14. The Interview: What is this doing on the list? Seriously, Phil? James Franco’s performance is incredibly uneven, Seth Rogan is… Seth Roganning, and the movie is more than a bit homophobic. But re-watching this recently, I realized what about the movie really grabbed me. Randall Park, the actor tasked with playing Kim Jong-Un, is a game changer. His portrayal makes the dictator the most relatable psychopath since Brad Pitt in Fight Club. In my personal opinion, Randall Park should be up for Best Supporting Actor. I don’t think he should win, but he deserves some recognition, if only right here.
13. Inherent Vice: Paul Thomas Anderson is a very divisive director; you love him, or you hate him. I personally love him even though he’s so indulgent that his films often feel like the purgatory you bought the indulgence to escape from. However, his extended takes create a playground for the actors the chew the scenery, and this is one of the chewiest movies of all time. It’s wacky, it’s fun, and it’s a mindbender of a detective film. Some people claim this is Paul Thomas Anderson’s worst film, but even if their right, this is a very good bottom for him to hit.
12. 22 Jump Street: Comedy sequels tend to be awful attempts to cash in on what made the first film wonderful. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller know this, and make it the chief joke of their film. 22 Jump Street might be the most meta film ever made. Jokes include a literal red herring, Ice Cube working in an office that looks like “a big cube of ice”, and Nick Offerman’s character essentially stating that the two leads need to do the same thing they did in the first movie. Tack on two lovable leads and some pretty great action sequences and you see why this comedy sequel is actually better than the first.
11. Whiplash: One of my former teachers said every story is greater when you “raise the stakes”. I saw Whiplash shortly after seeing The Imitation Game, where the “stakes” are the lives of thousands of Allied soldiers. In Whiplash, Miles Teller wants to be the best drummer. Whiplash is on my list, and The Imitation Game is not. The reason is that Whiplash managed to make me heart-poundingly worried that Miles wouldn’t be a good drummer. It achieves this with frantic editing and brutal performances from both Miles and J.K. Simmons (the person who would beat Randall Park at my Oscars). Don’t see this movie if you have a heart condition. Seriously.
10. Birdman: Two of the year’s Best Picture nominees rely on what some call “gimmicks”. Birdman’s gimmick is the whole thing looks like one, unedited shot. It’s actually not the first film to pull this off, but in my opinion, it’s the first one that it makes sense for. Frequently, theatre actors I talk to will get mad when I get excited about a long (two minute) take, because they’re used to doing full (two hour) plays. Birdman is a film about a play, and manages to be simultaneously both. Additionally, as a play or movie, Birdman holds its own against almost all non-gimmick films.
9. Captain America: Winter Soldier: Sometimes movies are just really good. There’s nothing particularly mind-blowing, or revolutionary about them, they’re just really, really good. Captain America: Winter Soldier is one of those movies. From beginning to end, this movie holds your attention and is incredibly entertaining. The choreography of the fight sequences deserves some sort of recognition from the Academy Awards; it makes every other Marvel film look like a WWE fight (that’s bad, if you didn’t know.)
8. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a long and stupid name, so from here on out, I’d ask everyone to call films in the franchise “Apes”, “Apes 2”, and the upcoming “Apes 3”. As a spiteful person, it’s hard for me to admit that even though I hate the book’s cover, the content is really good. This movie is a study in politics, diplomacy, and anthropology. Also, there’s a monkey that jumps off a horse, into a tank, and shoots at Gary Oldman. Basically, there’s something in this movie for everyone.
7. Boyhood: The second gimmicky movie on the list also transcends the gimmick. Boyhood was shot over the course of 12 years, and director/writer Richard Linklater manages to encapsulate each year without relying on cheap calendar gags. Some people complain that the child grows up to be an annoying hipster, but do you know what there are a lot of? 18-year-old hipsters. Linklater does a fantastic job of creating real characters to inhabit a real world.
6. Gone Girl: David Fincher is the go-to director for making characters so delightfully hate-able, and in Gone Girl, he really let’s the audience have some good old cathartic hate. You can hate Ben Affleck, you can hate Rosemund Pike, you can hate pretty much everyone except Ben Affleck’s sister, and remarkably Tyler Perry. David Fincher made me like Tyler Perry. How is he not nominated for Best Director? That deserves a lifetime achievement award.
5. John Wick: Confession: I hate dogs. So when someone told me Keanu Reeves was in a revenge movie, in which he seeks justice for a dead dog, I was torn. On one hand the incomparable Keanu and on the other hand a dog. Seeing the film, I realized I didn’t actually care who or more importantly why Keanu was killing, I just wanted to watch Keanu go nuts. Others have said John Wick is Keanu’s best action film since The Matrix. So naturally, I nostalgia checked myself and watched The Matrix. I then decided that Keanu’s best action film is John Wick. Before you hate me, just see the movie, and I think you’ll agree.
4. Nightcrawler: Nightcrawler just came out in store shelves, and I was thinking about buying it. Then I remembered I never wanted to see that movie again. It’s amazing, don’t get me wrong, but I’m still processing how terrified I am of Jake Gyllenhall. Jake disappears better than any actor in modern cinema. In this and 2013’s Prisoners, he gives his characters ticks that disguise the movie star within the film. See this movie, feel my terror, and then you have my permission to never watch it again.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel: I don’t know why, but putting Wes Anderson in a hotel just works. The Grand Budapest Hotel stands out in Anderson’s already stellar filmography with more of his painterly direction, and bittersweet enthusiasm. No director that I’m aware of can make a movie containing prison shanking and imposing Nazi expansionism that’s just so very joyful. Every single character in the film, from the smallest roles to Ralph Finnes’ stellar Gustav H., fits perfectly into Anderson’s pastel colored universe.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy: I wouldn’t put two Chris Pratt movies at the top of my list unless I thought they were absolutely deserving of it. That being said, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie were undoubtedly my favorite movies of the year. You’ve heard about the big risk Marvel took, yada yada yada, but similar to my gimmick argument in entries seven and 10 on this list, the risk paid off. One could argue this movie was successful because of the Marvel brand, but looking at the box-office would disprove that argument. Guardians managed to perform week after week, not just opening weekend. This means everyone wanted to see it again, and they wanted their friends to see it, and they wanted they’re pets to see it. Personally, I saw the film three times in theatres, and three more times since. It’s just a well-written, well-directed movie that deserves all the hype behind it.
1. The Lego Movie: I want to say picking between Guardians and The Lego Movie was a challenge, but after thinking about it briefly, The Lego Movie became the clear winner. The reason being, The Lego Movie transcends the genre of a kid’s movie, and I would even argue that it transcends the medium of film to become an independent work of art. Generally, I’m an opponent of complicated and convoluted storylines, but within The Lego Movie, Phil Lord and Chris Miller create an amazingly fun universe, that is revealed to be within the shared imagination of a child and his father. It simultaneously works on a massive “what’s our place in the universe” level and a more personal father-son level.