10.) Beyond the Lights – This is one of the most pedestrian movies I’ve seen this year. It’s predictable and syrupy enough for Paul Bunyan. Yet beneath its saccharine tone and sugary romance is a genuinely affecting drama. It’s been too long since a routinely eye level movie like this has come along providing real emotional heft and romance. It’s beyond surprising, and Beyond the Lights is so critically insightful on today’s intrusive pop culture.
9.) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Ignorance can be bliss, and Birdman is so seamless, so singular, that you might miss a lot of what makes it verifiably spectacular. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s directing paired with Emmanuel Lubezki’s year best cinematography alone provides enough to love this film. But its story is any thespian’s dream, and the standout cast is led by two remarkable performances from Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. The path to redemption can be a long, lonely road. Birdman takes us on a 360 degree tour of a self-destructive and tortured inner psyche.
8.) Edge of Tomorrow – In an age where the big summer blockbusters are sequels, new takes on old stories, or classic superhero comic book adaptations, Edge of Tomorrow is a delightful palette cleanser. It’s fun, thrilling, and most importantly entirely unique. Not only is it one of the best science fiction movies in years, it’s also one of the best action films I have seen. This is Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman at their adrenaline pumping best.
7.) Ida – This small black and white Polish film that most people haven’t seen was one of the best movies to come out of 2014. Why? Because of its stunningly beautiful cinematography and equally affecting story. It’s a rich portrayal of womanhood and the discovery of self, how experience determines the path you take or the route you avoid. Few films convey their message as clearly and frankly as Ida.
6.) Gone Girl – Perhaps more than any other movie on this list, Gone Girl has lingered in my mind the most. It’s the water cooler film of the year, the movie the most people have justifiably been talking about. We get what in my opinion is the performance of the year from Rosamund Pike as “Amazing Amy.” David Fincher delivers another flawlessly dark film with his trademark sociopathic tenderness and masterful directing.
5.) Selma – Set some 50+ years ago, Selma, as a film, resonates as deeply with its audience as the strikes and marches did during America’s racially divided and segregated past. With exacting direction, a strong ensemble cast, and the best male leading actor of the year in David Oyelowo, Selma never fails to drill in its temporary disappointment and unwavering faith in humanity.
4.) A Most Violent Year – A Most Violent Year is the American Dream without all of the sugarcoating and false pretenses. A graphic portrait of New York City’s criminal landscape, we see the hardships that an honest businessman endures while everyone around him is corrupted by envy and greed. With two powerful performances by Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, director J.C. Chandor evokes the mood and atmospheric ambiance of the time, as well as the tug of war we as humans often play with our own moralities.
3.) Interstellar – No other film this year made my eyes tear up more than Interstellar. Christopher Nolan, the wonderboy genius, delivered a movie unlike any other that has ever been made. Epic in scope and as intimate as an afternoon picnic, this journey through space and time is the definition of the film experience. Interstellar is the most ambitious movie I have ever seen, and the results coerce even the most masked emotions. Its infinitely large scale might make you feel small, but in actuality, you leave it feeling massive, knowing that you’re a crucial piece of life’s vast, wondrous, galactic puzzle of love.
2.) Boyhood – Movies, films, pictures – whatever you call them – they have always been my life, and this film is about the separate and unified journey we all take. Movies are integral pieces of our culture, and like director Richard Linklater routinely delivers, Boyhood is a masterpiece, a film for the ages. Instead of dipping its toes into the boundaries of cinema it chooses to dive in head first, giving us one of the most audacious and awe-inspiring films of the millennium. Boyhood is the rare film that has the power to change you, to make you feel.
1.) Whiplash – Man, this top spot was a wrestle. As I sat in the theater for the third time, alone watching Whiplash, it dawned on me that not only was this the best movie I had seen from 2014, but it was one of the absolute best I have ever had the privilege of watching. Whiplash is a perfect marriage of sight and sound, a deeply razor-sharp peek into the lives of individuals who live, breath, and thrive off of success. Whisplash, with its harmony of succinct storytelling, insightful direction, and a remarkably diverse collection of frenetically charged music, is the best motion picture of 2014.