My Favorite Movies of 2014

2014, best of, favorite, movies, list, top 20, top 10

I hate lists. And, I love them. The problem with lists anymore is that they’ve become such a cultural mainstay these days that the lines start to blur when it comes to what’s really being discussed. We tend to lose what’s great about anything actually ON the list and instead focus on the order in which it’s listed. That annoys the shit out of me. Still, I’m just as much to blame for perpetuating the concept of lists (be it for my job or personal), but that doesn’t mean I wholeheartedly agree that the concept always hits its mark.

With all that said, I’m presenting my favorite films of 2014 and I’m doing it in alphabetical order. I don’t do this to rob anyone of my genuine opinion or to pretend like I’m too good to pick favorites; I’m doing it because I loved each of these films for very different reasons and most of them are very different films from one another (and some are also very similar). Mainly, I don’t want to detract from what’s great about each film simply by it being in an order placement you may or may not agree with. Honestly, that shit has just gotten silly. So, I’m giving a brief rundown of what I dug about each of these films and what made them stand out above all the rest.

That’s not to say that there weren’t other great films I saw this year. I’m sure some will scoff at me for having 300: Rise of an Empire on here, while something like Inherent Vice (Quirky fun, but nothing I’d watch again) or Nightcrawler (great performances, not a great film) are absent. In the end, this is just my opinion, based on my personal tastes. I’m not trying to craft some embodiment of what’s expected to be on a critic’s end-of-year list. I don’t mean that as a knock against critics. I wholly respect the critics that work for me and commend the work they do. They have much to consider when putting together an end-of-year-list, especially when it’s for a vast audience. My list, however, is solely for me, and anyone who gives two shits what I might think. I’m cool with you loving or hating my selections. Ultimately, I think the purpose of a list of favorites is only as compelling as it is honest, so that’s what I’m peddling here. Enjoy. Or don’t. Let’s get into it, shall we?

american sniper, bradley cooper, clint eastwood

American Sniper – Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Chris Kyle’s journey to becoming America’s Most Deadliest Sniper is a moving portrait of “The Legend,” which is realized with an amazing (and wholly underappreciated) turn by Bradley Cooper. Where Eastwood fails in the style department, Cooper picks up the slack and helps make this one of the finest films to document not only The War on Terror, but the cost that it has had on our Soldiers. As a Combat Veteran, the film made me want to go back, made me glad I was out, and made me think on what it was all about. Whenever I can leave a modern war film and not feel angry at how we are portrayed then I call it a win and American Sniper checks that box and then some.

begin again, mark ruffalo, keira knightley

Begin Again – This one really snuck up on me. I kind of rolled my eyes at so many critics loving the shit out of this, but after finally catching it I had to eat some crow. Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley are excellent in this music (not musical) drama that captures the essence of the age-old “chasing your passion and realizing your dreams” concept with heart, humor, and some terrific atmosphere, particularly in the streets of New York City. The music is catchy, spirited, and inspiring with a sense of longing, heartbreak, and perseverance. A really great feel-good film that doesn’t beat you over the head so much as tug at your heart, and not in a sappy romance kind of way, but in a genuine, meaningful one.

big hero 6, disney, marvel, baymax, hiro

Big Hero 6 – There was a lot riding on Big Hero 6 to live up to the Marvel AND Disney brand as an animated film and it does so with all the usual tricks that are employed by both studios, while still managing to create a whole new world and set of characters. Baymax is an instant classic character that is primed to make many more appearances with the rest of the team, supplying more than enough fortitude to forge a franchise. The themes are familiar, but the magic, heart, and adventure are all on point for this animated romp. Sign me up for the inevitable sequels.

blue ruin, jeremy saultier, macon blair

Blue Ruin – This one was a major hit with critics, but still managed to fly well under the radar and was overlooked on many end-of-year lists. For my money, this was a taut, suspenseful, moody, and unpredictable revenge flick that had me at the edge of my seat from start to finish. Macon Blair is outstanding as the vulnerable, yet crafty protagonist who metes out clumsy justice with some chilling results. Rich with atmosphere and filled with some bloody confrontations, this one will have you walking a tightrope to the end credits. A kickass attention-grabber for filmmaker Jeremy Sulnier, who is definitely one to watch.

