I stress about my Top 10 to no end, but when the time comes to sit down and write it, things do tend to fall into place. Sure, it can be tough to decide which film should be higher up on the list than another and often there’s an 11th or 12th contender you wish could have made the cut, but then you hit this point where the selections and the ordering just feel right. Clearly list-making is a very subjective thing, but what tends to guide me is figuring out which movies touched me most. It could be a powerful thrill, a bit of nostalgia, some inspiration or perhaps a good scare, but no matter what the feeling is, every single entry on my Top 10 moved me far more than most.
Check out my full Top 10 of 2014 list after the jump.
10. Cheap Thrills
One of my favorite types of movies are ones that let you play along. Could I survive this epic natural disaster? Could I hold strong through this grim situation? Or, in Cheap Thrills’ case, how long could I last in Colin’s (David Koechner) game of high-stakes dares? First-time director E.L. Katz has absolutely no problem luring you in with Craig (Pat Healy) and his admirable cause. All the poor guy wants to do is support his family, so when this bizarre opportunity to make a quick buck pops up, you’re all for it. What’s the big deal if he punches one bouncer in the nose for 500 bucks? Before you know it, you’re completely swept up in the game and find yourself rationalizing downright terrible life-changing decisions. Cheap Thrills is an exhilarating ride powered by a clever concept, colorful characters and a wicked build that’ll leave you sickened yet thrilled by everything you just experienced.
It’s absolutely incredible that Alejandro González Iñárritu and director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki manage to pull off the one-shot technique from a logistical standpoint, but what wows me even more is how well the visuals in Birdman serve the story. Riggan’s (Michael Keaton) determination to rise above his 90s film franchise legacy is the driving force of this movie and thanks to the shooting style, you can feel the risks and pressure that come with the make-or-break opportunity. However, Birdman doesn’t just focus on its protagonist and then cut to subplots; it keeps almost every inch of the St. James Theatre alive at all times, linking all of the characters together and never letting you forget that one person’s actions affects another. The result is an especially vibrant, dynamic and kinetic piece that lets you experience this whirlwind of a situation right alongside a wildly versatile main character with a wealth of complexities who just wants to succeed.
8. The Boxtrolls
I’ve got a big soft spot for cute, pet-like animated characters so the moment we got our very first look at Laika’s Boxtrolls, I had a feeling I’d fall for them. Perhaps this has something to do with me being an animal lover, but as soon I caught a glimpse of Fish, Shoe and the rest of the gang shuffling around, beatings their chests and speaking the Boxtroll language, my heart melted. Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi could have just left it at that and I still would have adored the characters, but what makes The Boxtrolls one of the best films of the year is how rich and thoughtful they make them in the full feature. It isn’t just about The Boxtrolls doing cute things and acting silly. There’s order and purpose to every inch of their world and that makes their situation in Cheesebridge and their relationship with Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright) so compelling. You’ve never seen anything like The Boxtrolls. It’s a film that takes risks and dares to be different but while staying rooted in common values and sentiments, and that combination makes this bizarre tale of little scavengers dressed in cardboard boxes particularly touching.
7. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
After seeing The Hunger Games, I had a good deal of confidence in the big screen adaptation of Catching Fire, but Mockingjay was another story. Not only is it the weakest book of the trilogy, but it was bound to be a very different film, and perhaps too different. However, Francis Lawrence and co. pulled it off, and I think that’s a testament to the strength of the franchise as a whole and their commitment to taking the series a major step further. On the one hand, part of me does miss the structure and build of the Hunger Games, but Mockingjay – Part 1 is all about the fact that the Games are long gone. This is a real war now and everyone must adjust. Per usual, the performances are outstanding and particularly sincere, helping the film hit an appropriate middle ground between being about the main players as individuals and also respecting the bigger picture and what the current events mean for Panem as a nation.
I’m obsessed with Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). I want to know how he ended up the way he is, what his family is like, what his life will be like post-Nightcrawler and more. Dan Gilroy’s feature directorial debut is a downright riveting tale of an endlessly fascinating despicable man. Lou’s doing unlawful things the moment the film opens, but it’s hard not to be swayed by his seemingly innocent determination and persistence. Once Gilroy and Gyllenhaal get you rooting for this poor soul with loads of drive but zero interpersonal skills, they let the atrocities fly in a mind-blowing string of poor decision-making. Lou Bloom is the ultimate anti-hero. Everything he says and does is so wrong, but there’s such a mesmerizing quality to his behavior that you can’t get enough of it.
