Top 14 Films of 2014

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Honorable Mentions

Guardians of the Galaxy

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The film with the best chance of breaking into the top fourteen, as it had the best blend of action, science fiction, humor and heart. Chris Pratt is leading man material, and Zoe Saldana still gets me going. Unfortunately it had another Marvel, “attain super powerful trinket” plot, accompanied with another cardboard cut out villain, keeping it away from eating with the big dogs.

Blue Ruin

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A revenge thriller that looks like a Terrence Mallick flick. Macon Blair is a budding star, sure to be in a big budget film within the next two years. Many film snobs will look at me in disgust for not putting it higher, but one too many slow parts, a lackluster ending, and overall lack of staying power doomed it. Let’s be honest, when Buzz from Home Alone is the best part of your film, you deserve this spot. This coming from a hue Home Alone fan.

Snowpiercer

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If there weren’t so many great science fiction films this year Snowpiercer would have made the list. Original, bleak, possibly realistic, this was the surprise of 2014. I had no idea where the ending would lead to and it didn’t disappoint. The film surprisingly isn’t all that re-watchable, though. I saw it once and was satisfied.

The Lego Movie

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Surprised I didn’t put an animated film into the Top 14? Yeah, me too. If I’m being honest, this film probably should be there. The animation was fantastic, the cast shines from parts big to small, and it may be the best comedy of the year, albeit in a weak year for comedy. I will say this. I’ve re-watched this movie a bunch of times and liked it less with each viewing. I don’t know what that means, but maybe it’s something and maybe it isn’t.

14.

The Theory of Everything

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Honestly, this film has bounced all around my list. From my top ten, to top three, to honorable mention, back to top ten, finally finding a spot on the fence. Two things stick out. Eddie Redmayne’s performance cannot be ignored. Simply enough, he brought Stephen Hawking to the screen. He brought Lou Garret Disease to the screen. Most likely to win an Oscar, and while I may have preferred Gyllenhaal, I certainly can’t argue against him. Second, I applaud the film for not shying away from the struggles of Stephen and Jane’s relationship. There’s no bad guy in the situation. Sometimes the tragedies of life are too much for “love” to withstand. Yeah, ‘Til death do we part’ sounds great when you’re in your twenties and completely healthy. But what happens when you need to change the shit from your husbands diapers. I was worried the film would focus too much on the Hawking’s relationship, while not giving enough time to other life details. And you know what? It was all about the two of them and it was amazing. Feel good story without the cheese, something that’s not easy to pull off.

13.

The Skeleton Twins

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Any film dealing with depression deserves attention, especially ones done so well. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig will be most likely ignored come awards season, but I’m not going to short change them here. Together they carry this bleak “comedy”, bringing to life the mundane life most of us live. Held back by a disappointingly cliche’ ending, otherwise the film would have cracked my top ten. Not to be overlooked, it also includes the best lip sync in film history.

12.

Interstellar

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Every Christopher Nolan film is more picked apart and criticized than both Obama terms. It’s getting to a comical breaking point. Do I think Interstellar is perfect? Absolutely not. Matt Damon’s fight scene was laughable, Nolan still can’t write realistic dialog, and I’m still wondering how Wes Bentley was unable to get on the ship before getting tidal waved. Those three things withstanding, Nolan put together a cinematic experience. I still have nightmares from that wormhole scene. This was the best use of time distillation I’ve seen in a film, ever. And McConaughey, while not at his best, still made me tear up with his acting super powers. You know it was getting stuffy they showed his close up cry. Interstellar has it’s fault, no doubt, but I’ll be damned if there are fourteen better films from 2014. And don’t you DARE say Gravity was better or I’ll have no choice but to fight you.

11.

Foxcatcher

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Films based on true stories always seem to draw me to the theater. Foxcatcher happens to be especially dark, telling the tragic story of the Schultz brothers teaming with multimillionaire John du Pont. It’s sports related, yet anything but a sports movie. It’s how the strong prey on the weak, personal greed, jealousy, brotherly bonds, and gives a firsthand look into the mind of a “crazy” person. Admittedly it gets slow at points. Once you’re three quarters of the way through you just want to see the end, especially if you know the true story. At the end of the film I couldn’t help but walk out of the theater like a zombie. Amazing work all around by Steve Carell and Channing Tatum. Never thought I’d hear myself say that. Personally I thought Rufallo was the stand out but he seems to be overshadowed by the two leads. If you love films based on true stories, this is the one to see this year.

10.

