At the time I am writing this, my watchlist of movies from last year that I still haven’t seen but want to stands at a bold 21.This list includes documentaries such as Life Itself and Citizenfour, as well as foreign language films like Leviathan and Deux Jours, une Nuit (2 Days, One Night), and wide-release features like Inherent Vice and Still Alice. That being said, I have an even longer list of movies that I enjoyed over the course of 2014. Here are some of my absolute favorites from that list:
Whiplash – Dir. Damien Chazelle
Whiplash had to get first mention on this list. It may not have been my favorite all-around film from last year, but it captured my attention in a way that many other 2014 films failed to do. From that first snare hit over the black screen, I was enticed. There isn’t a scene in this movie that isn’t dripping with tension and ferocity. J.K. Simmons is already one of my favorite actors. Whenever I see him in a movie I know he’s going to make that movie a little bit better, no matter how bad that picture is overall. His role in Whiplash was designed for him. At times quietly cold, but more often furiously explosive, Simmons owns the screen throughout the film. This being said, Miles Teller doesn’t get overshadowed by Simmons in any way. Teller holds his own amongst the veteran actor and has an equally explosive performance as the hyper-dedicated drumming prodigy. The pair’s dynamic is perfect. Beyond the acting, the sound/music was phenomenal, the cinematography was airtight, and the story, albeit simple, is perfect for what Chazelle wanted to portray. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do so. It’ll be well worth it.
Birdman – Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
I’ve seen Birdman twice now, and both times I was enthralled from beginning to end. Partly due to Michael Keaton’s amazing performance and partly due to the fantastic script and partly due to the unique, driving score and partly due to the free-flow cinematography and partly due to etc. etc. ad infinitum. This is simply an incredibly well-crafted film. It is hard to find something that is inherently wrong with this movie (except perhaps the scene where CGI takes over and a giant monster attacks the Birdman in the streets of New York, but I can overlook that departure from the mood of the rest of the film). And yes, maybe some of the interactions between Ed Norton’s character and Emma Stone’s character are unnecessary and belabored. But overall, this film is an A in my book. I will likely buy this movie when it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray. It is a movie I will definitely want to watch again in the future, whether it be for the third time, or the fourth time, or the…
Nightcrawler – Dir. Dan Gilroy
This movie isn’t impressive on every front, but Nightcrawler definitely succeeds in giving the audience a legitimately creepy portrait of a legitimately creepy dude. Jake Gyllenhaal, who I enjoy the majority of the time, gives one of his best performances ever, in my opinion, as the calm but ultimately crazy freelance news cameraman. The script is superbly crafted, albeit it is really only focusing on one static character. The tension is there, you want to know what Gyllenhaal’s character is going to do next, and the movie doesn’t let up on its pacing in order to bore you with anything unnecessary. I really enjoyed this film, and I definitely want to see it again, seeing as it is a few months in my rearview at this point.
Force Majeure – Dir. Ruben Ostlund
Something about this movie made me groan in the best possible way. I was groaning in agony over the characters drudging through increasingly awkward scenarios brought on by a seemingly arbitrary event. In some ways, I don’t know why I love this movie so much, I just know that I do. The dialogue is so well crafted that you know how focused the screenwriter was on these characters and what their thoughts and reactions would be over the simple matter of running away from an avalanche. The tension is cringe-inducing. It’s almost hard to watch despite the fact that there is nothing inherently disturbing about the film. Watching a person be exposed, stripped down to their animalistic urges and judged on them, induces a certain self-reflection. The questions posed in this film don’t have clear answers, which leaves the viewer to truly inspect their own drives and motivations. Would you abandon your family if faced with an immediate and pressing danger? Most people couldn’t answer that with certainty. This movie picks the implications of this scenario apart in the most beautiful way. The fact that this movie wasn’t nominated for an Oscar broke my heart. See this movie.
The Babadook – Dir. Jennifer Kent
I have a soft spot in my heart for horror movies. I grew up loving them to death, not caring that most of them don’t hold up as quality pieces of cinema. That being said, I have fallen out of favor with them as of late. This could be because I have grown up and have realized that better movies exist. But I think the real reason is that the horror movies that are churned out mechanically nowadays are missing the point of true horror. There’s nothing scary about seeing a movie about an axe murderer for the sake of seeing decapitations and exposed cleavage. The horror is in the context around the violence and the sex (if there needs to be any of that at all). I think the fact that a lot of horror films can be made on a low budget by virtually anybody has muddied the waters of what the genre can bring. I’m not saying all horror movies of the new millennium are bad (some of my absolute favorite horror movies have come from the past 15 years), but it is not hard for me to say that many miss the mark of what it means to make a good movie.
The Babadook does not miss any marks. I heard only good things about this movie going into it, and I came out with only good things to say about it. Some, if not most, horror fans will likely find this movie boring. It is slow at points and does not rely on any jump scare tactics to elevate the viewer’s pulse. But it is still really, really scary. Just in a different way. I didn’t flinch or jump at all when I watched this movie. But I was certainly uneasy. And the film has something to say about the psychological hold that grief can have on a person. This movie has characters. I’ll say it again: This horror movie has real characters in it. I might not be able to say that again for a few years. Essie Davis is phenomenal. Noah Wiseman also shows us some young talent. I feel that, by now, the buzz has gone around about this movie. But if it hasn’t, I can only emphasize the same point that everyone else is: See this movie!
It pretty much goes without saying that I missed a lot of great movies from 2014. But I’ll say it anyway. I am aware of Boyhood and (the unfortunately, Academy snubbed) Selma and The Imitation Game, etc. I liked those movies too. Some of them I loved. But for one reason or another, these five movies stood out as truly great movies that I felt I had to address.
As always, thanks for reading!
What do you think were the best movies of 2014? What movies are you looking forward to in 2015? Let me know in the comments!
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