Now it’s time to celebrate those films that stood above all others to take their rightful spots on the list of best films of 2014. There may not have been an over-abundance of films to choose from like last year, but there were still enough to put together a list of ten great films to represent what a fine year in cinema 2014 has been. As with many years, the order was very hard to put together. Aside from my #1 pick, you could really arrange most of these great films in many ways and you’d be right, but just like with my worst films list, the order of the majority of the list shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Anyways, enough talking about it. Let’s dive right in.
10. Boyhood – Richard Linklater’s incredible 12-year project about a young man, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), growing up from age 5 to 18 has already earned significant praise from critics all over the country and, at the moment, is a clear favorite to take the Best Picture Oscar next year. This is a very hypnotic film that pulls you into this young man’s journey as he experiences what it’s like growing up in an ever-changing atmosphere. Living with his mother and sister, he has the misfortune of having to move several times and having to put up with two stepdads in a row that turn out to be alcoholics, but it also celebrates the good times he has hanging out with his real dad (Ethan Hawke), making friends, and discovering what it is he wants to do with his life. The only reason this isn’t further up the list is because I’ve found that the second half isn’t quite as great as the first half, making it feel like the film drags on a little too much as we wait for the next significant development. Plus, parts of the story felt like they weren’t handled as well as they could have been, but all of that aside, this is still an amazing film that easily qualifies as one of the year’s best.
9. Wild Tales – Of all the films on this list, this is the one that most people will probably never have heard of. This Argentinean film is exactly what the title implies, a collection of tales that are incredibly wild. They don’t have anything to do with each other except for the fact that they are very unusual, entertaining, engrossing, and often hilarious. As each new zany story builds and builds, it leaves the viewer transfixed in anticipation as to what could possibly happen next, with tales that range from two drivers having a confrontation on the side of the road to a wedding that goes from bad to worse to unbelievable. It doesn’t open in the US until February, but be sure to keep a look out for it.
8. Edge of Tomorrow – Ever wonder what would happen if you took the premise of “Groundhog Day” and mixed it into an action film? You’d end up with something along the lines of the wildly-entertaining “Edge of Tomorrow,” a film that uses the premise in a very intelligent manner to tell the story of a military spokesman (Tom Cruise) who is suddenly thrown into a war against aliens trying to take over the planet. Like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” Cruise finds himself jumping back to the same point in time over and over again, which happens to be right before a major battle with the aliens. With each new attempt, he must find the best way to ensure that he and a fellow soldier (Emily Blunt) survive the battle so that they can take on one of the alien leaders and end the war. What sets this action film apart from others is that it doesn’t merely inundate you with endless action scenes, but rather gets you engaged in the story by focusing on the various attempts to complete their mission. The finale may be a free-for-all shoot-em-up, but given that that’s what the whole film is leading up to, it’s hardly surprising. Basically, this is a more intelligent action film made for those who are looking for something more than just explosions and gunfire. Simply put, it’s one of the better films of the genre that’s come along in a while.
7. Life Itself – An outstanding documentary focusing on the late, great Roger Ebert, whose influence put me right here where I am today. The film is a fascinating exploration of his life and career, showing us how he got his start and going right through to his battle with cancer, eventually concluding in his death just last year. There may not be a lot to learn for people who, like me, have followed his career for many years, but it’s still a magnificent celebration of his amazing life and how he helped shape the field of film criticism.
6. Jodorowsky’s Dune – Many people know of the bizarre filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, the man behind such films as “El Topo,” Santa Sangre,” and “The Holy Mountain,” but what some may not know is that, around the mid-70s, he planned an epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal science-fiction novel “Dune.” This fascinating documentary explores how he went about putting it together, including hiring such designers as H.R. Giger and Dan O’Bannon, and casting a scintillating collection of actors for roles in the film, including Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, and David Carradine. Ultimately the project never came about due to studios being unwilling to take a chance on Jodorowsky himself, but this film gives you a pretty good idea of what parts of it might have been like had he gotten the chance to make it. In the great tradition of documentaries about filmmaking (“Lost in La Mancha,” “Hearts of Darkness,” etc.), “Jodorowsky’s Dune” is an engrossing exploration of artistry and just how difficult it is to bring a director’s vision to life.
5. Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut starts off a little repetitive in its first half as it tells the story of a young man (Jake Gyllenhaal) trying to make money by selling sensational footage of accidents to news outlets, but it quickly builds into a tense thrillride that grabs you and doesn’t let go. The film is made all the better by an extremely creepy, yet outstanding, performance from Gyllenhaal as this man who is willing to do anything, with seemingly no moral objections, to get the footage he needs. The story may be a little simple, but it’s told so incredibly well, and with such intense commitment from Gyllenhaal, that you can’t help but be pulled into this dark world and transfixed on each developing event.
4. The Imitation Game – Morten Tyldum’s biopic about Alan Turing’s efforts to break the Nazi Enigma code during World War II starts off a little slow in its first half, but when it gets going, it really hits its stride, delivering a thrilling story and a brilliant performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, who can surely look forward to his first Oscar nomination next year. This could have been a standard biopic, but thanks to Cumberbatch, as well as an outstanding turn from Keira Knightley, it’s raised to a higher level, one that will more than likely result in a Best Picture nod, among others, very soon.
3. Snowpiercer – Bong Joon-ho’s film about a band of survivors on a train in a future apocalypse is straight-up entertaining, but with a twist of class commentary that makes it more than just a brainless action film. The basic premise has those in the back of the train (the rundown, lower class section) trying to make their way to the front (the upper class, privileged section). Along the way, we are treated to a plethora of fascinating environments, with each new car being like a trip into another world. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and leaves you with a great sense of anticipation as our heroes make their way to the front of the train, where we can only imagine what awaits them.
2. X-Men: Days of Future Past – “X-Men: First Class” was a brilliant reboot for a franchise that some had felt was on the verge of collapse, taking us back to the beginning and starting off fresh with a thrilling story of how the X-Men first came together, resulting in one of the best films of 2011. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” delivers exactly in the way a sequel should, upping the stakes by telling a story that involves a future where mutants are hunted down by sentinels, leaving only a small group of survivors. In an effort to change the past that led to this devastating outcome, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to 1973, where he must convince a disillusioned Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) to help him stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the inventor of the sentinels (Peter Dinklage), which were originally created out of fear of the mutants. Easily the year’s best blockbuster, this sequel is thrilling and emotional as it continues to dig into the characters, making for a gripping and wildly-entertaining film that confirms without a doubt that the series is on the exact path it should be, a path that it will hopefully continue on as we anticipate the next great entry in the franchise.
1. Birdman – Where to begin in describing the brilliance of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman?” The premise is somewhat simple in that it follows a washed-up actor, Riggan (Michael Keaton,) who is trying to become relevant again by starring in a play on Broadway that he has also written and directed. Of course, such a story would be incomplete without the chaotic drama that surrounds such a production, including having to replace one the actors at the last minute with one that seems like a godsend (Edward Norton) and the presence of Riggan’s daughter (Emma Stone), whom he doesn’t have the best of relationships with. Made to look like one continuous shot, this is a thoroughly engrossing film that viewers will hardly be able to turn away from, filled with outstanding performances from the entire cast. Also boasting incredible technical achievements, including fantastic direction from Inarritu, stunning cinematography from Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity”), and excellent editing, “Birdman” easily glides to the top of the pile to earn the title of best film of 2014. You can be sure that multiple Oscar nominations (and wins) will follow in the new year.
Also be sure to check out my list of The Worst Films of 2014.
Recent Theatrical Reviews: Unbroken, Into the Woods
Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: The Skeleton Twins, Lord of Illusions, Magic in the Moonlight, Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Seven, Guardians of the Galaxy, Natural Born Killers, What If, The November Man, 22 Jump Street, Jersey Boys, Dolls, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Extended Edition), Maleficent, Hercules (2014), Kingdom of Heaven: Ultimate Edition
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