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Adam Frazier’s 30 Favorite Films Of 2014
Adam Frazier   |  @   |  

Top 30 Films of 2014

2014 was a pretty amazing year for cinema. We saw new work by visionary filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Bennett Miller, and Wes Anderson.

We witnessed incredible performances by Michael Keaton, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Carell, J.K. Simmons, Rosamund Pike, and David Oyelowo. And we were entertained and awe-struck by one of the best slates of summer blockbusters in recent history, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Edge of Tomorrow.

I saw 100 new releases this year. That’s a pretty low number, actually. To put it into perspective, The New York Times reviewed nearly 900 films in 2013. Usually, I see close to 200 new films a year, but this year I needed a break. Seeing 2-3 new releases a week can be great for a movie-lover, but doing it year after year can lead to burnout and an increase in overall disenchantment.

Luckily, I saw some truly great films that renewed my love for film and kept (most) of the cynicism and negativity buried beneath awe, joy, and optimism. Here are the films that did just that: 30 films that moved, inspired, and entertained me. Here are 30 reasons I love movies.

30 Favorite Films of 2014

Favorite Films of 2014 - Guardians of the Galaxy

1. Guardians of the Galaxy
3D Blu-ray | Blu-ray | DVD

Directed by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in my adult life. Sometimes we watch a film that reminds us of the power and potential of cinema – what movies can be. Other times, we see a film that reminds us of what movies used to be – what they meant to us as kids – the sense of pure, unadulterated bliss and awe that made us fall in love with them in the first place. That’s the magic of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Boyhood

2. Boyhood
Blu-ray | DVD

Directed by Richard Linklater, Boyhood covers 12 years in the life of a family. The film was shot intermittently over a 12-year period, beginning in the summer of 2002 and completed in October of 2013. It is an unprecedented achievement in long-term storytelling, a time capsule that allows audiences to relive their own adolescence through a series of memories. Linklater is without question one of America’s finest filmmakers, and Boyhood will be remembered as his greatest achievement – which is impressive in itself.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Whiplash

3. Whiplash
Blu-ray | DVD

Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash is an intense and engaging drama with two of the year’s best performances. J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller are beyond committed to their roles – they are possessed by them. The chemistry between these two makes for an incredible power struggle between teacher and student that is thrilling, inspiring, and also unsettling.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Nightcrawler

4. Nightcrawler
Blu-ray | DVD

A dark, thought-provoking thriller, Nightcrawler marks the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, who has written several screenplays including The Fall and The Bourne Legacy. It’s a sleek, stylish exploration of the seedy world of L.A. broadcast news journalism sensationalism. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a manic-yet-lithe performance as Lou Bloom, a local news stringer who is equal parts Travis Bickle and Patrick Bateman.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Selma

5. Selma

Ava DuVernay‘s Selma is the year’s most powerful film. Starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon Johnson, Common as Bevel, and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, the film chronicles the explosive three-month period in 1965, when Dr. King led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition.

Fueled by an Oscar-worthy performance from Oyelowo, Selma is an important and relevant film that chronicles LBJ’s signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the Civil Rights movement. It’s impossible to watch DuVernay’s film without drawing parallels to the world today – and while there has been some controversy as to how historically accurate Selma is, the film succeeds in making a man (with faults and flaws) out of a historical icon.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Only Lovers Left Alive

6. Only Lovers Left Alive
Blu-ray | DVD

Jim Jarmusch‘s Only Lovers Left Alive is the best vampire film since 2008’s Let the Right One In. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton star as vampire lovers whose eternal romance has endured centuries despite humanity’s destructive behavior. Quirky and downright peculiar, Jarmusch’s darkly beautiful film breathes new life into the genre with great performances and eerie, pitch-perfect settings.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Birdman

7. Birdman
Instant Video

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Biutiful, Babel), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a masterful black comedy with a fantastic ensemble of actors. Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Zach Galifianakis all get their moment to shine, but it’s Michael Keaton (Batman, Beetlejuice) who is reborn as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up Hollywood actor who once played the superhero Birdman in a series of blockbuster films.

Like Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Keaton is resurrected to give a stellar performance in an industry that has seemingly moved on without him. Iñárritu’s signature style and technical prowess is on display with beautiful compositions, rich colors, and impressive, continuous long takes.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Grand Budapest Hotel

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Blu-ray | DVD

Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a return to form for writer/director Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox). Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, The English Patient) stars as Monsieur Gustave H., the devoted concierge of a remote mountainside hotel who, along with trusty lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), goes on an adventure to retrieve Boy with Apple, a valuable painting that was bequeathed to him.

