With Oscar season upon us, I’ve caught up on about all the movies I want to see this year. This list was difficult for me, because there are a few shockers that I didn’t think would make the cut. There were many movies this year that let me down, but just as many that surprised me. There’s quite a mix of indie and blockbuster here, as well.
First, some honorable mentions that unfortunately didn’t make the cut:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Into the Woods
And without further ado, here’s my official top ten:
10. The Imitation Game
While British biopics are plentiful this year, The Imitation Game stands out. Telling the story of Alan Turing, a mathematician brought in to crack the Nazi code at Bletchley Park, The Imitation Game honors his legacy as it should be. Benedict Cumberbatch gives the performance of his career as Turing. Morten Tyldum keeps the pace afloat, as it’s a tense and calculated film, but also a beautiful and uplifting one.
9. Obvious Child
Female-led dramedies tend to get lumped into two categories: Lena Dunham, or mumblecore, but every once in a while a movie breaks through and puts all of those tropes through the wringer. Obvious Child is that movie. Full of wit and raw emotion, Obvious Child is a story of relationships; those that go bad, but also those that flourish. As comedienne Donna finds herself at a crossroads when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, we find ourselves not just along for the ride, but right there next to her.
A completely different kind of music drama, Whiplash is the little indie that could. Courtesy of newcomer Damien Chazelle, Whiplash touches on themes of passion and the pursuit of excellence, and features a tight script and great music. But most of all, Whiplash gives us JK Simmons as drum instructor Fletcher, who pushes Andrew (Miles Teller) to his limits. He’s terrifying, and Fletcher is the best villain of the year. It’s a role that came late in Simmons’s career, but one that solidifies him as a great force.
Christopher Nolan’s best film to date, Interstellar is one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen. But Nolan pulls it off, delivering sweeping sequences and jaw-dropping space imagery that will blow you away. It’s no Gravity, but Interstellar is something different. A deep and personal drama that just happens to be set in space. The stakes are high, and knockout performances from McConaughey and Chastain keep it afloat, leading up to a finale that will leave heads scratching and viewers hungry for more.
I went back and forth on Boyhood multiple times after seeing it, but I’ve finally seen the light: Boyhood is an astounding achievement that will go down as one of the best movies of the 21st century. Directed by Richard Linklater, Boyhood was shot in 12 year intervals, as we see Mason’s development from boy to man. It’s risky, to be sure, but the beauty of Boyhood lies not in its “plot,” but rather in little moments. Little moments between father and son, between brother and sister, that add up to mean something more. It’s something beautiful.
5. Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow
The best action film of the year, Edge of Tomorrow is just straight fun. But this never comes at the expense of the story, which is both razor-sharp and exciting. Newly minted sci-fi star Tom Cruise pairs brilliantly with Emily Blunt, and the two are the most unlikely duo of the year. With breathtaking action sequences and great visuals, Edge of Tomorrow is new old-fashioned fun.
4. A Most Violent Year
An excellent crime drama, JC Chandor’s third film is as bleak as they come. Taking place in the most violent year in New York history, A Most Violent Year tells the tale of a struggling businessman Abel and his wife Anna as they navigate the dark world of entrepreneurialism. Gripping performances from Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain keep the crime drama always entertaining, and the film creeps up on you in a way unlike any other. Every sequence is calculated, every frame telling a tale. It’s masterful and smart filmmaking.
Based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild is the journey of Strayed to recover after her mother’s death, and rediscover herself. What could have been a one-note story like Eat, Pray, Love, Wild is exhilarating filmmaking courtesy of director Jean-Marc Vallee. Told in fragments, Wild zeroes deep into Strayed’s psyche, and we get a personal and deep tale of redemption and forgiveness. Reese Witherspoon gives the performance of her career, as she dives deep into what made Strayed tick. A faithful adaptation of the novel, Wild is just as exciting as it is moving.
From Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, Birdman is one of the most original movies I’ve seen all year. The story of Riggan Thompson, who stages a comeback in the form of a broadway musical, touches on themes of redemption and family, but most prominently, Birdman is affecting and intimate. Michael Keaton delivers an outstanding performance as the main role, and Edward Norton and Emma Stone provide excellent support. Comically bleak and often times laugh out loud hilarious, Birdman is cinematic perfection.
1. Gone Girl
A mainstream hit with intelligent plotting and intrigue around every corner, Gone Girl is a miracle. Director David Fincher keeps you on your toes for the entire 150 minutes, and surprises and twists abound. But it never feels cheap. Gone Girl is the product of smart screenwriting from Fincher and book author Gillian Flynn, who wisely adapted her novel. Couple the excellent screenplay with amazing cinematography, score, and performances from Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck, and we have a new classic on our hands.