2014 has come to an end and hoo boy, what a year it has been! Graduations, concerts, new universities, Greece trips, ever so charming hate mail and, most importantly, great new movies. With that, I welcome you to my collection of the 10 greatest movies of 2014 (and the obligatory runners-up)!
Before I get to the films I’ve selected as the best of the year, I will remind my readers, as always, that this is a very personal list and that I haven’t had the time to see movies that others have cited as great. Whiplash, Nightcrawler and Gone Girl, for instance, are recently released movies that I’ve heard people praise but they won’t be seen here. Basically, don’t get too mad if your favourites are left out. We done here? Good, then let’s roll.
This is a film that has grown on me more since it first came out and my appreciation doesn’t have much to do with the movie itself, but how it treats the story it adapts. This is not the way Christians want you to remember the tale of Noah, but no matter how hard they try to cover it up, the tale that they insist on telling to Sunday school children is pretty damn grim and messed-up, and I will never stop loving Darren Aronofsky for cementing that fact with this movie.
He chose Russell Crowe for the main part, and while I’m not usually a fan of Crowe I found that he did quite alright in this movie. He is surrounded by the likes of Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Douglas Booth, and Logan Lerman, all of them enjoyable, but none as entertaining as Anthony Hopkins as Noah’s ancient, berry-loving grandfather who knows of the wrath God will soon bring upon us. There’s also Ray Winstone as a villain who happens to remarkably resemble one of my favourite Nightwish members.
The movie doesn’t always make sense (many have this complaint on Noah’s eventual descent into madness), which is somewhat forgivable as it is still a Bible story, but it actually does make a little more sense than the tale on which it’s based. Noah’s ability to build such a humongous boat in such a short while is explained with the existence of helpful rock giants that are actually angels trapped in stone. The angels’ voices are done by Nick Nolte, Frank Langella, Mark Margolis and Kevin Durand, and their Harryhausen-esque animation is a joy to behold.
Noah also has some good music by the ever brilliant Clint Mansell, outright stunning time-lapse sequences, great visuals and, again, some serious guts in how it dares to display the true darkness of a biblical classic. Good job, Aronofsky. My personal request is that you do Ezekiel next.
Oh, you didn’t know that we Swedes didn’t get to see Frozen until February this year? Well, so is the fact of the matter, and for us that makes Frozen a 2014 flick. I don’t care if you’re okay with that or not.
Frozen is a very overplayed film, but still not a film that I wouldn’t classify as “very good”. It’s loosely based on The Snow Queen by H.C. Andersen and tells the story of two royal sisters, Idina Menzel‘s Elsa and Kristen Bell‘s Anna, the former of whom has been forced into isolation due to her magical powers to freeze anything and create eternal winter if she’s provoked. This is precisely what happens on the day Elsa is supposed to be crowned the queen of Arendelle, the nation in which the movie’s set, at which point she reveals her powers to everyone and runs off. It’s up to Anna, an ice salesman named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his funny raindeer Sven, and a comedy relief snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) to get Anna back home and take away the curse. With a plot like that, it’s anyone’s guess why Olaf dominates all the posters.
The movie is definitely entertaining and the music’s catchy, though not flawless. Best of all is the sheer quality of the animation, particularly the way they’ve made the snow look. From the intricately rendered CGI snow to the skillfully simulated blizzards, this is a film that will actually make you feel cold as you watch it. Even Olaf, who looks cheap and cartoon-ish from a distance, has a very well-detailed texture where thousands of miniscule snowflakes are visible up close.
But the most important part about Frozen is that it achieves that wondrous feeling of Disney magic we haven’t felt much of since the Disney Reinaissance. It manages to make fun of some of the typical tropes, such as Santino Fontana‘s Prince Charming archetype, while still feeling like a genuine film of that wonderful era. It is a princess film with a few spins, but with all of the magic we remember from our childhoods intact, and I’m 100% convinced that this is gonna be remembered as one of the great Disney classics even decades from now. I actually don’t mind it.
This is a terrifying movie, moreso than most of the things any modern filmmaker, or filmgoer for that matter, would attempt to pass off as a horror film. It is a surreal experience with a constant feel of dread and unease that leaves you with an empty feeling, something I haven’t seen someone achieve this neatly since Lynch gave us Eraserhead.
