Spoiler alert, but Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) was, in fact, not my favorite film of the year. I figured I should just get that out of the way at the start for those of you who feared I might have the same #1 film as Brad and Mike, both of whom listed Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s latest as their favorite film from 2014. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Birdman, but in a surprise to even myself, it didn’t make my list, which I think you can pretty much chalk up to the surprisingly good year 2014 wound up being. I was certainly among the scoffers last fall about it being a bit of down year, and just a month or so ago I was of the opinion 2014 offered a lot of films to like, but very few to love. After going through and finalizing my list, I’d like to retract that statement.
As Mike wrote in his own countdown of his favorite films from 2014, perhaps the easiest way to measure the quality of the past year of film is to look at how difficult it was to compile your own top ten list. Are you reaching to fill slots with anything you can find, or are you dumbfounded by your inability to do something as arbitrary as ranking ten films you saw in the last 12 months? Just a few months ago I thought 2014 might be the former for me, a year for which I’d have to put films onto a list without feeling they truly deserved the recognition; however, after sifting through the films I saw in 2014, rewatching them, checking out clips, trailers, and remembering what it was like to experience those films in the intimate darkness of the theater, I began to swoon.
So controversial or not, you aren’t going to see Birdman on my list, for as much as I enjoyed it, there are ten films I grasped onto even tighter. However, I’ll give you a chance to read more about my list-making process below beginning with my honorable mentions, where you can find various themed sections — what are we doing with our lives if we can’t have a little fun, am I right? — and on the pages that follow you can take a look at the ten films that did end up making my list of the top ten movies of 2014. Let’s begin!
Show Me the Money!
Also showing up in this section: Tom Hardy vehicle The Drop, which isn’t a blockbuster, but it is a story about bars that hold large sums of money overnight for local mobsters. I really wanted to make sure I mentioned this one somewhere, and it fits the loose theme of “money” from the above headline, so here it is. Take it or leave it, people.
$10 History Lessons
There’s never a shortage of historical dramas and biopics that hit theaters each year, and while these films can often be run-of-the-mill, there were some in 2014 that were anything but. Between David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in civil rights drama Selma, Chadwick Boseman as the “Godfather of Soul” in James Brown biopic Get On Up, Benedict Cumberbatch as mathematician Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, and Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as Olympic wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz in the chilling Foxcatcher, 2014 gave us a handful of performance-driven films that brought real characters to the silver screen. Add in the fictional-yet-harrowing WWII drama Fury and documentaries Life Itself and Citizenfour, which center on film critic Roger Ebert and whistleblower Edward Snowden respectively, and I’d say there were plenty of opportunities to learn a bit about the past (and present) while being entertained by pictures flickering on a screen.
Make ‘Em Laugh
Good comedies seem harder and harder to come by these days, but 2014 did produce a few solid laughers, including Chef, which allowed me to indulge my inner foodie; Neighbors, which allowed me to indulge my inner frat boy; and Alan Partridge, which allowed me to indulge my inner Briton. I’d also be a total looney if I didn’t mention Chris Rock‘s walk-and-talk comedy Top Five, which is whip-smart and downright riotous in parts. Then there is, of course, The Lego Movie which, Academy Award nomination or not, was the best animated film I saw last year.
Alright, so it was actually the only animated film I saw in 2014, but it was still really funny, okay?
In a given year, I don’t get too many chances to see a lot of highly regarded foreign-language films — Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep only just came out here in Phoenix and I haven’t yet had three-plus consecutive hours to devote to it, Xavier Dolan‘s Mommy and acclaimed Russian drama Leviathan don’t arrive until the first weekend of February, and there’s no telling when comedy anthology Wild Tales will show up, if ever — but that said I did get to see three great foreign-language films from 2014, all of which featured stunning female performances. For starters, there was the combination of Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza in the beautiful black-and-white drama Ida. In addition, Marion Cotillard is great as usual as a woman going door-to-door to try to save her job in Two Days, One Night, and then there is Lisa Loven Kongsli, who has thus far received very little of the kudos she deserves for her turn in Ruben Ostlund‘s blacker-than-black comedy Force Majeure.
Jessica Chastain, Take a Bow
Speaking of excellent female performances in 2014 films, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jessica Chastain‘s take on the titular character in first-time director Ned Benson‘s relationship drama The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. I’m still waiting to see the individual parts of Benson’s film, separately subtitled Her and Him, each examining the story from the respective points-of-view of the woman and the man in the relationship at the center of Them, but until then, this still stands as one of my favorites of the year, and Chastain’s performance is one I have yet to get out of my head. She seemingly always brings her A-game, even when she is tasked with doing something really silly like tossing a bunch of papers and shouting “Eureka!” in Interstellar.
You Sure This Ain’t a Top Twelve List?
Deciding on my top ten this year was no easy task, not because I didn’t know which films to put on the list but because I couldn’t figure out which ones to leave off it. The two that just barely missed making my official, locked-in, no-turning-back-now list for 2014 are Birdman, which as I mentioned topped both Brad’s list at #10. Both are great films with strong performances and a lot of laughs, which each film generates in its own unique ways, and both are extremely stylish, oozing atmosphere from the very first frame. But of course each year there are a few that don’t quite make the cut, and those are my near-misses for 2014, despite how much I enjoyed both.
But enough about what’s not on my top ten list, let’s finally dive into what is on the list, starting at #10 with…