2014 was a pretty good year in the way of movies. I have to admit that I did not see as many this year as I wanted to and I’m sure once I see those few stragglers, this list will probably change. For now, I’ve complied a list of the best films to come out in 2014 that I’ve actually had a chance to see and then some films I still have yet to see but plan on playing catch up in the next couple months. Enjoy!
- The Babadook
Jennifer Kent’s feature film directorial debut is an exceptional horror film centered on a mother Amelia (the spectacular Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). After losing her husband in a car crash on the way to the hospital to deliver Samuel, Amelia has raised her 8 year old from what seems like an emotional distance. Samuel clearly has behavioral issues (his mother’s nightly monster check only the tip of the iceberg). At the beginning of the film she comes across as though she’s just going through the motions. But after picking out a picture book to read one night to Samuel and things only begin to get worse. The book tells the tale of a creature called the Babadook, whom Samuel realizes right away is dangerous and despite his pleadings to his mother to not let him in, she writes him off until the evidence is too obvious for her to ignore.
The film is at moments absolutely terrifying and at others heartbreakingly real. Despite the horror that does indeed horrify, the story itself is about the struggle of a mother’s grief and how she needs to get past it in order to care for her son. The Babadook is steeped in real world sadness and haunted by one of the most terrifying monsters I’ve ever seen on film.
- Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch is an acquired taste. Only Lovers doesn’t have much in the way of plot. Two millennia old vampire lovers Adam and Eve, Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton respectively, become reunited after years apart spending time wandering the streets of Detroit, where Adam lives in his mansion filled with music relics from centuries past, and the winding, European city of Tangier. Their lover’s reunion is sullied by Eve’s sister, Mia Wasikowski, who drops by and causes more trouble than she’s worth. Despite the lack of plot, the film carries itself on mood alone. Their history as centuries old lovers and the history of their respective cities almost speaks for itself. They are what’s left of their kind, and their loneliness permeates the film, but their love for each other is the only thing worth holding on to anymore. Despite the film’s meandering nature, as soon as the film finished, I wanted to start it all over again.
- The Lego Movie
Some may laugh at my choice, but The Lego Movie was easily the funniest film that came out all year. Pre-Guardians fame Chris Pratt voices Emmett, a regular Lego construction worker who finds out he is the “special,” the one guy in LEGOLAND who can save their people from the evil Lord Business and restore their town. With an incredible voice cast and jokes for adults and kids all around, this family film made me laugh far more than I thought I would. Will Arnett as Batman and Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius were highlights for me, especially Arnett as he provided the most laughs throughout the film. Since I live with my 4 year old nephew, it is no surprise I’ve seen this movie more than all the ones on this list combined and I can assure you – it only gets better upon multiple viewings. Also I dare you to watch this movie and NOT get ‘Everything is Awesome’ permanently stuck in your head.
- Life, Itself
Back in September, my brother and I watched this documentary about the life and death of Roger Ebert when we were visiting a friend in LA. I am not an avid watcher of documentaries, but I was excited to see a film about Roger Ebert as he represents one of the best film critics of our time. My passion for films did not prepare me for how heartbreaking this film turned out to be. Roger Ebert was a staple of American film culture. He was brilliant and very opinionated, and not shy about expressing those opinions especially to his career partner in crime Gene Siskel. His love-hate relationship with Gene characterized a lot of film as well as Ebert undying love for his wife Chaz Ebert. His relationship with Chaz was part of Ebert’s story that I didn’t know much about beforehand and it was that relationship that really affected me the most when watching the film. Roger’s love for Chaz and his love for movies never faded after becoming sick and his legacy will live on for decades to come.
Bong Jon Ho’s dystopian thrill ride is unlike any film I’ve seen before. After a failed climate control experiment, what’s left of Earth’s population has boarded a train encircling the frozen tundra that has blanketed the entire world. Those who couldn’t get a ticket or arrived on the train last get stuck in the caboose while the rest of the passengers enjoy the copious amenities provided closer to the engine at the front of the train. Chris Evans leads a group of lower-class citizens on a mission to the front of the train so they can spread the wealth to everyone on the train. Class warfare ensues. The sprawling expanse of the train is extraordinary and as they travel to their destination, the corrupt nature of the train’s system is revealed. One of the things I loved about the film was how often it surprised me. Tilda Swinton’s performance was delightful as a hate filled, holier than thou upper management drone who becomes an unwilling pawn in their race to the front.
