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The Best Films of 2014

Luke Miksa's: The Negative Space Bar

It’s time to list my favourite films from 2014, a year that was… actually not quite as disappointing as previous years. 2014 was a year where a larger than usual percentage of blockbusters were above average, and some were even great! Of course, it wasn’t all terrific, but I definitely enjoyed more movies than I hated this year, and that makes me one happy film-going guy!

Obvious caveat: I’m a human, and being a human means that I can’t see every movie, so this list features only movies I saw last year. If I saw Whiplash, maybe Whiplash would be on this list. Same goes for Boyhood and Under the Skin. I did see Birdman (it was great), but Birdman didn’t come out in Australia until 2015, so it saw the bin on a technicality.

You got really close: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The LEGO Movie, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Skeleton Twins, 22 Jump Street, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Blue Ruin.

Let’s start at 10 with a controversial choice:

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10. They Came Together

The funniest comedy of the year. Director David Wain‘s style is not for everybody, but this was undoubtedly the one movie that made me laugh more than any other. The joke-per-minute ratio is outstanding, but They Came Together makes the cut for being a hilariously clever spoof of the romantic comedy genre. While I was certainly a fan of how much fun 22 Jump Street had with subverting cinematic tropes (Plainview Red Herrings is my favourite gag of the year), and 22 Jump Street was close to taking this spot, but I give the nod to They Came Together simply for the audacity to be as silly as it is.

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9. John Wick

May I follow up a controversial choice with another? On paper, John Wick does not deserve to be on any ‘Best Of’ lists. The logline basically reads, ‘Top hitman Keanu Reeves comes out of retirement to avenge the death of his beloved dog.’ That is a silly premise, but the film is so visually kinetic and self-aware that it was a pure, genuine joy to watch. Against the grain of similar films of previous years, the action is grounded in reality, featuring a lot of close-quarters combat (so many head-shots!), mixed martial arts, and inventive gunplay. First time director Chad Stahelski — a former stunt-man by trade — successfully transforms Keanu Reeves a legitimate badass for the first time in his career, and man, it’s a thing of beauty.

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8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

What an impressive movie. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes boasts a unique tone not yet seen in the franchise. Despite featuring humans in  key roles, the emotional core of the movie is ironically in the humanity of the primates, and the way they are shown to live and communicate is intriguing and confident film-making. The audacity to open a blockbuster such as this with little to no dialogue in the first act is commendable, and the fact that director Matt Reeves pulled it off so successfully is tremendous. There’s also an ape riding a horse firing two machine guns.

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7. Predestination

Predestination makes the list on its inventive use of time travel and its ambitious concept. Australian directors the Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers) have made an impressive film, and I applaud their audacity in tackling such an extremely unusual trope of time travel. If you’re familiar with time travel theories, you may know that the predestination paradox is a closed-loop storytelling convention, and that’s about as far as I can go without spoiling these insane plot twists. Predestination is a movie that easily teeters on the edge of its own outlandishness, but thankfully through deft storytelling, the final result is a film that will leave your jaw hanging in disbelief. This is one you’ll want to watch again straight away (you’ll kick yourself with some of the things they slipped past you on your first viewing).

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6. Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is such an interesting movie, one that clearly was not filmed within typical Hollywood conventions (it’s a South Korean production), but features a largely Hollywood cast of Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and Ed Harris. This is an action film with many strong social messages, and the concept is as large as the perpetual train on which the film takes place. The offbeat performance by Tilda Swinton is certainly a highlight, and the appearance of John Hurt presents a nice connection to the similarly themed 1984. Snowpiercer is a refreshing change of pace in the action genre.

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5. The Babadook

There was only room for one horror movie this year (not like there was any real competition), but the Australian chiller The Babadook achieves so much with so little. More a visceral thriller than standard horror fare, talented The Babadook director Jennifer Kent (a name to watch) presents a story of loss, grief, and psychological trauma which manifests itself into the titular Babadook. What this film lacks in jump scares and cheap thrills, it makes up with an impressive level of escalating dread. Horror is a genre where it is easy to be lazy and successful — hello Annabelle — but in the right hands horror can actually be the most interesting genre there is. The Babadook is the proof.