boyhood, richard linklater, ethan hawke, ellar coltrane

Boyhood – Director Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making, coming-of-age drama is filled with his usual blend of down-to-Earth characters and interactions that make you feel like you really know the people you’re watching. The film tackles the “moments between moments” while charting newcomer Ellar Coltrane as he agea from 5 to 18, dealing with all the usual things most kids face in the course of their childhood, tossing in a variety of other challenges, lessons, and interactions that shape who he becomes. It’s heartfelt, bittersweet, inspirational, and ultimately an innovative and exceptional use of the medium of film; for that alone, Boyhood deserves its accolades. Brilliant filmmaking.

marvel, captain america, captain america: the winter soldier, bucky barnes, chris evans, sebastian stan

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Anyone that knows me, knows my bias for this one. I’ve been a Cap fan since I first started reading comics more than 25 years ago and The Winter Soldier storyline from Ed Brubaker is one of the best of the series. Thankfully, the film absolutely lives up the source material, with first-time directors Joe and Anthony Russo hitting a home run, taking Cap into the modern world and into a ‘70’s style spy actioner that truly delivers on that premise. For my money there’s no better action film from 2014 that’s as well-rounded, rousing, and badass. If I had to pick only one film as my all-around favorite of the year, this would be it. For me this is a film that fires on all cylinders and is infinitely rewatchable, unlike last year’s lackluster Marvel entries of Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3. More like this, please.

chef, jon favreau, sofia vergara

Chef – Jon Favreau’s sweet-natured, simple, feel-good flick is part inspirational tale and part mouth-watering tease, following a high-end chef (Favreau) as he reevaluates his career, starting a food truck business that helps not only rediscover his passion for cooking, but also reconnects him with his son. So, yeah, lots of “re” happening here. Like a great meal, Chef goes down easy and leaves you fully satiated on an emotional level. The film doesn’t require much of you, other than kicking back and enjoying the savory flavor of a well-made dramedy that ends up being the best thing Favreau’s done since 2008’s Iron Man.

dead snow 2: red vs. dead, dead snow, nazi, zombies

Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead – I never saw the first film, but this sequel from writer/director Tommy Wirkola (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters) is just an absolute blast of over-the-top shock gore mixed with a healthy dose of black comedy. Nazi zombies vs. amateur nerd zombie killers and a man with a powerful zombie arm may sound unreasonably silly and it certainly is, but it works on every level. If you like sick, twisted, gory fun then this is just right for you. A total blast with some really fun, insane, and just “wrong” moments, Dead Snow 2 is a hell of a ride.

edge of tomorrow, tom cruise, emily blunt, live, die, repeat

Edge of Tomorrow – A surprisingly fun and original high concept sci-fi action flick, EOT felt every bit the “summer” movie and reminded me of the spirit of earlier summer pics like Speed or Independence Day. Plenty of silliness, charm, action, and coolness, EOT makes a great team-up of Tom Cruise and the ever-so-sexy and talented Emily Blunt, who are convincingly awesome in their time-skipping roles. Like Lone Ranger and John Carter, EOT was sold as a flop before it was ever released and it’s the better film of either of those and a kickass one regardless of the comparison. I’ll take something like this over another sequel/reboot any day (Robocop anyone? Anyone? I thought so).

fury, david ayer, brad pitt, logan lerman

Fury – Director David Ayer (End of Watch) graduates to the big leagues with this Brad Pitt starring WWII Tank film that doesn’t pull any punches in showing the harsh realities of war and the camaraderie built within it. While familiar stereotypes feel present at first, the film quickly distances itself from them, giving an unflinching and unapologetic look at the horror, pain, heartbreak, and heroism that comes out of men killing each other on a massive scale. Pitt is great, as usual, and young Logan Lerman shows he’s got more than “tween” appeal as the reluctant Soldier. Ayer retains all the grit and harshness that’s been characteristic in his work thus far and if nothing else, Fury should strengthen your excitement for his forthcoming DC Comics adaptation of Suicide Squad.