With impeccable production design and a script that deftly balances whimsy, heartfelt emotion, and darker comedic elements, The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s best film since 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Finely crafted with wonderful performances, Anderson’s latest is a joyous, wholeheartedly fun affair.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Life Itself

9. Life Itself
Blu-ray | DVD

Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and executive producers Martin Scorsese (The Departed) and Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) have created one of the best documentaries of the year with Life Itself. James’ poignant and illuminating film recounts the life of film critic Roger Ebert, who died on April 4, 2013. What’s most impressive about this biographical documentary is that it’s never sentimental – it portrays a man with many flaws and hardships who, with the help of his wife Chaz, lived a full life.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Starry Eyes

10. Starry Eyes

Directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch, Starry Eyes is an occult thriller about possession, ambition, and the true cost of fame. Alexandra Essoe stars as a struggling actress who lands the lead role in a new film from a mysterious production company. With this opportunity, however, comes bizarre ramifications that will transform her into something beautiful and altogether terrifying. Essoe’s metamorphic, otherworldly performance is one of the best of the year, and Starry Eyes is without a doubt the best horror film of 2014.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

11. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Blu-ray | DVD

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is to Rise of the Planet of the Apes what The Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars. An awesome, awe-inspiring epic; a monumental achievement in genre filmmaking and one of the year’s very best films. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In) effortlessly balances substance and spectacle, blending thrilling action with thoughtful allegory, making for one of the most engrossing pieces of genre filmmaking in recent history. Andy Serkis absolutely deserves recognition for bringing Caesar to life with his moving, nuanced performance.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Gone Girl

12. Gone Girl
Blu-ray | DVD

Directed by David Fincher, Gone Girl is based on the 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the screenplay. A dark, ominous mystery-thriller, Gone Girl fits perfectly within Fincher’s stylized oeuvre, which includes modern masterpieces like Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, and Zodiac. It’s smart, sleek, and dangerous – an indictment of the media and a disturbing examination of the institution of marriage. Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck deliver memorable performances while Fincher’s obsession with perfection has yielded yet another brilliant piece of work.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Inherent Vice

13. Inherent Vice
Blu-ray | DVD

Inherent Vice is the seventh feature from Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, There Will Be Blood) and the first ever film adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel. The film, set in 1970s Los Angeles, stars Joaquin Phoenix (Her, The Master) as private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello, who is investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend.

Anderson’s latest film is an entertaining, downright groovy amalgam of Chinatown and The Big Lebowski. It’s a funny, stylish, and often times incoherent psychedelic noir with an incredible cast, including Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, and Martin Short. The world Anderson has created in Inherent Vice is so fully realized, you can smell the patchouli and marijuana – you can feel the California sun on your skin as you stumble along the shore.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Under the Skin

14. Under the Skin
Blu-ray | DVD

Jonathan Glazer‘s Under the Skin stars Scarlett Johansson as an otherworldly seductress who preys on men in Scotland. Most of Under the Skin operates on a subconscious level – it’s a mesmerizing film, with absorbing (and haunting) imagery, and a stand-out performance from Johansson. A spiritual successor to Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, Under the Skin is a dark, mysterious and very strange experience that may prove frustrating for some while illuminating for others.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Obvious Child

15. Obvious Child
Blu-ray | DVD

Jenny Slate is fantastic in Gillian Robespierre‘s Obvious Child. This film is so refreshing; tackling a sensitive, controversial subject (abortion) with maturity, honesty, and humor. I want more films like this. I want to see more films written and directed by women. I want to see female-centric stories that explore difficult decisions in endearing and poignant ways. And I want to support filmmakers and artists who strive for authenticity in their cinematic endeavors.

Edgy and sophisticated, Obvious Child is a well-crafted comedy-drama and the beginning of a promising career for Robespierre, who directs her feature debut with the confidence and aptitude of a seasoned filmmaker.

Favorite Films of 2014 - The Raid 2

16. The Raid 2: Berandal
Blu-ray | DVD

The Raid 2: Berandal is one of the greatest action films ever made. Somehow, director Gareth Evans has found a way to eclipse the mayhem of the first film and provide even more brain-shaking, eye-popping fight choreography. The Raid 2 is a brilliant work of martial arts cinema that is exceedingly violent, exquisitely composed, and beautifully shot.

