The year 2014 in the cinema world certainly had offered some great surprises and shocking disappointments. It is always tough to whittle down films that you truly like and choose them as the be-all and end-all best movies of the year. Some leave you thinking about it for days on end, while others are unmemorable and easily forgotten. It is impossible to see every single movie that would be consider as the best of the best in film for the year 2014. There are certain feature films for some reason or another that I couldn’t catch up by the time I finalized my list, but I would certainly do my best to play catch-up with those movies in 2015. Enough of this jibber jabber, here is the highlights for what the world of motion pictures had to offer in 2014.
Close, but no cigar: Before we get into my top ten films of the year, I have reserved this spot for five movies that nearly made the final cut. These five films deserve special kudos for being as great and memorable as the movies featured on my top ten list.
“The Babadook” – In her directorial feature debut, director-writer Jennifer Kent conjures up an atmospheric and moody horror film about motherhood and post-partum depression that is physically manifested courtesy of a creepy pop-up book. Essie Davis delivers a fantastic performance as a single mother who is haunted, along with her troubled son (Noah Wiseman) by a sinister creature that preys on the fears of its impending victims. Rather then relying on gore effects and jump scares to leave you traumatized, it is what left unseen in the film and a sense of ominous things to come that will make your skin crawl. “The Babadook” is now available On Demand.
“Ida” – Filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski (“The Woman in the Fifth”) works for the first time in his native country Poland for his latest film. Set in 1960s Poland and Germany where both countries are still haunted from the atrocities that occurred during World War II, a young Polish nun (Agata Trzebuchowska) on the verge of taking her vows is sent away from her convent to visit her only living relative (Agatha Kulesza). Trzerbuchowska, a non-professional actress Pawlikowski found waitressing in a local café, is a revelation as the novice nun who eventually discovers a dark family secret. Ryszard Lenczewski’s and Lukasz Zal’s beautiful black-and-white cinematography featuring some breathtaking composition shots.
“Inherent Vice” – Moviegoers might walk out of Paul Thomas Anderson’s seventh feature film a little confused about its convoluted plots and stories. However, it is a sprawling and ambitious 2 ½ movie that is a cross between “The Long Goodbye,” “The Big Lebowski” with a dash of certain elements from stoner flicks. Adapting from Thomas Pynchon’s novel set in 1970s Los Angeles, Anderson assembles an all-star production team and cast from cinematographer Robert Elswitt and composer Jonny Greenwood to great performances from an eclectic ensemble including Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and Martin Short. Phoneix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a drug-addled private detective entangled in a complicated plot that includes some heavy drugs, kidnapping and a presumed dead musician search for a missing, while Brolin plays Sportello’s adversary/friend in the form of a straight-laced Los Angeles police detective. “Inherent Vice” opens in South Florida theaters on January 9th.
“Life Itself” – This is a heartfelt and touching tribute to the life and times of renowned film critic Roger Ebert as director Steve James (who’s first documentary, “Hoop Dreams,” was championed by Ebert) recounts his extraordinary life from his love-hate relationship with Gene Siskel to his battles with cancer and the resulting physical disability. It is an inspiring and honest portrayal of the most influential film writer in film criticism. “Life Itself” makes its world television debut January 4 on CNN at 9 p.m. and will be available on home video February 17th.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” – This is not only director/writer Jim Jarmusch’s best film, but it might also be his most accessible film to date. It is a funny and unique take on the vampire genre that was mostly shot in a post-recession Detroit and features one hell of an ensemble that includes John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin and Jeffery Wright. As great as that cast is, Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton delivers superb performances as Adam and Eve, the coolest vampire duo to ever grace the big screen. A depressed underground musician (Hiddleston) reunites with his lover (Swinton), but their relationship is tested when her wild child of a sister (Wasikowska) comes by for a visit.
The Top 10 Movies of 2014
10) “A Most Violent Year” – J.C. Chandor is proving as a filmmaker that he can take on a variety of different genres whether it is high-stakes drama set on Wall Street in “Margin Call” or Robert Redford trying to survive on the ocean in his boat in “All Is Lost.” Chandor’s latest film channels some of the best elements of 1970s cinema including Bradford Young’s fantastic cinematography that evokes Owen Roizman’s and Gordon Willis’ work on “The French Connection” and “The Godfather.” Speaking of “The Godfather,” Oscar Isaac channels his inner Michael Corleone in a compelling performance as Abel Morales, an immigrant who has a lot to deal with including running his heating oil business, fending off attacks from his competition and dealing with federal investigation. Jessica Chastain delivers another top-notch performance as Abel’s wife, a manipulative and fierce, yet loving woman who will do anything to protect her family. “A Most Violent Year” opens in South Florida theaters January 30th.
9) “Gone Girl” – Director David Fincher and Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel is a perfect match for one another. With the help of Flynn as the screenwriter, Fincher crafts a fascinating and thrilling study of a marriage rotting from the inside and the power the media has in influencing readers and/or viewers. The film also features Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike at the top of their game as a middle-aged couple who experience a life-altering event that changes their perception of one another forever. “Gone Girl” is now available On Demand and it will be available on home video January 13th.
