I watch a lot of films every year (as any good screenwriter and film maker should do) and a friend of mine asked me about what were some of the best films I’d seen lately. That got me thinking about “what” are some of my favorite films of this year so I decided to put together a list. The following is a list of my favorite films starting at the bottom of my list with number fifteen all the way to the top. This list only includes films released theatrically in 2014 (or the list could have been longer). Enjoy.
15. GODZILLA - a highly entertaining and well executed film that has a strong opening but a weak follow through. The humor story gets lost (and is sometimes nonexistent) in the latter half of the film. The creature effects are amazing (especially in 3D and on the IMAX) but you miss the monsters every time they are off screen which is why the film doesn’t place further up on the list.
14. ROBOCOP (2014) – a remake that successfully takes (what is now considered campy) classic sci-fi & horror hybrid and makes it relevant to modern audiences while retaining the original plot but changing it enough to call itself its own. The film is anchored by great supporting turns of Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Jackie Earl Haley and Samuel L. Jackson and some great special visual FX that won’t disappoint. All this plus it takes the transformation of Alex Murphy and makes it more personal by also focusing on his family (something none of the previous trilogy did). This was a stand out sci-fi film of the year despite carrying a Rated-PG 13 status.
13. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – seven films into the franchise and I was completely surprised by how good this film actually is. It took the core characters of the First Class film and added there modern day counterparts and crafted a film worthy of being called an “X-Men” film. Bringing director Bryan Singer back into the fold was a stroke of genius as he gave us a film and story in which we still care for the characters despite being the seventh film into the franchise. It also helps that this film has the best cast of any of the other films and allows them all to give some powerful performances that resonate not just with each individual character but the franchise (and the future thereof) as a whole.
12. OCULUS – a modern day tale of the Boogeyman if trapped inside a mirror. This is a very moody and atmospheric film about siblings trying to prove that they’re not crazy but in the process may be driven crazy in the process. There is no masked man or zombie trying to get at these siblings. By trying to prove that the mirror in the film is deadly they are forced to deal with past trauma and the only way to do that is to trust each other which may become deadly. It’s a well done tense and suspenseful horror thriller.
11. EDGE OF TOMORROW – a surprisingly entertaining and well executed sci-fi film starring Tom Cruise of all people. I’m not one of those people on the “Tom Cruise Hate Wagon,” I just don’t watch his films all that often. I found this film entertaining and full of interesting ideas and the “ground hog day” theme was a brilliant stroke of cinematic magic. This is a film that’s one of the sci-fi highlights of the year.
10. SNOWPIERCER – based on the classic French graphic novel from director Joon-ho Bong (director of the Korean films The Host and Mother) making his English language début with a post-apocalyptic nihilistic action film. It takes the basic story of the graphic novel and vastly improves upon it with bigger ideas and themes and places them in a superb film that also happens to be an action film. As with his other films, Bong has bigger ideas for his audience to think about and this ended up being the perfect vehicle for them.
9. BAD WORDS – Jason Bateman’s directorial debut also happens to be extremely funny and poignant at the same time and one of the best comedies of the year. The film goes from having Bateman being one of the most hated men to someone who both learns something and teaches something to his young protégé. The film is better than expected because of the whip smart dialogue and the perfect execution from the very talented cast. My pick for best comedy of the year.
8. NOAH – there are many grand ideas in Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic that is both controversial and inspiring at the same time. In less capable hands the story of Noah and his Ark could’ve been a preachy mess or an artistic statement. Aronofsky balances the themes of the story while also presenting his own ideas in a unique and creative way that will have you thinking about what you’ve seen long after the End Credits roll. The film is also anchored by some powerful performances from Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Ray Winstone.
7. THE ROVER – hands down actor Robert Pattinson’s best performance to date because it’s so far removed from everything thing else he’s ever done. Guy Pearce also gives and equally compelling performance (which is expected) but his character’s transformation is one of the most poignant since he goes through so many changes in the film. By the time you get to the end of the film and you realize why his character is so desperate to get his car back from common thieves you will be left in tears. This is a desolate and uncompromising post apocalyptic film that great from beginning to end.
