2014 was a year of innovations. Boyhood was shot over the span of 12 years to show the young actor growing up in real-time. Birdman brought the concept of a one-shot (or seemingly one-shot) film to the masses. But it was also the year where entertaining blockbusters (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to name two) held artistic merit and were worthy to stand among Oscar contenders.
Looking back on the past decade, 2014 was a great year at the movies. As part of StudioBinder’s ongoing series to examine films of the 2010s, I bring you this ranking of the best movies of 2014. Which one will make it to the top? Keep reading. There’s a lot of good stuff to go through.
TOP MOVIES 2014
Interstellar is by far Christopher Nolan’s most ambitious project both from a technical and storytelling perspective. While its ambition sometimes exceeds its grasp, you can’t help but stare in wonder at the black holes and alien landscapes the filmmaking team was able to conceive. Ultimately, I’d rather have films that shoot for the stars and come up a tad short than films that don’t even try to do anything unique.
The visuals are positively incredible. But those visuals are backed up with an emotional story at its core about a father who may not ever see his daughter again. The scene of Cooper being gone for an hour and coming back to watch a video of his daughter grown-up is heartbreaking and one of the best scenes you’ll find in any Nolan film. They just don’t make epic sci-fi adventure films like this anymore, and honestly, I wish we had more like it.
GOOD MOVIES 2014
Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun throwback action/adventure. With Winter Soldier, the films take on far more modern political significance, joining the ranks of The Dark Knight as an essential superhero story in a post-9/11 world. Steve Rogers learns secrets regarding S.H.I.E.L.D. and how the organization has plans to essentially strip away freedoms in the name of “safety.”Of course, there are still all of the action set pieces you want out of a Marvel film, but it still manages to feel grounded. There aren’t laser beams flying everywhere or big gray bad guys. There are just perfectly executed and filmed fight scenes that take inspiration from The Raid more than Thor. Many Marvel films feel like you need to watch all of them to understand the scope of the threat. But with Winter Soldier, you have a film you can watch any time and still uncover the themes.
BEST MOVIES OF 2014
The most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy is one of the most underappreciated series in recent memory, and nowhere is that more exemplified than Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This is another film that could be compared to The Dark Knight in that it provides relevant social messages along with the big-budget spectacle. It’s a quieter type of action film, but when the action breaks out, it’s a sight to behold.
The real standout of this trilogy is the motion capture technology to bring Caesar and the rest of the apes to life. They look absolutely real, but at the same time, they never sacrifice realism for emotional depth. When you look at Caesar, you know precisely how he feels in the moment. Andy Serkis shows why he’s the best at what he does.
LIST OF BEST 2014 FILMS
Chef is a fantastic movie about following your passion. However, when viewed through the lens of Jon Favreau’s relationship with big Hollywood studios, it’s a declaration that you can only create true art when you have absolute freedom. It’s also a statement on the relationship between artists and critics, and I’m sure the reviews of Iron Man 2 provided plenty of inspiration there.All that aside, Chef is simply one of the most delightful and rewatchable movies in recent years. It shows how it’s important to follow your own path and do something you actually love rather than bend to the whims of people who don’t understand your craft. Just don’t watch it on an empty stomach because the scenes of food preparation will make your mouth water.
BEST FILMS OF 2014
16. The Guest
Adam Wingard quickly became one of my favorite directors with the one-two punch of You’re Next and The Guest. While You’re Next riffs off home invasion tropes, The Guest defies traditional labels. It’s one part horror, one part psychological thriller, and one part action movie. There’s nothing else quite like it, making it one of the most interesting and entertaining movies in years.
The film has the simple premise of a friend of a family’s son coming to comfort them in a time of need. From the get-go, you realize nothing is as it seems, and just when you think you have an idea of where it’s heading, it completely changes course. Dan Stevens kills it as David, but the supporting cast does an incredible job playing off him based on what they need out of the hole left behind by their son/brother.
MOVIES TO WATCH 2014
Foxcatcher is one of the most uncomfortable films to sit through in 2014, and yet, everything told within it happened in real life. Hoping to escape out of his brother’s shadow, Mark joins John du Pont’s wrestling estate to train for the 1988 Olympics. From there, he’s wrangled into a world of dangerous habits and depravity.
This isn’t an ordinary sports movie. The film is more interested about analyzing the imbalances of American capitalism than Mark’s journey to the Olympics. A billionaire can do as he pleases, and all of the poorer athletes bend to his whim, hoping to get a piece of the pie. It’s a bleak film, but then again, so are the power structures in the country.
POPULAR MOVIES 2014
Marvel Studios was two for two in 2014. What makes Guardians of the Galaxy stand out is that it doesn’t feel like your usual superhero movie. Perhaps this is due to the fact it’s one of the rare Marvel films where you don’t have to watch all of the others to get all of the particulars. It has plenty of action for sure, but Guardians of the Galaxy excels for all of the themes it manages to touch on.
