For the past two years, I’ve been ranking every film I see- just the new releases, from January 1st to December 31st. The rankings are subjective, based entirely on how much I enjoyed and/or connected with or appreciated the film rather than on some sort of objective artistic criteria. Basically, this is a list of 110 films released in 2014 ranked according to how much I liked them.
Read the Full 2014 List HERE.
This bizarre black comedy about a mediocre wannabe musician who finds himself in an avant-garde indie band then promptly destroys it is one of those indefinable contemporary creations that mixes honesty with satire until the lines are too blurred to really differentiate. Domhnall Gleeson brings his wildly likeable Domhnall Gleeson-ness to the immediately sympathetic but ultimately destructive and desperate character of Jon while *spoiler alert, I guess* Michael Fassbender bravely checks that face of his at the door and takes on the title role of the band’s enigmatic lead singer who spends most of the movie wearing a giant fake head (his performance in the slow, quiet final scene is devastating). It’s about social media marketing and the corruptive influence of mainstream success on indie artists, but it’s also about musical pretension, the deification of the “tortured soul”, and mental illness- art in the face of it and art created through it. Frank, like Frank, is messy and strange but bursting with ideas.
A difficult protagonist sets out on an ill-advised, shakily motivated, definitely hazardous journey with only the unshakeable compassion of Adam Driver (and the kindness of strangers) to support and humanize her. Luckily, said difficult protagonist is played by a steely eyed Mia Wasikowska who allows glimmers of light and loneliness into Robyn’s stubborn façade and allows us, by the end, to see what Driver’s National Geographic photographer Rick sees in her all along. Beautifully shot and challengingly paced, director John Curran’s work rivals Wasikowska’s in its pitch-perfection as they bring a true but outlandish tale to life.
This brutal war movie has a lot of “murca, fuck ya!” bravado and not much to say about the second world war that some other film (or HBO miniseries) hasn’t already said. But this last point is not really a damning fault since I would be very shocked to see any contemporary film with something honestly new to say about Hollywood’s favourite topic. Nazis=bad, ‘murca=good, brotherhood>all else; pretty standard fare. The key here is 1) the brutality, which is gruesome but necessary because I honestly believe war movies that aren’t brutal are irresponsible (see Monuments Men, which just made war look like fun). And, more importantly, 2) Logan Lerman. The erstwhile Bobby (yeah, that’s right, he’s been this special since he was 12) gets better with every role and this is his best yet, a true show-stealing turn as a gentle man who heartbreakingly learns to hate in order to live in times of war. Without Logan Lerman, I’d say I’ve seen this movie before; with him, it’s a true original. Shia LeBeouf is also good.
34. Good Kill
Coming at you in 2015, this haunting Ethan Hawke starrer (which I caught at TIFF) is one stupid subplot away from being one of the most fascinating ruminations on war and peace I’ve ever seen. It may still be that, even with the offensive subplot that makes one of the standout female characters of the year into a trivial token. There’s a weirdly large section of the population who hears the name Ethan Hawke and thinks about a 90s prettyboy. I’ve never really been sure what movie solidified this idea for them but they are now and have always been so so wrong. From Before Sunrise (and its even more actorly sequels) to the Almereyda Hamlet to Boyhood and all the many movies in between, Hawke has proven time and time again that he’s a huge force. Good Kill may be his most inarguable work yet.
35. 22 Jump Street
I was so into 21 Jump Street. I loved it. The script was crazy tight, Channing Tatum is 100 times better in comedies than he is in anything else ever and I even like Jonah Hill in this franchise despite being generally anti-Hill (though he was admittedly fantastic in The Wolf of Wall Street). Making a sequel to a good thing, they ran the risk of pandering, repeating and artificially inflating. So, instead of trying to avoid that and falling into it by accident, they owned it. They went full-tilt self-aware bonkers and ended up making something every bit as entertaining as their first offering, if a little bit less insightful (21 Jump Street nailed the post-Glee high school outsider culture like nobody had yet). They grew the characters and delved further into the surprisingly complex Tatum-Hill power dynamic but, most importantly, this movie was second only to That Awkward Moment in full belly laughs-per-minute and that’s the whole point.
36. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
For a lot of people, the Captain America franchise is far and away the best of the solo-Avengers adventures. Personally, I’m an Iron Man girl (#2 excepted) and Loki fever keeps me faithfully returning to Thor, but the second Captain America was pretty damn great (plus my beloved Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford and Anthony Mackie who, with Black Widow, made up a killer support staff). Universe-shaking plot movement (which is rare in a Marvel film, especially a solo shot) and actual emotional consequences set this one apart and (almost) made up for the Captain’s lack of fun banter or Tom Hiddleston. That elevator scene was the best action sequence of the year and the scene of Cap walking through his own museum exhibit was not only startling but a good pre-Snowpiercer reminder that Chris Evans is capable of way more than is ever asked of him.
