2014 was an excellent year for movies. Everything delivered – from the blockbuster popcorn movies, to the Oscar contenders, to the little indie movies that came and went without many noticing. No matter what kind of movie-goer you are, chances are you probably got to see a pretty great movie this year. I saw 114 at the cinemas, and of course not all of them were great – some of them were downright dreadful. But we’ll leave those back in 2014 and today celebrate the 10 best movies that came out across the year.
I’ll kick things off with some honourable mentions in alphabetical order:
- Dallas Buyers Club
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Lego Movie
And here we go!
10 DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Boy did this movie take things up a notch. Rise of the Planet of Apes was a surprisingly great movie back in 2011, and as the sequel drew closer no doubt expectations were high. ‘Dawn’ absolutely obliterated those expectations, adding further weight 2014’s argument that blockbuster movies can be intelligent without sacrificing the entertainment factor. Andy Serkis is incredible in the motion-capture role of Caesar, further adding weight to the argument that acting categories at the biggest awards shows need to consider motion-capture as a legitimate form of acting.
09 GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Marvel Studios biggest bet of their cinematic universe so far turned out to be the best of their entire catalogue so far. Audiences got the most fun and heartfelt comic book movie in years, and audiences finally got to see what all the fuss and fear was about leading up to this huge gamble of a movie. Chris Pratt proved he has the chops to be a leading man in an action movie as Star-Lord, but Rocket and Groot stole the show. Bradley Cooper’s wisecracking, tough racoon was a wonderfully sketched character but Groot, with the aid of Vin Diesel’s voice work and James Gunn’s direction, provided the strongest emotional connection. And Groot’s a freakin’ tree.
08 X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
Neck and neck with Guardians of the Galaxy, Days of Future Past wins the showdown of the comic book movies this year if only for sheer audacity in premise and execution. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back in time to the 70s to change the course of history so that the world doesn’t end up fighting an unwinnable war against the Sentinels (as witnessed in the opening scenes). The layers of storytelling and connectivity make Days of Future Past one of the boldest and most exhilarating comic book movies in years. For such a mammoth cast, it never feels like it’s giving the audience too much to play with. It is perfectly balanced, and doesn’t feel rushed or bloated. And Quicksilver – man oh man, that sequence was absolutely glorious.
07 THESE FINAL HOURS
This quiet Australian film didn’t do big numbers, which is incredibly heartbreaking given that it is one of the finer Australian movies to be made in the last few years. It’s a solemn look at the end of the world. There’s no Michael Bay-brand pomposity here. Focusing more on the characters, it navigates an interesting narrative as it asks more introspective questions. It’s not so much about what you do as the world ends, but who you are when it does.
Boyhood is most definitely a great and innovative cinematic experiment, but it is also an incredible film. Coming-of-age stories have been done, family dramas have been done, but Boyhood takes these two narrative ideas and takes them on with a whole new attitude. Little bits here and there over 12 years of filming make up one of the most complete stories told. It covers everything it should thematically, and the authenticity that shines through is undeniable. It’s partly a lucky break that this project came together as well as it did, but credit has to go to director Richard Linklater and the fantastic main cast – Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater.
Whoa! I don’t think anyone was prepared for what this film gave us. Jake Gyllenhaal is relentless as the maniacal Lou Bloom, a success-hungry sociopath who begins filming crime scenes and violent accidents and selling them to morning news. Nightcrawler gives us one of the most compelling, fascinating and disturbing characters since Taxi Driver, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to be on the edge of your seat for the duration. It also provides a scathing commentary on the media industry and the dark ethical waters media outlets will throw themselves in for a story.
04 THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
It takes a lot to turn the story of a sensationally detestable character into a captivating and entertaining film, but the fifth team-up of Scorsese and DiCaprio is a winner on all accounts. Backed-up by a fantastic cast including a career-highlight performance from Jonah Hill and an unstoppable one from newcomer (and Aussie) Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street is a near perfect film. It’s a fascinating character study, and a bold cautionary tale that will entice you towards a life of excess and pleasure and just as quickly scare you out of ever chasing such things. Scorsese almost lets the film celebrate the exploits of Jordan Belfort, but every time quickly juxtaposes it with the dark and ugly consequence of such behavior. It’s a moral tug-of-war, and one hell of a ride to go on.
03 12 YEARS A SLAVE
The visual beauty of this film carries with it a haunting undertone, and with good reason. The story of slavery is not a light one, and it is not one to be given a pretty façade. Steve McQueen’s film is a work of art, but it is because of the disturbing and dark imagery that is conveyed. It is unrelenting in its depiction of slavery, and the aforementioned imagery is cleverly juxtaposed with the breathtaking beauty of the American south. Every performance in this film is on point, but Chiwetel Ejiofor is extraordinary as Solomon Northup, the titular slave. He displays the strength and weakness of Solomon, the hope and heartbreak, the fear and the courage and most importantly the humanity. Hans Zimmer’s score is breathtaking also.
02 GONE GIRL
Gone Girl was an absolute ace in the hole. Everything came together in this film and made one hell of a sweet-and-sour cocktail. It’s a date movie, a thriller, a scathing portrait of middle-class America and marriage, and so much more – and only David Fincher could’ve pulled this off. Credit to Gillian Flynn, author of the novel and screenwriter for the film, for turning her own novel into a brilliant and biting screenplay – carrying with it so much wit, humour and clever, snappy sentiments and all the while maintaining an intense narrative. There’s double meaning in a lot of the dialogue, and it keeps you guessing. Ben Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career, but the movie belongs to Rosamund Pike. She is absolutely fearless in the role of Amy Elliot Dunne. The role is a high-wire act of the greatest level, and she nails it from start to finish.
The race was over back in January thanks to Spike Jonze’s beautiful and poignant exploration of human connection in an all-too relatable future. Witty and deep writing, navigating themes like loss, love, connection, our relationship with technology and the human condition on multiple levels, Jonze’s screenplay and direction handle everything with deft grace and deliberation. Joaquin Phoenix gives another revelatory performance, absolutely nailing the nuances in his character’s personality and emotional state. Scarlett Johansson is absolutely gorgeous in her voice work as Samantha. The film is revelatory and bold in its navigation of the need to connect and the need to disconnect.
Thanks for reading, and let’s get ready for the mammoth movie year that 2015 is!
Author: David Thomas Williams