A comprehensive power ranking of all the movies I saw that came out in 2014.
When I was getting ready to rank all the films I watched this year, I checked my IMDb history to see exactly how many I was dealing with it. To my surprise, I counted 32 of them. 32! And the crazy thing is that I missed a ton of really great movies like Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Imitation Game, and even The Babadook.
Funny how that worked out.
Instead of ranking every movie, I’ll rank my top ten and I also have some honorable mention movies as well. Before we get started, I should mention that the dates are a little wonky for some of the movies I saw.
Locke, for example, was released in January 2014, but was playing in film festivals in 2013… so I guess it’s a 2013 film? Even though it’s still being nominated for awards? Whatever. Fuck it. For efficiency’s sake, I will trust IMDb’s judgment and only list movies that they say came out in 2014.
Let’s get started (a movie title that is also a link indicates I wrote a review for it and therefore linked it).
The bottom five was tougher than the top five. Also, Top Five is not in the Pantheon.
If you’re looking for a prime example of something that is somehow both great and borderline despicable at the same time, Nightcrawler is the cool Los Angeles light glowing at the end of the tunnel.
The highs were worthy of the Pantheon: Jake Gyllenhaal once again embracing his inner crazy, the phenomenal cinematography that was reminiscent of Collateral and Drive, and an intriguing premise.
On the other hand, the lows almost disqualified Nightcrawler from induction: none of the characters were likeable (which isn’t a requirement for a good movie, but still), the soundtrack was overly intrusive, and I personally did not enjoy the ending.
Really, I think this is a movie that gets its weaknesses exposed through the utter power of its strengths. Also, the things I didn’t like don’t necessarily make it a bad movie. I just don’t know if I ever want to see it again because of how slimy it was.
9. Force Majeure
What would you do if your family was suddenly facing imminent danger? Would you protect your family at all costs? Or, would you run? In the end, nobody can know for sure until they experience that moment.
Force Majeure, a Swedish film, explores the aftermath of such a scenario for one family on vacation. A controlled avalanche briefly looks like it’s out of control, prompting a dad of two kids to panic and flee the scene – after finding time to grab his phone and gloves.
To make matters worse, the mom stays behind and shields their son and daughter, only to find that the danger was just an illusion.
It’s a beautiful film, with the family’s dynamics completely shattered after the traumatic experience. A more elementary approach might just focus on dad dropping the ball, but Force Majeure is adept at also taking a look at the mom and her troubling realization that her own survival is apparently now secondary to the survival of her kids.
The film is also subtle, with a lot of the communication done through nonverbal methods (you know, body language). Aesthetically, that subtlety comes through from the location of the movie (rustic yet modern ski lodge) as well as the numerous tracking shots of the slopes and skiers lethargically doing figure eights in the snow.
Surprisingly, there was a fair amount of humor, with some of the sadder scenes being balanced enough to refrain from becoming too melodramatic.
It’s a great flick; maybe it will win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
8. John Wick
Even though I don’t exactly have a bountiful basket of prestigious films to pick from, this is bound to strike some of you as an unexpected landing place for Keanu Reeves and his gunplay. But John Wick was an absolute thrill to experience.
The movie knew exactly what it was, never strayed from that, and hit the mark on so many levels. Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki were great in their supporting roles, with Palicki continuing to show she can, at the very least, pretend to be an absolute badass in movies.
I haven’t seen The Raid 2, but I assume that and John Wick are the best action films of the year (that don’t involve superheroes). And if both Raid movies are considered to be the definitive hand-to-hand combat flicks, then John Wick has to considered a definitive example of… gun-to-everything combat.
Hurry up and watch it before Keanu Reeves comes out of nowhere and punches you in the throat – with a bullet.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
Speaking of superheroes, say hello to one of quirkiest groups in the galaxy. And they guard it too! During a time when gritty movies are threatening to overrun our lives, it was more than just refreshing to finally see a blockbuster movie go the other way and say, “Groot.”
Chris Pratt is a national treasure and that soundtrack was just phenomenal. Literally 100% of moviegoers were surprised by the opening credits for Guardians of the Galaxy.
Go ahead and dance, Chris Pratt. You earned it.
