I feel so late to the party in naming off my favorite films of 2014. It was a tough list to make, because there were a lot of movies I genuinely enjoyed, and still so many I wanted to see before making it. Just to be clear, this is a list of my personal favorite movies from last year, it’s not a list of the best or most critically acclaimed movies. They are all films that personally resonated with me for one reason or another, and they are all ones I have already revisited multiple times, or am planning to watch again and again. So before you condemn me for not having acclaimed favorites like Boyhood on here (I’ve seen it on almost every top 10 list I’ve read), it’s not because I didn’t appreciate it or because I can’t recognize great achievements in filmmaking, it’s just that it’s not something I feel I would watch more than once. So let’s get on with it, then!
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cast: Jason Clarke, Keri Russell, Andy Serkis, Toby Kebbell, Gary Oldman
This movie stuck out in my mind for being a well made summer blockbuster with a lot of heart, as well as rare proof that not all sequels and reboots are terrible. It has stunning effects with motion capture technology and a story laden in harsh, realistic truths. It shows that violence begets violence, that prejudices lead to bad decisions, and that evil exists on every side. In this way, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes manages to capture the same intelligence that made the original film so great. It’s entertaining, emotional, and a promising addition to a successful rebooted franchise. Full review.
9. Only Lovers Left Alive
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright
A humanizing twist on the vampire genre, Jim Jarmusch created two wonderful vampire characters that put Bella and Edward to shame. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are amazing to watch as Adam and Eve–two immortal beings bound by a never ending love–who try to make the best of eternity through their passion for the arts, while dealing with the disappointment in the evolution of society and the decaying world around them. The sets, the music, and the use of lighting help to create a moody, melancholic world, one that is beautiful and strange in its own way, but a perfect fit for the tone of the film. It’s also nicely balanced in that it is both funny and sad at all the right times. It’s a movie that touched the far reaches of my soul, as I couldn’t help but fall in love with this perfect match of characters. Full review.
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan
The star studded cast is just one of the many things to enjoy about Wes Anderson’s latest film. Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori are a delightful pair as concierge Gustave H. and lobby boy Zero. They are joined by plenty more interesting characters, some that are merely cameos, but memorable all the same. The chameleon of an actress, Tilda Swinton, is one such cameo as an old woman who is murdered and leaves behind a priceless painting for her confidant and lover, Gustave H., resulting in her son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), to frame Gustave for the murder. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a funny, quirky adventure, as well as a sad symbol of a time when humanity was on the verge of a world war, a time when things of luxury would soon disappear and the world would tumble into chaos. Gustave and Zero are a light in a dark time, and a duo I’ll likely never get tired of watching. Full review.
7. The Guest
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Sheila Kelley, Brendan Meyer, Leland Orser, Lance Reddick
It’s difficult for me to find anything to not like about this movie. Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the minds behind the hit horror film You’re Next, bring us a really fun action/thriller/horror/dark comedy that features one of the best movie soundtracks of 2014. Dan Stevens headlines the film as David, a discharged soldier who visits the family of a friend who was killed in action and wins them over with his blue eyes and polite southern charm, but it doesn’t take long for the daughter (Maika Monroe) to figure out David is hiding a dark secret from them. The Guest is, in a lot of ways, a very self-aware throwback to ’80s action and horror movies, and that retro feel creates this enjoyable, stylish atmosphere. Along with the deliberate genre mixing, everything works incredibly well in making this a stand out film that I wouldn’t be surprised would become a cult classic some day. Full review.
6. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Director: Alejandro González Iñarritu
Writers: Alejandro González Iñarritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough
Birdman is such an impressive film, and not just in the way that it was shot–it was shot and edited to look like one continuous take–but also in the story and the performances. It acts as a satire about show business and a social commentary about what people consider real art and what isn’t, and it also shows the way the business gets inside people’s heads. Michael Keaton delivers an amazing performance as Riggan, a washed up actor who once knew fame from playing a superhero named Birdman, but now is struggling to make himself relevant again by putting on a Broadway show. He receives a lot of criticism for trying to be a “true actor” instead of a “celebrity,” and the bulk of this criticism comes from his alter ego–Birdman. The film balances tragedy and humor, as well as realism and fantasy extremely well. There’s so many great performances from all of the actors, which is even more impressive knowing that they had to memorize and perform such long takes at a time without screwing up. Aside from the actors, the direction by Iñarritu and the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is fantastic, and the score is simple and perfect. This is definitely one of the best films of 2014 and deserving of its awards nominations and wins. Full review.
5. Gone Girl
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Gillian Flynn
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Neil Patrick Harris
Gone Girl is one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen in a while, probably due to the fact that Gillian Flynn being both the author of the book and the screenwriter. It’s a sin that this movie wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Gone Girl tells the story of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a man who is suspected of murder when his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears. There’s more to the story than just being a murder mystery, though. This is one of the best examples of how the media can influence people. The media turns the spotlight on Nick and, in search of a good story, shows him in a not-so-innocent light. I was blown away by the book, and when I heard that none other than David Fincher was going to direct the movie, I was more than hopeful. I was not disappointed, because Fincher managed to make a wonderful, suspenseful and faithful adaptation and was the perfect pick of a director to maintain the darker tone of the story. Along with some great performances by the cast, especially Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, and a hauntingly beautiful score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Gone Girl is one of the most compelling movies of the past year. Full review.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan
There’s a ton of fun to be had with Guardians of the Galaxy. The soundtrack is amazing, the cast is perfect, and the humor is right on point. There was a lot of negativity surrounding the release of a movie featuring a team of superheroes no one knew anything about. Not to mention, two of those heroes are a raccoon and a tree. It was one of Marvel’s biggest gambles in recent years, and one of their most successful. Turns out, we needed a fresh new team of superheroes to brighten the mood and remind us that not everything has to be dark and gritty to be meaningful. The visual effects are gorgeous, the story is light-hearted and enjoyable, and the action is well paced. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot are a most welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the most fun entertainment I’ve experienced at the theater all year. I can’t wait to see where their story will go and how they’ll fit into the expanding universe. Full review.
