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TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2014

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2014

By Todd Knaak

If you’ve been sleeping on TheHundreds.com, IMO is a list series that tackles BEST OFs with the indubitable authority of, well, our own opinion. This list was penned by The Hundreds’ resident film geek and intern-turned-Editorial Assistant. He loves crying, but more importantly, he loves crying during movies and won’t stop talking about it at The Hundreds Homebase. So it was only natural for us to make him write us a list of the best movies of 2014. ENJOY:

Since it’s become tradition to prepare for Christmas the moment after Halloween ends, it’s safe to assume we’re mentally two months ahead of ourselves. And with that being said, it’s technically 2015 already. And while we could reflect on potential steps I could take in 2015 to improve a society that seems destined to rush to its end – there have been a large bucket full of really good movies that have come out. So let’s dive into those wonderful distractions that come out just about every Friday with The Ten Best Movies of 2014 – brought to you prematurely. If I’m missing any, it’s because I didn’t see it yet.

Now, before I begin, there’s nothing more disgusting than giving a movie a letter grade (X/100) – grading films like there’s a correct way of curating art. We’re going to do that anyways, but with three scores: What it is (the real grade), what it really is (how much I actually liked it) and what it really, really is (the obnoxiously high score because all movies are amazing no matter what).

We’re not including documentaries or short films and we’re steering clear of vague, obscure movies (Moebius) that people only pretend to like so they can victoriously chew their kale in front of us X-Men lovers. But I saw those too and I know Moebius came out in 2013 technically. And it was absolutely amazing. Lastly, you may read about crying a lot in this, but that’s because I cry in just about every movie I see – even if it’s not sad. If everything works, I cry. I actually know how good a movie is based on how many times I cry – I don’t mean bawling, just a tear here and there.

The following is listed in no particular order:

WHIPLASH

Whiplash takes a sports movie premise and packs it with fresh heart and one of the best in-picture soundtracks in years. Miles Teller (Andrew) stars as an up-and-coming jazz drummer in one of the top music schools in the world. It’s there he meets J.K. Simmons (Fletcher), the top conductor at the school, who proceeds to push Andrew harder than anyone has. What starts off as inspiring and comforting escalates into dark obsession as Fletcher pushes Andrew too far. Miles Teller plays a perfect everyman, never stealing the show, but never flinching in intensity or performance. It’s difficult to talk about it without spoiling anything, so I’ll leave you with the feelings it left me with. From the start of the movie I had napkins in my hands and by the time the credits came up, they were soaked and ripping apart. The film is packed with so much anxiety – credit mainly due to J.K. Simmons and the fact that any time he walks into a room the whole theater stops breathing. And when Teller and Simmons work together and the camera refuses to flinch or widen, you’ll find yourself dying to leave the room for relief. Oh, and it’s also perfectly paced, there are only two scenes that should’ve been left out, it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and it ends on the perfect note. Pun to be understood upon viewing.

It’s one of those movies that when you walk out, you’re ready to become the best at anything and everything you love; ready to push yourself further than you thought possible. You want to become one of the greats, you want your name remembered, but you’ll honestly never push yourself as far as Miles Teller’s character did so you really just hate yourself. This is one you take with you as your pursue whatever it is that makes your blood flow.

The backstory to this one is eerily just as inspiring as the actual movie itself. Back in 2013 the writer and director, Damien Chazelle, wanted to make a movie but didn’t quite have the budget to achieve it. Or so I assume. So he cast the always perfect and under-appreciated J.K. Simmons and rising star Miles Teller to star in a short film about an aspiring jazz drummer and his overly intense music conductor. He sent that to Sundance, won the US Jury Prize, made the feature with the money and publicity, sent it back to Sundance, and won again. And it deserves both victories. Although awards for art couldn’t really be more oxymoronic, let’s hope this one doesn’t get snubbed from the Oscars. I remember Joaquin Phoenix.

What it is: 95/100 (A).