gone girl, rosamund pike, david fincher, ben affleck

Gone Girl – David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel is nothing short of edge-of-your seat entertaining and deeply engrossing. The novel’s controversial ending is mostly intact and while that riled up many who wanted a neat little bow to wrap it all up, I felt this film flowed to a perfect ending. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score is every bit a key to the success of the film than any of the performances, as the music creates an atmosphere that would’ve been unmatched by any other composer. The true shining star of the film is Rosamund Pike, who brilliantly executes the role of “Amazing Amy” with a frightening, psychotic charm; one of my favorite performances of the year, by far.

the grand budapest hotel, ralph fiennes, wes anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel – A truly refined, hilarious, and beautiful film from director Was Anderson, who once again compiles a terrific cast in an intricate and quirky tale that peels like an onion with characters and plot. Anderson takes you to places you’ve never been before, lending intricate details to every scene that makes for the most compelling watch. Ralph Fiennes absolutely steals the film as M. Gustave, the concierge at The Grand Budapest, who is every bit as crafty and genuine as he is flawed. It’s Fiennes finest role and one that I could watch in a series of films if Anderson ever decided to make more.

guardians of the galaxy, james gunn, chris pratt, star-lord

Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel had a one-two punch this year with their next two entries in the MCU and Guardians was the biggest risk that paid off the most. Although I prefer Cap 2 over this, I still found Guardians to be an absolute blast and a much-needed change of scenery for Marvel’s current stable. Director James Gunn brings his sense of quirk to the film, while still retaining the adventure and magic of the other interconnected flicks. Chris Pratt announced his leading-man status with the role of Star-Lord, which capitalized on his sense of humor, while building a new kind of Marvel hero. Many scoffed at the idea of this originally, but the fact that a talking raccoon and talking tree are now household names says a lot.

the interview, north korea, seth rogen, james franco, evan goldberg

The Interview – The controversy of The Interview led many to believe that the film was more than it was meant to be (and it is, but not by choice). It’s a silly, crude, and hilarious flick that satirizes a dictator with dick jokes and shocking comedic violence. I loved every second of it. Many felt it “didn’t live up to the hype” but I can only wonder what the hell that means. Which hype are we talking about exactly? For me, I just wanted to see a comedy that took a little risk, yet delivered on the silly shit I’ve come to expect from team Rogen/Goldberg/Franco. I wasn’t looking for a comedy with deep, meaningful political commentary. If that was your hope, then you missed the mark and got caught up on the wrong end of the hype. I’m glad this was released, laughed my ass off from start to finish, and am even happier that it pissed off Kim Jong Un. I hope all of North Korea gets to see him cry and shit his pants.

the lego movie, lego, chris pratt, elizabeth banks

The LEGO Movie – Arguably the best animated film of the year, directors Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street) took the famous brick toys and made a layered, hilarious, inventive, and entertaining flick that caters to both adults and kids alike. It’s that rare “kids” film that can actually remain fairly neutral in who it’s meant for. Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks lead an all-star cast that brings the little mini-figures and their intricate brick world to life with humor, adventure, and of course, a “message,” all of which amounts to one of the most satisfying films of the year, animated or not.

neighbors, seth rogen, rose byrne, zac efron

Neighbors – That “other” Seth Rogen movie was also one of the more hilarious ones to come out in 2014. Strangely, co-star Zac Efron is more than up to task as the frat house leader that causes trouble for married couple Rogen and Rose Byrne (and baby) when his frat move in to their neighborhood. The concept never gets stale and the raunchy, shocking, and “oh my God” moments keep the film on a forward momentum of laughs. Byrne once again proves that she’s got serious comedic chops (the “milking” scene alone sells this flick) and the supporting cast pushes this to the top. The characters here are both loveable and atrocious (sometimes both) and I’d leave the door open to see them in another “neighborly” sequel.

