Thanks for taking the time to reading our film reviews here on Vancity Buzz. 2014 was the year we decided to expand our arts coverage and it has been a real joy for me and others to be able to review film.
Recently with our movie reviews, we have tried to keep things simplistic and light but at the same time provide a fun rating system of raindrops that will help you decide on whether a movie is worth checking out in a theater or not. I also like to include whether a film is worth the few extra dollars for 3D glasses.
Now it’s time for our first ever best films of 2014 list, except it’s not really in any numerical order. They are just 10 films that really stood out this year.
There are some serious art house and independent projects that were not included on this list but everyone has an opinion and different tastes and we can’t include everything. But trust us, there are a few films on this list you will thoroughly enjoy.
So without further ado, 10 movies of 2014 that we enjoyed and a few extras.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Gajda – The Sunday Dog Parade
Official Synopsis: Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) – famous for portraying an iconic superhero – as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. (c) Fox Searchlight
Many of my colleagues have called this the best movie of 2014 and to be honest, they are probably right. Micheal Keaton gives another classic performance that should garner him a best actor nod from the Academy. Not to mention the film has been winning a plethora of awards on the film festival circuit that director Alejandro González Iñárritu could also be a front runner for best director. If you haven’t checked this one out yet put it on your list as must see. It’s a fantastic film and it’s not just Keaton’s performance that is strong but Ed Norton is also very strong in a supporting role.
Official Synopsis: Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason (a breakthrough performance by Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, Boyhood charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, set to a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay’s Yellow to Arcade Fire’s Deep Blue.
Boyhood is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting. It’s impossible to watch Mason and his family without thinking about our own journey. (c) Sundance Film Fest
This was a cinematic marvel to behold. As the synopsis says above, Richard Linklater filmed the movie over a 12-year period with the same actors growing in front of our very eyes. It’s hard not to get attached to the family as we watch them evolve through ups and some deep downs in their lives. Their mother, played by the wonderful Patricia Arquette, becomes the glue that holds them all together.
The film is slow moving, and to be honest, the ending is anti-climatic but that is probably because you want to watch the character of Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, continue to experience life. In some ways I think as a viewer you start reflecting on your own childhood.
Ethan Hawke is an underrated actor and he is at his best in Boyhood. This film does such a great job in character study, and no doubt it’s very cool to see the actors actually get older without the use of other actors or really good makeup. Everything comes off so naturally. This was easily one of my favourites of 2014.
Official Synopsis: Nightcrawler is a pulse-pounding thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling — where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou thrives. In the breakneck, ceaseless search for footage, he becomes the star of his own story. (c) Open Road
Jake Gyllenhaal has had a few memorable performances in his career, but his role as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler will go down as one of this best performances ever. The film is dark, gritty and at times extremely grotesque. Director Dan Gilroy shows the sickness that is media exploitation, but at the same time celebrates Bloom as this anti-hero who is just giving us what we secretly want or desire. It’s a twisted movie and definitely worth while checking out and makes this year’s list of top films. Read our full review here.
Official Synopsis: “The Lego (R) Movie” is the first-ever, full-length theatrical Lego (R) adventure. The original 3D computer animated story follows Emmet (Chris Pratt) an ordinary, rules- following, perfectly average Lego minifigure who is mistakenly identified as the most extraordinary person and the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously under-prepared. (c) Warner Bros
If you are wondering why there has been a Lego shortage the last few months (true story), you can blame this movie. From the time that this film was released earlier this year, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of the famous building blocks and that’s not a bad thing.
Not only was the film smart and funny but it had heart. It’s the perfect family film and it holds up as one of the year’s best and will become an instant classic. “Everything is Awesome” is not just an insanely catchy theme song, but it might punt that other annoying catchy song, sung by a certain Disney Princess on ice, out of your head… temporarily. We can also thank local artists Tegan and Sara for that.
Official Synopsis: The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune — all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent. (c) Fox Searchlight
Any movie by Wes Anderson is hard to knock although I wasn’t a big fan of Moonrise Kingdom. With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson reminds us why he is one of America’s top directors. His cinematic style is unique and quirky. He likes to use a lot of the same actors in his films IE: Bill Murray. That said, this could be the first time that we can call a Wes Anderson flick a quasi action movie with some gunfights, high-speed chases, great escapes and cliffhangers. Yet it’s still very Anderson’esq like with fast paced dialogue, bright colors and fantastic set design.
I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel and I know many critics alike will have it on their best of 2014 lists.
Official Synopsis: During the winter of 1952, British authorities entered the home of mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to investigate a reported burglary. They instead ended up arresting Turing himself on charges of ‘gross indecency’, an accusation that would lead to his devastating conviction for the criminal offense of homosexuality – little did officials know, they were actually incriminating the pioneer of modern-day computing. Famously leading a motley group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers, he was credited with cracking the so-called unbreakable codes of Germany’s World War II Enigma machine.