In Under The Skin, an unusually terrific Scarlett Johansson (who was also pretty good in Lucy, one of my runners-up this year) drives around Scotland in a van and picks up unsuspecting men, whom she lures into her dark and infinite void of an apartment. The men are sucked into a black substance on the floor where they then vanish, leaving their empty skins behind. Johansson starts out seeming like a callous and malovelent seductress, a psiren of sorts, but she shows signs of sympathy and regret when she meets a heavily deformed but unusually pure man whom she doesn’t have the heart to lure into her pool of darkness and terror.
She’s followed around by a mysterious motorcyclist who seems to control Johansson in some higher power’s name, so we quickly get the sense that Johansson’s body and sexuality is actually being used to benefit some other force. One of my favorite scenes is when she has sex with a man whom she actually loves. She is so shocked by the experience that she stops the man and has to examine her own vagina. The film is very vague about who’s actually controlling her but we don’t need to know. We only need to know her and her first experience with freedom.
The movie is a bit slow towards the end but its consistently dark mood, great music, admirable authenticity (such hiring an actor with real deformities instead of using make-up) and smashing cinematography more than makes up for it! The director, Jonathan Glazer, could be the reincarnation of Kubrick himself and while some of the slow and uneventful moments in Under The Skin maybe don’t work quite as well as similar moments in Kubrick’s movies, I still see this man going places. Places that are bright for his career but dark and unsettling for his audience, as great art should be.
Boyhood isn’t the most entertaining movie ever made, but it might just be the most ambitious. Here is a film that took 12 years to make because writer-director Richard Linklater wanted to tell a coming-of-age story without having to switch the main actor for the scenes set further ahead in the main character’s life. We’re not just watching the character Mason Evans Jr. grow up. We’re witnessing the actual growth of an actual person, as he goes from innocent child to college student. This movie is literally about a person growing up.
That person is Ellar Coltraine, who has played the main part since 2002 when filming began, and his divorced parents are played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who also age visibly as the film progresses and moves ahead in time. As we see him interact with both of his parents, as well as his younger sister played by a very natural convincing Lorelei Linklater, and move reluctantly in-between homes, we see a very realistic portrayal of how one’s family might change over the course of 10 years and itsn’t exclusively thanks to the authentic physical aging of the actors. The parents feel like real parents, Mason’s schoolmates feel like real kids, his sister feels like a real sister and, because it’s been filmed in so many different years, you can always tell at which point in time any given scene takes place and feel like you’re back there with the characters. There is a touching moment where Mason’s out camping with his father and he happens to mention that The Dark Knight is indisputably the greatest film of the year. Those were the days.
It’s also strangely admirable how the movie doesn’t end on that high a note. The film concludes after Mason’s mother has a breakdown over his son moving away and his father laments his worsening financial troubles. The last scene of the film is Mason talking to his new college mates. I can’t help but feel that this is meant to signify the uncertainty of the future and show, unlike typical coming-of-age films, that life doesn’t have some grand happy ending until perhaps when you die. You don’t peak at 18. I dare say, 18 is when you begin.
What a pretty film, and what’s more, what a cast! For his energetic comedy set in a weirdly colorful universe, Wes Anderson has employed such Hollywood talents as Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton in heavy old-age make-up, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, F. Murray Abraham (apparently he’s not dead yet), Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, and even Harvey Keitel. I don’t think I have room in this post to name more.
One person worth bringing up, though, is Zero Mustafa, played by newcomer Tony Revolori. In the year 1968, Jude Law’s character, who goes on to write a book about Mustafa, finds an older version of the man (Abraham) in a worn-out version of what was once the magnificent Grand Budapest Hotel. Mustafa, now the owner of the hotel, tells Law a tale of how his life as a poor lobby boy changed drastically when, in 1932, he encountered Grand Budapest’s renowned concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. (Fiennes). Gustave is a respected man, and the main attraction for the wealthy elderlies that visit the hotel, but after he’s framed for the murder of one of them (Swinton) things quickly go to hell, not just for Gustave, but for the fictional countries in-between which war might commence. Gustave runs off with Zero as a spectacular and pretty darn funny adventure begins.
The film and its stylized settings are shot gorgeously and it’s worth pointing out that the aspect ration changes depending on which time period the film has its current focus in. All the A-listers deliver fine performances that blend in well with Anderson’s quirky world and the movie never once feels boring or unfunny. A little overpopulated perhaps, but I can live with that.
