The Best Films of 2014

One of the hardest parts of watching and loving films is the inevitable task of whittling them all down into a best-of list.

In an ideal world, films wouldn’t be judged by numbers or percentages, but by what they stir up, inspire, or accomplish. By the way they make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, keep us on the edge of our seats, or open our imaginations.
Films are more than numbers on scales and placements on lists. Unfortunately that’s just the way we are forced to go about explaining why or how we connected with a film or not. Films are not always meant to be mathematically analyzed; they are meant to be felt.

2014 in Film:

Some notable omissions from my list that you might find glaring include Unbroken, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Fury, Edge of Tomorrow, Godzilla, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Sorry, but those are not here for a reason.
Then some, like Big Eyes, Begin Again, Wild, The Skeleton Twins, Dumb and Dumber To and Nightcrawler barely missed the cut. Unfortunate casualties.

And some movies that very well could have landed a spot on this list but didn’t just because I never got a chance to see them include  American Sniper, A Most Violent Year, Mr. Turner, Happy Christmas, Top Five, The Homesman, Enemy, The Boxtrolls, Under the Skin, Lucy, Only Lovers Left Alive, Rosewater, Inherent Vice, John Wick, Tracks, The Guest, Dear White People, The Double, Frank, and Locke.

I could say a lot more about why each of these moves below were so great (and why many were left off), but there’s only so much room on the interwebs. The best films are, at their core, about what it means to be human – with all the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best ones do it with wonderful stories to wrap our heads around, characters to care about, and epic sights to feast our eyes upon.

These are the ones that did it the best this year.

You don’t have to like my list; you don’t have to agree with it. Films touch us all in different ways. So comment, either here or on Facebook, and let me know what you thought about this year’s movies! What did I get right? What did I leave off?
Let’s relive this year’s best!


30) The Imitation Game
29) X-Men: Days of Future Past
28) Big Hero 6
27) Exodus: Gods and Kings
26) Guardians of the Galaxy
25) Laggies
24) Neighbors
23) The Theory of Everything
22) Chef
21) St. Vincent

20 — Foxcatcher

(Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo)
Directed by Bennet Miller

Despite what you may think, this is not a hilarious buddy-comedy with Steve Carell and Channing Tatum hunting foxes (though I’d pay to see that).
Foxcatcher follows the dramatic true story of Olympic gold medal-winner Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who was invited to train for the upcoming Olympics at the estate of an eccentric millionaire by the name of John du Pont (Steve Carell).

Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable here in the chilling role of the wealthy and erratic wannabe-wrestling-coach. Though the film is slow, it is engaging throughout – it plays more like a stage play than a film, full of dramatic speeches, long unmoving scenes, and weighty dialogue. Though what Foxcatcher will be remembered for most is its talented comedic actors disappearing into their roles, weaving together a tale of jealousy, delusion, addiction, and psychotic self-destruction.
Read my full review here. 

19 —  Into the Woods

(Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine,
James Corden, Emily Blunt)

Directed by Rob Marshall

A clever re-imagining of classic fairy tale lore, Into the Woods gives us a surprisingly heartfelt musical about a baker and his wife who go to extreme lengths to break a curse of barrenness upon them, in hopes of having a child.

Meryl Streep can do no wrong as usual, and it’s a welcome introduction to American audiences for affable Brit James Corden. As it plays with putting new spins on our favorite fairy tales, Into the Woods is lighthearted and charming fun (with somewhat forgettable music, but still enjoyable).

18 — Men, Women and Children

(Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Ansel Elgort, Dean Norris) 
Directed by Jason Reitman

Following a number of high school teenagers (as well as their parents) as they navigate the waters of the internet, social media, interacting with others, forming views of themselves and creating relationships, Men Women and Children wants us to wrestle with the fact that the internet has changed us.

Let me just say, straight upa large portion of this movie is about sex. And about how people use technology to go about getting it. It’s about affairs, immature relationships, pornography, and failed marriages. And though it deals with important topics, it will be too much for most audiences.

Even though technology has changed us, Men, Women and Children reminds us that it’s just as possible to make meaningless connections in real life, reflecting a mirror back on ourselves — how will we treat our relationships? How will we interact with technology? Will we pursue genuine connections and relationships, or will we continue to use the advances of our society to take advantage of others for our own gratification?
Read my full review here. 

