Ok, time for the part that made this year so much fun. Breaking down my favorite films of 2014. There was so many quality movies this year that I really just wanted to cheat and have a Top 20, but I (somewhat) played fair. Films that weren’t nationally released by the time of this writing have to wait until 2015 for inclusion. (Edited: One just got freed up for 2014 inclusion resulting in a slight change).
No need for much of a build-up, let’s go to the list!
Beyond the Lights – A timely romance drama that explores music, fame and the struggle to be true to yourself. This was the second stand up and take notice from rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, an actress that is clearly going to be a force for the next 5-10 years.
Horrible Bosses 2 – More crazy fun from Nick, Kurt and Dale as they try to outwit Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz. This one had me cracking up almost from the start right through to the end credits.
Top 15 of 2014
15. Chef – Jon Favreau concocts a fun family road trip about pursuing your dreams in this charming comedy that reminds us of his ability to knock out a subtle small scale film as easily as a Marvel Studios blockbuster. Chef (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
14. How to Train Your Dragon 2 – An epic second act of the “Dragon” franchise that effectively left me anxiously awaiting the third installment and wanting my own baby dragon to help steer through rush-hour traffic.
Throw in a tremendous 3D transfer and this was the year’s best looking animated film. How to Train Your Dragon 2 [Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD]
13. Snowpiercer – An ingenious science fiction film that doesn’t feel derivative, has some terrific visuals and solid performances (easily one of Chris Evans’ best and a nomination worthy performance by Tilda Swinton).
It’s also a smart action film with a sadly realistic look at how even nearing extinction, class systems prevail. The film also offers genuine surprises that’ll have you eager to watch it again to catch everything you didn’t pay attention to upon your first viewing. Snowpiercer [Blu-ray]
12. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – Finally we get a Spider-Man that acts like his comic-book counterpart cracking jokes to cover the angst he encounters in his personal life.
There’s rumors that Andrew Garfield may be out of the role for future films, but his spin (no pun intended) was my favorite take on the web-slinger. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet Combo Pack)
11. Edge of Tomorrow – Tom Cruise always plays the cool in control hero so this time-traveling film went the other direction and had him taking cues from Emily Blunt leading to one of Cruise’s most enjoyable recent outings and better sci-fi films in the last five years. Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (Blu-ray + DVD)
This crazy comedy featured yet another unpredictable plot tied together by some unforgettable characters (portrayed by Edward Norton, Bill Murray, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe and more) with Ralph Fiennes’s Gustave H being the most fun of the film (and the year). The Grand Budapest Hotel [Blu-ray]
9. Guardians of the Galaxy – The film that gave Marvel Studios unlimited access to the Hollywood money-printing machine.
The motley crew of misfits banding together had just the right amount of fun, action, memorable characters and full on Thanos appearance while leaving us eagerly anticipating the next time we get to hang with the Guardians. Ditto for them making an appearance in “Avengers: Infinity War.” Guardians of the Galaxy (3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
8. John Wick – Keanu Reeves returns to his one-man wrecking crew action roots in a slick, stylish and fun revenge epic that was the coolest action film of 2014.
For those haters questioning if Reeves still had the chops to be a leading man, this sadly little seen gem proved them wrong. John Wick [Blu-ray]
7. The LEGO Movie – So much goofy fun. This smart comedy was a hit with children and adults and it featured the year’s most infectious song for families ready to move on past “Let it Go” from “Frozen.”
And the good news is that two sequels are already underway with a regular “Lego Movie 2” and one featuring Batman, the scene stealer of the first film. The LEGO Movie (Blu-ray + DVD)
6. The Raid 2: Berendal — Easily the best straight-up action movie since its predecessor, but the sequel enhances the experience with a more intricate plot as Rama goes undercover and works his way through the ranks of a criminal empire. Plus, that crazy hallway fight scene between Rama and Hammer Girl & Baseball Man was the most insane fight all year. The Raid 2 [Blu-ray]
5. Gone Girl – David Fincher’s twisted take on marriage is sharp, unpredictable and features some of the career best performances from stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike while also getting a terrific turn from Tyler Perry.
Gillian Flynn adapts her novel, ensuring the book’s essential themes are carried over smoothly while Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross create another amazing sinister score that perfectly enhances the mystery. Gone Girl [Blu-ray]
4. Top Five – Chris Rock direct/wrote and stars in the year’s sharpest comedy with his smart and timely look at life as a celebrity, race, relationships, sex and comedy in 2014 backed by another winning ensemble including Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Cedric the Entertainer and J.B. Smoove.
3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Come for the easy joke of Michael Keaton playing an actor famous for starring as a superhero and get swept away in the vastly entertaining world of a star attempting to recapture his former glory by headlining a Broadway play. The year’s best ensemble including Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan and Andrea Riseborough navigate through Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s fast-paced and revealing look at the inner-workings behind the curtain.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – One of the most exciting standalone films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far led to the biggest status quo changer yet with Captain America questioning his allies and his place in modern society. Aided by terrific supporting roles from Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie, Chris Evans shined in the closest “Avengers”-esque film since the 2012 mega-blockbuster, which only served to whet our appetites for “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” “Winter Soldier” gets a bonus for also serving as the impetus to make “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” a weekly must-see event as well a tremendous feat when you consider how that TV spin-off started. Captain America: The Winter Soldier [Blu-ray]
1B. Selma – Sadly far too relevant nearly 50 years from its time period, this look of Martin Luther King’s efforts to convince President Lyndon B. Johnson to stop white segregationist from preventing blacks from registering to vote is riveting, complex and humanizes King (played in a career best performance by David Oyelowo) that will stir up all kinds of emotions in viewers. Director Ava DuVernay establishes herself as a force in this can’t miss historical film.
1A. Boyhood – Richard Linklater’s 12-year saga of the life of an ordinary young boy becoming a man was easily the year’s most ambitious film as he used the same cast throughout the decade-plus of shooting. There’s so many ways it shouldn’t have worked, but in an era of blockbuster spectaculars “Boyhood” works for being so restrained, so normal and making the regular ordinary journey of life seem so special and fascinating. Boyhood (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)