This year I made it a little early through the movies of five years ago for the 2014 Hindsight Awards. This is my project to watch through the movies from five and ten years ago to see what held up, what passed me by at the time and what grew stale. I’ve made a top everything over on Letterboxd but this list is of the top twenty plus a few awards. Here are the actual Academy Award nominees and winners from the 2015 Oscars for reference. Instead of deciding between lead and supporting actors and actresses I have awarded two outstanding actors and two outstanding actresses as well as a best ensemble casting. 2014 was a bit of an underapreciated year where some of the awards season darlings didn’t quite crack the top 20, but a lot of genre movies and indie flicks have managed to shine the brightest over these last few years.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
Best music, best picture, best ensemble cast.
This changed the expectations for what a blockbuster should give an audience with comedy, special effects, a killer soundtrack and quality of CGI characters. This was an unknown comic property before seeing it in theaters, I actually had them confused with The Starjammers. The Guardians of the Galaxy established Marvel’s cinematic involvement in space. This is extremely entertaining and one of the most rewatchable movies in recent years, yet it has dramatic elements that keep the movie from being just a joke superhero movie about a bunch of jackasses standing in a circle.
2. Captain America Winter Soldier
While Guardians of the Galaxy established an especially funny and music filled aspect to the MCU, Winter Soldier is a lived in spy thriller that happens to involve superhumans. It elevates the first Captain America movie by bringing a lot of depth to side stories and flips the entire SHIELD/HYDRA dynamic around. This was the first MCU movie to elevate comic book movies beyond its own genre into a space of a compelling spy/thriller/science fiction movie that plays perfectly off of the movies that came before it.
3. What We Do in the Shadows
Best writing: Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.
This breathes new life into mockumentary and found footage films by completely subverting the vampire genre. Although it wasn’t Taika Waititi’s first movie or even his first great movie, it was the one that established him to a greater audience. There is now a TV series based on the movie and Waititi has been continually making great movies on an almost yearly basis. While it plays on as much vampire mythology as could be crammed into one movie, this movie is also one of the funniest movies of the decade.
Best director Richard Linklater, best actress Patricia Arquette
This is an achievement of vision, flexibility and availability. Even if it were all made with a typical movie shooting schedule, but would still be an insightful coming of age story with great performances. This was one of the few situations where a movie with Oscar buzz lived up to the hype and remained relevant over the last few years for me.
Best visual effects and stunts, best cinematography Hoyte van Hoytema
There is a bit of a slow start to Interstellar where we spend a lot of time seeing the day to day life in a dust bowl future before the movie gets visually stunning in its creative trip into space. The Hans Zimmer score is one of his best ever, reverberating through the viewer’s body with an organ theme that seems to spin with the centrifugal force of the spaceships.
Another movie that is great to rewatch over and over again. It’s a movie to sit back and enjoy the process of food being made to to tune of very relaxing music. While it has similar story beats to Once, this movie overflows with color and life. A career comeback story, John Favrau’s character is as fun to watch when he melts down as he is when he claws his way back.
7. Edge of Tomorrow
Groundhog Day meets World War I space aliens brings a love story take on a video game style movie. He might get killed off in battle but he always gets the chance to restart at his save point… until he runs out of lives and has to beat the game in one run.
Best Foreign Language Film
It wasn’t until this list of films from 2014 that I made a point to watch some of the movies from Pawel Pawlikowski. I really enjoy his soft use of black and white cinematography and his eastern block period pieces about people who don’t fit with the strict lives they are born into. This story of a soon-to-be nun learning that she is of Jewish ancestry and tracking down her family's history as she learns more about herself and how the country she lives in perceives that ancestry.
9. The Railway Man
Best actor Colin Firth
Just a beautiful story about the trauma of war and therapy of reconciliation staring some great actors. It's more than just a war story showing the decades after events much like Bridge Over River Kwai where prisoners of war were forced to build a railway, it also shows a man's obsession with trains and railways. That obsession is his contribution to surviving the war, his means of torture during the war and his therapy after the war.
10. The Interview
While the news of this movie was centered around the North Korean backlash and a hack of Sony emails that brought down their top executives, it turned out that The Interview is a hilarious take on spy movies… And Lord of the Rings. This is one of the best Seth Rogan and company movies of his career. A legitimately funny movie about the assassination of a real dictator (who did not take it well), The Interview also has a great soundtrack and it is truly a patriotic act to watch it as a "fuck you" to North Korea as the intro to the film.
11. Big Hero 6
Best Animated Film
Set in a post-superhero future of the Marvel Universe, a group of superheroes team up with their science projects to fight a super-villain. One of the most beautifully animated movies in recent years, this has also passed the test of repeat viewings from my toddler without driving me insane. I've been seeing a lot of animated movies from the last decade with my son lately and you can really see a huge difference in quality of animation from this and everything else. it really creates a whole world for these collegiate superheroes to play in.
