Awards Season Recap! The Top 10 Films Of 2014! Snowpiercer! Boyhood! John Wick? Blended?

As Awards Season is in full gear, I asked Mike Marcelin to do his top ten films of the year. JM had his list, but I think it’s always interesting to see how different writers look at films. I think that’s one of the things that makes MTF special. Everyone has different tastes and likes.

Check out Mike’s top ten films of 2014 below!

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It’s that time of year again…to bring you, in my opinion, the 10 Best Films of 2014. (I know…I’m about a month late to the party, but I had some catching up to do!) I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find ten great films to make up this list, as 2014 has by and large gone down in box office history as one of the worst years for film. Too many remakes, sequels, and uninspired “original” films flooded the market…so when a truly great film came along, it really shined.

As I made a list of the films I actually liked this past year, I was surprised to see that it was closer to 25. Then I whittled them down to ten films that made me feel something…whether it was continuous laughter, had me sitting on the edge of my seat, or even moved me to tears. Some of my picks may surprise you (Keanu Reeves and Adam Sandler made the list…I’m just as shocked as you are.) Some of my omissions will be glaring (“Guardians of the Galaxy” – I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid. Sorry ‘bout it.) And right after the list, I give shout outs to some films that didn’t quite make the cut, but are worthy of a watch. So without further ado, here they are, in descending order…

10. “John Wick”

I have to admit, this film took me by surprise and kept me engaged until the end. In its purest form, one could call this an old-school action/revenge flick. However, unlike those old-school films, this one gives you a bit more heart at its core. The premise, when spoken aloud, might seem a bit B-movie-ish and laughable – a guy goes on a revenge spree to hunt down the men who killed his dog – but there’s so much more going on, story-wise, that the trailers don’t speak of…and that’s what draws you in further. So if you were waffling like me, teeter over onto the “see it” side and just have fun. But beware…the dog is about the most adorable dog you will ever see…

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9. “Blended”

I already know what you’re thinking: “An Adam Sandler film? A best of 2014 movie? Shut the front door.” But I kid you not…this is probably one of the most heartwarming movies you’ll lay eyes on. Remember how everyone was all “Awwww” for his “Big Daddy”? There’s ten times the “Aw Factor” in this one. Now, of course, it’s Adam Sandler…there’s some raunchy humor to be found. But not so much (or so dirty) that a family couldn’t sit down and maybe have some of it fly over the kids’ heads. And for those of you who know me, it takes a lot for a comedic film to make me laugh, as I think most comedies these days are awful. And there are multiple solid laughs to be found here; at one point, I started hating myself for enjoying it as much as I did. Then I realized…embrace it. You just can’t hate on a truly hilarious film. And this one is it. You’ll also notice it’s the only comedy I’ve included here. So that should tell you something. Watch it, and find yourself pleasantly surprised. (*Note: “Neighbors” almost made the cut, but as you read on, you’ll find the movie that edged it to number 11).

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8. “Lucy”

Ah…”Lucy”. The movie a lot of people wanted to hate on because “it didn’t feel realistic”. Because it was “improbable”. To those people, I’d like to officially say “Suck it”. Was “The Matrix” probable? Was “Avatar” realistic? Was “Edge of Tomorrow” likely? The answer to all of these is: no. (The latter film is the one everyone decided to make their “Best Action Film of 2014”…but a slow start and a ridiculous ending killed it from making my list). There’s a reason why these films are called science FICTION. They exist in a world that asks “What if?” and then either succeeds, or doesn’t. And this one does. I also think there’s a latent dislike of it because it was a female protagonist instead of being called “Lucas”… as more women enjoyed this film than men…but that’s a whole other article and dissertation unto itself.

Now that I’m done telling you why you’re wrong (or why you’re wrong to not have watched it yet because of said arguments), let me tell you why it’s the best action film of 2014 and why you should all see it: because it’s one big giant thrill ride from beginning to end. Period. Smart, clever protagonist: check. Awesome action set pieces: check. A fun, interesting story: check. Great acting: I know it’s not a criteria for this genre, but double damn check. Give this movie a shot. And thank me later when you enjoy it more than you were expecting to.

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7. “Snowpiercer”

Another “pleasant surprise” film to make the list. In a field filled with movies that are big and stupid (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”) or derivative (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) or completely unnecessary (“300: Rise of an Empire”), it’s nice when an original, kind of odd, but completely entertaining film comes along to make you sit up, take notice, and revel that the death of good science fiction/action films aren’t completely a dead art. Now, I know this kind of film isn’t for everyone… including myself, normally…but let me tell you why you should give it a chance.

Reasons #1-3: Tilda Swinton. Period.
Reason #4: Chris Evans, who makes his money more or less by taking off his shirt, actually stepped up to the plate here and proved himself to be a solid actor. If he continues to do more work like this, he may very well find himself with a nice, long career ahead of him.
Reason #5: It’s a solid story that mirrors our world today and makes you stop and think.
Reason #6: The direction and cinematography is absolutely brilliant.

Check it out. It may not end up being your cup of tea, but you most certainly won’t end the film and say, “Eh.”

