By now most of my peers have already posted their favorite movies of 2014 lists, and if you ask me they jumped the gun. You don’t declare your top movies of the year till the year’s done, just like you don’t say it was the best sex of your life until you’ve pulled out, flushed the condom and cried for a little bit.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Even though there were a fair number of stinkers, this was actually a damn solid year for movies, and here are the ones I deem to be the best.

Honorable Mentions: Under the Skin, John Wick, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Raid 2

10: Birdman

A lot of people this year LOVED Birdman, and deservedly so. Awesome performances, great soundtrack, noteworthy formal achievements? Formula for a critical darling right there. For my part, I wasn’t quite as taken with Birdman as some of my peers, but that this isn’t a pretty rad film is something I just can’t bring myself to deny.

Edge of Tomorrow poster9: Edge of Tomorrow/Live, Die Repeat

I love surprises, and for myself and a lot of people, Edge of Tomorrow (partially re-titled Live, Die, Repeat on the home release) was the biggest surprise of the year. Tom Cruise in a mech suit fighting aliens while re-enacting Groundhog Day? What the hell right does that have to not be a steaming pile of failure? And yet, it turned out to be one of the more clever, interesting genre blockbusters this year. Wouldn’t have called that.

8: Blue Ruin

Bleak, bloody, brutal, these are just some of the words that start with B that you can use to describe the revenge flick Blue Ruin, besides brilliant. In a year with at least a few truly excellent revenge thrillers, Blue Ruin stood out with its oppressive atmosphere, beautiful and interesting cinematography and lovably out-of-his element hero. And his killer “I give up” beard.

7: Gone Girl

Once in a while, a movie comes along that takes you in its grip like a passionate lover and doesn’t let go until it drops you, sweaty and drained, on the moldy carpet. This year, Gone Girl is that movie, an almost impossibly twisting ride of a movie that keeps you guessing where the hell it’ll go next, and how straight-facedly it can play what is honestly a pretty damn bonkers plot.

6: The Lego MovieLego Movie poster

But you wanna talk surprises? How about a movie based around building blocks turning out to be one of the most clever, heartwarming, beautifully animated and flat-out funny movies of the year? I wouldn’t have called that one either. Even though this year had a lot of lame, cash-in movies made from unlikely sources (Oija? For real?) The Lego Movie is the rare proof that movies based on toylines don’t have to suck. Just like 95% of the time.

5: In Order of Disappearance

Black comedies will always hold a special place in my heart, and In Order of Disappearance is the blackest comedy I’ve seen in a long time. You haven’t seen morbidly funny until you’ve seen a group of solemn-faced mob guys slowly ride a truck’s loading elevator while carrying a coffin, or seen a stray hang glider meet the business end of a snow blower. You can’t write that kinda stuff. Well, you can I guess.

4: Jodorowsky’s Dune

Documentaries about movies are always a hit with me, and Jodorowsky’s Dune might just be one of the best ones ever. Not just because the story behind Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt at filming a batshit bonkers adaptation of Dune is seriously fascinating, but because it’s presented with charm, style and wit.

Only Lovers poster3: Only Lovers Left Alive

Vampire movies have come back from the brink of Twilight induced death, and Only Lovers Left Alive is proof. I don’t often describe movies as sexy that often, but Only Lovers Left Alive is about as dead sexy as movies get these days, smooth and intoxicating and hypnotic. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston both vanish into their roles, and under Jarmusch’s direction deliver a film as smooth and satisfying as a fine wine.

2: The Grand Budapest Hotel

It wasn’t at all surprising that Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was offbeat, charming, fun, beautifully and ornately constructed, filled to the brim with quirky performances and an all around enchanting experience. But what did take me by surprise, and what secured its spot at number two, was the uncharacteristically melancholy note that made Grand Budapest more than just a sweet, beautiful confectionery, but a richer and fuller experience than I anticipated. I think it’s this newfound hybridity, this mix of Anderson’s usual charm with a dash of seriousness that made it one of the most satisfying film experiences I’ve had all year.

Cap 2 posterGuardians poster1: TIE! Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy

After the blu-rays came out and I had a chance to watch them both again, I agonized over which of Marvel’s 2014 films I loved more. Sleepless nights were had, and not just because I sleep in till noon some times. Guardians appeals to my sensibilities so directly it often feels like the film was written for me. It embraces everything kooky and “out there” that other comic movies will avoid, but does so without skimping on heart and soul. Winter Soldier, on the other hand, takes the idea of doing a slightly more down to earth, serious superhero movie and nails it harder than I would have admitted possible, and every time I re-watch it I’m dumbstruck at how beautifully constructed, how clever, how downright kick-ass of a film it is. Guardians appeals to me on a personal level, presenting the kind of movie I’ve always wanted to see but no one’s been crazy enough to make. But at the same time, it has flaws and I can’t help but notice them every time I see it. Winter Soldier is an almost flawlessly made action/thriller/adventure movie, but one that plays less to my own sensibilities.

