2014 was an amazing year for film. I know it’s possible to say that about any year, you just have to watch enough movies. There was just something about 2014’s movies that made it extra special. Maybe it was that I wasn’t expecting too much from it; there was always a sense that 2014 was just the warm-up for 2015’s explosion of high profile blockbusters (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Maybe it was that my life in 2014 was such a roller coaster emotionally and my enjoyment of film helped me get through it. Whatever the reason is, 2014 was great for cinema.
There was a great blend of both blockbusters and independent features. There were “popcorn” movies that were straight up fun (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lego Movie) while there were others that, while bombastic in scale, also challenged you to think about great cinematic themes like family and loyalty (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, How to Train Your Dragon 2). On the independant front, Boyhood and Chef gave us different tales of families and how they deal with hardship. Films like The Imitation Game and Selma gave us powerful performances that embodied even more powerful messages about equality. Finally, there was a sense of energy and excitement seen in 2014’s films that drew in the audiences and would not let go (Birdman, Nightcrawler).
Whether crying during How to Train Your Dragon 2’s triumphant story, tensing up the entire run time of Whiplash, smiling during The Lego Movie’s pure joy or reckoning with our society’s prejudice while watching Selma, it was an emotional year for moviegoers. I can easily say that 2014 contained the most emotional movies in recent memory. This may be something that just resonates with me, but as I look over the past year I’m taken back to when I saw the film and what was going on in my life. Whether happy or sad, these films struck a chord with me and that was a huge factor in making it on to my Top 10.
If I had more spending money I would own all of these films on blu-ray. While that may not be possible right now, it is possible for me to revisit the emotional impact I had while watching these films. Although 2014 was a tougher year for me personally, I am overjoyed when I think about the experiences I had as a cinephile during the year. I said I wasn’t going to write it until I saw everything, and here I am. May I present to you my official Top 10 films of 2014.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
It’s so strange, when thinking back on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I don’t think about the big action scenes or the concept of apes shooting guns. I think about the simple story of two families dealing with a new society. One family is of humans dealing with a misunderstood “threat,” while the other family is of silent apes who are growing and trying to coexist with their human counterparts. Both sides have good and bad in them, and that’s the meat of the film and what drives it into greatness. When the action beats come, there is such an emotional core that makes you care about what’s happening on screen. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Dawn of Apes does something amazing during the big action scene in the 2nd act (where the apes take over the city). Though it would be easy for Reeves to revel in the action for action’s sake, he instead shows it through the perspective of a scared ape, and we experience his fear as the audience. Reeves and his screenwriters take a simple action scene in the middle of a “summer” movie and use it to show the horrors of war. Though it is a slower movie, just writing about Dawn of Apes makes me want to go back and live in that world and think on the themes it explores. Yes, the “summer movie” can make you think.
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
Nightcrawler is pure movie-making magic. It is a very simple film in that it has a lower budget and is just filmed on regular Los Angeles streets. With the film looking so simple, we are able to be sucked in thanks to an amazing screenplay by Gilroy. Gilroy’s screenplay would be enthralling just as a read, but Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance brings it to life and it is impossible not to be intrigued by this story. Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom is a man who learns you can make money filming accidents and selling the footage to news stations. It is so interesting to learn about this side of newscasting and the film does a great job teaching the audience this intriguing profession. As we as an audience learn about night crawling, we learn about Louis Bloom, and we like him. He is a guy who has a strong work ethic and the ability to present himself as the ideal American. He is a capitalist who is willing to work hard and excel at his work. Once we connect with this character the film takes some different turns and we are forced to deal with moral ambiguity of this “upstanding” American. Between Gyllenhaal’s performance and Gilroy’s filmmaking, Nightcrawler is one of the most interesting character studies I’ve seen and an amazingly tense film to experience.
22 Jump Street (Phil Lord and Chris Miller)
Hollywood has a sequel problem. While this problem sometimes produces gold (see: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), most of the time we are given lackluster experiences that are just meant to cash in on the success of the first film (see: the franchises of Night and the Musuem, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean). Comedy sequels usually set the bar the lowest when it comes to quality. It seems to be perfectly acceptable just to retread the same ground the first movie explored, all while repackaging the same jokes (The Hangover Part II, Dumb and Dumber To, Horrible Bosses 2). Instead of falling prey to this horrible trend, Phil Lord and Chris Miller look it straight in the face and say “bring it on.” 22 Jump Street is two things. One, it is funny. I mean, really funny. I mean, we have to pause the movie because we are laughing so much. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are perfect together and the script is comedic gold. Second, the movie is meta. When I say meta, I mean we are one step away from Tatum looking at the camera and saying “here is what we did in the first movie and how we are tweaking it for our sequel.” Though no one says that, the filmmakers love the perception of comedic sequels and take it as a challenge. The plot of 22 Jump Street is 90% recycled from the first film (substituting High School for College), and that’s what so great. 22 Jump Street manages to copy the first movie on all fronts yet remains as an amazing ORIGINAL experience because it accepts the fact that it is copying the first. While the film is so intriguing to explore as a piece of meta-storytelling, don’t let that take away from the fact that the movie is gut-bustingly funny. I can’t wait for 23 Jump Street…….and 24, and 25, and 26………..
Chef (Jon Favreau)
I love food. I love movies. It was destined for me to love Chef. Chef is a film that follows Jon Favreau as he attempts to connect with his son while also showing his passion for food and his talent for cooking. I have to say that Chef succeeds on three main levels. First, it is an inspiring story that is extremely positive. Because the film starts out at a low point, they can only go up from there. Favreau is able to rebuild his cooking career and through that he is able to make his family stronger. It was really refreshing to watch a film that was so unabashedly positive. Next, the film is a love letter (love film?) to food. Favreau captures the beauty of cooking and the beauty of an expertly crafted meal on film. Others have said it and I have to agree, don’t watch Chef unless you have food with you or food on deck, because you will be salivating the entire runtime of the movie. Lastly, Chef works on a deeper level as it is a parallel story to Favreau’s filmmaking career. For a more in depth analysis of this point, please read my review. What I’ll say here is that the film succeeds in telling the meta-journey of Favreau’s real life career through the metaphor of a chef opening his own food truck and running things on his terms.
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