Digital Polyphony

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Top Movies of 2014


There's a lot of movies every year, but this year seemed to be a lot more than usual. I already go to "Favorite 30 of the Year" every year, but I almost wanted to go further and do forty. For consistency sake, I'm not, but there's so many great flicks this year that I haven't even had a chance to write reviews for some on this list (spoilers...they're probably pretty good).

As always, I have to stress this is both a subjective and completely unnecessarily ranked and numbered list that I kind of just use for organization purposes. Sure, I "liked" Birdman a lot, but I also liked John Wick a helluva lot too...so it's whatever my gut instinct veers towards in putting some arbitrary BS "1" or "20" next to a title.


30)  Force Majeure

A late comer onto the list, Force Majeure is a film out of Scandinavia from Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund that has a ton going on it - entirely on a commentary level. It's story is so simple, yet it says so much about relationships, the role of men and women, the sense of "masculinity" and being a patriarch and the rifts that occur when someone you love does something you don't expect them today when things are on the line. It's a very dry film that is full of awful people, but it's also incredibly well shot, well acted and keeps you thinking about its points.


29)  X-Men: Days of Future Past

I can't say I've ever been big on the X-Men franchise. I never found them particularly interesting or stories and characters well done, but I did like First Class quite a bit...and I REALLY liked Days of Future Past because it essentially says "screw it" and throws everything at the wall. And it works. Somehow it works. A great cast, a fantastic variety of action and willing to give us characters to really care about (though again making it a Wolverine flick essentially), I just love the thing. Plus, I'm a sucker for period superhero movies and there's not a whole lot of those.


28)  John Wick

From big-budget spectacle to a mid-range B-movie, John Wick isn't going to win any awards for originality, but that's also not the point of the movie. It's all about taking classic action movie tropes and, essentially, doing them damn well. Great choreography. Well shot action. A fantastic sense of style and world building that goes above and beyond what the movie probably even needed, John Wick is just a solid actioner that is a lot of fun to watch in the vein of a Taken or other smaller-scale action romps.


27)  Top Five

I have a feeling a lot of people are looking at Top Five and thinking it's just another broad comedy. Well, it's not. It's a thoughtful, dialogue-driven comedy that harkens back to movies like Manhattan or maybe a more situational version of a Llinklater movie: having bits and a few gags but more about character chemistry, conversation and life choices rather than a situation that needs resolving. Chris Rock writes, directs and stars and it's truly something that has his voice commenting on relationships, family, stardom and the Hollywood system.

 


26)  The Rover

I don't really know what The Rover was about, but I damn sure liked it as it draws a great inspiration from classic western myths of "loners" and "lawlessness." Hell, I'll see anything with Guy Pearce and he doesn't disappoint. Even better is we get a surprisingly fantastic turn by Robert Pattinson as a dimwitted young man trying to find his place in a desolate world. There's not a lot told about how the world ended up the way it does, it's not important, but the dynamic is between Pearce's character, who has pretty much "given up" at this point and accepts fate, and Pattinson who is trying to figure it all out.


25)  Interstellar

I'm not going to sit here and defend Interstellar's story or characters. I mean, we have a decent enough plot and solid acting, but let's face it: the movie has little soul happening in it. But man...as just a visual experience it's one of the year's best. It's the same approach I had with Gravity last year: not a whole lotta story, but going to see it in an IMAX theater makes it jump up the list. For Gravity, I think it broke the Top 10. For Interstellar, it at least broke the Top 25. If only it had a better thematic punch and wasn't as cold, it might have ended up one of the greats.


24)  Snowpiercer

I recently found it nearly impossible to describe Snowpiercer when someone asked me "What's it about?" I mean...how do you answer that. "Oh, well it's in a future where all of humanity lives on a train that never stops and there's different cars and there's the lower class people fighting the higher class people and there's a club and drug place and sushi for some reason and Captain America ate a baby or something..."  Yeah...it's kind of like that. It's a lot of ideas with some great style and directing happening making it an incredibly flawed by incredibly memorable movie.


23)  The Guest

From the writer and director of You're Next, The Guest is another throwback kind of flick that simultaneously understands what it is and plays around in its genre. It's a moody flick that some compare to Drive (which is kind of right but not really) mixed with some old violent grindhouse flick with a 1980s style. I just think it's fun, and even if one can pick it apart in its third act, the fact it goes for it and ends with a big question mark is why I kind of dug it. It has some utterly fantastic atmosphere and visual style, not to mention one hell of a soundtrack.

