In my diligent attempt to catch up on many of the great movies I missed during the year this winter break, I’ve come to a conclusion: There are too many damn movies.
There are about a gazillion movies that get released each year, about half of them good, and a half of the bad ones at least interesting in some way. It’s impossible to see every movie, even if it is literally your job to watch them.
With sincerest apologies to movies such as The Amazing Spiderman 2, Frank, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One, Whiplash, Life Itself, The Babadook, and about 10,000 other movies, I just didn’t get around to you before the year ended. You are now useless and will never be seen.
That said, I saw 26 movies that came out in 2014. Here they are, ranked, with small commentary added to each. If you don’t agree, you’re wrong and I hate you.
26. Draft Day
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a big sports fan. That said, I had reasonably high expectations for this league-sponsored, “realistic” take on an NFL Draft Day from behind the scenes. It’s like Madden!
Holy shit, you guys. Some day, I will go into a 5,000 word essay about the horrible decisions that Kevin Costner’s character Sonny Weaver Jr. makes in this movie. Despite being potentially the worst GM in the history of sports SPOILER ALERT. It all works out for him in the end! Don’t give Browns fans any big ideas, Costner.
25. Sex Tape
Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel show their butt in this movie, you can probably find it on Google if you really want to. Jason Segel doesn’t understand technology. Rob Lowe does cocaine. There is a kinda funny dog.
There, I have saved you the two hours of your life from watching this pile of shit. Sex Tape probably isn’t as bad as Adam Sandler movies are, but it’s somehow worse when you consider the fact that you expect some kind of comedic value from the two leads…it does not happen.
24. The Fault in Our Stars
Intentionally making your audience sad does not make a film good, despite The Fault in Our Stars very best efforts to do so.
Despite being that one pretentious douche guy you hated in high school, we are supposed to be devastated and heartbroken by Gus’s love Hazel as she suffers from cancer.
Quick! Think of every cliche you can in a cancer rom-com movie. Now double that. Okay now double that number. Now add ten. Ok you’ve reached peak Fault in Our Stars territory. Don’t let your girlfriend make you watch this.
23. The Maze Runner
The Maze Runner series is probably as good as it gets outside of Harry Potter when it comes to Young Adult book series. It’s got a really dark and twisted plot with tons of twists and turns, crazy maze shit, evil monsters, a love triangle, Denver being inhabited by half-zombies. You name it.
You almost have to try to purposely make a movie version of The Maze Runner be boring and cliched, but somehow they have succeeded. Blame time constraints all you want, but about 2% of book material actually made it into this movie, and it’s still somehow way too long. Characters with background and personality in the books are turned into one-note jokes that people who hate the genre can use to make fun of it, and the leads play their parts with about as much passion as middle schoolers forced by their parents to act in a school play.
F*** this movie.
Good news everyone! (Professor Farnsworth voice), The Maze Runner was the last truly bad movie I saw this year. 4/26! Not bad. I am good at avoiding bad movies. I deserve a medal.
Godzilla (2014, not to be confused with the 1998 version. Or the 1980 version. Or the 1968 version. Or the 1956 version.) isn’t so much bad as it is completely dull and unneeded. Just because a movie is in the cannon, doesn’t mean you have to keep making things with it.
Sure the special effects are nice, and the monster battles are great, but Godzilla itself is about the most fleshed out character in this whole movie. SPOILER ALERT when Heisenberg dies about 20 minutes into the movie and goes from “this may be a giant conspiracy” to “eh nah it’s just monsters doing monster stuff, nevermind” it falls flat on its face.
TL;DR: Everything Pacific Rim did right, Godzilla did wrong.
21. X-Men: Days of Future Past
X-Men: Days of Future Past probably should have been a slam dunk for best superhero movie this year, but in its attempt to un-Rattner the entire franchise, it ends up only making you feel like you completely wasted your time.
XMDOFP (A great acronym if I don’t say so myself) isn’t a bad movie, its actors generally excel in their roles, especially Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender, but in its attempt to try to cram two different franchises together, more than half of the cast get stuck with almost nothing to do.
As good of an idea it is on paper to throw as many mega-stars into a movie as you can, only The Avengers has really pulled it off. It probably in retrospect would have been much better if we stuck with a sequel movie strictly based on the newer versions (which is actually the older versions, but played by younger actors, who are playing the characters in the past when they were young, but in the same movie as the future with older actors playing older versions of those characters in movies that came out a decade before the new movies with the younger actors, got it?). After all, another sequel to a prequel ended up doing pretty well for itself this summer..