So which do I pick? The one that I love with my heart, or my head? Now I know how Archie feels. Well, like that fictional readheaded everyman, my only answer is to dither indecisively between the two, and pray that someday they legalize bigamy.

The prospect of a Jim Jarmusch vampire movie doesn’t seem to make much sense at first, though in the exact way that usually gets me interested in a film. But it pays to remember that some of his best work (Ghost Dog and Dead Man in particular) has come from plugging his style into some unsuspecting genre, fusing cowboys or gangsters with Jarmusch’s particular mix of moody, atmospheric American Indie. It’s a strange kind of filmic alchemy that’s produced great films before, and Only Lovers Left Alive is nothing if not great.

Only Lovers posterVampires are often the subject for revisionism whenever they pop up these days. Someone always has to put some new spin on them, often ones that would make Joseph Sheridan le Fanu want to open his wrists. They can walk during the day, or drink colors or emotions or are made out of crystal. Jarmusch dispenses with that, delivering more or less true blue vampires, but where he makes it count is the subtext. The vampires of Jarmusch’s film are the tortured artists to end all tortured artists, Tom Hiddleston’s Adam in particular. Hiddleston, channeling 90s rockers with a fervor that borders on violence, spends much of the film swanning shirtless around a magnificently cluttered Detroit house, him and Tilda Swinton looking like they were carved out of alabaster. Adam recounts stories about lending musical insight to Schubert, and his wife regularly hangs out with Christopher Marlowe of all people, who on top of being a vampire, apparently wrote much of Shakespeare’s great works, if not all of them. Films about tortured, unappreciated intellectuals are nothing new to Jarmusch, but he seems to be going about it with a bit more tact this time that in something like The Limits of Control, or as I like to call it “The Assassination of America by Bohemian Intellectuals, a Power Fantasy in G-Minor”.

Jarmusch’s vampires aren’t about teen angst, forbidden love or disease, just being past your time and watching what contributions you’ve made to the world get knocked around, warped and reflected back, often in ways you don’t entirely like. They’re about watching a world you’ve tried to make better, or at least more beautiful, try its damndest to resist change, or change in all the wrong ways. Really, I think it’s about how good artists who die young have it lucky. How Morrison, Kobain and Hendricks would be miserable if they were alive today.

Often times, I’ve criticized movies for a lack of flow or cohesion, preferring my scripts taught and streamlined like a Lamborghini or a phallic symbol. Only Lovers Left Alive, in all fairness, would fall to this criticism if I weren’t familiar enough with Jarmusch’s work to recognize how much he seems to dig ponderous, wandering scripts, which Only Lovers has to such a degree that any real summary of the plot or story would almost feel like a lie. Really, it’s a mood piece more than an A to B narrative. The characters don’t have arcs or journeys so much as reactions to shit that happens to them. In a way, it reminds me a lot of Stranger Than Paradise. Both movies about listless outsiders wandering around life with clinical boredom and no thought toward growth or self-improvement. Both are about a sedentary existence come face to face with radical change by the sudden appearance of a female relative, both ending in a trip that turns out to be a much worse idea that it seemed at the outset. But what the film lacks (or perhaps disregards) in tight storytelling, it makes up for in mood. The camera glides around like a wraith as the soundtrack lets out mournful guitar wails and the characters float through the desolate Detroit landscape, cast in angry yellows and oranges by ancient street lamps. The film casts a haze over the viewer, a hypnotic awe so powerful I probably would have barked like a dog and given up my credit card number if somebody asked me while I was watching it.

Only Lovers John Hurt

Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are at the center of this, though, as Adam and Eve (ok, I admit, the naming is a bit lame), nailing down the air of aloof, otherwordly, detached ancients so firmly it would need a hacksaw and a strong constitution to escape. Hiddleston could act the whole thing with his lazy, measured body language alone, and Tilda Swinton’s swaggering and somehow predatory walk could have essays written about it. The supporting cast all perform admirably, but we all know who the stars here are. The always welcome Jeffrey Wright plays the inevitably offbeat midnight shift docter, and as much as the character seems cliched, I wanted to see more of him. Anton Yelchin is Adam’s only other human contact, a frazzle-haired rocker groupie, all nervous smiles and fidgets. John Hurt does what John Hurt does best, playing an ancient, sardonic old man for whom the word “incorrigible” was probably invented for when he was a young man. The only dark spot, or at least low point, is Mia Wasikowska as Eva, Eve’s younger sister and professional catalyst, who blows into the film to shatter Adam’s ordered world. She does fine as the wild, immature X-factor, but there doesn’t seem to be much to her beyond her role as an agent of change.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a deeply beautiful, sexy movie. It’s moody and angry, but with just enough hope for the future to not be totally nihilistic. It’s a vampire movie that’s only tangentially about vampires, which is really the best way to play it these days. More than that it’s about music and art and rock and roll and dying young. It’s beautifully shot, acted and scored, smoother than whale oil and dark and heady like a good stout. And yeah, I know I sound really pretentious right now. Jarmusch does that to me.