Director: Dan Gilroy
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed
Jake Gyllenhaal is amazing as Louis Bloom, a sociopath who takes it upon himself to become a “nightcrawler,” a guy who goes out at night and gathers footage of crime scenes and sells the footage to the highest bidding news station, in this case, that would be Nina (Rene Russo), a producer not afraid to cross the line in showing the bloodiest footage she can get her hands on. Nightcrawler shows how the media can be dark and relentless in trying to get the best story and achieve the highest ratings. Bloom is absolutely nuts, but the unethical things he does is only positively reinforced by people like Nina, who encourage him to continue what he’s doing. The script is so well-written, and the story is totally character driven, but there’s also some action involved, specifically towards the end when Bloom is involved in a car chase in his sleek, red Dodge Charger. The cinematography and the score work so well together, making the film absolutely mesmerizing and entertaining at the same time. It’s a darkly humorous movie and I was amazed when I realized how much I loved it while walking out of the theater.
2. The Raid 2
Director: Gareth Huw Evans
Writer: Gareth Huw Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Very Tri Yulisman, Cecep Arif Rahman
I don’t know how to even begin to describe how much I love The Raid 2. I am the biggest Raid fan girl that I’ve ever known. I took a 2 hour train ride into New York City just to see this movie on opening night, because I had waited so long for it and couldn’t wait for it to (maybe) come to theaters near me. That trip was worthwhile, though, because this movie proved to be even more entertaining and bad ass than the first movie. This sat at my #1 all year long, until another film just happened to barely slip past it. Iko Uwais is captivating as Rama, the bad ass martial artist/cop who is out to avenge his brother’s murder. He goes undercover for a local crime boss by becoming close with his son (Putra). He encounters plenty of worthwhile bad guys, including a baseball bat wielding (Yulisman) and hammer wielding (Estelle) sibling duo, and a ruthless assassin (Rahman). The fight choreography in this film is some of the best I’ve ever seen. This movie takes the action genre and turns it over on its head, and some other smart action movies are following suit (i.e. John Wick). There’s no weird angles or close-up shots of fists and feet or too quick of cuts to make it look like stuff is actually happening, when in fact, it isn’t. It’s just pure, hard-hitting action with some of the most skilled fighters in the world. I absolutely love this movie, and I can’t say it enough. Full review.
Director: Damien Chazelle
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist
No other movies of 2014 made me feel as tense as Whiplash did. I love this movie because the plot is so simple and yet has this grand message of what it means to be truly great. How is greatness achieved? Does it come natural to most people who have achieved it? Or was it because there was someone behind them the whole way pushing them to their limit? Miles Teller plays Andrew, an aspiring jazz band drummer who is pushed by his instructor, Fletcher (Simmons), to the point of exuding actual blood, sweat and tears. Simmons is both scary and darkly humorous with his screaming and over-the-top insults. Is he truly a terrible person, though? The ending leaves this question open to interpretation. Teller does an awesome job, his drum skills are exhilarating, even if Simmons’ character doesn’t quite think so. He is able to really exhibit the determination it takes to be a great musician, and the desperation to impress his mentor. You feel sympathy for him, but at the same time, wonder how anyone could willingly put themselves through such abuse just for the approval of one man. The cinematography and the editing are worth noting here, because they work together to create the most tense atmosphere inside and even outside of the film, I swear it actually physically affected me. Whiplash is an astonishing film, and I’m glad it’s getting all the recognition it deserves. Full review.
Honorable Mentions (there’s a lot of them):
The Babadook – Probably the best horror film of 2014.
Big Hero 6 – Fun Marvel animated movie, and Baymax is adorable.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Great action, smart spy thriller, and it’s Marvel, need I say more?
Edge of Tomorrow – Intelligent and entertaining blockbuster, and Emily Blunt is a bad ass.
I Origins – Very unique, small-budget sci-fi with a lot of heart.
The Imitation Game – Great biopic of a great man, Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing is perfect.
John Wick – Breath of fresh air into the action genre, more hard hitting and entertaining than most junk Hollywood comes out with, and I love Keanu Reeves in it.
Killers – Captivating and violent, it’s hard to look away from this stylish Indonesian thriller.
The Lego Movie – Because everything is awesome.
Life Itself – Interesting look into the life of Roger Ebert, a man I always admired, but this also reminded me that I’ll never be as good as him. Sad face.
Snowpiercer – Gorgeous set designs, well-balanced with social commentary, weird violence, and unforgettable characters. Also, Tilda Swinton, again.
Starred Up – Emotional British prison drama and Jack O’Connell is an extremely impressive talent.
Under the Skin – Scarlett Johansson as an alien seducing men, it’s weird, it’s beautiful, and it’s one of the better independent films of 2014.
X-Men: Days of Future Past – It’s hard not to have fun with both the old and new X-Men cast together, so many talented actors in one place.
The Zero Theorem – I love most of Terry Gilliam’s movies, and despite popular opinion, I thought this was an intriguing story interweaving themes of society, religion and technology. Also, I love Christoph Waltz.