2014 [in films]

I saw a headline recently that the domestic box office fell 5% in 2014, the lowest number of tickets sold since 1995. It’s not terribly surprising, what with the myriad ways one can see a film these days that don’t involve heading out to a theater.

But more, I have to wonder if the dip in ticket sales has also to do with a somewhat lackluster year of releases. Wherein most years I’m chomping at the bit by August for the fall and winter releases – the awards bait typical of the end of the year – I found myself scrambling to drum up half a dozen films to get excited about each month.

Despite seeing more films than last year, I found only 20 I wanted to include on my own personal Best of the Year list, rather than the 25 that filled the list in 2013. I’ve also snuck onto the list Mr. Turner, a film I technically saw on January 2, making an exception for this exceptional film.

And more, I haven’t seen a handful of late-in-the-year releases which may very well make this list when I do (and obviously I reserve the right to revise!). Inherent Vice, Selma, Top Five, A Most Violent Year, The Theory of Everything, Miss Julie and Unbroken top that list; Rosewater, Laggies, Life Partners, Finding Vivian Maier, and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby are also ones I wish I’d made time for. I imagine I’ll knock out several in the coming first weeks of 2015.

Me reviewing films seen this year, sorting out my faves...
Me reviewing films seen this year, sorting out my faves…

Because I want to write a bit about each film and that can get cumbersome, I’m going to break this post up. After the jump, find my favorite films of the year – up to number 6. I’ll post the top five tomorrow. Drumroll, please…

#20 – 6

A Most Wanted Man – Though not on many people’s radar as the year wraps up, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last leading role is a doozie. A spy thriller about state secrets, double agents and dangerous outcomes, he carries the film as a shrewd if resigned special agent who knows exactly how to play the game – whether his superiors appreciate it or not. This taut thriller ends with one of the best send-offs an actor gone to soon could ask for. We still miss ya, PSH. trailer

Wild – Though Elizabeth Gilbert is more my person than equally compelling Cheryl Strayed, I totally get what others see in her after this film adaptation of her memoir of the same name. After her mother’s death and the end of her marriage, Strayed sets off on a cross-country hike she is ill-prepared for, perhaps all the better to experience it. Reese Witherspoon sheds all pretense to become a woman on a journey to find herself, and it’s a pleasure (if at times painful) to watch. trailer

Guardians of the Galaxy – Here’s the thing. The day I learned my grandfather passed away, I stayed home from work to process the news. It was not a good day, to say the least. By early afternoon, I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I went for a walk. And I found myself at the movie theater, that church where I worship most often. That day, GOTG was the perfect escape; it was the purest movie-going experience of recent memory, two hours in the theater spent completely unawares of the world outside. trailer

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson is as established a brand as Gap or Crate & Barrel; his films are recognizable a mile away, and it seems audiences either love them or love to hate them. Me, I tend to fall in the former camp, appreciating the wit and originality of his efforts. Grand Budapest Hotel is equal parts nostalgia and Anderson inventiveness. trailer

Nightcrawler – Jake Gyllenhaal is playing the long game with his career, and his creepy, slimy role in Nightcrawler is evidence therein. This is not a role that’s going to win him on Oscar (though perhaps it should), but his ability to become the opportunistic egomaniac who tracks accidents and house fires for cash is uncanny. That the film is from a first-time director makes it even more impressive. trailer

Boyhood – It’s not easy to do something new in film these days. Darren Aronofsky did it in Black Swan; Martin Scorsese did it in…every film he’s ever made. And Richard Linklater took the whole industry by surprise with his 12-year odyssey into evolutionary filmmaking with Boyhood. The film is flawed, to be sure, but what Linklater does with time and storytelling earns him a high spot on this list. trailer

Still Alice – Julianne Moore plays a woman in her 50s diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s, and in that role, she soars. Though casting is a bit odd (Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart) and the storyline may be slightly flawed, Moore’s vulnerability and entirely believable descent into the disease is captivating. With any luck, this is her Oscar role. trailer

Love Is Strange – Emotion is a hard thing to capture on film, and I find I gravitate towards the character pieces that are centered around the effort. This year, that sentiment is epitomized in Love Is Strange, the story of two men who marry only to lose their livelihood when their union is discovered by the Catholic school one teaches for. Interwoven with family stories and a backdrop of the city I’ve come to call home, it’s a winning combination. trailer

Only Lovers Left Alive – I haven’t seen the other vampire film making the rounds this year (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), but this one doesn’t disappoint. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton make a stylish pair of vamps scraping by as the world around them modernizes faster than they can keep up with. A lush production, exotic locales and one of the best final shots of the year make for a trip of a film. trailer

Obvious Child – A film that’s an indie in the best sense of the word, Obvious Child charms in its quirkiness. A modern story of dating, sex and unwanted pregnancies, it’s a film that speaks to me in more ways than one – as a feminist, as an aspiring writer, as a New Yorker navigating the dating scene. Though it doesn’t break any cinematic ground, it’s a happily enjoyable little flick. trailer

Life Itself – I can still remember vividly where I was when I heard the news of Roger Ebert’s passing: I’d just left a voicework session in Utah, where I was living at the time, and saw the news on social media. I clicked around to confirm it was true, then sat a moment in my car to gather myself before driving home. As a kid growing up in the 90s in Chicago, Ebert’s (and Siskel’s) movie reviews were as common as pizza cut in squares and the Bulls winning championships. Life Itself is a fitting celebration of one man’s exceptional life. trailer

Force Majeure – I caught this one at the Chicago Int’l Film Festival, and as I was watching it, I didn’t enjoy it. I squirmed in my seat and checked the time more than once, wondering when the experience would be over. And yet. As I left the theater, I found myself mulling over the film and its many nuances, it’s layers upon layers of emotional manipulation – I just couldn’t shake it. A film whose power is in how uncomfortable it makes you feel? Exceptional. trailer

Citizenfour – Easily one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen – not just this year, ever. When it premiered at New York Film Festival, the industry was abuzz with the revelations it contained – how, exactly, did Edward Snowden do what he did? What happened next? What was yet to come? The film is so relevant it was still being edited and updated weeks before its debut. If you’re any kind of policy/privacy/news junky – or if you’re just not living under a rock – you must see this film. trailer

Gone Girl – Much was expected of David Fincher and his adaptation of the runaway best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, and both he and the author – who also penned the screenplay – delivered. With a top-shelf cast, from dreamboat Ben Affleck to creepy bit-part Neil Patrick Harris and of course the titular “girl” Rosamund Pike, to boot, the whole film captivates in a way other adaptations (ahem, This Is Where I Leave You) fail to do. trailer

Mr. Turner – As noted, I technically saw this one on the second day of the year, but it’s my list and I can do what I want. So here it is. Timothy Spall – not exactly a household name – comes into his own as British artist JMW Turner, best known for his massive landscapes and work with natural light. I discovered turner when I spent an afternoon at The Frick recently – two of his best known pieces hang in that collection. The film plays as a painting in a way itself, gorgeous pictures paired with a touching story of an artist not completely comfortable with his own identity. trailer

So there they are – the crop of films I’ll call the best of the year, to a point. Still five more films to go – which do you think will top the list? Which are your personal favorites?

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