My Top 20 Films of 2014: 20-16

While I still have a few films remaining that I had hoped to see (American Sniper and The Theory of Everything to name just two), I have seen enough that I feel comfortable crafting my list of the top films of the year.  Year-end best-of lists can be crafted in many different ways.  How did I go about putting mine together?  I listed all of the films I enjoyed this year and then asked myself, “If I were to only have x number of films to keep for posterity from this year, which would they be?  I feel like this gives me leeway to include some films that normally wouldn’t even sniff most Top 10s (or more in my case), like my #20, for instance.  While last year my list went 25 strong, this year I have reduced that number to 20.  However, here are ten Honorable Mentions that I also enjoyed (in alphabetical order):

Bad Words
Bad Words

Begin Again
Begin Again

Coherence
Coherence

Gone Girl
Gone Girl

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy

Ida
Ida

Only Lovers Left Alive
Only Lovers Left Alive

The Raid 2
The Raid 2: Berendal

Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer

Starred Up
Starred Up

Captain-America-Winter-Soldier

20. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It’s very rare for a comic book movie to rise above its genre and do more than be big action set pieces with massive destruction that appeases the fanboys out there.  To be sure, Captain America: The Winter Soldier had all of this, especially the massive ending.  But it also managed to tap into the discussion of government power and surveillance in the modern world.  It evoked an atmosphere of the paranoid espionage thrillers of the 1970s, which made the casting of Robert Redford in a supporting role so perfect.  While Guardians of the Galaxy was the bigger comic book flick of 2014 in terms of box office, I thought Captain America: The Winter Soldier was slightly stronger overall.

John-Wick

19. John Wick
If there is one action film I could recommend to anyone from 2014, it is John Wick.  There is something to be said for a film knowing what it is, staying in its lane, and executing its premise to full effect.  John Wick excels as a revenge action flick and maximizes its talent on and behind the camera.  Probably the most enjoyable shoot ’em up action movie I’ve seen since… Shoot ‘Em Up.  This is a genre that makes the most of Keanu Reeves’ limited acting range.  After seeing John Wick, it made me wish Keanu had made more films like this than The Lake House.  There is no doubt in my mind he would have been a bigger movie star if he had.

Selma

18. Selma
Making a late entry onto my list as I just saw it this week, Selma treats Martin Luther King Jr. and the Selma march with grace, dignity, and refreshing realism.  Biopics often elevate their subject matter and condense events to put the main character on a pedestal.  Director Ava DuVernay escapes most of the snares of the biopic here.  David Oyelowo, while not necessarily looking like MLK, certainly gets the cadence down and gives a truly moving performance.  I loved how the film showed the process of peaceful protest, allowed for shading of characters (including the lead), and used reason and righteous fury to in the face of hatred to overcome.  While MLK was known as a great orator and leader, some of the best moments of this film are the quiet small moments, even moments of doubt and being unsure.

Enemy

17. Enemy
To say Jake Gyllenhaal had a pretty good year is an understatement.  Enemy was the clear standout winner of the “Wait, what did I just watch?” award.  Denis Villeneuve, who also directed Gyllenhaal in 2013’s Prisoners, crafted a great head scratcher with layers that really challenges the viewer, and though I only saw it once, almost certainly rewards second and third viewings.  Gyllenhaal gives two good performances here as a man and his doppelgänger, or two sides of the same coin perhaps?  This is the one film that led me to the internet to see what other people were saying about it than any other.  Also, creepy spiders.

Birdman

16. Birdman
This one is getting a lot of award buzz and rightfully so.  It’s nice to see Michael Keaton back.  There is a meta quality to this film, from Keaton’s Batman mirroring his character’s Birdman to Edward Norton’s character having a reputation of being difficult to work with and wanting to self-edit his lines.  And there is the single-shot trickery of the camerawork, even though events play out over several days.  But beyond the trickery and the meta of it all is a really enjoyable movie with sharp, heightened dialogue that normally would sound ludicrous but manages to work here.  I’m not sure anything the film is saying about cinema and theater and actors and showbiz is too profound, and any of the commentary of social networks in this doesn’t work at all, but Keaton is probably the frontrunner for Best Actor and Edward Norton is rightfully in the mix for Best Supporting Actor.

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