The Signal

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The pool of quality independent films this year was eye opening. Even more ridiculous is how little The Signal looks and feels like an independent film. The special effects seemed a higher quality than most of the Marvel films that came out in the past three years. Another original science fiction film, The Signal scared the living shit out of me. It’s an “escape from a medical prison” type of film that leaves you shaking from the action and clutching your pillow to withstand the bleakness. When the film ended it just killed me. A sense of hopelessness overcame me. I certainly don’t enjoy feeling that way, but when a film can do it that powerfully I take notice. Strong acting, Lawrence Fishburne didn’t suck ass for once, and the most promising director since Duncan Jones.

9.

Gone Girl

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As a book reader, I was thrilled when it was announced Gone Girl would be made into a film. And I heard Fincher would be at the helm? Oh, baby. My expectations were sky high from the get go. David Fincher and crew nailed it. Rosamund Pike scared the living shit out of me. I knew how crazy her character was from the book, but seeing it sometimes can take it to another level. Just look at her scene with NPH. Yeah, you know what scene I’m talking about. Ben Affleck was actually well cast. Certainly a role in his ball park, as he’s a man who has taken some criticism from the media throughout his life. Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris didn’t ruin the film. As a whole it’s an amazing trip into relationships and marriage. Exaggerated, sure, but the message stays true. How well can you know someone? Especially scary when that someone is the person you choose to spend the rest of your life with. I also have to acknowledge the greatness of Trent Reznor. I’d be okay with him only doing movie scores.

8.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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If this film doesn’t win major awards for its special effects then I’m not sure I can take award season seriously anymore. Andy Serkis continues to show his worth. He’s been involved in so many successful franchises, I’m excited to see him make the Star Wars universe better. The first Apes film to have something to say since possibly the original. And anytime you subtract James Franco from a drama there’s a good chance your movie is better for it. Sometimes I wonder if I enjoyed it so much because my expectations were so very low. Still, other than Edge of Tomorrow, I’d rank this as the best blockbuster film of the year. Who would have seen that coming?

7.

Edge of Tomorrow

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Speak of the devil. The best Science Fiction film of 2014, even more impressive when the year was full of so much quality in the genre. Naturally people ignored it because there’s an (in my opinion) unwarranted hatred for Tom Cruise, for starters. The man can act. He might be crazy religious, but so is Matthew McConaughey, and it’s a double standard to call Cruise out but not the other. And honestly, you hear McConaughey talk about his religion much more than Cruise —every awards speech is praising god— yet he continues to get the free pass. All that said, still love the McConaughssaince. Another hurdle was the awful marketing. That whole department should be fired. The film would have been better off using the name from its original source, “All You Need is Kill”. And lastly, we are to blame, for not supporting original science fiction (or any genre’s) ideas. Instead we flock to tired remakes and twenty year old sequels. I’ll stick with seeing Cruise, Emily Blunt at her hotness peak, and an epic video game-esque plot any day.

6.

Begin Again

Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo in "Begin Again"

It was incredibly difficult not to put this at number one. That’s how much I enjoy this film. Not on the level of his 2006 hit, “Once”, John Carney delivers another smash hit in the genre. He’s made my two favorite musical films of all time. The cast has been upgraded a bit from his first hit, Keira Knightley and Mark Rufallo leading. Knightley is striking throughout the film, while being a surprisingly talented singer. Break ups can be life shattering. We all know that. But contrary to thousands of romantic comedies, the answer isn’t always rebounding with a Mr./Mrs. Right. Why not get lost in a career or a passion? Life is about relationships, but not romantic or family. As someone who has met random people and cherished those encounters more than family and past lovers, this film spoke to me. Songs showcasing changes in character dynamics, turning the cliche’ on its head, and arguably the most original music in film this year. It’s feel good stuff, no doubt, but I haven’t re-watched a film more than Begin Again. That has to count for something, if not everything.

5.

The Babadook

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Transcendent is probably too often used to describe films, but The Babadook deserves the title. Horror is at its best when it’s grounded in reality, something The Babadook does masterfully. I’m still questioning whether there was a paranormal monster, or if life can truly bring us down to the darkest of places. The actors playing the mother and son were outstanding. Compliments to the director because it must not have been easy filming some of those scenes with the young boy, despite him knowing it’s all make believe. Unsettling, thought provoking, one of the handful MUST SEE films of 2014. Ba-ba-ba Dook-dook-dooooook.

4.

Nightcrawler

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Jake Gyllenhaal is sensationally creepy in this film. You should hate him, but there’s just something likable about the guy. It makes me feel dirty for enjoying his character so much. A nice satire about the local news. It seems all we see on TV is blood, car crashes, murders, all the good stuff. Nightcrawler is the story of someone who understands how success works, and much like life, it’s not always pretty. Lou Bloom is the Travis Bickle of my generation.

