Last year was an odd year for film. No better description exists. With some of the lowest box office numbers in years and many acclaimed films that would otherwise go unnoticed in more memorable years (2006 slew me), it would be easy to throw it all out, but odd doesn’t need to mean terrible.
While “Boyhood” isn’t deserving of best picture honors, a film that began production 13 years ago does deserve respect. But then there’s “Under the Skin”, a sci-fi film for non-fans. Alas, when a critic loves the film because he didn’t get it, something’s wrong.
But not all oddities underwhelmed, and hopefully this top 10 reveals just that.
10. “Gone Girl” (David Fincher): For the first act, Ben Affleck owns it, but then Rosamund Pike appears. She’s a new kind of sociopath. Now I’m rooting for her to be cast as the next Batman.
9. “The Babadook” (Jennifer Kent): An Australian horror flick featuring a monster from a children’s book, “The Babadook” is the only film from 2014 that’ll freak you out. Sure, it’s filled with plenty of jumps and eerie visuals, but there’s heart and a dash of ambiguity. May Jen Kent please direct all future horror films in all franchises.
8. “The Lego Movie” (Phil Lord and Chris Miller): There are so many Lego movies, but only one holds the name “The Lego Movie”. Wonderfully nostalgic and visually incredible, it’s the only real contender for best animated feature, all thanks to the directors of “Cloud with a Chance of Meatballs” and “21 Jump Street”.
7. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Wes Anderson): Wes Anderson hasn’t done anything original in over a decade, but “The Grand Budapest Hotel” at least adds dark satire and some out-of-character moments of sincerity to his hipster motif. And with Ralph Fiennes’ wonderfully over-the-top performance, we can forgive him for the unnecessary story within a story within a story format.
6. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (Matt Reeves): When the “Planet of the Apes” franchise reappeared this decade, the naysayers appeared everywhere. But Andy Serkis’ digital performance as Caesar the ape was more moving than most human performances. “Dawn” is twice the film “Rise” was. The commentary is just as complex as the graphics, and the performances are even more moving. A more elaborate world, greater stakes and quadruple the ape count — this is why sci-fi exists.
5. “Whiplash” (Damien Chazelle): Miles Teller’s drum solo alone is incredible, but the real prize here is J.K. Simmons as a music conductor with an atrocious temper. It’s disturbing in a this-guy-is-a-shoo-in-for-best-supporting-actor kind of way.
4. “Nightcrawler” (Dan Gilroy): Ever watch the evening news and feel like it doesn’t accurately reflect your community? Exaggerated headlines, racist and classist stereotyping and overemphasis on crime reporting. Jake Gyllenhaal is here to show us all just how sleazy onsite reporting can be, especially when you start framing or entirely creating the news suburban viewers so desperately crave. Nightcrawlers, who are video crews waiting by police scanners for an accident or murder, are a creepy bunch, and Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom is every bit the sociopath that I imagine could describe the whole shifty group.
3. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (Bryan Singer)/“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Anthony and Joe Russo): The “X-Men” franchise seemingly died come its third installment, and the adventure of “Captain America” was hardly a marvel, but both properties returned with renewed life. May the next films be just as entertaining and groundbreaking.
2. “Birdman” (Alejandro González Iñárritu): Michael Keaton stars as a once popular superhero, Birdman, now trying to make a name for himself on Broadway. Of course he’s going a bit insane, particularly when that Birdman voice in his head gets louder. And the majority of the film is one massive tracking shot. It’s odd. It’s brilliantly acted. It’s unforgettable.
1. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (James Gunn): I’m not ashamed of my love for superheroes, and neither is the majority of this country –– and rightfully so. Marvel Studios is on fire, and their intergalactic superhero team is wicked fun on screen, thanks to director James Gunn’s uncanny ability channel “Star Wars” for a new generation.
Many people will swoon over Chris Pratt’s new hard body, but he’s the same funny man from “Parks and Recreation”. And let’s not forget the raccoon and walking tree, Rocket and Groot, who reminded us all that oddities should be embraced, not feared.
Honorable Mention: “Edge of Tomorrow” (Doug Liman), “Lone Survivor” (Peter Berg), “Only Lovers Left Alive” (Jim Jarmusch), “Top Five” (Chris Rock), “The Imitation Game” (Morten Tyldum), Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher” (Bennett Miller) and Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything” (James Marsh).
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