What a year of films we just had! It was somewhat more of the same in regards to the highest grossing films of the year. Last year, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire grossed the most ($424 million) and the money-makers were dominated by superheroes, animations, and an Oscar front-runner. This year… The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 led all movies ($334 million), the box office was dominated by Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, Transformers, and X-Men, The LEGO Movie and Big Hero 6 both grossed over $200 million, and American Sniper was a huge hit.
And once again there were a bajillion sequels and remakes that cluttered the summer, such as another Spider-Man film, Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and 22 Jump Street. There were also a number of book adaptations that were critically acclaimed, like Gone Girl, The Fault in Our Stars, and even The Maze Runner.
But what 2014 will be remembered for most is for its smaller films that will certainly be embraced by larger audiences once the word of mouth really starts to spread. A lot of those films made my list this year so let’s just get on with it. Below are my favorite ten films of the year…
10. American Sniper
Clint Eastwood returns to form by telling the story of Chris Kyle, America’s deadliest sniper in history. Bradley Cooper gives the performance of his life portraying the Navy SEAL with a Southern drawl, but the power of the film comes two-fold: one for the incredibly tense war sequences when Kyle has seconds to decide whether or not to pull the trigger, and two for the trauma from the war that affects Kyle’s personal life. Is this a pro-war or an anti-war movie? It doesn’t matter because it’s one that everyone should see.
9. The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in this historical drama about the scientist and team who cracked the Nazi Enigma code that helped end WWII. The film was able to balance suspense, drama, and comedy quite well, keeping the tone mostly light-hearted until the end when Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley share a great scene together. But this is Cumberbatch’s show, as he plays the character with enough quirkiness for laughs but enough heart to win you over.
8. The Theory of Everything
Behind every great man, there’s a great woman. That was shown during The Imitation Game and is even more relevant in The Theory of Everything. Eddie Redmayne gives a career-changing performance as Stephen Hawking and while there’s no doubt he was a great man, the film focuses in on his counterpart, Jane Hawking. Felicity Jones also gives an exceptional performance as the wife who stood by Stephen’s side, motivating him and making sure he never gave up on his dreams despite a crippling disease. On top of the film being a celebration to Hawking’s accomplishments, it also tells the tale of his personal life, a story that is less known.
7. The Drop
It might be known as James Gandolfini’s final appearance in a film, but The Drop is an excellent crime drama that was written by Dennis Lehane. Tom Hardy gives a powerful performance as Bob Saginowski, showing off some acting chops as he hones in on the quiet moments before the storm erupts. It’s a film that might feel like you’ve seen before, but will surprise you with plenty of unpredictable events. Nonetheless it was a solid, hidden gem in 2014.
6. Gone Girl
There is so much going on in Gone Girl that it makes the 145 minutes go by in a flash. Credit that to the direction of David Fincher and the tight screenplay by Gillian Flynn for making a great thriller (just another great thriller to add to Fincher’s filmography). Rosamund Pike shines as Amy Elliott, the girl with dark secrets and a craving for revenge. It’s a grim film but it’s one of the year’s best.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson has always made quirky, small films for the indie-lover, but this year he hits a home-run with The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film is smart, quick, witty, and most of all entertaining as hell. Ralph Fiennes gives a fine performance as Gustave, one that you will thoroughly marvel at throughout but will possibly forget once the movie concludes. I thought Moonrise Kingdom was Anderson’s most mainstream to date, but Budapest trumps that film in all categories.
Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious film to date (and that includes films told backwards and based in your dreams) had the wow-factor across the board. With stunning visuals of space and an in-depth understanding of different dimensions, universes, and time traveling, Interstellar packed a powerful punch and was relentless with its story-telling. While the ending has divided audiences and critics alike, it didn’t take away the tremendous impact the film had on me.
I never would’ve imagined that a film about a student-teacher relationship in a prestigious music school would be so suspenseful. I was talking about JK Simmons’ performance for weeks after I saw this film, and the young Miles Teller is great in it as well. Damien Chazelle hits the jackpot with Whiplash and without a doubt it was one of the most memorable films of 2014. Now about sending your kid to band practice…
I love Inarritu, but Birdman steers away from his past, heavy dramas and towards a somewhat light-hearted, chaotic story of an actor trying to regain his status. Michael Keaton gives arguably the most important performance of the year (and of his career) as Riggan Thomson. And I must mention the direction of Inarritu that makes the film look like it was taken in one shot. Yeah, it’s quite mind-boggling and a daring decision to make. There was plenty of brilliance throughout Birdman, and to top it off, I love a film with a controversial ending.
Richard Linklater has provided me with some of my favorite films with the Before series, and now with Boyhood, he’s proven to be the master at showing us the passage of time and how it affects everyone in different ways. This project was incredibly ambitious for Linklater and everyone else involved, with its 12-year period of shooting. It’s a no-brainer to say that it has never been done before because there are just so many risks and challenges to shooting a film this way. But Linklater pulls it off and was able to draw the world into his little movie with a big, big heart.