17 — 22 Jump Street

(Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube, Nick Offerman) 
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

Conveniently relocating across the street, Jenko and Schmidt are undercover again – and this time they’re in college. Cue the bean bags, bunk beds, and shower caddies.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum’s brilliant chemistry blossoms in this sharp, clever, energetic comedy sequel that’s more than eager to poke fun at itself. 22 Jump Street is a hilarious, if crude, buddy comedy with plenty of laughs and lots of heart.
(And make sure to stay for the end credits!)
Read my full review here.

16 — The Good Lie

(Reese Witherspoon, Some People You’ve Never Heard of)
Directed by  Phillippe Falardeau

Reese Witherspoon may be the biggest star in The Good Lie, but this movie about the “Lost Boys” orphaned by Sudan’s vicious civil war really belongs to three actors you’ve never heard of.

Actors Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, and Emmanuel Jal all lost their families in the midst of Civil War, watched their friends die from disease and animal attacks, and faced starvation as they traversed the African desert in search of refuge. Now they’ve been given the chance onscreen to bring life to the struggles thousands faced.

The Good Lie is an emotional, humorous, and hopeful film about a real human crisis that is still ongoing. And contrary to most Hollywood clichés, the film doesn’t approach this story about the Third World from the eyes of a Westerner, but rather from the perspective of those in the situation themselves, which is refreshing and important. It is a moving story about our common humanity — the triviality of so much we consider important, of redemption, forgiveness, loyalty, and family.
Read my full review here. 

15 — Wish I Was Here

(Zach Braff, Josh Gad, Mandy ‘Prepare to Die’ Patinkin)
Directed by Zach Braff

When they’re kicked out of Jewish private school, thirtysomething Aidan Bloom comes to an existential crossroads as he’s forced to become his kids’ home-school teacher.

In his first film since the poster child for indie films of the 2000s, Garden State, Zach Braff doles out a reflective and heartfelt drama about dealing with adulthood and responsibility.

The film resonated with me because it felt deeply honest. It is an entertaining, uplifting, and joyful attempt to simply convey the confusion, mystery, and struggles of life in times of transition and mourning. With Wish I Was Here, Braff has crafted a sincere and ambitious tale about being lost in life, misguided, not knowing what to do next, balancing responsibility with following our passions, and making the most of the short time we’re given.
Read my full review here. 

14 — Muppets Most Wanted

(Kermit, Miss Piggy, Humans)
Directed by James Bobin

Whereas 2011’s reboot The Muppets was a delightful mix of nostalgia, tenderness and heart, Muppets Most Wanted gets the gang back to their wacky roots with a full-out screwball comedy with big stars and clever gags. As a longtime Muppet fan, I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, and Most Wanted featured a surprising amount of intricate gags and pop culture jokes for adult audiences.

While it doesn’t reach the majestic heights of its predecessor, Most Wanted returns the Muppets back to their silly roots– full of hilarious jokes, funny songs, and great celebrity cameos. It’s everything one could want in a Muppets movie.
Read my full review here.

13 —  Snowpiercer

(Chris Evans, Ed Harris, John Hurt)
Directed by Joon-ho Bong

movieCaptain America racing through a train of cannibals — there, that summary will get your friends to watch this one with you. In the near future, the planet’s survivors find themselves in a life-sustaining train traveling across the globe called the “Snowpiercer.”

Snowpiercer is a mind-trip. It’s a bold, ambitous, and smart sci-fi film full of compelling twists and turns, and its phenomenal cast help bring the visually-stunning story to life. As the hero who rebels against the train’s ‘class system,’ Chris Evans in particular shows off an impressive new side unlike anything we’ve seen from Captain America prior.
Read my full review here.

12 —  Noah

(Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Rock-Giant-Angel Things)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

As a piece of art, NOAH is a breathlessly-told drama with sweeping epic visuals, superb performances from all of the Russell Crowe-led cast, and awe-inspiring visual effects (other than some early scenes with the “fallen angels”).

In relation to its faithfulness to Scripture, it leaves some to be desired, but it is refreshing to see mainstream Hollywood tackling Biblical stories with such beauty and high production value.  This NOAH is a powerful story of belief, guilt, judgment, mercy, and ruinous obsession.

For my complete thoughts on NOAH, read my full reflection on the film here.

11 — Selma

(David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Racists)
Directed by Ava DuVernay

Fifty years ago, the events that took place in Selma, Alabama helped energize the already-building Civil Rights movement in the United States. Selma shines a light on the actions of Martin Luther King Jr. (a career-turning performance from David Oyelowo) in organizing the Alabama-based protests and marches.