An intense and haunting portrayal of a brilliant, complicated man, The Imitation Game follows a genius who under nail-biting pressure helped to shorten the war and, in turn, save thousands of lives. (c) Weinstein
I gave my full review on this film a few weeks ago and it still holds up as one of my favourites of 2014. Although there are some who believe Hollywood took a lot of liberties regarding Alan Turing’s life, his achievements shouldn’t be forgotten. Turing was part of a group of geniuses who were responsible for cracking the code for the Nazi Enigma machine. Essentially they were one of the biggest reasons we won World War II. In some ways they could be considered Hackers.
Turing was also responsible for creating a machine that would become the foundation for computers. So the very fact that I’m typing this out and you are reading it can be greatly attributed to Mr. Turing. Yet for all of his smarts, quirkiness and heroism, Alan Turing was treated like a criminal for being gay.
The biggest reason to see this film is because Benedict Cumberbatch is phenomenal and this should get him a few best actor nominations during award season. I also really liked Keira Knightley’s performance as she tries to break away from Pirates of the Caribbean to remind us that she is still a very talented actor when given great material. This is well worth checking out as the story has some nice twists and turns.
Official Synopsis: With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history; traveling beyond this galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars. (C) Paramount
Many of you are going WTF? Why is this on your list? Simply put, it’s a cinematic achievement and one of my favourite movies of 2014. There seems to be two types of reaction to the film: love it or hate it. Wherever you stand, the film deserves to be on most top 10 lists.
Director Christopher Nolan gave us a science fiction masterpiece that used real scientific theory, mixed in with some fantasy, and dared us to dream about what is possible when it comes to space travel and exploring the stars.
The film plays like a beautiful and gigantic science fiction opera and you get that feeling when watching it on the large IMAX screen so if you are stuck viewing it on your tablet or television, you missed out. This is an example in what visionary film making is all about. You can read my full review here.
Official Synopsis: A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species. (c) Fox
All hail director Matt Reeves for not only continuing the re-boot of The Planet of the Apes series, but putting his personal touch on another story and creating a science fiction masterpiece that only adds to the greatness of the original series.
2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes directed by Rupert Wyatt was a big surprise and a sleeper hit of 2011. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes not only lives up to its predecessor, but is one of this year’s best.
Dawn is not just another movie about some filthy apes, but it’s a story about us humans and some of our own pitfalls. It’s intelligent and well written. There is no James Franco in this one but we do get Andy Serkis who gives Caesar a subtle dignity and almost makes him more human than humans. This is well worth the time to watch.
Official Synopsis: Acclaimed director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and executive producers Martin Scorsese (The Departed) and Steven Zaillian (Moneyball) present Life Itself, a documentary film that recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert – a story that is by turns personal, funny, painful, and transcendent. Based on his bestselling memoir of the same name, Life Itself, explores the legacy of Roger Ebert’s life, from his Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism at the Chicago Sun-Times to becoming one of the most influential cultural voices in America. (C) Magnolia
We had to include a documentary on this list and there were some great ones in 2014. One of my favorites, and yes excuse my bias, for the year was Life Itself which is about the late, great film reviewer and writer Roger Ebert.
It’s rather fitting that I give this documentary “two thumbs up,” considering it’s about the guy who was responsible for at least one of the thumbs.
Siskel and Ebert used to be one of the best ways to know if movie was good or not. This was well before there was this thing called “The Internet.” Roger Ebert did go on to write some fantastic blogs and continue reviewing film with Richard Roeper well after the tragic death of Gene Siskel.
The doc gives us an inside look at Roger Ebert’s life, the disease that took him too early, and his relationship with Siskel. It’s super fascinating and will most likely garner a few nominations for best documentary, but 2014 has been fabulous for the documentary genre.
Official Synopsis: From Marvel, the studio that brought you the global blockbuster franchises of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, comes a new team-the Guardians of the Galaxy. An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe.
To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits-Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand-with the galaxy’s fate in the balance. (C) Walt Disney
I’m Groot! That’s all that needs to be said for what I consider to be one of the best comic book adaptations of all time and probably the best movie of 2014. Sure we can find a few art house, independent, dramatic and important films that might come ahead of this flick, but does it have a talking tree or a Rocket Raccoon? I think not.
Sometimes all people want is a fun night out at the movies. Not only is Guardians of the Galaxy, funny and action packed, but it has a soundtrack that many listened to ad nauseam last Summer.
Chris Pratt is fantastic as Star Lord, former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista was surprisingly great as Drax the Destroyer, and Vin Diesel does his best work with some really complicated dialogue as Groot. Bradley Cooper is also in the movie, and if you didn’t know that, you wouldn’t have guessed who he plays. Some very fine voice work from Mr. Cooper.
You don’t need to be a comic book nerd to enjoy this film. It’s fun for the whole family and will leave you wanting more. FYI: A sequel won’t be coming out until 2017. Marvel also likes to add a scene at the end of their credits and Guardians is no different, make sure to see the little bonus they conjure up.
That’s the list. Unfortunately I couldn’t include everything we liked. So instead we added a bunch of honourable mentions, some top Family movies of the year, and a couple of guilty pleasures we enjoyed.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my 6-Flick-Picks for January that might be worth while for cinephiles. Happy New Year!
Give us your list. What films did you enjoy in 2014?