Christopher Nolan has never been easy on the mind, and when he gets to tell a story that transcends space, time and dimensions, it becomes a greater mind-tickler than ever. In his sci-fi masterpiece Interstellar, he has Matthew McConaughey play a retired astronaut, Cooper, on a future Earth where crops are dying and life itself seems to be ending. However, when his daughter Muprh (Mackenzie Foy as a child; Jessica Chastain as an adult) one day receives a message from a supposed “ghost” in her room, he’s led to find a nearby NASA base where a scientist played by Michael Caine reveals that there have been plans of a mission to save humanity.
The mission involves travelling to a wormhole that has mysteriously appeared near Saturn. Cooper accepts the mission but his daughter is devastated at the knowledge that her father might be gone for decades, and so he leaves her on bad terms. He boards a shuttle alongside Anne Hathaway, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi, and two block-shaped robots that are as hilariously witty as they are cool-looking (albeit impractical), and sets out on a voyage that defies what a simple mind knows about space, time and dimensions.
On top of being an intriguingly complex story that’s fun, fascinating and sometimes mind-blowing to follow, the film has some of the greatest visuals you’ll see in a sci-fi film and Hans Zimmer‘s accompanying score makes it even better. Add some genuinely moving performances to that, as well as some loving references to the works of Arthur C. Clarke and you’ve got yourself a first-rate piece of science fiction.
If Gravity was the movie about space stations and realistic astronaut work you’ve been waiting for, you’ll probably also be delighted that someone has finally made a great film about wormhole theory, relativity and existing in the fifth dimension. If you’re into that sort of thing.
People who immediately dismiss this movie as terrible as soon as they hear the title are in need of instant reconsideration. This isn’t an extended, obviously CG-animated cutscene from a Lego Star Wars or Lego Harry Potter game. This is a film that has been made to look like literally every scene was made using real Lego bricks. This here is such a smart movie with such magnificent attention to detail that refusing to see it because of the title is inexcusable.
Chris Pratt voice Emmett, as generic a Lego man as can be, whose monotonous life gets quite a change after he finds a supernatural Lego piece that a fierce young woman named Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) is looking for. He is taken to Vitrivius (Morgan Freeman), the leader of the Master Builders, who craft all the different dimensions of the Lego universe with creativity and freedom. This is in stark contrast to the evil President Business (Will Ferrell), a man obsessed with making sure Lego is crafted according to the instructions. Business himself was once a Master Builder, but his evil actions led him to be cast out. Vitrivius believes that Emmett is a Master Builder also, a prophesied one known as “The Special”, but generic ol’ Emmet sure doesn’t feel too special.
Along with such delightful side characters as Batman (Will Arnett), Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie), a 1980’s space guy (Charlie Day) and a giant robo-pirate named Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), the cast also consists of famous pop culture characters that exist in Lego form in real life. Each object seen in the film is also based on a Lego piece that exists and the older pieces even have dust grains and tiny indentations on them. Another great original character is Liam Neeson‘s Bad Cop, whose “Good Cop” persona is painted on the other side of his head.
Add some stop-motion-esque frame rate to that and you have what is legitmately one of the most well-detailed and gorgeous animated films of all time. With some of Chris Miller and Phil Lord‘s trademark “rapid fire comedy” spliced into it, this is a film you do not want to miss. It’s as hilarious as it is well-made, and as touching as it is silly. Top notch!
Talk about immense and utter satisfaction. Not only is Bryan Singer‘s Days of Future Past the X-Men film I’ve been wanting to see for years, but it’s also the crossover between two different eras that I was hoping for. Here is a film that combines the old X-Men cast – Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore and so forth – with the new gang – James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult and whomever I’m missing – in one of the most popular stories from the comics. The film itself is about as intense and awesome as any fan would hope.
The plot: unbeknownst to the X-Men, mutant-tracking robots known as Sentinels have been in production since the 1970’s and as the film opens, we see a mildly distant future where the Sentinels are in control of most of the planet. Charles Xavier (Stewart) has figured out that the creation of the Sentinels was set in motion when Mystique (Lawrence) assassinated the Sentinels’ creator, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). The solution? Send Wolverine (Jackman) back in time, so that he can convince a younger Xavier (McAvoy) to stop Mystique and perhaps even enlist the help of his sworn nemesis, Magneto (Fassbender). Other characters Wolverine meets include a young Beast (Hoult), who can now control his blue hairyness, and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a mutant with superspeed powers who undeniably gets the best scenes in the movie.
