Top 25 Films of 2014

The Interview is finally out, and I couldn’t give less of a shit. Kudos to Sony for bringing a movie of theirs back out, but in reality, all The Interview has done has hogged the spotlight near the end of the year when many far more deserving films are due their place in the spotlight. This includes films that took considerable risks and broke some serious ground, films that followed the characters you’d usually stay away from, and films that looked at genres we already knew in a different way. 2014 had some pretty sensational films, and then it had some absolute jaw-dropping winners. Unfortunately, a number of films I wanted to catch (A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice, amongst others) are impossible to see before this list’s compilation was complete, so any omission of a late-arriving film you feel is deserving to be here may be for this reason. Otherwise, I think it’s time to shed some light on the biggest laughs, greatest fears and the most embarrassing of tears I’ve experienced this year. Here are the top 25 films of 2014.

25. Edge of Tomorrow

What a surprise this film was. We knew it may have been fun, but for it to have been (mostly) a resounding success is quite the startle we all got. Edge of Tomorrow tipped its hat to Groundhog Day within a few minutes and got on its merry way as it worked on building upon this back-to-the-start concept. It laughs at many action movies with its revisits to the same scenes of explosions (we don’t just get instant replays, we get many glances at similar stunts) and it flaunts its plot-necessary sequences with as much flair and ego as possible. It’s smart enough to get away with whatever it wants (except for its safe-as-shallow-water ending, but it can be forgiven). Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt as the Jack and Jill from hell bounce off one another very well, and they help make a stern sense out of a world of noise and death. Edge of Tomorrow is one cheeky film, and it’s satisfyingly so.

24. Nymphomaniac I/II

Lars Von Trier is not everyone’s friend, and he doesn’t care. People have been slamming Nymphomaniac as being self loving, a porn obsessed project for Von Trier and just a way for the director to turn himself on with his own work. It is true that Von Trier is highly confident with his own work, and that’s where a lot of ambition comes from. As someone who was okay with most of Nymphomaniac (Shia LaBeouf’s accent is more put on than the make up the seductresses in this film wear), who can argue that trying hard is always warranted? I feel that Von Trier gets more flack than deserved because of his cynicism (misery loves company), but that doesn’t mean that Nymphomaniac is bad. To me, it was a former sex addict trying to know life outside of intercourse and a sterile virgin trying to understand human connectivity outside of general interests. It’s an awkward movie because it’s about two people having a conversation outside of their comfort zones. At least Nymphomaniac is daring, and you can hopefully see that even if you end up hating it. 

23. Foxcatcher

This anti-sports film is colder than the winter we’ve had in Toronto. It expects nothing from its audience just like Channing Tatum’s character barely responds to anyone with any sense of emotion outside of anger and determination. The only wide eyed and emotional character in this film is Mark Ruffalo’s, who questions more about where the film is going than even the film does. In Foxcatcher, events just happen, and you’re yanked across for the trip. That works well for the movie. When everything even outside of the wrestling arena is stone faced and trying to catch you off guard, you don’t know what to expect. You have the upper class trying to turn their noses up at anything “low” and the lower class trying to appear tough to make a reputation for themselves. Everyone is tough to catch off guard, which is why the film’s explosive moments will truly shake you up. Foxcatcher isn’t friendly and won’t be for everyone, but it certainly is a different movie that leaves everything on the floor to rot in the cold.

22. Locke

The testing of what a narrative can be is continuously tested. In 2014, we have a one man show that could have been placed on a stage but was instead blown up on the giant screen with blurring lights and loud sounds. That show is Locke, and it’s driven by Tom Hardy as the titular character. We sit beside, behind and in front of Locke, both in and out of his car. We hear every second of his personal phone calls that dictate the fate of the rest of his life as if no one was supposed to hear them but himself.  It’s a daunting movie, but it works so well because of how real it all feels. Have we ever seen someone losing their fluff in another vehicle and wondered what it’s all about? Most likely. What if it was something as drastic as one of the events Locke felt, let alone a few? Even that alone would be thrilling. We caught Locke at the wrong time, but everything about this short character study is right. Hardy is terrific as usual, and Steven Knight (who wrote the wonderful script for Eastern Promises) does a fantastic job at making all of this car ride noteworthy. Locke is the best fun you’ll have prying in on someone’s doomed hour this year.