The film enrages and enlightens as it shows how history is changed with a number of small moments. And the Martin Luther King, Jr. we see in Selma isn’t a sugar-coated version of the famous leader, but instead a flawed man unsure of his own abilities – which is a welcome sight.

It should be noted, though, that this movie is titled “Selma” – not “Martin Luther King, Jr.” This is a film about a movement; not just a particular man. And the story of that movement is gripping, powerful, and infuriating — reminding us that though we have come a long way, there is much still to be done.

10 — The Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

(Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke)
Directed by Matt Reeves

Caesar and his band of intelligent apes return in what is proof that Hollywood Blockbusters can be both action-packed entertainment as well as intelligently heartfelt.

I know he played Gollum in Lord of the Rings, but you’d think Andy Serkis was a Wizard. Because the way he brings the computer-generated Caesar to life and breathes so much emotional complexity into the character is unreal. Full of beautiful cinematography, a sweeping soundtrack from Michael Giacchino, awe-inspiring digital animation and rich storytelling, Dawn is a thrilling and heartbreaking look at a leader continually forced to choose the lesser of two evils.

The moment when Caesar embraces his friend Malcolm — one ape, one human, both acknowledging there’s nothing either can do to stop a coming war between their species — is easily one of the most beautifully moving scenes in recent memory.
Read my full review here.

9 — The Interview

(James Franco, Seth Rogen, Kim Jong Un)
Directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Much was made of the controversy surrounding The Interview, expectations were ballooned, and audiences flocked in nationalistic pride without necessarily knowing what they were getting into.

Which is too bad, because The Interview was never meant to be the edgy, intellectual satire everyone seemed to want it to be. It just tried to be a big, dumb, ambitious comedy that stuck it to a genocidal dictator — and it does so hilariously.

The Interview is laugh-out-loud funny in the way only Rogen and Franco can do. And even though its full of butt jokes, it’s clever and expertly-crafted comedy is miles ahead of what other studios have been shoving into theaters lately. It’s obvious that these guys just wanted to make the funniest film they could, and went for it. Randall Park is particularly memorable as the man-child Kim Jong Un who’s just trying to get out of his father’s shadow.

The Interview is definitely not for everyone — it is filled with crude humor, and it definitely goes over the line of good taste, but the comedic situations, pop culture references and hilarious developments are off the charts here.
And I’ll never listen to Katy Perry’s “Firework” the same way again.

8 —  Whiplash

(J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller, Drum Solos)
Directed by Damien Chazelle

A simple, yet haunting story about an ambitious young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) obsessed with becoming one of the greats, and his terrifying instructor (J.K. Simmons) who ruthlessly pushes him to the brink – Whiplash is a riveting, intense exploration of artistry and obsession.

J.K. Simmons, once known primarily for his memorable cameos as J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spider-Man films, is unstoppable here. And Miles Teller is good too, I guess.

Whiplash is focused on one thing and one thing alone – the relationship between musician and instructor. Little else gets in the way. It is a slow-burning thriller about obsession, artistic perfection, and the lengths artists are willing to sacrifice for their craft.

7 — The Grand Budapest Hotel

(Ralph Fiennes, the rest of Hollywood)
Directed by Wes Anderson

This is Wes Anderson at his most Wes Andersonian. The Grand Budapest Hotel, following the whimsical and dangerous adventures of hotel concierge Gustave H and his lobby boy Zero, is his most ambitious film to date.

Ralph Fiennes is impeccable in the lead role, and just gazing at the poster, one becomes dizzy merely reading the long list of beloved actors and actresses in this thing. The film is delightful, twisted, insane, emotional, dramatic, and hilarious. And it’s full of great character work (a massive feat with an ensemble this monstrous), and creative ingenuity (such as each time period taking place in different aspect ratios).

Wes Anderson has delivered yet another trademark exploration of a quirky character on a journey of self-discovery, and though the comedy gets pretty dark, the fast-paced antics will keep a smile on most every face. It gets a bit lost within its own tangled web of tangential storylines, but the impeccable palette of visual feasts and ornate detail make The Grand Budapest Hotel a thoroughly enjoyable romp with plenty of reflections on loss and friendship.
Read my full review here. 

