2014 was actually a pretty great year, movie-wise. Most of the biggest box office smashes were worthwhile films – Guardians of the Galaxy and The LEGO Movie, for example. But it’s hard to track down every really great film, and this year, we’re betting you missed a lot – A LOT – of outstanding movies. But you can make up for that with this list of the films you may have missed and need to see. It’s our post-holiday gift to you! You’re welcome!
Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch’s trippy vampire classic needs to be seen, but in all likelihood, you did not. You should remedy that situation.
Get On Up
How is it possible that this wonderfully acted biopic promising wall to wall great music drew such a tiny audience? Tragic! See it tomorrow when it comes out for home entertainment viewing!
This surprising, wearily funny, gorgeously filmed and spectacularly acted gift from Ireland did not get the reception it should have.
We Are the Best! (Vi ar bast!)
Two young girls with no musical experience start a punk band. This film is an absolute joy.
Hopefully its inevitable Oscar nomination for J.K. Simmons (and very likely win!) will give this remarkable little film second life in theaters. If so, do yourself a favor and see it!
It’s a tough sell: Tom Hardy, alone in a car for 90 minutes, but man, what he can do with a show to himself!
Another underseen Tom Hardy gem! His versatility is amazing, and here he gets a great supporting assist from James Gandolfini.
Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson reminds us again of the superb talent she possesses in this hypnotic alien adventure.
Dear White People
Witty, incisive and one step ahead of you, this excellent indie comedy needs to make everyone’s home entertainment watch list.
Michael Fassbender as you have never seen him – stuck inside a giant false head. Funny, tender and woefully underseen, it’s another reason to be amazed by Fassbender.
Tanked by its own studio, the film found a market in home entertainment. If you haven’t found this ingenious piece of SciFi, do so right now!
2014 was a banner year, with great films in an enormous range of genres: blockbusters and indies, horror and SciFi, dramas and comedies, as well as films from first time filmmakers, a lot of great stuff from women directors, and an unusually high number of excellent films with one-word titles. No idea that that trend might mean. Anyway, today we walk through our 20 favorites of the past 365 days.
20. Into the Woods: Rob Marshall proves again that he’s the man you want filming a musical, using inventive techniques to bring the cross-cutting fairy tale narratives in this Sondheim musical to glorious life. Not your traditional Disney effort, Into the Woods offers a sophisticated, often dark but insightful and imaginative look at the other side of fairy tales.
19. The Lego Movie: The tone is fresh and irreverent, the voice talent spot-on, and the direction is endlessly clever. The Lego Movie was the most fun to be had at the cinema in 2014.
18. Guardians of the Galaxy: Director James Gunn nails the tone, the color, the imagery, and the sound of one Earthling dartin’ about space scavenging, smooching, and basically living the dream. The effortlessly likeable Chris Pratt leads a crew of ragtag misfits who collectively become the most enjoyable team of intergalactic scoundrels since Han Solo piloted the Falcon. This is the definition of a great summer movie.
17. Calvary: World-weary humor, brilliant writing and one stellar performance from the always remarkable Brendan Gleeson mark this underseen gem from Ireland about humanity, betrayal, forgiveness and redemption.
16. The Imitation Game: A wonderful mix of exciting historical mystery and heartfelt examination of the complicated man at the mystery’s center, The Imitation Game is a film about secrets boasting an Oscar-worthy performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.
15. American Sniper: The bio of America’s most lethal sniper is tense, heartfelt, and wise. Director Clint Eastwood hasn’t been this invested in years, and along with an astonishing lead performance from Bradley Cooper, strikes just the right tone with a story that could have easily been mined for manipulation. It isn’t, which is another reason to salute American Sniper.
14. Locke: A masterpiece in simplicity, Locke tags along on a solo car trip: just you, the great Tom Hardy, and several simultaneous crises he handles on his mobile.
13. Under the Skin: This hypnotic, low-key SciFi thriller – the latest from filmmaker-to-watch Jonathan Glazer – follows Scarlett Johansson around Glasgow in a van. Light on dialogue and void of exposition, Under the Skin demands your attention, but it delivers an enigmatic, breathtaking, utterly unique vision of an alien invasion.
12. The Babadook: A familiar tale given primal urgency, the horror fueled by compassion, the terror unsettling and genuine – this film is more than a scary movie, and it immediately ranks among the freshest and most memorable the genre has to offer.
