Friday, January 2, 2015

The Top 10 Movies of 2014

Family, friendship, and the struggle to find oneself's place in the world were the big themes on my list this year. Looking back the year might not have offered me the clear winner to top the list (I gave out no perfect score for any film this year), but it still offered a solid list of ten movies worth noting and celebrating. As always, I tried to see as much as possible but there are a few films, most notably Whiplash and Gone Girl, which eluded me. Others like Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, and American Sniper won't release in my home market in 2014 (and which I was unable to view and/or review before the publishing of this list) are also not included (although you might see a couple of them turn up in my mid-year list of Best Movies of 2015 So Far next year). Enough with what didn't make the cut, here is my list of the Top Ten Movies of 2014.

10. Wes Anderson's Wacky Adventures of the Concierge and Bellboy

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson delivers his usual quirky tale this time centered around the unlikely pairing of an aging concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and inexperienced bellhop (Tony Revolori) and their misadventures involving a painting, a terrific chase sequence, and a Mexican standoff in the middle of the beautiful hotel that gives the film its name. Although I took some issue with the framing of the film, once the story began in earnest I was hooked. Given the movie's offbeat nature Fiennes is likely to go unnoticed for his fine performance but his character's big heart is what grounds the film as he takes the young boy under his wing and does his best to make sure no harm ever comes to him.

Now on Blu-ray and DVD.

9. Heroes

Big Hero 6

2014 offered three extremely good super-hero films worthy of notice but I could only manage enough space for a single entry on this list. Narrowly beating out both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy is Disney's Big Hero 6 which centers around a group of young geniuses turned super-heroes after the tragic death of one of their own. With strong themes of loss, family, and the how they can effect a young man (be him genius or not) Big Hero 6 leads with its heart which is never more evident than the character's marshmallow-like robotic friend doing all that he can to ease the boy-genius' suffering. While Winter Soldier may have been more dramatic and Guardians provided a couple of the year's most memorable characters, Big Hero 6's heart earns it a spot on the list.

Now in theaters.

8. Everything is Awesome

The LEGO Movie

Hollywood has certainly never shied away from giving us movies about toys but rarely has it resulting in anything as awesome as The LEGO Movie. The second animated feature on the list offers the misadventures of unremarkable construction worker Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) who finds his true place in the universe simply by being in the right place at exactly the right time. Likely to appeal more strongly to those who grew-up with LEGOs, Emmet's journey is marvelously rendered with both practical and CGI photography giving life to the LEGO world. Throw in an ass-kickin' chick (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), an 80's astronaut (Charlie Day), and the ridiculously cute Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) and you have all the pieces necessary to build one of the year's best films.

Now on Blu-ray and DVD.

7. Up, Up and Away


Michael Keaton's career has been a rocky one but 2014's Birdman (which has some fun at the actor's expense over his time as Batman) is one of the highlights. A struggling celebrity on the downside of his career attempting to do theater in New York to prove something not just to himself and his critics but also the haunting voice of his super-hero alter-ego whose voice still haunts him, Birdman is certainly one of the year's most memorable experiences. Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, and Zach Galifianakis offer strong supporting roles, but in the end the film rises and falls with Birdman himself in a movie that asks what happens when a super-hero retires?

Now in theaters.

6. There be Dragons

How to Train Your Dragon 2

The first year since 2005 without a release from Pixar finds three animated movies on the list. The last, and in my opinion best, is the sequel to 2010's enjoyable film about a Viking outcast (Jay Baruchel) and his unlikely relationship with a dragon. How to Train Your Dragon 2 continues to play on the themes of family reuniting Hiccup with his long-lost mother (Cate Blanchett) and leading the young warrior to finally find his place in the world by taking on the villainous Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou) who has his own plans for dragons. Still filled to the brim with odd characters, both human and dragon, the sequel proves to be more moving than the original forcing Hiccup to deal with real loss and hard choices which will define the man he will become.

Now on Blu-ray and DVD.

5. Music for the Soul

Begin Again

Writer/director John Carney finds just the right notes in this tale of a down-on-his-luck record label exec (Mark Ruffalo) and broken-hearted singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley). Not a romance in the classical sense, Begin Again offers a look at how a song (and the right friendship) can save two people struggling through both personal and professional setbacks. Buoyed by a terrific supporting cast including Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, Mos Def, and James Corden, Knightley and Ruffalo make sweet music together as their characters work together to record an album around New York City in an uplifting story that answers in the affirmative that a song can indeed save your life.

Now on Blu-ray and DVD.

4. The End of Privacy


Documenting Edward Snowdon's choice to leak classified documents detailing the lengths to which the United States Government went to in order to spy both on its own citizens and those around the world provides Laura Poitras with the material to craft a shocking and powerful documentary. Citizenfour examines the breadth of privacy concerns in the age we live in as well as the tough decisions which Snowden had to make and the consequences of his actions revealing the information to the public. And it gives audiences a film that demands attention and challenges the world to keep better watch on Big Brother in the future.

Still playing in select theaters.

3. A Sumptuous Feast


Writing, directing, and starring in a film about a disgraced chef who takes to the road with his estranged son (Emjay Anthony) and an old friend (John Leguizamo) after having a public breakdown following a social media war with a food critic (Oliver Platt), Jon Favreau delivers one of the tastiest treats of this year in this delectable film that's good to the last bite. Filled with great performances and sequence after sequence of mouth-watering food, with Chef Favreau delivers a personal journey of a man reconnecting with both his family and art in the most pleasant surprise of the year. Likely more personal than we'll ever know, Chef gives us a twelve-course meal that never disappoints while making some keen observations about criticism, the food industry (easily a stand-in for the movie industry), and demonstrating better than any film how social media can be used to great benefit and detriment in the right hands.

Now on Blu-ray and DVD.

2. 12 Years a Boy


Filmed over the course of 12 years, Richard Linklater's most ambitious project to date follows a young boy (Ellar Coltrane) from Kindergarten through his first day of college while examining his relationships with his divorced parents (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke), ideas of what makes a modern family, and the journey of a boy slowly becoming a man. Given its unusual creation (scenes where shot over the course of more than a decade between the actors' various other projects) the fact that Linklater delivers such a complete and engaging film makes Boyhood a marvel to behold.

Now on Blu-ray and DVD.

1. The Best Film of 2014

The Imitation Game

In a year without a clear-cut #1, any of the films in the top half of this list could have earned its top spot. After much internal debate I chose to go with director Morten Tyldum's look at the life of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his team who worked to break the Enigma code during WWII. Cumberbatch has never been better as yet another damaged genius whose lack of social graces nearly ruins the opportunity to prove himself while creating the grandfather of something we today refer to as computers. It might not be as innovative as Boyhood, as shocking as Citizenfour, or as heartwarming as Chef or Begin Again, but The Imitation Game delivers the most complete film of the year overflowing with top-notch performances which include Keira Knightley as the lone female member of the team to break the German code. Her role as Joan Clarke earns one of my favorite actresses one of the best performances of her career and two entries on my end of the year list for the first time. Delivering a film that's part character study, part spy thriller, and part historical drama Tyldum gives us the best film of 2014.

Now in theaters.

1 comment:

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Thanks for another great list this year. I always find several films I passed on and you keep reminding me that I need to see these gems so that I too, can praise them. Thanks for not going with the obvious choices.