What it really is: 98/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: 134/100 (Q+)

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

Let me begin by explaining that it’s taking every ounce of energy I have not to pack this list full of movies that make my inner 9-year-old nerd freak out. But this one isn’t being left out. Days of Future Past marks the long-awaited return of Bryan Singer to the X-Men franchise. Anyone that cares enough about this list to read why X-Men is amazing probably is already aware that Mr. Singer introduced the silver screen to X-Men with the first two. Both were amazing, the second one in particular – it might be one of the greatest super hero movies ever made. But then freaking Brett Ratner came along and sneezed all over Bryan Singer’s hard work with X3, making a movie so bad that it actually affected the quality of the first two (but not really, Brett Ratner’s awesome). I won’t even talk about the Wolverine spinoffs, but I will say that no, Wolverine is not the main character of the comics, get that in your head. But he is the most interesting on screen so we needed those. Basically after Singer left, the entire franchise collapsed (ironically just like the comics themselves until Joss Whedon’s own stories revived them).

It wasn’t until X-Men First Class that Bryan Singer touched another X-Men movie, acting as producer for that one. And to no surprise, it was the rejuvenation the franchise needed. It added a whole new cast, storyline, and time frame. Then comes Days of Future Past to save the day. I’m leaving out all details of the movie out on purpose here. This movie is so squashed with confusing layers involving time travel, alternate universes, and new technology that I’m not going to explain it. I will tell you that this movie alone, using time travel, literally fixes all the flaws that the post-Singer X-Men movies had. Screw it, here’s the logline: Set in an apocalyptic future where machines called Sentinels hunt down mutants, anyone who helps mutants, or anyone who can potentially give birth to mutants, Professor X, Magneto, and a few others send Wolverine’s conscious back in time to stop the Sentinels from ever being procured using the help of their past, younger selves. Take my money.

It also acts as the end to the original franchise, bidding farewell to the beloved characters from the first three movies. It also could literally be swapped out for X3 to make a worthy ending to Singer’s magnificent trilogy. From the moment we heard Singer would direct again we had high hopes, yet he still managed to exceed any of them.

What it is: 89-90/100 (B+/A-)

What it really is: 94/100 (A)

What it really, really is: 23458720357/100 (*Scream*)

BIRDMAN

What The Wrestler was for Mickey Rourke, Birdman is for Michael Keaton. Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful) takes a break from his mercilessly depressing habits to direct this delicate piece about an aging superhero movie star (ironically and perfectly Michael Keaton) desperately trying to convince everyone of his relevance and artistic ability including – and most importantly – himself, by putting on a play. Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, Gravity) takes the helm as cinematographer and proves once again he’s on top of his game. The camera is a pseudo-oner, never blinking an eye or staying stationary and moving like a flowing jazz ensemble. That also gives Birdman’s all-star cast – including Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifianakis – a chance to strut their stuff. They move around the one location that’s shown like they’re performing an elongated dance, which is magnificent because a lot of the dialogue was improvized. Cue the bold Antonio Sanchez, who gives us a score that’s solely comprised of jazz drums. They’re completely dissonant and wispy, but combine that with the dancing footwork of the actors and the melodic camera movements and you got yourself a piece of an elegant piece of music. And that’s what Birdman is – jazz music. It flows, gives everyone their own solo, filled with improv, and relies on everything coming together to hit those heart strings that all movies aim for. And it pulls it all off with class.

That’s not to say Birdman is perfect. In fact, one scene in particular is nearly painful to watch. SPOILERS: Michael Keaton flies. At first it’s wonderful, but that’s until another 3 minutes go by and he’s still flying. Then another 3. Next thing you know he’s flying for way too long. SPOILER OVER. But even with it’s minute flaws, Birdman is jam-packed with bold direction, bold music, bold performances, and a bold statement about artists and the importance of everyone. If you’re going to see any of these movies, it should probably be between this and Whiplash.

