Here we are, these are my five favorite movies of 2014. And they probably are not your favorite movies. And you know what? That’s fine. Because this is my site, and these are my opinions, this is why we are here, so while these may not be the universally regarded best features of 2014, there are my favorites for sure, and if I was giving out all of the film awards, these are the movies that would be getting them.
Click on the highlighted movie title to access the full review.
Like a stoner “Zodiac” (thanks to Drewster Cogburn for that), “Inherent Vice” is a private eye story told through the hazy lens of drugs and 1970’s Nixon-fueled paranoia. Based on the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, Paul Thomas Anderson took this sprawling story of kidnappers, greed and confusion and turned it into a two and a half hour ode to the film noir movies of the 1940’s and the movie sensibilities of 1970’s Hollywood. Since this is P.T. Anderson, it is easy to compare this movie to Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye,” and the parallels are there for sure, but this is more like a laid back, more laconic version of “Boogie Nights,” as it involves many colorful characters and some trickery and treachery and backstabbery and a lovable if somewhat confused protagonist right in the middle of it all. Joaquin Phoenix is great as Doc Sportello, the invariably freaked out drug-addled private eye, the rest of the cast is loaded with great people doing great work, and the lyrically beautiful prose of Pynchon is used to dreamy effect in both voice over narration and in the dialogue, making this one trip of a movie.
The most surprising movie of 2014 might be “Birdman,” which is a comedy from the guy behind such knee slappers and side splitters as “Babel” and “21 Grams,” and yet, it IS quite funny, darkly humorous and also rather inventive. The entire movie is shot and edited in a way that makes it look like one long take, as if the camera never cuts away, and instead time jumps forward as we progress through the story without any obvious edits. This gives the whole movie a dream-like quality, which coupled with the main character’s failing mental health and impending nervous breakdown, makes for a surreal, weird, unique movie, one that features an awesome Michael Keaton performance, maybe one of the best of his whole career. This is a fantastic movie about egos and hubris and artistic intent and I just love it.
3. Blue Ruin
Maybe the smallest movie of 2014, and I mean that quite literally, “Blue Ruin” is an amazing thriller about revenge and never ending cycles of violence. A man who had his life destroyed by the murder of his parents finds himself with the opportunity to exact vengeance on the person who ruined his life, and he sets out to take his revenge, and this sets him down a dark and violent path that ends horribly for basically every single person involved. The reason this movie works so well is because the story telling is so simple and precise. There is no fat on this movie, the story is lean and mean and it barrels forward to the inevitably violent conclusion, and it is super tense from the jump. Another example of non-franchise, wholly original movies still being made, “Blue Ruin” is the exact kind of movie that people need to be watching. It isn’t particularly profound and doesn’t have a grand statement, and it’s theme about the futility of violence and revenge is hardly a new one, but it is made so well and without any reliance on things like movie stars or a big budget or an established fan base cultivated through a separate yet related medium that it just POPS off the screen as one of the most visceral and intense films of the year.
2. The Guest
Way too “genre-y” to be considered by many folks for a “best of 2014” list, “The Guest” is my second favorite film of the year. A delightful mixture of 1980’s John Carpenter movies with modern action movies, “The Guest” is a kick ass film about a soldier who shows up at the home of a fellow soldier’s family with the intention of helping them out like he promised his friend, which would be great if his version of helping didn’t involve so many dead bodies. Dan Stevens is electric as the titular visitor and the style of this movie just makes this whole thing hum along with so much energy, it is like it is plugged directly into a wall socket, with the juice turned up all the way. From the bad ass soundtrack of electronic heavy music to the cool scenes and eventual reveal of who this guy really is, this movie just has it all going for it. It is the kind of film I want to live inside of. I want to play it on my television all day long so I can just randomly look up and see that it is on and maybe watch a few minutes, let myself get sucked in to the ultimate coolness, the throwback elements, Lance Reddick dressed in all black, all the awesome things that makes “The Guest” one of those movies that people will be discovering for the next few years. Hell, this movie came out in October, and I am still getting messages from people agreeing with me that it is awesome all of these months later. Love it.
No other movie made me feel more exhilarated when it was over than “Whiplash,” a little itty bitty movie about a drummer (Miles Teller) who starts attending a music conservatory and finds himself under the tutelage of the most respected and most feared teacher (J.K. Simmons) at the academy. Their relationship isn’t so much that of student-teacher or even friends but instead a contentious one, as the teacher pushes his students farther than he expects them to go, and his students let it happen because they both have the same desire at the end of the day, which is to make the student that best at what he or she is doing. And boy does this cause some fireworks. The student gets pushed to the brink. The teacher does things that seems almost illegal. And the music is super jazzy and swingin’. Shit, Simmons played a neo Nazi on HBO’s “Oz” and THIS is still his most frightening performance. Without going into details, let’s just say that the final ten minutes or so of this movie is the most tense, danger filled, white knuckled experience I had in theaters this year, and acts as a testament to the strength of this incredible film. Sharply directed, superbly acted, “Whiplash” is downright GREAT, truly a movie that should be seen and appreciated for the next few decades at the least. So good it hurts.