20. The Immigrant
Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix could probably make act their way out of a cardboard box and make it good somehow, so it’s not surprising that their performances are the best (and maybe, only) redeeming part of the snorefest that is The Immigrant.
There are flashes of a good movie hiding somewhere beneath the surface, but in the end the movie never picks up steam. It’s not a good sign when you care so little about a movie halfway through that you considering turning it off to mindlessly flip through TV channels but here we are.
Still, the final 30 minutes of The Immigrant boost it up a few spots as SPOILER ALERT once Jeremy Renner’s character dies and Phoenix has the real opportunity to showcase his depth, the final scenes are among the most dramatic of the year from an acting standpoint. However, I cared so little about getting to that point that even a man of Phoenix’s talent could really salvage this movie.
19. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Chill. I liked this movie, I just saw a lot of good movies this year and I forgot I saw it for a while which isn’t a good sign.
The Winter Soldier was a brilliant placeholder movie. It’s that movie that sets up all the awesome stuff that’s going to happen in the next movie, but doesn’t have the luxury of eating half of its run time on an origin story. It’s like the penultimate episode of a show like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad except the payoff doesn’t come a week later, it comes two-three years later.
There’s just enough stakes in this one for us to care about Chris Evans’ Captain America, but at the end of the day you’re just kind of sitting there waiting for Avengers 2 to come out because you know nothing that happens in this is going to really satisfy your appetite.
It’s not a bad marvel movie per say, (Ironman 3 is the only one of those) it’s just one that won’t be remembered for much when the franchise finishes up.
18. Into the Woods
Look, Into the Woods was not made for me. I’m well aware of that. I am not the target audience of the Disney musical movie. I tried my best to factor that in while seeing this last night.
That said, the first 2/3rds of
Into the Woods were pretty good! At least based on my expectations. It had Anna Kendrick being adorable, Meryl Streep doing Meryl Streep things, only like 1 or 2 songs that made me want to die, and a pretty clever plot that saw several fairly tales combine into one while the main characters must retrieve an artifact from them. It’s not a fun scavanger hunt, with singing and Johnny Depp as a rapey wolf!
And then, just as the movie is about to come to a proper end about an hour and 20 minutes in, it keeps going, and totally goes off the rails. The last half hour of this movie were probably among the worst stretch of any movie I’ve seen this year. Everything that was charming about the first two-thirds is wiped off the board.
The end of the film includes a scene which SPOILER ALERT the main character randomly cheats on her husband with a prince (who is also cheating on freaking Cinderella) in the middle of a forest because he’s not rich enough or whatever, and then doesn’t really feel bad about it afterwards. From there she falls off a cliff. I’m no Mr. Family Values or whatever, but maybe not the best set of messages to send in a kids movie, but #yesallwomen or whatever.
17. Under The Skin
Under the Skin is one of those movies I feel bad for not liking more. I know that it’s supposed to be great and film critics eat it up. And it’s not hard to see why.
This is a movie that stays with you. Recommended not to watch it at 4 a.m. like I did. It’s haunting, and unsettling, and thought-provoking, and really creepy, and all jokes aside Scarlett Johansson does a really nice job with it.
But is it actually good? I’m not really sure. Despite its attempts to trick you, it won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the metaphor half-way through the movie, and once you’re there the big pay-off only sorta comes by the end of the movie.
As a side note, it is a giant pet peeve of mine when a movie introduces a science fiction element and then doesn’t even attempt to explain it and Under the Skin is about as guility as any movie I’ve seen in recent memory. I GET THAT’S NOT THE POINT BUT STILL COME ON **SPOILER ALERT** WHY ARE THEY COLLECTING PEOPLE’S SKIN AND STUFF WHAT THE HELL MAN.
Sorry, got a little out of control there for a second.
Non-Stop probably had no business at all being good. I was expecting not to like it. I had seen The Grey and heard about Taken 2 I was expecting this to be a paint-by-the-numbers Neeson money grab.
But there I was eating it all up, enjoying the shit out of this movie for no good reason.
Non-Stop has a plot that kinda makes sense, which is I guess the best you could hope for. The twist is ridiculous. But I give it some credit it kept me guessing the whole way, and I was on the edge of my seat for this ridiculous Liam Neeson plane movie. Hats off Neeson, you did it again.
15. Obvious Child
Obvious Child is a breakout for comedic actress Jenny Slate who you may know as the snail thing on Youtube, the girl who swore on SNL that one time, or Jean-Ralphio’s sister on Parks and Rec depending on how much I like you.