21. Blue Ruin

What a great time to examine what technology can do. With the latest trend of getting kickstarter campaigns to fund movies, we’ve gotten a film like Blue Ruin made, and a director like Jeremy Saulnier now has a future ahead of him. We can get a story that’s lower in scale but more personable in substance, and we sure get that here with Dwight’s thirst for revenge. Southern gothic films tend to do well because anything can happen, but it doesn’t hurt to still include logical motives. Blue Ruin does just that, where one bad event leads to another and it all sadly makes complete sense. How far should someone go when they witness that of whom brought death into their lives? In that same breath, should the same thought be made on those that plan to redeem their lost ones? How far should this chain go? Blue Ruin has a bad luck chain and it just keeps going. It works simply but assuredly, and if this alone was such a heart pumping success, who knows what Saulnier is capable of when the big leagues in Hollywood (or outside of it) start funding him.

20. The Theory of Everything

Well, okay. Everything is a loose term here. You don’t really go into a lot of what Stephen Hawking discovered, declared and even theorized. You get to know a bit of the man. What we do see is Stephen Hawking in love, though, and maybe that is everything to him. We see Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, two young talents, trying their best to make the script speak galaxies of emotions and do they ever make it worth our while. The topic is sad, but you don’t feel guilt tripped or forced into feeling depressed (although you probably will feel that way). This is because of director James Marsh’s attempt to tackle an acted film after dominating the cinematic world with his documentaries (especially Man on Wire). It’s still a movie based on real events, considering. It also takes it easy when it comes to showing too much or having too much persuasion. Marsh prefers to just let it all happen naturally, as he’s accustomed to, and the result is the naturally touching The Theory of Everything.

19. Still Alice

Alzheimer’s is no laughing matter, and Still Alice deals with the traumatizing topic with delicate care. We have Julianne Moore as the main character who slowly starts to fall to the disease. We have the supporting cast as her family and associates amongst her who are either in shot or are blurred out. You have their speculations as to how the disease will work its course, and then you have the heartbreaking realities. Still Alice isn’t easy to watch, but it’s a championing film carried by strong performances, a lunging pace and the best intentions. It could have gone down the darker route, something a movie like Amour would have attempted. It’s a good thing it doesn’t, because it would have otherwise squandered its more uplifting moments with even more misery (where as it worked better in a film like Amour). It knows what kind of movie it wants to be and is balanced as a result. It’s informative and engaging, well crafted and inspiring. Still Alice will always be Still Alice.

18. Wild

Tragedy would bring anyone to the brink of destruction. A movie like Wild makes the outdoors an excursion to vanquish negativity from life, as we are reminded how beautiful it can all be. People come and go, both through death and through phases, and so will everything else in life. We just sometimes need to see that of which we are not used to in order to gain order on that of which we know. That’s what Reese Witherspoon’s character gets to do here, and we get to join alongside her. Jean-Marc Vallée has struck gold again (last year with Dallas Buyers Club) with Wild, as his latest observation of human behavior continues to bring affecting results. This movie will tell you to keep going as you face your own problems, and it does so with such assurance. Wild is liberating, and if you need both a cleansing and an eye opening experience, this is a sure bet.

17. The Imitation Game

The title refers to a test that can differentiate the responder as either a human or a machine. The Imitation Game itself is quite organic and far from mechanic, so it passes that test effortlessly. You have an all star English cast that bring the complex theories and solutions to life, making every step of this puzzle thriller easy and delightful to follow. Alan Turing’s life is so eventful and complicated that there is much to be examined, and a large number of key points are shown here; Together, his life and his achievements are all the more astounding. Sure, the film could have studied more specific moments of his life, especially his homosexuality, but in the end, we got a concise product with a clear focus on Turing’s technological achievements. After all, Turing was a highly complexed man. The Imitation Game decides what it wants to go with, and it succeeds with its vision. It’s an easy going biopic that is all but difficult to follow, and that makes the cracking all the more fun.