It’s about learning to let people into your life. It’s about the need for family. It has similar beats to a superhero origin story, but it foregoes any idea of a “Chosen One.” If anything, it’s about developing the “Chosen Us.” It’s about the need to surround yourself with loved ones who can help you when times are tough. It’s more than just a popcorn flick. It’s an emotional journey that will have you relating to and empathizing with a raccoon and a tree.
BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIES 2014
13. Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow is the best video game movie not based on a video game. It has incredible action scenes that never feel bloated. Major William Cage ends up repeating the same day over and over again any time he dies, and while you would worry it would get repetitive, it always manages to feel fresh.Edge of Tomorrow provided one of the most fun experiences in a movie theater in 2014. People laughed. People cringed at a lot of Tom Cruise’s deaths, and even though you know he’s coming back, you feel the weight of each death and dread it. The film goes full-ham on its inherently silly premise without ever taking the easy route of devolving into meta-humor. Blockbusters don’t get much better than this.
GOOD MOVIES TO WATCH 2014
12. Gone Girl
Gone Girl is a different kind of beast. It’s a thriller that’s uniquely American and sticks with you long after the film ends. The film is a sick, twisted rumination on love and what it truly means to spend your life with someone, depicted in a way only Gillian Flynn and David Fincher could offer.Unlike other Fincher efforts, Gone Girl doesn’t remain dour throughout its run time. It’s punctuated with dark humor, a necessary ingredient in a premise so outlandish. Gone Girl excels at taking something that could’ve been the premise of a Lifetime movie and turn it into art.
RANKING THE BEST MOVIES OF 2014
The Before series shows how Richard Linklater is fascinated with the passage of time. Nowhere is this more evident than in his masterpiece Boyhood. The premise is simple in scope. It chronicles one boy’s life as he turns into a man. The film focuses on numerous aspects of family life, from road trips to divorce, and how they all impact children.Choosing to film the movie in real-time over the course of 12 years is more than a simple gimmick. Seeing this boy grow up eliminates the illusion that would otherwise be present by casting different people to portray the same character. You also see the adults grow up, wrinkles and all. Time takes its toll on all of us, and Boyhood becomes a universal movie anyone can relate to.
TOP 10 MOVIES 2014
Locke traps you in a box with a man on his way to see his mistress give birth to a son and the phone calls he has along the way. He has to call his boss right before an important job and come forward to his wife about his infidelity. While we hear other people over the phone, all we get visually is Tom Hardy’s outstanding performance, and while 90 minutes in a car may not sound like fun, Locke hooks you in by making you curious to see what happens next.There’s a lot at play in Locke. He’s determined to do the right thing, but during the drive, he loses his job, and his marriage dissolves. It’s all in the service of “doing the right thing” and being there for this woman and the birth of their son. What does it mean to have responsibility? It’s the central question at the heart of the film, and while everyone will have a different perception of the title character, it makes for one intense ride.
LIST OF THE BEST MOVIES OF 2014
In Snowpiercer, society is confined to a perpetually-running train going through a frozen hellscape where people are divided according to class. It’s naturally an allegory for the class division as the people in the back to the train fight their way to the engine room. It has much to say, but it never loses its blockbuster sensibilities, providing taut action sequences that never feel out of place.Much like the train at the heart of the film, there’s a momentum at play in the story where you’re lunging from one scene to the next in anticipation. While many may decry the film for beating you over the head with its message, it’s far more nuanced than people give it credit for. The way the poor, the middle class, and the wealthy are portrayed gives the audience plenty to chew on as long as they are willing to open their eyes. Bong Joon-ho would explore themes of class warfare more thoroughly in 2019’s Parasite, but with Snowpiercer, he transposes ideas he wants to play within the confines of an action/thriller.
TOP MOVIES 2014 THAT WON OSCARS
There are many aspects of Birdman to praise. The technical innovations on display are incredible. The whole film has been created to look as though it occurred in one take. It’s an appropriate decision seeing as how the protagonist wants to revitalize his dormant career through a Broadway performance. The camera movements give the film the aesthetic of a play. The performance from Michael Keaton is next level, and the meta aspect boosts the film rather than draw it down.It would have been easy to make a film decrying superhero movies and Hollywood in general, but Birdman does something far more nuanced. It’s a meditation on validation, and people’s constant quest to receive it. Riggan wants a successful second act in his acting career the same way many people want to reinvent themselves during a midlife crisis. While that validation appears to be possible, the movie questions at what cost it has to come in.
LIST OF THE BEST FILMS OF 2014
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is one of the most brilliant and thought-provoking vampire films of the last 10 years. Perhaps what makes it such an amazing work of art is that it’s a vampire film in name only. In truth, the film borrows influences from spaghetti westerns and Iranian New Wave to create something that’s never been done before.The plot comes secondary to the style in which the film is made. It’s shot in black-and-white and comes with visual flair reminiscent of something out of a David Lynch film. For genre enthusiasts, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not to be missed as it introduces you to a different kind of storyteller at the helm.
