Note: This list is not in any particular order! I tried to number them, I really did…but quickly found just how hard that was. Whenever I try to do lists I always end up randomly numbering at least a few selections because who the hell can differentiate what makes a movie #6 rather than #5? I do have my #1 pick of this year at the bottom of the post, because that is the film that still stands out from the rest for me. Instead of numbering I instead decided to “group” my favorite movies in the categories of “The Lesser Known”, “The Entertaining”, and “The Oscar Bait”. All of these movies are really great films that I obviously still enjoy even now that it is 2015. However, it’s hard to compare two films (say, Guardians of the Galaxy against a movie like Snowpiercer) because the way you view a film and enjoy a film is totally subjective to what “kind” of movie it is. I enjoy and love a movie that is considered a summer blockbuster differently than I enjoy a lesser known art-house film, but I enjoy them both nonetheless. I think it’s unfair to only take into acknowledgement those more personal and delicately made films while completely dismissing the bigger budget and more “commercial” films, and vice versa. Also, I still have quite a few films that I need to catch up on (such as Foxcatcher, Birdman, and Big Eyes just to name a few) that might have definitely made this list if I had already seen them. However, it’s already January 5th and I’ve put this list off for too long already so I’m just gonna go with it. With that said, let’s get started…
THE LESSER KNOWN:
This movie simply blew me away. Being a drummer myself, I was already interested in the subject matter…but I did not expect to be THAT sucked in to the movie. This is an INTENSE film. The performances by both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons (who I suspect might get an Oscar nom for this one) are outstanding. Although this movie is about a jazz drummer and his teacher, it often felt like I was watching a thriller because I was on the edge of my seat throughout the whole thing. And, oh my God, the finale in this movie is one of the best finales I have ever seen in a film. It’s like the whole movie up to that point is crescendoing until finally all of that tension that has been bulding up is finally let go and it is one of the most satisfying pay-offs that I have experienced. The direction of this movie is simply fantastic and the editing also stood out to me as superb as some of the scenes are edited together in a way that felt jazzy and rhythmic in itself.
I mentioned this film in my “most anticipated” list of Fall movies and it certainly did not disappoint. “Nightcrawler” comes from first time director Dan Gilroy and stars a superb yet disturbing performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal just does not disappoint in anything that he is in recently and another movie of his shows up on this list. This movie is full of dark comedy and gritty realism that make the subject matter all that more disturbing and it’s not a “light watch” by any means. However, with the help of some great direction by Gilroy and Gyllenhaal’s amazing performance, this movie comes off as a character study very similar to last year’s “Wolf of Wall Street” in which the viewer is forced to be the one to judge whether or not to dislike the character or the society that glorifies these types of characters. In fact, the two movies end in a very similar manner as well.
I saw this movie back in April or May….a long time ago it seems. My immediate reaction after watching this movie was “WTF did I just watch”. It’s one of THOSE types of movies. However, I found myself continually coming back to it when I started thinking about movies that I really enjoyed this year. I’m not gonna lie, this movie was a very challenging watch for me. It requires the viewer to actually work to figure out not just what the movie means, but what the heck it’s even about. It’s weird. But once you think about it enough, you slowly start to piece things together to actually see what the movie is as a whole. Again, this movie features an incredible performance by Gyllenhaal in two roles, since this movie is about duality/doubles. I’ll be the first to admit that this movie just does not appeal to the majority of people but 8 months or so later after watching this, I am STILL reflecting on it and thinking about it’s incredibly deep and mind-bending themes.
This is one that I feel like barely anyone knows about but in my opinion is one of the, if not the, best action movies of the year. “Snowpiercer” comes from director Bong Joon-ho and is a South Korean made film. I think its foreign perspective is something that really pulled me in about this movie because this is a movie that probably never would have been made in America. On top of some truly stunning action sequences, this movie has some very critical things to say about society and that is something you don’t always get from an action movie. “Snowpiercer” actually almost didn’t get US distribution at all because the Weinstein company requested at least 20 minutes cut from the film and an opening and ending narration to be added (which truly would have taken away from the original film’s impact), but Joon-ho refused. In retaliation, Harvey Weinstein reduced distribution of the film to a very limited release and is the reason why so many people just don’t seem to know about this movie despite the fact that it is packed full of incredible performances by A-list stars like Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and Octavia Spencer. This is a truly unique film and is one that has still left an impression on me.
“Begin Again” comes from “Once” director John Carney and is a vastly underrated film in my opinion. I feel like no one talks about this movie but it is one of the most lovable little movies that I saw this year. It’s a musical and the basic premise comes off as kind of sappy or whatever, but it actually never got to that point for me. It’s a truly charming film about starting over and new beginnings and I’ll challenge you not to feel uplifted by the end of it. Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo have some great on-screen chemistry and it’s so fun to just watch them interact with each other. On top of that, the songs in this movie are the perfect mix of pop feel-goodness and soulfulness. James Corden, Hailee Steinfeld, and Catherine Keener also deliver some great performances. If you love music and you love being happy, then this is the perfect movie for you. This is one that I can see myself popping in whenever I need to be cheered up. Seriously, guys, I usually don’t like a movie based off of how happy it can make you feel but this one does it just that well.