the raid 2, the raid 2: berandal, iko uwais, gareth evans

The Raid 2: Berandal – Gareth Evans returns to his hard-hitting, jaw-breaking, bone-crunching world of The Raid with a sequel that is not only equal in terms of carnage, but raises the bar to another level, tossing in a car chase, a prison riot, and one hell of a kitchen knife fight that will leave you grasping for band aids. Star Iko Uwais absolutely dominates with intensity and sheer physical presence in the sequel, making him a prime candidate to make the leap into action superstardom (Hello, Expendables 4? Iko here.) The story isn’t as complex as it tries to be, but it’s certainly a notch above a few bits of chatter between head butts and gives enough layering to the action that makes it a finely crafted flick rather than a mindless knock-around. Evans is a talent at orchestrating this madness and I’m game to watch these pics as often as he churns ‘em out.

chris evans, snowpiercer, octavia spencer, tilda swinton

Snowpiercer – This is one of the coolest sci-fi films I’ve seen in a long time. Chris Evans leads a ragtag crew through a futuristic train that mirrors the class system of society, in this case the front and the tail. The concept of a speeding train traveling across a “snowpocalyptic” future with the inhabitants fighting amongst themselves is cool enough, but director Bong Joon-Ho kicks it up another notch in creating the world of the train, which has each car representing a different aspect of life that serves the overall train. The characters are a melting pot as well, lending considerable diversity amongst the cast, with great turns from Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, and Ed Harris. Then, there’s the action, which is brutal, fun, and presented in a way that keeps the story moving. This is truly great sci-fi that capitalizes on all aspects of the genre.

whiplash, miles teller, J.K. Simmons

Whiplash – The one film that keeps popping up on all critics’ best-of lists is Whiplash. As it turns out, it absolutely belongs there. Telling the story of a young drummer (Miles Teller) going to school at a conservatory in New York in order to become one of the “greats” while under the tutelage of a ruthless, relentless, and abusive instructor (J.K. Simmons), Whiplash is the real deal. Simmons is stunning here and Teller more than holds his own. You would never guess that a jazz music drama would be so powerful, but this is downright bloody and vicious in every way, right down to the teeth-baring finale that is a true trial-by-fire that pays off the film in spades. This is a film about the sacrifice of chasing your dreams and could easily serve as a metaphor for the “blood, sweat, and tears” commonly called upon to attain greatness. Phenomenal film.

300, 300: Rise of an empire, eva green

300: Rise of an Empire – All right, here we go. Now you’re gonna get all nuts and call bullshit. Well, I’m out of fucks to give. I loved this movie. I may even love it more than the first one (Oh, you heard me right). Perhaps my expectations were super low, but this sequel surprised the hell out of me. It’s a fucking blast from start to finish. It has all the bloody style and slow-mo antics of the first, but it also has something that the original didn’t; an awesome performance from its lead. Sure, Gerard Butler was fun in his chest-beating role of Leonidas, but he is absolutely upstaged by Eva Green in this one, who plays the villainous Artemisia with scene-chewing goodness and passionate brutality. Green is as vicious as she is sexy, truly embracing a role that, by all accounts, should’ve been a silly throwaway paycheck. Instead, she owns the film and puts out not only a fantastic performance, but one of the best villain roles ever. Unapologetically, I loved this film. Sue me.

And that’s it for 2014! I have high hopes for 2015, which has a shit-ton of great flicks on the way (Check out our line up of just some of them over on JoBlo). I make zero promises that I’ll update this site at a regular pace, but hope to check in from time to time. Meanwhile, you can read my work on Joblo.com or follow me on Twitter for all the latest, greatest, and my own movie ramblings. Until then; save me a seat.

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2 Responses to My Favorite Movies of 2014

  1. Jeremy [Retro] January 6, 2015 at 4:49 am #

    Thank you for a great balance of titles, you bring a rounded scope of many types… I have some films to catch up on!

  2. Paige (Glinda) January 9, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

    Thoroughly enjoyed your end of year reviews Paul, this was a fun read. On your list I’ve seen 13 and 3 more I’m still trying to catch up on. The only one I didn’t love was Fury, and I don’t know what it was but I’m going to give it a rewatch once it comes out for rental. I typically love war movies so not sure why it didn’t grab me. I’m impatiently waiting on American Sniper and glad to hear you loved it. You’ve got me wanting to see Whiplash more than ever but we don’t have it yet here.

    It was a fantastic year and what a year to come! That video was awesome. Thanks for the link to your review. Great job as always.

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