Best actress Mia Wasikowska
This tells the story of a woman who walked across Australia by herself staring Mia Wasikowska as a young woman trying to distance herself from the world. It’s a rather small story of a woman on a trek, and it isn’t necessarily about her doing it to “find herself” but it is a thought provoking study of a complicated woman on an equally complicated physical journey.
13. Inherent Vice
I haven’t been the biggest fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s more recent movies compared to his first handful of movies, but Inherent Vice is a mysterious P.I. movie that evokes so many P.I. and Los Angeles movies of the past. It’s such a strange movie where the story is very unclear what is and isn’t real, but it feels like a memory from a dream about Chinatown or The Long Goodbye
I tried to explain this movie to someone the other day as a doppelganger movie where the subjects try to take over each other’s life and there’s a giant spider that may or may not be real involved. It’s not even all that weird of a movie, it’s much more of a very well made thriller where a spider makes a cameo.
There really aren’t very many depictions of Martin Luther King, Jr in film but the sequences of the bridge in Selma are some of the most visceral things on film from 2014. It’s the movie that earned Ava DuVernay some huge budget projects to establish her as the highest profile African American female director in Hollywood. The crowd scenes of Selma are alive, filled with motion, yet the audience never loses track of the action in this powerful story.
16. The Theory of Everything
Best actor Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne throws his body into every role regardless of how prestigious, campy or crappy the project is and The Theory of Everything was the ultimate test of his acting prowess. We get a sense of Stephen Hawkins’ writings and his personal life from this movie while seeing the gradual decompensation of his physicality. This movie is especially well directed and doesn’t just rely on one great performance.
17. X-Men Days of Future Past
Compared to the MCU movies the X-Men movies can often be dismissed as lesser comic book movies, but Days of Future Past introduces a dystopian future for the X-Men that carries the mythology across decades, and tells one of the best retro X-Men movie stories of their cinematic universe. These X-Men movies are a different flavor of comic book movie than the MCU, but they are still far better than anything out of Marvel properties before the MCU was kicked off.
18. The Grand Budapest Hotel
It’s so good that Paddington 2 decided to rip off part of the plot. While this is pretty universally considered to be one of the best Wes Anderson movies of the last decade, it doesn’t resonate as strongly with me. It’s a really well made movie, with an incredible world that has been built but it has a little bit of an unsettling creepiness underlying the nostalgic twentieth-century European fantasy.
19. The Duke of Burgundy
I pretty much hunted this down because it was on Edgar Wright’s list of movies and I noticed the director, Peter Strickland, shares two-thirds of my name. This story of a student-professor relationship where the couple lives out elaborate role play has incredible imagery juxtaposing the very odd and dry humor.
20. A Most Wanted Man
One of the last Philip Seymore Hoffman movies, this was one of the hist best understated performances in a great career. This is John La Carre spy thriller kind off a great run of spy movies that came out the next year. This is a much more timely spy thriller than The Spy Who Came in from the Cold while addressing present day problems with perhaps a bit more realism than his classic novels.
Honorable Mentions: No documentaries quite cracked the top 20 but there were a couple of note, Heaven Adores You, about the life of Elliott Smith, and The Barkley Marathons, about an impossible long, treacherous and confusing race in the middle of the woods in Tennessee. Heaven Adores You is a really well made doc about a musician I really liked that illuminated a lot about his tragic life. The Barkley Marathons is a quite funny doc about a physical challenge that is more like an elaborate and torturous prank.
2014 was an odd year of movies, a year of final films for some people, A Most Wanted Man was one of the final movies for Philip Seymore Hoffman, Life Itself was one fo the last appearences for Roger Ebert, Maps to the Stars might be the last movie directed by David Cronenberg, and Life of Riley was the final film directed by Alain Resnais. Jean-Luc Godard directed Goodbye to Language, which is not his final film, but it sure is a late installment that gained critical acclaim. I understand the 3D version of that movie is the way to see it because in 2D it looks like pretentious garbage. There were two Frank Miller sequels and the final Garfield Spider-Man, all of which were pretty disappointing and the last Hobbit movie from Peter Jackson which I enjoyed more than most, but still not as much as any of the Lord of the Rings movies. It Follows was a break out indie horror movie, The Lego Movie was cheated out of award nominations, one of two Lord and Miller offers.
The worst movie that I saw from the year was Coherence, a cult movie about alternate universes of insufferable people. I did a pretty good job of avoiding bad movies but this was worse than the couple of other stinkers I happened to sit through.
Next Month: I'll be at this again with the movies from ten years ago, 2009. In the spirit of celebrating directors with great movies in theaters now, the director of Parasite, Bong Joon-Ho's Mother (2009) is the movie of the month for December.