16. Snowpiercer

What a ride this movie has had. It has tried its damn hardest to appeal to American audiences, only to have threats that it will be cut down in length. With the metaphorical train running in the film, didn’t test audiences learn that all of the length is necessary? Anyways, Snowpiercer’s finally here, and was it ever the exhilarating final result. This is Bong Joon-ho’s English debut, and he made a film that can be felt by any country in the world. We have the struggling lower class being dictated to by the richer upper class. All human life that we know of is stuck on a massive train, ordered in such an obvious and metaphorical way. Well, the lower class will no longer be put up with their abuse and lack of care. We’ve had many rebellious films and we could sure use them during times like ours. Snowpiercer presents the same kind of film in a new and energizing way. Its action is nerve wracking and its political statements found entwined with these scenes speak volumes. Snowpiercer will tell you to fight for yourselves in a few ways (even the way it was distributed), and it’ll be hard to ignore.

15. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

After the successful Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we weren’t sure just how much better the series could have gotten. Dawn has arrived, and within minutes, we knew that the series had jumped great lengths forwards. The world of humans is doomed, and the civilization of apes is only growing in size and in intelligence. When you get a metaphor of human life clashing with a cautionary tale of our survival, you get the explosive results here. We have a (mostly) new cast with different takes on this predicament, and the same ape faces we can trust (or learn to be weary of). When technology and primitivity hit one another, we soon realize that one world must surely end before a new one can break through. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is more devastating, more fierce and more invigorating than we could have imagined. We didn’t expect a worse sequel, but who knew that it could have gotten this good? 

14. Only Lovers Left Alive

What a rejuvenating way to look at cinematic vampires, especially after this pale skin breed has been exhausted to death with the usual stupid tropes. These immortal creatures engage in passions that are spread between music, science, history and more. They cling onto antiques and valuables not to retain their worth financially but because they genuinely have love attached to these items from way back when. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are dead in their faces and voices but very much alive as beings. They have seen it all but want to see what they love all over again, including each other. There isn’t too much going on in Only Lovers Left Alive except for a defined examination on how vampires would exist in the mind of Jim Jarmusch, and he has created such an interesting take on this nearly-drained idea that you’ll be as fixated as they are. Rock n’ roll and true love will never die, and if that isn’t fascinating, then you’re severely missing out.

13. Big Hero 6

As one of the funniest movies of the year, Big Hero 6 is like its character Baymax: Ballooned, and bursting at the seams. We are given a touching tale of loss that eventually leads to many instances of head-splitting laughter, but we never forget the importance of the more serious moments. We are handed a team of living action figures that kick ass and fulfill every comic cliche (on purpose, of course), but we can see what these peoples lives are all about. Big Hero 6 is a fully fledged comic movie that colours in every space it is supposed to, but then it will continue to draw extra pieces to the bigger picture. You’ll have a typical villain, but his power is something truly creative. You’ll see action happening, but maybe not in a way you’d expect. We’ve seen a new team try to get off the ground, but the road there may not have been this hilarious. Big Hero 6 is a common tale told incredibly well, and it’ll make even the biggest sticks in the mud want to start acting like super heros with powers. I’ll be damned if you don’t laugh even once at Baymax’s shenanigans, too.

12. Love is Strange

Love is everything you want to make it. It can also be strange, as the Ira Sachs film prefers to be called. It’s 2014 now, and a film about an openly gay relationship makes perfect sense (as it should). It’s 2014 now, and a film about an openly gay relationship struggling because of unforeseen circumstances coming between both men, sadly, also makes sense. We’re in a sensitive time where homosexuality is finally being accepted, but we still have many opposed against it that are trying to shove it aside. Love is Strange isn’t afraid to look at the distances we still have to go, but it will take its time to smile at how far we’ve come as well. Alfred Molina and John Lithgow have a sensational connection, and their believable desire for one another makes the more difficult moments of the film all the harder to deal with. You’ll laugh and cheer when Love is Strange is showing its happier moments, and you’ll appreciate the fact that there was joy to be found here to begin with. The end result is that love isn’t strange, but the selfish refusal of said emotions are what are (or should be) unusual. 

