My Top 10 Movies of 2014

Bucket of Popcorn With Movie Tickets

This was a landmark year for me in terms of media consumption. Last year was the first year that I saw enough new movies to even come up with a top ten list. This year, I was able to do that again and even have a hard time choosing a top ten because I had so many choices! I’m rightfully earning my film degree one movie at a time.

Without further ado, here’s my thoroughly unwarranted list for this year:

    10. We Are The Best! (NR; dir. Lukas Moodysson)—This nifty Swedish coming–of–age film was a discovery of my boyfriend’s. It’s the story of three thirteen–year–old girls who want to bring back punk by starting their own band. Whereas a lot of American films that deal with young teenagers tend to weight heavily, this film is charming and optimistic, a refreshing change of pace. Instead of portraying adolescence as a difficult time (which, don’t get me wrong, it totally is for most people), it chooses to show that growing up does have its lumps, but all is not lost and it’s still the last of your carefree years. (Available on Netflix US, DVD and Amazon Instant Video)
    9. Gone Girl (R; dir. David Fincher)—Yet another example of why it’s a good idea to go with the writer of the original source material as your screenwriter. Not that every novelist is also a screenwriter (far from it, and the two styles are worlds apart), but in my experience, writers of the source material who are also involved with the adaptation process tend to satisfy both the book lovers and the movie goers, avoiding most of the polarizing reviews of people who read the book and saw the movie or only saw the movie. Gillian Flynn is adept at telling a thrilling story involving an incredible twist with, almost literally, a ball–busting female antihero. And with David Fincher at the helm, there was no question that Gone Girl would make my top 10. I did not read the original novel myself, but I did flip through it in a bookstore and I understood immediately why the story structure in the film is set up the way it is. I’m definitely giving it a read in 2015, but in the meantime, seeing it in 2014 was a great experience. (Available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video)
    8. Snowpiercer (R; dir. Bong Joon–ho)—Currently, Hollywood is rife with dystopia. In the spirit of art imitating life, you don’t even have to turn off your TV to see that The Hunger Games are all too real. Snowpiercer isn’t necessarily fresh with its themes and there’s quite a few things that require stretching your suspension of disbelief to its breaking point (like the ending, for example), but it does so many other things so well that it almost doesn’t matter. Almost.

    In any case, the cast is stellar (Tilda Swinton tho), the fight scenes are engaging with a healthy dose of absurdity, and the next–to–last scene is gripping. This movie is definitely a case for paying more attention to Korean filmmakers. (Available on Netflix US, DVD/Blu–Ray and Amazon Instant Video)

    7. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent)—When William Friedkin, director of the scariest movie ever made, says that he’s “never seen a more terrifying movie,” you know you’re in for a treat. While I’d have to disagree with Mr. Friedkin, the fact remains that this Aussie flick is one of the most original and downright creepy horror movies to come out in recent years. Amid a slew of bullshit like Ouija and The Pyramid, gems like The Conjuring and The Babadook breathe fresh life into the horror scene and make risking $10 at the movies for a hit–and–miss–but–mostly–miss genre fun again. Boasting a great production design and electrifying performances from the two leads, The Babadook is a frightful exploration of someone’s darkest hour and the subsequent trauma. And did I mention that this is the feature–length debut of a female director? What’s to keep this movie off my top 10? (Available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video)
    6. Only Lovers Left Alive (R; dir. Jim Jarmusch)—The only other Jarmusch film I’ve seen is Midnight Train, and I found this movie to be similar in that it wasn’t so much about plot (there really isn’t a discernible one in either film) but about characters. As an added bonus, this movie has my favorite production design second only to my number 4 film for this year. Seriously, this movie is gorgeous. Taking place in India and Detroit, Michigan, this film is love and bloodlust transcending time and space. Adam and Eve (TILDA SWINTON THO) are such a joy to watch; Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt make grand appearances. Plus, Jack White’s childhood home makes a cameo. This film is a sure hit among long–time Jarmusch fans and newcomers alike. (Available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video)
    5. Boyhood (R; dir. Richard Linklater)—The sheer scope of this film warrants a place on my top 10, but its placement on here is due to the performances and my own resonance with the theme. Shot over the course of 12 years, Boyhood is a three hour journey following a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from childhood to his first day of college. And props to Patricia Arquette for delivering her first performance that didn’t annoy the hell out of me since Holes (2003).

