Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Best Films of 2014 - At Last

Apologies for taking so long to post this, but in a way, my timing is appropriate. I just spent the weekend at the Ohio Science Fiction Marathon in Columbus, and that's fitting, because my list has a heavy sci-fi presence this year, with no less than four  films having sci-fi elements. It was also quite a year for Chris Evans and Jessica Chastain, who both placed two films in my list. 

  1. Interstellar: I head far too many "Yes, buts" regarding this knockout of an experience, which, with a little hindsight, will attain the appreciation it wholly deserves. Other films on this list may be more innovative or more daring, but no movie packed the emotional and visual punch this one did. Mr. Nolan is working on a higher plane than most directors.
  2. Boyhood: Like another film on this list, it's nothing less than Life Itself.
  3. Birdman: It's not just a navel-gazing movie about actors and their vanity. It's about how we all search for some form of redemption that we can find in ourselves if we only look hard enough. And with its "one take" trick, it's a blast just to watch.
  4. Whiplash: This movie rolled and snared its way into my brain, tapping into my nervous system like few other films have recently. The mind games it plays are nefarious, maddening, and richly satisfying.
  5. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Beneath the candy-colored sets and the shifting aspect ratios lies an emotional resonance that tells us the past wasn't always as good as we think it was - even while there's something to be said for nostalgia.
  6. Life Itself: Roger Ebert once said that the movies are like a giant empathy machine, and one of the main flaws in the world today is that too few people have it. That's the lesson that America's greatest critic left behind in the movie of his life.
  7. A Most Violent Year: It reminded me of nothing less than The Godfather II. That's pretty good company.
  8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Yes, in the top 10. It's right up there with the 70s paranoid thrillers (Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View) on which this movie modeled itself. I'm willing to bet that if this movie didn't have any spandex or visual effects showcases, it might have made more 10 best lists.
  9. Snowpierecer: Chris Evans again, in more of a reluctant hero mode in one of the wilder visual allegories I've ever seen: Civilization is not only on a train, it IS the train.
  10. American Sniper: Like The Hurt Locker, but better. And this HAD to resonate with me, consdering my brother is an American sniper.


The Second Ten. I would call this the "Honorable Mention" list, but that would sell these movies short. Each of these movies is well worth seeking out - or revisiting. In alphabetical order:

Chef: Nice to see Jon Favreau go back to his small-film roots. You'd better eat before seeing this, of you'll be munching on furniture.

Citizenfour: Seeing footage of Edward Snowden when he made his revelations is nothing less than astounding.

Gone Girl: Those who treat this strictly as a whodunit miss the point. It gives new meaning to the phrase, "You deserve each other."

Ida: The Holocaust seen at its most personal roots, with haunting black and white photography.

The Imitation Game: A too little-known story only serves as the bedrock for the kind of device I'm using to type this list, to say nothing of the millions of lives saved.

Inherent Vice: Paul Thomas Anderson's stoned detective comedy might be his loopiest film. It's the kind of unique ride that only he can drive.

Into the Woods: Best cast of the year, and simply flat-out entertaining.

Locke: Can you base an entire film around one man's journey that shows nothing but him behind the wheel of a car? You can if it's Tom Hardy.

Nightcrawler: In the news business, they say "If it bleeds, it leads." Jake Gyllenhaal twists that around into something truly macabre.

Selma: Like "Lincoln" before it, this movie decides not to focus not an entire life story, but a key chapter of it - and in so doing, gives us more than the essence of the man at its center.


The list of 10 very entertaining films that I couldn't quite place at the very top, but would gladly see again. In alphabetical order:

Begin Again
Big Hero Six
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The Fault in Our Stars
Fed Up
Hector and The Search for Happiness
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
The Lego Movie
The Railway Man