Favorite Films of 2014 - The Skeleton Twins

17. The Skeleton Twins
Blu-ray | DVD

Written and directed by Craig Johnson, The Skeleton Twins stars Saturday Night Live alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as Maggie and Milo, estranged twins who reunite after a set of near-tragedies bring them together.

The Skeleton Twins is an endearing, thoughtful film about the strange, beautiful, and volatile relationships we find ourselves in. It’s entirely authentic in its messiness and unpredictability – Wiig and Hader are brilliant as the sardonic and self-obsessed twins. Johnson’s film shows us all the ways in which we struggle against life, and the importance of humor in dealing with the dreariness of our own existence.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Creep

18. Creep

Looking for work, Aaron (Patrick Brice) comes across a cryptic online ad: “$1,000 for the day. Filming service. Discretion is appreciated.” Low on cash, Aaron drives to a cabin in a remote mountain town where he meets Josef (Mark Duplass), his video subject for the day. Josef is nice enough – even if he is a little weird – and the project seems sincere, so Aaron grabs his gear and begins to shoot. As the day goes on, however, it becomes clear that Josef is not who he says.

That’s the basic setup for Creep, Brice’s directorial debut, which is produced by Duplass and Jason Blum (Insidious, Sinister). Duplass is fucking weird as shit in this movie, guys – he’s so much fun to watch. Creep is an intense, disturbing, and hilarious piece of work, combining elements of found footage with the naturalistic, improvised dialogue we’ve come to associate with indie filmmaking.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Chef

19. Chef
Blu-ray | DVD

In Chef, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant and teams up with his son (Emjay Anthony) and his best friend (John Leguizamo) to launch a food truck business.

Written and directed by Favreau, Chef is cinematic comfort food – a refreshing, feel-good comedy that doubles as a metaphor for the Iron Man director’s career. With a fantastic cast and a smart, funny script, Chef is a satisfying road trip film with a killer soundtrack and some of the most drool-inducing cooking scenes ever.

Favorite Films of 2014 - The Overnighters

20. The Overnighters
Blu-ray | DVD

Described as a modern-day Grapes of Wrath, The Overnighters is a documentary about job-seekers desperately chasing the American Dream to the tiny oil boom town of Williston, North Dakota. Directed by Jesse Moss, The Overnighters focuses on Pastor Jay Reinke, who allowed over 1,000 different job-seekers to stay at his church (and his home) over a period of about two years.

Distributed by Drafthouse Films, Moss’s documentary is a fascinating and sobering piece of work that explores organized religion and how virtues like compassion, forgiveness, and redemption struggle to find a foothold in today’s socioeconomic landscape.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Out of Print

21. Out of Print

Out of Print explores the importance of revival cinema and 35mm exhibition – seen through the lens of the patrons of Los Angeles’s New Beverly Cinema, one of the oldest revival houses in the country. Julia Marchese‘s documentary film is a passionate call to arms for movie geeks to protect and cherish independent revival cinemas – a film that deals in nostalgia, with great movie stories from patrons like Kevin Smith, Seth Green, Edgar Wright,, and Patton Oswalt. If you love movies, and movies about movies, then you’ve got to check out Marchese’s love letter to cinema. To learn more about the film and how you can see it, visit their website.

Favorite Films of 2014 - The Guest

22. The Guest
Blu-ray | DVD

Directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next), The Guest is an action-packed thriller with a bad-ass performance from Dan Stevens. Stevens plays David Collins, a former soldier who visits the home of a fallen brother-in arms to fulfill his promise to help take care of his family.

Part John Carpenter, part John McTiernan, The Guest is a tense mystery disguised as ’80s action-horror flick. Stevens steals the show with a magnetic-yet-perplexing performance, and the film’s synthy score makes The Guest a love letter to genre filmmaking. It’s Commando meets Halloween, with a touch of Drive for good measure!

Favorite Films of 2014 - The One I Love

23. The One I Love
Blu-ray | DVD

On the brink of separation, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) go on a weekend getaway in an attempt to save their marriage. What begins as a romantic and relaxing retreat becomes surreal, when an unexpected discovery forces the couple to examine themselves, their relationship, and their future.