3.

Whiplash

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“Not my tempo.” Unquestionably the 2014 film that had you at the edge of your seat for the majority of the viewing. Miles Teller and, oh my god, J.K. Simmons are unstoppable in this film. Simmons has to be a lock for Best Supporting Actor. If you’ve ever had a mentor, father figure, someone you looked up to —in any field of life— you’ll have nightmares from his performance. Teller, an aspiring drummer, attends the best music school in New York. Aspiration to be great demands perfection, and you can’t get there on your own. Simmons understands this, leading to verbal and physical abuse of his students. I’m not sure what is more disturbing, the mental and physical toll he puts on his students, or the fact that at the end of the film, I’m on his side.

2.

Boyhood

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Aging is something I’m always cognizant of, for better or worse. It’s fascinating, exciting, and at certain times, woefully depressing. Yes, the film is about a child’s “boyhood”. And Ellar Coltrane is as impressive a young actor that I’ve ever seen. But I was drawn to the parents. Patricia Arquette deserves an award for this film, for the last scene she’s in. It’s heartbreaking, and scary to think all of us will have the revelation in our lives. If we’re lucky, that is. Richard Linklater has successfully dropped you into a stranger’s life, allowing you to bear witness to what many of us lived, and will live. There’s nostalgia induced, but I’ll argue that a good thing. This was a film, a social experiment, a home video, and most impressively, a time machine.

1.

The Raid 2

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No movie, ever, has given me an adrenaline rush like The Raid. That is of course, until I watched the sequel released this year. At one hundred and fifty minutes, The Raid: Berandal is simply not long enough. I want five straight hours of Rama kicking ass. Would I survive? Doubtful. This is the only film from this year that I HAD to watch immediately after the first viewing. The fight scenes are unparalleled in film today. Gareth Evans, along with the actors, created some of the most memorable villains of all time. A hammer will never look the same.

* Inherent Vice for some reason still hasn’t been released for me. That probably would have made my list, but, alas.

The Strain – “Night Zero”

The Strain (2014) Season 1, Episode 1 (Screengrab)
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I’ve been on the road for almost two weeks, doing a mini tour of some major cities in the United States. Like Steve Martin and John Candy, I used multiple sources of transportation throughout the trip. My least favorite being travel by air. I’m one of those nuts who believes I’ll be in the plane that gets struck by lightning. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that “Flight” is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. So when I heard the pilot for FX’s new show “The Strain”, revolves around a massive amount of people dying on an airplane, I was a bit hesitant. Once I landed safely at JFK and nobody uttered the words “We gotta dead plane”, I couldn’t risk losing my Guillermo Del Toro fan boy card. I jumped in head first.

As I said before, the trouble begins when a commercial flight is taken over by some kind of creature. He seemingly kills them all, lands the plane, and closes almost all of the blinds. Eventually the CDC is brought in and we meet our main protagonist in Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll from House of Cards), and his awful hairpiece. Along with his work associates Nora and Jim (Mia Maestro and the GREAT Sean Astin), Ephraim investigates what virus could have possibly done this.

There’s at least one person in the city who already knows. Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley of Walder Frey fame) clearly knows what is going on, and from the sound of it has had past dealings with the virus. If you weren’t aware already, the fact that Setrakian will always pay for silver probably means we are dealing with vampires. Along with the incisions that all the victims bare on their bodies.

We are introduced to a few possible important characters. Eldritch Palmer, a very wealthy evil dude, seems like the person funding the parasitic take over. Gus is the typical TV show street thug. He has a bad attitude, loves his mum, and is having shady characters pay him to do risky jobs. And that shady character is Thomas Eichorst. He has the feel of a “right hand man” type of bad guy. Clearly him and Setrakian have some bad blood between them. I’m excited for their first encounter.

The show has some cheese to it. It feels like a love child between a Law and Order type of show and The Walking Dead. Or any generic horror show. The scene where the dude gets the Red Viper treatment by the main vampire is pretty disturbing. Kudos to the make up team. But what should I expect when dealing with Guillermo Del Toro? The acting is pretty sub par aside from a few, but it doesn’t seem like the show plans on taking itself too seriously. I mean honestly, The Walking Dead isn’t Mad Men either.

I’ll follow it for the first season even though there are better quality shows out there I should be watching (cough Masters of Sex cough). If you like blood, vampires, bad wigs, Guillermo Del Toro, and/or news conference face slaps, then you should give the show a chance.