6 —  Birdman

(Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton,
and an Unblinking Camera)

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is most famous for playing iconic superhero “Birdman” in a trilogy of films two decades ago.
Tired of being defined by his role in a billion-dollar franchise so long ago, Riggan sets out to direct, produce, and act in a massive stage play – all while enduring a number of pitfalls leading up to opening night, and suffering from delusions (?) that he may actually possess super powers.

What follows from the first moment of Birdman is a massive creative undertaking, with the film edited in such a way that it appears to be one single continuous take. The camera flows through hallways, rooms, stages, and streets, never blinking. It is a sight to behold.

Michael Keaton gives the performance of his life here, and perhaps the most poignant thing Birdman brings us is a discussion of the purpose and pain of creativity – and why we pursue creative endeavors at all. Birdman is a bit of a head-scratcher, full of surreal and highly-imaginative elements that don’t always work. But this absurd, funny, and tragic black comedy is unlike anything you’re likely to see anytime soon. If Birdman isn’t ambitious, creative, and bold, then no film is.
Read my full review here. 

5 — The Fault in Our Stars

(Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe)
Directed by Josh Boothe

I absolutely loved The Fault in Our Stars, and I know that all of the sobbing 13-year-old girls in the theater with me would agree.

But really. The long-awaited adaptation of John Green’s widely beloved novel is an incredibly moving, witty, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching exploration of life, love, and loss. The Fault in Our Stars runs the emotional gauntlet, and works on almost every level.

Fault so easily could have devolved into just another weepy teen chick flick, but it is incredibly fresh because it feels so mature — it is wiser than its years (much like Hazel and Gus). It’s impossible not to love and root for these two young cancer patients as they struggle with falling in love while also navigating death’s doorstep.

The characters here are authentic and we care deeply for Hazel and Gus by the time they have to actually face the crap we knew was coming all along. Any sappiness The Fault in Our Stars exhibits is well-earned, and those who melt into blubbering balls of sniffles in the theater need not feel like fools.

If The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t make you at least contemplate your own life and inspire you to cling to and treasure the people you care for most even more, then you might need to do some soul-searching. This movie makes you laugh, makes you reflect, and charms with its unconventional love story full of natural humor, warmth, and a tender take on a very bleak subject. Hazel’s journey serves as an optimistic reminder to make the most of your life, even when you’re dying… And then again, aren’t we all?
Read my full review here. 

4 — Interstellar

(Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Matt Damon)
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Don’t believe the “haters,” as the kids say. This movie is amazing.
It’s complex and it’s mind-numbing, but Interstellar is an incredible emotional journey through space and time. It is a riveting, ambitious, tense, thrilling and heart-wrenching adventure — and yet, for how big and expansive its scope, it’s really just a simple story about a father and his daughter, told with its heart on its sleeve.

The film’s logic is stretched a number of times, and a few confusing storytelling decisions are made, but it’s encouraging to still see bold, audacious storytellers like Christopher Nolan be willing to stretch themselves creatively and go for broke, trying new things on a big scale. Art only has the potential to be great when it is taking risks. And even though risks don’t always pan out, I’d much rather watch failed ambitious, creative risks than some caped superhero trying to rescue a space orb from a generic baddie for the 38th time.

It cannot be denied how incredible of a trip Interstellar is. The pace is gripping, the performances are stellar, the musical score is pulse-pounding, and the action sequences are riveting. It reawakens a spirit of exploration and attempts to wrestle with a number of weighty ideas. Interstellar is exactly the type of fun, bold entertainment I’ll passionately cheer on in an age of unwanted sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes.
Read my full review here. 

3– Gone Girl

(Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Tyler Perry not dressed as a woman)
Directed by David Fincher


Gone Girl is insane. Twisted. Messed up. It’s a brilliantly-made film, but it is not for the faint of heart. It thrills, disgusts, and subtly terrifies.

Director David Fincher loves to draw us into bleak and visually-stunning stories about the lives of messed up people.
Gone Girl is no exception. It is a dark look at a marriage in shambles — a well-polished thriller about two spouses who have used their marriage, and each other, for the absolute worst reasons. It’s haunting, and it’s incredibly tense.

And Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are at their absolute best in Gone Girl, both giving performances that are subtly layered and ever-changing.

In Gone Girl, morality is a grayscale, and the audience is left to make their own judgments in determining between good and evil. Both Nick and Amy’s selfishness led them to opposite extremes, and crumbled their marriage. And in some respects, there is no clear-cut resolution to this haunting tale.
The world of Gone Girl is surprisingly complex, and its twisted thrills come at a lightning-fast speed. It’s not perfect, but it is an exceptionally-made film (for those able to handle it) that must be discussed and wrestled with.

