Chief Film Critic Chase Whale's Favorite Films of the Year.
End-of-the-year Top 10 lists are always a tricky proposition. Out of hundreds of movies, I only get 10 spots to list what I think are the most bodacious of the year? Man, that's tough.
Weirdly, I used to really thrive off of this process. I reveled in my attempts to narrow my list down.
But, these days, slicing off so many great ones just seems mad — and for a few reasons. Chief among them, though, is this: Over the course of my film-adoring life, tons of films have moved me in different ways and at different times. This year, the same is true, and it definitely applies to a lot more than 10 films.
Some movies punched me right in the heart in 2014. Others left me injured from laughing so hard. And, of course, some were just so weird that I wouldn't recommend them to anyone — even if I did have a blast watching them.
As for the films that I'm comfortable listing as among my favorites from this past year, they all made me feel something special. Maybe that will change years down the road from now when I give them future viewings. Maybe it won't. I can't say for sure.
You may feel that there are better-made films from 2014 than some (or all) of the ones included on my list, and I won't make any bones about it: There certainly are. All I can say for sure is that these are the films from this year that I caught and that really rocked my world.
So, that all said, my list is below — listed alphabetically, and not ranked in any particular order. Enjoy.
22 Jump Street.
Brought to you by the same geniuses who made The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street is a brilliantly self-aware sequel in that it knows that you know that it knows what it is. It was a risky gambit, but it works. The perpetual winks at the audience get funnier as they go.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a strange, beautiful and loony story about passion and pain. But it's also a crazy cool celebration of filmmaking, movie magic and all of the glorious reasons why we love watching motion pictures. Michael Keaton is at the top of his form here, too. A lot of actors like to play things safe, but Keaton plays the King of Crazy Shit in Birdman and fires an arsenal of emotions in all directions. It’s the most courageous performance of his career and, in turn, he's now the man to beat at the Oscar race for Best Actor.
Blue Ruin. (Review.)
Blue Ruin is the best true independent film of the year. It’s also of the best shoot-'em-up-until-they-are-all-dead-dead-dead revenge quests ever. Star Macon Blair puts on his crazy face throughout, completely embodying antihero Dwight and bringing him to life with subtle, but fierce, intensity. I've jawed about this movie more than any this year. But only because it's that good.
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a film designed to captivate. And it does. Surely, it's the most ambitious film of his career. It's also his most career-defining. The word “masterpiece” is so watered down in film criticism, but it would be foolish not to apply it here.
Cheap Thrills answers a question we've all thought about: “How far would I go for some easy money?” It's nasty, deranged and one hell of a good time.
Chef took me by surprise. It's a small movie made by Jon Favreau (Iron Man) but a really passionate one that endearingly captures how much heart, soul and romance goes into cooking.
Edge of Tomorrow (Review.)
Also known as Live. Dive. Repeat., this one's basically the perfect Cruise vehicle. And thank goodness for that: It's the first film in recent memory where he plays a serious part while still having some balls-to-the-wall fun at the same time. With this role, he's finally loosened up his “Why so serious?” attitude. And, coupled with the film's impressive visuals, high-flying stunts and a powerful performance from Emily Blunt as a woman struggling with her humanity at the forefront of battle, it just plain works. From start to finish.
Most people don’t understand Enemy. I don’t understand Enemy. But the real grab of this movie is its two superb performances from Jake Gyllenhaal. Dude killed this year.
Steve Carell gives the performance of his career in this heartbreaking true story. It's a performance that's so authentic, you won't believe it's coming from the same guy who once played complete goofball Michael Scott on The Office. What you will believe is that this performance is impressive enough to get the guy an Academy Award nomination, if not the Oscar itself.
The Grand Budapest Hotel. (Review.) â€¨Wes Anderson creates his second masterpiece (the first being The Royal Tenenbaums, for the curious) with an anything-can-and-will-happen story built on top of colorful and gorgeous set pieces. Combined with the terrific ensemble of vibrant characters, the charm cranks to a new level of appreciation here. Even if you’re not an Anderson fan(atic), The Grand Budapest Hotel is worth the price of the journey.
Guardians of the Galaxy (Review.)
Guardians of the Galaxy was this summer's true hero, no doubt about it. The tenth film from Marvel Studios — and clearly one of its best, not to mention the most punk rock — Guardians isn't really the kind of superhero movie you're used to seeing. It has all the action and flashy sequences it needs to entertain and wow you, sure. Of course it does; the genre requires it. But it also arguably has more attitude than any superhero movie that's come before it. This is a film well worth admiring.
Quiet, gorgeously shot on black and white and presented in 1.37 ratio to give it a complete feel of the time when the film took place, Ida is a revelation of discovery, growth, taking it all in and accepting it. It's absolutely mesmerizing.
Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice doesn't release in Dallas until January 9, but trust me when I say that it's just as wacky and wild as the convoluted Thomas Pynchon novel it's based upon. Two words for PTA: Right. On.
