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.