Gone Girl will stay with you.
Read my full review here. 

2 — The LEGO Movie

(Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Liam Neeson, Will Ferrell)
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

“A movie… about LEGOs… Get a grip. This will be awful.”

I was beyond doubtful when I first saw the trailer for The LEGO Movie, convinced it was little more than a glorified toy commercial. But I was wrong.

The LEGO Movie is a hilariously wild ride that delivers a crazy hour-and-a-half of all your childhood playtime imaginations come to life.
The laughs come faster by the minute, the colorful animation is amazing, and it never feels like a sales pitch or a commercial — but if you never wanted to play with Lego’s before, you will afterwards.

Despite all the laughs and the hilarious characters, the heart of the film is what makes it special. It is truly a film that all ages can enjoy and celebrate together—a delightful story that recaptures the magic of childhood imagination, and reminds us of the importance of letting kids be kids. And that’s pretty impressive for a movie based off a little yellow toy.
Read my full review here.

1 — Boyhood

(Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette,
older Ellar Coltrane, older Ethan Hawke, older Patricia Arquette)

Directed by Richard Linklater

There are no two ways around it: Boyhood is the film of 2014. 

Boyhood is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, or anything you’ll probably ever see again. The film itself is a little miracle: filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood is an intimate and reflective look at growing up. It is truly a sight to behold as Ellar Coltrane (and his parents) age onscreen, going through their lives, Mason slowly transforming from boy to man. Boyhood could have easily become a one-note gimmick, but it turns into so much more.

It’s impossible to watch Boyhood and not reflect on your own life – that is what makes it so moving and relatable. There is no identifiable “story” — and that’s sort of the point. Instead, the film is made up of a number of small vignettes, watching Mason grow up and go throughout life with his family and friends.

Life is the accumulation of small moments. And perhaps no movie has shown that more poignantly than Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. It is a thoughtful reflection on time itself — how it passes, and will continue to pass, whether we like it or not — and a nostalgic ode to both growing up and being a parent.

Boyhood is a little longer than it needed to be, yes, but the film is just too special to spend time complaining about its length. Boyhood is the ultimate mainstream experimental film, and will surely be remembered as Richard Linklater’s personal masterpiece (They might as well just mail him his Oscar for Best Director now). Boyhood is proof that filmmakers are still taking risks and trying new things. That’s reassuring in an age where movies like Transformers: Age of Extinction are breaking box office records.

Even if you don’t think it’s necessarily the best, or the most exciting, movie you’ve seen, I cannot recommend this film enough.

Just the sheer fact that Boyhood was made is amazing. The fact that it’s also a beautifully-told little story puts it over the top. And it’s only grown on me since seeing it. Boyhood is totally worth experiencing — not only because it masterfully captures the simplicity of life itself, but also because it will spur even the most cynical of moviegoers to look back on their own lives — where did all the time go?
Read my full review here. 


Who gave the best acting performances this year?

1) Michael Keaton, Birdman
2) Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
3) Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel
4) Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

1) Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl:

2) Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars
3) Angelina Jolie, Maleficent
4) Keira Knightley, Laggies

1) J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
2) Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
3) Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
4) Edward Norton, Birdman

1) Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

2) Laura Dern, The Fault in Our Stars
3) Emma Stone, Birdman
4) Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Who did the best work behind the camera this year?

1) Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2) Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, The LEGO Movie
3) Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
4) David Fincher, Gone Girl
5) Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

1) The LEGO Movie
2) Whiplash
3) Birdman
4) Boyhood
5) The Interview

1) Gone Girl
2) Snowpiercer
3) The Fault in Our Stars
4) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
5) Noah

Interstellar, Hans Zimmer

The Guardians of the Galaxy



Other Oddities and Curiosities of the year in movies:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
The Imitation Game
How to Train Your Dragon 2

The Good Lie
Men, Women, and Children
The Interview
Wish I Was Here


Guardians of the Galaxy

Baymax, Big Hero 6

So that’s what I thought about 2014 at the movies!
Let me know what you thought, and what your favorite movies were this year! But first, if you excuse me, I think I’ll grab my popcorn and head to the theater. Time to start all over again!

© Matt Tory, 2015. 

All movie posters shown are used for non-commercial analysis and commentary purposes related to the films mentioned herein.

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