What it is: 96/100 (A)

What it really is: 99/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: Holy-mother-of-god/100

INTERSTELLAR

You knew it would be on the list. Before the rant, Interstellar is a science fiction film about wormhole exploration. Matthew Mcconaughey leads a team of astronauts on a mission to find a habitable planet since Earth’s food crop is diminishing faster and faster. That’s all I will say because the less you know the better, the third act isn’t even in the trailers. The best part about Interstellar is how many people hate it. But the movies that live on and inspire filmmakers and audiences across the world are the ones that polarize. 50% of people hate it and 50% of people love it. But that’s filmmaking: Creating stories that people talk about – ones that become so real it actually manages to invoke anger or love in people who only stared at moving images on a big screen for 3 hours. Director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Memento) managed to take filmmaking where it’s never gone before – and I don’t mean by simply adding more monsters or CGI. Christopher Nolan made a science fiction film about exploration that does just that – it explores science fiction storytelling, not CGI. In fact, there are no green screens in this movie at all. Those who walk out claiming the film is scientifically inaccurate (by the way, if they’re not physicists they have zero grounds to say that) are missing the point. You don’t hate Blade 2 for being unrealistic – it’s a story about a vampire with a sword because that’s the story that wants to be told.

The hatred stems from Nolan’s brave direction and storytelling. Why else would every movie of his be nitpicked to death? Is the script perfect? Absolutely not. Is the acting perfect? Actually, pretty much. Nolan makes decisions that half of the audience disagree with because he wants to give us something new, not something we’re used to. It’s the movie we deserve (please note The Dark Knight pun). He challenges the audience to think about love and time as something you can hold in your hand; to wrap their heads around unconventional storytelling; to demand more from the monotonous studio driven and forgettable movies that come out every June; and he manages to keep it a blockbuster at the same time. He takes Kubrick’s brain, Malick’s visuals, and Spielberg’s heart to create a new breed without being boring. And yes, he has to make some choices that are going to lose people along the way, but this film isn’t for those people. Interstellar is a filmmaker’s movie. This one is for the people who don’t buy popcorn because they don’t want to miss a second of the movie, who are willing to go to the theater alone, who actually buy BluRay SteelBooks, who watch every movie that comes out in IMAX because it’s IMAX, who will never go on a date to a movie because they just actually need to watch. This one is for those who pray and beg before every movie that maybe this one can make them feel 8 years old again, even if it’s only for a few hours.

There’s a moment when the crew arrives in a completely soundless space and the massive theater goes dead quiet for the first time. No one chews, no one sips – only wide-eyed faces stare at the glowing screen with their jaws on the buttery floor and their hands on their heads. The only sound that can be heard is quiet clanking of the specially-installed 70MM film IMAX projector – the projector that’s going to be put away forever next year. This is something we’ll never see again. It’s right, then, that you’re finally 8 years old again. You’re watching Jurassic Park again. You’re sitting on your dad’s lap during the premiere of the first Star Wars because the theater is too packed to fit and he’s reading you the scrolling yellow text. You’re seeing Harry Potter’s scar for the first time again. Interstellar is made with love, about love, and the kid inside you loves it.

What it is: 91 (A-)

What it really is: 100/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: I don’t have enough time to put the number down/100

THE LEGO MOVIE

I totally watched this movie 20 minutes ago so I can confidently say anyone who is questioning why this is on the list definitely didn’t see it. And if you did, you understand and you’re already humming “Everything is Awesome!!!“. This is the third highest reviewed film of 2014 and it deserves all of it. It’s also the third highest grossing movie of 2014, coming in behind Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. By the way, that means Chris Pratt is in 2/3 of the highest grossing movies of this year, and I’m willing to bet Jurassic World will do the same for 2015. Oh, and the two top grossing movies were both put out by Buena Vista, so keep your eyes on them. The LEGO Movie stars Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan freaking Freeman, Dave Franco, Charlie Day, and just about everyone that makes you laugh the hardest. You can almost see them delivering their jokes even though their faces aren’t in it. It’s a classic action movie plot – Mr. Business (Will Ferrell) plans on destroying the world by gluing all the LEGO people in place. The LEGO Movie is one of those rare children’s’ movies like Shrek or Toy Story that manage to both make the adults laugh harder than the children and cry harder than they thought they could. It acts as a satire on the entertainment industry, politics, blockbuster movies in general, and pretty much every aspect of contemporary life. Again, this is somehow considered a kid’s movie. And if that weren’t enough, it tops it off by giving you one of the most heartwarming and simple messages ever put on screen.