Written by Justin Lader and directed by Charlie McDowell, The One I Love is a delightfully weird romantic comedy with two great performances and a story that’s full of surprises.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Foxcatcher

24. Foxcatcher
Blu-ray | DVD

Directed by Bennett Miller (Moneyball), Foxcatcher is the story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and paranoid-schizophrenic millionaire coach John du Pont (Steve Carell), who murdered Schultz’s brother, Olympic Champion Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), in 1996.

Intense and suspenseful, Foxcatcher is emotionally precise in its storytelling and flawless in its execution. A Bennett Miller film should never go unseen – he is one America’s finest filmmakers, mining the depths of his ensemble to unearth layered and painfully real performances that will stick with you long after you’ve left the theater. Foxcatcher is an intelligent, sympathetic dissection of an American tragedy, lovingly rendered and beautifully balanced, with three impeccable performances at its center.

Favorite Films of 2014 - The Babadook

25. The Babadook

The Babadook is an Australian psychological horror film written and directed by Jennifer Kent and starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman. When a disturbing storybook called “The Babadook” turns up in his bedroom, Samuel (Wiseman) is convinced that Mr. Babadook is lurking in the shadows, waiting to possess his mother, Amelia (Davis).

Together mother and son must endure an increasingly bizarre and terrifying series of supernatural events and find a way to rid their home of the Babadook once and for all. Jennifer Kent’s artful debut gets under your skin and into your brain – a scary, suspenseful, and atmospheric film about motherhood and how fragile the human psyche really is.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Citizenfour

26. Citizenfour

Two years ago, filmmaker Laura Poitras received an encrypted e-mail from a stranger who called himself CitizenFour. He offered her inside information about illegal wiretapping practices of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. She traveled to Hong Kong with her camera for the first meeting with the stranger, who identified himself as Edward Snowden.

Citizenfour is a riveting documentary that doubles as espionage thriller. Poitras’ film is a hard-hitting and chilling examination of post-9/11 civil liberties and how fear has interfered with our freedoms. Whether you consider Snowden a traitor or a patriot, Citizenfour is an important historical document and one of the year’s most explosive films.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Jodorowsky's Dune

27. Jodorowsky’s Dune
Blu-ray | Instant Video

Directed by Frank Pavich, Jodorowsky’s Dune chronicles director Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s unsuccessful attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel Dune in the ’70s. The documentary features interviews with the principal players involved in the failed adaptation as well as filmmakers and industry professionals who have been inspired by Jodorowsky’s legendary effort.

For cinephiles, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a thoughtful and bittersweet documentary about one of the greatest films never made. It’s a reminder that for every film that makes it to the screen, there are countless others that never see the light of day. Pavich has created a film about the power of the creative spirit, and what it means to be a true visionary.

Favorite Films of 2014 - Snowpiercer

28. Snowpiercer
Blu-ray | DVD

Directed and co-written by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother), Snowpiercer is a welcome change of pace. Like all of Bong Joon-ho’s films, his English-language debut is filled with black humor, sudden shifts in mood, and characters who earn their humanity. It’s bleak, but like all dystopian science-fiction there are glimpses of hope in the darkness. Likewise, Snowpiercer is a glimpse of hope in a summer of empty, shock-and-awe toy commercials. Thoughtful, entertaining blockbusters do exist, and Snowpiercer is one of the year’s best.

Favorite Films of 2014 - The LEGO Movie

29. The LEGO Movie
Blu-ray | DVD

Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), The LEGO Movie stars Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) as Emmet, an ordinary mini-figure who is mistaken for the Special – a Master Builder destined to save the LEGO universe. The LEGO Movie is visually astounding, and way more clever and funny and downright delightful than a 100-minute “toy commercial” needs to be. As the film’s theme song by Tegan and Sara proclaims, “Everything is Awesome.”

Favorite Films of 2014 - Frank

30. Frank
Blu-ray | DVD

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Frank stars Domhnall Gleeson as Jon, a young musician who joins “Soronprfbs,” an eccentric band led by Frank – a mysterious man in an oversized, expressionless plaster head. Co-starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, and Scoot McNairy, Frank is a peculiar-but-poignant musical comedy that explores the absurdity of outsider art and the comedic nature of the experimental process.

While Frank is a strange, downright wacky film at times, it is still incredibly accessible. When it’s all said and done, the film’s misfits are revealed to be real, multi-dimensional human beings – regardless of the masks they wear.

Note: Thanks to Coard Miller (@coard) for the awesome banner!

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