Top 10: 2014 Movies

These are my personal choices for the best movies of 2014. It’s been a wonderful year for film!

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1. Interstellar

Interstellar was my absolute favorite of the year. While I was a bit disappointed with parts of the ending and some lack of character development, that does not overshadow my love for this film. It’s an incredible balance of thrills, visual spectacle, top-notch acting, and thought-provoking ideas. The visuals are a remarkable achievement in filmmaking, it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen, especially one depicting space. Matthew McConaughey is nothing short of outstanding, especially his scene where he watches the videos of his child growing up before his eyes. It shoots through the heart and will leave you aching. As will many other moving moments. The scientific and time-travel elements will blow your mind. (Even if you don’t fully understand them) I consider it to be, and I believe it should be held up as a modern classic. See more of my review here.

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2. Whiplash

 Whiplash is majorly intense, thanks to the squaring off of Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons as clashing jazz music teacher and student. The film explores how far you are willing to go for your talent, how far you’re willing to go for your art. The drumming in this is insanely amazing, (and looks very painful…) and apparently Miles Teller actually did it. You cannot look away, it is be brutal and horrific yet compelling. J.K. Simmons, who is known as Juno’s loving dad or J. Jonah Jameson from Spider-Man, is chilling and terrifying. It never fails to shock the lengths that student Andrew will go to vie for a starring spot in his teacher’s eye. The finale packs a powerful punch and will leave you on the edge of your seat.

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3. Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler really makes an impression, and that’s all due to Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. His Lou Bloom echoes Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. Lou is success-hungry and sociopathic, he will stop at nothing do advance further in his career. He is completely committed to achieving success as a news cameraman, who films crashes, accidents that take place at night. Lou has no qualms about crossing moral lines. Although it is not just Lou who lacks morality, for Nightcrawler also gives a scathing look at the news and modern media. The newscasters who work in tandem with Lou will also stop at nothing to get that perfect shot and story, so who cares about the people it happened to? The more tragic the event, the better the news. Nightcrawler is an incredible thriller that really leaves a stamp in your mind thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal’s star performance.

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4. Gone Girl

Based on the bestselling book, Gone Girl was a highly-anticipated adaptation. Helmed by the brilliant David Fincher and a screenplay penned by the illustrious author herself, Gillian Flynn. Together, they create a fantastic adaptation that lives up to the book’s twisted tale. Gone Girl will go down in history as one of the smarter thrillers that depict a heated battle of the sexes.(i.e. the 90s hits Basic Instinct, Body Heat) With sleek visuals and a chilling performance by Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl is an intelligent and engrossing thriller that will be talked about for a very long time. To see my full review, go here.

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5. The Immigrant

The Immigrant is an elegant and haunting gem, telling the story of early 1920s America. The visuals are outstanding, shot with a gorgeous sepia tone or muted colors that perfectly capture the period. Marion Cotillard shines, as she so often does, as the Polish immigrant. Her performance is powerful, quietly yet deftly capturing Eva’s emotional turmoil. Joaquin Phoenix is on equal footing as the flawed hustler. Together, they craft engrossing characters that are intertwined for better or worse. The Immigrant is a somber piece but exiusite film. Marion Cotillard enraptures the audience, making you completely engrossed in Ewa’s long and hard journey. I wrote more about The Immigrant here.

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6. Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood obviously achieves a technological feat with it’s innovative use of telling a story over 12 years, you watch the cast grow up before your very eyes. And it is a marvel. But what could have been a gimmick ends up being a resounding realistic portrait of life. What’s so beautiful about Boyhood is it’s simplicity. It’s not just a story that hits all the typical beats of adolescence, like “here’s the PROM scene” or “here’s the FIRST KISS scene.” Instead it is compromised of the little things. How life’s little moments, heartbreaking and joyful, can so quickly accumulate, and before we know it it’s years later. Boyhood comes as close to life as a documentary, it is an experimental film that more than paid off, one that redefined cinema.

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7. The Babadook

The Babadook is a game-changing horror film that is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, twisting familiar horror film elements to create something completely original. The Babadook is filled with artful visuals, long shadows and an elegant grayscale wash. It makes the house they live in look exactly like the charcoal Babadook book. There’s strange camera angles and an astounding and eerie silent film montage. The relationship and story of mother and son is genuinely moving, and Essie Davis gives a phenomenal performance. You never know quite where the story is going. Is it another story of a possessed mother? Is it truly a monster? Or is it just psychological, all in their heads? The Babadook is a blur between reality and metaphor, one that never quite gives you all the answers but takes you on a heart-wrenching and terrifying ride.

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8. Wild

Reese Witherspoon gives the best performance of her career in Wild. She is a flawed and complicated heroine, one who must go on a 1,000 mile walk to cleanse her soul from demons past. Several powerfully moving scenes have been stuck in my head long after seeing it. Director Jean-Marc Vallée, who previously helmed Dallas Buyers Club, does stunning work here. The flashbacks brilliantly intertwine with her present-day scenes. Wild is both painful and uplifting. It enraptures the audience in the complicated her conquest every step of the way.

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9. The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins is a rare family drama that deftly navigates both the highest of highs and lowest of lows. It’s a rare film that can effectively mine both laughter and tears. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are the perfect pair, demonstrating their well-known comedic chops but also bringing fantastic dramatic performances as well. The Skeleton Twins is an emotionally engaging dramedy. It also gives us a hilarious “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” lip-synching scene.

