Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Top 10 Films of 2014

The Golden Globes have named their winners and Oscar Nominations will be announced on Thursday morning, so I guess that means this is the perfect time to reflect on 2014's cinematic offerings. While I wasn't blown away by many of the 100 new films I saw over the course of last year, there were plenty of solid titles released in 2014. So before we get into the Top 10, let's take a look at the films that just missed the cut.

Honorable Mentions: American Sniper, Laggies, The Skeleton Twins and Whiplash

*** Note: I still haven't seen A Most Violent Year

I never would have imagined the adapted teenage love story, The Fault in Our Stars, landing on this list, but it's difficult to argue against a beautifully acted, well written and strongly directed film. By now, you've probably heard about the soulful performance given by its leading lady, Shailene Woodley. Without taking anything away from her wonderful work, it's the overlooked newcomer Ansel Elgort who steals the film. The duo star as a pair of cancer-stricken teenagers who haphazardly stumble across a great romance. And although they're completely aware of what little time they may have left together, the fateful young lovers bravely embrace their future head-on. The Fault in Our Stars certainly plays to its sentiment, yet the film is leaps and bounds above such a minimizing label.

As it turns out, one of the year's most lucrative films also ranks as one of its best. I saw Guardians of the Galaxy fully aware of all the film's fine praises, and the action-comedy lived up to its billing. An unlikely band of misfits unite together to save the galaxy from complete annihilation. For as ludicrous as it looks and as strange as it sounds, director James Gunn delivers a completely thrilling and wildly hilarious film. The action sequences are visually pleasing and tasteful in length, traits that I definitely appreciate. I don't think I'm overstating it when I say that Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Marvel movie I've ever seen.

The general consensus among critics was that  St. Vincent was an above average, take it or leave it level of film. However, I enjoyed Bill Murray's latest comedy enough to see it land on my end of the year list. When a single mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her son (Jaeden Lieberher) move next door to a miserable old war vet named Vincent (Bill Murray), the boy and old man form a strange bond. Ted Melfi offers up a hearty drama about finding role models in the unlikeliest of places. St. Vincent is a crowd-pleasing experience that's supported heavily by Bill Murray's exceptional performance.

One aspect of this list that I'm pleased to notice is its diversity. With a teen romance drama and a movie-printing action blockbuster already making appearances on the list, the 7th best film of the year remains unpredictable with a little indie gem called Cheap Thrills. An unwavering concoction of dark comedy and psychological thriller, the film follows a loving husband and father named Craig (played by Pat Healy). When Craig discovers an eviction notice and loses his job all in the same day, he migrates to a local bar to have a drink. An unexpected run-in with an old friend and a wealthy new married couple transforms Craig's night into a high-stakes game of "fear-factor" where he learns just how far he's willing to go for financial security. Cheap-Thrills is an absolute must-see for anyone who can stomach the ride.

I've been a long-time admirer of Christopher Nolan's daring work as a filmmaker. As the director of Memento, The Prestige, Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy, it's understandable that his sci-fi epic Interstellar was one of the most anticipated films of the year. And in typical Nolan fashion, he did not disappoint. While I wouldn't call Interstellar his best work, the auteur still manages to push boundaries and require his audiences to venture deep into the furthest reaches of their minds, a commendable feat. No matter how you felt about the film's ambitious third act, which I actually enjoyed a lot, there's no denying that Christopher Nolan is a risk-taker. And as Interstellar proves, in my humble opinion, he's a very successful one.

#5. Chef

One of the films that set the bar awfully high throughout the year was Jon Favreau's indie comedy, Chef. As a passionate tale of doing what you love, all wrapped around a stellar father-son story, Chef satisfied our craving for an early-year hit. Despite its social media agenda and its all-too-happy final scene, Jon Favreau gives a winning return to his indie roots as the writer, director and star of this passion project. Completely omitted from the awards season discussion, and perhaps wrongfully so, Chef includes many ingredients deserving of acknowledgement. The film's genuine script is crowded with hilarity and countless worthwhile life messages. As a feature completely dedicated to its subject matter, there's plenty to savor with Chef.

This year was packed with amazing dark thrillers and dramas, and Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler was no exception. It proves to be a remarkable directorial debut for Gilroy, as the film and its leading star, Jake Gyllenhaal, continue to pick up steam in the Oscar hunt. Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a sociopath who finds his life calling as a videographer in the gritty world of crime journalism. Bloom's keen perspective and disregard for ethics help him manipulate his sidekick employee and a news producer (Rene Russo) as he climbs the ranks in this gruesome industry. Gyllenhaal is electric on screen and his supporting cast all elevate their game in Nightcrawler, one of the year's finest thrillers.

The fantastic career of filmmaker David Fincher has been well documented, and his 2014 adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, Gone Girl, is an unpredictable and suspenseful edge-of-your-seat experience. Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a husband who reports his wife's disappearance and becomes the center of the investigation as all signs begin to point to him. Gone Girl delivers a magnificent ensemble headed by Rosamund Pike's unbelievable work as missing wife Amy Dunne. Fincher is in superior form, Flynn pens her own screenplay and the acting is simply brilliant, leaving Gone Girl as one of 2014's elite films.

#2. Boyhood

As the Oscars creep closer and Golden Globe winner Richard Linklater's Boyhood takes control of the Best Picture race, this film will slowly become a household name. Just as impressive as the final product are the circumstances set around this cinematic masterpiece. Linklater shot the film in bits and pieces over the span of 12 long years, in turn developing one of the most authentic and captivating coming-of-age films of all-time. Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, a young boy we watch grow before our very eyes into an insightful and spirited young man. From the ages of 6 to 18, we see Mason's experiences growing up with a single mother (Patrica Arquette) desperate for stability, and how these moments impact his transformation into adulthood. It's a simple fact, you've never witnessed anything like Boyhood before. It's a once in a lifetime experience that would make a fine Best Picture winner any year, especially this one.

It's an undeniable truth, most films suffer from inflated expectations. Other ones, such as Bennett Miller's unforgettable instant-classic, Foxcatcher, take those expectations and run relentlessly with them. I literally waited years for this film, and not a single frame is wasted in this gripping and tense tale of manipulation and obsession. Channing Tatum stars as Olympic Gold Medalist wrestler, Mark Schultz, who was overshadowed by his older and more sociable brother, Dave's (Mark Ruffalo), legacy. But when a wealthy multi-millionaire named John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) asks Mark to move to his Foxcatcher Farms and coach a highly competitive wrestling team at his facilities, the younger sibling jumps at the opportunity to pave his own path. However, the toxic relationship formed between du Pont and Mark would ultimately lead to devastating consequences. Some may argue Foxcatcher as a sluggish and slightly ambiguous drama, but I think they couldn't be further from the truth. Foxcatcher is an evenly paced and beautifully subtle film that progresses eerily into a ticking time-bomb of a finale that you'll never forget. Anyone who enjoys an interesting story surrounding multi-dimensional characters is guaranteed to appreciate my top film of the year, Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher.

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