When is a Top 10 of the Year actually finished? How long can I put off setting it into print? If it were up to me, I’d hold out until the Oscars were over, but realistically, this should go up around now. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see a bunch of movies that may have made it on here (American Sniper, A Most Violent Year, Nightcrawler, to name a few), but this is a pretty good indication of the movies I saw this year.
It’s interesting to me that some of the most heralded films of the years, the ones I have seen, didn’t make this list. I’m talking specifically of Boyhood and Birdman, but I guess you cannot account for taste. So here it is.
10. How to Train Your Dragon 2
The original How to Train Your Dragon was a nice little surprise from Dreamworks Animation; it’s always refreshing to see quality animation come from a studio not named Pixar. The sequel takes the groundwork that the original had laid out for it and, dare I say, made a better movie.
In the new installment, Hiccup, now a few years older than he was in the original, is feeling the pressure coming from his father over his eventual claiming of the throne. But Hiccup is more interested in exploring the world around him, which is a trait that leads him to find out the truth about his mother. It also brings him straight to the main antagonist of the film, a man bent on controlling dragons for his own gain.
What really separates this one from other animated films is the heart that it displays. The revelation about Hiccups mother is a heartwarming, but also bittersweet moment, especially when his father gets involved. It’s an amazing moment and done just perfectly.
Enemy is a crazy goddamn movie and Jake Gyllenhaal is incredible in it. He’s fast becoming one of my favorite actors working today. He pulls double-duty here, and he’s able to take both roles and create such completely different characters that it’s easy to forget that it’s the same person.
I can’t really talk too much without spoiling a genius movie, though, so I’ll only tell a little bit about it. If you don’t know anything about it, the story revolves around a lonely, quiet college professor that happens to watch a movie that has an actor in it that looks exactly like him. From there, the guy hunts down the actor in an effort to uncover the truth to what’s going on. Everything leads to a WTF ending, which I don’t want to go into, but after you watch this movie and become completely confused, go on Youtube and watch a 22-minute explanation of it; the whole movie starts to make much more sense and becomes so much better.
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
One of the most unique voices working in Hollywood today is Wes Anderson. He has such a unique sense of filmmaking that it’s nearly impossible to mistake a Wes Anderson film for anyone else’s.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably Anderson’s most ambitious film. The film is an author telling a story about a story he was once told about a man he never met, which is an odd way to frame a film’s events, but it’s that level that validates the whimsy of the film. Ralph Fiennes is the true strength of this movie, as his role of Mr. Gustave is one of the strongest Wes Anderson has ever created. He’s pompous, charismatic, and well meaning, although he’s completely self-involved. Altogether, it’s a fun adventure film that stands apart among all the sequels and reboots as a completely unique experience.
7. The Drop
I love a good crime story and Dennis Lehane is one of the best writers in the genre. I love how small this movie plays; it doesn’t try to bite off more than it can chew and tells a tight, cohesive story with a satisfactory ending.
Tom Hardy is great in the film, as Bob, an unassuming bartender that keeps a low profile in his cousin’s Brooklyn bar that is actually a front for Chechen gangsters. While there’s plenty of story about these gangsters and Bob’s cousin, Marv (the late James Gandolfini), this is more a story about Bob than anything else. Bob spends most of the time playing the role of soft-spoken idiot, but there’s a possibility that it could be all an act.
I love the relationship between Gandolfini and Hardy in this one. Gandolfini’s Marv is a blowhard, a failed businessman that fancies himself a shrewd businessman and the guy with all the answers; he basically sees himself as Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, but it becomes more and more apparent that Bob may be the one that has all the answers.
6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I’d be honest, I haven’t seen the first film in the new attempt of the series, but I was pretty aware of it, so when I went into Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I wasn’t too far behind anything. Coming out in the summer, you would expect this movie to just be a big, dumb movie, like that abortion Tim Burton put out a decade or so ago. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes may actually be one of the biggest surprises of the year, though, as it perfectly toes the line between summer blockbuster and message movie.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a surprisingly bleak movie when you get down to it. It looks at the worst aspects of human (and ape) nature, and it brings up the question of how far we are from our basest of emotions and destructive nature. The end is a hopeless message, when hate perpetuates hate and the cycle continues, but goddamn is this not an entertaining movie when all is said and done.
5. The LEGO Movie
Nearly an identical plot to Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lego Movie was better than it had any business being. The groundwork laid before it by other toy-based movies was bleak to be kind, Battleship to be harsh. Somehow, though, The Lego Movie became one of the most fun movies of the year.
The moral of the story winds up being the importance of having unrestricted creativity and perhaps that’s why the film works so well. The filmmakers essentially took this idea to heart and put together an inventive film about child building blocks with no rules and with the creative team behind the 21 Jump Street film series at the helm, the comedy was smart enough for adults, while satisfying the younger demographic as well.
Chef is a fun movie. This is Jon Favreau’s love letter to all things food and you won’t find another 2014 movie that will make you as hungry. Seriously, I’ve been craving a Cuban sandwich ever since I’ve seen this film. What makes Chef one of the best films of the year, however, is the father-son relationship the movie centers around. The relationship just works perfectly, which has a lot to do with the young actor that plays Jon Favreau’s son Percy, Emjay Anthony. It’s not a particularly difficult role, but it’s central to the movie and the chemistry the two have together just makes this work as well as any film all year. Also, get me a goddamn Cuban sandwich.
Truth be told, what sold me on Interstellar was the science of it all. The idea of the wormholes, relativity, and black holes fascinated me, even more than the human drama going on throughout the film. While the Earth stuff in this movie was perfectly fine, it’s everything that occurs in space that really makes this movie for me.
Christopher Nolan really hasn’t made a bad film, and Interstellar definitely manages to extend his streak. Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain give nice performances, but again, this all takes a back seat to the astrophysics lesson that the second act gives us.
2. Gone Girl
Guess what I did not long before I saw Gone Girl: got enganged. If there is one movie you shouldn’t watch right before you get ready to walk down the aisle, it’s Gone Girl; it’s like popping on Old Yeller right after you buried your childhood dog in the backyard.
Suffice it to say, Gone Girl is one of the scariest films I’ve seen in theaters in quite a while, though maybe “scary” isn’t the proper word. “Chilling” accurately describes the feeling of watching this film. It’s also quite entertaining as you watch the mystery unfold. I’m actually one of those people that didn’t read the book prior to watching it and it actually may have been a good decision on my part. Luckily, though I knew that there was a twist coming, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, so I was nicely surprised when the film shifted gears. The performances are all fantastic; especially Rosamund Pike, and its final act may be one of the most maddening and frustrating endings to a film ever.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
If I were in the mindset that I was when I was 10 years younger and was asked what my favorite film of 2014 was, I’d probably say something really precious like Birdman or would name something no one has even seen, like The Zero Theorem. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: that version of me is kind of an asshole, and luckily, he doesn’t exist anymore.
Now that I’m older and wiser and have much less free time to spend at the theater, I have to pick and choose wisely what I’m going to watch for two hours. For me, no film of 2014 was time better spent than The Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s everything a big budget action movie should be: smart, funny, exciting, and memorable. There are just so many moments in this film that can evoke different emotions from you. You can be laughing your ass off one moment and then turn around and pull your heart out. I won’t go into a whole review again, because I did a review for the film back when I first saw it. (Read my Guardians of the Galaxy review here)