6. The LEGO Movie
One of the great accomplishments that The LEGO Movie achieved was successfully converting toys into a quality film. It’s something Transformers, G.I. Joe, and freaking Battleship can’t admit. The voice acting was fantastic, led by people like Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell, and Liam Neeson.
The visual effects were also noteworthy, making the LEGO pieces look like they were stop-motion, when they were actually completely computer animated.
If there’s an underrated aspect of The LEGO Movie, it’s the emotional appeal. Although I didn’t cry at the end, it was definitely one of those endings that’s so awesome and happy (with one of those moments where the bad guy goes to the good side), you can’t help but get blurry vision for a second.
By the way, it’s not a coincidence that The Grand Budapest Hotel is next.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson was at his peak in The Grand Budapest Hotel, with another quailty ensemble cast showing off their collective acting prowess. Ralph Fiennes, in particular, was amusing, active, and witty as Monsieur Gustave H., the hotel’s concierge.
Smaller players like the menacing Willem Dafoe and the legendary Jeff, uh, Goldbum were also highlights in my opinion.
Anderson’s films are always fun to watch because of their unique production design and general style. The Grand Budapest Hotel was no exception, although this was a much more mature project than his usual fare. Instead of bemoaning the transition from childhood to adulthood, or lamenting the inevitable aging process, Anderson addressed all that through murderous conspiracies and blitzkriegs.
Some people are worried where he’ll go next because the movie was so good. Has he peaked? Is there a higher level he can reach with his trademark moviemaking?
Me? I’m not worried.
4. Edge of Tomorrow
If you’ve seen Edge of Tomorrow, this should not surprise you. It’s one of the better action movies of the past decade thanks to its strong cast (Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt), humor, visuals, and adept handling of time travel.
An appropriate analogy would be Groundhog Day + any Tom Cruise action movie = Edge of Tomorrow.
I’m not sure what was more unexpected: how funny this movie was, or Tom Cruise fully embracing a role in which his character actually starts off as a total coward and ends up saving the world, of course, as an absolute whirl of an almost literal killing machine (battle suits for the win).
Even better, Cruise eventually gets to be the smartass he is, as he has to relive the same day over and over again after each time he dies. He reveals information he shouldn’t know (classic!) and generally confuses the hell out of everybody.
But just like Bill Murray, he gets tired of the shit. The only difference is that Cruise has to save the world. Bill just has to not be a prick.
Also, Emily Blunt was a badass in this flick. I hear she trained in Krav Maga for this role. Whoa! She also had one of the best lines of 2014, when she realizes Cruise can repeat the same day over and over (which she had the ability to do, until she lost it… just watch the fucking movie), when she says, “Find me when you wake up.”
Who would have thought one of the most thrilling movies of the year would be about a music kid and his teacher? Of course, that’s a massive understatement, with the “music kid” (Miles Teller) being completely and obsessively dedicated to perfecting his craft as a jazz drummer, while the “teacher” (J.K. Simmons) is a psychopath that genuinely believes his abusive behavior brings out the best in his slaves – I mean students.
Real blood was shed in this film from Miles Teller, and there’s a particularly powerful moment when he submerges his bloody hand in a pitcher full of ice water.
I like to think it’s a nod to how the audience is feeling throughout the whole movie: hot, maybe agitated, symbolically bloodied, and looking for something cool to calm us down. It’s that kind of flick. There’s barely any actual action, in the John Wick-esque sense, but you better believe Whiplash is the title for a reason.
If J.K. Simmons doesn’t win an Oscar, I’m gonna throw a chair at a muthafucka.
I’ve though about Interstellar more than any other film this year. It’s similar to what happened after I saw The Tree of Life and The Thin Red Line, both directed by Terrence Malick. All three films (Interstellar was directed by Christopher Nolan) are vast, exploring large themes within the context of specific scenarios.
But you’ve probably heard a lot about Interstellar already. Just know if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s time. Not just for the spectacular visual effects (Hoyte Van Hoytema), the amazing score (Hans Zimmer), or just the damn scope of the thing, but because it will make you feel.
The emotional appeal in this film was absolutely phenomenal, and I know for a fact that lots of people were bawling through the movie.
It’s not #1 on my list right now, thanks to some shitty dialogue (Anne Hathaway tried…), but I feel like people will look back in twenty years and remember Interstellar more than any other film from 2014.
