Tuesday, January 6, 2015

My Top Ten Movies of 2014

I had a few films to catch up on, which is why this is being posted a few days later than I would normally want. It's been a very long time since I've compiled a Top 10 of the Year list (3 years, if memory serves), and this year was pretty challenging. My goal for 2015 is to get back up to "movie fanatic" numbers, as far as how many new releases I managed to see... but my modest count of 40+ will have to do for this final listing. Most "Best Of" list-makers struggle with the pull between actual best of the year, and personal favorite.

For me, personal favorites win out every time. This is my blog and my opinion—not a predictor for Oscar gold. Though my tendency to lean pretty mainstream can't really be ignored either. I didn't see everything, and there were some potentially great ones that I missed, but that just means they'll be at the top of my To-See list in 2015.

So with that, my TOP TEN movies of the year.


This one had a bit of a rough start. By start, I mean the first 15 minutes. I wasn't feeling it. It took that long for it to find its footing, but once it did, it dug in tight. The pacing evened out and it figured out the kind of movie it wanted to be. It's a musical in the vein of Once, which surprises no one, since it was made by the same people. But it's the kind of musical that most people can get behind (not just me, who has no issue with people randomly breaking out into song)—these characters are musicians, and every song is prefaced with just enough introduction to tell us they're about to start singing. Instruments are also always in sight. No resounding orchestra when they're only playing an acoustic guitar. Oh, except that part where that does happen, but it's on purpose, so all's forgiven.

Keira Knightley stars as Gretta, and croons a few very sweet songs while we all look on in delight to discover she can actually sing. The tunes are sweet and very catchy, and the movie shares its love of music even when it gets all high and mighty about the state of the music industry. She's a songwriter who follows her boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine of Maroon 5, who shockingly is pretty great), to NYC from London, until he duh breaks up with her when he gets too big for his britches. Their break up scene is my favorite, because it feels so raw. Just enough emotions to have to sing it out, girl! Soundtrack is still on repeat rotation.


I was really late to the game on this one. Actually, I only just saw this a week ago, finally, after months of hearing about it. My expectations were astronomically high—unreachable, really. That being said, I still loved it, and here's why. There isn't another movie like it, anywhere, ever in history.

Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, a young Texan boy who ages from 5 to 18 over the course of the film. Director Richard Linklater began filming this story in May 2002, and found young Ellar to be his star. For the next 12 years, Ellar and the rest of the cast (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke!) came together every year to film a portion of the movie, and Linklater weaved together the most representative story of boyhood—or rather, childhood—that has ever been captured before. It almost feels like a documentary (think the 7 Up series, maybe), but at the same time, these are clearly actors, acting, playing out their roles. We just watch them do it for what is to them - and feels like to us - an entire decade.

There really isn't a plot. Does life have a plot? In that sense, it can feel a little aimless, but who can't relate to that? We age and get older and sometimes, nothing changes, but other years, everything changes and we don't even recognize our lives anymore. I have never been a young boy (obviously), so I can't relate to Mason's story the way maybe other audiences can—but his older sister, Sam (played by Linklater's daughter, Lorelai) reminds me so much of my moody, teacher's pet self, I almost wanted to see her version of the story instead.

This is groundbreaking cinema, and the logistics of putting something like this together, writing as you go and absorbing what's prominent in the changing world around you... it boggles my mind. To have this vision and execute on it with such honesty is truly remarkable, and a sight to see.


I debated way too long about whether to include the movie title's subtitle up there. Stupid over-thinking. Seems appropriate for this film, however, so I'll just roll with it. I state now, that I have never enjoyed a movie directed by Iñárritu. They make me feel awful, and gone are the days when I knowingly endure that crap-feeling without putting my foot down and walking straight out of the theater. But Birdman is actually different. A true, experimental comedy-drama about Michael Keaton doppelganger Riggan (conveniently played by Keaton, shocker), once the blockbuster King for playing superhero "Birdman" in multiple films who now can't be taken seriously as an actor by anyone. Inner demons, actual demons (theater critics *shiver*), and ego haunt Riggan as he tries to direct, write, and star in a new play on Broadway.

The acting is stellar, that goes without saying. The cast is without question the best ensemble of the year, and Edward Norton has literally never been better. But the experiment of the film, the "gimmick" if you will, is what sets it apart. Made to look like one continuous, stream-of-consciousness tracking shot (it's not, but almost), it represents completely the damaged psyche of anyone who seeks public approval for a living. Especially one struggling with the social and cultural changes in our society. Brilliant, and some might argue, the best of the year.


The best thing about this movie, based on a TV series, is that you actually don't need to have watched the show to understand and enjoy it. Now, that being said, Veronica Mars is an incredible TV show that ended all too soon and you all should watch it. Then, pop in this movie, and you'll feel oh-so-glad you did. The Kickstarter darling that blew donation expectations out of the water, it was fully funded by loyal fans, and it is catered to those fans in all the right ways. It doesn't suffer from the Chris Columbus/Harry Potter disease. VM creator Rob Thomas didn't sacrifice his story or compromise his characters by going middle-of-the-road just so he wouldn't piss people off. He did what he envisioned, and it just so happens, it all worked.

I saw this movie at a pre-screening that was overrun by rabid fans. The music wasn't finished, the FX were still pretty rough; it had an awkward "trying too hard" opening. By the time it was released in theaters and On Demand, everything was cleaned up and nothing was straining too hard to explain what didn't matter. Veronica (played with earnest by VM's biggest fan, Kristin Bell) finds her way back to her hometown of Neptune, CA and we get to see everyone we missed so much. Ms. Mars will always be the coolest person in the room, and as far as I'm concerned, they could and should make a VM movie every other year until the end of time. I'd watch it with fervent glee.


