The Arbitrary Best 30 Films of the Year (2014)

It’s about that time again.  The end of January means that it is time to release my annual ‘Best of’ list, but I granted myself mercy this year via an extension, hence this coming now instead of 1/31 (I think getting married is a valid excuse for a slight delay).  I typically try to watch at least 130 movies before publishing this list, just so I have a good gauge as far as experiencing a wide assortment of movies.  I was running a little behind, but I did manage to reach my quota after an additional two weeks.  I don’t release this list at the end of the calendar year, I instead give myself the month of January (and half of February, in this case) to catch up on all those Oscar caliber movies that typically get released towards the end of the year.  I believe I was able to watch everything that stood a chance of making this list, although I did miss Mr. Turner, The Skeleton Twins and the final Hobbit movie, all of which I am sure I will be getting to shortly.

Like usual, it may not have seemed so as time was passing, but it was ultimately a good year.  This year, I saw what I would label the best movie of the decade, at least so far.  It was a great year for original projects, although 4 sequels did manage to find their way onto this list, and a couple of them are ranked pretty highly.  It was also a good year for horror, and there are two movies on this list that made the cut; that number is usually closer to 0, even though I do consider myself to be a fan of the genre.  Being that there are just so many good movies out there, I think 10 is too small of a number, so I give you an arbitrary number larger than that.  This year, it’s 30.  If this had a wide release this year, it was considered for this list, but if it came out in limited release in 2013, it is denoted accordingly.

This is also my first year with this blog, but being that I started this mid-year, I don’t actually have full length reviews for all of these films that came out in the beginning of the year, or for some that I most recently watched (I deemed this list more important than the very last wave of reviews, and I currently have 22 reviews to catch up on).  If I have a review in this blog, I’ve included a hyperlink for a more detailed review, as for fluency purposes, I’m keeping commentary here more on the brief side.

As always, this list is completely subject to change:

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30. The Giver

29. Fury

28. The Lego Movie

27. Cheap Thrills (2013)

26. Interstellar

This list starts off with a gigantic sleeper in The Giver.  I am a big fan of the novel that reads like a short story, and I think this film does its source material justice.  It still features the emotional core that is present in the story, and my only complaint about it is that it could have been even longer, which is a quibble that I rarely have with any movie.  Fury is the War movie of the year (sorry, American Sniper) and it is stressful as can be, putting you right there in the moment with these guys who can be blown up at any given second.  Definitely not for everybody, but if you sometimes go to the movies to therapeutically experience a high amount of tension in roughly two hours, this is your ticket.  I’m not the Academy, I did not forget that The Lego Movie got released earlier in the year.  It’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller doing what they do best: giving you a condensed amount of jokes in a well-conceived overall package.  I will watch whatever projects they sign on for in the future, and they are quickly becoming two of my favorite directors working today.  You know that one joke from Arrested Development where Gob ends up getting married after a series of dares?  Cheap Thrills is a lot like that, in movie form.  It keeps escalating and escalating, but it is always hilarious to see where it goes to next.  I am of the unpopular opinion that Interstellar is a very good movie, but misses the mark of a great one.  Christopher Nolan is one of my very favorite filmmakers working today, and he has crafted what is arguably his most ambitious movie to date.  Is it worth seeing?  Absolutely, but the hype surrounding this film is RIDICULOUS, and I think if you taper your expectations, you stand a better shot of enjoying it even more.


25. Big Eyes

24. Oculus (2013)

23. How to Train Your Dragon 2

22. St. Vincent

21. Top Five

I love Tim Burton when he is not fawning over Johnny Depp, and with Big Eyes, he has returned to form, making a really good biopic and a fantastic period piece.  It’s also a subject matter that I knew very little about, and I feel that I really learned something.  The first horror movie on this list is Oculus, and I really enjoyed myself thoroughly throughout.  They do the smart thing in leaving a lot of potential loose ends when it’s wrapping its story up, presenting the opportunity for sequels, which I am completely on board with.  DreamWorks brought their A-game in a Pixar off-year, and they have made a very emotionally charged movie in How to Train Your Dragon 2.  The flying animation is still breathtaking, and while I am unsure of just how far they can take this series, they didn’t slack off for the sequel.  Bill Murray isn’t looking too great these days, but he uses that to his advantage in the offbeat comedy St. Vincent.  I was very pleasantly surprised with the extent that I enjoyed this, due to my ongoing hatred for Melissa McCarthy.  Who knew Chris Rock had a movie like Top Five in him?  It’s such a personal movie, showing how difficult it is to break the mold once you’re publicly viewed as the funnyman, but everything about it works, and I had a blast watching it.