She is funny and charming and this movie is a perfectly serviceable Video on Demand date night movie for you and your keen. That’s about all I can say about it though because beyond its plot (girl gets pregnant on one night stand and then decides to have an abortion) there’s not much to it.
Obvious Child is one of the only movies I’ve seen where there is almost no conflict. It almost came up with its own brand of story-telling, but in a way that only sometimes works. Sure, I guess the romantic will-they/won’t-they of the two leads is kind of cute, but no one in this movie behaves irrationally at any point or creates any kind of problem that needs resolving. They just kind of all seem level headed and likeable. I don’t know what to make of it really. It’s weird.
14. Muppets Most Wanted
2011’s The Muppets is one of my favorite movies ever, and I don’t care what you think about that. So needless to say, the follow-up, 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted had a big expectations to meet in my eyes.
While it fails in comparison on its own, this was still a pretty great comedic movie, if not somewhat forgettable. Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, and Ty Burrell do a predictably phenomonal job in the lead roles and while the script misses Jason Segel’s charm, it still provides many laughs and a second tremendous slew of celebrity cameos (Hornswoggle!!).
Still, like Anchorman 2 it was nearly impossible for the sequel to The Muppets to make the original’s organic comedy, and surprises, and duplicate them. But it does a formidable job of trying.
13. Edge of Tomorrow
When a movie has a clever enough concept as Edge of Tomorrow does, it can get away with a lot in terms of missed execution.
While there were absolutely some dumb spots in EOT, for the most part the filmmakers actually do an incredible job of using the plot device to help tell the story.
We can get a laugh out of Tom Cruise dying over and over 100 times, but if it never goes anywhere in particular, the gag can get old quick. But Edge of Tomorrow never falls into that trap, instead moving the story along in bits and pieces, but forcing us to reset when Cruise’s character suffers a misstep.
Considering the hero of an action movie never dies and escapes insurmountable odds at will, watching the protagonist continue to fail over and over is actually really refreshing. Edge of Tomorrow definitely wasn’t the best movie I saw this year, but it was the most pleasantly surprising.
Snowpiercer is a movie that got a little lost in the shuffle in these rankings because I saw it a long time ago and kind of forgot some things about it, but I do remember thinking it was fantastic.
Like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Snowpiercer hooks you in with its awesome plot and then tells a story from there with some not so subtle metaphors to the real world.
The story, for those who aren’t familiar, is that the earth has been entered into a new ice age, and all of the human survivors are living on board a high speed train built by a multi-millionaire. The train has all the necessities for survival, but only the rich receive them at the front of the train, while the poor struggle for survival at the back.
It’s simple enough, but poor execution would flub it completely. Instead, director Bong Joon-Ho uses it to tell an actual compelling story anchored by Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton. As an added bonus, Snowpiercer unexpectedly has some of the best fight scenes of the year.
Boyhood is a movie where virtually nothing interesting happens. I don’t necessarily mean that as an insult (although, it is why it doesn’t make the top ten), it’s kind of the point.
You certainly can’t fault Richard Linklater’s ambition. The idea, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is for a movie to follow along with the same actors over the course of 12 years. It’s unique enough to get people into the theatre, and once you’re there, you find yourself compelled to grow as the cast does. Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Ellar Coltrane all do formidable jobs bringing you along for the ride.
But the issue is that again, nothing really happens. There are a few moments of conflict, a few life lessons along the way, but the movie just kind of ends as it begins, dropping us off at a random point in the main characters life the same way we started off at a random point.
I guess that’s the point, and it’s a movie I would certainly recommend seeing, once. I just can’t shake the feeling that people are heaping accolades on it because of the idea and not because of the execution a little bit.
10. 22 Jump Street
Is 22 Jump Street the best comedy sequel of all time? It has to at least be in the conversation. Almost never does a comedic film, especially one that was as shockingly original as 21 Jump Street, improve the second time around, but 22 Jump Street is an exception to the rule.
It doesn’t hurt that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have undeniable chemistry. Despite both their forays into serious acting, it’s obvious they both are at home when they get to be funny. While 22 Jump Street will make pretty much anyone laugh, it’s easy to dismiss it as a goofy slapstick if you aren’t paying attention.
However, the makers of Jump Street are more than aware of how ridiculous of a movie they are making. It’s a sequel, to a comedic movie loosely based off a bad police procedural show in the 1980s. It stars two men in their 30s as college students. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to. The movie is filled with one-off jokes referencing the ridiculousness of it all, and breaking the fourth wall just enough without it being corny.
