Sunday, 28 December 2014 23:20 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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Greetings “ROGUE warriors.” As the end of the year is fast approaching, it’s time to announce IAR’s Top Ten Films of 2014

The following is a look back at my ten favorite movies of 2014. In order to qualify for this list, the film either had to be released in theaters or digitally before December 31st. It’s important to note that at the time of this publication, I have seen almost every movie released in 2014 with the exception of American Sniper, Still Alice, Cake, Begin Again, Get On Up, and The Fault in Our Stars

That being said, the list compiled below is based on the movies that I did see this year, and which of those were my favorites. Criteria considered for nomination includes: overall enjoyment, rewatchability, and artistic merit. Honorable mention goes to Gone Girl, Dom Hemingway, Snowpeircer, The Lego Movie, A Most Violent YearFoxcatcherWild, Boyhood, Bad Words and Obvious Child, all of which came very close to making the final cut. 

IAR’s Top Ten Films of 2014 

10) Selma

The new historical drama from director Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) is everything that Lee Daniel’s The Butler wanted to be. Tastefully and artfully executed, the film depicts the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and others. Actor David Oyelowo portrays King with class and grace, inhabiting the character’s strength and vulnerability. Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth give equally excellent supporting performances as President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Governor George Wallace, respectively. While Oprah Winfrey, Carmen Ejogo, and Giovanni Ribisi also give strong supporting performances. 

Where The Butler felt forced and heavy-handed, Selma succeeds by telling a concise story about an important moment in our country’s history, rather than trying to display the entire civil rights movement in one film. While Rev. King is the lead character, the movie is not a biopic. However, Oyelowo’s performance and the action of the plot, drives the film at an exciting pace. I expect Selma to be an Oscar favorite, earning nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor for Oyelowo, while DuVernay may receive a Best Director nod as well. 

9) Only Lovers Left Alive

In an era of Twilight and True Blood, it’s almost hard to believe that anyone could reinvent the vampire genre, but that is exactly what acclaimed writer and director Jim Jarmusch has done with this smart and intriguing film. The movie revolves around Adam (Tom Hiddleston) an ancient vampire now living the life of a recluse musician in Detroit. His wife Eve (Tilda Swinton), a vampire who has been living in Tangier with legendary writer and vampire Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), travels to visit her husband when she learns he is considering taking his own life with a wooden bullet. Adam, Eve, and Marlowe no longer feed on humans for blood, instead opting to steal from blood banks than kill the innocent. However, Eve’s immature vampire sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) does not adhere to their philosophy. She turns their world upside down when she visits from Los Angeles and feeds on one of Adam’s human friends (Anton Yelchin). 

Hiddleston and Swinton are extremely commanding in their roles, while Wasikowska is in perfect contrast with her justifiably out of control performance. Swinton is at her best playing an eccentric female lead, and Hiddleston shows his range by finally crafting a brilliant performance outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jarmusch’s unusual storytelling abilities are excellently utilized in this film, allowing for tender moments to play out in a slow and quiet way. In the end, the filmmaker brings fresh life to an otherwise dying vampire genre. 

8) The Grand Budapest Hotel

Remember that SNL sketch last year that imagined what a horror movie would be like if directed by Wes Anderson? Well, The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s version of a Hitchcock-type murder mystery and prison break film. It’s awkwardly funny and unexpectedly original in a way that only Anderson can deliver. The movie revolves around the elderly owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), and his recounting of how he came to own the hotel. His story involves being trained as a young man by the hotel’s devoted concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), who’s also a gigolo for wealthy elderly women. When Gustave is accused of murdering one of his lady friends (Tilda Swinton), it sends the two co-workers on an adventure that changes the course of Moustafa’s life. 

Anderson reunites with many of the actors from his previous films such as Swinton, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, and Bob Balaban, but also mixes them with a group of excellent actors new to Anderson’s films including Fiennes, Abraham, Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, and Tom Wilkinson. Fiennes in particular gives an unexpected, yet outstanding and hilarious performance as the outrageous Gustave. But it’s Wes Anderson’s whacky view on the family dynamic, which makes The Grand Budapest Hotel one of the best films of his impressive career. 

7) Inherent Vice

Acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is a unique combination of Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, Chinatown, and The Big Lebowski. Set in the ‘70s and based on author Thomas Pychon’s novel of the same name, the film follows pot-fueled Los Angeles private detective Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) as he investigates the disappearance of his former girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). While on the case, Doc bumps heads with an outdated police officer named Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), his on-again off-again girlfriend Deputy D.A. Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon), and a drug-crazy doctor named Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short). 

The cast is absolutely dazzling, moving through this abstract hallucinogenic trip of a film with fury and humor. Phoenix is uncannily perfect as the always-stoned Philip Marlowe-ish detective, and Brolin demonstrates comedic genius with his deadpan humor. Legendary comedian Martin Short also deserves credit for injecting his scenes with excitement and hilarity, as only he can. Anderson is one of the great American filmmakers and has directed such masterpieces as Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, and The Master. He delivers another instant classic with Inherent Vice, capturing the magic of both hardboiled fiction and the ‘1970s, while effortlessly incorporating them into the same complex film.  

6) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The official sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger, the film plays more like a follow up to the super hero team-up The Avengers. The Winter Soldier picks up after the events of The Avengers and follows Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) as he is trying to adjust to life in the 21st century. Now working with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D., Cap soon begins to question the secret government agency’s way of doing things. After an attempt on Fury’s life, Cap and Widow find themselves out in the cold fighting an enemy within their own organization. Not to mention battling the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who may have ties to Steve Roger’s past. In the process, they partner with Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), a soldier trained by the military in aerial combat using a specially designed wing pack. 

Evans is at his best, showing a lot of growth in the role over his last two on-screen appearances. Johansson, now in her third film as Black Widow, is given much more to do in this sequel, while Jackson is solid as always. Mackie is also fantastic as the newly introduced fan-favorite character. Sebastian Stan, and the underrated Frank Grillo are equally excellent as two of the film’s villains. However, it’s legendary actor Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce that gives the movie legitimacy and gravitas with his presence. The unexpected directing duo of Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me and Dupree) beautifully helm this superhero movie and fashion it into an espionage thriller akin to classic Redford spy films like Three Days of the Condor. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the S.H.I.E.L.D. movie that Marvel once promised its fans. The film’s finale has had lasting repercussions on the Marvel Universe, both on television and film, while it’s end credit scene perfectly sets up The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Many minor characters from previous Marvel projects appear in the movie, and it also introduces some important players for future films. Captain America: The Winter Soldier not only elevates the superhero movie genre, but is also a great overall film!!!

5) Whiplash

Mark my words: J.K. Simmons will in Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards for his career-changing role in Whiplash. Writer/director Damien Chazelle’s brilliant film follows a promising young drummer named Andrew (Miles Teller) as he begins his first year at a cutthroat New York music conservatory. Andrew is obsessed with achieving greatness and is mentored by an instructor named Fletcher (Simmons), who will stop at nothing to realize a student's potential. The student and teacher soon clash, which causes a chain of events that will change both of their lives forever. Chazelle creates an idyllic New York that vibrates with Andrew’s intensity and the jazz music of the film. In fact, the music is brilliant and helps to drive the drama of the story. The script is tight, and really allows the audience to draw their own opinion. Is Fletcher abusive? Is Andrew too driven? Are they both wrong? 

Miles Teller gives an incredible performance, and is completely believable as the greatness-obsessed Andrew. It’s by far Teller’s best performance to date and makes it clear that he has a lot range as an actor. Not to mention that Teller’s drumming skills were on par with what was required to play the role, which is an impressive achievement as well. But it is the performance of veteran actor J.K. Simmons (original Spider-Man trilogy, TV’s The Closer), which makes Whiplash such a delight to watch. Simmons chews up the scenery and steals every scene he is in. He is electric to watch on screen and brings an unlikely vulnerability to the otherwise vulgar character. The role and his performance have Oscar written all over it, and I predict that after WhiplashJ.K. Simmons will no longer be known as “the guy from those Farmers Insurance commercials.” 

4) Nightcrawler

The first feature film directed by longtime writer Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy), Nightcrawler is the best Los Angeles set crime drama since Drive. The movie revolves around Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a driven man desperate for work who forces his way into the world of L.A. crime journalism. He soon blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina (Rene Russo), an equally desperate TV-news veteran. Gilroy’s first directorial effort demonstrates that he is as talented a filmmaker as he is a screenwriter, capturing the seedy side of Los Angeles, ambition, and local TV news. 

Rene Russo is excellent as the veteran news producer, desperate to hold on to her fading lifestyle, who enables Lou’s insanity. The great Bill Paxton also gives a strong supporting performance as a veteran news stringer that shows Bloom the ropes. But it is Gyllenhaal’s powerhouse performance that makes Nightcrawler fun and compelling. The actor plays Bloom as a narcissistic sociopath that will stop at nothing to succeed. Yet, while the character is completely reprehensible, Gyllenhaal still finds a way to make audiences like him, rather than feel repulsed by him. The performance definitely deserves serious Oscar consideration, and is another high mark in the actor’s already impressive resume. 

3) Guardians of the Galaxy

While it was the second Marvel film released in 2014 (and the second to make this list), Guardians of the Galaxy is arguably the best film the comic book studio has ever released and one of the best superhero films of all time. A little known Marvel property and unlikely box office smash, Guardians was a surprise international hit and went on to be the highest grossing film of the year. The film follows a group of intergalactic criminals including Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper). They are soon forced to work together to stop Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a fanatical warrior determined to use an Infinity Gem to take control of the universe. The film is a true space opera on the scale of original Star Wars trilogy, and is most importantly a lot of fun to watch.  

