Disclaimer: I haven’t yet watched the Veronica Mars movie, because I still have 4 episodes left to watch in season 3. But if I had, it would probably be #1 on this list because Veronica Mars is the best. On to the list!
My favorite movies of 2014, in reverse order:
Not really a documentary, certainly not a narrative film, Teenage is like an epic historical music video exploring how teenagehood became a thing. Through two world wars, the roaring 20’s, the depression and the rise of American culture, this film pulses with life and courage and all the passion and defiance that come with being young and idealistic. With its mish-mash of historical photos and stylized new footage, the voices of Jena Malone, Ben Whishaw and others bringing life to the words of teenagers from years past, and a dreamy soundscape by Bradford Cox, this film is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. The last 3 minutes completely overwhelmed me – and I cried my way through the credits. *This film technically came out in 2013 but had a very limited release – so here in Minneapolis I couldn’t actually see this film until it came out on VOD in spring 2014, so I think it counts.
9. John Wick
Definitely the most badass film of 2014! John Wick rips its way through 101 minutes of Keanu Reeves ass kickery with a perfect balance of riveting tension and gleeful release. I’m so happy to see Keanu back to the action guy we love him as the most. His brooding, super physical presence – and quietness – sets him up for great explosions of power later on – mostly through beautifully choreographed gunfights, but also through scary yelling. And if that weren’t enough, this film builds a super fun comic book-esque alternate criminal underworld universe for the story to live within. It’s so much fun. I wish I were watching it again right now.
8. The Fault In Our Stars
I’m kind of a poser here because I haven’t read the book and I know that most people who love this movie love it because of the book… but I just love it because Jesus, this movie! Contrary to what you might think from the synopsis, this is not a typical boohoo teenage cancer cryfest. This is a movie about living – and living courageously despite terribly unfair circumstances; about loving fearlessly; and about the paradox of each individual person’s insignificance in the universe and unique and irreplaceable perfection as a part of it. This is a beautiful movie and I cried almost all the way through it – not because I was feeling sorry for anyone – but because this movie pushed into the deep parts of my heart where all the things that really matter live. This movie is the shit. If you wrote this one off when it came out, don’t let 2015 pass you by without seeing it – it’ll make you remember all sorts of things you believe in, but may have forgotten about. Also, Shailene Woodley!
7. 20,000 Days on Earth
I don’t think I can sum this film up any better than Justin did in his review a few months ago, so I won’t try. I will add that Nick Cave is one of the most legendary and prolific musical talents of our time and that this film is interesting primarily because of that – but ALSO because the filmmaking is just lovely. It’s like taking a 2 hour vacation to Brighton with friends who are much cooler than you – and also have more money, better taste, and more interesting stories to tell.
Loving on Christopher Nolan has fallen a bit out of vogue with filmy types and my working theory is that Interstellar’s reception this year suffered a bit more because of backlash against Nolan than because of its own merit. I think this is Nolan’s best film to date and man, Inception and The Dark Knight are both so good! The story is super interesting – full of awesome science-fiction-meets-real-life ideas – and is told with impressive tightness, despite the film’s nearly 3 hour runtime. The shots of spaceships and outerspace are gorgeous, the exploration of crazy planets on the other side of a wormhole is thrilling, the problems the characters are trying to solve and their implications – both personal and big picture (ie: the survival of humanity) – are challenging, complex, and emotionally weighted. Astronauts are back and they’re better than ever!
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I love Wes Anderson’s darkest films the most – Rushmore and The Life Aquatic are my faves. Even though I enjoy pretty much all his movies while I’m watching them, in the last few years the Wes Anderson thing has started to feel a little too cute to be completely satisfying – a little too much about style over substance. But Grand Budapest PERFECTLY blends his skillset – by taking his styley-ness out of the real world and creating a fictional storybook universe instead, he builds the right home for his quirky characters where the rules and values that govern their behavior make sense. Grand Budapest has a great sense of fun, caper-like adventure ala The Fantastic Mr. Fox, beautifully constructed settings, and maybe best of all – a wonderful sense of humor. Ralph Feinnes’ M. Gustave is one of the most surprising, lovable, and hilarious characters I’ve met on film – certainly one of my favorites of the past year.
Did you see Whiplash? For the record, I liked it – it’s on my honorable mention list but didn’t break the top 10. Anyway, Whiplash is all about how genuine greatness is sometimes only achieved through a particular brand of insanity. Frank is an even better – and much less bloody – exploration of a similar idea…. digging around in the place where mental illness, creativity, and genius intersect… and adding in some questions about fame and how artists and creative people define success (Who decides what art is great art? Does it matter if people “get” it?). Drawing on the stories of many outsider artists, Frank is the fictionalized account of real-life British underground rock sensation Frank Sidebottom, who screenwriter Jon Ronson played in a band with back in the day. Like real-life Frank, the film’s version (played by a GREAT Michael Fassbender) wears a giant cartoon head all the time, which is totally weird! He’s also a genuine talent – a brilliant songwriter and musician and all around great guy who sees beauty and wonder in everything… whose genius feels special, probably because it is so unique. Enter Johnny Everyman – who has all the tools but none of the talent – and wants to be famous more than anything. The film plays out the intersection of these two characters and the result is heartbreaking, inspiring, and a little troubling. So unique and interesting, don’t miss this movie – it’s great!
