Alec’s Top 15 Movies of 2014


While I was binge-watching films at the end of last year and the beginning of this one to figure out where everything would stand on my official TOP MOVIES OF 2014 list, I noticed something odd: So many of the films I saw in 2014 reminded me of films I saw in 2013. Sometimes that was because they were by the same directors or shot by the same cinematographers. Sometimes it was just because they affected me in similar ways or dealt with similar themes. But when it came time to sit down and do this, I thought, “Hey… why not look at the best films of 2014 as it compares to 2013?” And so I did that, with each film on this list corresponding to a film on last year’s list.

As such, the numbering of this list doesn’t quite reflect my feelings (my favorite film of the year is only number 2 on this list), and several of my favorites were knocked off my slightly less deserving films, but I did it to make a point. And it’s not like these lists really matter anyway.

So without further ado, we proudly present the “Best Films of 2013: 2014 Edition.”

Movies that possibly maybe could have been on this list if I’d seen them (and didn’t structure it so weirdly): The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Leviathan (not the 2012 garbage), Ida, The Guest, Foxcatcher, John Wick, Into the Woods, Force Majeure, Fury, How to Train Your Dragon 2Jodorowsky’s Dune, Song of the Sea

Movies that could have theoretically been on this list if I hadn’t structured it like this: The Lego Movie, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Guardians of the Galaxy, Obvious Child, Noah, Gone Girl, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1, Snowpiercer, Inherent Vice

Movies that wouldn’t have been on this list under any circumstances: Under the Skin, Two Days, One Night

The Interview

2014’s This is the End.

I flip-flopped pretty hard on The Interview. It’s not as good as last year’s excellent This is the End, but it’s a whole lot better than I was giving it credit for when I wrote my “Why did it have to be The Interview?” article. Honestly: It’s pretty freaking funny. And the fact that it is selling in North Korea for a ludicrous amount of money bodes well for the future of that country. It’s not going to spark a revolution (I don’t think it’s even possible to revolt against that particular dictatorship), but it has more potential to cause unrest than fifty Oscar worthy documentaries. Documentaries don’t have sex appeal. Neither does Seth Rogen, if we’re being honest, but a good looking Hollywood movie (which The Interview definitely is) certainly does. 

Read our review here.


2014’s Wolf of Wall Street

Nightcrawler celebrates the seedy underbelly of our world. It celebrates, without real consequence, the vile behavior of a certain type of person. Sound like anything? Yeah it does. A lot of people were disgusted by The Wolf of Wall Street, the excesses that it showed in order to make a point (a point that it made brilliantly, I might add). Jordan Belforte was (is) a bad dude, and the film amply demonstrated that. Nightcrawler does the same, showing the awfulness of Lou Bloom. And it’s fascinating for that. (It also features an established movie star giving one of the best performances of his life.) Like the next two entries on this list, it’s a feature debut, and I find that both amazing and infuriating, because it has the kind of assuredness of direction that you rarely see from first-timers. Hats off to Dan Gilroy.

Read our review here.


2014’s You’re Next (or Evil Dead)

In 2014, two female directors put out their feature debuts. They were both horror films. One, Honeymoon, played at festivals but kind of fizzled out. The other, The Babadook, has hit a whole lot of people in a whole lot of ways. That’s a shame, because Honeymoon was a fantastic film that deserved to be seen by more people. I have a lot of thoughts about it, and the way its narrative develops, but suffice it to say that its effectiveness says a lot about what the viewer finds scary. I found the first half terrifying and the second half less so. I know others who felt the exact opposite. But regardless of that, it’s an extremely well made film, and it makes excellent use of long takes (which I love). It also excited me so much that I started working on a horror screenplay of my own. I think that says more about my reaction than any number of superlatives.

The Babadook

2014’s Evil Dead (or You’re Next)

The Babadook, on the other hand, did not compel me quite as much. But it scared me a whole lot more… at least in its first half. Much like Honeymoon, The Babadook changes a bit halfway through, and how the viewer reacts to that change is more about them than the film. I wasn’t as enamored of the ending as I was the beginning, but I can’t deny the effectiveness of its lead characters. It’s a fascinating film, and I hope writer/director Jennifer Kent puts out something else soon. The Babadook is one hell of a debut.

Read our review here.