REVIEWING TOP MOVIES 2014
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a Wes Anderson film in all the best ways. It has the typical stylistic flair audiences have come to expect. From the cinematography to the almost fairytale-like score, the movie is one of the most beautiful films to come out of 2014.However, the style is not the only thing at play. The film plays around with emotional themes while never losing its sense of fun and whimsy. Wes Anderson likely took inspiration from this amazing film The Fantastic Mr. Fox as this film almost feels like a cartoon (meant as a compliment) throughout the picture. It’s zany and silly, but it will leave you with warmth in your heart afterward.
TOP 5 GREAT MOVIES 2014
5. The Babadook
Bar none, The Babadook is the single scariest film to come out of the 2010s. It instantly became a horror classic. In this film, the horror comes from the atmosphere and general sense of dread felt waiting for Mister Babadook to show up. The film doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares or creepy visuals to get a rise out of the audience. Instead, the horror comes from a mother slowly losing control of her mind.The Babadook can be interpreted in many ways. Everyone has their demons, but the film doesn’t try to claim that there is a way to defeat these demons. No, the best you can do is try to keep them locked up in the basement. The Babadook taps into primordial fears, so no matter what scares you most, The Babadook gets under your skin.
THE BEST MOVIES OF 2014, RANKED
Making a movie out of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life is no easy task. It needs to revere him without portraying him as infallible, and Selma, particularly David Oyelowo’s performance, get the job done right beautifully. The film chronicles King’s historic march to Selma to secure voting rights for the African American community.In 2014, many Americans wanted to believe we had gotten past the horrors of racism that plagued the country’s past. As we’ve seen in recent years, those horrors were merely boiling underneath the surface, just waiting to come to the forefront in the form of the newly rebranded alt-right. Selma has only grown in importance as of late, and the film makes it clear the country still has work to do to make this land for all. Ava DuVernay is a master in charge of her craft here, and she managed to create a definitive portrayal of the Civil Rights leader.
MOST POPULAR MOVIES 2014
3. John Wick
John Wick is a beautiful film. That may sound weird considering it’s an action flick about a man who takes out the mob after they kill his dog, but this film is visual wonderment at the very finest. The framing of the scenes. The choreography of the fights. There weren’t any other action films, except The Raid, putting this kind of work into a film, and the result is one of the most satisfying film experiences of the last ten years.John Wick represents everything great about going to the movies. There’s humor, albeit dark, and fight scenes you genuinely feel. I’ve watched all three John Wick films in theaters, and the audience is filled with gasps, winces, and cheers for virtually every fight. These movies are pure art, and I just love them so much.
EXAMINING THE BEST FILMS OF 2014
Whiplash is inspired filmmaking. I go into thrillers and horror movies expecting to feel queasy in my stomach at some point, but Whiplash managed to take the premise of a young man trying to become one of the great jazz drummers and turn it into one of the most stressful movie-going experiences in recent memory. That’s not a knock against the film. The tension is almost sublime in a way as we see an unstoppable force collide with an immovable object.The film doesn’t offer easy answers. Should people torture themselves for their art to attain perfection? Is perfection even an attainable goal for artists? Whiplash allows the audience to determine themselves what’s best. The film ends with a nearly 15-minute drum solo, and yet, you’re riveted the entire time. In the moment, nothing but this film exists, and you’re hanging on bated breath to see if Andrew can pull this off.
THE BEST FILM OF THE YEAR 2014
Nightcrawler was criminally overlooked during awards season when it first came out, but in hindsight, there’s no other film that captures a unique aspect of American ethos like it. Lou Bloom gets involved the cut-throat world of journalism, filming horrific scenes to sell to the local news. Jake Gyllenhaal gives the finest performance of his career as the sociopathic Lou, who should be right up there with Patrick Bateman in great cinematic unlikeable leading men.
Nightcrawler is a satire on the modern American work ethic. In the first scene, Lou offers to work for free at a construction site, saying he’s willing to intern even if he can work his way up in the company. As the film goes on, we learn the depths of Lou’s delusion. He is a sociopath, so therefore, anyone willing to work for free is sociopathic. Or perhaps more broadly, an economic system that would create a system forcing people to work for free is sociopathic.
The movie is a dark, cold look at ambition and how it plays into the American Dream. It doesn’t pull any punches or compromise on its vision. It’s an audacious work of art that belongs in the pantheon of excellent 21st-century films.
The Best Movies of 2015
2014 was a hard year to top at the movie theaters. Fortunately, 2015 was more than capable of living up to the task. From Ex Machina to Spotlight, continue on our series to see which films from the 2010s are worth your time and attention.