Editor’s note: There’ll likely be a few of these published over the next couple of weeks, as contributors to this site chime in with their “top,” “worst,” “overrated” and other film picks of the year. Here’s Dylan Green’s “top” list…
Yet another year has come and gone, and according to the unwritten rules of The Internet, that means it’s list time!
2014 was a year of surprises in the world of cinema, not the least of which include Martin Luther King Jr. finally getting his own movie, Marvel Studios proving that they really can make a good movie out of anything, and offerings from across genres transcending their boundaries and expectations. It seems that audiences this year finally began asking more of movie studios and independents, and they delivered in a big way. Because I’m normally opposed to the idea of lists, here’s my Top 14 Movies of 2014, in no particular order:
- “The LEGO Movie”
It’s hard to believe that anyone thought an entire movie built around LEGO bricks sounded like anything other than a naked cash grab, but The LEGO Movie pulls it all together with a deconstructionist approach, gorgeous LEGO brick-fueled visuals, and enough genuine humor, charm, and insight to fuel a year’s worth of kids movies. How good is this movie? Writers-directors Phil Lord and Christopher MIller manage to insightfully take the piss out of “chosen one” narratives, the adult appropriation of children’s playthings, and Batman all in one movie without it feeling bloated.
Filmmakers like Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, and others have been trying to get Dr. King on screen for decades, but co-wrtier/director Ava DuVernay beat them all to it with her biopic about the events leading to the March on Selma for the right to vote in the spring of 1965. The film refuses to patronize and shows us King with all his scruples; as the Civil Rights leader we all know and love, but also as a flawed but crafty individual who knew exactly how to utilize the media to stick it to the white supremacist machine, tied up by an excellent performance from David Oyelowo, for whom this is a dream project. At once reverent, comprehensive, and fist-pumpingly epic, Selma is the one we’ve been waiting for.
- “Big Hero 6”
Disney is in the middle of its latest animation renaissance (Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen) , and Big Hero 6 is their first animated go at a Marvel property, a fact which both studios have decided to downplay for whatever reason. A colorful and welcomely diverse set of main characters wrapped around a story with a pro-science/intelligence edge and one of the most heartfelt buddy teams of the year in Hiro Hamada and medical robot Baymax? Throw in some beautiful animation and this was another home run for Disney/Marvel.
- “Guardians of the Galaxy”
A property as obscure and flat-out weird as Guardians of the Galaxy coming out so well solidifies the fact that Marvel is the franchise movie studio house to beat in modern day Hollywood. At once a film so steeped in comic book ephemera yet so easily accessible, Guardians’ blend of space-faring action, irreverent tone, chemistry between its five breakout characters, and undoubtedly one of the best soundtracks of the year proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the blockbuster scene has been missing a core component for a long time: fun.
- “Dear White People”
Justin Simien’s satirical barn burner of a directorial debut caused much controversy for its discussions of racial politics on contemporary college campuses, and for good reason. The film follows four different Black students at the fictional Winchester University and their respective struggles with identity and acceptance at the predominantly white college. A film that presents multiple points of view but retains objectivity when it comes to the heavy lifting, Dear White People’s uncompromising take on “post-racial” Millenial America is challenging to a fault, but funny as hell and as potent as anything Aaron McGruder has made lately. This is the School Daze or A Different World for a new generation.
- “Nas: Time Is Illmatic”
Legendary MC Nasir “Nas” Jones celebrated the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking debut album Illmatic this year, and what better way to signify it than with a shiny Tribeca-sponsored documentary to go with it? Director One9 and producer/writer Erik Parker worked closely with the Jones family to bring the story of Nas’ climb from the underground to his explosion in the mainstream to the big screen. A comprehensive experience for any hip-hop fan boosted by a reverent tone (Nas and his family mourn the friends and family whose stories, in death, fueled the album).