37. The Other Woman
I’ve never warmed to Leslie Mann. As a second fiddle whiny lady in things written by her husband, she’s never left me anything but annoyed with her for being so impossibly pretty yet whining so much. The Other Woman (finally!) unleashed the full Mann- bold and funny, vulnerable and accessible and all the things I never appreciated her for being. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz continued on her post-Bad Teacher comedy spree and turned in the best kind of Cameron Diaz performance- one where she appears to be having more fun than anyone’s ever had (see also Annie and her best scene ever, the karaoke bit in My Best Friend’s Wedding). Even Kate Upton was charming in this well-written and genuinely very funny revenge flick against the hot guy from Game of Thrones. Chicago Fire/Lady Gaga’s Taylor Kinney plays the other hot guy, the nice one who is even more inconsequential than Leslie Mann in so many movies that came before this one. Extra points for Nicki Minaj as Diaz’s sassy assistant because Nicki Minaj is a comedic genius and the fiercest person ever (guys, I love Nicki Minaj; I wish she was every judge on every reality show ever).
38. Edge of Tomorrow
One of the best action movies of 2014 and definitely Tom Cruise’s best in years, this excellently paced, consistently entertaining, well thought-out noise-maker impressed in comparison to the usual modern Cruise fare and soared on the back of an extremely badass Emily Blunt. It did remind me, however, of just how sad I am about Tom Cruise’s carreer. I love Tom Cruise. Time was he was my favourite actor in the whole world; he’s the star of my all-time favourite film A Few Good Men (which will likely always remain my all-time favourite film). But what is with all the action movies?! We get it, you’re a great action star, but you’re not THAT great an action star. What you are is wildly charming and fantastic with challenging dialogue (Sorkin wanted Cruise to be in his Jobs movie, fearing getting stuck with an actor untested on his signature style). Cruise’s best action movie, Top Gun, isn’t even a proper action movie (he was sitting in front of a green screen, not actually fighting). Someone give this guy something with real meat (good as Edge of Tomorrow was, it wasn’t meat) so he can remind us (and himself) who he is.
39. The Judge
One of a surprising number of oldschool films made this year, this one has the ironic benefit of starring the king of Marvel himself (that sequel of a spinoff of a sequel- spawning universe being the nucleus of the current Hollywood model that inspires reactionary films like this hyper-traditional courtroom/family drama). Downey is perfect, as he always is when playing smart and charming people with their share of deep-seated hurt, and Robert Duvall matches him with a prickly, vulnerable performance that walks the line of infuriating and sympathetic beautifully. Despite the been-there-done-that feel to the film, *spoilers a’comin* I really liked that they lost in the end and the “at once the most selfish and generous guy I know” layers to Downey’s character somehow managed to keep surprising me. Extra points for this line: “everybody wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in a hot tub”.
There is so much to like here. Will Gluck’s update is clever, finding just the right modern trappings to host the core of Annie’s story, and re-orchestrating the classic songs with fun beats most likely all inspired by co-producer Jay-Z’s brilliant version of “A Hard Knock Life”. The film flies off its hinges whenever someone busts out one of the outrageously cheesy new songs, or when the “adaptation” of an original number gets too out of the box (“Little Girls” is mostly unrecognizable), and there’s plenty of corn and auto-tune to go around, but I was totally down with this movie and its tongue-in-cheek modernism. Quvenzhané Wallis is a lovely leading lady and she has great chemistry with Jamie Foxx who, in turn, gives great banter with the film’s MVP Rose Byrne who elevates the material by totally buying into Grace- her confident bluntness, her defensive rambling, her awkward and enthusiastic dancing, her quiet caring- and crafting a wholly unique version of the character. Bonus points for Bobby Cannavale and Cameron Diaz’s gonzo turns as the film’s scoundrels, the crazy-cute Sandy, and Amanda Troya as Pepper who highlights the foster kid crowd. See it for the rousing revamped overture, even if you have a heart too made of stone to appreciate everything else that makes Annie great despite its obvious flaws.
41. Hector and the Search for Happiness
This trifling journey of self discovery is better than the cool kids would let you believe. It’s full of earnest aspiration, small contentment and, well, happiness, none of which are things that you’re supposed to appreciate artistically in our current culture. But I liked Hector and his search (and not just because he’s played by the inimitable Simon Pegg)- the climactic lack of drama that comes with Toni Collette’s appearance, the simplicity of Christopher Plummer as a doctor who monitors happiness (there’s a brain scan scene that’s one of the year’s most delightful) and, most tellingly, the imperfect contentment of Hector’s very human, very uncinematic love story with Rosamund Pike (remember, she’s lovely most of the time). The world would be a better place if this were more people’s favourite movie.
42. This is Where I Leave You
Not a particularly original piece of work but it’s heartfelt and the all-star cast delivers with no weak link (sometimes all it takes is Adam Driver giggling inappropriately to make me smile). I saw this the same day as Gone Girl, which left me shaken and cold; this made me feel again. Also, it has Kathryn Hahn and she’s perfect. Other people are great too, of course, but it’s Hahn that stands out.
