Making a top films of the year list is hard. These things are so subjective, not to mention I have to remember my feelings about the various films I’ve seen this year — and I see lots of films. It’s made somewhat easier by the fact that if I have strong feelings about a film one way or the other, it tends to stick and or come back more quickly when I look over the list of films that were released this year.
There’s also the problem that there are simply too many films that come out in a year for me to see them all when budget and time-wise, I am only able to see one film a week most weeks. So in the spirit of full disclosure, here is a (non-comprehensive) list of films I would have liked to see this year that I didn’t.
Films I haven’t seen but would like to
- 300: Rise of an Empire (unlikely to make my top list)
- Hercules (unlikely to make my top list)
- Kill the Messenger (a possibility to be on my top list if I had seen it)
- Unbroken (hearing good things about this film)
- John Wick (heard it was surprisingly good, but unlikely to make my top list)
- The Imitation Game (I have a feeling this would be on my list if I had been able to see it)
- Into the Woods (unlikely to be on my top list, but I have no doubt it’s a good film)
- Annie (probably would not have made my top list, but I expect this film to be fun)
Also, I know it’s death to writing to preface or pre-defend your position on things, but there was some discussion in the comments on my top list last year that I hope to avoid this year. 1 Yes, in some ways, it would be better to wait to make this list until I have seen all the films from the year. But I want to wrap up the year on MovieByte nice and tidy like. These are the films I’ve both seen and liked this year.
The other thing to note is that order of these films, and even the fact that I like them and rate them highly are my completely subjective opinion. Your list, and the things on it, and/or the things you think should be on my list are no doubt different than mine. I’d love to hear about it in the comments and I hope to engage with you there about it.
Alright, here we go, my favorite films of 2014 (thus far and as far as I know). These will be in reverse chronological order with my favorite and top film of the year being the list film I list.
15 — Birdman - 4 Stars (of 5)
You know that we’ve had some decent films this year when my lowest rated film on the top list is so good. As I reminisced in my review, film is ultimately about telling good stories in an enthralling and engaging way. And I think the story needs to be generally worth telling. This film was not only engaging and entertaining, but I think the story was worth telling. It explores themes such as what art is, what affect it has on people, critic culture and what that does to people and our society, and more. If you haven’t seen this film yet this year, I do recommend you do so.
14 — A Most Wanted Man - 4 Stars (of 5)
Unfortunately A Most Wanted Man is a little bit bittersweet. It served as a terrible reminder of what a remarkable actor we lost when Philip Seymour Hoffman left us. This film is, as most films Hoffman is in, a showcase of just what incredible skill the man had. You will find little action here, and even, in some ways very little drama — at least at first. And that is what makes this film such a masterpiece in my estimation. The film is almost too slowly paced — almost. But it’s not, and that’s part of what makes it good. If you’re into films for the action, don’t bother with this one. But if you like the slow burn of a good drama with insanely great performances from top-notch actors, here’s your film.
13 — Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - 4 Stars (of 5)
Confusingly named though the series may be, the last two films, which rebooted the series, are a major step up from what we got in 2001. While Rise of the Planet of the Apes in 2011 was just fine, This film far surpasses it on pretty much every level. I was initially turned off by the fact that the only primary character that would remain the same was Caesar. I did not like that all the humans would be new characters and that we would not see James Franco again. But like any good film can, this film turned me around completely. Though completely CGI, Andy Serkis’ Caesar remains one of the more compelling film characters of 2014. We’re in a new era where the combination of digital artists, and the motion capture of a seasoned and well rounded actor can produce such a significant performance. Make no mistake, I do not mean to dismiss the great work of Weta digital in the creation and execution of the character of Caesar, but Andy Serkis work here is fantastic.
This film also makes my list for being intelligent sci-fi. Intelligence is often something that is very lacking in dystopian sci-fi, but it is not lacking here.
12 — Veronica Mars - 4 Stars (of 5) »
I have to admit that I like this film in part because of what it represents. The fans wanted more Veronica Mars, they funded it, and they got it. But beside that, it was just a good film. I enjoyed the TV show, and the film took it to a whole new level. It has a 78% critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which, all things considered, isn’t that bad. It is a labor of love by the creators and it shows. Things that the filmmakers love and have a passion for always turn out better than something that is made for money or studio mandate. Though there was one plot contrivance (that had to do with Veronica’s boyfriend Piz) that annoyed me, the rest of the film almost made up for it. And, as always, I have continued to enjoy the political and societal commentary the Veronica Mars series makes, even if I don’t always agree with where I think Rob Thomas and the other creative minds of the series intend to lead us. It’s smart drama and doesn’t exist to serve the average human movie-goers need to see stuff blow up. That alone makes it refreshing.
