From Rocket Raccoon to Amazing Amy, our runners-up for 2014’s best movies

12.12.14 3 years ago

It was not my intention to confuse anyone.

When I published my Top Ten of 2014 yesterday, that was timed around a larger slate of other Top Ten stuff being published here, and it was timed around the delivery from the video team, and when it ran, I realized that it was going to be very odd to skip from #21, published in this piece, to the top ten, but it was also unavoidable.

The truth is that, as with most years, I would have been just as happy with these ten movies as my picks for best of the year, and I am just as fond of everything on this list as I am of the films that made the top ten. Because, seriously, you don't really just have ten movies that sum up a year. For me, there are so many films that will be a huge part of 2014 for me that deserve to be discussed. That's why I counted down my top 50. And even doing that, there are films I didn't mention that I certainly enjoyed and would happily see again.

When I hear people call any year a “bad year” for film, I consider that a failing on their part. There is a world of film out there that you have to dig through if you want to really enjoy everything there is, and I think there are more ways than ever to see these films.

So here we go. Let's do the runners-up, then one last final assembled list.

11. “Guardians Of The Galaxy”

Hands down, no question, my favorite screening of the year was the night I saw this for the first time. It was the first press screening, and I attended with my best friend and with my sons, and it was just plain perfect. You've had those days. The whole day was a great one. Start to finish, it felt like everything went right. And then, to top it all off, we sit down to what I am hoping will be a solid, funny Marvel movie, and what we get is one of those pop culture moments that no one can predict or plan or manufacture. The audience walked in knowing next to nothing, and walked out in love with five new characters and a world. That is not a small thing to accomplish, and James Gunn feels like he managed to make a movie that is completely true to the voice he's been establishing from film to film, but that works perfectly as a piece of the larger Marvel puzzle as well. In a world where franchises are the main form of filmmaker employment, being able to make something personal and strange and heartfelt within that system is a skill that should be celebrated.

12. “A Most Violent Year”

J.C. Chandor's latest is set in the unlikely world of the heating oil industry of early '80s New York, but what really makes this fascinating is what it has to say about any pursuit of power. I could easily see the characters played by Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain being a political family, making their moves on the Presidency, and I could even see them getting there. But there would be bodies along the way, and it's the battle between the desire to succeed and the will to do anything to get there that interests Chandor. Isaac is perfect casting as a guy who believes he can reach the top but who may be fooling himself, and Chastain's quiet strength is the reason to buy a ticket here. Absorbing, incredibly well-crafted, and beautifully acted.

13. “The Babadook”

Jennifer Kent's bruised little horror film may be the most intense film about postpartum depression ever made, and one of the reasons it resonates so hard with audiences is because it never lets them off the hook. When you're watching most monster movies, the monsters are something you can defeat, an external threat, but Kent cuts right to the heart of the fear that every parent has at some point, that fear that you might not connect with or recognize your child, and that same fear that kids have as well. There are sequences in this that are harrowing and intense and almost hard to take, and it's just two people in a house. This is a beautiful example of just how good the genre can be when someone takes it seriously and commits to what they're doing.

14. “Whiplash”

This is a very good movie that has a through-the-roof fantastic last twenty minutes. There are movies that benefit enormously from the way they end, because they send audiences out of the theater with a certain feeling. In the case of “Whiplash,” everything builds to an emotional crescendo that writer/director Damien Chazelle sustains for what seems like an almost unbearably long time. It's amazing how that final stage performance plays out, and both Miles Teller and JK Simmons are flat-out great in the way they demonstrate this power struggle that's playing out right there in front of everyone. And when it comes to last shots, this may be the single best final shot of the year.

15. “Top Five”

Chris Rock's film has perhaps the most laughably unrealistic portrait of how film criticism works in a  year that has a surprising number of oddly tone-deaf scenes about critics, but it's one small part of an otherwise rowdy, charming, fiercely funny look at one long day in which a reporter (Rosario Dawson) interviews a celebrity (Chris Rock) at a turning point. Rock packed the movie with actors and comics he loves, and everyone gets a chance to play. Dawson does tremendous work here, and it's one of the most likable roles she's ever been given. And on top of everything else, Jerry Seinfeld shows up for a hit-and-run cameo that is an all-timer.

