30.) Force Majeure – The major plot point spins around a controlled avalanche, and that’s exactly what Force Majeure is as a film. Using a standard European device to tell a story with grounded, realistic events, this is a movie that you think could happen anyplace and anytime. Force Majeure is a story about choices, big and small, and the unforeseen ramifications they can potentially have. Deny the truth all you want, but underneath we all know what’s real and what isn’t.
29.) Frank – Probably the strangest, most peculiar movie on this list, Frank is an indie film with heart and humor. Michael Fassbender gives a triumphant performance as Frank, a recluse who always dons a giant paper mache head. Frank might not have a deep artistic value beneath its quirkiness, yet like some of the best pieces of art, it is meant more to be observed than understood. It’s surprisingly funny, and thanks to those beats it opens us up to get sucker-punched with heavy bouts of emotion.
28.) Locke – Part 2 of Tom Hardy’s MVP year, Locke is a daring piece of filmmaking that somehow works beyond comprehension. Resembling more of a one man stage play, Locke is literally Tom Hardy’s movie to himself as he drives across the London motorways holding a number of crucial phone conversations. Without Hardy this movie doesn’t work, and it’s one of the best leading performances given by an actor this year.
27.) Fury – Director David Ayer gives us the best war film of the year in Fury (don’t get me started on American Sniper.) Fury is a menagerie of animalistic men who call their steel hell on wheels home. It’s a perfectly balanced ensemble with action, heart, and a human connection. The shorthanded story never undercuts how deeply we come to know the ragtag group of men still fighting a war that’s already been won.
26.) Begin Again – If I was to recommend a single movie from this year to somebody, absolutely certain that they would enjoy it, Begin Again would be my top pick. A musically driven romance full of purpose, the Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley led film is an opportunistic crowd-pleaser with catchy songs and memorable moments. Like its title implies, it’s a story of new beginnings, and one that you’ll be happy to have gotten to watch.
25.) Men, Women & Children – Jason Reitman’s latest effort was largely dismissed by critics and panned by audiences. I can understand why, because this is a very difficult film. There are countless characters and storylines and so much going on you start to unplug. But in my theater with less than a handful of people, I stayed zoned in, and what I saw was an astute story that captured the contemporary youth’s social zeitgeist as well as the separation felt by an out of touch older generation. Tell me to put a movie in a time capsule and I’ll choose this one every time.
24.) 22 Jump Street – Yes, it is way too long, but in between the lengthy run time is one of the most gut-busting movies of the year. It’s consciously meta and self-referential, resulting in a movie that knowingly copies the original but also goes bigger and bolder in every single way. Very few comedy sequels ever surpass what came before them. 22 Jump Street is leaps and bounds ahead.
23.) ’71 – Set in 1971 Belfast during “The Troubles” of Ireland, ’71 is a harrowing survival story. While tending to an escalating riot, star Jack O’Connell’s character is left behind enemy lines in a no man’s land populated by revolutionaries ready to off him. Fantastic chase scenes and questions of loyalty arise as we follow a young man who appears dead to rights. It’s one of two performances this year from O’Connell that serves as an introduction to a formidable up and coming talent.
22.) The Babadook – When people call your movie the best horror film since The Shining, you know you’ve done something right. The Babadook is an entirely original piece, and while it definitely has its scares, it’s primarily an introspective journey into the mind of a wearied woman, serving as a parable for the demons we happily allow into our own worlds. We can control them or they can control us, and the ending of The Babadook will leave you speechless.
21.) Top Five – For Chris Rock what Birdman is for Michael Keaton, Top Five is the comedian playing a character he has been in real life. It’s a hilarious venture through the streets of New York, showing Rock’s Woody Allen-esque affinity for the city that helped shape him. Easily the best comedy of the year, Top Five works just as well as a love story. Rock’s confident directing and sharp script adds drama at all of the right moments, opening us up to some truly unforgettable laughs.
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