Our Top 10 Movies of 2014
The internet loves reflection. Sure, this list isn’t new or all that inventive, but who doesn’t love a good ‘Top 10’. This year we decided to ask each of our staff writers to talk about one film that stuck with them this year. The following list reflects each of our favorite films of the year.
Guardians of the Galaxy (Zach Bartlett)
If you’ve found yourself growing weary of the constant comic book adaptations, specifically those of the Marvel Universe, don’t worry, you are not alone. I am just as big a comic book fan as any, and even I find myself feeling as though I’ve been watching the same movie since 2008’s Iron Man made Marvel a household name. Luckily, in August, comic book and cinema fans received a much needed breath of fresh air from quirky writer/director James Gunn and his unlikely band of misfits in Guardians of the Galaxy. Guardians has stunning visuals, excellent comedy, wonderful writing and features breakout performances from both funny-fat-guy turned Hollywood-hunk Chris Pratt and former professional wrestling star David Bautista. But easily the best part of the film is the characters; loveable, misunderstood outcasts who find an unlikely union in kicking ass and taking names.
It’s a feel good story set to an inspired 70’s track list of funky and nostalgic jams, that mirrors one of the better feel good stories in recent Hollywood memory. Not only did independent filmmaker and cult fan favorite James Gunn arrive to the big time with a big bang, but Vin Diesel claims his role as Groot helped him to grieve over the loss of his close friend and colleague, Paul Walker. Chris Pratt and David Bautista landed major roles, in Jurassic World and 007: Spectre, respectfully. Bradley Cooper expanded his talents with vocal work and fans and audiences around the globe were left yearning for more, united under a common film, brought together by cinema. I suppose James Gunn put it best when he said “We are Groot.”
Starry Eyes (Christoffer Gaddini)
2014 was a tough year for horror. The offerings ranged from misguided sequels and spin offs (The Purge: Anarchy, Anabelle), to a range of intriguing original but ultimately underwhelming blockbusters (Deliver Us From Evil). Although the most significant accomplishment in the genre is likely Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, a true masterpiece of the haunted house sub-genre, Starry Eyes is easily my favorite horror film of the year. Anyone familiar with the particularly brilliant Giallo movement, which holds a special place in this Italian critic’s heart, will immediately notice the homage from the first ominous synth pulses in the first frames of Starry Eyes. For those unfamiliar with this era of obscure Italian horror film-making, the films were distinct in their combination of violence, eroticism, and surreal atmosphere. Like a Kubrick flick with more boobs and gore.
Starry eyes brilliantly updates the Giallo aesthetic for the 21st century. Set in modern day Los Angeles, the story centers around aspiring actress Sarah (Alex Essoe). Sick of begging for auditions and making ends meet working in a degrading Hooters-esqe restaurant, Sarah is willing to do whatever it takes to make it as a famous actress. She soon finds that Hollywood’s elite may be run by a sinister cult, and admittance may cost more than simply her soul. Writers/Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer do a mesmerizing job pulling the viewer into Sarah’s surreal nightmare. Each scene progresses with added tension and dread unto the film spirals out of control in a violent and utterly insane third act. Support great independent film-making and check out Starry Eyes on VOD now.
Whiplash (Kate Brown)
Whiplash has a lot going for it. For one, its theme is focused, yet universal. The film follows the manic journey of a freshman drum student at the nation’s top conservatory, but still captures the broader motif of pursuing a passion to the brink of sanity. Miles Teller, who plays the desperately passionate jazz student is impressive with his natural drumming skills and convincing mania. As is required for any movie about music, the score is required to be on point. Whiplash does not fall short, and its soundtrack takes on a character-like role as it narrates the quick rhythm and pace of the movie.
The best part of Whiplash, however, is its antagonist. JK Simmons plays the school’s brutal music director, Fletcher, and his murderous snark makes him the most terrifying villain. Fletcher’s soul-crushing insults are delivered as often and consistently as the whip of his conductor baton, and would make you shake in your boots more than a Texas high school football coach. Seriously, I would be shocked if Simmons’ didn’t at least get an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actor.
Gone Girl (Johnny Storms)
Gone Girl was my favorite movie of 2014 for the same reason Wolf of Wall Street was my favorite of 2013: the movie-going experience matched the fun I had talking about it with my friends afterwards. I’ll admit a few things: I didn’t read the book, I didn’t choose to see the movie (it was my girlfriend’s choice), and I was skeptical of a film starring Ben Affleck and an actress I had never heard of (Rosamund Pike), even if David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network) was directing. The film was about how Nick Dunne (Affleck) attempts to plead his innocence among suspicions that he killed his wife, Amy (Pike), through the community, Amy’s high-profile family, the media, and law enforcement. Each step of Nick and Amy’s relationship leading up to Amy’s disappearance is traced through Amy’s diary entries. I’m not going to spoil anything, but the most fun part comes when the audience finds out the truth, and everything that happens thereafter.
At the end of the film, I was glad I didn’t read the book, because my jaw was on the floor more than once, and when it wasn’t I was gasping (Gillian Flynn absolutely deserves a Best Screenplay nod). Fincher also deserves another Best Director nod for his masterful ability to execute the moving pieces of such an intense story portrayed through so many different lenses and character viewpoints.
The acting was superb. Affleck’s performance was what it needed to be; he played himself and didn’t try too hard – shockingly refreshing. The supporting cast wasn’t crowded with superstars, but Neil Patrick Harris (as Amy’s former lover), Tyler Perry (yes, that Tyler Perry, as Nick’s attorney), Carrie Coon (as Nick’s sister), and Kim Dickens (as the detective) were all really good. Oh, and Emily Ratajkowski, because obviously. But Rosamund Pike should win all of the awards for everything, because she was absolutely incredible as Amy Dunne. That look, those steely, cold, dead, soulless eyes are unforgettable, and her performance is too. Pike should be a lock to win Best Actress because she carried the Best Picture of the year on her back – something that has only been done twice since 1990 – Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby and Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love.
The Lego Movie (Christoffer Gaddini)
Wow, just wow. Who would have dreamed this movie would be show up on so many top 10 lists this year? Ok, so basically Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were tasked with making the most corporate movie in recent memory (aside from a particular Michael Bay franchise). Instead of churning out an a-typical children’s film, they took the opportunity to make an Orwellian anti-business criticism of everything that white society holds dear. Lord and Miller take aim at overpriced coffee, network sitcoms, and general conformity in a new and surprisingly inventive way. Speaking of inventive, the movie is a visual feast that pushes both stop motion and CGI animation to new heights. Watch out Pixar, Warner Brother’s just knocked you off your “kid friendly, yet touching and thought provoking” mantle. And yes, everything is awesome.
The Skeleton Twins (Lauren Noriega)
Grounded by extraordinary performances by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins artfully blurs the line between balancing the choices that may be good for you versus what you really want. The film centers around two estranged twins who hadn’t spoken for ten years after their father’s death. The opening scene immerses the viewer in the dark comedy to come – as Milo (Bill Hader) unsuccessfully tries to commit suicide while living on his own in California. He leaves behind a note that simply reads, “To whom it may concern – see ya later.” Once his estranged twin Maggie (Kirsten Wiig) finds out about her twin brother’s suicide attempt, she convinces Milo to come live with her and her husband in New York.
As Milo and Maggie rekindle their sibling bond in New York, the skeletons they keep become unveiled as the film progresses. Milo attempts to find comfort in a teacher he once had an inappropriate relationship with during high school, and Maggie struggles with her impulsive adultery in spite of having a sweet and loving husband. The film’s excellent use of discrete symbolism, solidifies the film’s themes in new and interesting ways. A common theme throughout the movie is water. First, Milo’s attempted suicide occurs in a bathtub; Maggie takes scuba lessons throughout the movie (and sleeps with the instructor); and Maggie consistently tries to replace the fish Milo had to leave behind in California. The water artfully symbolizes what these characters struggle with throughout the film: being submerged in emotion and finding control once submerged. Because the film deals with raw human emotion and keeps its audience invested in the characters until the very end, it’s no surprise that The Skeleton Twins won a screenwriting award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. If you enjoy films that ride the line between heartbreak and humor, this film is a must-see.
