Best Films of 2014

The Oscars are tonight, so now seems like as good a time as any to share my favorite films of 2014.  I saw 45 films that I considered 2014 releases.  The top ten are below; follow the link to see my top 25.

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10. The Double

Of the Terry Gilliam-inspired dystopias this year, I preferred this one to the more popular Snowpiercer.  Jesse Eisenberg is great in a dual-role performance, and the film is visually delightful.  It manages to get jokes and dramatic beats from camera movements, framing, editing, and staging, rather than using dialog to push everything through.

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9. Blue Ruin

This is a hard movie to talk about without giving too much away.  It’s a brilliant revenge thriller with a very ordinary man at the center of the story, which causes all of the twists to curve at different angles than you’d expect.  It’s a constantly surprising film.

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8. Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer’s film is haunting and utterly unique.  From its production process of using non-professional actors (several of whom didn’t know that they were being filmed for a movie), to its unorthodox score, to its refusal to offer up answers or a traditional narrative- it’s a difficult film.  However, it’s a rewarding movie, and a fun one to talk about with a lot of potential for diverse readings.

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7. Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhall is electrifying as crime videographer and sociopath Lou Bloom.  Watching him cunningly maneuver his way to the top is as thrilling as it is unsettling.  Robert Elswit’s cinematography is astounding, as always.

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6. Force Majeure

Set against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the French Alps, Force Majeure focuses on people.  Little, insecure, people.  Like all of us.  In a way, it’s a disaster movie, but not in the way it seems at first.  A literal avalanche sets off a slow-motion emotional natural disaster as the main characters’ reactions show off their own fragility and the delicate balance of their relationships.  It’s filled with awkwardness, humor, and humanity.

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5. Guardians of the Galaxy

For all of my film snobbery, I still have a populist streak. I happen to love a good action comedy when it’s done this well.  I love comic books.  I’ve read literally thousands of them, but I have never read anything with the Guardians of the Galaxy, so I had no preconceived notions or expectations.  Guardians fires on all cylinders, hits every note it’s trying to, and does so with style.  It’s effortless in it’s world-building, and develops strong, interesting, and funny characters without bludgeoning the audience with exposition.  It was a blast.

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4. A Most Violent Year

I was destined to love this movie.  A movie about ambition and the American Dream?  A lead character who is faced with an escalating array of collapsing plans?  Oscar  Isaac and Jessica Chastain?  AND Albert Brooks?  Moody Bradford Young Cinematography?  A director who can build tension and suspense without a big loud score?  Yeah.  Sign me up. As I said to Anna when we left the theater, “that’s my shit.”

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3. The Lego Movie

So I guess I like Chris Pratt?  The Lego Movie is insanity.  It continues Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s tradition of taking movies that sound like horrible concepts and executing them as absurdist comedies of the highest order (also see 21 Jump Street and this year’s also great 22 Jump Street).  The pure imagination on display is joyous and exhilarating.  In a word, awesome.

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2. Boyhood

The concept behind Boyhood is brilliant; even more so, the structure and the storytelling make it resonate.  Richard Linklater understands human beings.  He creates rich characters, not through complicated plotting but through collections of moments.  It makes this movie feel more like-life than filmic, but it shows how even an “ordinary” life is a luminous and singular thing.

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1. Whiplash

I think about this movie all the time.  It’s a lean, smart, and riveting film.  It constantly pushes your sympathies and your ideas about art, ambition, abuse, and inspiration in different directions.  The performances and the editing are superb, but the unflinching script and the moral questions you’re left with after it’s lights-out final scene will keep it alive in your mind.

That’s my top ten!  You can see the rest of my top 25, here!

Now I’m going to go watch The Imitation Game, which might change around these rankings!

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