 


22)  Cheap Thrills

Cheap Thrills is great because it takes what's a pretty easy and basic idea and basically approaches it without a moment's hesitation. Guys do awful things for money and they see who can do the worst. It's a dark comedy if I've ever seen one and takes the "one location" notion and does absolute wonders with it thanks to a clever script and solid acting. A movie that kind of hit early in 2014 and had some good promotion and reviews but seems kind of forgotten as time went on, which is unfortunate.

 


21  Still Alice

Another rather overlooked movie, Still Alice is a heartbreaking drama that never falls to overly-emotional, heightened melodrama. There's something very honest and real happening in Still Alice and it also just happens to have what I think should be a shoe-in for Best Actress in Julianne Moore's portrayal of a woman slowly succumbing to Alzheimer's and it's impact on her and those around her. The approach is unique (always from her perspective) and the script quite beautiful.


20)  Only Lovers Left Alive

Cynical hipster vampires, in a lot of hands, would make for a pretty pretentious movie. But here we have Jim Jarmusch's take - a subdued, subtle look at the pros and cons of being immortal, along with a small bit of tongue-in-cheek dark humor, that makes the characters of Only Lovers Left Alive a fun and never-too-serious film. Thanks to a consistent tone and fantastic performances by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, it's a unique offering to the vampire mythos and gives us something new considering that the genre, much like the two characters themselves, are tired of the whole "vampire" thing in the first place.


19)  Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Winter Soldier exceeded expectations, giving us some absolutely fantastic action and incredible fight and stunt sequences. But where it excels its the approach. It's not merely a "superhero" movie as much as it is a spy thriller. You have moles. You have Hydra. You have stuff that would fit nicely in a Jack Ryan or James Bond story, only turned to 11 under the Marvel banner as it feels big but never "too big" to make it all work.

 


18)  The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game does one thing and one thing well, but it's arguably the most important thing: give us great storytelling. Of course, with Benedict Cumberbatch as the anti-social, outcast lead, it's hard not to just be in awe of everything that's happening thanks to his fantastic performance. The Imitation Game has a great sense of pace and tone and gives us a very memorable story on a rather overlooked piece of history.

 


17   Gone Girl

Gone Girl is strange. It's trash...but having a guy like David Fincher direct and tell the story makes it incredibly engaging trash. I say "trash" with the utmost admiration, mind you. It's pulp, dime-novel, pharmacy paperback stuff with little depth but handled with the hand of a master, some great pacing and cinematography and some fantastic performances across the board from the entire cast. 

 


16)  The Raid 2

In terms of pure action, I don't know if there was a better movie of 2014. Now truth be told, if The Raid 2 decided to just forgo the story entirely, I'd have it even higher, but it tries to do a serious crime drama when, in reality, it's at its best in the amazing fight sequences. It never gets dull, never gets boring, and the fights are always welcome to come and knock us on our asses over and over again.

 

 


15)  Under the Skin

You know, if someone says they didn't like Under the Skin, I totally get it. It's a very unique but also very weird little movie that's a bit horror, a bit...well I don't know. The truth is, trying to pin a label on Under the Skin (because humans love labels) is pretty tough, but one thing is for certain: it's dark, it makes you uncomfortable and Scarlett Johannson is damn good in it. We can debate till the cows come home about what it's trying to say (human nature sucks and isn't worth the time) but it's really a moody, visceral experience that needs to be seen.


14)  Obvious Child

A new voice was ushered in this past year - someone to really take notice to. It's easy to write off Oblivious Child as "just another relationship dramedy" but it's so not. There's an honesty here, something more down to earth than what other Millennials try to put out there, and a great lead turn by comedian Jenny Slate really puts the movie well above the pack. It's funny, but never feels like it's trying too hard to "speak" to the demographic it portrays. Plus, it very candidly deals with a lot of things that people in their 20s, realizing they're "growing up," have to eventually deal with.


13)  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Much like its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn exceeds any expectations you might have about it. It's much larger-scale than Dawn yet doesn't forget to focus on the intimate stories and characters that drive it. Those characters just happen to be apes and the smart script understands their Shakesperean-esque tale more than transcends that. Plus you have apes shooting machine guns.

 


12)  Frank

Frank is an exercise in exploring the elements of the creative mind, but it's also a darkly funny and insightful look at the elements of that creative mind. What is "selling out?" Is "making money" a bad thing? What drives someone to want to create something, whether it be music or otherwise? It's a weird movie, for sure, but also a look at the process someone puts themselves through to make something and the cost personally and professionally to make it happen.

 


11)  Selma

Powerful and relevant, Selma is a brilliant and timeless tale as it transcends being a movie about Martin Luther King Jr and more about something much greater. Something the man represented. Something that still echoes to today. David Oyelowo gives an Oscar-worthy performance as King though the movie is just flooded with great, memorable characters and performances.

