It’s always tough being a movie buff in awards season. We sift through the weird mess of movies released between the busy summer season and Halloween and then suddenly are bombarded by all the critical darlings our eyeballs can handle in the peak holiday season. As such, I’m not completely caught up for Oscar but I can share my personal favorites from last year. As it happens the majority can be summed up with this simple questionnaire–Did it feature Tilda Swinton*? Did it feature Chris Evans? Did it feature Tilda Swinton AND Chris Evans? There, you’re spoiled for my top three but you can still read my thoughts below:
- Snowpiercer – Seeing this film three times with sold out crowds cemented this as my top pick for 2014. You can read my full review here but suffice to say, Director Joon-ho Bong apocalyptic train ride featured some wildly creative action sequences within the strict confines of its eponymous locomotive. Its twists and turns consistently drew amazing audience reactions that to me, warrant going to see films on the big screen. Chris Evans also turned in an amazing dramatic performance as the train’s reluctant savior opposite a scenery-devouring Swinton as the false-teethed face of the passengers’ oppressors.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier – While the other sequels in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ‘Phase 2′ (Iron Man 3, Thor 2) were solid in their own right, they both played solidly in their own respective sandboxes. In 2013, we saw Tony Stark facing off with a past scientist rival and Thor whizzing around Asgard while battling some serious familial issues. The First Avenger’s latest installment however wasn’t afraid to shuffle the Avengers’ entire playing field. By bringing down S.H.I.E.L.D, Captain Rogers has a lot of explaining to do come next year’s Age of Ultron. Additionally, the Russo brothers delivered a hugely satisfying action film that richly developed both Chris Evans’s Captain and Scarlett Johansson’s complex Black Widow. It also unleashed one of the most tragic antagonists of the franchise with Sebastian Stan’s tortured Winter Soldier now wandering a bit dazed and confused around the Potomac river.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel – With production design and a sprawling cast to die for, including the aforementioned Swinton under scads of old age makeup, this film deployed all of Director Wes Anderson’s usual character quirkiness to its best advantages. As a bonus, when was the last time someone told you to check out a HILARIOUS Ralph Fiennes performance? Exactly.
- Gone Girl – Fincher’s moody, winding take on Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel was indeed a pretty bleak take on married life, but Rosamund Pike’s award-worthy performance as the monstrous Amazing Amy blew me away. You can read my full review here.
- Art and Craft – Perhaps because my day job’s in an art museum, this documentary left the greatest impact on me when I saw it at the Tribeca Film Fest. The story of Mark Landis, a prolific art forger who duped tons of respected art institutions into displaying his uncanny frauds all the while taking no money and shopping at Hobby Lobby for his supplies. The doc was comical without being mean spirited to its oddball subject whose eye for duplication is fascinating.
Honorable mentions: The Imitation Game, Birdman, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men Days of Future Past and Frank.
(*Note: Swinton’s other 2014 film, Only Lovers Left Alive got its theatrical release this year, but I covered it in my best of 2013 roundup–so my opening criteria still stands!)
Not writing the majority of the film reviews for this site, I have the great good fortune to generally avoid the stinkers, which is why I can’t in good faith turn in an accurate WORST list, so instead the next list from me will be a look forward to this year’s most exciting releases to come.
Roll on, 2015! Now where are my hoverboards?