In a few short hours we will officially close the book on 2014, and less than 24 hours ago I closed the book on my 2014 movie viewing with Ava DuVernay’s “Selma.” “Selma” was the 104th movie I saw this year, marking the first time I crossed the triple digit milestone. I wouldn’t call 2014 a particularly deep year, but the films that rose to the top would stand out in any year.
Among them you had great documentaries about filmmaking and film legends in “Jodorowsky’s Dune” and “Life Itself.” Newcomers emerged with great performances, like Jack O’Connell in “Starred Up.” Veterans gave some great work, in the case of Reese Witherspoon, quite possibly her best performance in “Wild.” There was the fun romp of “The Trip to Italy,” one of the most unlikely of sequels. And then you had two perfect examples of what blockbuster filmmaking should be with “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Edge of Tomorrow” and an indie film with blockbuster extravagance in “Snowpiercer.”
Just on the outskirts of my top 10, however, were two films that I feel I must single out. “The Lego Movie” was a miracle in the fact that it was everything that cinephiles hate, a seemingly deliberate marketing ploy to sell toys and other merchandise. However, in the hands of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, it was one of the funniest, most heartfelt and smartest films of the year.
There was also Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman.” From the brilliant Michael Keaton and the rest of the magnificent ensemble, to Emmanuel Lubezki’s magic with the camera to the unjustly disqualified score of Antonio Sanchez, “Birdman” is a thrill ride that is richer than most films even dare to be.
All great and worthy of praise, but just on the outside of what I would call my favorite films of 2014. Here are my 10 favorite films from the past year.
“Interstellar” has its share of problems – I for one am not really that big a fan of its third act – but there isn’t another film I can think of this year that absolutely had to be seen at a movie theater. The scope of the film created by Christopher Nolan is on par with the legendary spectacles of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Star Wars” or “Blade Runner.” Though it may not reach the level of those films, this was pure cinematic enjoyment from Nolan and company and is reason enough to fight for what can be done on film and what kind of films need to be seen on the big screen.
Watching Tom Hardy drive down the highway making phone calls doesn’t exactly sound like a great cinematic experience, but you’d be surprise just how well it works. “Locke” is a film that should fail on nearly every level; instead it succeeds because of the strong work from writer/director Steven Knight and a knockout performance from Tom Hardy. Hardy is able to paint such an elegant portrait of Ivan Locke, his faults and his strengths, in such a short time and all alone on the screen for its entirety. Hardy’s Locke is transformed at the end of his journey down the highway, and we as an audience were treated to a new kind of film experience.
8. Only Lovers Left Alive
After the “Twilight” series nearly ruined the reputation of vampires on the big screen, Jim Jarmusch brought them back from the dead… or undead. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is one of the coolest films of the year, and it knows it. It has such a confident swagger as it follows Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton’s blood sucking lovers among the ruins of Detroit, the alleyways of Tangier and the rock music scene. Hiddleston and Swinton, who had herself a great year, are both superb, as are John Hurt and Mia Wasikowska in supporting roles. It also contains quite possibly the best ending shot of any film this year.
There might not be a more important film this year than “Selma,” which makes me all the happier that I was able to find it and be able to include it on this list. With all that is going on in the world, this powerful portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement speaks just as powerfully today as it ever has. Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo have combined to make a film worthy of Dr. King’s legacy, nearly perfect from the top to the bottom. In a year marred by tragedies like Ferguson, Eric Gardner and many others, “Selma” is a beacon to which we can all learn from.
In my review for “Nightcrawler” I called Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom a combination of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver” and Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street.” The more time goes by however, the more Bloom separates himself as a wholly original and frightening character and certainly one of, if not the best characters to come out of 2014. Not to go unnoticed are great turns from Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed and a fantastic debut from Dan Gilroy, but “Nightcrawler” is a seedy, unnerving and brilliant thrill ride due to Gyllenhaal’s fabulous portrayal of Bloom.
5. The Skeleton Twins
It’s been a pretty good year for SNL alumni. Chris Rock is getting the best reviews of his career for “Top Five” and Bill Murray is a Golden Globe nominee for “St. Vincent.” But the best film from former SNL cast members was “The Skeleton Twins” starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. It was always a delight to see these two in a skit together, and their chemistry continues here as two estranged siblings who are reunited as they each deal with personal issues. Bill Hader is a revelation though in this charming, hilarious but sincere look at sibling love.
4. 22 Jump Street
One of the biggest surprises for me this year at the movies was just how much I enjoyed “22 Jump Street.” “21 Jump Street” was fun and clever with great chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, and while I expected more of the same the second time around, I did not expect the whole team to raise the game like they did. Phil Lord and Chris Miller had one of the best years in film and made for my money the funniest film of the year. Tatum and Hill continue to be a perfect combination. Whether it’s a not so subtle wink at the ridiculousness of sequels or just a straightforward joke, “22 Jump Street” crushes it on all levels.
I really hope that Damien Chazelle doesn’t truly believe that hearing good job ruins an emerging talent because the kudos have been flying at him and deservedly so. Chazelle emerged as one of the industry’s most exciting young filmmakers with “Whiplash,” his tale of the abusive relationship between a jazz instructor and a drum prodigy, played brilliantly by J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller respectively. The film’s intensity increases with every beat of the drum, building to an incredibly final face-off between the two actors. I won’t say good job to Chazelle… great job.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Very few filmmakers are able to create a world like Wes Anderson can, and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is his biggest to date. It is also quite possibly his most beautiful and most enjoyable film. From the script to the decorations of Herr Mendel’s famous treats, everything about this is quintessential Anderson, exquisitely honed and precisely executed. The story of a man living in the wrong era and forced to fight against a changing world is magnificently brought to the screen by Ralph Fiennes, who may have surpassed Gene Hackman for best performance in an Anderson film, and accompanied by an outstanding ensemble (too many to list). “The Grand Budapest Hotel” will be a place I often revisit.
You can call it predictable. You can call it easy. I’m not the first or the last person who will likely put “Boyhood” at the top of their list for best film of 2014. But you can’t put any of those qualifiers on Richard Linklater’s masterpiece. That is what “Boyhood” is, a true cinematic masterpiece. From its well-told journey from idea to the big screen, to its wonderful performances from Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane, “Boyhood” is a sight to behold. But it is more than the sum of its parts. Linklater’s tale of growing up goes beyond the story of one boy, or mother or father. Rather it encapsulates more than a decade of culture, politics and small moments that nearly everyone can relate to in some way. “Boyhood” is a time capsule of the beginning of the 21st century, but at the end of the day, it is primarily a powerful and beautiful movie from a master filmmaker.