10) Edge of Tomorrow
Directed by Doug Liman
Starring Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt
Good time travel movies are a rarity in Hollywood, as are genuinely good alien invasion films. Edge of Tomorrow nails both of these in a surprisingly captivating film. The movie, adapted from the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, stars Tom Cruise as a military major and PR specialist forced into actual combat. It’s easy to forget sometimes how good of an actor Cruise is, but he puts in a fantastic performance as an accident causes him to relive each day every time he’s killed. He pulls off the transition from scaredy cat to confident bad ass with both ease and believability. Probably even more impressive are that the time travel makes sense in a cool take on the concept, and the well done combat scenes of mech suits versus creative alien designs.
9) John Wick
Directed by David Leitch, Chad Stahelski
Starring Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe
Man, is this movie fun! In the same vein as films like Taken and Shoot ‘Em Up, this film stars Keanu Reeves as an amazing assassin character trying to be a normal guy, when tragedy pulls him back into the world he tried to leave behind. Reeves actually pulls off some great emotional beats in this film, making him all the more sympathetic and easy to root for as he performs the best gun choreography I’ve seen since Equilibrium. With a well-realized sub culture and cast of side characters that the film creates around the underworld Reeves, John Wick proves to be a well-designed roller coaster of fun action.
8) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton
We need Michael Keaton to do more movies. Keaton puts in a fantastic performance in a role that was basically made for him, playing a former movie superhero actor trying to break into Broadway. Everything falls apart around him, from lunatic method actors (Edward Norton) and a daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone), and we get to follow his struggle against the world and his superhero acting past to fix his life. The second best star of the film though is the camera, with the movie being edited to appear as almost one giant shot as if it were a play itself with no break in tension.
Directed by Dan Gilroy
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo
This movie is uncomfortably tense. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sociopath fixated with success idioms, who discovers the career path of freelance news videographers. With a video camera and a police scanner, Gyllenhaal tracks down crime scenes to record hitting news, and his lack of empathy helps him break all sorts of ethical (and legal) quandaries in recording voyeuristic shots of horrible crimes. The efforts he goes through to further his career success, and the people he’ll step over, are captivating to watch, and Gyllenhaal’s performance of this emotionless, career focused predator is top notch.
6) Gone Girl
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Ben Affleck, Rosemund Pike
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Gone Girl is that you think the primary mystery is solved, but then that’s only half the film. Ben Affleck and Rosemund Pike put in outstanding performances as a seemingly perfect couple with secrets and lies on top of secrets and lies. You’re never sure where the movie is going to actually end up (unless you read the book, dirty cheaters). Ben Affleck does a good job as the too likeable husband trying to find his wife, but Rosemund Pike’s performances adds layers and layers to the story at hand, wonderfully crafted by director David Fincher to keep you guessing.
5) The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori
Wes Anderson puts in another amazing cinematic masterpiece with his latest outing. Every shot of The Grand Budapest Hotel is amazing, often full of color or contrast to pop out in just the right way. The adventure of the hotel manager and his bell boy on the run, played respectively by Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori, is a fun adventure of the off-kilter zaniness Anderson has perfected. This film is crammed full of great actors, several of Anderson’s usuals, putting in great performances as we follow this crime mystery/coming-of-age mentor tale.
4) X-Men: Days of Future Past
Directed by Bryan Singer
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy
It’s time to say good bye to the X-Men, and this was the way to do it. Director Bryan Singer comes back to the franchise he started to create this wonderful character piece to explore the characters he first brought to life and their “earlier” incarnations introduced in the previous X-Men: First Class film, and by investing more in the characters, possibly creating the best film in the entire franchise. Hugh Jackman aside, we likely won’t ever see the original X-Men actors don their leather jumpsuits and wheelchairs again, but Days of Future Past was a great send off while solidifying the newer cast as the definitive current standard bearers of the franchise. Plus despite how overplayed Wolverine is in comics and pop culture, he didn’t feel too overused here, and that in of itself is an accomplishment.
3) Guardians of the Galaxy
Directed by James Gunn
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper
The most hands-down fun movie of the year has got to be the most unconventional franchise Marvel has decided to make a movie for. Chris Pratt proves he can be both funny man and action star with the lovable rogue Star-Lord, and the team we meet throughout the course of the film is just as weird and lovable as he is. Everyone doubted a talking raccoon, but Bradley Cooper put in an amazing performance that’s almost unrecognizable. And Vin Diesel proves that sometimes you don’t need a large vocabulary to convey all the emotion we need. Then there’s the best soundtrack of the year, with each song becoming intrinsically linked to the film that it’s impossible to think of one without the other. With Guardians of the Galaxy, it seems like Marvel can do no wrong. Let’s hope Ant-Man doesn’t muck that up.
2) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford
I love Captain America. Especially THIS Captain America, a man who doesn’t stand for a country but instead stands for what that country should be and the ideals it should strive for. Chris Evans is becoming as attached to Captain America as Steve Rogers himself is. (Sorry comic Bucky and Falcon) Speaking of Falcon, Anthony Mackie’s debut role into the Marvel cinematic universe proved strong, showing that this Falcon is plenty capable of being his own man and not simply a sidekick. Add in Robert Redford’s more manipulative and thinking-man’s villain and the Hydra twist that people have been whispering for months since, and you have a fully fleshed out espionage drama that’s almost Tom-Clancy-esque. Being able to basically change movie genres from the first film’s basic-yet-fun adventure serial into this, without missing a beat or feeling out of place, is a remarkable accomplishment this film earns.
1) The Lego Movie
Directed by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Will Ferrell
No film surprised me on how well it emotionally impacted me like The Lego Movie, and I had no idea it would even come close to this going into it. The basic portion of the movie, a normal and forgettable guy who wants to just fit in and have friends suddenly finds out he’s special, definitely has enough resonance with a large audience. Building on that with a bunch of Lego blocks into what it becomes is even more special. The father-son dynamic with the Man Upstairs is a downright tear jerker, and the end realization of how everyone is really special and you should just be yourself is just the icing on the cake. Sure, these are pretty common lessons to play on, but this film sticks the landing so well. On top of all that, the comedic performances between the characters is hilarious, and the Lego worlds are both creative and right out of everything I used to build with Lego as a kid. This film hits emotional centers for me from different points in my life, and it does it perfectly. Just like the ridiculously catchy song says, everything is awesome, and that’s why The Lego Movie is my top film of 2014.