This one’s particularly hard to explain without ruining the third act surprise, but I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. And if it doesn’t kick you in the heart, you’ll be entertained just staring at the absolutely astonishing animation. Bonus: Will Arnett as Batman steals the show.

What it is: 94/100 (A)

What it really is: 98/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: Pixar/100

NIGHTCRAWLER

Jake Gyllenhaal. There, you just watched Nightcrawler. Or at least that’s all you’ll be thinking about on the drive home or the walk to the bedroom after this one ends. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a 100% business machine on the hunt for any way to make money when he stumbles upon freelance LA crime journalism. As the story goes on and Lou expands his business, and a pulse-pounding spiral into obsession and dedication follows. Now, don’t get me wrong, the story is absolutely amazing, the cinematography is glorious. The pacing is one of the best of the year, there are no unnecessary fatty scenes in the script, and the score is haunting. But – the real reason this works is Jake Gyllenhaal, since he reaches De Niro in Taxi Driver levels of acting. I don’t mean he’s just doing the Leonardo Dicaprio yell (yes, Leo yells in every movie he’s in) the whole time. In fact it’s the opposite; it’s Jake’s ability to constrain and hold back, staying right on the verge of insanity and never fully revealing what’s happening in his head. This is a master at work giving his best performance to date and you’ll find yourself obsessing over Lou Bloom like he does over his career. By the end you still don’t know if you’ve fallen in love with him or have never hated anyone more – which is really what a relationship is. That’s what happens, you’re in a relationship with Lou Bloom by the end.

No movie is flawless of course, but this one’s pretty damn close. The only major complaint I had was that everything really goes well for Lou Bloom, you never see him struggle or any of his plans fall apart. But that’s not even close to enough to making this Dan Gilroy (Bourne Legacy, The Fall) masterpiece crumble. In fact, I think it may have been a deliberate choice, I’m just not smart enough to figure out why quite yet.

What it is: 95/100 (A)

What it really is: 97/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: Jake Gyllenhaal/100.

GONE GIRL

I actually had trouble convincing myself to put this one in, but I did because it is one of the best movies of 2014. But it tricked me, I walked out disappointed but not knowing why. Then it hit me, it’s because every David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) movie is so damn perfect, that when he makes a movie that’s only really, really good it feels like a disappointment. That’s what it is; Gone Girl is really, really good. Is it his best movie? Not really. Worst? Absolutely not. It’s not a game changer or an advancement in cinema and it may not even win many Oscars, but it’s simply a classic well-made movie, and that’s extremely hard to pull off.

Gone Girl is a story about Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a man whose wife (newcomer Rosamund Pike) has gone missing. What ensues is a rigmarole aka clusterfuck of plot twists and commentary on modern marriage/relationships in general. It’s message is sick and disheartening in the end, but that’s what makes it stick – it’s also totally correct. Above all, Rosamund Pike absolutely destroys her role (in a great way), ensuring we’re going to be seeing her just about everywhere. And even though Ben Affleck’s Batman build is something to stare at, he plays the role with a wonderful, realistic finesse and authenticity. He doesn’t stumble or make you think, “Oh, that’s Ben Affleck,” from the moment you see his face for the first time. Everything about this one is really, really good. Nothing lets up, nothing is wrong with this movie, but it’s certainly not the best one of the year.