This is also one that surprised me quite a bit when I watched it and I was very happy to see that it had gotten a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. This movie is just so full of heart and also deals with a subject matter that has the possibility of coming off as too hokey, but the movie never crosses that line. It perfectly balances lighthearted comedy with some more serious points of drama and leaves you with quite the impression by the end. There are some great performances by some well known British actors such as Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton (who successfully made me forget how much I freakin’ hate Harry Potter’s Umbridge and made me absolutely love her in this movie) and also some notable performances by lesser known actors such as the two leads, Ben Schnetzer and George MacKay. Overall, “Pride” is a very moving film that makes you laugh along the way and is another very underrated gem from this year.
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
There’s hardly anything left to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. It was the #1 highest grossing movie in the country for 2014 and for good reason. This movie was seriously just so much fun to get lost in. Marvel took a bunch of characters that the world had no previous idea about (besides a small already existing fan base) and made them the most loved characters of the year. This movie just showed what Marvel is capable of pulling off, and although the movie does have its flaws, it stands as one of my favorites of this year because it is the originality that pulled me in and made me fall in love with the movie. With all of these superhero adaptations coming out one after another, with even more to come in 2015, “Guardians” was and still is a breath of fresh air.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is the sequel to “Rise” brought to us by director Matt Reeves. This movie is a technical achievement in itself, with amazing performances by Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell whose faces YOU DON’T EVEN GET TO SEE. The visual effects in “Dawn” is mounds and mounds better than “Rise”, and they weren’t even that bad in “Rise”, but the film itself is just seriously so cool to look at. Besides its technical side, “Dawn” is one of the most engaging and fun science fiction films to come out this year. In my opinion, this sequel is even better than the first installment in the series. The movie reaches an emotional depth that you really don’t expect out of a sci-fi/action movie like this, and although I probably won’t be rewatching this one anytime soon (I saw it several times in theaters), I still regard it as a remarkably entertaining film.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past”
I always forget just how much I love X-Men until it comes time to sit down and watch one. With “Days of Future Past” the fun and entertainment of watching an X-Men movie was revitalized for me. There have been some issues with certain X-Men sequels that many people don’t even like talking about, but “Days of Future Past” brought a much needed new energy into the franchise and reminded people again of just how bad-ass it can be. I loved the whole premise of the movie with the time travel aspect and felt like it brought the two sets of X-Men characters, the old generation and new generation, perfectly together.
THE OSCAR BAIT:
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Okay, so you either love or hate Wes Anderson movies. I definitely fall into the category of loving him and I’ll tell you why. I’m the type of the person that is just utterly fascinated with every and all things cinema related. When I buy a movie, I check to make sure that there are a significant amount of special features to be indulged in and hopefully there are some juicy featurettes and interviews about the filmmaking process of that movie. I watch hours upon hours of interviews with actors, directors, writers on YouTube and read any article I can find on a movie that I’m currently obsessed with. Something about watching a Wes Anderson movie indulges that part of me that loves films so much. When I watch “Grand Budapest” I can see in every single frame just how much Anderson loves cinema too (as anybody making movies rightly should). In Anderson movies the framing of every single scene is carefully planned out, the colors are specifically chosen, the camera moves are precise, the dialogue is driving and witty, and pretty much every aspect of an Anderson movie is candy for my eyes and ears. That being said, “Grand Budapest” is one of Anderson’s strongest movies, I believe. He has definitely developed from his “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore” days and his more recent features are definitely more intense in that Anderson-style, but for me, the more the merrier. Not to mention, the cast of “Grand Budapest” is seriously off the charts. There are just too many stars in this movie to list and each and every one of them gives a superb performance. Among the stand outs, however, are Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, and Jeff Goldblum. I’m not entirely sure if “Grand Budapest” will get Oscar attention this year, or if it’s just simply too weird for the Academy, but this has become not just one of my favorites of the year but one of my favorites in general.
David Fincher is always highly anticipated and his movies almost always get award attention and “Gone Girl” is no different. This is an obvious top contender for this year and I’m sure it will get a significant amount of nods (as it already has with the Golden Globe noms). I’ve already spent two posts on here giving praise to this movie so I won’t say too much here. I’ll just say that if this list WAS numbered, “Gone Girl” would definitely be near the top.
I just want to take a quick moment to praise Reese Witherspoon for just how much of a wonderful person she is. One day Witherspoon says to herself “Hmm, there aren’t enough movies out there that just talk about women and their experiences. I’ll think I’ll create a production company that focuses on that”. So she does. Not only is “Wild” one of the movies to come out of her production company and get a significant amount of attention, but “Gone Girl” was also one of those movies that came out of it. Two MAJOR movies to come out this year, featuring women in a non-stereotypical way, because Witherspoon saw a problem in the industry and decided to do something about it. I just think that’s so cool. She is truly an inspiration and just confirmed that that is the type of impact I want to make on the film industry myself one day. That being said, “Wild” is wonderful. Based off of the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Witherspoon gives the performance of her career. This is one that every woman and girl should watch (Men, too) and will probably be the movie that I pull out in about 30 years when I’m having my mid-life crisis.
Yep, my #1 pick is “Boyhood”. Probably not surprising if you’ve come to this post from my Facebook since I take every chance I can to rave about this film. Again, for the sake of not sounding like a broken record I won’t say too much, except that this film is a masterpiece. It encapsulates everything that I love about cinema and how it can capture those little idiosyncrasies of life and put it on a screen for us. “Boyhood” is truly an achievement. For all of the people who call this movie “boring” or say “nothing happens in it”, I have a quote for you by Ethan Hawke; “If somebody doesn’t get this movie, I feel active anger towards them. I actually feel like they’re a bad person”. Yep, that pretty much says it.