, this film was excellent in nearly everyday, complete with an ending that will make you jump out of your skin.
2. Birdman (or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zack Galifianakis and Edward Norton) : The last two spots on this list are all about ambition, and achieving that and more. A movie like Birdman is an impressive feat, seemingly shot in one take with actors who had to remember long swaths of dialogue as well as improv their way through some of the scenes. This movie covers a variety of topics from fame, relevance, art, entertainment, life, death, meaning, longing and more. The expert work done behind the camera from Inarritu and others is complimented nicely by the fantastic work in front of the camera, especially an awards, worthy performance from Michael Keaton. This is definitely the best non-superhero movie since Unbreakable as well as the best theater movie since Noises Off. This movie is a remarkable feat that should be experienced by all, if you can, see this film.
Finally, we reach #1, speaking of ambition and great work n front of and behind the camera, the Best Movie of 2014 is:
1. Boyhood (directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethn Hawke and Lorelai Linklater): Shot over a 12 years period from the 90’s to last year, Boyhood is truly a natural marvel to see and a momentous feat of film-making from Richard Linklater. The story itself is small and real, not necessarily one great event to the next or one milestone to another, which is the central message of the film, but a clear snapshot into the life of a young man as he grew older. The acting across that time stayed consistent, as Hawke and Arquette deserve praise for anchoring the two young leads through this period as well as giving great work of their own. Most of the praise however is entirely Linklater’s for pulling off this momentous film.
Now time for The Most Overrated and Underrated Films of 2014
The Most Overrated Film of 2014 is…
Interstellar, now don’t get me wrong, this movie is on my Top 15 for a reason. Yet the narratives as well as Nolan indulging both his great aspects as a filmmaker as well as a s his negative aspects took away from this film a lot. It should also be noted that “overrated” and “bad” are not synonymous terms, I enjoyed this movie immensely but the hype machine made it seem as though it was gong to be the next 2001: A Space Odyssey went it was far from perfect. For that reason, Interstellar gets the recognition as the most overrated movie of 2014.
The Most Underrated Film of 2014 is…
A Walk Among the Tombstones: I just rewatched this film the other day and it still held up for me as being as good as it was when I saw it in theaters back in September. A lot of things worked well in this movie, Liam Neeson was playing an actual role again instead of another action hero role, the script was suspenseful and gritty, the direction was very good with clear production values and good pacing. However, this movie flew almost entirely under the radar and was out of theaters quickly. Critics are partially to blame for writing it off as a Taken clone as well as the marketing team who was put in charge of selling this to the public (they also revealed a pretty big plot point in the trailers, but that’s another matter). If you can, see and support this film, noir fans will be happy with its grizzled detective and brooding atmosphere and there is other aspects and characters for non-noir fans to like too. Definitely check this one out.
Finally, to look forward to next year, I give you 5 for ’15 the five films I’m looking forward too in 2015:
1. Avengers: Age of Ultron, as a Marvel fan, this is a no brainer. The team is back together, Ultron is the villain, darkness surrounds the group. Phase 3 will be set up. Things are going to happen that we will hate then love. Count me in!
2. Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams took control of the franchise, launching a new trilogy with a plethora of new characters with the return of some old favorites. It will be exciting to see what is in store for us from Abrams and company.
3. Ant-Man, Another Marvel property, this time the gulf between Phases is only two months as opposed to a whole year. With an intriguing premise, an interesting cast and as the product of a storm of controversy, only time will tell how Ant-Man plays out. Still excited nonetheless however.
4. Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro bides his time between Pacific Rim films by making this mature Victorian ghost story with a fine cast and interesting set pieces (as seen this year in Comic Con). Del Toro also calls this his first adult movie in the English language so there could be a lot in store come the fall.
5. The Revenant Alejandro G. Inarritu’s followup to Birdman comes in the form of a Western starring Leonardo di Caprio as a trapper left for dead who seeks vengeance on his former friends (Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domnhall Gleeson)…what’s not exciting about that?
Well that’s it for 2014, hopefully everyone has a happy, healthy, and safe New Year’s eve and a New Year to come!