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My 10 Favorite Films of 2014

My goal is to always get a top ten list done by Oscar time. With the Academy’s big day right around the corner, I’m keeping this short and to the point. I wasn’t blown away by 2014’s film offerings. Sorry. I seem to be in the minority, but there were a lot of disappointments, a lot of films I just liked and only a few that I really loved. My list last year took a good long while to curate. This one… not so much.

But all that mediocrity doesn’t take anything away from these movies! They stand up on their own as impressive works, and not just because they look good in comparison to Boyhood, the most staggeringly overrated hunk of garbage I’ve seen in a long, long time. As Delroy Lindo once said in Get Shorty, “I’ve seen better film on teeth.”

Now’s not the time to dwell on nostalgic horseshit, however. We’ll

leave that to Richard Linklater. No, now is the time for my ten favorite films of 2014. I won’t go deep into descriptions since all of these movies have been out a good long while, but I’ll do my best to sell them in a couple of lines for those of you who may not have heard of them all…

  1. A Most Violent Year – This one really surprised me. I expected it to be good, but it’s downright perfect. Every moment is executed with precision. It’s a crime movie, sure, but it feels so absolutely true to life. It’s a Kubrickian slow burn combined with a Lumet-like character study. Watch it.
  2. Birdman – Most importantly, Michael Keaton and Edward Norton going back and forth with each other is a joy to watch. The movie’s much lauded “single shot” style is just gravy on top of a lot of fine performances and a really funny script. In fact, forget about the editing for a second — sure, the whole no-cutting thing is cool, but the film’s no one trick pony. It’s tightly written and perfectly shot from beginning to end.
  3. Enemy – If you’re a somewhat young man with a future ahead of you and if you’re the least bit thoughtful about life, this movie should scare the hell out of you. And it’s a top two or three Jake Gyllenhaal performance! What’s going on? I used to hate that guy and now he’s doing interesting work out of nowhere. Speaking of…
  4. Nightcrawler – Jake Gyllenhaal is an utter creep to watch in this one and it’s a shame he won’t win an Oscar this year. It’s the best performance of his career. And this was shot all around L.A., which is another selling point for me. Michael Mann used to make movies in the City of Angels that looked this good, but I’m not sure he ever made one as gripping.
  5. Under the Skin –  Suspenseful from beginning to end, this has blockbuster written all over it on paper. Scarlett Johannson plays an alien. Big time adventure flick, right? Nope. It’s a scary, tricky low-budget sci-fi piece from Jonathan Glazer, a man who works rarely but knocks it out of the park every time he does. Watch for the scene on the beach and then try and think of a more harrowing scene on film this year.
  6. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson is so distinctly… well… he’s so distinctly Wes Anderson that I think he was in danger of being taken for granted. For me, and I think many others, this thoughtful and hilarious crime flick has planted me firmly back in Anderson’s camp. And Ralph Fiennes’ performance — how he was shut out by the Academy this year I will never know. I’ve always liked him, but now I’m convinced there’s nothing he can’t do on film.
  7. Blue Ruin – I’m going to say this without doing any research or giving it any thought: this movie is the best thing to ever come from Kickstarter. It’s a remarkable thriller and revenge story done on the cheap that’s full of raw emotion and violence. I knew literally nothing about this before I watched it other than I thought the cover art on Netflix looked intriguing. I’m so glad I took the time.
  8. St. Vincent – Yeah, it’s probably too sentimental. Yeah, it was probably too heavy on Oscar bait. A curmudgeonly old man taking a young boy under his wing is not a story that’ll score points for originality, but Bill Murray is so heartbreakingly good. Similar to Jeff Bridges’ alcoholic singer in Crazy Heart a couple years back, Murray really finds an honesty and humanity here that will eat away at you. Poignant doesn’t even begin to describe it.
  9. Nymphomaniac: Volumes I & II – I’m not really recommending this to anyone. If you’re interested in Lars Von Trier’s weirdness and you can tolerate four hours (or more for the uncut version) of his unflinching look at a woman’s sexual evolution and dysfunction, then give it a shot. However, I doubt you’ll like it. This one has put a lot of people off and I don’t blame them in the slightest. The saga’s richly dark sense of humor pulled me in from the get go, however, and the young actress, Stacy Martin, is riveting.
  10. Locke – Tom Hardy is so damn good. I’m not breaking any new ground here by saying this guy has a bright future ahead of him. Not many people pull off the old one-location movie very well, but Hardy and director Steven Knight make this car ride a gripping and emotional hour and a half. It’s all Hardy behind the wheel and there’s never a false moment.

That’s all, folks. Just like any decent human being does, I’m sure I’ll look back with regret over an omission at some point, but hopefully I have the coping skills to live with the shame. Even though it wasn’t my favorite year for movies, I had a good time looking back and remembering some gems. There were even some great big-budget action flicks that nearly made my list. Edge of Tomorrow didn’t do much at the box office, but I thought it was one of the most enjoyable sci-fi/action films I’d seen in years. And Dawn of the Planet of the Apes proved that there could be a quite a franchise ahead for those crazy talking chimps. I bought them both on Blu-ray as soon as they were released. I’ll definitely be shopping Amazon for a few of these top ten as well. I think A Most Violent Year is going to become a staple in my house.

Probably not Nymphomaniac, though. Once was enough… maybe even too much.

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