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6. “Nightcrawler”

Rare is the film that makes you enjoy it, even though you hate the protagonist. I’m not talking “gray area-Walter White” hate. I’m talking “truly despicable-I’d punch you if I met you” hate. And yet… you can’t take your eyes away from the screen to see what he’ll do next…and you’re chomping at the bit that he’ll go even further into degeneration. And good grief is it glorious! The film isn’t getting as much love as it should…probably because of the main character…and certainly makes it not-so-mainstream. Which, if you ask me, is exactly the reason why we SHOULD embrace it. There are people in this world who only look out for number one, and would throw their own parents under a bus if they can come out on top. We may not agree with their actions, but we definitely have to realize that they exist. A dark character study in the vein of “Taxi Driver” and “Falling Down”, this is a thought-provoking film that will raise many an ethical question in our own minds: would we go as far as this man to achieve what we want most in this world? The answer may surprise you…but the enjoyment of this film will not.

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5. “Still Alice”

If there are any doubters as to whether or not Julianne Moore is an “okay actress” or an “excellent actress”, let this be the film that sways you over into “excellent” territory. While the only accolades being rained down on this film thus far is Moore’s brilliant and heartbreaking performance as an early onset Alzheimers patient, the movie itself is just as pitch perfect. It’s small, it’s personal, and most importantly, it’s real. Having said that, be forewarned: it’s depressing as hell, because there’s only one outcome here, and it’s not a good one. I know…you’re thinking, “Why do I want to watch a movie that’s so depressing?” Because it’s a timely story worth telling, and…did I mention Julianne Moore’s performance? Even Kristen Stewart brings her A-game and will (almost) make you forget lackluster performances past. Bring tissues. You’re going to need them.

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4. “Big Hero 6”

So, we’ve arrived to the film that knocked “Neighbors” out of the competition for a spot in the top 10. I have a love-hate relationship with animated films…with more of them falling on the side of “hate”. It’s not that I dislike animated films, so much as most of them cater towards the kids, and don’t give much for the adults to chew on. This film, however? Did that in spades. The trailer made me laugh, but it didn’t prepare me for just how much I was going to LOVE this film. It was funny…it was heartwarming… it was clever… There wasn’t a single thing wrong with this one. So that’s all I’m going to say on this subject, and will allow you to go into it semi-blind, so you, too, will fall as deeply in love with this film as I did.

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3. “St. Vincent”

This may be, hands down, one of Bill Murray’s best performances to date…and yet, no one’s talking about it. Oh yeah…that’s right…because it got dumped into theaters and no one watched it! So, I’m going to do you a favor and only say this: you’re going to laugh until your stomach hurts, and you’re going to tear up at the end (if you don’t, you have no heart). This is a film I can’t speak highly enough about, and like “Big Hero 6”, I’m just going to leave this short endorsement here and let you experience it knowing not much of anything. Watch it, and fall in love with it. The end. And you’re welcome.

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2. “Boyhood”

Ah “Boyhood”. The film that took 12 years to make. But please don’t let that be the reason you claim to like it so much. Or the visual and music cues that immediately bring on nostalgia (I know you all laughed at the “Oops, I Did It Again” moment). Because beyond the director’s feat is a beautifully told story about a young boy navigating a turbulent childhood as he grows into adulthood. It’s a small story. There are no explosions or flashy storytelling devices. Just a three hour glimpse into the life of an average family that we can all identify with. So come for the real life origin of the project, and stay for the story. I promise you won’t be disappointed…except for the fact that Ethan Hawke has given one of his best performances of his career, and would be cleaning up at all of the awards shows, if this next film had been released one year later…

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1. “Whiplash”

“Boyhood” sat atop my list since seeing it…until this little film came along. It’s one of those films that sneaks up and catches you off guard: you’re watching it, you know you like it, and then… those Final. Seven. Minutes. changes everything. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I finally released it in a long, shaky sigh. I’m not lying when I say that this film may rank in the top ten best film endings of all time. It’s the kind of moment where, once it’s over, you’re immediately upset because you know you’ll never be able to experience this awesomeness for the first time ever again.

“Whiplash” has it all: phenomenal acting, great music, solid pacing, brilliant writing and directing, and one of the best antagonistic relationships to ever grace the screen. I can’t say enough about J.K. “Schillinger” Simmons’ performance. But then again, he’s always great, and a bright spot in anything he does. But the true revelation here is Miles Teller, who finally sheds the “sarcastic asshole” persona he’s perfected in pretty much every role he’s done in the past few years. This movie is a must-see.

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HONORABLE MENTION

“Cake” – The hype is real, folks. Jennifer Aniston gives a career changing performance in this small character drama that’s oh-so-wrong funny in all the right ways.

“Neighbors” – The first comedy of the year I watched and thoroughly enjoyed. And considering I’m not a Seth Rogan or Zac Efron fan, that’s a glowing recommendation. The real scene-stealer? Rose Byrne. Clever, funny, and never devolves into stupidity.

“Chef” – Another film that catches you by surprise. Funny, full of heart, and has a message without hitting you over the head that there’s a message to be found within.

“As Above, So Below” – The only original wide-release horror film this year that was actually pretty good, despite it’s terrible trailer and on-the-nose, spoiler-filled title.

“The Skeleton Twins” – This one just missed the mark because there were just a little too many “been there, done that” story beats found within. However, the show-stopping, epic lip synching dance number to the classic 80’s song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” makes this film worth your time.

“Birdman” – I know this is in everyone else’s top 10 list, but it just missed the mark for me…and I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why. Original, funny, thought-provoking…it’s everything I want in a film. But it just didn’t grab me enough to rate it higher.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” – In my opinion, the best, and only worthy comic book film of the year. To be this many sequels in and still keep the audience’s interest all the way through? No small feat. The ending is what kept me from putting this one on the list, as it (SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!) rendered every film after the first one null and void.

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