So I was just writing about how much I love M. Gustave – but Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom takes top honors as my favorite character of 2014. His unstoppable self-confidence and unrelenting pursuit of his personal goals are simultaneously horrifying and immensely enjoyable to watch and Gyllenhaal is amazing in this character. Lou Bloom clearly draws on something deep, dark, and hollow that Gyllenhaal understands (we’ve seen this look in his eyes before… circa 2001). The story and atmosphere are both great – and the movie is overflowing with interesting ideas about capitalism, the American dream, sociopathy, entertainment, violence, and the pursuit of personal success. But for me, this is a character-driven movie. It occurred to me later that Lou Bloom is – in some interesting ways – the black mirror doppelganger to Ryan Gosling’s Driver from 2011’s Drive. There are lots of nice comparisons to be made between the two films – both eroticize cars and driving at night in California, both have a distinct visual style and narratives driven by a magnetic lead character. In Winding Refn’s film, The Driver is an entry-level underworld operative whose talents are purchased by criminals and their bosses – however his personal choices are completely self-sacrificing. He uses his skills to benefit other people – innocent people – in ways that not only won’t benefit him but actually run contrary to his personal interest. Bloom on the other hand, operates his professional life in a technically legal industry – but he exploits the pain of regular people for his personal and professional gain and doesn’t hesitate to cross whatever ethical and legal boundaries he can get away with to get what he wants. There’s a much longer and more interesting comparison to dig into here, but my point is that I’d like to see these two in a movie together as arch-nemeses and this idea is up for grabs – who wants it? Anyway, this is about Nightcrawler – so I’ll wrap it up by saying that this movie is such a treat and I can’t wait to see what Dan Gilroy does next, even if it’s not Driver vs. Bloom, which is clearly the best idea ever.
Jesus, this movie. I’m a big Linklater fan – but this film is some next-level shit. There are so many things I could say about it! I think that the reason I loved this so much, though – above and beyond its conceptual ambition and subject matter and incredible performances and thoughtful storytelling and great characters – the reason I really love it is the feeling it left me with: an overwhelming warmth and deep gratitude for the life I’ve had so far and the people I have been so honored to know and love. This film reminded me that small, everyday moments are what actually define our lives… they become the months and years that turn us into teenagers and married people and homeowners and professionals and students and parents. And when you look closely at them and stack them side by side, there is immense beauty in these mundane, everyday things. (See also Justin’s wonderful review, here).
1. Only Lovers Left Alive
I struggled a lot to decide whether Boyhood or Only Lovers would take the top spot – I settled on Jim Jarmusch’s foxy vampire love story because this is so 100% my kind of movie. It’s just got everything I love. I’ve already watched it at least 4 times and I’m sure it will become a staple that I’ll rewatch again and again and again. First, the characters are so great – and Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton embody them as if they have lived 400 years in the skins of Adam and Eve, accumulating many lifetimes of experiences, perspectives, humor, wisdom, and ideas as they have explored and learned about this world. They love to be alive, they revel in truth and beauty – and they LOVE deeply. This is such a romantic movie and I’m such a sucker for love (that dancing in the apartment scene!).This film has great humor, great music (oh my!), big ideas, a grand sense of history, and a dialogue-driven, thoughtful story that explores the everyday experiences of fantastically unreal beings. To paraphrase something Justin said as we walked out of the theater, like so many of Jarmusch’s movies this one is just a pleasure to spend time with. It’s like lingering for a couple hours in a warm and lovely room – you emerge a little clearer, a little more optimistic, with a renewed sense of what’s really important.
- Snowpiercer (I LOVE this movie – and it’s fascinating to me how polarizing it is)
- Enemy (Jake Gylenhall in two more incredible performances in this quirkly spiral of a sneaky thriller)
- Under the Skin (quiet, visual and unforgettable, this one…)
- Guardians of the Galaxy (fun adventure with a big heart)
- The Drop (best dog and best Tom Hardy of the year IMO)
- Godzilla (remember how fun this one was?)
- The Lego Movie (Everything is Awesome)
- Blue Ruin (creepo factor 5000)
- Whiplash (I love Miles Teller)
- Edge of Tomorrow (so much fun)
What movies inspired you last year? What films are you looking forward to in 2015? I can’t wait to see Inherent Vice and Cymbeline.
– betsy midnight
I’m very glad to find someone else who loved Interstellar. The critical reaction confused me a bit as well, and I think your theory is interesting. I do think, however, that a lot of the backlash can be chalked up to the fact that people hold Nolan to a standard they don’t hold other filmmakers too. They go over his movies looking for the plot-holes, and of course they find them.
But yeah, cool list, and Interstellar was incredible.
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