What can I say that I didn’t cover in my review, really? Days of Future Past is funny, sad, intense, tremendously well-acted all around, constantly exciting, and touching in how it gives closure to one cast of X-Men stars and makes way for another. It’s Bryan Singer’s love letter to not just the fans, but also the characters we’ve come to love since the year 2000. X-Men Apocalypse has a tough act to follow, but I am looking forward to it immensely, no questions asked.
As much as I love this movie, though, it’s not as much a film that gets better upon every rewatch as the movie that I consider, hands down, to be the best Marvel film of the year:
It has been far too long since we got a science fiction film with such a consistently fun tone. James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy is a salvation in the age of overly deep and serious sci-fi (basically, it’s “Star Wars meets Firefly“) and because it has grown to become a film that I can watch over and over without getting even remotely tired of it, I have no choice but to put it this high on the list!
Once again we have Chris Pratt in the lead role, playing Peter “Star-lord” Quill, an Earthling raised by space pirate captain Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). With a Walkman full of 80’s and 70’s music always close at hand, he ends up in a war between planet Xandar and the Kree empire, caused by the radical Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), when Quill accidentally gets his hands on a powerful orb that Ronan seeks. He encounters Ronan’s deadly subordinate Gamora (Zoé Saldana) and a bounty hunter duo, genetically modified raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-man Groot (Vin Diesel), before he’s sent to prison alongside the lot of them.
In prison they also meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) a dreaded warrior who wants revenge on Ronan, and so agrees to ally with them when he learns that they have something that Ronan wants. After escaping prison together, a great adventure ensues and the five of them become the Guardians of the Galaxy. Nice ring to it.
The cast and the way they interact, converse and work off of each other is great enough as it is, but additional star-power is provided in the forms of Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Karen Gillan and Benicio del Toro. On top of this, the film has excellently colorful visuals, well-selected classic songs, equally good original music, and again, just an over-all fun tone that allows for first-rate comedy and a fantastic adventure. I don’t care what level of backlash I’ll receive if I call this a better film than The Avengers.
1. Life Itself
I lost one of my heroes to cancer last year, but in 2014 someone made sure that he will not be forgotten. Pulitzer-winning film critic Roger Ebert was one of my greatest sources of inspiration and even after his tragic passing, he continues to inspire me with his old film essays, books, social commentaries and reviews. I was delighted when I heard that an upcoming documentary by Steve James was going to tell Ebert’s story, making sure his memory lives on.
Life Itself takes us on a journey through most of Ebert’s life: his childhood, his early years as a Chicago newspaper editor, his friendship with softcore porn filmmaker Russ Meyer, and of course, his ascension to fame in the world of film criticism, where he would inspire thousands and, most importantly, make an iconic friendship with fellow critic Gene Siskel. We see some clips from Siskel and Ebert’s interviews and film review shows, as well as interviews with young filmmakers whom Ebert has inspired over the years and also some truly heartbreaking scenes of Ebert’s final years, which he spent mostly in the hospital without a jaw or a voice and with a withering ability to walk. It’s hard to watch, for sure.
But the film also spreads joy via the optimism and confidence Ebert displayed, even after cancer inarguably got the best of him, and his strength and spirit is another thing that will continue to inspire me, and most surely many others, even after the man himself has left us to reunite with Gene Siskel on the other side. I never was a believer in Heaven, but I’d like to think that Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert are currently sitting in a movie theatre somewhere and making fun of M. Night Shyamalan.
I had a hard time choosing between this one and Guardians of the Galaxy as my favorite movie of 2014. It’s true I might actually be slightly more entertained by Guardians, but that movie didn’t emotionally connect with me on such a tremendously deep level as Life Itself did. The movie is a symbol for the passion for movies that Roger Ebert shared with millions, including me, and it means more to me than most films I’ve seen period. I’d say it earns its spot, and obviously, a thumbs up.
Unexpected delights (films that weren’t great but better than expected):
WORST films I saw this year:
And once again: a happy new year to you all! See ya in 2015!