11. Inherent Vice: Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest defies easy summarization as an inebriated PI (played by Joaquin Phoenix as you’ve never seen him) fits together pieces from several different puzzles to create an unpredictable, barely coherent but wildly enjoyable whole.
10. A Most Violent Year: This gem is a film about the merits versus moral compromise of the American dream, and a slow boil drama that keeps you on edge for its full 125 minute running time because there is absolutely no guessing what is coming next.
9. Snowpiercer: Though incompetently marketed and abysmally underseen, Snowpiercer is an immediate dystopian classic. Visionary direction from Joon-ho Bong maximizes claustrophobic tension while brazen casting victories (Oh my God, Tilda Swinton!) and another solid lead turn from Chris Evens work together to create an enthralling allegory of the makers and the takers.
8. Foxcatcher: Director Bennett Miller’s understated true crime film benefits from seriously unusual casting. Steve Carrel is revelatory as John du Pont, millionaire weirdo and wrestling enthusiast who bankrolled Olympic hopefuls (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, both award worthy), ensnaring then in his unpredictable psychosis. It’s riveting stuff.
7. Only Lovers Left Alive: The great Jim Jarmusch (Ohio boy!) updates the vampire genre with a well conceived twist on the unusual, aided by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful performances as well as his own dry humor and magnificent eye for visuals.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel: The great eccentric genius Wes Anderson inches his way closer to mainstream acceptance and Oscar with the most meticulously framed, wickedly clever dark comedy. Filled with melancholy and whimsy, full to bursting with fascinating cameos, and boasting an almost unimaginably perfect performance by Ralph Fiennes, it’s a work of genius that could spring only from the mind of Anderson.
5. Whiplash: As sure as J.K. Simmons will walk home with his first Oscar this year, Whiplash will astonish you. No film this year ratchets tension like this one, as one musician and his mentor do battle that makes the Hobbit look light hearted. Brilliantly written, expertly directed, and boasting two excellent performances (not to mention some really great music!), Whiplash is easily one of the best features of 2014.
4. Nightcrawler: No telling why it took so long to combine Network and American Psycho, but Nightcrawler is here now, so buckle down for a helluva ride. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his absolute best in a film that is as scorchingly relevant an image of modern media as it is a brilliant character study in psychosis.
3. Birdman: Meta-magical-realism at its finest, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s look at the transience and transcendence of fame will nab some Oscars this season. This is a brilliant director and a magnificent cast at their playful, creative best.
2. Selma: Ava DuVernay’s account of the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama doesn’t flinch. You can expect the kind of respectful approach common in historical biopics, but don’t let that lull you. This is not a laudable and forgettable historical art piece, and you’ll know that as you watch little girls descend a staircase within the first few minutes. Selma is a straightforward, well crafted punch to the gut.
1. Boyhood: Richard Linklater manages the impossible. By checking in on one family every year for 12 years, collecting not the major incidents but all those everyday moments, he provides an achingly, hilariously, touchingly realistic impression of an entire childhood. The cast is brilliant, and the sense of family they evoke is as authentic as anything you will ever see on film. Boyhood is a film like none other ever made, and it is imperative viewing.
The summer of 2014 crapped forth yet another Transformers movie, so it shoulders that shame. But otherwise, it hasn’t been such a crummy season, especially if you are fan of science fiction. The season began a little early, back in April, with Scarlett Johansson’s hypnotic alien abduction poem Under the Skin. But come the hot weather, Hollywood kicked into high gear with few disappointments. Here are the best of the season.
5. X Men: Days of Future Past
Matthew Vaughn’s 2011 re-envisioning of this franchise worked miracles, thanks to an inspired rewrite of history and an even better cast. It was worrisome when the next in this line fell back to Bryan Singer, whose spotty cinematic output in the last decade suggested he may not be the man for the job. But, he proved game for the challenge, bringing the best of one X Men world (Hugh Jackman, obviously) together with the best of the throwback generation (everyone, basically: Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy) for a time travel bit of wizardry, shape shifting and Seventies references. Hearing Fassbender quote James Brown is alone worth the price of admission.