The moment I walked out of my first screening of Snowpiercer, all I wanted to do was go back in and experience the ride again. Thanks to the successful compartment-by-compartment approach to the narrative, the wealth of stunning visuals and the intensity of the main characters’ mission, when I watch Snowpiercer, I genuinely can’t wait to see every single scene. I’ve got my favorites like the big battle with the guards and the showdown in the classroom car, but the continuous feeling of looking forward to what’s to come gives the film an incredible amount of momentum and also makes it highly re-watchable. And not only is this one well worth sitting through multiple times for the fun of the mini-battles and the thrill of seeing Curtis (Chris Evans) and co. power through to the front of the train, but also because it’s such a rich environment loaded with captivating characters, fascinating societal rules and countless curious little details.
I grew up playing an instrument and loved it, but eventually I hit the point where I could see a distinct difference between those who were naturally talented and the ones who were just good learners and, much to my disappointment, I was certainly one of the latter. However, that never stopped me from admiring friends with that innate ability to hear and feel what I couldn’t, so it was no surprise when I felt an instant connection to Andrew (Miles Teller) in Whiplash. Sure, Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is abusive and over-the-top, but he’s right; “good job” won’t get you anywhere, especially when you’ve got the potential to be one of the best like Andrew. But is it even worth it? Should Andrew risk losing friends and family, tearing his hands apart and even his own life to excel at drumming? The answer can seem like a no-brainer, but then you get a taste of Andrew’s drive and, every so often, the slightest bit of encouragement from Fletcher, and that back-and-forth makes Andrew’s journey particularly engaging and riveting to track.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the large majority of Marvel movies, but I’ve never walked out of one as hyped as when I left Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s the ultimate summer blockbuster. It’s got humor, suspense, vibrant locations, cool technology and an abundance of brilliant characters. In fact, I probably could have indulged in the post-screening “who’s your favorite character” conversation for hours. (For the record, it’s Groot, but Drax is a close second.) The film doesn’t necessarily break the Marvel mold as far as the narrative goes, but it’s certainly a standout courtesy of the infectious energy, amusing oddities, killer soundtrack and surprising degree of warmth. Guardians of the Galaxy is a deep space romp with a feel-good quality to it that truly brightened my day.
2. The Babadook
Back when I was searching for inspiration for a personal Kickstarter campaign, I came across the one for The Babadook. It was extremely well done and also very much in line with the type of horror movie I was hoping to make, but never did I think the film would wind up becoming a favorite just two years later. It’s great that Jennifer Kent and her team hit their fundraising goal, but one of the most remarkable things about the campaign now is how much the final film adheres to Kent’s original intentions. It just goes to show that it’s of the utmost importance to have a leader who deeply believes in what she’s trying to achieve and knows how to make it happen. The Babadook has a great bogeyman vibe to it that anyone can enjoy, but it’s the way Kent weaves in the issue of what the Kickstarter campaign dubs a person’s “shadow side” that lets the film make a uniquely thoughtful and disturbing lasting impression.
No 2014 movie made me feel as much as Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild. Fortunately I’ve never been through the specific things that Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) struggles with when she decides to take a 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, but who can’t relate to the broader themes of coping with loss and the need to better oneself? Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby do a brilliant job inspiring the viewer to take something from this experience for him or herself without ever undermining what makes Cheryl’s journey so unique and profound. Witherspoon completely loses herself in this role, selling Cheryl as a fully realized person you quickly come to connect to and care about. It’s disappointing that more people aren’t talking about Wild for best editing honors because not only is the intercutting between Cheryl’s past and present absolutely seamless, but it’s vital to the character development and the film’s build. I really do wish I had the nerve to give the PCT a go, but experiencing it vicariously through Cheryl inWild is an extremely moving and inspiring way to get a taste of it without taking off for three months.
For more of our Best of 2014 coverage, browse the links below:
- Best Worst Movies of 2014
- Perri’s Top 10 Horror Films of 2014
- Best Cinematography of 2014
- Adam’s Top 10 Films of 2014
- The Top 10 Scores of 2014
- 10 Best Surprises of 2014, From Emily Blunt as an Action Star to THE LEGO MOVIE Not Sucking
- 5 Great Film and Music Moments From 2014
- 10 Great Films of 2014 You May Have Missed and You Should Absolutely Watch
- Oscar Beat: For Your Consideration – Overlooked Films, Performances, and Directors from 2014 That Warrant Recognition
- Comicbook Countdown: The Best Comic Book Shows of 2014 Including ARROW, THE FLASH, CONSTANTINE, GOTHAM, S.H.I.E.L.D., and THE WALKING DEAD
- 10 Best TV Episodes of the Season Thus Far
- Allison’s Other TV Bests of 2014
- Allison’s Top 12 Returning TV Series of 2014
- Allison’s Top 12 New TV Series of 2014