What it is: 89/100 (B+)

What it really is: 92/100 (A-)

What it really, really is: Perfect/100

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Every time Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom) puts out a film, his fans love him more and his haters hate him even more. But that’s great. He sticks to his style and continues to develop it with every movie he makes. He knows what he likes and he’s not going to change for a bigger paycheck. Love him or hate him you have to respect an artist at work. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a throwback adventure film at heart about M. Gustave (the always impressive Ralph Fiennes), who inherits a painting and is chased by the owner’s family. Alongside him is Zero (Tony Revolori), the lobby boy at the hotel ran by M. Gustave. Together they break out of jail, cross the country, witness murderers, deal with immigrant-searching troops, and more. Wes Anderson continues to work with familiar faces like Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson, and adds new blood like Jeff Goldblum. Yes, fucking Jeff Goldblum is in this movie so you already know it’s a masterpiece. His trademark slider and steady cam shots riddle this lighthearted film, and still make Wes Anderson the only director that can make us laugh with the way he frames his shots. But just when you think you have this story figured out, it takes its lighthearted comedy to trick you into nearly weeping in the end. Remember, I cry a lot in movies.

But the real star here is Ralph Fiennes, having set the record – not literally – for most lines memorized in a movie. It’s honestly insane, I’ve never seen a man pump out this much dialogue without ever becoming boring or overstaying its welcome. The Grand Budapest Hotel is an ode to classic, magical storytelling that takes minimal inspiration from J.D. Salinger – though this is his least Salinger-esque movie. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss the fact that this movie disguises its poignancy the awe of its stylish look. Wes Anderson uses classic painted backdrops to trap you into a fairytale-like frame of mind – which really should be used more, they look amazing. Oh, and it has the best jailbreak scene I’ve ever witnessed.

What it is: 92/100 (A-)

What it really is: 97/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: Exactly what you expect/100

FURY

I find it strange that we get multiple war movies a year, yet nothing has surpassed Saving Private Ryan still. So when I sat down to watch Fury, I expected another run-of-the-mill war movie that you forget by the time you leave. I was dead wrong. Of course Fury doesn’t hold a candle to Saving Private Ryan, but it’s just as good in its own way. First of all, I can tell the difference between film and digital but it’s just a crayon vs. colored pencil to me; it doesn’t break a movie, but it certainly can make it. I firmly believe all pre-2000s war movies should be shot on film – digital just makes them look cheap. Look at the trailer for Unbroken, then watch Fury and tell me that Fury doesn’t have that tiny little extra oomph to its look. Fury stars Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal as a tank unit going about their war duties. The entire ensemble each holds their own, working off each other’s acting skills magnificently with no one outshining the others – except maybe Shia. Say what you want about Shia, the man can act his ass off. But David Ayer knows how to handle an ensemble. He proved it by (you’re going to hate me) helping write The Fast and the Furious. Yes, that movie’s bad, but try to watch it without smiling when the entire cast talks to each other – and note that all of them are in every scene. That’s very hard to pull off. Logan Lerman plays the new addition to the team after their old machine gunner loses his face (literally), though Logan has never fought and is wildly unprepared for this war.

Fury is about war, plain and simple. It’s about the cold, hard truth of war and shows it by forcing viewers to watch Logan Lerman’s character slowly become corrupted, jaded, and lost. The whole movie is summed up by one moment: Logan Lerman’s character just watched someone close to him die and Jon Bernthal relentlessly pesters him since his arrival. Jon’s character doesn’t let up even in this instance. During Logan’s panic attack, Jon, in the fashion of a bully, wraps his arms around Logan’s head and shouts, “This is war. Feel it.” That’s Fury, it’s a movie about war and you feel it. There’s no real hardline plot, you’re just placed in the war to absorb the horrors before the grand finale. It’s one of those movies that ooze importance – a real depiction of a few men in a situation that breaks them down for no real reason with no real ending or goal in sight.

Fury isn’t the best movie of the year. It might not even deserve top 10, but it needs to be mentioned because it’s a few notches above every war movie that has come out in recent years. Oh, there’s a wonderful motif about a horse that appears in the beginning, middle, and end of this movie, showing off how tight the script is. The movie never dips in quality or pacing; it’s great through and through. But its “greatness” isn’t really the greatest. Also, the bullets look like lasers, which is absolutely amazing to look at and completely accurate. They’re called tracers.

