Lists are hard, not because it’s difficult to pick ten movies each year to praise above all others, but because I hate writing the little blurbs under my choices. They should all just say, “Hey, I love this movie” and be done with it.
This is a year everyone’s been praising, and I suppose there must be something to that because even though I missed a lot of the major list movies (Inherent Vice, Boyhood, Whiplash, The Equalizer, etc.) I look at this list and can’t believe how great these ten films are.
They Came Together
Easily the best comedy I saw this year. David Wain’s romantic parody eviscerates its target with a precision that could be loving but might also be completely out of anger. Either way, the jokes and cameos are both amazing and smart from beginning to end.
Now that we’re in December, I feel a little bad that Joe is so far down my list. When I saw it this spring, I was certain it’d be my number one. But so many other great movies came out! Nevertheless, Joe is very special, and I’m glad it still found a slot. For all the jokes we make about Nicolas Cage, it’s wonderful to have a film that shows how amazing he can be when given the chance. It’s another huge win for David Gordon Green as well. This is a movie you absolutely need to see. (I also highly recommend this year's Rage if you want a nice Cage double feature!)
Snowpiercer is long, but you never feel its running time because it continuously keeps changing and offering interesting new elements as Chris Evans and company charge through that train. The film has some humor and a few really great action sequences, but it’s Snowpiercer's dedication to the horrors of its setting that sticks with me most. This is a grim movie. It never pretends otherwise, which kind of elevates Evans’ heroic leader beyond Captain America in my eyes.
There’s not a lot I can say that hasn’t already been said about Locke. It’s a guy dealing with a watershed of his life night while driving in his car, and it’s absolutely riveting. Just Tom Hardy’s accent alone is worth the price of admission. I don’t usually buy movie merchandise, but I must have purchased 100 pounds of concrete after watching this.
Guess what! I’m a parent, and sometimes my kid is amazingly annoying! Someone made a movie about how satisfying it would be to just let all those parenting frustrations turn you into a monster. I know we classify this as a horror film, but it’s really a lot more than just that. There are scary elements, but they are at the same time emotionally meaningful and maybe even a little fun. This is just a great movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy
My new favorite Marvel film. Guardians of the Galaxy gives us the joyous space adventure we’ve been lacking for so long. And it’s not just the great characters, action, and laugh out loud moments that make this special. There is a really big heart beating throughout this film as well. How do you not get a little chocked up when Drax pets Rocket while he’s in mourning?
I want to call Nightcrawler satire, but it’s really more of a reflection of a society that’s already exaggerated to satirical levels. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom rips through people’s lives in a robotic and unwavering pursuit of his own ambitions like some kind of living self-help book. It’s horrifying and hilarious in equal measures.
What kind of movie is this? An action film? A horror film? A comedy? Maybe even a commentary on our military? The Guest somehow juggles all of these things without displaying any of the tonal seams such a trick usually reveals. Dan Stevens works on a number of different levels here, each one a joy to behold for different reasons.
The Raid 2
Only a movie like John Wick could knock The Raid 2 of my list’s top spot. While this film’s running time and narrative complications keep it from being the pure entertainment machine we got with the original Raid, you can’t deny that the ambition and effectiveness of the action here. When shit goes down in this movie, it goes down hard, and the brutality on display is awe inspiring. That kitchen fight!
It doesn’t really get much better than this. I can’t speak for the future, but I will be shocked if John Wick doesn’t become an action classic we revisit again and again. If your city’s criminal underworld has an unstoppable boogieman, don’t kill his fucking dog, guys.