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By Michelle Donnelly · January 7, 2015
The films of 2014 consisted of a smattering of mostly disappointing summer blockbusters, lots of sequels and a dash of creative offerings at years end. More indie centric, the result was the lowest box office totals since 1995. Award nominations have been disjointed and it appears that just about anything might go for the Oscars. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who had trouble defining the top films of 2014…
Qualifiers: not included in this list are foreign language films, documentaries or Selma, which is not yet out in wide release and which may very well knock one of these films out of its spot.
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Michelle’s next list: The Top 10 Screenplays of 2014
10. Obvious Child
If art is meant to be controversial then kudos to writer/director Gillian Robespierre, who dared to venture into taboo territory with her movie Obvious Child. The film about a comedienne who struggles through a breakup, has a one-night stand, gets pregnant and then decides to have an abortion is at times funny, at times uncomfortable, but emotionally raw and most importantly genuine. It’s an honest look at the life of a young woman struggling to create her path while she traverses the troubles of life. Jenny Slate shines as comedienne Donna Stern and an enviable supporting cast including Gaby Hoffman, Richard Kind, David Cross and Polly Draper brings this film to life.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
Pulling in over $330 million dollars domestically to date, Guardians of the Galaxy was the top box officer earner this year. Simply put, Marvel Studio’s latest film is fun. While not a cinematic masterpiece, Guardians balances the right amount of levity and sincerity; it’s a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and evokes the original irreverent spirit of Star Wars. The special effects are functional, but not so smooth that they are off-putting and perfectly reflect the misfits we see on screen. Chris Pratt provides the right dose of humor and charm; Lee Pace is sufficiently evil and there are enough charming sidekicks to keep us entertained. Add in a killer soundtrack…what more could you want in a movie?
4. The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game is not your typical World War II movie as its filmmakers have produced an intriguing movie about the war that also manages to convey a message about the early struggles of homosexuality. Director Morten Tyldum produces a suspenseful movie balanced with just the right amount of story and character so that it’s engrossing and emotionally riveting on every level. Based on the life of mathematician Alan Turing, it’s clear that Turing is a man not easily defined, regardless of whether he was or was not afflicted with Asperger syndrome. Benedict Cumberbatch exceeds in his portrayal as a figure that is confident yet vulnerable, uncomfortable and raw. Unfortunate for The Imitation Game is that it’s just one of the pictures this season caught in a controversy over historical accuracy. But isn’t it clear by now that Hollywood takes artistic liberties? And when did movies become a substitute for academia? Even documentaries can be biased. My suggestion, let’s leave the scholarly discord to the academic professionals and enjoy movies for what they are: entertainment.
Boyhood may very well prove to be Richard Linklater’s seminal achievement. Shot over 12 years, it tells the story of a boy navigating childhood in the midst of his parents divorce, then through their struggles with parenthood and lastly in light of his own challenges around adolescence. Linklater is a master of conveying ideas about life through real stories that connect with just about any audience. Boyhood is no different. Its visual perfection is daunting and requires little suspension of belief that we are a witness to each character’s journey. Instead of stretching to recreate a certain period, Linklater has produced a movie that is an authentic time capsule, which he intricately weaves within the story. Most important, the story doesn’t overpower, but rather compliments the uniqueness of his accomplishment.
Everyone likes a good comeback story. Birdman offers us two equally riveting comeback stories: Riggan Thomas as a washed up superhero whose alter ego strives to be relevant again and Michael Keaton as the washed up superhero, Riggan Thomas, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Thanks to Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematic nature of Birdman is remarkable. As the camera floats backstage and front, the audience is given a heartfelt and natural look at theater production…so much so, that we feel a part of the story. With stellar performances from the supporting cast (Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan), Birdman is as quirky as it is loveable.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a reminder that it’s Wes Anderson’s world and we just live in it. Fantastically eccentric, Anderson transports us to his vivid and lively world. It’s a world that is just beyond familiar, with characters that make it unique and refreshing; these are not real people, but they represent the deepest part of our imagination. Its production is something akin to animation, its artistic function a vehicle that enables Anderson to fully tell his story. Ralph Fiennes gives a captivating performance as M. Gustave, the Grand Budapest’s extraordinary concierge. The staples within Anderson’s repertoire of actors are present (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody) and provide superb comic relief. Nominated for four Golden Globes including Best Director, Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) and Best Screenplay, Anderson may well soon have more statutes to add to his already impressive collection.