What it is: 88/100 (B+)

What it really is: 92/100 (A-)

What it really, really is: Haunting/100

NYMPHOMANIAC VOLUME 1

Picking only ten movies is a hard task in general, but picking the final one might’ve been the most difficult. I had to decide between Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Edge of Tomorrow, Ida, Chef, Only Lovers Left Alive, and three or four more. Luckily, the rest of the year’s best movies I haven’t seen yet since these ten bankrupt me. But I’ve settled on Lars Von Trier’s (Melancholia, Dogville) Nymphomaniac Volume 1, which most aren’t going to agree with at all. But I root for the underdog, the one that slips by completely unnoticed. I usually don’t like Lars von Trier, except for Dogville. His movies tend to just barely miss the “good” mark because his pompous directing takes priority. But Nymphomaniac got to me. It’s about a woman named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is found by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) – he finds her beaten half to death in an alleyway. The rest of the movie is her recounting her sexual deviancy and “sins” to the eager Seligman as he tries to comfort her. The majority of the movie is a flashback, where the newcomer Stacy Martin plays a young Joe – and by god does she steal it. Not only is she one of the most beautiful women to look at, she plays her role with a strange mixture of curiosity, malevolency, and jadedness that I’ve never seen before. Oh, hey, Shia LaBeouf is in this too and his accent is terrible.

Somehow, Lars Von Trier manages to show some of the most disturbing sexual images ever put into theaters, yet keep it absolutely hilarious the whole way through. This is one of the bleakest, dullest, darkest movies I’ve ever seen and I couldn’t stop laughing. It takes a strange breed of artist to pull that off. Rumor has it that he required the actors to have real, full-penetration sex during the scenes and had to send in a video to get the part. Honestly, it kind of makes the movie. For a film about sex addiction, it has a surprising lack of sex scenes – albeit there are a handful but it doesn’t stay on the scene too long. Lars knows when to pull back to keep his vision and story in focus. We follow young Joe from the moment she discovers sex up until a tragedy ruins her favorite high as Seligman tries to reassure her that she’s not evil. Though Joe spends both Volume 1 and 2 trying to convince him that she is. Von Trier’s trademark handheld camera is prevalent as always, but has a newfound vigor behind it. That may be because the story calls for it more than any of his others.

The movie is riddled with insights on the horrors and pleasures of nature, cosmic alignments, and Biblical/mythological allusions – allowing many open interpretations for viewers to chew on. Also, Uma Thurman gives a short-lived but groundbreaking performance, stealing the movie and the audience’s breath. Volume 2 continues to explore Joe – this time solely played by Charlotte – and her descent into the darkest and most disturbing sexual aberrations most people will ever see. But the ending of Volume 2 totally ruins both movies. You stick with Lars the whole time and he slaps you in the face in the last 3 minutes – but again, this is Lars von Trier, he does that. If you can stomach Nymphomaniac, then you should immediately check it out.

A line that Joe says in both the movie and the trailer pretty much sums up how deceptively insightful this movie is: “Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve always demanded more from the sunset. More spectacular colors when the sun hit the horizon. That’s perhaps my only sin.”

Movies I have yet to see:

Frank, Foxcatcher, Under the Skin, St. Vincent, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Big Hero 6, Starred Up, Snowpiercer, Locke, Dear White People, The Theory of Everything, We are the Best! Only Lovers Left Alive, Obvious Child.

(P.S. No, I didn’t forget Boyhood, I just really hated it. “But the concept is so cool.” We already watched people grow up on camera – Harry Potter. And no one could act in that movie besides the amazing Ethan Hawke. “Nothing happens in the movie really because it’s just like real life memories, random and fragmented.” That’s why memories aren’t movies. “But Linklater’s films are always so good.” Except this one. “The mother’s story is so touching.” All she does is cry and indirectly say, “I’m trying my best!” “But it’s so intimate and it’s a character piece.” Oh, really? Then tell me about the main character besides the fact that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, doesn’t make a single decision the whole movie, and sometimes takes shitty pictures. I could go on, but I don’t want to talk about it.)

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