4. Edge of Tomorrow
Why didn’t anyone see this gem? Aliens meets Groundhog Day may seem like a weird pitch, but good Lord is it entertaining! Tom Cruise may irritate many, but he brings it to a role that requires a complete reimagining of character by the time the credits role. Beyond that, he throws some unexpected and much appreciated humor at us while he relives the same horrendous day again and again in the hopes of finding a way to defeat an invading army of aliens. He has the help of Emily Blunt, and he – and we – should be grateful. In what amounts to the Sigourney Weaver role, Blunt flat out amazes. She has never turned in a weak performance, but who saw action hero in her future?
3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
It would have been hard to outdo 2011’s surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but director Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) does just that. Though his sequel offers less intimacy and heartbreak, it takes the story of our quickly evolving simian cousins to an epic, even Shakespearean level. Remaining ever neutral in what amounts to a political thriller, Reeves never abandons the energy and imagery of a blockbuster, combining the two approaches to create an exceptionally entertaining whole.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
Director James Gunn does Marvel fans right with one of the year’s most fun rides. Gunn nails the tone, the color, the imagery, and the sound of one Earthling dartin’ about space scavenging, smooching, and basically living the dream. The effortlessly likeable Chris Pratt leads a film, joined by ragtag misfits who collectively become the most enjoyable team of intergallactic scoundrels since Han Solo piloted the Falcon. This is the definition of a great summer movie.
An immediate dystopian classic although badly under marketed, Snowpiercer went on to become the most buzzed about film of the summer, and with good reason. Visionary direction from Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Mother) gave the film a dizzyingly claustrophobic tension, while brazen casting victories (Oh my God, Tilda Swinton) and another solid lead turn from Chris Evans work together to create an enthralling allegory of the makers and the takers.
Rejoice! Under the Skin releases this week for home consumption. This hypnotic, low-key SciFi thriller – the latest from filmmaker to watch Jonathan Glazer – follows Scarlett Johansson around Glasgow in a van. Light on dialogue and void of exposition, Under the Skin demands your attention, but it delivers an enigmatic, breathtaking, utterly unique vision of an alien invasion.
For a decidedly different take, do yourself a favor and look up Attack the Block, first time director Joe Cornish’s SciFi examination of gang violence in a London ‘hood. When something drops from the sky to interrupt a group of teens’ first mugging, the kids turn their pack mentality against the interstellar invaders. Cornish’s perceptive, funny screenplay strikes the right balance between exploring the tensions of urban decay and exploiting the thrills of an alien invasion. His efforts are bolstered by a spot-on cast effortlessly wielding the exuberance, loyalty, and dumb-assedness of youth.
Jonathan Glazer is a filmmaker worth watching. While you’d hardly call him prolific – he’s directed just three films in his 14 year career – each effort is an enigmatic gem worthy of repeated viewings. His latest, Under the Skin, offers a challenging, low key SciFi adventure that keeps you guessing and demands your attention.
Scarlett Johansson turns in her third back to back stellar indie performance as the nameless lead, a mysterious beauty looking for unattached men in Scotland.
Light on dialogue and devoid of exposition, Under the Skin requires your patience and your attention, but what it delivers is a unique and mesmerizing journey, a science fiction film quite unlike anything else out there.
It’s excellent to see Johansson finding her stride again because she’s a versatile, talented performer. While her stunning looks make it almost impossible for her to sidestep all eye candy roles, her work in Her, Don Jon and this film let her flex some artistic muscle.
That musculature is important here, as the film relies almost solely on Johansson’s performance to get its points across. Her character is a unique vehicle, providing little of the traditional foundation normally available for building an emotional evolution. Johansson excels at articulating her character’s development with barely a word.
It’s an impressive feat, not only because of the tools she has to use to deliver the performance, but because she manages to keep the character in our sympathies regardless of her actions or of Glazer’s regular reminders of her guilt. To Johansson’s great credit, we’ve already forgiven her.
Besides a stellar lead, Glazer has one or two other tricks up his sleeve. The film is refreshingly light on FX, and when he does pull that out, the impact is phenomenal, a fitting turn for the atmospheric mystery he’s building.
Early elements call to mind Kubrick’s 2001, and once the film falls into its pace it conjures last year’s brilliant Upstream Color, but Glazer’s effort is certainly its own artistic achievement. Though an almost relentless series of similar incidents, somehow he punctuates this weird monotony with a fascinating balance of perplexity and humanity, and slowly, themes, character and plot emerge.
The effort may try some viewers’ patience, but for those with the attention span for it, Under the Skin pays a remarkable artistic reward.