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
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.
9: 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.
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.
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.
1: 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.