The Guest (Zach Bartlett)
This film may be the hidden gem on this list, as the marketing for The Guest was almost non-existent. Now, don’t expect this movie to be the most well-executed film you’ve ever seen; it’s not. However, sometimes a movie can shine through other plot devices than, say, the plot. Expect another fun thriller from modern genre trail blazer Adam Wingard, certainly his best since 2011’s home invasion slasher film You’re Next. The story unfolds with a young Army veteran, fresh off the boat from his tours in Afghanistan, as he visits the family of one of his fallen brothers. After being welcomed with open arms by the grieving family, a series of accidental deaths and strange happenings seem to somehow be mysteriously linked to our charming and handsome “protagonist” and… well you can see where this is going, right? Wrong. Throughout the film, viewers find themselves encountering several twists and turns (some of which are not explained, and to be honest, that’s OK) while being treated to excellent action sequences, beautiful visual effects using a broad spectrum of colored lighting and a score that any fan of 70’s horror and 80’s science fiction will absolutely love. And that really is the driving force behind the movie: a score that evokes memories of Dario Argento’s Italian horror masterpiece Suspiria and 1986’s synth-filled technology slasher cult classic Chopping Mall. The score is perfect throughout, but has no better place than the entire third act and perfectly formulated end sequence, a final exclamation point to cap off a fun and entertaining ride for any fan of genre film.
The Imitation Game (Tim Aoki)
The Imitation Game shone a light on the seldom told story of the father of the computer. However, the film is far from a simple war hero story, as Alan Turing suffered as much as he succeeded. Though history books celebrated Turing as a WWII hero for performing a key role in breaking of the Nazi Enigma code, he was later criminally persecuted for his homosexuality and punished with chemical castration. Benedict Cumberbatch gave an astounding performance as Alan Turing in this film which, refreshingly, contained no grossly romantic scenes nor any unnecessarily gratuitous sex scenes. The overall format of the film was interesting in that it kept flipping between flashbacks and flash forwards. Though a bit confusing at first, by the end of the film, all the subtle hints presented throughout finally came together, resulting in the audience’s satisfaction of understanding Turing’s psychology. On a side note, the original score evoked enough emotion to move the audience, yet was subtle enough to not distract from the rest of the film. I went in expecting a typical war hero drama of the story behind the cracking of Enigma, but I came out learning of the pain of living as a homosexual in that era. At the time, Turing’s sexuality ruined his life, even though his work shortened WWII by an estimated two to four years. The Imitation Game is yet another important step forward in today’s LGBT awareness movement.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Kate Brown)
Wes Anderson has a particular way of storytelling that may not appeal to all audiences. To some, his methodology may seem kiddish. Others relish in his distinctive taste. The Grand Budapest Hotel does not depart from that technique, but rather builds upon it. Surely, it will not disappoint his avid fans.
Though the production design may initially look cartoonish, almost like stop-animation, it is actually a carefully crafted masterpiece. Watching Grand Budapest feels like walking into Willy Wonka’s factory. Every scene is full of color and meticulous detail, and has a certain panache, like an artistic French pastry.
The cast was all well-selected, but the most delightful character is most certainly the flamboyant concierge Gustave H., played by Ralph Fienes. The dialogue is quick and witty, and since every scene serves a purpose and packs a punch, the film moves along quickly, avoiding dull moments. Grand Budapest is a delightful confection of cinema, boasting an exuberant spirit with a humanist touch.
Snowpiercer (Christoffer Gaddini)
Well, my top movie of the summer ended up being (in my opinion) the best film of the year. Maybe I’m just a sucker for dystopian science fiction. The film uses the narrative device of a train to represent the capitalist class system. You can read all about my thoughts on the allegorical brilliance of the film, here.