43. In Your Eyes
I wish I had seen this film without knowing that it was Joss Whedon’s drawer script from the 90s produced by his Bellwhether Pictures 20 years after the fact. Am I giving it consideration I might not have if I didn’t take for granted the genius of its creator? It’s impossible to know. Either way, this telepathic love story is winning for its themes of communication, empathy and connection even if I would have preferred the far more complicated tragic twist ending I was expecting Whedon to write instead of the happily ever after that’s here. Zoe Kazan as an actress always seems to suffer under the shadow of Ruby Sparks (her writing for that film makes her a genius in my eyes and her performance was too good as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl construction so I find it very hard to relate to her performances as an ordinary woman) but she manages to develop strong chemistry with the delightful Michael Stahl-David despite technically sharing only one brief scene. I wish Mark Feuerstein’s Phil was a tad more human (though I love Mark Feuerstein and I could tell there was some humanization attempts made, just not enough), I didn’t quite buy Dylan as an ex-con, and I find women whose fragility is their principal character trait tiresome, but the conceptual work here is great enough that the story is barely hindered by its flaws.
44. St. Vincent
There were a ton of feel-good light-weight dramedies this year, none more prominently feel-good and light-weight than this one headlined by an excellent Bill Murray as a prickly survivor of a very interesting life who meets the idealistic kid next door and is finally seen for the living saint he might be. The idea is a sweet one but the execution pretty cheesy. Naomi Watts as a pregnant hooker and Chris O’Dowd as the most fun, most down-to-earth priest in history make it better but it’s really all about Bill Murray’s performance, especially after the *spoiler alert* stroke that hinders Vincent’s speech just as he approaches his most emotional scenes.
45. Mr. Peabody & Sherman
This totally adorable update of the classic cartoon is filled with the perfect combination of learning opportunities and delightful history-related puns. It also has a heart as big as its awesome voice cast including the great Ty Burrell (as the genius dog) and his TV daughter Ariel Winter (as the meanest girl alive-turned-love interest?), Neighbors alum Max Charles as Sherman (moment of silence for that great, underrated show), Allison Janney hamming it up as the villainous Ms. Grunion, Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert mining big laughs from a pair of throwaway straight characters, a perfectly cast Patrick Warburton as a deadpan Agamemnon and, my favourite, Stanley Tucci’s wacky Da Vinci. The music and animation are also top-notch.
46. The Grand Seduction
Brendan Gleeson at his sweetly gruff best leads a charming ensemble of simple but well-meaning townsfolk in their quest to convince big city doctor Taylor Kitsch to work in their small harbour town in order to meet the insurance requirements to get a factory that will put the whole town back to work. This folksy Canadian film is utterly sweet, quirkily fun, and based on a true story. It also brings out the best in Kitsch (whose post-Panther career trajectory has been somewhat misguided), hinting that he might belong in more of a rom-com world than he’s been drawn to. He also is at his absolutely cutest here with his Yankee makeover (clean shave, short hair) and I finally found myself remembering the particular allure of Riggins.
*Awkward confession that apparently I accidentally listed St. Vincent twice when making this list. We’re already 60+ films in so I can’t start bumping things up to fill the gap at this point. Thus, there is no #47. It’ll be on next year’s list since I firmly believe films that come out in January shouldn’t be retrofitted into the previous year’s landscape but, since the Oscars insist it’s a 2014 film, you can imagine American Sniper goes here. (See also Selma, which would be in the top 20, and Inherent Vice, which would be in the bottom 20, were they actually 2014 films).
48. Fading Gigolo
This romantic dramedy from John Turtorro casts the writer/director as an unlikely male prostitute whose rare combination of classic manliness and emotional sensitivity make him very good at his job (as clients Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara can attest). His gigolo is Woody Allen because, obviously, and the delicate affair he begins with Vanessa Paradis as a hasidic widow gets the attention of her jealous suitor, hasidic neighbourhood patrolman Liev Schreiber, obviously. Paradis gives an excellently restrained performance (her tears at being touched for the first time since her husband’s passing were beautiful, until the script over-explained why she was crying) and Turturro is an excellently enigmatic leading man, but the silly action of the third act and unsatisfying coda undermine what’s great about most of the film.
49. Million Dollar Arm
Sports movies! I love ‘em and we just haven’t been getting enough of them since the glory days of the 90s Disney live-action gems (“quack”). But this year really brought it on the feel-good sports movie front (and also there was Foxcatcher, I guess). Though none of them were brilliant, this one was my favourite, combining such delightful things as baseball, cute boys, India, Jon Hamm, a useful and sturdy love interest (Lake Bell), a curmudgeonly old man (Alan Arkin), a scene-stealing sidekick (Pitobash) and feel-good sportastic triumph. A real charmer.
50. The Love Punch
For context, my mother was extremely excited about this movie. She feels a special connection with Emma Thompson (and who can blame her?) and loves a good old-fashioned feel-good goof-fest (and who can blame her?). The Love Punch delivered, specifically in a very mom-pleasing way. It’s innocently funny and remorselessly silly. It features charming, familiar people pulling off a wacky caper in exotic locales while falling in a little bit of love. It’s probably the least challenging piece of entertainment made in 2014 (and 2014 brought us Blended) but it’s also a reliably strong shot of pure, inconsequential happiness.