This year I have seen a lot more movies than I wish to write about, so instead I am just making a list of my favorite movies of this year (in no particular order), excluding those that I did not really enjoy.
Although I said that these movies were in no particular order, Birdman was easily my favorite movie of the year. It is hard to pin down exactly what I loved so much about. The cast was amazing. The metaphysical narrative and fourth wall breaks kept me on my toes. The cinematography was excellent. But, I think what really made this movie for me was the raw emotional power of the story and the characters. In our world of constant social interconnection, Birdman forced me to evaluate what impact I was having on the world and what my life’s focus was. It is not often that I see a movie that makes me reevaluate my life, but Birdman was one of them.
Edge of Tomorrow
2014 was a great year for science fiction. We had some unique and well made science fiction films come out in theaters, and the best of them was Edge of Tomorrow. At first, this movie seems to be a rather standard science fiction film: aliens invade Earth, a hero is called into action, the aliens are defeated via sci fi wizardry. What makes Edge of Tomorrow so unique is that it builds a science fiction world and twists it around itself. Time travel is a big factor in this movie, but is used in a way that is more reminiscent of Groundhogs Day than any science fiction film that I have ever seen. The structure of the script pays off, creating an entertaining film filled with science fiction thrills but also unexpected humor.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Whenever I have tried to get my friends into Wes Anderson’s films, I usually resort to showing them The Fantastic Mr. Fox or in some cases The Royal Tenenbaums. Now, I have The Grand Budapest Hotel to give people an introduction into Wes Anderson’s world of film making. Within a few years, I believe that The Grand Budapest Hotel will be considered Wes Anderson’s best film. The movie has everything that we have grown to love about Wes Anderson. It moves at a frantic pace, has a off-kilter sense of humor, is incredibly pretentious, has oddly symmetrical cinematography and an awesome ensemble past. By tackling a multi-framed narrative story set in 1930’s Europe, Anderson moved out of his comfort zone just enough to make the film unique, and the payoff was one of the most entertaining movie experiences of the year.
After a year of hype, there was no way that Interstellar could live up to audience expectation. But Christopher Nolan sure made a valiant effort. Interstellar is an uneven movie. When it works, it works really well. The first two hours of this movie are an engrossing and beautiful science fiction story. However, Interstellar’s failings seem even greater in contrast to how wonderful its high moments are. I wrote about this movie at length, and if you want a full review, please click this link.
If there was any movie that deserved more attention this year, it was Nightcrawler. Unlike some of the other films on this list, Nightcrawler had the advantage of mainstream appeal. It was not incredibly confusing or artistic, but was a taut and well made psychological thriller. What is so amazing about Nightcrawler is that it straddles the line between art house and popular films perfectly. Jake Gyllenhaal’s outstanding performance and the psychological elements of the movie give art house fans something to enjoy while thrilling action scenes and witty dialogue promise broad appeal. In this way, Nightcrawler was a lot like Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, bringing a little more intelligence to mass audience blockbusters. If you missed Nightcrawler find a way to see it.
Guardians of the Galaxy
I admit that I am not a huge fan of superhero movies. I have seen all the big ones, and enjoy them, but I am not absolutely enthralled with the genre. That being said, Guardians of the Galaxy is probably my favorite superhero movie because it felt so fresh and unique compared to many of the other films in the genre. Guardians of the Galaxy works so well because it successfully blends the science fiction and superhero genres without ever taking itself to seriously. While watching Guardians I was reminded of the freewheeling playfulness of the TV show Firefly or even Star Wars. Other superhero movies should take a page from Guardians and learn to not take themselves so seriously.
The world of music can be a weird place, filled with self-important characters and pretentious music making. Frank is the only movie that I have seen that effectively satirizes the ethos of indie music while not falling into stifling pretentiousness on its own. Frank is a hilarious movie about artistic integrity that is driving by Michael Fassbender’s excellent performance as the title character. Fassbender’s talent really shines through in this movie. His character wears a giant costume head throughout the movie, but Fassbender is still able to give him a range of depth and emotion even though we never see his face. Although Frank bills itself as a quirky comedy, it is a surprisingly emotional affair and well worth seeing.
Dystopia films are all the rage lately, but few have reached the level of excellence as Snowpiercer. Set on a self-contained train with the only human survivors of a man-made ice age, Snowpiercer tells the story of a revolution by the lower class passengers trying to take over the train. Throughout the movie, we see all the weird and twisted aspects of life on the train. The many facets of this movie hint at more going on outside of the scope of the story, which makes Snowpiercer so interesting to watch. Director Bong Joon-ho gives us a glimpse into what feels like a larger world. And of course, the action scenes are top-notch.