8) “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – While director-writer Wes Anderson’s latest film may be his most ambitious film yet and the biggest hit of his career thus far, but it is also his darkest movie. Using certain elements based on history, the movie is set in the imaginary war-torn Europe and recounts the adventures of a legendary concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and the lobby boy (Tony Revolori) who would become his most trusted friend. What makes the movie unique aside from its quirky humor and tremendous production design, the movie changes aspects ratios depending on what timeline the film is taking place. Fiennes’ role as Gustav F. is not only one of his best performances of his career, but it is the best performance to come from an Anderson movie since Gene Hackman in “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
7) “The Lego Movie” – On paper, it looked as though this animated feature would be nothing more than an hour-and-a-half commercial for Legos. Just like they did with their interpretation of “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street,” directors/writers Chris Miller and Phil Lord made a meta-infused, quirky and hilarious movie that feature an all-star cast that includes Chris Pratt as a simple-minded construction worker, Will Ferrell as a tyrannous businessman, Morgan Freeman as a crazy old wizard and Will Arnett as an egotistical Batman. The movie is filled with a ton of gags in each of its frame and brilliant twist in the third act that the movie in a different perspective.
6) “Snowpiercer” – This is the type of movie we need from our current and upcoming crop of blockbusters that are coming out of Hollywood: a film that is not afraid to be both an action-packed and intelligent cinematic adventure. Adapted from a French graphic novel, “Snowpiercer” takes place in a futuristic world where Earth has gone through a second Ice Age, killing millions. The survivors are left struggling to strive on a speeding bullet train that circulates the world. A class warfare occurs as a band of lower-class citizens rebel against the machine and battle their way from the back of the train to the front in order to spread the wealth around. This is an energetic and thought-provoking film that features amazing production design and an international all-star cast filled with stellar performances from Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill and Song Kang-Ho.
5) “Guardians of the Galaxy” – In director James Gunn’s boisterous film, a thief (Chris Pratt), an assassin (Zoe Saldana), a thug (Dave Bautista), a smartass raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a talking tree (voiced by Vin Diesel) band together to save their universe from a genocidal maniac (Lee Pace). The film has the benefit on its own without the use of endless references from others MCU movies. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously courtesy of several funny moments throughout the movie. “Guardians of the Galaxy” also has a fantastic soundtrack to boost, which includes 1970s tunes like the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” The Runaway’s “Cherry Bomb,” Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” and Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” resuscitated from pop culture obscurity after being featured in an episode of “Ally McBeal.”
4) “Under the Skin” – While she kicked some ass and taking names in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Scarlett Johansson played type of Black Widow in visionary British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer’s movie adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel. In this haunting and visceral sci-fi movie, an alien (Johansson) disguises itself as a beautiful woman to seduce unsuspecting Scottish men and lure them back to her lair where a horrifying fate awaits them. With his first film in nine years, Glazer (“Sexy Beast,” “Birth”) used unsuspecting participants and hidden cameras to create another terrific entry to his directing resume. Once the end credits begin, the unforgettable images and Mica Levi’s otherworldly, yet fantastic score from “Under the Skin” will leave lasting impressions on your mind.
3) “Whiplash” – R. Lee Ermey’s Gny. Sgt. Hartman from “Full Metal Jacket” has nothing on J.K. Simmons’ Andrew Fletcher in director/writer Damien Chazelle’s breakout film. The movie itself is about a promising talented young drummer (Miles Teller) at a music conservatory, who is mentored by a ruthless, foul-mouthed instructor (Simmons) who strives for perfection, even if it means leaving drumming until you bleed. It is an unforgettable movie that makes you feel like you have gone through the wringer with the main character. It also poses the question to the audience: is pushing someone to their full potential does more harm then good or does it make them better at what they do? “Whiplash” will be available on home video on February 3rd.
2) “The Raid 2” – Forget about all the action-packed blockbuster movies you’ve seen thus far whether it is shape-shifting robots or muscle-bound superheroes because this is a movie that all movie buffs who love action must see. This sequel to the Indonesian martial arts action flick, “The Raid: Redemption,” is an action masterpiece. You do not even have to see the previous film to understand what happens in this movie. An Indonesian cop (Iko Uwais) goes undercover in order to bring down a powerful crime syndicate and expose police corruption. At the runtime of two and a half hours, the time will fly by fast and furiously with tons of intriguing plot twists and memorable action sequences including a lengthy car chase and a climatic battle that take place in a kitchen.
1) “Boyhood” – This ambitious experimental film might be Richard Linklater’s masterpiece as he managed to take us on a journey through his main character’s adolescence in a way that no coming-of-age movie has ever done before. The movie follows the life of a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a little boy to a young man right in front of the eyes of moviegoers. Linklater was able to get the same actors (including Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the main character’s divorced parents) and shoot scenes with them over the course of 12 years. Linklater doesn’t show all of the important aspects of growing-up, but he gives viewers some of the quietist and subtle moments in life that we sometimes take for granted. “Boyhood” is now available On Demand and it will be available on home video on January 6th.
Honorable mentions: “Birdman,” “Blue Ruin,” “Citizenfour,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “Interstellar,” “The Overnighters,” “Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger”