The Best Films of 2014

The grin of a guilty man? Who's to say what's what in 'Gone Girl'
Michael Keaton's got the magic touch in 'Birdman'
Men beware, ScarJo is on the prowl in 'Under the Skin'
The pitch perfect placement of a Wes Anderson cast in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel'
Nothing got as epic this year, or any year, as the one of a kind 'Boyhood'

Cinema nowadays seems to be overwhelmingly populated with big budget robot battles and sub-par sequels or trilogies that seem misguided at best. But 2014 was a nice reminder that there are still filmmakers out there who are innovative, intelligent, and most of all imaginative. From an overwhelmingly large selection of great films released this year, we managed to whittle down our list of the Best Movies of 2014, the films that continually provided sources of inspiration, aesthetic excellence, and thought provoking musings. CAUTION: Spoilers lurk below.

5. Gone Girl

Bringing her formidable mystery novel to the big screen proved an easy task for author/screenwriter Gillian Flynn, who with the help of master director David Fincher created one of the most compelling, satirical, and downright shocking movie thrillers in recent memory. Rosamund Pike was a revelation in the role of Amy, nailing the duality of sweet housewife and psychopathic mastermind to a chilling degree. Props to both Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris on their unexpected nudity, an added bonus to an already superb exercise of a mystery film.

4. Birdman

Diverging from his usual soul-crushing screenplays, director Alejandro González Iñárritu takes a surprising new direction in Birdman, a dark satire poking fun at society’s strange obsession with the entertainment industry. Written from the inside perspective of a washed up actor in the confines of a Broadway theater, the film freezes us in an uncomfortable time and space that leaves the viewer deciding what they choose to perceive as reality or escapism. With demanding, but spot-on performances from an all star cast, including an extended scene with Edward Norton in a speed-o, Birdman serves up whiplash dialogue in a stylish, novel method that is as fun as it is challenging to digest.

3. Under the Skin

Who would have thought that ScarJo could be so evil?! Leave all thoughts of understanding the plot of this one behind and get swept up in director Jonathan Glazer’s jaw-dropping visuals in this subtle masterpiece of erotic sci-fi. Scarlett Johansson brings a piercing focus to her role as an alien in disguise, luring hapless Scottish men to a bizarre fate of organ-harvesting purgatory…or something like that. It’s a film that simultaneously captures the nuances of forging one’s identity with the same painterly eye as the sumptuous imagery. Rarely has an extraterrestrial encounter been portrayed as terrifying, but rarer still is a film that so expertly maneuvers the in and outs of the human need for connection.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Any director should be so lucky to make a truly great film, but Wes Anderson proves once again that he only makes great films. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the strongest entries in the entirety of the Anderson catalogue, a film as complex and layered as the multi-tiered pastries that became one of the film’s many integral plot points. Ralph Fiennes, in the greatest comedic performance of the year, performs the impossible task of juggling every one of the film’s fantastical elements: stolen paintings, prison breaks, ski chases, senior citizen seductions, Mexico-shaped birthmarks, and cookie recipes to name a few, and somehow makes it all coherent. This movie was less of a cinematic experience and more of a childhood doll house gloriously come to life, one that we could play in for many years to come.

1. Boyhood

To put it as simply as we can, this film is sheer lightning in a bottle, the kind of movie that comes once in a lifetime, or in this case, only once in the history of the movies itself. Exhaustive reviews have been spent analyzing director Richard Linklater’s already fabled technique of filming this production over an epic 12 years, but what is most impressive is not the process itself but the finished product. Boyhood is all at once a time capsule, a moving portrait of suburban American life, and a study of adolescence and the confusion and frustration of burgeoning adulthood as we leave our childhood behind. But most of all, it is a film that captures the human experience on the largest scale ever attempted in the most intimate, affecting ways ever put on screen. And the Oscar goes to….

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