If the message wasn’t getting across during the movie that 22 Jump Street is self aware, the end credits (which also happen to be hilarious) make it pretty loud and clear.
9. The Guest
You might not have heard of The Guest. I didn’t, before I started looking for good movies to watch to complete this list. It’s a shame though, because Dan Stevens was a tour de force, and it’s one of the better horror/psychological thrillers you’ll find anywhere.
The Guest kind of sneaks up on you with how good it is. You’re sitting there trying to figure out what this guys deal is, and then the next thing you know SPOILER ALERT he’s sleeping with the most gorgeous girl at the party, beating up high school bullies, and killing drug dealers, all without breaking a sweat.
David is the villain in this movie, but he’s also….kind of awesome.
Saying more would give it away, but all I can tell you is if you’re looking for a movie that’s going to strap you in and make you say “OH SHIT!!” like a dozen times, try The Guest.
8. Gone Girl
The first half of Gone Girl kind of works like an average episode of Cold Case. It’s fine, it passes the time, tells a semi-compelling story, but it never really grips you. You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, or at least hope that it eventually will, while everything falls into place.
And then it happens.
And before you even really understood what just occurred, you just have to go with it and pick it up as you go. It’s a movie that reverses nearly every gender stereotype you have for movie characters. It brings us into the mind of a sociopath, and then makes us kind of sympathize with them for a bit…and then just like that theres another insane moment, and you’re back to square one.
Gone Girl is better off as a psychological thrill ride than a mystery movie, and once it settles in it’s got maybe the best back half of any movie this year. On the female side, there wasn’t a performance better than Rosamund Pike all year long.
7. The Lego Movie
Honestly, if you watched The Lego Movie and didn’t have fun, you might be a demon.
It’s a movie that has plenty of jokes for kids, but just as many for adults. It’s got a star-studded voice cast including Will Arnett as Batman and Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius, and Will Ferrell as a freaking character named Lord Business.
It’s got the catchiest theme song for any movie, probably ever. It’s got one of the most charismatic, charming leads in hollywood lending his voice to the main character.
I don’t know what reason you could have to not see this movie. I really don’t.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a perfect example of how good Wes Anderson can actually be as a filmmaker, when he doesn’t out-Wes Anderson himself. While 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom is so intent on being weird and eccentric it forgets to be enjoyable, The Grand Budapest Hotel never makes that mistake.
Ralph Fiennes knows how to hold a room. None of the other Wes Anderson originals could have pulled off what he could have (okay maybe except for Bill Murray). They also show up in some way or the other but it’s Fiennes who steals every second when he’s on the screen. Young Tony Revolori is a good number two as well, while F. Murray Abraham anchors with a fantastic narration.
The best thing about The Grand Budapest Hotel is that Anderson allows it to be fun. Like his other best movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel is overtly charming and funny while being weird, but it never lets its weirdness get in the way of its likability.
There may have been four movies I liked better than Birdman this year, but Birdman is the one I would recommend to anyone who likes and appreciates cinema.
That is the most pretentious sentence I’ve ever written, but it’s true. I’m nowhere near a snotty film nerd (despite my best efforts), but even my untrained eye can appreciate the near flawless execution of a movie like Birdman.
The director, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, directed the shit out of this movie. It’s all one take. It’s amazing, and some of the most creative and unique directing I’ve seen in a long time. He wrote the script too, which is as mesmerizing as any movie you’ll see in 2014.
The actors act their asses off. Specifically Michael Keaton, who I’m not sure anyone believed was capable of what he pulled off here, and Edward Norton, who you get the sense was only kind of faking his stuck-up, theatre douchebag persona, which makes it that much better.
Near the end, Birdman gets a tiny bit too self important, and it threatens to take down the whole movie with a “superhero movies actually are awful” trope, but it saves itself in its final moments with a rightfully ambiguous ending. Considering I don’t expect my top four favorites to be nominated, I’ll be rooting for Birdman to clean up at the Oscars this year, it certainly deserves to.
I am a Christopher Nolan apologist. I’ll get that out of the way first.
That said, while many directors, especially who are in the business of making blockbusters, are content on playing it safe, following the same old formula and cashing in, Nolan doesn’t play that way. He takes chances, puts himself out there, plays with concepts that most filmmakers won’t go near.
He consistently puts out not only entertaining movies, but visually stunning movies, thought-provoking movies, movies you can’t stop talking about years after they come out.