20. The Boxtrolls

19. Blue Ruin (2013)

18. Selma

17. The Babadook

16. The One I Love

The Boxtrolls is (somewhat surprisingly) my favorite animated movie of the year.  It’s 3-D stop motion where you can tell that tons of work went into it, and while it is never as far off the beaten path as something like Rango, it is weird enough that you feel the tension when our heroes are in danger, because it might just be the movie to do something darker.  Blue Ruin is a small film that came highly recommended to me from a close friend, and I have already thanked him for turning me on to it.  It focuses on such a desperate man, and there is so much bad happening all at once, it’s a bit overwhelming.  It’s a revenge flick that’s different than most, because it focuses completely on the task at hand, and not really on if this man is totally in the right or not.  Selma is as good as expected.  David Oyelowo totally got robbed for an acting nomination, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.  It’s a fantastically made film, and it speaks for itself.  The Babdook is such an eerie, creepy original horror movie, and it stays with you.  If you’re asking me, it’s the best horror movie since The Conjuring (if not better), and it has a conclusion you almost never see in the genre.  I am kind of mad at The One I Love, because I had this entire post proofread, ready to post, and then here comes the final 130th movie I watched, and now I have to edit and move everything around.  It is such a fantastic, cerebral film, and I really don’t want to tell you anything about it, as this is truly one of those movies that the less you know about it, the better.  I don’t even want to make any comparisons, because I would be risking accidentally alluding to something that may indirectly give away possible plot points; it’s on Netflix streaming, just watch it, trust me.

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15. Under the Skin (2013)

14. The Grand Budapest Hotel

13. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

12. Guardians of the Galaxy

11. Chef

Under the Skin is a movie that I have given much thought to after the fact, and it’s not because it features an unclothed Scarlett Johansson.  It is a bonafide art film, has stunning photography, and is unnerving and seducing at the same time.  Definitely not for everybody, but if you’re up for something experimental, I highly recommend it.  I’m usually not the biggest Wes Anderson fan.  **ducks to avoid thrown object**  His overly dry sense of humor typically doesn’t jive with me, so it is a testament to how good The Grand Budapest Hotel is to see it ranked as highly as it is on this list.  It’s got a lot of laughs, terrific charm and art direction, and it is as precious as can be.  Marvel has kept their train of hits going this year with two of their four best movies to date, and they have done so in the same calendar year.  Both of their movies are excellently done, with Captain America handling the more serious and Guardians of the Galaxy being the more tongue and cheek.  It’s super close, but if pressed, I’d give a slight edge to Guardians of the Galaxy, given how funny it is and how amazing the soundtrack is.  Chef is probably the most feel good movie on this entire list.  You get to see the main character transform and make leaps and bounds as an entrepreneur, and almost the entire third act you get to share in his victory.  It’s laugh out loud funny, and the food is amazingly shot in the most appetizing way possible.  You probably want to watch this after a meal or while eating dinner, because if you watch this hungry, you’re probably going to pause it to go get ingredients to make a delicious Cuban sandwich.


10. Locke (2013)

Now we are reaching the crème de la crème, the very best of the year.  Locke is a damn great film, and it made me thrilled that I allowed myself an extension to catch up on missed movies.  This film is this year’s Buried, as it is just 80 minutes in a confined environment with your main character with cell phone access, and that is it.  Really, you’re driving with Tom Hardy for 80 minutes, and I am not exaggerating.  You would think that this may get dull, but it is actually fascinating.  Within 15 minutes, you know the entire predicament, and you’re just watching this man try to work through what very well might be the worst day of his life.  It’s really brilliant stuff, and I highly recommend it.


9. Edge of Tomorrow

Hardly anybody listed to me when I raved about Edge of Tomorrow, as evident by it bombing at the box office domestically.  Tom Cruise doesn’t have quite the draw that he used to have, and I guess it’s starting to show.  Still, this is a great science fiction piece, and while it does borrow bits and pieces here and there from prior works, it does so in such a way that all fits together nicely.  The one thing you probably don’t realize about this is that there is a lot of comedy featured here; it almost works a lot like Groundhog Day in that regard, where you get to watch this man accidentally die so many times, only to be jolted right back to the start of the day.  I also have a soft spot for original science fiction thrillers, and I would say this is this year’s Source Code.


8. Boyhood

Boyhood was a risky experiment, but one that is now paying off in spades.  It is currently the front runner this award season, and understandably so; something of this scope is so rarely attempted, when you see somebody try it, it is cause for attention.  It’s also a really good script, and I know a lot of the attention is drawn to the gimmick, but who else has attempted this before, short of the Harry Potter series?  It’s really something else entirely to watch somebody grow up before your eyes, and you really get something that is wholly unique in Boyhood.


