2014 won’t go down as the greatest year in the history of Hollywood, but it had a lot of damn good movies. Some of them were big budget, some of them were made on shoestrings. In a way, that’s the great thing about Hollywood. Yeah, it helps to have a budget for advertising and special effects, but in the end, the success or failure of a movie has the most to do with how well the audience is able to relate to the characters. If a director is able to say something honest and interesting, the film will get out there, even if it takes some time.
Here are the 10 greatest movies of 2014, presented in order. Feel free to disagree in the comment section. Honorable mentions are listed after the final paragraph…
10. FoxcatcherThe history of the United States is filled with a lot of great men who worked really, really hard and amassed incredible fortunes. Say what you will about some of their tactics, but people like John D Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan pushed this country forward. Unfortunately, more than a few of these titans of industry left behind generations of unstable descendants who didn’t work and were incapable of managing their own lives. John E du Pont was one of these men, and beset by alcoholism and mental illness, he left an unfortunate trail in his wake. Foxcatcher gives the world a chance to meet him up close, and in the hands of Steve Carell, who gives the best performance of his career, it really, really works.
9. The Fault In Our StarsYA novels aren’t always the go-to source material for great movies, but The Fault In Our Stars is a great movie. It’s filled with beautiful, heartbreaking moments without ever devolving into melodrama. It’s honest, unflinching and weirdly hopeful. Some people get a bad lot in life. They draw the short straw and have to fight through things like cancer, but that doesn’t mean they don’t just want to see the Anne Frank Museum and go out to nice dinners with their boyfriends. Deep down, we’re all 70% the same. The Fault In Our Stars is a beautiful movie, and it needs to be seen.
8. Skeleton TwinsThanks to their years sharing the stage on Saturday Night Live, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are extremely comfortable with each other, and that really works to their advantage here. Playing siblings who both suffer from serious issues, they feel both close and distant in all of the right ways. More importantly, they manage to be really, really funny without every trying to hard. There are always a lot of laughs buried beneath misery, but it’s a clever trick to coax them out without ever ruining the larger emotions. Everyone is able to do that here, as a complicated and beautiful story of love and isolation is played out.
7. Obvious ChildThere are few things more complicated than an unwanted pregnancy. The single best thing anyone could say about Obvious Child is that it doesn’t pretend to have any of the answers. It doesn’t oversimplify the subject into some easily digestible lesson viewers can take with them. Instead, it simply turns its camera on and lets the pain, the awkwardness and the humor play out. Pregnancy is a life-changing event, but it doesn’t change someone’s personality. It doesn’t change their goals, dreams or aspirations. It makes them take a long hard look at themselves, their lives and where they want to go. Obvious Child lets Jenny Slate’s character do that, and in turn, it lets the audience come to terms with her decision. She’s not a saint. She’s just a girl doing the best she can.
6. Grand Budapest HotelAll of Wes Anderson’s movies are clever. The director is fueled by wit and snappy dialogue the way athletes are fueled by Gatorade. It’s in the plot where he usually gets in trouble. Either by introducing an unsustainable number of characters or too many wrinkles, some of his movies wind up getting a little messy. Grand Budapest Hotel buts up to both of those lines, for sure, but it always manages to stay on the right side, giving viewers a chaotic and zany experience without totally overwhelming their enjoyment. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s perhaps as close as Wes Anderson has ever come.
5. WhiplashThanks to the best performance of his career, Whiplash is earning a ton of headlines for supporting actor JK Simmons. In fact, he’ll probably take home an Academy Award for his work, but the larger film deserves to be recognized with a Best Picture nomination too. It’s a near-perfect look at what it takes to be a musical genius and how teaching methods for some may not work for all. It examines what it means to be a genius and how far is too far to push yourself. See it for the music. See it for JK Simmons’ performance. See it for everything else too because it’ll change the way you look at the idea of prodigies and their mentors.
4. BoyhoodBoyhood should be a stupid gimmick that doesn’t really work. The transitions should be awkward. The acting should be shoddy from the children, and the finished product shouldn’t hold up. But it does. Because Boyhood somehow found the right child actors. And it somehow realized that focusing on the smaller moments people tend to remember would be better than just chronicling major life events. And it somehow nailed every little decision in order to create something truly special. Boyhood will live on and not just because it’s a cool idea.
3. Edge Of TomorrowEdge Of Tomorrow or Live.Die.Repeat or whatever the hell it’s called this week is a great movie. In fact, it’s arguably Tom Cruise’s best movie in about a decade, and the fact that it was underseen is one of the movie industry’s greatest tragedies in 2014. Fortunately, it will likely find a second life on home video and premium cable channels as more and more people discover its clever blend of action, humor, aliens and Bill Paxton. Tom Cruise still has it, and this movie proves it. He’s equally as captivating in the fast-paced action sequences as he is in the Groundhog Day-style same day freakouts, and opposite Emily Blunt, he’s a capable sex symbol too.
2. SelmaThe best way to tell a story isn’t always with more information. Selma gets that. Instead of criss-crossing through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s life, it focuses almost exclusively on one of his many battles: registering people to vote in Selma, Alabama. The focus is laser sharp and because of that, it’s able to also shine a lot on so many of the other characters in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s even able to show the friction inside, concerning objectives and strategies. With great work from a large supporting cast and an Oscar-level turn from lead David Oyelowo, Selma is heartbreaking and powerful, without really resorting to preaching or being pushy. It’s damn good, and if it wins Best Picture, it will deserve it.
1. NightcrawlerNightcrawler is unsettling. The basic plot points of the film are creepy and off-putting, and perhaps more importantly, lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal really dives into the deep end. He plays our "hero" Lou Bloom without even the slightest wink. This is a man who will lie, cheat and scheme to get ahead, and when he enters the television news business, he finds the perfect career, one willing to pay for and reward every morally compromising decision he makes. Nightcrawler isn’t interested in glorifying or condemning those choices either. It just bluntly shows them, letting viewers make up their own minds about how far is too far and exactly how corrupting the influences of people like Lou actually are.
Honorable Mentions: Gone Girl, Imitation Game, Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Theory Of Everything and Birdman.