2014’s The Square

Confession time: I haven’t actually seen Citizenfour but considering the structure of this list, that doesn’t technically matter. Whether it’s good or not (it probably is), Citizenfour is an important documentary about an important moment (or, person, I guess) in modern history. So it gets to be on here, sight unseen.


2014’s Upstream Color

Upstream Color incited former Flixist News Editor Hubert Vigilla to write more than 8000 words about its meaning (Parts 1, 2, and 3). Coherence didn’t quite do that for me, but it was the impetus for the creation of our “Review Companion” articles (of which there have now been several). I had never really felt compelled to analyze a film outside of what I said in the review. But the way Coherence‘s narrative develops convinced me that sometimes analysis does need to be separated (or at the very least elaborated). There was more to say that I didn’t feel right talking about in the review. I had so many thoughts and feelings to put down. I really, really loved Coherence. It’s a fascinating and fantastic film (much better than Upstream Color, if we’re being honest), but like Upstream Color its existence says something about low-budget filmmaking. It was done over a few days with some friends in the director’s house. Also: it’s almost entirely improvised. How amazing is that? Rhetorical question. It’s so amazing.

Read our review here


2014’s Captain Phillips

Whiplash was probably one of the biggest surprises of the year. It came out of left field and knocked everyone over. Kind of like Captain Phillips, which looked… fine, but then turned out to be freaking awesome. What makes both of these films feel similar is their intensity. They feel claustrophobic. Captain Phillips under the tyranny of the Somalian pirates and Whiplash beneath Terrence Fletcher. They don’t give you a moment to breathe, getting faster and harder until a violent climax. The character of Andrew Neyman is more akin to the actual Captain Phillips as he’s been described by his coworkers (not a hero) than the one the film portrays, but the two of them have equivalent determination to get their goal. And they both feature excellent performances. (Worth noting: I considered switching this an Nightcrawler, which I think would have also been appropriate, but for entirely different reasons.)

Read our review here.

The Theory of Everything

2014’s Dallas Buyer’s Club

Dallas Buyer’s Club was a good movie made great by spectacular performances. So is The Theory of Everything. That really is enough said, but it’s worth elaborating on one particular fact: the film was not shot in sequence. The actors had to go across time over the course of a single day, which means Eddie Redmayne would go from walking to being wheelchair bound within a few hours. That is incredible. And it took some real ingenuity on the part of the filmmakers to make it look like the actor was withering away even though he was in the same condition throughout. Felicity Jones was great too, but she didn’t have to undergo the physical transformation that her partner did. Good on them both, but good job especially on Mr. Redmayne. It almost makes up for that malarkey in Les Miserables.

Read our review here.


2014’s Gravity (In Theaters (In 3D))

I went back and forth on these next two, because on some level they both represent my feelings on both films. But I didn’t write several thousand words about the IMAX experience of Interstellar and I did about the theatrical experience of Birdman. Both these films were shot by the same brilliant cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezski, and as such they’re both visual spectacles. On some level, the biggest difference between these two films is that Birdman will continue to work out of theaters, where Gravity really loses its luster. Birdman is every bit the achievement that Gravity was and more. If you can see it in a theatre, I urge you to do so. But if you can’t, I still urge you to see it. It’s one hell of an experience.

Read our review here.


2014’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It still bothers me that people didn’t like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty as much as I did (and do). It’s such a brilliant and beautiful film that has a reverence for the world around us. Insterstellar doesn’t have much reverence for Earth, but it does have reverence for everything else. It has optimism, and a belief in humans and their ability to go beyond their supposed limitations. But also like Walter Mitty, it uses real (gorgeous) locations to show viewers a part of the world that they’ve never seen. It’s a film about explorers and exploration, and it’s a reminder of just how incredible the world we all live in is. It’s somewhat messy (Nolan’s films always are), but that does little to diminish it’s impact. And like Walter Mitty, Interstellar is even better the second time. It also benefits from the larger than life feeling that a theater can give. In IMAX, Interstellar is a stunning achievement, unlike any film that has ever been released ever.

Read our review here.

The Raid 2

2014’s Wrong

The 95 is an important score on Flixist. We haven’t given very many of them in our time, which makes it all the more significant when we do. In my several hundred reviews, I’ve only done it twice. First with Wrong and now with The Raid 2. Both these films changed my perception of cinema. Sure, the films couldn’t really be more different, but the way they affected me is surprisingly similar. I walked out of them both as a different person, a different critic. I am a better person and a better critic for having seen both. I discussed this more in depth a while back with a video explaining the way our system works (especially as it relates to my review of The Raid 2, so you should check that out if you’re interested). The Raid 2 matters, not just to me but to action cinema in general. It is unequivocally the best action film ever made. It set the bar astronomically high. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve watched that final fight in the kitchen? So many.