7. The Imitation Game

Boasting one of the best screenplays of the year, The Imitation Game succeeds wildly.  It is so well written, I fell in love with it almost instantly.  All of the acting is top notch, and everything that this movie is doing, which is admittedly a lot of different things, I was completely on board with.  It’s a pleasure to listen to, as the back and forth between every single character has a delightful rhythm to it, and Turing, as played by Cumberbatch, has the perfect comeback to anything that is thrown at him.  This is not my favorite Oscar nominee, but it is my favorite Oscar movie that classically wins Oscars.nightcrawler

6. Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler is the movie on this list I’ve been most itching to rewatch.  It has such a good commentary on the state of our media today, and leaves you contemplating about all of the people driving around at 3 AM, filming grisly crimes.  It’s one of the darkest movies of the year, and I’m not just saying that because the majority of this takes place at night.  It’s everything I love to see in a thriller, but it’s not one that I can recommend to everybody because it gets so sordid.

5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

This is one of the most exciting series out there if you’ve been paying attention.  I do not think that this is as good as Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which was my favorite movie of 2011), but I think it’s pretty darn close, and there’s no decline quality wise.  You’ve got the most groundbreaking CGI at work, and Andy Serkis shows no sign of slowing down.  They flat out know how to capture the mannerisms of these primates, and you totally buy they’re you’re looking at hyper-intelligent apes whenever they are onscreen.  The way this series is headed, it’s becoming more and more about the apes, and I can’t wait to see where they take this story next.


4. 22 Jump Street

This is my pick that you’re not going to find on many other ‘best of’ lists, and I’m proud to list it here.  This movie had me rolling around in the aisles; it’s one of the few movies that I’ve seen where the second time I watched it in a theater, I picked up on tons of jokes I missed, being that I was laughing so hard the first time.  Phil Lord and Chris Miller have yet to miss their mark, and I know they threw in everything but the kitchen sink with the closing credits here, but I am completely onboard for however far they want to take this series.  I defy you to name a funnier movie that got released this year.


3. Gone Girl

I don’t know why people have seemed to have forgotten about Gone Girl, it’s amazing.  It’s David Fincher doing what he does best: presenting to you all of the pieces to a twisty mystery for you to solve.  Now I haven’t read the Gillian Flynn novel, but I was very impressed with all of the different directions this story took.  When you get to the big reveal, it could have easily ended just there, but it goes on for another hour down an even darker rabbit hole.  There is something here for all adult audiences, and if anything, see it for the filmmaking.


2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

When I walked out of Birdman, I was mostly convinced that I had seen the best movie of the year.  This was about two weeks prior to seeing the actual best movie of the year, so while I was mistaken, it does not change the fact that Birdman is a positively splendid film.  The thing that you may not get from this from watching the trailers is that this is actually really funny.  You are laughing out loud and having a great time, all the while being blown away by some positively brilliant cinematography.  You never really notice the seams to this, which is incredible, because it is put together to create the illusion that this was filmed in one shot.  Much like Boyhood, you may argue that the big reason why this is getting so much attention is because of a gimmick, but that doesn’t change the fact you’re not going to see a feat like this attempted anywhere else.

And if you have talked movies with me at any point of time these past few months, my number one film should come as no surprise…

1. Whiplash

It has been such a long time since I experienced such an exhilarating film in a theater, and I would go so far to say that this is the best film I’ve seen released in the last four years; my previous favorite movies of the year have been Black Swan, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Looper, and Her, and I say that this wins out easy.  It gets ridiculously intense, and it is extremely nerve wracking as you watch this kid strive for greatness.  On top of that, you have this culminate perfectly, and it is pure movie magic watching the finale of this; it leaves you wide-eyed and breathless, and there’s nothing else like it.  It’s really an emotional roller coaster, and with all of the ups and downs, you become entirely engaged and energized.  The script is masterfully penned as well, and the lines that J.K. Simmons is given to deliver will leave you floored and speechless.  I can’t speak highly enough of this movie, and if there is only one movie on this list that you see, this is the one.

And now, 10 movies you should avoid, because they are the bottom of the barrel:

  1. Happy Christmas
  1. Endless Love
  1. I, Frankenstein
  1. Sex Tape
  1. Devil’s Due
  1. The Identical
  1. Lucy
  1. Transformers: Age of Extinction
  1. Tusk

 1.   A Haunted House 2

I hope you enjoyed reading this.  Happy movie watching!

–          Critic for Hire


24 thoughts on “The Arbitrary Best 30 Films of the Year (2014)

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