Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Favorite Movies of 2014

10. Whiplash

I had trouble finding anyone who wanted to see this in the theater. I think this was because it sounded like a movie that everyone has seen a million times – the story of the tough teacher who motivates students to perform at a higher level. But Whiplash was no more a traditional motivational teacher movie than Unforgiven was a traditional western. Rather, it was a deconstruction of the theme. Is J.K. Simmons’ brand of tough love beneficial to his pupils? Or does it make them worse human beings? Does it benefit a few to the detriment of many? Is it even tough love at all? It’s an interesting, open ended examination of what it means to teach.

9. Gone Girl

It’s a pulpy, implausible story but David Fincher uses that to his advantage in creating a fun, over-the-top noir. The novel, so much about narration, ended up being perfectly suited to the screen. It also features one of the most memorable femme fatales I’ve ever seen, a crazy, unforgettable villain.

8. Boyhood

Boyhood deserves its best picture frontrunner status, because no movie was a greater achievement. The filming over 12 years was no gimmick, as watching a character truly grow up right in front of your eyes added poignancy to the story. I’ve heard the criticism that it’s long and relatively uneventful, but the idea wasn’t to tell a remarkable story but rather to capture the messy imperfection of growing up. I enjoyed other movies more but there may not have been any more worth seeing.

7. X-Men: Days of Future Past

It’s hard for the 7th in a series of comic book movies to get its full due, but this was a really fun summer movie. It had everything you’d want: a remarkable cast, a great screenplay and big budget special effects. Quicksilver and Mystique were particular highlights. The X-Men film series has featured its highs and lows, but it will be difficult to top Days of Future Past.

6. Edge of Tomorrow

After years of Scientology madness and uninspiring star vehicles (Knight and Day, Jack Reacher, Oblivion, etc.), it was easy to forget what a compelling leading man Tom Cruise can be. Between Cruise, a breakthrough leading role from Emily Blunt and a sci-fi take on Groundhog Day that somehow didn’t feel at all like a rip-off of Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow was one of the best action movies in a year full of really good action movies. I might have had this even higher were in not for the ending, which to me didn’t fully fit the tone or established premise of the rest of the movie.

5. Imitation Game

The best of the Oscar best picture crop, Imitation Game is a great, traditional biopic in a sea of pretty good ones. The story is powerful and relatively unknown, the acting is terrific, and the themes interesting. A lot of biopics feel principally made to attract awards show buzz, but I’m glad they brought Alan Turing’s story to the screen and told it in a compelling manner.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy

Like most people, I wasn’t terribly familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy prior to its release and it’s not as if there is a shortage of comic book adaptations during the summer. Turns out Marvel knew what it was doing. Guardians was perfectly suited for film, with a collection of endearing and funny characters who didn’t feel like reproductions of ones we’d already seen.

3. Snowpiercer

No one created a more memorable cinematic world in 2014 than Bong Joon-ho with Snowpiercer. On a planet frozen solid, the audience travels with the protagonists through a train full of one unexpected setting after another. From the dark and dreary caboose through aquariums and clubs all the way to the engine, you never know what you’re going to see next. And who can forget Alison Pill’s Sunday school?

2. Nightcrawler

In a year with a really weak crop of “prestige” films, it’s a damn shame that the most interesting, distinct and compelling of the bunch didn’t even get a best picture nomination. Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is in my opinion the most memorable cinematic psychopath since Travis Bickle. His attempts to advance his own career at any expense speak to the larger paparazzi culture, but mostly it’s just a really well told story in a dark and unglamorous version of Los Angeles.

1. Lego Movie

Lego Movie didn’t sound like a winner to me. Released in the doldrums of January, it had mediocre kids’ movie written all over it. It proved to be anything but. It’s a hilarious, joke a minute blast of energy with a downright biting sense of humor at times. No movie was more fun to watch and more likely to leave you feeling everything is awesome.