Best Movies of 2014 – My Picks

10. The LEGO Movie

Christopher Miller and Phil Lord | 100 mins | Animation/Action/Adventure/Comedy
Chris Pratt | Will Ferrell | Elizabeth Banks | Will Arnett

The best marketing advertisement of 2014 wasn’t a 30-second Super Bowl commercial, but rather a 100-minute long animated big screen adventure that brought LEGOs to life.  The film grossed over $250 million dollars for Warner Brothers, making it one of the top-grossing films of the year and LEGO sales increased by 11%.  But despite all those who profited financially from the film, the real winners were the viewers who were treated to the finest animated film since Toy Story 3 and the finest “Batman” movie since The Dark Knight.

9. A Most Violent Year

J.C. Chandor | 125 mins | Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller
Oscar Isaac | Jessica Chastain | David Oyelowo | Alessandro Nivola

To call 1981 the most violent year in New York City is a bit misleading, since the number of murders in the city actually decreased from the previous year.  But to call A Most Violent Year the best film that J.C. Chandler has ever made, is not – which is high praise since his résumé also includes Margin Call and All is Lost.

Chandler always demands great acting from his leads and he gets two of the finest performances of the year from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, who play a successful New York couple whose wealth and safety are threatened because of their oil business.  The film isn’t as violent as its title or trailer suggest, but rather its intensity increases steadily to its breathtaking final shot.

8. The Imitation Game

Morten Tyldum | 114 mins | Biography/Drama/Thriller
Benedict Cumberbatch | Keira Knightley | Matthew Goode | Allen Leech

Many critics have grouped The Imitation Game together with The Theory of Everything in their top ten lists.  Sure, they’re both biopics about influential British scientists, but grouping the films together is an insult to The Imitation Game, which is the far superior film.

The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), the British cryptanalyst who developed a machine that helped solve the German Enigma codes during World War II.  Filled with moments of humor and others of first-rate suspense, The Imitation Game is the sort of crowd-pleasing film that typically wins Harvey Weinstein a slew of Oscars.  Strangely, not much ink has been spilled on The Imitation Game, which is a far more entertaining experience than some of the films that have brought him Oscar gold before.

7. Under the Skin

Jonathan Glazer | 108 mins | Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller
Scarlett Johansson | Jeremy McWilliams | Lynsey Taylor Mackay | Dougie McConnell

Long before the brainless summer blockbusters took over the alien picture, there were some really brilliant films that examined life from other planets – from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to E.T. to Alien.  Fortunately, Under the Skin refused to follow the all-too-common blueprint of recent alien pictures and instead focused on making an alien picture that is incredibly unique.  Scarlet Johnansson may be the most beautiful alien to ever star on the big screen, as her nameless character picks up lonely men and leads them into a strange, lifeless dimension.  Under the Skin certainly isn’t for everyone, but those who are sick of the ordinary UFO offerings should find plenty to appreciate here.

6. Ida

Pawel Pawlikowski | 82 mins | Drama
Agata Kulesza | Agata Trzebuchowska | Dawid Ogrodnik | Jerzy Trela

With its beautiful cinematography, it’s easy to overlook the brilliant story behind the year’s best import, as the Academy obviously did.  Ida tells the story of a young orphan who discovers past family secrets that make her second guess her decision to become a nun.  It’s an emotional and captive discovery picture from a director who appears to be peaking in his mid-fifties.

5. Nightcrawler

Dan Gilroy | 117 mins | Crime/Drama/Thriller
Jake Gyllenhaal | Rene Russo | Bill Paxton | Riz Ahmed

Ten years ago, the American Film Institute unleashed its list of the top fifty movie villains of all time.  If they were to update that list today, it’d better include the sleaze-ball trash-tv journalist Louis Bloom, played to perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal.  Bloom is the trash of the earth, but he also is an innovator who embodies our obsessions with money, violence, reality TV and personal greed.  Nightcrawler isn’t always enjoyable and it’s certainly not uplifting, but it is one of the most important examinations of American culture that we’ve seen in a long, long time.

4. Force Majeure

Ruben Ostlund | 120 mins | Comedy/Drama
Johannes Kuhnke | Lisa Loven Kongsli | Clara Wettergren | Vincent Wettergren

If there’s one thing that can tear families apart, it’s a good old fashion family vacation.  At least that’s what Force Majeure has us believe.  The Swedish film examines one family’s disastrous ski trip that is quickly destroyed by an unwanted avalanche.  It’s a film that quietly observes how little things can snowball and be exaggerated, but also one that sees the humor in our actions and in the worst possible situations.

3. Whiplash

Damien Chazelle | 106 mins | Drama/Music
Miles Teller | J.K. Simmons | Melissa Benoist | Paul Reiser

Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s impressive sophomore film about an ambitious percussionist student who is pushed to the limits by his wildly tempered instructor is far more engaging than any film about Jazz music has the right to be.  And that is a very good thing.  Led by powerful performances by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, Chazelle uses his actors’ talents to keep us engaged through the film’s first hour, but the story hits cruise control during its final couple acts.  And by the final credits, there’s no denying that Whiplash has the strongest ending of any movie I saw in 2014, and possibly of the entire decade.

2. Birdman

Alejandro G. Inarritu | 119 mins | Comedy/Drama
Michael Keaton | Zach Galifianakis | Edward Norton | Emma Stone

Some have already begun to overlook Birdman as a one-trick pony in the way it tricks viewers into thinking it’s filmed in one continuous shot, but those grinches are missing out on the pure joy and freshness of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s brilliant picture.  Like an Altman film on LSD,  Birdman is an endless joy ride filled with great performances, unique humor and one very impressive comeback.  This is one picture that certainly flies above the rest.

1. Boyhood

Richard Linklater | 165 mins | Drama
Richard Linklater | Patricia Arquette | Ethan Hawke | Elijah Smith

Once every five or ten years, a picture comes along that feels completely unique and truly innovative.  This year, was one of those years, thanks to Richard Linklater’s patient and ambitious study of childhood.  Although Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life was a very unique and very good film, Boyhood takes the time to focus on key moments in one’s life, where Life simply glossed over them with far less focus.  That’s because Linklater dedicated twelve years to the making of Boyhood, as he pulled his actors together each year to examine the progression of one’s life.  That’s an ambitious project that could have easily made Boyhood the biggest waste of time in movie making history.  Fortunately for us, instead Boyhood is one of the greatest films ever made to examine the moments and people that shape us into the adults that we become.