To follow on from Josh’s review of the Special Mentions and Obscure Gems for 2014, we’re continuing with his Movie Squabbler list of the 10 Best Movies of 2014. This Top 10 list is an eclectic mix of film genres and there is something for everyone on this list. If you plan on watching this year’s Oscars on the 22nd February, this article provides an insight into the films and actors to watch out for.
10 Best Movies of 2014
This is a very hard movie to write about and rate properly. On one hand, Interstellar is as ambitious a movie as has been made in a long time from the intricate plot to the grand sci-fi scope to the science right down to the goddamn sound editing. For that I give Nolan and team all the credit in the world.
On the other hand, it can be extremely frustrating with a confusing plot, sometimes downright hokey dialogue and having to see Matthew McConaughey cry 100 times about his kids. Even though it’s nearly 3 hours long, it demands to be seen on the big screen and probably more than once.
The cast is terrific, the story is compelling and thought provoking, and who else but Christopher Nolan can pull off these ambitious creations – let’s keep supporting him and his amazing talents.
9. Begin Again
John Carney, the writer and director of the delightful musical drama Once, returns with a similarly charming movie that appears to have the same bones, but this time with a much more high profile cast. Mark Ruffalo plays a down on his luck indie music executive who discovers Kiera Knightly, a reserved singer songwriter who is recovering from a breakup with an up and coming rock star, played by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine.
The music is catchy and thematic and the relationships crackle with emotion but go in surprising directions that avoid cliché. James Corden, a British actor of little renown in the US, is a real stand out in a small role and someone we will see a lot more of.
8. (Tie) 22 Jump Street / Neighbors
The two biggest comedy hits of the year were both deservedly successful and equally hilarious. They are also too similar to try and rate separately. They both star members of the Judd Apatow comedy frat pack – Seth Rogen in Neighbors and Jonah Hill in Jump Street, and both take ideas that are very easy to screw up and knock it out of the park.
Neighbors wants you to believe Rogen as a non-stoner family man and Zack Efron as a hilarious frat boy while Jump Street sequelizes one of the unlikeliest hits of the last few years and manages to make the same plot just as funny the 2nd time around. These movies are so similar in tone and excellent execution from beginning to end that I’m sure these will be the 2014 comedies we’ll be remembering and watching again and again.
6. The Imitation Game
Oh Benedict Cumberbatch, can anyone else play Asperger’s Disease with more charm than you? From Sherlock to Kahn to Alan Turing, he is a master of the cold but sympathetic genius. This is the amazing true story of a group of British mathematicians during WW2 who set out to break the German Enigma machine and with that, allow the Allies to turn the tide of the entire war.
Well, really one super genius, off putting genius Alan Turing, and a bunch other people who wish they were as smart but don’t actually contribute much (at least in this version of the truth). Keira Knightley plays an unlikely love interest and a woman fighting gender stereotypes of the 1940’s.
I make light but this is a great dramatic story with a dynamic lead performance, really high stakes and a true story that is too good to be true. I actually wish they spent a little less time building the big machine than dealing with the really tricky politics of the third act of the movie which they gloss over quite quickly. Still, this could be the movie that is the commercial and critical hit of Oscar season.
5. Lego Movie
Lego Movie is a shot of fresh air from beginning to end. It is the best kind of family fare: irreverent jokes for the adults, colorful and recognizable characters for the kids, and a story that blends the best of both. It is also a very risky movie using characters from all different origins and the fact that all the animation is meant to look like real Lego movements.
The story is a typical adventure plot with a unlikely hero played by real life average guy turned superhero Chris Pratt being thrust into extraordinary circumstances to save everyone and yada yada yada. I don’t think you’re watching this for the plot.
However, it all works beautifully thanks to the wit and creativity of directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of meatballs) and the great acting cast led by Pratt and with a lot of support from the likes of Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman.
Birdman is the kind of story that can only work as a movie, it is truly a cinematic experience. Directed by indie auteur Alejandro Innaritu (Babel, Amores Perros), it stars the irascible Michael Keaton as a washed up actor best known for playing a famous superhero named Birdman who is now trying to launch a Broadway play as he sort of loses his mind.
That may not be a very interesting synopsis but it’s made up for with style, a unique drum score, an awesome supporting cast, and cinematic tricks to keep you supremely engaged. Edward Norton plays a vain Broadway star, Emma Stone is Keaton’s spoiled daughter, Zack Galifianakis is Keaton’s exasperated lawyer/partner, and Naomi Watts is the star of his show. Keaton is the real star here in his first performance guaranteed to get him an Oscar nomination.
I don’t want to say too much more because so much of the joy of this movie is in the filmmaking and the non-traditional plot so try and see it before you read too much.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
Galaxy delivers total fun and entertainment from start to finish. A sort of genre mash up of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and the Marvel comic book universe that came with low expectations at the end of the summer, this movie surprised everyone and become the highest grossing movie of the year.
For those who like Parks and Recreation, you won’t be too surprised that Chris Pratt is totally awesome as Star Lord, the leader of a rag tag bunch of aliens and humans who get in over their heads and have to save the world, or something like that. Bradley Cooper somehow makes a talking raccoon totally kick-ass and Vin Diesel plays a talking tree but dammit, it works. Just don’t think too hard or you may find plenty of holes to poke, but it’s a comic book movie starring a tree and a raccoon so let’s not be too judgy about it.
2. Gone Girl
Gone Girl is a great thriller that takes total advantage of an exacting director, compelling source material, and note perfect lead performances by the resurgent Ben Affleck and relative unknown Rosamund Pike. If you have not read the book, then try to see this movie with as little info as possible so the twists and turns take you by surprise. The story of a man who may or may not have killed his wife and how their volatile marriage has led them to this place is an acerbic and cynical view of marriage as well as a tale that shines the spotlight on how the media distorts the truth from fiction.
David Fincher continues to cement his legacy as a master director of dark material with a meticulous eye for detail. Ben Affleck was obviously cast b/c he knows what it’s like to be mistreated and misunderstood from the media. However, casting Tyler Perry as a slick defense attorney and Neil Patrick Harris as a mysterious and rich playboy don’t feel like they should work but they absolutely do.
Fincher once again gets a movie star performance out of a relatively unknown female actress as Rosamund Pike strikes the perfect balance between put upon wife and scheming sociopath to keep you guessing which Amy is the real one.
1. Theory of Everything
I don’t know if I am getting sappy in my old age but I absolutely loved this touching story about Stephen Hawking and his great love story… all the Hollywood movie clichés be damned. Plus, if you think the blatantly tear inducing Fault in Our Stars will bring on the water works, keep the tissues handy for this one.
Eddie Redmayne from Les Miserables portrays Hawking from an awkward, genius college student through his diagnosis and deterioration into the depths of his terrible disease. British actress Felicity Jones plays the woman who falls in love with him when he’s healthy and because of his huge heart and intellect, she continues to be his loving wife and caretaker through these terrible challenges. Both uplifting and absolutely heart breaking, this is a beautiful story I am afraid to seek out how much is real vs. the movie version of their love story.
This movie has a distinctly British feel, which means the most heartbreaking scenes are the quietest but they are just as devastating when they happen. Redmayne has an incredibly challenging physical role but he also imbues Hawking with humor and a zest for life you don’t expect.
I think he is easily the Best Actor this year. I hope this movie gets all the awards love it deserves, but it has not caught on commercially like I believe it could.