The top 10 films of 2014

2014 was a great year for movies. So much so that making my top ten list this year was torturous (well, more torturous than usual). So many great films didn’t make the final cut. And that of course is discounting all the movies I either never got around to seeing, or won’t get to see because those of us out here in the sticks (AKA anywhere except New York or Los Angeles) don’t get to see the big awards buzz movies until next month. So in case you’re wondering why there’s no mention of movies like The Babadook, Obvious Child, Inherent Vice, or Selma here, now you know.

I’ve avoided any ranking system for the past few years, so just to test myself, I thought I’d try it back on for size this year. Here, presented in definitive, objective, incontestable order, are my top ten favorite films of 2014.

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10. Guardians of the Galaxy
The top 10 films of 2014

This will probably end up being the most popularly remembered movie of Summer 2014, which is fine by me. Guardians of the Galaxy was fun, irreverent, and instantly quotable, and outside of Iron Man 3, few Marvel films have felt so singularly influenced by their director’s unique style. Guardians is actually a superior ensemble film to Avengers, fleshing out more characters with only the one film to work with, and no audience familiarity to draw from. A few characters and elements could have used more attention; for example, Thanos ends up feeling extraneous to the whole thing, and Gamora and Nebula’s rivalry was a bit neglected. But the film’s strengths more than make up for it. Lee Pace is gloriously bombastic as Ronan, David Bautista is a revelation as Drax, and Rocket and Groot are easily the best duo on film in forever. It’s not often that the most complex and engaging characters in a movie are a CGI raccoon and a walking tree.

9. Noah
The top 10 films of 2014

This movie seems to have been mostly overlooked, which is a shame, because it’s now my second favorite Darren Aronofsky film, after Black Swan. As a preacher’s kid, I grew up knowing a lot of the weirder details of Biblical mythology when most kids only got the watered down Sunday school version. So in a lot of ways, this is a movie I’ve been wanting to see since I was little. Watching the version of the Bible the movies always neglect (the one with dragons and fire swords and half-angel giants) finally put onscreen was a dream come true. I adored the design on the Watchers, some of the most fascinating original movie monsters I’ve seen in a long time. After an unrestrained, crazy, sword-and-sorcery epic of a first half, the narrative allows itself to follow its darker ideas to their logical conclusion, leading to a quieter yet twisted and tense third act. Ironically, one of the most brazenly secular Bible movies ever made ends up feeling truer to the spirit of the original text than any previous attempt.

8. Edge of Tomorrow
The top 10 films of 2014

I was surprised by how good this one was. What looked like another forgettable Tom Cruise action vehicle turned out to be one of the best sci-fi films of the year, and 2014 was a really good year for sci-fi. It might be the most perfectly-executed movie on this list, as I’m hard pressed to come up with any criticisms for it at all. Despite being a time travel story, which are almost all made to go wrong, the narrative stays tight and on track, and the editing keeps a potentially convoluted story from becoming tedious. It might be the first time travel movie I’ve seen with no discernible plot holes that I can see. It’s inventive and fun, and a reminder that we really need to see Emily Blunt in more action movies. Plus, it’s a laugh to see Bill Paxton doing his redneck space marine routine again.

7. Big Hero 6
The top 10 films of 2014

This is probably higher on the list than it maybe deserves, but any movie that can make me cry on command twice can’t be ignored. Big Hero 6 may be treading familiar ground, but it’s treading the hell out of it. An instantly lovable cast of characters and a fun, colorfully-designed world revolve around a truly heartbreaking story of a boy and his robot therapist counseling him after the death of his brother. Everything about the movie is almost obnoxiously cute, yet never undermines the real story of dealing with loss, and the film’s heart comes across as tearjerkingly real and honest.

6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
The top 10 films of 2014

Another movie that was well received and then seemingly forgotten, this is without a doubt the most underappreciated of 2014’s many great sci-fi movies. Delivering on the promise and potential of 2011’s franchise reboot, Dawn is the smartest, most challenging blockbuster of the summer. I love the fact that they chose to view the story almost entirely from the apes’ perspective. We spend a great deal of time with them before we even meet any humans, despite the apes communicating mostly through sign language. Introspective and nihilistic in the finest tradition of this franchise, Dawn pulls no punches in showing humanity at its very worst, using the apes as a mirror. Plus, this is the most realistic that motion capture animation has ever looked in a movie.