- Gone Girl
Gone Girl is the type of story that takes a crafty director to make the plot and its subsequent major twist work well on screen. David Fincher’s adaptation of the bestselling Gillian Flynn novel was hypnotizing, thanks not only to Fincher but the soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Having never read the book, I went into the movie not knowing what to expect. The experience was shocking to say the least. After Amy goes missing leaving nothing but a blood trail and diary in her wake, Nick Dunn is tossed into a media frenzy desperate to paint him as a murderer. What follows is an enthralling look at our media culture and it’s obsession with speculation about what went on behind closed doors, without any regard to the person’s life they are tearing apart. I won’t give away the twist to those who haven’t seen the film yet, but needless to say it’s a doozy.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s impressive film Birdman has re-launched Michael Keaton back into stardom. Donning his first superhero costume since Batman in 1989, Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a washed out actor who once fronted the Birdman superhero franchise. In an effort to get back his career and the respect he once garnered, he decides to boldly write, direct and star in a revival of the classic play “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” The film is darkly comedic, garnering excellent performances from Zack Galifianakis, Emma Stone and (especially) Edward Norton. Inarritu immerses you in this theater world and once this ride begins you don’t want it to stop. I felt like I was caught in one never-ending jazz riff, at times sad and melancholy and conversely upbeat and bouncy. This thrill ride of a movie occasionally lost me in its whirlwind, but no matter what I always fell back in step with his infectious and comedic tone. Michael Keaton has always been an incredible actor and this performance is one of his best; he couldn’t have hoped for a better kick start to his career. Even if the film isn’t your taste, the incredible camerawork alone deserves our admiration.
Nightcrawler is a tough film for some to watch. Jack Gyllenhaal, at his career creepiest, plays Louis Bloom, a sociopathic, but extremely driven loner who stumbles upon his calling late at night after a nasty car accident on the LA freeway. Discovering a talent he can put to good use, Lou begins chasing after bloody and violent accidents by the cover of night so he can sell his footage to the local morning news. As things begin to stagnate and not move quickly enough for his taste, Lou begins staging accidents in order to get ahead of the competition. While the film itself has a bit of a shaky plot and certain elements don’t work for me (Rene Russo’s character confuses me the most), Gyllenhaal is at his absolute career best. After shedding pounds off of his already wiry frame, he slips insides Lou’s skin, with his bulging, constantly shifting eyes and crisp, matter of fact tone that sounds more like a recording of a person than an actual human being. The tension and atmosphere of the film is enthralling and once you get caught in Lou Bloom’s gaze, it feels as though there’s no line he wouldn’t cross to get ahead.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s most sprawling epic and arguably his best film yet, is a thrill ride of whimsy. Ralph Fiennes, in one of his most enigmatic performances to date, is M. Gustave, a concierge as one of Europe’s most popular hotels– in its time between the world wars. Not only is Budapest fun and fanciful, which is to be expected with Anderson’s films, but the time in which it takes place truly feels like another world altogether. It is a story about how time affects us all. Despite Gustave’s magical life in the hotel and his sprawling adventures, time wipes him from history in the end, just like it will do for all of us and this sprinkling of reality is what really sets Budapest apart from Anderson’s other films.
- How to Train Your Dragon 2
Yesterday, to start off the New Year, my family and I decided to watch my nephew’s new movie from Christmas. After having seen and loved the first Dragon movie, I was so excited for the second one. Hiccup and his friends have grown up and as a result this film is a bit more mature than its predecessor. (Perhaps that’s why my nephew had no interest in this one.) Hiccup is faced with a lot more obstacles this time around – finding out his mother is alive and then losing his father almost as quickly – but he has a better understanding of who he is becoming as a man. He discovers what it means to take responsibility for the protection of his home – including the people and dragons housed on their cliff by the sea. Our villain this time around is Drago, a man so tormented by losing his arm to a dragon that he decides to capture all the dragons to be under his control. Hiccup and his father Stoick have different opinions on how to deal with Drago and ultimately he realizes his father’s mantra to protect the home is what he ends up doing at the event of his father’s untimely death. The voice acting is superb, namely Cate Blanchett as his new found mother Valka and an unrecognizable Kristen Wiig as his friend Tuffnut is the source of the most of the laughs this time around. As a kid’s movie, Dragon 2 is about standing up for what you believe in and not backing down but I know plenty of adults who could learn from that lesson as well.
To See in 2015:
- Mr. Turner
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Love is Strange
- Two-Days, One Night
- Force Majeure
- Under the Skin
- The Immigrant
- Listen Up Phillip