Interstellar is the exact same way. You could spend years trying to make everything in a Christopher Nolan movie fit, but if you force yourself to try to solve all the mysteries, you’re missing the point.
The Nolan brothers made Interstellar not to educate film goers on space physics (although there is plenty of that) but for filmgoers to have an experience. That’s what Interstellar is, an experience.
You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether or not the ending makes sense or is even satisfying, but to negate the first 2 and a half hours because of it is silly. Interstellar isn’t the perfect movie, it might not even be a top five Nolan movie, but it is certainly one you’ll have a hard time forgetting about.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
If The Avengers is the #1 Marvel movie of all time, Guardians of the Galaxy is 1A.
GOTG is everything right about a superhero movie. While Nolan’s Batman was a different kind of great, intense, dark, and dramatic, GOTG goes the opposite route, but executes just as well if not better. Chris Pratt absolutely shines in the lead role as Starlord, but it’s the rest of the main cast, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista (if only his wrestling was as good as his acting in this movie, but I digress) and yes, Vin Diesel despite his limited dialogue as Groot. They all play off each other beautifully, and James Gunn directs them all as fleshed out with distinct character traits, which makes them even more likable.
The action and plot are easy to follow, and the movie manages to cover half a dozen origin stories without tripping over itself. But most of all Guardians is fun. Isn’t that what movies are supposed to be?
Let’s be real here. With all due respect to Michael Keaton, Matthew McConaughey, and Ralph Fiennes, Jake Gyllenhaal is the Best Actor of 2014, and it’s not even close.
It’s not like Gyllenhaal hasn’t acted well in other movies, but I had no idea he was capable of this. Louis Bloom is an absolute sociopath, and Gyllenhaal tears it up revealing the nooks and crannies of his psyche at every turn.
The background, Bloom as a pseudo-paparazzo on the hunt for crime as it is happening so he can sell the footage to local news stations, gives him plenty of material to work with. The movie will make you go “what the f*** is he doing!!” when he is manipulating crime scenes, setting up injuries to rivals, or driving his car through traffic to be first at the scene, but it is in his manipulative relationships with other characters, especially news producer Nina (Rene Russo) and sidekick Rick (Riz Ahmed) where Gyllenhaal takes Bloom to the next level of crazy.
It all leads up to the most pants-shitting sequence in any movie this year that will absolutely make your jaw drop to the floor when it’s over. This movie was very, very, nearly my favorite of this year, and if you catch me in the right mood, it is. It is an absolute must see for Gyllenhaal’s performance alone.
1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Yes, I put the sequel to the prequel to a monkey movie franchise that started 40 years ago at number one. See it first before you judge me.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the prequel to this film starring James Franco is a serviceable re-entry into the franchise, but none of it can possibly prepare you for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the most surprisingly amazing film of 2014.
Make no mistake, Dawn is a war movie first and foremost. The amazing thing about it is that unlike, say, every other war movie, neither side is right or wrong. Both sides have good traits and bad traits, good people, and bad people (or….apes), noble motivations, and selfish ones. Most of the time, conflict could have been avoided if not for one or two incidents that push it over the edge and this movie exemplifies that.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t ask you pick a side. There are evil characters sure, but they are on both sides of the fight. Our heroes are both humans and apes, both trying to protect their kind from elimination at all costs, but wary of the consequences of battle.
On top of that the movie is visually stunning. Andy Serkis’s performance as Cesar, the leader of the apes, shines through his CGI. The fight scenes are breathtaking, the imagery is phenomenal, the screenplay is tight, and the directing, by Matt Reeves of Let Me In fame, is top-notch.
It’s easy to dismiss, DOTPOTA (another outstanding acronym) because of its title as a “blockbuster” summer film, but that title is so limiting, and if the movie had a different name, and wasn’t connected to such a storied franchise, cinephile’s would have no quarries about praising it as a potential Oscar-worthy film.
Regardless, anyone who puts their reservations aside and takes time out to see is rewarded with the best movie, at least that I saw, in 2014.
Just for fun, here’s how I would pick the top 3 in terms of acting and directing
1. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
2. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Michael Keaton, Birdman
1. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
2. Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant
3. Scarlett Johansson, Under The Skin
1. Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Birdman
2. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Christopher Nolan, Interstellar
Best Supporting Actor
1. Edward Norton, Birdman
2. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
3. F. Murray Abraham, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Supporting Actress
1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2. Naomi Watts, Birdman
3. Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer