Best of 2014: Movies

What a diverse year at the movies 2014 was, and what a thrilling adventure every trip to the theatre has been. I’ve been tinkering with my Top-10 list for days and have come up with this group of 10. Enjoy.

10. 22 Jump Street

22 Jump Street surprised me. I thought 21 was OK, but was looking forward to 22 because of what Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum had been up to since the first film’s release. The duo’s chemistry and the film’s fun silliness make it one of the best buddy-cop films of the decade. Among my favourite moments of 22: a Golden Girls reference about Blanche doing heroin, Jonah Hill trying to convince himself he is Beyoncé post-Destiny’s Child, and an end-credits sequence for the ages. Sometimes a movie’s just fun. (112 minutes, dirs. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

9. Whiplash

Who knew a movie about a drummer and his teacher could be this nerve-wracking? J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller star. Look for Simmons to clean up on the awards trail. (107 minutes, dir. Damien Chazelle)

8. Mommy

With five films to his name in his short career (and life – he’s 25), Xavier Dolan’s specialty has become the lush, over-emotional melodrama. With Mommy, he hits all the right notes. And bless Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clément, who turn in incredible performances. (139 minutes, dir. Xavier Dolan)

7. Force majeure

I prematurely tweeted out my thoughts on Force majeure after I left a screening of the Swedish film during the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in the fall, suggesting the film was a force moyenne. Almost three months later, I still think about the film. Daily. It’s funny, tragic and poignant, often in the same frame. A vacationing family has a close encounter with an avalanche at the amazing ski resort they’re staying in (seriously, I don’t ski and would start if it meant staying where these guys stay in the film!), which puts more pressure on what we find out is a very strained marriage. (118 minutes, Ruben Ostlund)

6. Locke

Two words for why and how Locke, a movie that takes place entirely inside a car in which you ever only see one man, works: Tom Hardy. The British actor made a splash in Christopher Nolan’s Inception in 2010 (though he has been active since 2001, with a small role in HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers) and he’s been busy ever since. In 2015, he’s slated for five movies, including the Mad Max reboot and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s The Revenant, which will also star Leonardo DiCaprio. Locke shouldn’t work at all, but it very much does. (85 minutes, dir. Steven Knight)

5. Enemy

After Incendies and Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve changes gears without toning down the intensity with Enemy. It’s just a wallop of a film with a knockout ending. Can’t wait to see this one again. I quite liked this analysis of Enemy, via Slate. (90 minutes, dir. Denis Villeneuve)

4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is what summer blockbusters should be like. Smart and epic in scope, the franchise continues on the right path since its impressive 2011 reboot. Andy Serkis is back as as ape Caesar, with a new human cast (Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke) and director Matt Reeves, who’s signed on to the next Apes instalment due in 2016. (130 minutes, dir. Matt Reeves)

3. Nightcrawler

I was expecting Jake Gyllenhaal to be getting the kind of attention and recognition for Nightcrawler that Matthew McConaughey got for Dallas Buyers Club last year. Then I remembered that unlike McConaughey, Gyllenhaal wasn’t in terrible movies for almost a decade before turning his career around. People love a redemption story, and Gyllenhall has become astonishing after being good for a long time. Nightcrawler made me nervous. Mostly, it felt like it could teeter out of control at any moment; mostly, it was because of Gyllenhall’s unhinged portrayal of a sociopathic, psychopathic, greedy Louis Bloom. Nightcrawler is the Wolf of Wall Street of broadcast journalism. (117 minutes, dir. Dan Gilroy)

2. Gone Girl

To make this as spoiler-free as possible, here’s what I’ll say about one of the best thrillers (and most fun/frustrating literary and cinematic experiences I have had in a while) of the year: David Fincher directs this adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel for which Flynn also wrote the screenplay. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star as a couple with problems (“Marriage is hard work,” after all), as do Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Missi Pyle, Casey Wilson and Kim Dickens. Pike’s character, Amy Dunne, goes missing on her and Nick’s (Affleck) fifth anniversary. A search is launched, of course. And the shit hits the fan. Again. And again. And again. Even though I knew what was coming, it felt just as exciting and new as it would have had I been totally unfamiliar with the story. I think. (149 minutes, dir. David Fincher)

1. Under the Skin

Under the Skin

My biggest cinematic regret of 2014 is missing Under the Skin in theatres. I ended up watching one summer night (it’s available on Netflix Canada) on my modest 40-inch TV with the sound turned way, way up – I’d heard how great the score by Mica Levi was. Under the Skin was the most astounding, hypnotizing, immersive movie experience I had in 2014. Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien on a mission in Scotland. Director Jonathan Glazer has the ability to craft an intriguing and satisfying mystery around this character, an opportunity Johansson truly relishes, giving a gentle humanity to a creature who’s up to some terrible deeds. (108 minutes, dir. Jonathan Glazer)

Honourable mentions: Boyhood; Chef; Dear White People; Edge of Tomorrow; Guardians of the GalaxyThe LEGO Movie; Life Itself (as a rule, I keep documentaries off my Top-10 lists because I think their goals are different and should not be judged against artistic works of fiction. Life Itself moved me. Like thousands, I am sure, Roger Ebert introduced me to film writing and dozens, if not hundreds, of films I would never have thought to watch.) The One I Love; Snowpiercer; Veronica Mars.

Best of the rest: Blue Ruin; Elaine Stritch: Just Shoot Me; Godzilla; Grand Budapest Hotel; Happy Christmas;Neighbours; Obvious ChildOnly Lovers Left AliveTop Five; Wild.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Here’s my Top 10 list for my favourite movies of 2013.