5. Only Lovers Left Alive
The top 10 films of 2014

It seems like filmmakers today are limiting the potential of vampires with a sharply divided fanbase. Either vampires are brooding, emo pretty boys hopelessly obsessed with romance, or they’re bloodthirsty creatures of the night who will tear you limb from limb. A now, along comes Jim Jarmusch to ask: “Why can’t they be both?” Spending two hours with a couple of hipster bloodsuckers who do almost nothing other than sit around their apartment talking about how everything sucks may not sound like a fun time at the movies, but somehow it works. It helps that they’re played by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, two amazing actors who are probably more entertaining when they’re folding laundry than most of us are on our best day. They almost seem made for each other, and the interplay between the two is what makes the movie. Of course, Jarmusch’s signature style and a parade of fun side performances by John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska, and Jeffrey Wright don’t hurt either. All I know is, Hiddleston and Swinton need to be in more movies together.

4. Gone Girl
The top 10 films of 2014

[Mild spoilers follow!] I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this conflicted about a movie that’s so obviously good. I found myself initially turned off because I’m pretty sick of the femme fatale stereotype and the icky, implied misogynist feeling that comes with it. Gone Girl worried me because its intent can be so easily misunderstood as something abhorrent. But I later realized that if we’re not comfortable with female characters being flawed or even outright evil, than we’re just placing another kind of limitation on the roles women can play. Amazing Amy may be evil, but she’s also a complex, engaging villain who’s so compelling she borders on anti-heroism, and she’s played by Rosamund Pike in a powerhouse performance. Plus, the movie’s just a damn fun noir mystery with just the right exploitation edge to it.

3. Snowpiercer
The top 10 films of 2014

As I said before, sci-fi had a good run in 2014, and arguably no film was more impressive than Snowpiercer. Metaphors for classism have been a tradition in speculative fiction almost as long as the genre has existed, but rarely are they as uncompromisingly brutal as this. Snowpiercer is absolutely sickening at times, driving home the evils of capitalism and unrestrained consumption in a way I haven’t seen since Soylent Green. Not only is it a great piece of thinking man’s sci-fi, it’s also a damn fine action film with a host of great performances, including the aforementioned Tilda Swinton. Man, this was a good year for her.

2. Nightcrawler
The top 10 films of 2014

I never realized I had limited expectations of Jake Gyllenhaal until I saw Nightcrawler, because I never thought he had a performance like this in him. Louis Bloom is a lovably repulsive scumbag of a character, and it’s impossible not to enjoy following him as he ascends the ladder of success, leaving human misery in his wake. What Wolf of Wall Street does for corporate America, Nightcrawler does for the news media, exposing another system that profits from the suffering of others only because we, unconsciously, allow it to.

1. The LEGO Movie
The top 10 films of 2014

I still can’t quite believe that this movie was as good as it was. It’s like some kind of sorcery. It goes against everything I know about movies that a friggin’ toy line tie-in can not only be more than a soulless cash-grab, but in fact be the most entertaining, intense, engaging, funny, heartfelt, insightful, layered, and thought-provoking movie of the year. And yet, here we are. There isn’t a single frame of this movie I don’t love, not a single character that doesn’t resonate with me on some level, not a single line of dialogue I haven’t quoted at some point. I’m not joking when I say The LEGO Movie might be the definitive movie of this generation. Against all odds, it’s a masterpiece on every level, and not only the best movie I saw all year, but one of the best films made in my lifetime.

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  • Gallen_Dugall

    “Guardians is actually a superior ensemble film to Avengers”

    Agreed. Avengers is an important achievement more than a good movie. It’s good for what they were trying to accomplish. The ending of Avengers is just far too hand wavy.

    • Alexa

      Truthfully I only liked The Avengers, I didn’t love it. Still a very entertaining movie and hopefully they’ll have worked out all the kinks from the first in the sequel, to which it seems like Whedon has decided to not film his films so basic.

