It’s time to bring in the year of our lord Doc Brown by counting down the best of the best of the best of the year before. Unfortunately due to their release schedules, I was not able to see American Sniper, Selma, or Inherent Vice before making this list, but do not fear, I still plan on reviewing them when I can. However, without further ado, let’s get into it.
10. Jon Favreau’s Chef
Not only a savory break from the mid-may summer blockbusters, but a resurgence for a voice who had seemingly lost his way in that genre, Chef is an absolute delight. It manages to ride the line between original and cliched perfectly, the story of a man trying to bond with his son coupled with the infatuation for cooking and all the little details of that obsession. Unlike other movies of this same subject matter, the father and son don’t grow their relationship simply though being in the same room for two hours, but by sharing and enjoying an art form together. It’s low key, very funny, and just the right amount of sweet.
9. John Carney’s Begin Again
We’ve seen a great deal of musicals this year, and generally they’ve been pretty terrible. However, Begin Again stands strongly ahead of the pack, proving that perhaps more musicals should design themselves for film instead of just transposing themselves from Broadway. It’s the story of two people who come together from a love of music, and both the creation of their own tunes, and their enjoyment of others is utterly genuine thanks to wonderful performances by Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. In fact, this movie might just have my single favorite scene of the year, where the two of them spend an evening walking through New York blissfully listening to music. Also, if ‘Lost Stars’ does not win best original song this year, then the category is even more of a loss than normal.
8. Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game
This one, despite all the praise I heard about it beforehand, still managed to sneak up on me. It starts a deeply intelligent and well written thriller about a man who will not rest until he solves the puzzle that will win World War 2, but as it evolves, it becomes a heartbreaking statement on the cruel nature of humanity. Benedict Cumberbatch proves here that he is a definitive talent that will be here for years to come, delivering us a character in Alan Turing that can be a hero for those who would rather stay locked inside and solve crossword puzzles than run into battle, and perhaps that’s a brave enough endeavor on it’s own terms.
7. Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild
It seemed like Hollywood had given up on Reese Witherspoon as she gracefully entered her late thirties (an unfortunate standard for female actresses indeed). However, just as he did for Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, director Jean-Marc Vallee revitalizes her with a vengeance with a deeply flawed character on the path to self improvement. We not only empathize with the tragedy that sends Witherspoon’s Cheryl on her journey across the Pacific Crest Trail, but root for her though every obstacle because of her fortitude and drive to never give up no matter how many toe nails she may loose along the way. It’s a film about how being alone is sometimes the greatest solution of them all, and watching that transformation take place was one of the great pleasures of the year.
6. Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past
The X-Men franchise always had this movie in it, and remarkably on it’s eighth time at bat it finally got there. A story that mixes a whole bunch of larger than life characters with political and social allegory without throwing either in your face; Days of Future past also manages to somehow make a time travel story that mixes two generations of the same characters not only make sense, but blend together perfectly. It’s a dark, rich story that also doesn’t forget to have a little fun with itself either, throwing in some perfect small moments of humor in both it’s dialogue and action sequences. It’s a perfect comic book movie, and in most other years, it probably would have been the best one too.
5. Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s 22 Jump Street
I’m fairly certain that absolutely zero people thought that a film adaptation of 21 Jump Street, a nineties TV series that even that decade wants to forget, top ten material, let alone a sequel to that adaptation. However, as they’ve been doing for their entire careers, comic geniuses Lord/Miller defy convention and expectation and deliver an uproarious product. A spot on riff on how unoriginal sequels are, while also a great sequel in it’s own right, 22 Jump Street uses the incredible chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum to stunning comedic effect, creating a film that is equal parts cartoonish and intellectual. I don’t know how they’re going to top this next time, but if this same team is back, I’m confident that they can.
4. Joe Carnahan’s Stretch
Now we come to what is by far the most underrated movie of the year. Pulled from theaters a couple months from release, Stretch was dumped onto home video and Netflix with very little fanfare, and frankly, that’s a god damn shame. This is one of the most original, blissfully weird movies that has come along in years. Joe Carnahan (The A-Team, The Grey, Smokin’ Aces) takes the sarcastic wit that has been building through all of his films, and turns it up to eleven here. Something of a comedic nior, it winds through one hectic night of a cynical limo driver as he avoids debt and death as he serves the whims of an insane billionaire who could solve all of his problems. Patrick Wilson is delightful as the lead, while Chris Pine steals the show with a turn I would have never thought possible from him as the billionaire. It’s a film filled with all kinds of great surprises, and it needs to be seen a great deal more than it has been.
3. Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I could not stress this enough if I somehow had double bold letters, this movie kicks ass. This is the first superhero movie to delve into the political thriller genre, a perfect and thrilling backdrop for Captain America that infuses the film with not only strong message about the government’s abuse of it’s weapons capability, but a rich journey for his character as his hunt for a dangerous operative who threatens to destroy SHIELD for good. In addition, the film contains what are in my opinion the absolute best action sequences that have ever graced a comic book movie, that make amazing practical fight choreography work together with just the right amount of the fantastical. Marvel proves here that they can make a film that takes itself seriously while still making it work in the larger scheme of their universe, and also make what just might just be their best movie to date.
2. Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash
Whiplash is a film that I had heard a whole lot of hype about before seeing it. So many people love it, that even the poster has to use most of it’s space to brag about. So with that, came high expectations, and they were still blown out of the water. If Begin Again is a film for those who enjoy to play and make music, Whiplash is one for those who will tear their fingers to the bone and loose hours of sleep if it means getting a song just perfect. It’s a story with a blistering pace and electric energy, fueled by career best turns by both Miles Teller as a young drummer hell bent on becoming a legend, and JK Simmons as the teacher who will push him to the edge of his sanity to bring that legend out. This relationship not only drives the film, but turns it into the most intense film of the year. This is a heart stopping experience at the movies unlike anything seen before, and puts everyone involved with it on the map with permanent ink.
1. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Yeah yeah yeah, I know I just said that Winter Soldier is Marvel’s best movie, and while that might still be true, Marvel then turned around and made what is definitively my favorite movie of theirs (and yes, there can be a difference from time to time). A film filled with the inventive wit not seen in a Sci Fi movie since the original Star Wars trilogy, Guardians introduced a troupe of characters who all not only get equal attention screen time, but are all inventive and fun in their own way (for me the standouts being Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket). There’s a perfect balance of classic family friendly adventure with just the right amount of attitude to make it feel like something new. It’s a movie that this generation of young kids is going to cite as their inspiration to make movies in twenty years time, and that more than anything else, is why it’s my favorite of the year.