Sam's Top Ten Films of 2014
Sam's Top Ten Films of 2014
The Imitation Game
Guardians of the Galaxy
XMen: Days of Future Past
The Lego Movie
Under the Skin
The Raid 2
The One I Love
This last spot, as one would imagine, had a lot of contenders. In fact, the films that came closest to this spot — Nightcrawler and Birdman — both shared the positive of having one main performance outshine the film. The reason Selma lands this top spot is not only because Dave Oyelowo’s performance as Martin Luther King topped Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Keaton, but director Ava DuVernay delivered a film that could stand up to the power of Oyelowo’s performance. While many will argue that either Keaton or Gyllenhaal is most worthy of Best Actor after creating over-the-top characters, I’d say that Oyelowo had the toughest task in portraying King. I imagine one can count the number of actors who can recreate King’s oratory prowess on one hand. Oyelowo is this year’s best leading actor. I don’t care what Oscar says (unless they agree with me)
9. Gone Girl
David Fincher just knows how to skeeve me out — which is lucky because Gone Girl calls for a director to do just that. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl gives me the dose of adrenaline this list makes it look like I need to survive and also gives some commentary on the media and relationships (marriage in particular). While Fincher provides the starkness, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike seal the deal with worthwhile performances in this cat-and-mouse game. I am not a huge Affleck fan, but he won me over with his detached douchebag Nick. Pike was perfect as the steely Amy and I’m very excited to see her work going forward. The film received bonus points for casting The Leftovers star Carrie Coon as Nick’s sister.
8. Obvious Child
While we’re talking about breakouts, Obvious Child gave Jenny Slate the perfect breakout performance as a young comedian who gets pregnant and navigates trying to tell the father about her decision to have an abortion. While it may sound like a bit of a downer, it was one of the most joyous experiences at the movies for me this year. Slate is hilarious and slated (SEE WHAT I DID) to be a star. She handles writer/director Gillian Robespierre with nuance while the supporting players, Gaby Hoffman, Richard Kind, Gabe Liedman and Jake Lacy all contribute to the richness of the story.
7. The Babadook
Like Jeremy Saulnier and Damien Chazelle, director Jennifer Kent broke out in a big way with her fantastic horror film The Babadook. I’m notoriously inexperienced with the horror genre, so I’m glad my girlfriend picked this one out for us to see. Otherwise it may have landed with many other horror films I stupidly passed over. Kent’s story about handling grief (which manifests itself in the title character) manages to be both terrifying and moving. It really is the chocolate and peanut butter of movie-going experiences. Essie Davis gives what must have been a completely draining performance as Amelia, a grieving mother trying to manage single-parenthood and a problem child who won’t stop talking about monsters.
6. Blue Ruin
Another small film to make the list, Blue Ruin is a near-perfect revenge story. Jeremy Saulnier deserves the Kevin Smith Memorial Award for doing so much with so little (yes, I did just make this award up). Spurts of bloody violence punctuate well-earned tension. Macon Blair plays our hero Dwight with the quiet determination of a classic Western cowboy. But what makes Dwight even more enthralling is how he acknowledges that he’s making up this revenge scheme as it goes along. It’s on Netflix, so there’s literally no excuse to miss this movie (unless you don’t have Netflix).
Tilda Swinton returns in my next pick, Snowpiercer. Of course, Chris Evans leads the charge here on the class-divided train from your worst nightmare. Director Joon-ho Bong and production designer Ondrej Nekvasil created a sprawling, beautiful world that had to live within the confines of a runaway train. Bong masterfully shot the year’s most exciting action scenes without sacrificing any of the advantages that the train-sized confines would limit other directors. In a year packed with great action films, Snowpiercer came out on top.
4. Only Lovers Left Alive
A person not sold on “Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are a vampire couple” is a person I don’t want to hang out with. OK, that may be a little harsh, but the appeal of Only Lovers Left Alive is that we’re hanging out with these two people. The plot details are a bit sketchy in my mind, but mostly because it all seemed so secondary. Rather than one big story, OLLA was broken up into delicious bite-sized stories. We learn how this couple — Adam and Eve — operate in the world. We watch them Skype, listen to their music and host the bratty Ava (Mia Wasikowska). I could feel the fun Jim Jarmusch was having picking out the music and figuring out how Eve would be able to travel long distances only at night. This is a quintessential hang-out movie. I just wish I could return to Adam and Eve’s Detroit.
Providing the best tension of the year is Whiplash, a small character study introduced through the eyes of Miles Teller’s Andrew. The movie is a cage match in which the fight is of more importance than the winner. JK Simmons, who gave my favorite performance of the year, plays Fletcher as a task master teacher with his own ideas about achieving greatness. Writer/director Damien Chazelle keeps his shots in close quarters — like Andrew, we don’t have much space to breathe. With sound and film editing that put me on edge, Whiplash was exciting and horrifying. Oh, and the music was pretty great too.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Like Boyhood, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was not stacked at the end of the year with the award hopefuls, but it certainly belonged in their ranks. With a typically stellar cast, the things I love about Anderson — his aesthetic, his humor, his sadness — shone through in what might be the director’s best work to date. Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori present one of my favorite teams in recent memory. At once a story about a heist and a giant inheritance, Budapest shook me with its gut wrenching look at a changing world being buried by fascists.
Boyhood has been justifiably praised for the ambition and vision put on display by director Richard Linklater in the 12-years-in-the-making epic. But what makes this my top film of the year is not that the premise was groundbreaking, it was that the movie worked so well. It’s easy to imagine a world where a movie shot over 12 years became an utter disaster. The child cast as the lead at six years old (Ellar Coltrane) could have been a dud —he wasn’t. Coltrane handled himself professionally as a kid and young man. Veterans Ethan Hawke and Patricia Clarkson could have had flat chemistry with the two young leads — they didn’t. With Linklater’s script they managed to create rich characters whose journey was equally enthralling as Coltrane’s. Linklater somehow got the film finished and created a propulsive, nostalgic film that gave parents and children a mirror to reflect on their own lives.