I feel unwilling yet obligated to post a Top 10 list this year. Attempting to strong-arm my way into the critical culture that surrounds cinema is often exhausting work, and let it be known that all critics, not just me, have to sort through a lot of chaff to get to the good stuff. But I feel it’s necessary to recommend a few of last year’s films, not least of all because the year began so shakily, and you would be forgiven, as I was tempted to do, to write-off 2014 all together. But, without further ado, here’s a collection of films from the past year that I enjoyed, and which I grudgingly have to refer to as my Top 10 (in no order).
As always, I’m limiting my top films to those that I’ve seen this year, which unfortunately means I have to exclude Selma and Inherent Vice outright, thanks to their “limited release” status.
Foxcatcher | Bennett Miller
Dark, atmospheric, and tense, Foxcatcher is a slow-boil, character driven film that rises to a chilling climax. This well-executed film includes a transformative performance by Steve Carell as mysterious and deeply conflicted billionaire John DuPont, which, in my opinion, ought to earn him an Oscar.
Gone Girl | David Fincher
Fincher has done it again with this twisted and compelling thriller. Solid acting and an omnipresent bleakness of tone help to elevate this film to a top-tier production. Though not without its faults, Gone Girl primarily succeeds thanks to its excellent screenplay, written by original author Gillian Flynn, and rightly deserves it spot on the list.
Whiplash | Damien Chazelle
Whiplash is at once supremely human and oddly terrifying. Starring Miles Teller, perhaps the hottest up-and-coming young actor in Hollywood, as well as the always-terrific J. K. Simmons, the film is a high-energy yet intimate experience that is sure to keep you hooked until the very end.
Nightcrawler | Dan Gilroy
Are we sensing a pattern here, perhaps? Another supremely dark film, Nightcrawler represents the benchmark in Jake Gyllenhaal’s career thus far. Superbly acted and filled with unpredictable twists and turns, the film is an entrancing journey into the dark depths of a sociopath’s psyche.
The Drop | Michaël R. Roskam
This film, despite the contention it raised among my Simply Film colleagues, remains one of my favorites on this list. A dyed-in-the-wool crime thriller, The Drop features some outstanding acting by both Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini, and climaxes in one of the most beautifully understated endings that I’ve ever seen, period.
The Raid 2 | Gareth Evans
Endlessly imaginative and gleefully brutal, The Raid 2 is one of the most flat-out fun films released this year. Though the story may be a bit bare-bonesey, the focus is firmly fixed on the action—to the film’s credit, I think. I mean, there’s a blind woman who fights with a pair of hammers. What else do you need to know, really?
Edge of Tomorrow | Doug Liman
Edge of Tomorrow was sort of a surprise entry on this list, but decidedly earns its place here nonetheless. With a clever little story and some truly impressive action sequences, the film is one of the best original science fiction properties to be released, I’d argue, in the last decade.
The Grand Budapest Hotel | Wes Anderson
Perhaps one of the most auteur directors ever to come out of Hollywood, Wes Anderson has admittedly had some misses in his time, but The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t one of them. At once viciously funny and strangely poignant, the film includes Anderson’s signature sugary-sweet, dollhouse aesthetic sensibility while maintaining a tight focus on the vibrant characters that populate his world.
Snowpiercer | Bong Joon-ho
Director Bong Joon-ho proves, once again, why he remains the premier South Korean filmmaker in the West, with his newest film. Starring Chris Evans as a scrappy revolutionary, Snowpiercer is a high-concept sci-fi odyssey that portrays the decaying state of the human race, all while maintaining an undeniably beautiful visual style and atmosphere.
The Lego Movie | Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
The thing that you’ve got to understand about The Lego Movie is that no one, myself included, really expected it to blow up like it did. What I had initially pegged as merely a glorified advertisement for Lego turned out to be so shamelessly funny and imaginative that I felt no recourse but to include it on this list.
A couple of films, listed below, were good enough to deserve at least a mention, but fell just shy of a coveted position on the Top 10 list. They include:
How to Train Your Dragon 2 | Dean DeBlois
Big Eyes | Tim Burton
Listen Up Philip | Alex Ross Perry
That’s all there is. There isn’t any more. Good riddance to 2014.