- “Dawn of The Planet of The Apes”
2011’s prequel/remake/reimagining Rise of The Planet of The Apes proved that this almost 60-year-old sci-fi franchise still had some gas in its tank, but this year’s sequel Dawn set the stage for something even more epic. Cesar the chimpanzee, still brought to life by Andy Serkis and a crack team of mocap effects artists, remains a unique action movie hero, the allegory of ape-human war is as poignant as ever, and Apes remains a kick-ass action franchise in its own right. It’s also worth noting that the Apes being the main thrust of the film and not the humans is a welcome change of pace from other franchises that still need to ground themselves with cloying “relatable” human characters (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers: Age of Extinction). It’s all so much preamble at the end of the day, but what a hell of a setup this turned out to be.
Danish director Lars von Trier brought his so-called “Depression Trilogy” to a close this year with this 4 hour + saga of sexual self-discovery. The uncompromisingly disturbing nature of von Trier’s body of work speaks for itself (Manderlay, Melancholia, Antichrist). but he took a chance and made what is quite possibly his sweetest movie ever, whatever that’s worth. The story of a girl named Joe and her relationship with sex over the course of 40 years is anchored by a startling performance from Charlotte Gainsbourg and weighty questions to ask about interpretations of art of all forms. At times charming and honest, at others brutal and not for the squeamish, this will most likely go down in history as von Trier’s magnum opus.
- :Captain America: The Winter Soldier:
Captain America takes on the entirety of S.H.I.E.L.D. in this game-changing addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. An action movie that has about as much in common with John le Carré as it does with Stan Lee or Jack Kirby, The Winter Soldier is a spy thriller about the literal manifestation of all that’s right in America coming to terms with the horrible things that we’re capable of as a world power — and burning it all to the ground. It’s also as frantic and fun as we’ve come to expect from any Marvel movie and reveals new dimensions to Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and Samuel L. Jackson.
This might as well have been called “Journalist Ethics: The Movie.” Nightcrawler is a slow-burning character study about a quietly obsessed freelance videographer brought to life by an almost unrecognizable Jake Gyllenhaal. A cesspool of deranged logic and commentary on race, class, and ethics in the world of journalism, it’s amazing that first-time writer/director Dan Gilroy managed to conjure it out of thin air, and even more so that he made it as tense and visceral as this on the first try.
11. “Gone Girl”
At this point, what else needs to be said about David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel? A meticulously crafted thriller that doubles as a thesis on all aspects of life as performance, from media coverage to marriage to police work, all tied together by Fincher’s undeniably strong hand and with the best kept cinematic secret of 2014 as payoff? Dark, lurid, and veering on the edges of cheesy, trashy, and melodramatic, Gone Girl is potent all the same.
12. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Wes Anderson’s latest offering may be his most saccharine to date, but that doesn’t make it any less great to watch. There are few filmmakers working today who have such a confidence of style and vision that you can tell one of their films by looking at just one frame, but Anderson manages. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a bittersweet love story fully realized in all of Anderson’s quirky, tracking shot, asymmetrical, pastel-colored, ensemble cast having glory.
13. “22 Jump Street”
Comedy sequels are notoriously hard to pull off, but Phil Lord and Chris Miller have proven their worth at masterfully crafting films from stupid ideas (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, The LEGO Movie) This sequel to last year’s surprise hit reboot of an old cop show uses its sequel nature to its advantage in the story of Schmidt and Janko, played comedy duo Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, respectively. The meta-acknowledgment of its own sequel nature worked into it’s own DNA brings humor and even pathos to Schmidt and Janko’s trip to college to bust up another drug ring. Hill and Tatum prove to be one of comedy’s best duos, while one time heartthrob Tatum himself is showing versatility as an actor that I never thought I’d see from him.
14. “Edge of Tomorrow”
A movie that manages to make watching Tom Cruise for nearly two hours entertaining is a feat in and of itself, but Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat., or whatever the DVD is called) is a clever and rollicking action blockbuster in its own right. Another example of a property being whitewashed for the sensibilities of American audiences (the film is based on the Japanese light novel “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka), but a time-jumping mechanic and the chemistry between Cruise and leading lady Emily Blunt helped it push past expectations. That and Tom Cruise being beaten to a pulp for most of the movie.