This has been an excellent year for film, offering everything from gripping blockbusters to innovative personal films. Though it is nearly impossible to see everything — I have yet to see acclaimed film “Boyhood” — it is even harder to miss some of this year’s greatest.
And the best part is, the year is not over yet. A promising slate of December films, including “Selma,” “Wild,” “American Sniper” and “Into the Woods,” are still to come before 2015 kicks off. But for now, let’s look back at the year up to this point and take stock of the very best of films in 2014.
Honorable Mentions: “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “The LEGO Movie,” “The Skeleton Twins”
10. “22 Jump Street”
“21 Jump Street” was a hilarious surprise in 2012, but what’s even more shocking is how well this sequel matches its predecessor. “22 Jump Street” differentiates itself with its meta-jokes about cash-grab sequels and it is this self-awareness that keeps it from becoming a stale retread (à la “The Hangover Part II”). The result is a rare successful comedy sequel.
9. “The Fault In Our Stars”
This young adult novel adaptation takes what could have been an overly melodramatic tearjerker and instead offers a funny, tragically inspirational love story. The key element of success was the film’s portrayal of the characters as truly human, highlighting equal moments of humor and sadness, instead of presenting the main characters as mere objects of pity.
This intense psychological drama about wrestling is driven by the superb performances of its leads. Channing Tatum captures the quiet fury of a younger brother trapped in his elder brother’s shadow. Most interesting is Steve Carell’s John du Pont, a creation of terrifying subtlety that shows Carrell is more than capable of jumping from comedic characters to dramatic roles.
7. “Guardians of the Galaxy”
“Guardians” is without a doubt the most bizarre superhero film yet, but it thrives with its hilarious moments, light tone, great soundtrack and above all, its memorable characters. Each one brings a unique arc and motive, and watching this squad of misfits gradually learn to unite into an unbeatable team is a joy.
6. “The Imitation Game”
Featuring a stellar performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game” is an excellent biopic about a computer pioneer and a genius who achieves great success, but is destroyed by the ignorance of his time.
5. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Just when Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was beginning to get stale, “The Winter Soldier” leverages the paranoia of the modern surveillance state to create a timely, thrilling and interesting comic book movie that may take the crown as Marvel’s best yet.
4. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Wes Anderson’s movies are known for being quirky, and “Budapest” is no exception. Anderson’s latest effort excels in crafting a mesmerizing caper that flies by with charming yet bittersweet style. Ralph Fiennes’ concierge, M. Gustav, is one of the most interesting characters of the year, pairing an old-timey courtesy with occasional lapses into vulgarity.
3. “Gone Girl”
David Fincher’s latest, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel, is a cynical and twisted yet gripping take on the dark sides of modern marriage. Even when the plot borders on insanity, the stellar lead performances of Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck maintain the intensity and suspense so each shocking moment hits audiences with maximum impact.
2. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
“Birdman” wraps the classic story of an actor trying to re-acquire his artistic integrity with mind-blowing technical elements — the vast majority of the movie is edited so that it appears to be one long take — to create one of the most surreal cinematic experiences of the year. Much of the success can be attributed to star Michael Keaton. Using his personal experience playing Batman for Tim Burton, Keaton brings a high degree of honesty to his portrayal of a washed-up former superhero actor. He offers an excellent performance that is the core of an equally excellent film.
By successfully tackling hugely ambitious concepts ranging from theoretical physics to the power of human love, Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” wows while demonstrating the very best feats of modern film. Visually, this mind trip shows some of the most stunning images of the year, from a wormhole to mile-high waves. Technology aside, the greatest strength of “Interstellar” is its emotional power. The film captures the human need for exploration as well as the powerful ties of love between people. The successful marriage of complex scientific ideas with the simple power of human connection makes “Interstellar” undoubtedly the best film of the year.