As everyone compiles their own retrospective lists looking back on the past year of film they may come to the conclusion that 2014 was lacking in some capacity. After all this was the year of disappointing sequels (“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” “300: The Rise of an Empire”), unnecessary reboots (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Transformers: Age of Extinction”), and lame, over-budgeted sci-fi action films that received way more attention than they deserved (“Transcendence,” “Lucy”).
However while skimming through over 100+ film ratings of the films seen in 2014, over 60 of them are worth seeing at least once and nearly 50 of those 60 films come highly recommended. But nobody really has time to read about that many worthwhile films and most individuals don’t have time to compile that sort of list this late in the year. So here are what this critic believes to be the top 14 films of 2014.
There are few really great films out there from this year that just barely didn’t make this list that deserve a mention. So here are some honorable mentions:
“A Walk Among the Tombstones”
“Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead”
“Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo”
“The Zero Theorem”
14. “X-Men: Days of Future Past”
Bryan Singer’s return to the “X-Men” franchise had a ton of hype, a massive amount of potential, and a ridiculous cast to play with. Not only is Singer’s return worthwhile, but he is able to piece together the most intricate storyline of the entire franchise that openly and unabashedly brings in elements from every “X-Men” film to date. While the action may be lacking at times, the storyline is extraordinary and the excitement for “Apocalypse” reaches the stratosphere because of it.
13. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
“The Winter Soldier” not only capitalizes on a solid introductory film to “The First Avenger,” but it is also a superhero film with an intelligent storyline and incredible action that seems to last nearly its entire 136-minute duration. There are plenty of teases for future Marvel films and characters in the film, but the bottom line is Bucky is awesome, we can’t wait to see Crossbones, and holy crap was that a Doctor Strange reference? Superhero films are only going to get bigger and more extravagant from here on out and if they’re as good as “The Winter Solider,” then we’re all in for some really fantastic trips to the movie theater.
After nearly missing out on this film’s original theatrical run, “Nightcrawler” lived up to every ounce of anticipation. The concept is fresh, unique, and just disturbing enough to keep you interested. An audience is drawn to graphic violence, dark subject matter, and shocking developments that aren’t expected. “Nightcrawler” takes advantage of that concept and highlights an individual attempting to break those types of stories before anyone else can. It’s about beating everyone else to the punch and being the best at it because of it. Jake Gyllenhaal’s gaunt appearance, lack of blinking like a normal person, eerie devotion to his craft, and heightened creepy behavior make his performance one of the best and most riveting of his career.
11. “Big Hero 6”
Speaking as a sucker for superhero films, comic books began as a huge companion that made growing up a bit more exciting. Completely unfamiliar with the source material, “Big Hero 6” has a sense of humor that seems to speak directly to the 80s and 90s generation. Baymax is hysterical and his chemistry with Hiro feels like the second most entertaining on-screen duo of the year (the first obviously being Groot and Rocket from “Guardians of the Galaxy”). Sometimes animated films just speak to you and “Big Hero 6” screams directly at the kid in you whether you’re actually still a kid or just one at heart.
10. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
As far as summer blockbusters go, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is what every film released during the season should aim for. The story is incredible, the cast is fantastic, and the special effects are extraordinary. Entertaining and an improvement on its superb predecessor, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a rare 2014 sequel that actually expands its cinematic universe in its sequel rather than rehashing what made the original (prequel/reboot/whatever) so great.
All anyone could talk about leading up to the release of “Fury” was that Shia LaBeouf really cut his face for his role in the film. Maybe that was for the best because David Ayer’s latest film gobsmacked viewers with an outstanding film about five men surviving in a tank throughout a serious chunk of World War II. The real kicker was that LaBeouf’s performance was damn good as was Brad Pitt’s, Jon Bernthal’s, and especially Logan Lerman’s. “Fury” made an incredible statement about devotion and comradery while being absolutely bleak in nature.
Filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has always been rather hit or miss with his films. The story will generally be something fairly simple while elements of his films will be fairly out there in execution and presentation. “Birdman” is a brilliant piece of filmmaking not only because of the outstanding performances from Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Emma Stone, but also because the film features unbelievably long one-take sequences that would impress Alfonso Cuaron. “Birdman” preaches a very strong message about acting, cinema, and Broadway. Whether you believe what Inarritu is going for or not is irrelevant. Dreaming of flying next to the clouds with the sun on your back and the wind in your face is something most, if not everyone, has experienced. “Birdman” presents that concept to its audience. How strong your ability to daydream affects how much you’ll enjoy the film.
7. “The Raid 2: Berandal”
Gareth Evans dismantled what we knew as fast paced action and revolutionized it with “The Raid.” “The Raid 2” only takes Evans presentation even further. The action sequences in this film will change the way you look at martial arts films and action films as a whole forever. Violent, jaw dropping, and chill-inducing, “The Raid 2” is without a doubt the best action film of 2014 and arguably the best action film to be released until “The Raid 3” comes along.
6. “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
As far as wide theatrical releases go, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is the animated film of the year. Keeping the relationship between Toothless and Hiccup in the front seat allowed the film to really enhance what made the first film so exceptional. The action and storyline are reminiscent and compared to the likes of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Drago’s army is built to unstoppable heights and yet the heroes find a way to overcome it. With daring animation that combined fantastic camera angles, incredible creatures, colorful movements, and breathtaking action sequences, “How to Train Your Dragon 2” set a serious high for the franchise. It will be interesting to see if a third film can live up to this excellent sequel.
5. “Ernest & Celestine”
Technically a late 2013 release that didn’t see release in the States until early 2014, “Ernest & Celestine” is a different kind of animated film. Based on a series of children’s books by Belgian author and illustrator Gabrielle Vincent, “Ernest & Celestine” is French animation that is slightly darker than most traditional animated American films. The appearance of the film is also extraordinary since everything appears to be done in beautiful watercolors. The dream sequences are vivid, terrifying, humorous, and extremely lucid. One sequence in particular is reminiscent of an old Chuck Jones animated short. Just a fantastic experience that everyone can enjoy.
4. “Edge of Tomorrow”
Perhaps the most underrated gem of this list is director Doug Liman’s sci-fi action epic that critics absolutely adored, but not many actually made it out to see. The film suffered from a seriously poor marketing campaign and even the home release changed the title of the film. Based on the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, “Edge of Tomorrow” is extremely intelligent and absolutely magnificent overall. It’s like a sci-fi version of “Groundhog Day” with explosive and awesome action.
Some have labeled this as one of the worst films of the year. Others were disappointed the king of the monsters was only prominently featured in the last half hour or so of the film. “Godzilla” was and still is some of the most fun to be had in a movie theater this year. Seeing it with a packed audience was one of the best, if not the best, theatrical experience of the year. The reactions were awesome, especially during the big climax once Godzilla finally defeated that final M.U.T.O. The opening credits are also a hell of a lot of fun to decipher on Blu-ray. With this franchise taking off along with “Pacific Rim” and now “Kong: Skull Island,” monster movies and kaiju in general have taken their proper place at the king of the mountain once again.
2. “Guardians of the Galaxy”
James Gunn’s venture into the Marvel cinematic universe was what sat at the top of this list the longest. It is the most fun anyone could have had in a movie theater this year. Seeing the film three times in theaters was more of a need than a want. The back and forth banter between the entire cast is just hysterical. There are so many incredible characters in this film that it’s difficult not to love them all, so it’s easiest to just give in and love every bit of this ragtag group of misfits that never should have been successful but defies all odds. It’s a statement about the most underrated underdogs getting a win for what seems and feels like the first time ever. The film is just so quotable and fun that you can’t help but love it.
While “Guardians” has the entertainment portion of going to the movies well covered, “Whiplash” has the strongest message. With a marvelous score and the performance of J.K. Simmons career that is this monstrous barrage of humor, terror, and harassment all rolled into one, “Whiplash” just speaks volumes for music. No film this year has a more satisfying conclusion either. Damien Chazelle crafts this musical monster into something extraordinary, beautiful, and completely consuming.