 


10)  Edge of Tomorrow

There's no question this is in my Top 10. Edge of Tomorrow is, simply, a fun action movie with a great hook, great leads and willing to play with its concepts to give us something fresh and new. It takes what might have been an over-written idea and streamlines it into a fantastic action and science fiction movie that deserved more success in 2014 than what it ended up with.

 


9)  The Babadook

A weak year for horror it might have been, and one might argue that The Babadook isn't really a horror movie to begin with, but it certainly deals with dark themes as it shows us a woman on the edge. The evil is within, not without, but idea of that internal evil manifesting itself is what makes The Babadook simultaneously scary along with a look at how the human mind perceives things.

 

 


8)  Blue Ruin

A movie criminally under the radar this past year, Blue Ruin is a revenge tale that doesn't succumb to the typical wish-fulfillment that most revenge thrillers strive for. Instead, it deals with a man way in over his head and dealing with consequences thinking he could simply kill someone for revenge and that's the end of it. Putting himself and his loved ones in danger, Blue Ruin paints a much more complex portrait of violence begetting violence than one might expect.

 


7)  The Lego Movie

It was mocked and eyes were rolled, but I think it's safe to say that The Lego Movie caused many a person to eat crow. It was clever, very funny and incredibly self-aware of the whole "chosen one" hero archetype as it pokes fun at it. The animation and art style is gorgeous, the comedy spot-on and voice acting some of the most memorable and best of the year. Hell, if they do more animated Batman movies, I know a good voice to go with.

 


6)  Boyhood

Much has been said about the ambition of Boyhood - filming over the course of many years and watching our main character grow, but what's damn good about it is its story through the eyes of one growing up. It's not just the gimmick of "hey, it's everyone older and stuff changes" but it manages to capture the element of memory and youth: we remember small vignettes and parts and, being young, never really get the full picture. It's simply something we all pass through.

 


5)  Whiplash

Giving what's likely to be an Oscar-winning performance, JK Simmons embodies what Whiplash is all about: passion. Of course, with Simmons' character that comes with anger and frustration, but it's all balanced out with Miles Teller who's equally as passionate but never succumbs to the faults of his professor. Then, the movie plays a lovely little trick, and you realize it's about the artistic/musical/creative mind and its desire to be great no matter the cost.

 


4)  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Though one can certainly have a preference as to which Wes Anderson they prefer, in sheer ambition, scope and grandeur, Anderson has reached a pinnacle of his own career in a sweeping yet intimate tale. As visually inspired as always, the story of Gustav and his hotel and the various adventures he finds himself in, with Ralph Fiennes giving one of his career-best performances, makes this wry comedy incredibly inspired and memorable.

 


3)  Guardians of the Galaxy

I haven't seen another movie in 2014 as many times as I have seen Guardians of the Galaxy. It is a nostalgic movie, using a lot of classic tropes of big-spectacle yet small-budget movies of the 1980s (The Last Starfighter or Battle Beyond the Stars comes to mind...or if you dare Ice Pirates but we shouldn't dare on that one) but completely contemporary in its humor, character and unique director's voice from James Gunn. It's not just the best Marvel movie, but easily one of the best comic book movies....or space opera movies....or comeies....or action movies in general, of the past 15 years.


2)  Birdman

There really was no movie like Birdman this year. Hell, probably the past ten years. On its surface, it's very familiar. There's nothing necessarily interesting or new plot-wise that puts it ahead of an All About Eve or an Opening Night, but it's all about the execution and the absolutely brilliant acting from the entire cast. Michael Keaton is giving his all here, though I would argue Edward Norton steals it. Incredibly irreverent yet able to be poignant, and that's a tough thing to pull off. I find the backlash to it rather humorous.

 


1)  Nightcrawler

Let's face it, putting a "1" by something means jack shit. It's entirely arbitrary, not necessary or worth any value when it comes to talking about things you liked and enjoyed and I only do it because it helps keep things in order. Truth is, there were so many great movies this year I could easily put something else here. However, the top two or three simply struck me a particular way. For Nightcrawler, it was the strong lead performance, commentary on media and news and the way it was shot - blending found footage with a dark, moody noir-ish drama and character study.

 


Other Contenders: Night Moves, Big Hero 6, Fury, Calvary, The Double, Locke, Grand Piano, The Drop, A Most Wanted Man, Joe, Foxcatcher, They Came Together, Leviathan, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Big Eyes, 71, Happy Christmas, Mr. Turner, Ida, The Skeleton Twins, Inherent Vice, Chef

 

 

  

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