Since I didn't get to see either Selma or Whiplash this year and probably won't get to see them until January (Damn you, nearby indie house. You have failed me), I can't include them on this list. But I did get to see scads (I like that word. Scads) of great films this year, and here are the best ones. To see the worst movies I've seen all year, click here.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
It MUST have been a good year for cinema if this stud of a picture makes it in at number 10. Arguably one of the greatest (If not THE greatest, depending on who you talk to) Marvel movie of all time, this ragtag group of intergalactic losers who become heroes is the feel good movie of the year. It also represents a watershed moment for Marvel/Disney who took these mostly unknown characters (Definitely D-List in regards to Marvel standards) and made them the biggest stars of the year. So, basically, Marvel could turn Squirrel Girl into a blockbuster success if they wanted to. Now, if only they would ever consider doing it for Moon Knight. I refuse to lose faith!
9. Edge of Tomorrow
Live. Die. Repeat, er, I mean Edge of Tomorrow is the best movie you didn't see this year. Exciting, funny, and a genuinely great star turn for Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow, had a silly premise that actually ended up working. I think it's mostly because it played against expectations, which may have been to its detriment when trying to get it out there to the general public. But the trailers made it seem like it was going to be some big, gimmicky, rah-rah, sis-boom-bah action movie with a Groundhog's Day twist, when it was actually much more than that, mostly because it never took itself seriously. It's a pity, really, since you'll never truly see that grand battle on the beach in the same way on a small screen. You really had to see it in the theater.
8. How To Train Your Dragon 2
When I initially saw How To Train Your Dragon 2, I pretty much went ape shit over it, calling it the best animated movie I'd ever seen in my entire life. Well, turns out those claims were a little premature. That's not to say that HTTYD2 isn't phenomenal, because it is. It's pretty much The Empire Strikes Back of sequels. But it's not the greatest animated picture I've ever seen. That would still be Spirited Away. But there are still so many great things to say about this sequel, which is far superior to the original. The story is much better, the characters are more likeable, and the stakes are constantly raised throughout. It's pretty much everything I love about movies, and so much more. It's almost perfect. One of the very best films of the year.
7. The Boxtrolls
While I did go ga-ga over How To Train Your Dragon 2, The Boxtrolls is the better, uh, animated picture (Though, it's not really animated. It's stop motion) this year. Highly underappreciated, The Boxtrolls was the right kind of weird and dark for me. The story was absolutely ridiculous, but it still worked, and Laika has now become my new favorite company (Yes, even more than Pixar) when it comes to "kids" movies. If you love The Nightmare Before Christmas and other bizarre tales, then you'll ADORE The Boxtrolls. Definitely pick it up when it comes out on tape (On tape. Listen to me, dating myself).
6. The Imitation Game
I actually just saw this yesterday, so it still has a big impact on me, but The Imitation Game was spectacular Oscar bait that truly delivered. Telling the true story (Though, my conspiracy theory loving dad doesn't believe a lick of it) of Alan Turing and how he cracked the Germans' Enigma Code, Benedict Cumberbatch proves himself to be a staggeringly good actor in this fascinating story, which is more plot driven narrative than biopic. I much preferred this to The Theory of Everything, which I actually find strange parallels to when it comes to telling their stories. Maybe it's the backdrop of WWII that does it for me, as I'm a sucker for that time period. Or maybe it's the internal struggle that Cumberbatch goes through with Turing as a gay male. Whatever the reason, I loved this picture and thought the pacing was fantastic. See it. It's playing in most theaters right now.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Starting the summer off one month early, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, may very well be the greatest Marvel movie ever made. Yes, even better than The Avengers. I constantly go back and forth on that decision. What made Cap Am 2 so great was that it raised the stakes so much, that even while watching it and knowing the story of The Winter Soldier, and knowing that Cap Am was set to appear in the next Avengers movie, I still wasn't certain he was going to make it out alive by the end. The action scenes were that intense. I also loved the slower, spy-thriller vibe of the film. Robert Redford added the kind of gravitas that's starting to make these Marvel movies seem less like comic book pictures, and more like just regular movies. They definitely raised the bar with this one. When it comes to comic book pictures, I may even like it more than The Dark Knight, which is no small claim. I adore this film.
Is Boyhood impressive for filming the same cast for 12 years? Well, yeah, of course. Richard Linklater should definitely win Best Director for his insane commitment to this project and actually pulling it off. But outside of that massive stunt, Boyhood is still a spectacular film. One that, while not truly a great representation of the experience of growing up for all boys, is still one that is relatable and fascinating. And for such a long movie, I was surprised that I was engrossed the entire way through. Watching the actor grow up was an experience that can't be matched by merely changing the actor or applying make-up to a character. You feel the growth and change. Boyhood tells a simple story in a grand, sweeping way, and for that, I applaud it.
3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
A lot of people scoffed and made fun of my taste when I proclaimed that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a masterpiece, but I don't care. I still stand behind that decision. DotPotA is not only the best Planet of the Apes movie ever, it's also one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever in modern times. There's nothing else like it. Where else will you find a silly story about apes, that's turned into a modern day recreation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar? Not only that, but the battle scenes were so good. I only have four words for you: Ape riding a horse. Okay, wait. Scrap that. Let's make it eight: Ape riding a horse WITH A MACHINE GUN! I mean, you can't get any better than that. And dammit, Academy, when are you going to recognize motion capture as acting? Andy Serkis, as Caesar, deserves your love. How good was he? The answer: Too good. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was better than Boyhood. Yeah, I said it, and I'm sticking to it. It was.
It's rare that a movie that has so much to say can also be this enthralling, but Nightcrawler pulls it off with aplomb, and Jake Gyllenhaal, and first time director, Dan Gilroy, are to thank for it. Telling a story of what the news has become, what we have become by watching the news, and, oh, for good measure, an introspective look at a sociopath, Nightcrawler moves at a staggering pace that's sometimes hard to keep up with. So much happens that it's over before you know it. But, given all that, it still resonates and manages to entertain in a fantastic three act structure. It raises the question, who's worse? The media, or us for buying into it and salivating over all the blood and gore they bring us night after night? There is no real answer by the end of this movie. You'll just have to come up with one yourself. Spoiler alert: You might not be happy with what you find.
Birdman is not only the best film I've seen all year. It's also the best film I've seen since There Will Be Blood. It's a modern day masterpiece and one of the greatest American movies ever made. I mean, God, I feel I could watch it a hundred times and find something new to admire about it every time. What's not to love? Telling a story about madness (Or magical realism depending on how you look at that ending), depression, rebirth, and about a million other things, Birdman is not only an enjoyable film, but like Nightcrawler, it also has a lot to say. And while it may not tackle "important" matters like Nightcralwer does, it definitely tackles issues in regards to the theater, actors, superhero films, critics, and even our sick compulsion to want more out of actors than them just putting on a show. All the while, it has probably the greatest, most skittering soundtracks in recent memory, which totally vibes with the scattered mind of its protagonist, who may or may not be suffering a mental breakdown. Oh, and did I mention that it all feels like one massive single shot? Boyhood will likely win best picture for 2014 since it's the safer choice. But I predict that Birdman will be the movie that people look back upon and say, "Man, that really should have won." It's the Taxi Driver/Goodfellas/Pulp Fiction/Apocalypse Now/Citizen Kane of this generation. It's a movie that's so brilliant, that it's too brilliant. And that's why it's my favorite movie of the year and likely won't win. Oh, well. At least I appreciate it.