I wanted to wait to post this until I had seen all the best picture nominees and critically acclaimed films of 2014, but since it’s already March and the Oscars are over, I figure I shouldn’t wait any longer. So the following is a list of my favorite movies from 2014, not including, of course, the ones I haven’t seen (Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, Nightcrawler, Still Alice, Foxcatcher, Maps to the Stars, Mr. Turner, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods). My top films are in no particular order.
I loved this movie so much I didn’t want it to end. I suppose that’s the mark of any good movie. Even though Boyhood is two hours and 45 minutes long, I got lost in the story. Writer/director Richard Linklater filmed it over 12 years, which is an amazing feat that should be applauded. I wanted it to win the best picture Oscar, but alas, the Academy did not agree. Boyhood is a character-driven story about the ups and downs of life and growing up. It’s beautiful.
I’ll try not to gush too much about French-Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan and instead focus on the 25-year-old’s fifth feature film (you read that right). Mommy doesn’t follow your typical three-act structure, but it works magnificently as a beautiful character-driven film. It tells the story of a mother raising her violent teenage son by herself and a mysterious neighbor that helps them out. The performances are outstanding and no doubt the film’s greatest strength.
I read the autobiography of Louis Zamperini–written by Laura Hillenbrand–a couple of years ago. The book is amazing, and I highly recommend it. Zamperini was an Olympic runner and a World War II veteran. During the war, his plane went down over the Pacific, and he and one other survivor floated on a raft for over 40 days before being captured by the Japanese. They spent the next two years in a POW camp until the war ended. Angelina Jolie directed the film adaptation, and she did an amazing job. The fact that she wasn’t nominated for a best director Oscar or that the film didn’t get a best picture nod is an outrage. Unbroken tells a stunning and inspiring story about survival against all odds. And, no matter what happens in your life, if you keep moving forward, nothing can break you.
I read Gillian Flynn’s novel before I saw the movie. The book and film are both amazing, and I think the movie is a very faithful adaptation. Flynn wrote the screenplay, which probably helped. One thing that stuck out to me was how amazing the casting was for every role. Director David Fincher no doubt contributed to the amazing performances, not to mention that his actors are all very good. But the casting team definitely knew what they were doing here. Also, I really really really wanted Rosamund Pike to win the best actress Oscar.
Writer/director Gillian Robespierre’s film is simple yet profound. It tells the story of a woman in her twenties (played wonderfully by Jenny Slate) who gets pregnant and, unprepared for motherhood, decides to have an abortion. Unlike a lot of comedy/dramas, Obvious Child works that genre slash very well, with many lighthearted comedic moments mixed in with more serious conversations and feelings that a woman faces when considering abortion. It doesn’t try to make abortion funny, but it also doesn’t send the message that getting an abortion will ruin your life.
The Imitation Game
This film tells the story of Alan Turing, who helped to break the Nazi code known as “enigma” with his invention, a machine which eventually became the modern computer. Unfortunately, Turing was persecuted after the war for being gay and ultimately committed suicide. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing very very convincingly. The film is moving and inspiring, despite the sad way Turing’s life ended. I loved the musical score, and Keira Knightly’s performance is amazing. At the end, there were title cards with facts about World War II and Turing’s life, and the one that struck me the most was this: historians estimate that breaking enigma shortened the war by two years.
Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Wild is a lovely film about a woman working through grief. Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern deliver great performances under the direction of Jean-Marc Vallee. The movie uses the protagonist’s long bouts of time alone effectively, incorporating voiceovers and flashbacks quite well. Ultimately, it’s a very pleasurable viewing experience.
If you’ve heard about this movie, chances are it’s because of Jennifer Aniston’s powerful dramatic performance. And if you know anything about me or what I tend to write about, you’ll understand why I love this film. Cake tells the story of a woman suffering from chronic pain who becomes obsessed with the suicide of a woman from her support group. It’s a compelling film with a stellar cast.
Birdman (or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
This film has a large and well-known cast that delivers. The score features mostly drums, which is a nice touch that fits in perfectly with the film’s tone. My main criticism is that toward the end, it seemed as though the filmmakers had no idea what they were saying. The script could definitely be stronger. But I greatly enjoyed this film, its subject matter, its characters, and its cinematography. I don’t know if it should have won the best picture Oscar, but I will say that it didn’t not deserve it.
Two Days, One Night
This is a French film starring Marion Cotillard. It starts slow, but once the story gets going it pulls you in close. The story is simple: a woman recovering from depression wants to go back to work, but her co-workers are going to vote on whether she gets to keep her job. If she doesn’t keep her job, the other workers will receive bonuses (or so they’ve been promised by the boss). The movie starts on Friday, and over the course of the weekend, Cotillard’s character goes and talks to all of her co-workers in person to try and persuade them to vote for her to keep her job. Some co-workers want to keep her on, while others really need that bonus money. The compelling part of this film is that I was cheering for the protagonist but at the same time I could understand where the people who needed the bonus were coming from. This makes for a really strong script and a great movie made with few resources.