A&E’s year in review: the definitive list of the ten best films of 2014

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Daniel McFadden

In Whiplash, jazz conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) pushes drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) over the edge in the most intense film of 2014.

Rami Chaudhry, A&E Editor

Despite incredibly low numbers at the box office, 2014 was a fantastic year at the movies.  A number of blockbusters took sequel-tired audiences by surprise, while soft-spoken independent films took advantage of innovative storytelling techniques.  Due to the fact that we are in the midst of awards season, and the Academy snubbed a number of deserving films, A&E has compiled a list of the top ten films of 2014.  We felt it necessary to shed some light on our favorite Hollywood blockbusters, independent films, and serious Oscar contenders.

Begin Again was the feel good musical-comedy-drama of 2014.  Written and directed by John Carney and featuring an all-star cast of Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine and Cee-Lo Green, the film tells a simple story about a man struggling to reconnect with his family, and a single woman trying to find herself in a new city.  The film is uplifting and a treat for music lovers. It also features one of the most original soundtracks of the year, featuring the popular Adam Levine song “Lost Stars.”

At number nine is a movie that deserved way more love.  Combine Groundhog Day’s concept of repeating the same day, Tom Cruise, and terrible marketing.  The result is 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow.  This summer action flick was pure fun at the movies, and it should be on every action movie fan’s watch list.  Too bad the unflattering trailers made the film look like throwaway action sci-fi.  Thankfully, it was anything but that.  The story was inventive and the action sequences were engaging.

At number eight is Nightcrawler, which was arguably 2014’s equivalent to American Psycho.  Behind every psychotic movie character is an incredible actor, and in this one, it’s Jake Gyllenhaal. He delivers immensely in this pulsating neo-noir crime thriller.  The film centers around the mysterious and mentally unsound character of Lou Bloomlook (Gyllenhall). After becoming inspired by a freelance film crew shooting a car accident, he becomes enveloped in the world of freelance crime shooting and makes a career out of it.  What transpires is a dark, and at times darkly funny, look at what one man would do to film a juicy crime scene.  Speaking of psychopaths…

At number seven, David Fincher’s immaculate direction and Rosamund Pike’s haunting performance are why you should watch Gone Girl. Based on Gillian Flynn’s best-selling page turner, the story is seemingly unoriginal: a man’s wife goes missing and he becomes the prime suspect in her investigation.  However, the various twists and turns the story takes are baffling, specifically the actions of Pike’s character, Amy.  Senior and Gone Girl superfan Kate Kerin shared her thoughts on Pike’s performance.

“After reading the book, I was nervous as to how Rosamund Pike would portray such a complex character like Amy,” said Kerin.  “After watching the film, all of my doubts were written off.  She truly deserves the Oscar nomination.”

If you weren’t hooked on a feeling while watching Guardians of the Galaxy, you need a serious wake-up call.  At number six on our list, Guardians is arguably the best Marvel film to date, and a pleasant surprise considering the main characters were, for the most part, unknown to the general public. Guardians contained everything you would want from a summer blockbuster: fast paced action, beautiful visuals, a hilarious script, and loveable lead characters. Some have even called it the Star Wars of this generation.

At number five, The Grand Budapest Hotel showcases a director at the top of his game.  Wes Anderson’s picturesque depiction of a grand hotel in a fictional European country combines witty humor, distinctive directorial voice, and a surprisingly heartfelt story, all set against a backdrop of a serious and dramatically changing world.  Actor Ralph Fiennes is also at the top of his game, portraying the legendary concierge Gustave.  If you are familiar with Anderson’s work and enjoy his films, we highly recommend this movie  If you aren’t, stay far away.  This film has Anderson written all over it.

Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age epic Boyhood is a cinematic accomplishment.  Filmed over the course of twelve years, main character Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family literally grow up right in front of viewers’ eyes in the film’s 2-hour and-45 minute run time.  People of all ages have something to relate to in this poignant and uplifting film that celebrates life, and acts as a testament to families everywhere.

So what The LEGO Movie did not get an Oscar nomination.  At number three, everything about this hilarious movie is still awesome.  LEGO construction worker Emmett (voiced by Chris Pratt) has followed the instructions his entire life.  After being mistaken as “the special,” he is unwillingly thrust into an adventure to save the LEGO universe, only to realize that even ordinary people like him are capable of extraordinary things.  Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, of 21 Jump Street fame, have been on a roll in the world of comedy, and The LEGO Movie is perhaps the best indication of that.

First runner-up, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), is unlike any film to date.  It does more than blur the line between independent films and Hollywood blockbusters.  Birdman, unlike many other films, was shot to look like one continuous take.  It was so impressive that I had trouble taking my eyes away from the screen.  The film is not for everyone, but if you stick with it, you will be rewarded with a fascinating story centered around a washed out actor who used to be a movie star (Michael Keaton), as he battles demons and puts on a broadway play with disastrous results. With phenomenal performances from leading man Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, and Edward Norton, Birdman is nearly perfect.  So perfect that it would have made our number one spot if it had not been for the following film.

You go to the movies to escape. To laugh and unwind, cry and unravel. You go to the movies to make your palms sweat, heart race or slow down to a standstill. Sorry Christopher Nolan fans, this is not Interstellar. Our pick for the best film of 2014 is…(drumroll please)…Whiplash. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, Whiplash tells the story of 19-year-old jazz drummer, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller). Jazz conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), in search of a new drum alternate for his jazz band, takes Andrew under his wing.

It sounds like a simple, run-of-the-mill inspirational flick about a drummer and his teacher when really, Whiplash is anything but that. Some may classify it as an intense thriller and/or horror film, thanks to J.K. Simmons’ terrifying portrayal of Fletcher, who mentally and physically abuses Andrew relentlessly. The film explores the artistic drive that keeps students like Andrew from giving up, and delves deeper into the egotistical side of musicians. To top it all off, the film has one of the most exhilarating climaxes in cinema history.