11. Левиафан [Leviathan] 11

Oh, the amount of controversy this movie has brought. Many have bashed it and complained that it is a propagandistic film that despises its own birth country of Russia. I’d argue that it’s relevant because it shows the corruption in many countries and that Russia is simply the area this movie takes place. Leviathan shouldn’t be passed to the side because of this, either. It’s the kind of movie that takes all of its power to get its intentions across to you, and you are guaranteed to have a shocking stay. What happens when the everyday man gets tired of being shunned? With the symbolic mythical beast representing many gargantuan interpretations (the power of an individual, the calamity of society’s burdens, the strength to overthrow and more), Leviathan is an immediately recognizable name of a film with an assuredly beloved story; A modern retelling of Job. The dismissal of this movie only makes it feel like its own retelling of its own story, but Leviathan is here to be witnessed. Good on it!

10. Interstellar

“This doesn’t make sense”. “Why did this happen?”. Yeah, much of Interstellar was all over the place story wise, but in the end, I think there is more than enough here that justifies its existence (and its place on this list, even so high). Interstellar is far from perfect, but it is pieced together by some truly special film making. It is an absolutely gorgeous movie that is yanked by raw emotions, and each moment that will try and grab your attention will easily do so. When the world is near its death and we haven’t a place to live, there isn’t any time to be selfish (or so it would seem). When we are scrambling to find out what matters the most to us, we lose sight of the bigger picture. That bigger picture is graciously placed in large, with stars, planets, galaxies and other sights splattered all over the canvas. The smaller details within this frame include the people on the mission to find a new place to live, and those on Earth. The conflicting views of those on Earth and in space (and usually amongst themselves in their respective areas) will prelude the haunting musical scores that will stay with you for days. So much about Interstellar is remarkable, and I find any film that has left such an impact on me worthy of even just sneaking into the top 10.

9. The Lego Movie

This had very little promise from the get go. Many months after its release, it almost seems impossible that The Lego Movie could be anything but awesome. This animated film is the ultimate tribute to the creativity we all had as children. We have a huge cast of big names with signature voices that emulate the exaggerated sounds we made when we made our own toys come to life. We see the never ending imagination behind the set, character and world designs that remind us of our own creations and even the problems we faced (did anyone else relate to how the toy helmets would snap easily?). Even the way the movie is animated in a way that makes everything look stop motion is a pleasure. Then there’s the fact that the movie is funny, exciting and just a resounding success. I feel like a massive fool doubting this movie’s possibilities. There’s a Batman Lego movie coming out, and I’m already feeling doubtful. Maybe I will be wrong again, but I won’t be as wrong as I was about this electric movie that made all of our childhood dreams a reality.

8. Adieu Au Language [Goodbye to Language] 8

If Quentin Tarantino is the director who is the biggest film fan as someone who can pin point their favorite movies, Jean-Luc Godard is the film maker who loves to ask what it means to make cinema. He has been blurring the lines for decades to the brink of completely shoving the only mildly interested out of the way for only those who are completely invested in his work. He has made fourth-wall-breaking fiction films and movies that just wonder how far they can go when it comes to being narratives (or even entertainment). Goodbye to Language is his latest experiment, and it says just that. Godard has tried to make a universal film here by uniting us all with life and how we can look at it all differently. He’s done so with a 3-Dimensional experiment that results in some of the most creative shots you’ll see all year. Some shots exceed what you thought 3-D could do, and others challenge how far 3-D should even go by questioning its usefulness. At 84, Godard is still a masterful director that is challenging movies as we know it, and with Goodbye to Language, he’s doing so with strength.