The cast is phenomenal and brings all their comic book characters to life with style and originality. Pratt earned movie star status with his role as Quill, injecting the character with both humor and heart. Saldana and Bautista are both perfectly cast as Gamora and Drax, respectively. But it’s the two CGI characters that steal the film: Rocket Raccoon and Groot! With only three words in the entire film, Diesel gives his best performance to date as the loveable breakout character. In animated versions, Rocket has always been depicted as having a European accent, so I was unsure about Cooper’s casting at first. But his interpretation of the character is right on, playing the furry little guy as a damaged warrior. 

As for the film’s villains, Benicio del Toro portrayed The Collector with the appropriate amount of strangeness, while Michael Rooker really breathed life into Yondu Udonta, an otherwise little known comic book character. I have to also note that it was a real treat to see Josh Brolin in his first motion-capture performance as Thanos, and to have the legendary Marvel character Howard the Duck introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the movie’s end credit scene. However, the real star of Guardians of the Galaxy is writer/director James Gunn (Super). His concept of introducing a classic rock soundtrack that would also help drive the plot was pure genius and helped set the tone for the movie. Gunn not only recognized the potential in the obscure Marvel characters, but he also understood how to make them fun for a broad audience, while properly introducing them into the MCU. 

2) The Battered Bastards of Baseball

Premiering as an Original Netflix Documentary, The Battered Bastards of Baseball is one of the best sports films that I’ve ever seen. The movie tells the unlikely story of the Portland Mavericks, a defunct Minor League Baseball team that operated from 1973 through 1977, and was owned by actor Bing Russell (TV’s Bonanza, father of Kurt Russell). The Mavericks were the first Minor League team to be independent of Major League Baseball in over 30 years. They gained national attention and set attendance records, much to the chagrin of the MLB. Chapman Way and Maclain Way, the nephews of Kurt and grandsons of Bing, beautifully direct the film with both fondness and fascination. Many of the players are interviewed including Kurt Russell, who was both a player and Vice President, and acclaimed director Todd Field (In the Bedroom), who was the team’s batboy as a kid. Composer Brocker Way’s score fits perfectly with the emotion of this story, and definitely should be reused if the proposed feature film adaptation is ever made.

The film documents a rather unusual baseball organization that didn’t play by the rules and had more fun then they were probably supposed to. Not being affiliated with Major League Baseball, Bing Russell had to find players on his own and held open tryouts. The players he found were characters themselves, all having been turned down by the Major League. Most notably Jim Bouton, who had been blacklisted by the MLB for writing a tell-all book. He used the Mavericks as a way back into the big league. The team was just as famous for their on-field antics as they were for winning. That was most notable with the evolution of player Joe Garza into the mythic figure known as “Jogarza,” who would light a broom on fire every time they won two games in a row. Another great story from the film is how pitcher Rob Nelson created Big League Chew while playing in Portland. Overall, the documentary serves as a loving tribute to Bing Russell’s life in baseball and the true phenomenon he created in Portland. As the always outspoken Russell would say, “That’s the way the pickle squirts.”

1) Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The term “masterpiece” is quite often overused, but that is the only way that you can describe Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). It’s an absolute masterpiece! The movie follows washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), who once played the iconic superhero Birdman. Riggan must now overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory. The experience brings him closer to his best friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis), his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan), and their estranged daughter Sam (Emma Stone), while he bumps heads throughout the production with pretentious Broadway actor Mike Shiner (Ed Norton). The film examines the relationship between Hollywood actors and Broadway actors, art vs. entertainment, the onslaught of superhero films, and our society’s unhealthy obsession with fame. 

Having former-Batman Michael Keaton play former-Birdman Riggan Thomson was an absolute stroke of genius. There is no other actor in the world that could have pulled off this role, not even Val Kilmer! Keaton’s superhero movie cred added an extra level of irony to the film, which is already examining the popularity of the genre. But the list of superhero movie actors doesn’t end with Keaton, remember Edward Norton was also The Incredible Hulk, and Emma Stone was Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel. The entire cast is fantastic including Stone, Naomi Watts, and Galifianakis in an almost unrecognizable role. Norton gives one of the best performances of his already impressive career, and will be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. His character’s childish narcissistic behavior embodies the reason why actors have a bad reputation.

But the true stars of Birdman are Michael Keaton and writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Keaton electrifies the screen with his brave and bold performance. It is truly the finest role of his career and I predict that he will win an Oscar for Best Actor. Inarritu’s screenplay is not only original and entertaining, but it also challenges the audience. His direction behind the camera is extraordinary, especially the technique he used to make the entire movie look like one continuous shot. The result is a funny and moving piece of art that examines the negative aspects of the human condition. Also, look for Birdman and Inarritu to be the frontrunners for both Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards. 

From everyone at IAR … have a safe and happy New Years and we'll see you back here in 2015!

To check out ROGUE 10: Top Ten IAR Interviews of 2014, please click here

To read IAR's Oscar Predictions, please click here

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