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10. Pride

Pride is pure uplifting fun. Set in the 1980s England coal miner’s strike and the LGBT community that helps support them. It’s an earnest story of overcoming prejudice without being too schmaltzy. The combination of being emotionally resonant while remaining fairly light-hearted keeps it from being preachy. Pride is a joyous and heartfelt crow-pleaser with a great 80s soundtrack. Also, the ending scene (pictured above) has some really beautiful London visuals, with a great score too!

Top 10: Coming-of-Age Movies

Growing up is terrifying, confusing, exhilarating, and heartbreaking all at the same time. It is truly the best of times and the worst of times. And once it’s gone, you can never get it back. At times growing up can be pretty hard to navigate. But luckily there are films that so finely depict the adolescent experiences, those turning points in life that everyone goes through.

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1. The Breakfast Club

Really, any of John Hughes movies can be on this list. His films were the defining films of the 80s and the teenage experience. Whether you’re a geek, a jock, a rebel or the popular girl, underneath it all we are all going through the same struggles of youth. The stereotypes strip away to reveal that we are all just as confused and troubled as the next person. Funny, sincere and insightful The Breakfast Club is the quintessential high school movie.

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2. Stand By Me

Nothing means more to a kid than summer. No school, no responsibilities, just the freedom to have adventures with your friends during those hot sticky days and breezy summer nights. But these group of friends are growing older, heading to middle school now, and the end of summer means the end of their innocence is looming. And the most definitive way to mark the end of innocence is the boy’s adventure to go look at a dead body for the first time. Click here to see more thoughts on this renowned coming-of-age film.

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3. The Graduate 

Growing up doesn’t end as soon as you graduate high school, it doesn’t even end when you’re in college. Graduating college is just as confusing of a time, probably one of the most imperative moments where you grapple with the end of youth and the beginning of true adulthood. Benjamin Braddock deals with that awkward post-grad summer in Mike Nichols’ stylish classic. See more of my thoughts on The Graduate here and here.

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4. Boyhood

Quite possibly one of the most genius achievements in cinema. If you don’t know by now, Boyhood was filmed with the same actors over a period of 12 years, so we literally see them growing up before our eyes. We follow Mason from the age of six to eighteen. And it is quite a marvel to see him grow. Boyhood is not a sappy look at the typical milestones of growing up, but instead an intricate portrait of the human experience, true-to-life and fascinating. This film will truly stand the test of time.

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5. The Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now is an authentic and sensitive portrayal of teenagers, wonderfully led by Miles Teller accompanied by Shailene Woodley. . This isn’t a typical teen movie, it’s not quite a love story but more about loving yourself. It is honestly mature and moving, but also funny and charming. Hands down one of the best teen movies in years, and something that John Hughes would be quite proud of. See my full review here

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6. Ordinary People 

I think this movie is incredibly overlooked as a coming-of-age film. Perhaps because most coming-of-age stories deal with innocence being lost, and this is innocence being regained. We enter the life of Conrad Jarrett, home from a stay at the mental hospital after a suicide attempt. He is dealing with depression after the death of his brother. And having an emotionally stunted mother doesn’t help. Conrad deals with returning to high school and therapy, adjusting to life after “the accident”. Being a teenager does not mean you are susceptible to mental illness or depression. And Ordinary People shows the importance of regaining what you have lost in dark times, to see the light for your only time of youth.

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7. Perks of Being a Wallflower

The book is immensely popular, and the film does it justice. Of course, it helps that it was directed and written by the book’s author. And thank goodness it was, because this faithful adaptation boasts a great soundtrack and strong performances. Some of the dialogue can be a bit eye-roll inducing to it’s overexposure (We get it – you felt infinite. I’ve seen the quote 1,000 times on Tumblr.) But most notably, it is one of the most sensitive and honest portrayals of teenage angst, bravely delving into issues of incest, depression, and homophobia that other teen films rarely-if ever- touch upon.

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8. Say Anything

The 80s brought a slew of incredible teen films, and Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything is one of them. And you can’t get more 80s than John Cusack holding up a boombox to a Peter Gabriel song. The summer after high school is another confusing time, you’re old life as you knew it is ending- something new and exciting (or something new and awful) is on it’s way, changing your life completely. And what happens when you meet the love of your life the during that life-altering summer? What happens if you’re both from two completely different background? School vs. love vs. obligations to parents…Say Anything covers it all in this heartfelt romance.

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9. The Last Picture Show

The three teen characters in The Last Picture show are fresh out of high school in the year 1951. , Confined in their dead-end town, they are in a rush to grow up as quickly as possible. Jacy deals with her budding sexuality and quest to lose her virginity, in the wake of her realization that she is the prettiest and most sought-after girl in town. Sonny has an affair with the depressed wife of his football coach. Duane enlists for the fight in Korea. Their community is in shambles, and so are they. They only realize before it’s too late that their youth is truly over. The picture show is gone, no more movies or fun at the pool hall.

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10. Mermaids

Mermaids is a charming, funny, and heartwarming film led by Winona Ryder in her adolescent prime. The perfect picture of the moody teenager. But her angst has a sweetness and innocence to it. She deals with her flamboyant mother, her desire to be the most devout Catholic (even though she’s Jewish) and the temptation of a sexy older groundskeeper. Not only a great coming-of-age story, but also a mother-daughter story that perfectly depicts the friction that mothers and daughters go through during those tough teenage years.