The cleverest movie of the year. Tongue is firmly attached to cheek. I had low expectations going into The Lego Movie, understandably... but even for those with high expectations, I think this movie delivered on all its promises and more. I walked away having laughed my ass off and a heart that had grown three sizes. The plot is very basic, and most of the scene offshoots serve to introduce fun new characters for us to enjoy—and that's okay! On the surface, The Lego Movie seems like an acid trip inside a Toys 'R Us, but underneath... well, it's still an acid trip, but one with an excess of heart and imagination.

Really, it challenged us to remember what it was like to be a kid, for those of us who may have forgotten. For those of us who like order and have a hard time drawing outside the lines. Looking back on the importance of exploring creativity as freely as when we didn't have a care in the world other than to just have fun.


The one film on my list that I would probably have missed had it not been for the wonderful movie-lover friends I have. Based on a graphic novel titled Never Goodnight, written by the film writer/director's wife, it tells the story of two pre-teen wannabe punks in Stockholm. Glancing through the comic's various panels is really delightful, especially once you've seen the movie and explored the world of Bobo and Klara—and then, eventually, their punk-convert friend Hedvig.

There's something stressful albeit beautiful about watching kids attempt to be awesome and still just be adorably mediocre. We are so used to underdogs coming up from behind and literally blowing us away with surprising greatness, we sometimes don't know what to do when they come out and, well... suck. It manages to avoid whimsy by being refreshingly true to the fact that these kids are just that: kids. And they can live in their own fantasy world just by loving what they love, even if everyone else around them can't see it.


Unlike some directors I admire, I don't automatically love movies that Wes Anderson makes. I love The Royal Tenenbaums, but could care less about A Life Aquatic. But for this recent movie, Grand Budapest Hotel shines as the best screenplay he's ever worked with, and the movie thereby rockets to the top five of this list. Some nuances of Bryan Fuller's "Pushing Daisies" combined with Lemony Snicket (not just because of the Jude Law narration at the beginning) and the whimsical performances all add up to perfection. The level of detail is unparalled, and so much of the comedy lies in Robert Yeoman's cinematography. Amazing the laughs properly placed shot framing can illicit.

Oh, and Ralph Fiennes needs to be funny more often. kthxbye.


Is it weird to say this is the 'unexpected pregnancy' movie I'd been waiting for? I despised Knocked Up with the fury of a thousand suns, and while I adored Juno's hipster nonchalance, lets face it: neither of these women would have ever gone through with those pregnancies, and it's hard to take them seriously because of it. Regardless of my feelings regarding storytelling about modern choices for women (call it a pet peeve), it really just comes down to character. Did the character that the movie portrays do and say what they would have had they been living, breathing people? In Obvious Child, I can emphatically say YES.

Comedienne and SNL alum Jenny Slate plays Donna with an overly cutesy voice but biting, self-deprecating wit; not to mention unbridled potty humor. When did talking about farts on screen become so relatable? Anyways, beyond the joke of it all is what makes me love this movie: It talks candidly about abortion and unprotected sex without inciting fear, shame, or guilt. It says Hey, shit happens. You're not alone, and you'll be okay. I promise. Have a cookie. To have a character ask questions that we all would ask (i.e. Does it hurt? What can I expect?), and then have them actually answered is like a ray of goddamn sunshine. Jenny Slate walks a metaphorical tightrope in this role between comedic denial and balls-to-the-wall emotional purging. She's brilliant, and I hope this foreshadows an incredible career on the big screen.

THANK YOU, Obvious Child. Every woman should watch you.


Director David Fincher is easily one of my favorite directors. I loved his Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and greatly lament his bailing on the sequels to do this movie. Yet I can't complain too much, because he turned it out. Rarely does he let me down. I wasn't one of the millions to read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl ahead of its movie adaptation release, and I count myself lucky for that fact. The story centers on the dissolving love & marriage of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), culminating in her suspicious disappearance and the aftermath.

I knew nothing about this movie, so everything shocked me. It kept me guessing, and it quite literally made me gasp out loud. This is a rare occurrence in a world of badly timed Yahoo! News spoiler alerts announcing the death in that "Walking Dead" episode you missed last night, those bastards. Fincher directs a spectacular film, with his signature eerie blue-green tone, the score is on-point (thanks to Fincher's frequent collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), and Affleck was born to play this role. A man with an untrustworthy face but good intentions? Nailed it!

I love every reveal in this movie, and the perspectives play such an important role, it makes the editing feel like a dance. A dangerous one, like the Paso Doble, where the dancers simulate battle and cutting each others heads off. Yeah, definitely that one.


A story about the sacrifices we make to be great. No, not just great; THE BEST, at whatever our passion might be. A career-altering performance by Miles Teller as Andrew, a meek and passive drummer attending college with dreams of joining the school's prestigious jazz band, led my Fletcher (JK Simmons). Andrew is certainly not the best, but he wants to be. The question becomes, can he do what it takes? Simmons is a revelation, and scares us more not when we watch him be a monster, but when we realize we totally agree with him.

Whiplash is so intense it actually hurt my insides to endure it, in a good way; and it didn't need any aspect of 'horror' to accomplish that intensity. By far, the least distracted movie of the year. Side plots arise (girls, car accidents, school bullies), but just like Andrew, the movie pushes them aside as if to say "Sorry, we don't have time for you. We're busy being great." More movies would benefit from avoiding the constant distraction of over-plotting their script pages with drivel that no one really cares about. We could all only hope to have the same drive and focus to be more than mediocre.

That's it, folks! My top 10 of the year. I did my best to avoid adding in honorable mentions, as I am so prone to do. What about you? Do you agree, or do you disagree so much you no longer think I have any taste at all? I'd love to know!

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