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2014 in Film: Best in Categories

Posted on December 29, 2014 at 10:35 AM

2014 in Film: Best in Categories

I'm not an expert. I just love movies. I watch a lot of movies. So before I get my Top 30 favorites of the year, here's some smaller categories and maybe giving some due to movies that wouldn't make my favorites of the year.

Best Acting


David Oyelowo - Selma

It’s a big task to take on a role like Martin Luther King Jr. but man does Oyelowo just nail it. He’s able to be both powerful yet intimate in his portrayal of a complicated man.


Julianne Moore - Still Alice

If I had to give the Oscar now, it would go to Moore. Still Alice is a beautiful, heartfelt film that is often difficult to watch. Moore goes places that is bold and daring as her character succumbs to an awful disease of the mind. In fact, this is probably my favorite performance of the year.


Scarlett Johansson - Under the Skin

Creepy is an understatement, but this artsy horror flick (for lack of a better term as it’s hard to define its genre) is something that feels as though it’s stripped from the 1970s indie realm and it’s all thanks to her strong performance.


Jack O’Connell - Unbroken

I was lukewarm, at best, to the film itself. But there’s no denying that O’Connell is fantastic in his biopic of Louis Zamperini. Honestly, if it weren’t for O’Connell I would think the movie outright awful, but he saves it.


Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel

To craft such a unique character is a bit of the writing, sure, but you need someone to embody it. Fiennes embodies M. Gustave like a perfectly-tailored suit. The entire movie is full of great performances, some terrific character actors abound (F. Murray Abraham, Dafoe, Goldblum to an extent) but it begins and ends with Fiennes.


JK Simmons - Whiplash

You hate him, but you love him. Well, you love the go-for-broke performance, at least. Simmons is often associated with comedy (or dramedy) but man, he plays one hell of an antagonist and all-around asshole better than anyone.


Essie Davis - The Babadook

2014 was a pretty weak year for the horror genre, but Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook came in late and salvaged most of it. It wouldn’t work without a strong lead, and Essie Davis as a mother on edge and dealing with internal and external demons lifts The Babadook up to lofty heights of being a near-masterpiece in psychological exploration.


Marion Cottiard - The Immigrant

It’s easy to separate the film from the performances, I’ve found, in 2014 more than ever. There’s some “ok” movies with great acting, and The Immigrant is one of them. Cottiard is always great, but she’s so beautifully vulnerable in this movie.


Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler

Depicting a sociopath has rarely been entirely accurate. Often it’s played as over-the-top. Then along comes Gyllenhaal and a great script to show restraint and how the mind of one works. He’s detached. You see his mind working without him even have to say a word. Plus he looks creepy as hell in one of the best movies of the year.


Michael Keaton - Birdman

Keaton is one of the best actors yet rarely gets the material to back it up. This movie feels tailor-made for him and he absolutely nails the washed-up-actor trying to reclaim a fraction of his success and fame. Birdman may end up my favorite movie of the year and it’s entirely thanks to Keaton. I don’t know if any other actor could have pulled this off.


Channing Tatum - Foxcatcher

Probably a dark horse, mainly because Steve Carrell is taking the spotlight, but I found Tatum’s performance (it’s his movie more or less) to be the most impressive part of Foxcatcher. He’s a little dark, very restrained and though he won’t get a lot of notice, he shows how much range he can really have.


Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston - Only Lovers Left Alive

These are two actors that, no matter the movie, I will watch at the drop of a hat. They are amazing in this film and I have them together here because that has to do with their fantastic chemistry.


Honorable Mentions: Jenny Slate for Obvious Child, Bill Hader for The Skeleton Twins, Eva Green in 300 Rise of an Empire, Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, Andy Serkis for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Tom Hardy for Locke.



Best Directing

Directing can be a hard category to nail down. Essentially, you're trying to figure out which films told their stories the best. FIlm is a collaboration, but the director has to steer all the cogs in that wheel to present the story that was written. So here's the ones I think, thanks to a good director, ended up really good.

James Gunn - Guardians of the Galaxy

Sure, with Marvel pedigree we can expect something well directed, but Guardians is in a leage all its own. It's both distinctly a marvel movie, a sci-fi space adventure and, no question, a James Gunn film. It captures a style and mood that few big-budget movies can (they usualy go for the broadest appeal) and takes quite a lot of chances in how the scenes play out.

Alejandro González Iñárritu - Birdman

This is certainly the front runner, both for picture and director and probably actor. Birdman is simultenously a work of art and an incredbily funny and engaging comedy/character study. Naturally, the way it is shot and how it all plays out wouldn't be possible without a director with a confidence to pull it off.

Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel

I'd argue that Anderson made his best film this year. It manages to have a huge degree of scope yet remain incredibly intimate in its story. The visual flare of Anderson's style and way of shooting is naturally going to be present, but the story's pace and atmosphere make it one of his most ambitous as well.

David Fincher - Gone Girl

SOmetimes you have to ask yourself "could another director pull this story off?" THere's a lot of great drama directors out there, but there's some way that Fincher approaches the story visually, sets the scenes, knowing what to show and what not to show in a thriller, that makes him one of the best. Gone Girl kind of fell under the radar, but its director made one of his very best movies.

Richard Linklater - Boyhood

That question I just asked? It kind of goes here too, because I don't know if there's another filmmaker that could pull a movie like Boyhood off as well. All Boyhood is, really, a series of vignettes shot over many years, but the ability to wrangle that all in, stay consistent and manage to get some damn good performances over such long breaks is the mark of a great filmmaker.

Damien Charzelle - Whiplash

There's a mood and vibe that Whiplash captures that is unlike any other movie, and as great as the script is, it's the director here that seems to capture lightning in a bottle with the music element. The passion. The fervor. The emotion. Charzelle lets you take it all in and gives a rather straightforward story one hell of a punch.

Matt Reeves - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Much like its predessessor, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a brilliant drama that just happens to have some great special effects and action sequences. At its heart, it's a Shakesperean tragedy to an extent, and it treats its characters with respect and is able to find a very real element through it all. Reeves approaches it less like a big-budget blockbuster and, rightfully, an emotional science fiction drama - letting scenes breathe and not afraid to let the emotions speak for itself.

Honorable Mentions: Jennifer Kent for The Babadook, Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler, Ava DuVernay for Selma, Christopher Nolan for Interstellar


Best Effects

To me there's only two contenders here. Guardians of the Galaxy and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I don't think a single other movie comes close to those two, and Dawn would certainly need to win the whole thing simply because it's such a feat of CG characters to truly make you feel they are real. Guardians is a close, very close, second as its full of great characters and Rocket is one of the best characters in a movie this year.

Best Cinematography

Just give it to Birdman. Seriously. This movie is masterfully shot by Emanuel Lubezki who will probably follow up his Oscar win for Gravity last year with this one. A close contender is The Grand Budapest Hotel's Robert Yoeman, and, you know, I'll throw in the obvious Fincher-collaborator Jeff Cronenweth for Gone Girl. Big Eyes and The Theory of Everything both are great looking as well. There's some darn good looking movies out this year.

Best Script

A hard call here, but for me it's Guardians of the Galaxy, Birdman, Nightcrawler, The Lego Movie, Whiplash and the very-overlooked Obvious Child. Truth is, I felt 2014 was full of incredibly well-written stuff, from big budget to small indies. I mean, I could just as easily throw a Selma, The Skeleton Twins or Grand Budapest in here know let's do that too. Why not? Let's get nuts.

Best in Genres

Horror - The Babadook is the only horror movie I can think of that I really liked this year. There's some alright ones but none really stood out, to be honest. There's some that walk the line of horror (Only Lovers Left Alive for example) but really, this was the only good one I enjoyed at all.

Action - I have a slew of action flicks I loved this year. From small movies like John Wick and The Guest, to the big-budget ones of Winter Soldier and Edge of Tomorrow. Guardians of the Galaxy is easily my favorite, though.

Science Fiction - Sci-fi, for me, is one I am really picky about. Interstellar, despite all its flaws, was as hard of a hard sci-fi film that I've seen in years and loved it as a result. The only other I can say was interesting, though it's hard to call it science fiction, was The One I Love which certainly had a hook. Others, like The Signal or even Automata, had some nice ideas but they never really came together.

Comedy - There were some pretty awful comedies this year. So thank goodness there's an Obvious Child to make it worthwhile. The Grand Budapest Hotel, though more whimsical than comedic, would certainly fit the bill as well and The Lego Movie certainly had an all-ages aspect few animated films can really fully graslp.  The Skeleton Twins, Birdman and Top Five are there as well with only 22 Jump Street being the one really broad comedy I liked as well that came out this year.

Animated - I just listed it. The Lego Movie easily takes the cake. Great style. Excellent script. Very clever. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the only other animated movie I liked this year, which is kind of sad now that I think about it. I liked Big Hero 6 and The Book of Life also, but not favorites of the year. A weak year overall.

Way too many dramas to list, so I'm leaving that alone. Next week are my favorite overall movies, so they'll get their due then I think.

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