7. Whiplash

“Are you rushing or are you dragging?” If you’re not a music major of whom is extremely dedicated to their craft, this line will have you as choked as Miles Teller’s character. Was he playing too quickly or too slowly? Is that even what J.K. Simmons is referring to? By the time we wrap our heads around that loaded question, we are witnessing yet another tense moment. If you are a music major, then you sit and wait for the correct reply with sweat dripping down your face. Whiplash is no joke; Everything is severe and punishing. To see others put up with J.K. Simmons is to put up with his abuse ourselves. To hear the drum sticks rolling on the snare is to hear that and expect a punch at the end. To witness such smooth jazz band jams and still be sick from what may happen after, or even during, the song is the power Whiplash has over its audience. It is as daunting as the demonic maestro within it. Once it’s all over, the film takes a bow and you are left dumfounded. Whiplash does love its audience just as much as it loves to put its watchers through hell.

6. Gone Girl

David Fincher has had an eager fascination for literary film noir for a number of years now, so it isn’t any surprise that his hand rocketed up when the novel Gone Girl was to be adapted and a director was to be found for it. Gone Girl is touched by Fincher’s sick sense of humor and realism, so there’s no doubt that the movie will turn your stomach right after it makes it hurt from uncomfortable laughter. Take a common kidnapping story we hear both in films and the news and imagine seeing it through the filthiest magnifying glass you can find. Notice the statements on how media is passed around and dictated, and how this affects both the story (in the news and the film’s plot) and it’s characters. There are many twists, all as grotesque as the ones that proceeded each respective trap, and you’ll feel guilty if you predict them (and foolish if you don’t). The scariest bit about Gone Girl is just how fun it is.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

There isn’t much more comical than adults trying to take themselves too seriously. Wes Anderson has known this for years, which is why his mature-picture-book style hasn’t gotten old yet. Every shot is lush with the smallest of details pasted all over the gargantuan canvases (known simply as the set walls). Every character is played by a big name in an over-the-top way to truly create a cast of caricatures. The music itself is even alarming, with cathedral organs blasting or churning out chase themes that only sound silly, not bold. The Grand Budapest Hotel is yet another staple in Anderson’s near-perfect filmography, and in due time it could slowly become his best. The story is intricate, gaudy and awkward enough to make you want to refresh your memory every so often. The humor lives on outside of the film where a simple question like “Where’s boy with apple?” suddenly becomes a ruse. It’s a movie that sticks with its audience more than any Wes Anderson movie has before it, and it’s a mentality like this that makes the legacy of The Grand Budapest Hotel (“it’s an institution”, after all) seem all the more real. If it can live on for generations in the film, fine. In our world? As it seems to have surpassed this year effortlessly, I have no worries about the passing of time affecting this dramedy delight.

4. Under The Skin

It’s nice to find a poem come to life through the big screen, especially with a big name. Under The Skin is the kind of science fiction dream that many of us have been thirsting years for. Many movie goers wanted a fun epic like Guardians of the Galaxy; Then there were those of us that wanted an abstract look at the world we already know through the eyes of an outsider. We don’t get that enough, as we try to send ourselves off into new worlds with our sci-fi rather than continue to examine all of the possibilities still left on Earth. Under The Skin will hit close to home, and it will brood through your nervous system. The score is harrowing, Scarlett Johansson’s acting is disturbing and the cinematography is frigid. Everything is lifeless in this movie, but it’s also jam packed with life as a reversed reaction. You question everything yourself the first watch, and once you get the point of the movie (and see how right or wrong you were), the viewings from there on will only be spectacular. There’s so much more to Under The Skin than what you’re presented shallowly that you’d better not miss the beauty behind the statements on human perception.

3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

This is classical in tale; A comedy that turns into a great tragedy where even we have contributed to the poor downfalls of the collapsed hero. This single-shot living play is metaphysical in many ways (it discusses itself and its existence more than Riggan Thomson does), and it will become as much of a confused dream/nightmare for you as it does for its lead. You will undeniably laugh, and you will end up feeling awful that you did, especially when you see just how harrowing it is to live in Thomson’s shoes. Everything swirls around you, not much makes sense, there is noise everywhere, and everyone cackles in your direction for the wrong reasons. There is so much creativity shoved into this film that could have easily been just a pity tale, that it’s often difficult to know where to begin or where to continue with its intelligence. That’s why this disguised-drama is best left in your hands. Don’t worry; It’s uplifting, too, and definitely rewarding.

