In box office terms, 2014 wasn’t a huge year for film. But in creative terms, it’s hard to fault this year’s crop. It contained at least one once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece, not to mention one of the greatest horror movies in years, several big-budget franchise-builders that soared way past expectations, and some completely out-of-nowhere gems.
As the year winds to a close, I’ve taken a moment to look back at some highlights. As usual, this shouldn’t be considered an objective list of the year’s best film, but an entirely subjective list of favorites. Run down my top 10 films of 2014 with me after the jump.
The sole reason Only Lovers Left Alive didn’t make my top 10 this year was that it made my top 10 last year, after I caught it at the New York Film Festival. Jim Jarmusch‘s vampire hangout movie is still one of the best things I’ve seen in the past few years — funny and moving, wholly original and unimpeachably cool.
Frank was a creative endeavor about the pitfalls of creative endeavors. It shot down the usual Hollywood myths about fame, artistry, and mental illness, and had great fun doing it. Michael Fassbender was nearly unrecognizable as the titular Frank, and not just because his handsome mug was hidden under a giant papier-mâché head.
Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier illustrated the best and worst aspects of the Marvel formula. The two films were wildly different, but both offered that special mix of heart, humor, intelligence, and personality that we’ve come to expect from the studio. It’s just too bad that boring villains, an unwillingness to kill off characters, and a CG-heavy action sequence over a major metropolitan area are also part of the familiar Marvel formula.
Jake Gyllenhaal gave perhaps the most indelible performance of the year in Nightcrawler. For that alone, this film stood out. But it also featured excellent supporting performances by Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed, impressive action sequences, and an overall sense of queasiness that stuck with me for days.
The Boxtrolls was Laika at its best, not that we’ve seen the young animation studio any other way. Its hand-crafted details felt special in a pop culture landscape littered with slick CG surfaces. It’s also smarter than your average kids’ entertainment, offering nuanced lessons about villainy and courage among all the cutesy cheese puns.