11 — The Lego Movie - 4 Stars (of 5)
Who doesn’t like LEGO? If your childhood was anything like mine, LEGO blocks and toys were a major part of it. But that did not make it a given that this film would be any good. but if you were worried, you needn’t have been. It turns out LEGOs make for a fantastic film.
I think one of the most surprising things about the LEGO world was the fully committed nature of it. Everything in the world was made entire of LEGO blocks and toys — water, soap suds, oceans, sky, sun, sets, desert, EVERYTHING. The film fully committed to the idea of a LEGO world and stuck with it. We’ve seen some LEGO things before and it’s usually a mix between real world elements (like water, for instance), and LEGO people or animals and the occasional LEGO toy part. This was a fully involved and committed world. On top of that, they quite simply told a really good story — one that I will be happy to revisit over and over again.
10 — How To Train Your Dragon 2 - 4 Stars (of 5)
How To Train Your Dragon is such a surprisingly good film series. While this second installment may not be quite as good as the first, it comes pretty darn close. I would argue too, that though I find the first to be slightly better, the second has maybe slightly more heart, and certainly it gets more emotional. And not emotional in a bad way. This film hit me right in the feels. And while it’s the next logical chapter in the story, it does not rely on any plot elements from the first film whatsoever. Sometimes (many times) sequels do that and it’s not good. No trace of that ever made into this film.
It’s also funny that a CGI film can have such a great sense of cinematography, and place because of that cinematography. The virtual camera work is a model that all CG films should work toward in my opinion.
All in all, a great second outing for the rider and his dragon. If you haven’t seen this yet, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
9 — Edge of Tomorrow - 4 Stars (of 5)
I have rarely been disappointed with a Tom Cruise sci-fi/action/adventure film. This is no exception. In addition to featuring Tom Cruise, this film was also directed by Doug Liman. You might remember him for directing The Bourne Identity. It feels like some time since he’s given us a gift that is anywhere near the same caliber as The Bourne Identity. I’d have to think critically about it for a while before I could tell you how close this film gets to that level, but let me tell you that this film is fine work from the man. The film is fun and energetic, and it has a great story. While the ending takes a little bit of wind out of the sales, it is still quality filmmaking.
8 — Guardians of the Galaxy - 4 Stars (of 5)
There will come, I’m sure, a day when Marvel will turn out a film installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that just flat out fails. That day did not come this year. Both installments from the studio were fantastic. While ultimately I liked The Winter Soldier just a little bit better, Guardians of the Galaxy was such a wonderful film. And they did again for me what they did with the original Iron Man, and that is to introduce characters with which I was wholly unfamiliar and make me care about them and love them. They made me feel more emotions for a tree that only says three words than I felt for any character throughout the entirety of Man of Steel (you’re in a lot of trouble, D.C. universe). And of course, the talking raccoon, Rocket — oh man. What a great character. I’m excited for this franchise and excited to hear that James Gunn is onboard to make a second one. All I can say is “We are Groot!”
7 — Gone Girl - 4 Stars (of 5)
This is probably one of the most, if not the most disturbing films I have seen this year. I have to admit I was surprised that I liked it, but I really did. It takes some of the primal questions about marriage and makes them into a nightmare: “What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? I imagine cracking open her head, unspooling her brain, trying to get answers.”
I know Ben Affleck’s acting career is not often highly regarded, but let me tell you that the haters can hate, he was fantastic in this role. And Rosamund Pike was just flat out scary. As is usually the case with Fincher, the film was dark and had elements of a horror film, and there were a lot of mind games.
6 — X-Men: Days of Future Past - 4 Stars (of 5)
Bryan Singer is back at the helm of the X-Men franchise where he belongs, and boy is it good to have him back. I have great love for the first two X-Men films, but this is a strong contender for my favorite. Bryan Singer just gets what makes X-Men work. In the end, the fact that a couple of the plot details didn’t make sense, or messed with the continuity we already knew about didn’t matter. What mattered was that this fixed the course of the films and set the tone for the future. It was a good story, well told, and made me fall in love again with the X-Men franchise. And let’s face it, making X3 (X-Men: The Last Stand by director Brett Ratner) irrelevant wins many points in my book.
