20.) Guardians of the Galaxy – What director James Gunn was able to pull off with Guardians of the Galaxy was nothing short of miraculous. Based on an out of this world comic unfamiliar to the masses, Gunn made the second largest grossing film of the year and a movie all can enjoy. Save for a terrible antagonist, Guardians is a near perfect film, mixing action, drama and some of the funniest comedy bits of the year. It’s hands down the best film to come out of Marvel.
19.) Blue Ruin – Blue Ruin is a classic revenge story with two families at war, forever unwillingly connected. Macon Blair gives a haunting performance as Dwight, a vacant-eyed drifter irreparably damaged, seeking vengeance for the murder of his parents. Both intense and quiet, Blue Ruin grips you in your seat from start to finish. It’s a simple story extrapolated into a complex, memorable film.
18.) The Fault in Our Stars – Bring out the tissues. I’ve seen The Fault in Our Stars four times and without fail my eyes always water. It’s hard not to while watching the star-crossed romance of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. The movie never sacrifices the sardonic attitude and quirky storylines from John Green’s best-selling novel, and not once does it evoke an emotion that hasn’t been earned. It’s the Love Story of our time, yet unlike that 70’s melodrama, The Fault in Our Stars is packed with an infectious lust for life and love.
17.) Nightcrawler – Lou Bloom just might be the character of the year. Jake Gyllenhaal does career best work as the entrepreneurial, opportunistic snake. Even more impressive is that this is Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, a sparkling indication of a new voice in filmmaking. Nightcrawler is an electrifying and creepy film with an agenda entirely focused on reaching a bit higher, and a little lower, to find success at any cause.
16.) Calvary – Calvary is a movie that simply sticks with you. Brendan Gleeson gives the best performance of his career as Father James, the local priest for a small Irish community. During a disturbing confessional, an anonymous man tells Father that he is going to kill him, only because he is a good person. We follow the priest wander through town, wondering who the man is and what Father might do. Beautifully shot and full of visual metaphors, Calvary is a darkly cathartic experience.
15.) Under the Skin – It’s no wonder that Under the Skin, centered around a femme-fatale alien, is the most estranging film of the year. Scarlett Johansson is mesmerizing as the extraterrestrial woman driving through the streets of Scotland, preying on the local men. Kubrickian in the best ways, Under the Skin is a seductive film glazed with a lurid landscape for the eyes and ears. I’d be lying if I said I fully understood it, but it left me in my seat both hypnotized and spellbound.
14.) Life Itself – For half of cinema’s existence, film critic and author Roger Ebert was movies, a bigger name than most directors or actors. Life Itself shows his rise to fame and the alcoholism that almost undid him, all while constantly reminding us why we read his reviews, why he was revered. Physically ravaged by cancer, Ebert never lost his giddy, childlike adoration for films or his eagerness, his need, to share that enthusiasm with the world. It’s an open love letter to cinema, but more importantly to life.
13.) Starred Up – Part two of Jack O’Connell’s breakout year, Starred Up is as realistic and grounded a film as I’ve seen. O’Connell stars as a young repeat criminal offender “starred up” to an adult prison. Inside is his father, serving a life sentence. With a phenomenal supporting performance by Ben Mendelsohn, Starred Up closely examines the father-son dynamic and the effects, positive and negative, that can come from an absent relationship. It’s vicious and tender at the same time.
12.) Foxcatcher – Foxcatcher, I imagine, is an actor’s dream. Teamed with director Bennett Miller, a master of stark cinema, the trio of actors (Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo) get to go darker than we’ve ever seen them. While it may not be completely factual, Foxcatcher is more concerned with asking questions than being straightforward nonfiction. Legacy and greatness are two highly valued American ideologies, and the movie addresses the price we’re willing to pay to achieve them.
11.) Obvious Child – Led by Jenny Slate’s jaw-dropping performance, Obvious Child is a nuanced and perceptive story about the power of choice. Slate stars as a 20 something aspiring comedian who gets knocked up and wants to have an abortion. What’s most amazing about the film is how much care went into honestly telling a story on an extremely delicate topic. Hilarious and heartbreaking, Obvious Child shows that good can sometimes come from what we think are the worst situations.
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