2. Nightcrawler

The release of this movie is almost as sick as the main character in it. We’ve had so many news-dominant monsters (and news stories that became monsters) this year, that placing a movie about the corruption behind the scoop near the end of the year is a bit of a sadistic giggle. It’s also especially relevant, and who knows if Dan Gilroy knew his debut would be such a relatable fable. It lurches like Drive, proclaims like The Newsroom and boasts a disgusting anti-hero of the times like Taxi Driver. It’s as fashionably now as it is prophetically. Something about this film looking so stylish is unsettling; It could be the fact that Bloom himself would approve of his hero-status and the creative shots in the final product. If you’re curious about what it would be like to give the creepy kid in your tech class a podium, you’d hope for something happier than this result. Nightcrawler is shocking, nauseating but impossible to look away from. It is the very train wreck Bloom and the news want to shove our noses into. It has us right where it expected us, and we’re the fools that fell for this trick just once more. We cannot wait to see what more Gilroy has to bring to the table while we recover from this test (by rewatching it and torturing ourselves even more).

1. Boyhood

“I just thought there would be more”. That’s said by a main character in Boyhood. This character, the story’s mother, witnessed the story in a different way than any of us could have. That heartbreaking line contains the entire film’s climax in one spur of the moment. No ten minute battle sequences, no massive feats of strength. Just a single realization that will hit virtually every person on earth. Not everyone understands dragons or space shuttle battles. Everyone knows how it feels to have time zip past, and it’s absolutely painful. The moral of Boyhood is that the first watch is virtually watching Mason’s life go on until the film’s end. It means something else when you watch Boyhood again and again and notice all of the smaller details, all of the connections in Mason’s life that could act as coincidence or as cause-and-effect, and everything that made Mason the very person he is. We see him get bullied only once, but we see him be a shy person for the rest of the movie. We see a young girl pass him a note when he was a child, and his possible dream woman has been dictated from there on. Mason’s life is special, and so is ours.

This wasn’t the film with the highest numerical rating throughout the year, but it ended up being a sure winner for film of the year. The more I sat on the film, the more it stuck with me. It’s already a marvel from the first watch, but for a film of that caliber to only become better the more you watch it is something unreal. So much could have gone wrong within 12 years, let alone the amount that goes right here. It’s unreal to see every little decision in someone’s life be predated by a course of events that dictated them. Richard Linklater has fixated on these small details more than any director I can even think of, considering he made many films during these twelve years. How he managed to make a film this definitely cohesive is astounding. Then you’ll notice how joyful this movie is outside of Mason’s dramas. Nothing out of the ordinary happens here. There are moments you fear something bad will happen, and sometimes they won’t. This is real life. Not everything ends in a disaster. Then, the horrible moments do happen, and they will crash Mason’s life (and soundtrack, at times) to a screeching halt. Do take note on how quickly the movie picks itself up after such events.

It’s life, and it’s difficult to see life replicated so well within a film. Boyhood examines more than just the youth of a male. You see a father strive to be youthful and realizing that maturity will arrive inevitably. You’ll see a mother just want to be there for her kids and realize that they were all she had from the start. You’ll see a sister first strive for attention and then wish to not be targeted at all. Everyone that comes and goes in Mason’s life has a purpose, and no one is excluded in our lives either. Mason’s final revelation may come from the help of a substance, because Mason isn’t too deep of a thinker naturally. It helps us, though, because, cinematically, everything is brought to a close. Mason’s life isn’t over, and a film cannot contain all of it nicely. His self discovery before adulthood is finished, though. He knows it, as he smiles for a millisecond at the camera before the credits roll (the most spine tingling movie moment of 2014). It’s a reminder that not all instant classics have to be devastating or epic. Some can be simple, as they end up saying the most (without yelling). Boyhood is a diamond of a film, and we’ll be lucky to see a movie of its nature again in our lifetime.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.