16. “Gone Girl”

As with “The Godfather” and “Jaws,” every once in a while, a truly muscular filmmaker gets hold of a popcorn airport novel and transforms it into something that transcends the source material. David Fincher's film is moody, with a sense of rot creeping in at the edge of things. Ben Affleck is perfectly cast here, and anything anyone's ever thought of as a limitation in his acting becomes a strength here playing this guy, trapped in a nightmare no one could ever see coming. Rosamund Pike is equally great as a woman who was bent by parents who are constantly reshaping Amy's narrative into something they like, teaching her to do the same in her own life. She's not a liar because she's been taught that reinvention is perfectly valid if there's something you hate. She's a fantastic screen monster, and the uneasy peace at the end of the film lingers.

17. “Citizenfour”

Privacy is going to be one of the biggest issues of the next twenty years, and “Citizenfour” is a record of a moment that will become an important milestone in the debate about that issue. It doesn't matter if you agree with Edward Snowden or not, because the film is beyond being a political screed. It is not a film about history; it is a film in which you actually see history unfolding.

18. “Birdman”

It's the combination of the dizzy, dazzling energy of Emmanuel Lubezki's photography and the live-wire electricity of Michael Keaton's performance that makes “Birdman” such a rush. There are many, many things to like about the film, but for me, it's all about just spend those two hours glued to Keaton, who is positively incandescent here. This feels like a perfect summation of everything that Keaton has ever done well, hand-tailored to make him look amazing. I particularly love the way the film captures the headlong momentum of live theater, and Edward Norton's character is everything I both love and hate about actors all at once.

19. “The Interview”

Because I like it when comedy doesn't use seatbelts.

20. “The One I Love”

I can't believe I never got around to writing about Charlie McDowell's smart and creepy look at the roles we play in relationships, but maybe that's because there's almost no way to write about it without giving away the things that make it special. Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss are both outstanding in the movie, and it is a beautiful script by Justin Lader. It's a great example of how you can do smart science fiction or fantasy with no money at all when you're writing about ideas and not just dealing in spectacle. If you want to learn all about your boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife or whoever, sit them down for a double-feature of “Force Majeure” and this film, and then brace yourself for the unforgettable conversation you're sure to have afterwards.

We're still not totally done with 2014. Next week, I'll have my worst of list, as well as a piece about all the stuff I loved this year that was not a movie, and a look at the year in gaming. Plenty more to chew on.

You can read my top ten list here.
You can read about #21-25 here.
You can read about #26 – 30 here.
You can read about #31 – 36 here.
You can read about #36 – 40 here.
You can read about #41 – 45 here.
You can read about #46 – 50 here.

And for easy reference, here's the whole darn list at once.

1. “Inherent Vice”

2. “Boyhood”

3. “Wild Tales”

4. “Selma”

5. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

6. “Force Majeure”

7. “The Tribe”

8. “Nightcrawler”

9. “Snowpiercer”

10. “The Raid 2”

11. “Guardians Of The Galaxy”

12. “A Most Violent Year”

13. “The Babadook”

14. “Whiplash”

15. “Top Five”

16. “The One I Love”

17. “Citizenfour”

18. “Birdman”

19. “The Interview”

20. “Gone Girl”

21. “Wild”

22. “Mommy”

23. “Locke”

24. “Life Itself”

25. “Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet”

26. “What We Do In The Shadows”

27. “Chef”

28. “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”

29. “Wish I Was Here”

30. “Neighbors”

31. “The LEGO Movie”

32. “Bad Words”

33. “Obvious Child”

34. “The Mule”

35. “Housebound”

36. “We Are The Best!”

37. “Misunderstood”

38. “Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me”

39. “The Guest”

40. “Tokyo Tribe”

41. “Edge Of Tomorrow”

42. “How To Train Your Dragon 2”

43. “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes”

44. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

45. “The Overnighters”

46. “The Theory Of Everything”

47. “Goodnight Mommy”

48. “Shrew's Nest”

49. “St Vincent”

50. “The Imitation Game”

Around The Web