6. THE RAILWAY MAN – one name – Colin Firth. I’ll say it again COLIN “F*^king” FIRTH. He’s amazing in this film as a man who finds solace in his knowledge of trains that keeps him sheltered from a past of torture from the war. When he falls in love with Nicole Kidman’s character he also discovers that the man responsible for his torture in the war is still alive and it leads him down a dark road that he may not be able to come back from. Firth ignites the screen in this film (as he always does) and it also helps that he brings Kidman and Stellan Skarsgard along for the ride.
5. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE – my choice for best most unusual film of the year. Written & directed by Jim Jarmusch this modern day vampire “fable” is anchored by some of the best performances of any film this year from Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and the phenomenal Tilda Swinton (one of the greatest actresses alive who can do no wrong – also see her performance in Snowpiercer). This film that mixes the past with the present about a vampire on the verge of suicide (Hiddleston) and his forever lover (Swinton) trapped in a world of excess of “zombies” (as the humans are referred to) also has some remarkable comic performances from Anton Yelchin and Jeffrey Wright. Jarmusch has a talent for mixing the weird with the sublime.
4. LOCKE – another film anchored by a phenomenal performance by Tom Hardy. This is a far different role than what Hardy did in The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, This Means War, and any of his other films. It’s about a man (Hardy) who has everything until he discovers that everything is crumbling down around him and he’s just trying to do the best that he can. Hardy carries the entire film which is in a single location (a moving car) but he is given an equally magnificent screenplay by Steven Knight (who also directs).
3. MALEFICENT – the “true” story of fairy queen Maleficent could have turned out so very wrong but in the hands of Angelina Jolie it becomes one of the finest films that re-imagines a fairytale. Not only that but the screenplay by Linda Woolverton is spot on perfect as it parallel’s Maleficent’s journey of finding love, losing love, and then finding it again with that of Aurora herself making the whole film resonate with audiences. It’s hard to take what has always been a villain and make her journey seem personal and resonate and seem poignant to an audience and they achieve that with this film.
2. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER – considering that I just thought the first film was an adequate “by the numbers” film my expectations for this film were very low. What truly saves this film is the great screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (and the concept & story by Ed Brubaker). This film takes a different approach by presenting our hero as a man lost in time just trying to find his place in a world which has lost its values. It’s also a film about a man trying to discover who his real friends are and who he can really trust amidst a conspiracy of corruption and terrorism. An espionage film within a comic book superhero film that actually works and is better than expected with some terrific action sequences and CGI effects that don’t overcome the story of film (like the Thor and Iron Man films which have all been uneven at best).
1. THE RAID 2 – an action film is my choice for best film of the year (so far). The first film was good but this film (armed with a bigger budget and a wider canvas to explore) blows the previous film out of the water. It’s not just a gangster film and not just a martial arts action film. This is the film about a man trapped in a world he can’t find his way out of just trying to get back to his family without getting killed. The icing on the cake is the fact that it also contains some of the best choreographed action sequences committed to film in the last decade as well as so little (to no) CGI effects that the whole film has a freshness to it not seen in years. It’s a comfort to see a film not reliant on CGI effects which makes all the fight sequences all the more impressive. The film also excels in presenting action sequences that propel the story forward and develop character at the same time (a rarity in most action films). This is an amazing film from beginning to end that will amaze because you’ll leave the theater not believing what you just saw.
Now that you have my list of great films, the following is a list of films released this year that I have yet to see but wanted to (which is why they didn’t make the cut).
*The Signal (2014)
*Under the Skin
*The Lego Movie
*Cold in July
*Nymphomaniac Part I & II
*The Wind Rises
*The Grand Budapest Hotel
*22 Jump Street
*The Fault in Our Stars
*The Monuments Men
*Million Dollar Arm