Oh, David Gordon Green. How I'd missed him. After starting out with a promising career, he directed an assembly line of awful studio comedies. Fortunately, he returned to form last year when he shot an under-the-radar film called Prince Avalanche that earned him praise from critics all around the world (including me). Now, he’s back with another special indie that's aptly titled Joe and stars a menacingly bearded Nicholas Cage. Hold your Cage jokes: His performance here is what we in the industry call “a marvel to watch.”
Two hours of Tom Hardy in a car, talking on a speakerphone. Sound slow? Actually, it's quite a wild ride.
Lego Movie, The.
This year’s animation movie with a brain and a big beating heart was also one of the funniest films of the year, too. I will riot of this doesn't win Best Animated Film at the Academy Awards.
Life Itself. (Review.)
A profoundly moving story about one of cinema's greatest superheroes, Roger Ebert.
Over the years, various roles have demanded that Jake Gyllenhaal really lose himself on screen. Donnie Darko, The Good Girl and Enemy, the criminally under-seen mind-fuck from earlier this year, all showcase this skill set rather well. But Nightcrawler might just feature the craziest, creepiest and coolest sonofabitch that Gyllenhaal has yet played on screen. Not since Anthony Perkins played Norman Bates has an actor delivered a sociopath so straight-faced and frightening. More impressive? Gyllenhaal makes it look so easy, so calm — and, yes, so good.
â€¨Obvious Child is the feel-good abortion movie of the year. It's a comedy, that's for sure. But it tackles a very sensitive subject while making the audience laugh and feeling good about subject matter they're laughing at. I know it's hard to, but believe me: Obvious Child is one of the sweetest films I've seen in a very long time, and I will buy you a baby if you don't like it. Also, Jenny Slate is going places. She's a natural.
Only Lovers Left Alive.
â€¨Perhaps the sexiest vampire movie of all-time, Jim Jarmusch created a hip take on the well-tread lore and pulls some fine work out of the delicious Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. Sexy and smart.
Raid 2, The.
Writer, director and editor Gareth Evans has proven to be the greatest action director currently working. The Raid 2 is the best bone-shattering example. Over two hours of chaos, blood and multiple fast kicks to the head, this movie will drop your jaw to the floor. That, or you're watching it wrong.
Unfortunately, Snowpiercer was tragically overlooked this year. But if these year-end lists are good for anything, it's to let readers know to seek out gems like this one. Snowpiercer is a beautiful, haunting and bizarre post-apocalyptic magnum opus that needs to be seen by as many folks as possible. This is how you make a film.
Jack O'Connell has put out two feverish, fearless performances this year. One, you'll see on Christmas Day in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. This is the other one. It's a grueling movie about life behind bars, O’Connell is absolutely fierce as a young misfit trying to change but unable to catch a break. Starred Up also costars Ben Mendohlson, who gave an incredibly nerve-jangling performance in David Michôd's excellent crime thriller, Animal Kingdom.
Two Days, One Night.
Marion Cotillard pumped out two remarkable performances this year. First in The Immigrant, and then here, where she plays a depressed factory worker facing humiliation to save her job. This movie broke me. There's just one person who deserves the Academy Award for Best Actress this year. It's Cotillard. She leaves everyone else far, far behind.
A raw and uncompromising David-versus-Goliath story, Whiplash is the film that will make Miles Teller an all-out movie star. It's just a treat to watch J.K. Simmons and Teller go at it here. It's an emotionally draining and spiritually challenging watch, for sure. But, in the end, it's one that's well worth every beating.
A profound meditation on loss, regret, acceptance, rediscovery, Reese Witherspoon loses her southern belle charm here and portrays her subject with madness, vulnerability and sincere honesty. It's the most courageous performance of her career.
Wild Tales is one of the most insane movies I've seen this year. It's five separate stories that begin and end in pure madness. Unfortunately, this one won't release in Dallas until March, so the previous two sentences will have to hold you over until then.
52 Tuesdays gets a Special Mention because I saw it at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and it still hasn't gotten distribution in the States, which is a shame. The story behind the film is similar to a movie you've already seen and loved this year — Boyhood — and yet it's wholly unique, too. Shot on every Tuesday for a year (hence the title), 52 Tuesdays is a powerful story about family and sticking together through the strange and hard times.
Imperial Dreams (Review.)
I also saw Imperial Dreams at Sundance, and it gets a Special Mention because it also doesn't have distribution in the States yet. I have a gut feeling, though, that it will very soon. And it deserves that much. Imperial Dreams remixes the gangster rites of passage — you can take the gangster out of the hood, but can you take the hood out of the gangster? — and star John Boyega, who first wowed audiences with his dynamite performance in Attack the Block, is a cinch to go on to do big, big things. (One of those things: A film called The Force Awakens. Heard of it?)