Another year, another Top Ten List. Unlike previous years though, there were few movies I was excited for in 2014, which turned out to be a positive thing because it left me open to a few surprises. There are some films that I wished I had seen before making my list (i.e. Obvious Child), but no list is perfect. The reasoning behind my choices is also imperfect and a little erratic. Some films moved me visually, others made me laugh, and others told a story I still want to hear over and over again. So without further ado, here is my best of 2014, as of December 22nd, 2014. In no particular order. Actually I lied, it's in alphabetical order.
1. Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa
I was blind to the brilliance of Alan Partridge before Alpha Papa, and now there is no turning back. I felt a slight dearth of comedy films that appealed to me this year and this film filled the void. It's zany, it's dark, and it's hilarious. It was a difficult choice between Alpha Papa and the equally stellar Steve Coogan-led The Trip to Italy as the best comedy I've seen this year. Ultimately, I think The Trip is best consumed as a TV series instead of as a film.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier/Guardians of the Galaxy
I know, I'm cheating a little bit. If pressed, I'd go with Guardians, but Cap is my man. And both of these films deserve recognition for pushing the Marvel film universe into an exciting new direction (yay, space and Ms. Marvel!). Yes, you can have all of my monies, please and thank you!
3. Gone Girl
Films that embrace the dark and twisted are my bread and butter, and Gone Girl fits the bill. This is an example of one film that was hard to get excited about before I saw it, and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. In short, Gone Girl basically sums up the cyclical power struggle in marriage but to the umpteenth degree. It also proves on some level that Ben Affleck can deliver a subtle performance that is easy to glaze over if not for its authenticity. Rosamund Pike is also fantastic as Affleck's calculating better half.
I may be the one exception to the love him or hate him Wes Anderson rule. He really is a director who is hit or miss with me. But Budapest is a palpable hit. This film had my favorite performances of the year from Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Tony Revolori. Mark this as one of those stories I want to see again and again.
Ida tells a simple story, and though it's a powerful one, I was completely enamored with the visual beauty of this film. I must have repeated to myself a dozen times in my head how gorgeous it is. Set in 1960's Poland, Ida follows a young nun as she learns some painful truths about her family that cause her to question her identity. Filmed in soft black and white, the cinematography of this film is as quiet and compelling as its protagonist, whisking the viewer away to a different time and place.
6. Inherent Vice
This film was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. I knew basically zilch about Vice going in, except that it was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and everyone was going gaga for it, so obviously I had to see it or what the hell kind of film buff am I? I'm happy to report that going in blind made it an even more enjoyable ride. Joaquin Phoenix as a hippie, doper P.I. in the 1970's? Obviously I'm on board! But really the stand out for me was Josh Brolin as the straight-laced Lt. Det. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen and his downright revulsion of Phoenix' barefooted "Doc" Sportello. In the end, Anderson manages to perfectly capture the drug-infused haze clouding the Pacific coast circa 1970.
Much has been said about this film. It's on my list because watching it in IMAX was pretty much the best purely cinematic experience this year. I love Nolan (Batman films aside) and his self-indulgent filmmaking and I'm not afraid to say it. I may never watch this movie again unless it's re-released in IMAX, because as a movie-going experience it set the bar even higher than Gravity last year. Say what you want about the accuracy of the ideas expressed in Nolan's films (who cares, really, we're talking about black holes), but Interstellar sparked some of the best post-viewing conversation with my husband. in awhile and it was awesome.
8. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
This is a film I really wish got more attention when it was first released. It's not a genre I consistently find favorites in, but recently I've found I have a love for nimble action thrillers that can deliver in 90 minutes give or take. Along with MI: Ghost Protocol,* Shadow Recruit is a film I like popping in on a lazy Sunday.
*Okay, so maybe closer to 120 minutes.
9. Under the Skin
This film is slow burn, but another film that inspired me with it's style. I like covert sci-fi films with stories that take place in stripped down locales with only hints of the otherworldly that aren't necessarily explained. Another Earth is an example that comes to mind. In Skin, Scarlett Johansson plays an alien roaming the Scottish countryside and luring unsuspecting horny men to their demise. There's minimal dialogue in the film, but even compared to the wordy Interstellar, I was thinking about this film long after my first viewing. Director Jonathan Glazer creates an ethereal mood throughout the film that bolsters the unsettling main action of the story.
Along with Bjornsen and Sportello in Vice, Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons create another dynamic character duo in Whiplash. Playing a Jazz drumming student and teacher respectively, Teller and Simmons capture the tension of such a relationship where perfection is the only outcome. In a film about jazz musicians, the music also takes center stage and director Damien Chazelle does an admirable job filming intricate scenes of brass and percussion that had my heart on the brink of a nervous breakdown. In a good way. He also managed to define the very essence of frustration in visual form when three students are forced to play round-robin until someone doesn't mess up. It's just sweat, blood, and tears. Literally.
I usually hate honorable mentions, but I really did want to include Snowpiercer on this list. Will you accept a Top 12? Because that film is a great example of a graphic novel adaptation whereby the former has little to do with the latter except for the overarching themes. There are also just some wonderful badass moments.