I would argue Interstellar took more computer wizardry to create, but Birdman was more daunting because of its format as basically an entire movie that is one long take. While some parts were clearly manipulated to only appear as a continuation of the same shot, it was just as clear that the actors and actresses involved, as well as everybody else on the crew, had to go through some unusually arduous times to get this movie right.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu will probably win the Oscar for Best Director. His work for this film was remarkable, continuing his climb in the directorial power rankings. Ditto for Emmanuel Lubezki, whose cinematographic and photographic work in Birdman will also most likely be rewarded with copious amounts of trophies and trinkets.
I hope Michael Keaton wins an Oscar for Best Actor. His return to the spotlight was welcoming for me, who has forgotten those Batman movies and only caught glimpses of his brilliance in supporting roles in movies like The Other Guys.
Everything about Birdman was awesome, although the ending was a little polarizing (if taken on a superficial level). Emma Stone was also a little grating, but not as bad as Anne Hathaway’s monologue in Interstellar.
Right now, Birdman is #1 for its overall strength from top to bottom. Yet, I can’t help but feel that maybe Interstellar was better on some kind of transcendent level. Ugh.
Movies that fell right in the middle. I limited this category to five movies; some movies in the final category are definitely good candidates for placement here.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
If home is where the heart is, then Captain America’s heart is 100% in the US of A. Too bad it gets broken when rogue SHIELD operatives and some other bastards screw him over in The Winter Soldier. It was a great superhero movie that focused on real world problems, like the shadowy nature of the government and general black ops shenanigans.
Welcome to the 21st century, Cap.
This was an excellent movie… for the first half or so. The premise itself is intriguing: an aspiring musician (Domhnall Gleeson) winds up joining an eccentric band led by a mysterious musical “genius” (Michael Fassbender) who constantly wears a gigantic mask over his head. Cool, right?
Well, the last third was such a downer (including the mask coming off), that Frank fell right out of my Pantheon. It’s worth checking out though, just because the first half is so amusing.
Although the story was fine, the real highlight of The Drop was the excellent acting. Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini (last film appearance before his death) led the way, with solid performances by Noomi Rapace and Matthias Schoenaerts.
Hardy is secretly one of the best actors out there, with a resume that includes Bronson, Inception, Warrior, and Locke. He was also Bane, and I thought he was fine, but that voice was really something else.
It’s funny though, because Hardy actually has a really great voice in real life – one of those voices qualified for radio and TV work. Regardless of what accent he’s talking in (Brooklyn in this case), his films are worth watching just for the work his voice puts in.
The Skeleton Twins
It’s one of those indie films that explores some deep issues but somehow makes you feel all hopeful and bubbly at the same time (that soundtrack though!). I really enjoyed it, although the movie did seem a little circular at times with its conflict-solution-conflict-solution cycle.
The chemistry between Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, who portray siblings facing serious angst after coincidentally attempting suicide at the same time, was amazing and got some hilarious moments/montages going. I guess that SNL experience counts for something. Luke Wilson was great too as Wiig’s likeable and loving husband.
Um, by the way, I love you Kristen Wiig.
Real talk: I saw the trailer for Top Five and immediately thought it was destined to be yet another average comedy that mostly misses the mark.
How wrong I was.
I ended up seeing it thanks to my buddy Kevin’s insistence, and found myself watching an intelligent and thoughtful comedy. Chris Rock, as star, director, and writer of Top Five, was very funny when necessary, but mostly relegated the task of being funny to his great supporting cast.
Everybody showed up, from JB Smoove to Jerry freaking Seinfeld. The supporting cast, overall, probably had the best scenes. Even that annoying Tracy Morgan who ALWAYS SHOUTS EVERYTHING HE HAS TO SAY!!!!!!
NO LIST FOR YOU! WAIT A SECOND…
These movies might have been entertaining (or not), but ultimately didn’t make the cut.
22 Jump Street
300: Rise of an Empire
A Million Ways to Die in the West
As Above, So Below
Godzilla (this review was my little blog’s debut piece)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Admiral: Roaring Currents
The Expendables 3
Transformers: Age of Extinction
X-Men: Days of Future Past