5 — The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 - 4 Stars (of 5)
Yes, I know it’s only half a film but I enjoyed it immensely. It is possible that the second installment in the film will bring my opinion of this first part down, but for now and for this year, this is one of the films I enjoyed the most. Though not as good as Catching Fire, this film has what it takes to make me see it again, to revisit it many times over the coming years. There is much political and social commentary inherent to the films and the source material that I love: The need for free market and trade, governmentally enforced inequality, class warfare, media, and so much more. In addition, many of the cast gave some stand out performances. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss at this time in her life after two rounds of the hunger games and going through so much was perfect. And yet again we are reminded of what a loss it was to lose Philip Seymour Hoffman.
4 — The Hundred-Foot Journey - 4 Stars (of 5)
This film is quite simply delightful. Though there are films on my list that top this film, I enjoyed this so much that as I was looking over my list of films, I considered retroactively raising my star rating. I loved the clash of cultures, the story, the journey each of the characters took, the squabbling between Helen Miren and Om Puri, the pacing, the cinematography, the beauty, the romances — there was so much here to relish and bask in. Delightful is the best word I can bring to mind.
Now we come to my three favorites this year. These are the 4.5 star films. I now some of you are going to laugh at one of them because I’ve already received a lot of flack for it. I gladly accept your ridicule and I’ll enjoy the film!
3 — The Judge - 4.5 Stars (of 5)
I really loved the story of this film. I loved Hank Palmer’s character journey, I loved crusty old Judge Palmer, and I love the resolution of the story. I also really dig the reuniting of father and son. Neither is perfect but both develop a grudging respect for each other. And despite the fact that this film revolves around a judge and a case with a jury, this is not a court-room drama — and that’s a good thing. This is, instead, a family drama, and one that resonates.
I realize I’m sort alone in my ranking of this film so highly, but I feel the film has been treated quite unfairly.
2 — Big Hero 6 - 4.5 Stars (of 5)
I was prepared to like this film, and even so I was blown away by just how well done it was. At times touching and tearful, and times joyful, and at times just plain fun, Big Hero 6 is a fantastic showcase of an animated super-hero film. The world building is fantastic — I mean, and with a name like San Fransokyo, how could it not be — the character design is amazing, and the execution of the story is nearly flawless. We saw the same things with Baymax that we see Marvel doing with characters like Groot and Rocket where we love these strange and seemingly unlovable creatures far more than we think we do. In this case, it almost catches you off guard during the climactic moments of the film as the realization comes that you are about to lose such a beloved character. While the films gets a couple of minor things wrong, it gets so much right.
As well, the film deals with some very poignant themes — even hard themes: Loss, Grief, Mercy, Forgiveness, Friendship, and Love. And all these are tied together in a way that only the merging of the story-telling style of both Disney and Marvel could accomplish. I hope to see many more films like this from both Disney and Marvel.
And here we are. Here it is. My top film from 2014 is:
1 — Captain America: The Winter Soldier - 4.5 Stars (of 5)
It’s a strange world when my top film of the year is a super-hero film, but I’m actually quite happy about this. It means we’re getting quality story-telling and adaptation from some great source material. Marvel is doing a terrfic job with their universe overall, I’d say. Where they went really, really right here is their uncanny ability to sense the mood and needs of the audience and deliver a movie tailored for that. And at the same time, though it is very pertinent to the mood of the country with the leaked documents, CIA spying and general government overreach, I believe this will be a film that will ultimately also stand the test of time and always be worth watching and have relevance.
It’s also a growing up for Captain America. The first Captain America film was my favorite Phase 1 film, and will certainly always have a special place in my heart of hearts, but this film is just slightly better. I consider it a shame that this film probably will never get the recognition it deserves for it’s masterful handling of story and character because it’s a genre film. For my part, it is the film I enjoyed the most this year and I anticipate it will have an honored place among the Marvel film line-up over the years. It did, after all, oversee the fall of the organization that made everything up to this point possible in the first place. It was a bold move that seems to have paid off well. It’s like Marvel asked themselves the question, what is the problem with most franchises, sequels, series, etc? Well, in my opinion, and apparently in Marvel’s as well, is that there is usually too many sacred cows — too many things you aren’t allowed to do or kill. And while Marvel may not have killed of Steve Rogers or anything quite that crazy, they did make us think that almost anything is on the table and the stakes are pretty doggone high when it comes right down to it. So not only did they make a most enjoyable film, but at least for the foreseeable future of these Marvel films, they have set a tone and expectation that anything is up for grabs. It will make the films that much more enjoyable, and the stakes that much more real.
That’s it. That’s my list. Those are my opinions. Do you have something to say to me? Do you disagree? Let’s have a conversation about it in the comments below.
I’d like the discussion in the comments this year to be more profitable than “meh,” and “you suck, you should have waited, that stupid film is completely overrated and you’re an idiot for liking it or putting it on your list.” ↩