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4. Gone Girl

Having never read Gillian Flynn‘s much hyped novel, I sat down to watch Gone Girl with fresh eyes. All I was aware of was director David Fincher‘s solid track record (even mediocre Fincher is better than most other films), and the interesting cast (including the formerly under-appreciated Rosamund Pike, and a rare serious turn from Neil Patrick Harris). Gone Girl features Fincher’s classic dark, clinical storytelling style, but what impressed me most was the plot, which had some genuinely shocking moments. One of the greatest sequences I saw all year appeared about halfway through Gone Girl, where the narration switched from Ben Affleck‘s character to Pike’s, and completely flipped the entire movie on its head. Enthralling stuff.

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3. Edge of Tomorrow

Reviewed on Sorry I’m Late.

Edge of Tomorrow did not get enough respect this year, and in many circles it was seen as a box office dud. This could be blamed on the lacklustre trailer and marketing, or even an audience with Tom Cruise fatigue. But Edge of Tomorrow is bold, entertaining fun. The action is excellent, the sci-fi spectacle is impressive, and the humour is surprisingly abundant and genuine. The time travel concept is imaginative, and in what could have easily been a repetitive mess shines through as a tight and clever little gem. This movie is Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers, and its ‘failure’ to make money is a bad sign for original creativity in Hollywood. Although there’s always…

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2. Guardians of the Galaxy

Reviewed on Sorry I’m Late.

Director James Gunn has perhaps made the best movie from the Marvel Studios camp to date. Seemingly gone are the days when big Hollywood blockbusters had a sense of magic and wonder, when the creative direction wasn’t cynical and dark, and where fresh unique stories and characters had a chance to make an impact on an unsuspecting audience. Guardians of the Galaxy bucked all trends by almost being a throwback to a simpler time: a time where an ensemble of characters had equal time to shine on-screen, where humour was bountiful, and where action and adventure was fun energetic, not ultra-violent and realistic.

Praising Guardians of the Galaxy for its originality and uniqueness may sound rich seeing that is a part of the Marvel Studios juggernaut of cinematic comic book adaptations, but the fact is that Guardians is essentially a stand-alone film that happens to be a part of larger universe — a universe that is of no significance to the plot of Guardians at all. This is the kind of fun I want to have when I see a blockbuster. More please!

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1. Nightcrawler

The best film of 2014 is Nightcrawler. Director Dan Gilroy created a rare breed of movie, one that is definitely a throwback of the auteur driven character studies of the 70’s, most notably Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Nightcrawler shines a light on the seedy underbelly of a Los Angeles culture rarely seen on film; freelance film crews competing to sell their shots of street crimes and car accidents to local network news stations. The revelation here is Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom; a driven, uncompromising, brilliant, and sociopathic force of nature determined to make it to the very top of his newly chosen profession by any means necessary. Gyllenhaal is immersed in the role of Bloom, taking on a sickly, emaciated look while simultaneously making the top-knot not look entirely ridiculous. The LA visuals are stunning, with Gilroy shooting on film during the day for cinematic appeal, and switching to digital for the night shoots where the stark contrast between the dark of night against the neon and fluorescent lights of the urban jungle provide an almost retro ambiance.

Nightcrawler was barely a presence at this year’s Academy Awards. A single nomination for Best Original Screenplay (that it had no chance of winning). Not a nomination for Best Film. Not even a nomination for Jake Gyllenhaal‘s exceptional performance. This shows a glaring problem with The Academy, not the quality of Nightcrawler. It’s my number one film of 2014. The Academy is wrong.

So how about this list? Do you agree with any? Do you think I’m smoking those funny cigarettes and these picks are garbage? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to hit me up on Facebook and Twitter.

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2 Comments

  1. Tahnee

     /  February 24, 2015

    I’ve actually heard something else about the Nightcrawler Academy Awards snub! The Academy is not representative of the film-going community these days…

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  2. Jordan

     /  April 8, 2015

    Pretty good line up. I wasn’t to impressed by the Babadook & its ending. At least they were changing it up from the usual that you would get normally from that sort of movie. With the amount of hype I heard from Gone Girl I had a lot higher expectations.

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