  • Toby Clark

    Half of yours I’ve seen, and those are all in my own top ten (out of seventeen):
    1: How to Train Your Dragon 2
    2: Boyhood 
    3: Interstellar
    4: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    5: The Lego Movie
    6: Gone Girl
    7: Big Hero 6
    8: Guardians of the Galaxy
    9: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    10: Muppets Most Wanted

  • Thomas Stockel

    The power went out at my condo and rather than sit around in the dark I decided to go see a show, so I picked The Lego Movie. I have to say I was never so glad to have lost power in my life. Seriously, that was one helluva film.

    A guy at Joblo put Edge of Tomorrow on his most overrated films list of the year and I can’t help but think he was troll baiting or something. I thought it was one of the best things Tom Cruise has ever done and I thought he and Emily Blunt were great together.

    A final note; seeing your list made me realize how few films I actually saw in the theater this year. :/

  • Nice to see Noah on one of these lists. It’s so great to watch a biblical movie that actually takes risks.

  • Alexa

    Tumblr and all of its goddamn gifs ruined the ending of Gone Girl for me, so yeah T_T. Still want to see it because it looks interesting and I really like the idea of a female villain that isn’t so fucking one dimensional. Beyond that yes loved Lego Movie, and was surprised people thought it looked so bad just by the trailers, the trailers always looked so much fun. But yeah, gotta be careful when it comes to movies based on toys (right Mr Bay). Seen Snowpiercer and Guardians and heard nothing but good things about the other films. And I stand by my reasoning that Edge of Tomorrow would have gotten more attention if it stayed with its original title All you Need is Kill. Which is a ridiculous title, no doubt, but still way more intriguing sounding than what they went with…

  • Wizkamridr

    I felt guardians was just meh. The characters were one dimensional and the humor was lame. Just my opinion.
    All you need is kill (edge of tomorrow) will be released through Viz manga.
    Gone girl felt like a big budget life time movie with semi better acting.

    • Gone Girl felt like a compilation of every insane, rambling women-are-evil story I ever heard on Reddit, right down to the final twist.

      • Jonathan Campbell

        The point of the movie is that “women are never manipulative or evil” is just as sexist as “women are ALWAYS manipulative and evil”. It was based on a book that was written by a woman, and the point was that Amy is just a warped and horrible PERSON. There are plenty of sympathetic and decent female characters in the movie, and Amy makes many anti-women remarks herself.

        Granted Nick in the book is more of an actual sociopath (of the “amoral asshole” variety, rather than the “murderous lunatic” type his wife is) than in the movie, but neither he nor Amy come across as particularly great. Many characters come across as damaged or horrible people in fact. The film overall is about viewing them as PEOPLE, not as men or women.

        • The problem I found with Nick in the movie is that the film never seemed to tonally agree with how bad the script was telling us he was. Even after all the revelations about him being a prick, he still felt like more of a bumbling husband than the complete dick the script said, and I never once thought he was capable of murder.

          Regarding Amy, it’s not that she’s is manipulative and evil that’s the problem (I wouldn’t say the film is misogynistic overall due to the decently portrayed female characters), but that she fits every horrible stereotype I’ve ever heard. It kind of felt like if I was watching a movie with a Jewish villain, where there were enough well-portrayed Jewish characters that the movie wasn’t anti-Semitic overall, but where the bad guy was a thieving banker who sacrificed gentile babies on passover. It just all comes off as a little misguided.

  • MichaelANovelli

    You seem to have left Tusk off the list, sir. ;)

    • I also seem to have left genital herpes off the list. Weird, huh? ;)

      • MichaelANovelli

        That’s not…a real movie…

        • Neither is Tusk. :P

          • MichaelANovelli

            Manna from Heaven, then…

          • Not any Heaven I want a part of.

          • MichaelANovelli

            More room in the Kingdom for us, then. ;)

  • T. Morrissey

    Clearly this writer lives in a small town with one multiplex. And that’s fine, but maybe it should be called “My favourite movies of 2014” because this stuff is certainly not the best.

  • Wizkamridr

    GOG? nope

    Gone girl? nope

    Big hero 6? nope

    Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

    Heisei Rider vs. Shōwa Rider: Kamen Rider Taisen feat. Super Sentai

    Muppets Most Wanted
    TMNT