    The story is a scrapbook of white middle class life to a T, which explains why I related to it so much, and it doesn’t bring very much that’s new or groundbreaking to the theme. Instead, it serves to reassure that we are all just trying to figure shit out and it’s okay. It’s a message that I needed to hear and it nailed the delivery. And the fact that is has a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 100 on Metacritic is certainly nothing to sneeze at, either. (Available on DVD/Blu–Ray and Amazon Instant Video)

    4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (R; dir. Wes Anderson)—This is the part where I tear up my degree: this is the first and only Wes Anderson movie I’ve ever seen. No, really. I don’t know how or why, either. All I know is that I’ve thoroughly seen the error of my ways and I’m working on improving my station right now. Good gracious, this movie is incredible. There is nothing about it that I don’t love. The pastel heaven set design, the incredibly sharp and witty dialogue, Ralph Fiennes, etc. I cannot wait to see what Anderson does next…along with what he’s done before. (Available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video)
    3. Birdman (R; dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)—Here is a movie made by and for artists. The film tackles the idea of struggling to make money with your craft versus being taken seriously as an artist, wondering why the hell they have to be mutually exclusive…and what being successful truly means. Michael Keaton gives one of the best performances of his career as an actor who played a superhero (OH HO HO), who is now directing and starring in a stage adaptation of a novel while struggling with temperamental actors, a druggie daughter who resents him for being so absent, and a certain central character from his past. If nothing else, see this for the cinematography alone; the use of long takes and extremely clever editing make it seem like the entire film is one continuous take. And if that’s not enough for you, stick it out for stellar performances by Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton and Emma Stone; and an incredible score by Antonio Sanchez that caused some controversy in the Academy recently. (Available on Amazon Instant Video)
    2. Inherent Vice (R; dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)—Technically this doesn’t come out for two more weeks, but I saw an advanced screening in Philly and I’m counting it for this year. As far as overall plot structure goes, there’s plenty of Incoherent Vice jokes to be made…and don’t worry, they’re there. There’s a Twitter account devoted to finding and retweeting the best ones. While the scenes in the movie don’t work well as a whole (owing to the fact that the protagonist is on drugs literally the entire time), each scene by itself makes sense, serving as a series of vignettes soaked in a haze of marijuana and 1970s West Coast aesthetic that make for my second favorite movie of the year. I’m a late bloomer when it comes to my other favorite Anderson director (I saw Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Hard Eight (1996) and Punch Drunk Love (2002) for the first time last month), but I can still fully appreciate the mastery of the craft this this dude possesses. Inherent Vice is hilarious (kudos, Josh Brolin and Martin Short), sexy, and engaging. Yet another novel I’ll need to catch up on in 2015. (Available in theaters near you on January 9, 2015)
    1. The Raid 2: Berandal (R; dir. Gareth Evans)—Usually I struggle to come up with my number one, but not this year. Not that there aren’t plenty of contenders, but when you can’t stop thinking about a movie for two week straight after seeing it in theaters, there’s really no question as to what tops the list.

    I saw this movie at the urging of a friend. I believe his exact words were “See this movie with me or we are not friends.” Whatever, I’ve lost friendships over less and I’m so not into kung–fu movies. Plus it’s a sequel. Strike three. So how did I end up in a theater next to a drunk guy one April night waiting for this cinematic masterpiece to begin? I’ll leave that for you to decide, but it was probably something like “nothing better to do” and “I need to see more movies in general so okay, whatever, I guess I’ll go.”

    Holy SHIT. American cinema tends to drop the ball on combat scenes in general (looking at you, The Hunger Games (2012), but The Raid 2 makes them look like first year film student child’s play. Every fight scene (of which there are many) is like a crazy, bloody, utterly visceral dance thanks to painstaking choreography and seamless editing. The final showdown in the hotel kitchen is the stuff of the ages and sets the standard for all modern kung–fu and action movies around the world. Eight months later and I’m still in awe of it. As for seeing the sequel before its predecessor? No problem; the first five minutes of The Raid 2 sum things up nicely. But I’m still going to watch the first one sometime. I just haven’t yet because I’m the worst. In any case, Gareth Evans is truly a director to keep an eye on in the coming years. (Available on DVD/Blu–Ray and Amazon Instant Video)

In short, 2014 was an excellent year for films. What do you think? Any contenders on this list for your own? Let me know!

Honorable Mentions: Wild (R; dir. Jeean–Marc Valée), Life Itself (R; dir. Steve James), Under The Skin (R; dir. Jonathan Glazer)

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