2014 is over. What were the best movies? No, Interstellar didn’t make it.
Please chime in with your own choices below.
10. The Guest
There’s always one cult-y genre offering that grabs my attention. Last year, it was James Wan’s delightfully retro spookfest The Conjuring, and this year it’s The Guest. Directed by up-and-comer Adam Wingard (You’re Next), The Guest defied all my expectations to become one of 2014’s most unexpected delights.
The tale seems simple enough on paper but Simon Barrett’s script is deceptively complex. Former soldier David Collins (a chillingly icy Dan Stevens) arrives at the home of the Peterson family claiming to have served with their deceased son, Caleb. Naturally, they allow him into their residence with open arms, but David isn’t who he claims to be, leading to an escalating series of events that I just wouldn’t wish to spoil.
The Guest is a seemingly straightforward potboiler that is spring-loaded with surprises, great turns from a game cast (including The Wire‘s Lance Reddick), and a denouement that leaves you scratching your head… in a good way. Any “disposable” thriller that leaves you asking a million and one questions can’t be that bad, can it?
9. The Lego Movie
Talk about surprises.
No-one expected The Lego Movie to be watchable. It was a punchline for film aficionados and a sign that old Hollywood was running out of franchise options, but those mischievous geniuses Phil Lord and Christopher Miller managed to make a flick that appealed to both children and adults alike. Crammed with technical ingenuity, a witty, literate script, amusing voice performances (Chris Pratt is really smashing it, isn’t he?), and an ending that I really didn’t see coming, The Lego Movie is an undisputed family gem. It’s also the best Green Lantern film to date.
Seriously, though, we don’t need any sequels. This did the job.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy
I know what you’re thinking… this should be higher on the list.
Well, as much as I enjoyed James Gunn’s intergalactic Avengers – and it is one of the more blissfully enjoyable sci-fi outings in a while – it seems to have been massively overrated by all and sundry. This is a fun blast of bubblegum confection with a truly rocking soundtrack, a winning batch of leads, and some off-the-wall production design that really takes you to another universe, but it’s also dramatically inert and far too desperate to make you laugh. Really, I’m not sure I can invest too much in a movie that seems like one long joke. This is a good extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but an entirely frivolous one.
Give me more drama and higher stakes next time, Mr. Gunn.
7. Edge of Tomorrow
Doug Liman’s sci-fi extravaganza seems to have been unfairly branded as a flop despite solid word-of-mouth and a gross of $369 million worldwide on a $178 million budget. It more than deserved the great press, as this is one of the more gutsy and adventurous blockbusters of 2014. Hey, at least it wasn’t a sequel or a remake!
Taking a bonkers plot by Hiroshi Sakurazaka and two fantastic performances by Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, Liman’s time-travel spin on the old alien invasion routine is as exciting for its action sequences as it is for its thematic power. Complemented by acute characterisation, playful dialogue and a central conceit that offers all manner of ludicrous plot developments, Edge of Tomorrow is a modern genre benchmark that should have done better.
Also, that first battle on the beach is really something.
6. The Raid 2
What do I really need to say about this one? If you saw The Raid, you pretty much know what you’re going to get, only this one actually has a plot to bolster the near-constant barrage of punching, kicking, knifing, and shooting. Gareth Evans has once again delivered an action movie behemoth that trumps its predecessor in every way, shape or form. It also has one of the most ingenious car chases in recent history, more than earning it a place on my list.
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Now, here’s a blockbusting sci-fi flick that really isn’t for kids!
Cloverfield‘s Matt Reeves took the baton raised by Rupert Wyatt with the good-if-problematic Rise of the Planet of the Apes and delivered the best entry in the venerated franchise since the 1968 original. Talky, tense, technically-proficient, and occasionally terrifying, Dawn is a fantastic prequel that never forgets to lather everything with a heavy dose of social commentary. Yes, even when the apes are riding horses, firing machine guns and commandeering fucking tanks (that was awesome, by the way).
Wherever the series goes from here, let’s hope they can maintain this highly satisfying mix of action, suspense and affecting human-ape conflict.
4. X-Men: Days of Future Past
It was almost inevitable that Bryan Singer would return some luster to the X-series since his departure many moons ago with X-Men 2. Taking the directorial reigns for this highly-anticipated translation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s 1981 classic, Singer successfully reignited the franchise that Matthew Vaughn had already resurrected with First Class. That was my favourite film in the saga until this one came along, bringing two eras of X-Men together for a fun-filled romp packed with intelligence as well as action. I was biting my nails all the way to that stadium-raising climax.
Call me crazy, but it feels like this series is only just getting started…
3. Gone Girl
Ah, David Fincher. You rarely let me down (Benjamin Button aside).
Gone Girl is an author-approved adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s torrid best-seller and easily one of the year’s most sumptuously-shot offerings. It also ensured that I’ll spend another few years hopelessly single, as the trials undertaken by unlucky husband Nick Dunne (a fantastic Ben Affleck) are enough to put you off marriage forever. Seriously, Rosamund Pike is flat-out disturbing in this flick, taking her beautiful otherness and painting a portrait of scorned femininity that chilled me to the bone.
There’s also the typically first-rate direction of Fincher, whose films are always beautiful both aesthetically and intellectually. He might be taking material somewhat beneath him here, but he spins gold out of a scenario that combines male-female politics with a cutting dissection of the media. Gone Girl is ten times better than it had any right to be.
Holy shit! This is a movie!
First-time director Dan Gilroy has made the 21st Century’s answer to Taxi Driver, and it’s all thanks to the chameleonic turn by Jake Gyllenhaal as the deeply disturbed Lou Bloom. This guy’s Travis Bickle without the scruples, and Jake is utterly mesmerising throughout the run-time. Really, he’s just collecting classics these days.
Combining the verve of Drive with the spirit of Scorsese’s masterpiece, Gilroy has truly fashioned a modern milestone that speaks to our fear-saturated culture and our obsession with the macabre. It all leads to an unsettling finish that you’re unlikely to forget anytime soon.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Far and away my most beloved movie of 2014, The Winter Soldier surprised many by not only being a superior sequel to The First Avenger but by being the best overall movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. But even that is selling it lightly; here’s a pyrotechnic-heavy bit of escapism with plenty of brains to burn.
Winter Soldier is a contemporary take on the 70’s paranoid thriller as seen through the lens of a superhero adventure, and the Russo Brothers took their high stakes set-up and proceeded to make one of the greatest action films of all time. I’m serious. Scene by scene, set-piece by set-piece, this movie is an absolute joy to watch and is filled with moments that I’ll remember till my synapses fire their last.
Are there better films from 2014? Quite possibly, at least on a stuffy, pretentious level, but nothing else came as close to perfection for me. This is pure, unadulterated cinema.