Read our review here.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

2014’s Blue is the Warmest Color

Of all the entries on this list, this one is the stretch-iest. I missed a lot of the big foreign dramas in 2014, so I was kind of at a loss for a really appropriate analog to Blue is the Warmest Color, which I continue to cry about at night because it’s so goddamn affecting. Then I remembered that Grand Budapest Hotel is vaguely foreign, sort of dramatic, and totally freaking amazing. So I stand by this comparison, even if it’s not really that appropriate. Some may disagree, but I wholeheartedly stand behind Grand Budapest Hotel as Wes Anderson’s best film. I like his work for the most part (some more than others), but this one pulled me in like no other. It’s one of the most engrossing and fascinating experiences of the year. And it doesn’t hurt that the director’s symmetrical OCD looks mind-bogglingly good in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Read our review here.

Edge of Tomorrow

2014’s Her

This one’s about world-building. Her succeeded not just because it was basically flawless but because it created a believable world that felt near-future. It felt plausible (and incredible). I loved it. Edge of Tomorrow also creates a believable world, although one with slightly less believable circumstances. Edge of Tomorrow sticks with its internal logic, it makes sense within itself, and it takes a relatively simple concept and makes something shockingly effective out of it. Edge of Tomorrow is the best videogame movie ever made (while Her just had an interesting conception of the future of videogames. The “Live. Die. Repeat.” mantra is exactly how so many people feel playing games. It’s more relevant to older games, the ones that required pixel-perfect jumps and flawless timing, but even now there are shades of it. (It’s worth noting that the Japanese light novel the film is based on, All You Need Is Kill, was inspired by this aspect of videogaming, so… that’s not even some hidden meaning. It was the fundamental purpose.) It’s really an incredible film, and anyone who has ever considered themselves to be an action, sci-fi, or videogame fan owes it to themselves to see it.

Read our review here.


2014’s Before Midnight

Boyhood is the most fascinating movie ever made. Before Midnight is a part of the most fascinating trilogy ever made. What makes them interesting is exactly the same: Time. Like the Up series of documentaries, Linklater has used these films to tell stories of growing up and growing together and growing apart in a way that no one else ever has. You watch these people grow. Literally. In Boyhood, each scene pushes the clock forward. And before you know it, this 8 year old boy is in college. He’s left the house. This is a film that shouldn’t work as well as it does, but the execution is just so brilliant. Yeah, there are some problems with it, but they don’t matter. Not even a little bit. Not at all. What Boyhood tried to do in and of itself would have made it worth seeing, even if it was a total failure. The fact that it is one of the best movies of the last several years speaks to the talent of the director and his cast. There will never be another film like Boyhood. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s not. But let’s just celebrate the fact that we have the one. It is a cinematic achievement. That is for damn sure.

Read our review here.


2014’s 12 Years a Slave

Selma was the film I knew I needed to see before I made this list. The buzz surrounding it was high enough that I knew it would be in my Top 15 at the very least, and while I feel sort of bad about missing a few of the other films, I would have felt awful missing this one. I’m glad I didn’t miss it. Because… wow. Like, really. Wow. The thing that really surprised me wasn’t its effectiveness (I assumed that much from the critical acclaim (though acclaim has been wrong before)) but its violence. Like 12 Years a Slave, the intensity of the violence makes Selma extremely hard to watch. And in fact, Selma may be harder to watch than 12 Years a Slave, because it’s so much more recent. People can pretend like the lessons of slavery are irrelevant because it was so long ago. No one who was alive at that time is around today. But people alive during the Selma demonstrations? There are definitely a whole lot of them. That makes a difference. It means something different. It means more now that the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act that the Selma marches were fighting for. It’s disgusting, honestly, that the legacy of this is a return to disenfranchisement. It’s infuriating. Selma is evidence of our recent past. We would do well to remember it.

In 2013, we got an incredibly affecting movie about racism in the 19th century. In 2014, we got an incredibly affecting movie about racism in the 20th century. Racism is alive an well today. Let’s see if 2015 will bring us a film holding the mirror up to our society today.

Read our review here.