Ten Movies You Should’ve Seen in 2014

2014 header 560x3002014 ended up being a fairly decent year at the movies. The Captain America and X-Men franchises continued to rake in huge dollars without sacrificing quality. Everyone’s favorite mutant shelled reptiles made a triumphant return to the big screen in live action. The Middle Earth saga that began 13 years ago came to a rousing conclusion. Wes Anderson turned The Grand Budapest Hotel into an uproarious caper. And Chris Pratt became an instant A-lister after voicing the blockbuster LEGO Movie and shepherding Guardians of the Galaxy into the year’s biggest moneymaker.

There were also plenty of worthy films that either slipped through the cracks or didn’t get the attention they rightfully deserved. They won’t be hailed as masterpieces nor will they be dismissed as garbage. Nevertheless, these are ten movies you should’ve seen in 2014.

10. Joe

2014 joe 560x315Director David Gordon Green is at his best when he turns his lens on nuanced character studies set in backwoods communities. Pineapple Express and Your Highness are good for a few giggles, but George Washington and All the Real Girls provide glimpses into worlds seldom seen in today’s cinema. Joe inhabits a world populated by lost souls teetering on a precipice.

Nicolas Cage plays the titular role, an affable tree removal foreman with a long history of violence. After hiring a 15-year-old drifter named Gary to his crew, Joe becomes embroiled in the boy’s troubled home life — an unbearable nightmare orchestrated by Gary’s abusive alcoholic father. Point and laugh internet memes have tarnished Cage’s career, but the guy can still act when given a solid script. His understated and endearing performance is one of the year’s best, and his best in over a decade.

9. Starred Up

2014 starred 560x260Prison movies often revolve around a wrongfully accused innocent trying to survive, or the plotting of an elaborate escape plan. Starred Up does neither, instead opting to depict a gritty portrait of the daily machinations inside a high security British penitentiary through the eyes of a violent juvenile offender who is “starred up”, i.e. transferred early to adult prison.

Jack O’Connell (Unbroken) plays said offender Eric Love, a clever and brutal teenager who never saw a face he didn’t want to beat into a bloody pulp. Making matters worse, Eric is sent to the same pokey as his old man, Neville, who was sent up when Eric was a toddler. Needless to say, they have a lot of issues to work out. The intense father-son dynamic elevates an otherwise clichĂ©d drama to potent heights. Director Ben Mackenzie deserves praise for deftly vacillating between the physical and emotional drama.

8. Godzilla

2014 godzilla 560x306The fact that critics and moviegoers bitched about there not being enough monster action in Gareth Edwards’ incredibly underrated Godzilla is puzzling. The majority of the third act features the big guy going toe-to-toe with a pair of mass destruction MUTOs. Is the ferocious fight partly obscured by darkness and smoke? Sure, but that’s what gives the scenes their edge. In this case, less is definitely more. It’s not like the audience isn’t familiar with what Godzilla looks like: he’s a big ass lizard with a dorsal scales and radioactive breath.

It’s likely a lot of folks skipped the latest incarnation of the classic Japanese beast due in large to the unmitigated disaster inflicted on the public in 1998. Too bad, because the 2014 chapter is genuine escapist fun. Ya know, what summer movies are supposed to be.

7. Two Days, One Night

2014 twodays 560x317French actress Marion Cotillard has been absolutely killing it for the last decade in disparate titles like La Vie en Rose, Nine, Inception, Contagion, Rust and Bone, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Immigrant. As impressive as that list of performances is, she might deliver her best in Two Days, One Night, as Sandra, a factory employee who must beg her coworkers to forgo their yearly bonuses to prevent her from being laid off. As if that didn’t suck enough, she’s also battling a severe case of depression. Whew, French flicks really know how to pile on the heavy baggage. Watching her nervously trudge up and down streets, embarrassingly knock on doors, and shamefully make her pitch to people who rely on their bonuses to survive is excruciating.

The writing/directing duo of Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne make valid arguments for both sides of this thorny issue. Help a friend in need or provide for your family? As in life, there is no easy answer. Cotillard won’t get an Oscar nod for this, but she damn well should.

6. Virunga

2014 virunga 560x320There are a boatload of political and economic powder kegs festering across the continent of Africa, but one of the most volatile resides in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to the last remaining mountain gorillas on Earth, and central battleground of a war between park protectors, animal poachers, anti-government rebel factions, and a British oil company.

Using interviews with park rangers and hidden camera footage from a French investigative journalist, director Orlando von Einsiedel unfurls a complex plot by corrupt military despots and greedy oil executives to bypass Virunga’s World Heritage site status in order to explore the precious oil that dwells beneath its untouched natural lakes.

There aren’t many pristine environments left on the planet that haven’t been negatively impacted by man, so watching soulless profiteers bribe and lie with no regard for the consequences of their avarice will make your blood boil. Aided by gorgeous cinematography and precise editing, Virunga is one of the year’s most compelling documentaries.

5. Fury

2014 fury 560x324To be clear, Fury is a flawed film. The story of green recruit gradually earning respect from his fellow soldiers after being thrown into the thick of war is trite and silly. Not to mention there are a couple of scenes involving Brad Pitt’s S/Sgt. and Logan Sherman’s Pvt. that are A) forced, and B) completely out of place. That’s the bad. The good of Fury is the technically sound and just plain badass battle scenes. One involves a quartet of U.S. Sherman tanks futilely attempting to take out a German Tiger tank. The second is the third act showdown between Pitt’s ragtag gang and a battalion of Waffen-SS infantry. The rapid fire burst of screaming tracers combined with the piercing echo of high velocity rounds ricocheting off metal surfaces is worth the price of admission.

Director David Ayer has one helluva knack for blocking frenetic fire fights in congested locales. Fury isn’t worthy of inclusion in the conversation of all-time great war movies, but it scores an A+ in the art of war.

4. Enemy

2014 enemy 560x275It’s difficult to explain what makes Enemy work without revealing its secrets. And boy does this flick have secrets. Jake Gyllenhaal plays two characters: history professor Adam Bell and wannabe actor Anthony Claire. Neither is aware the other exists until Adam stumbles upon Anthony playing a bellhop in a movie. Naturally curious, Bell seeks to find his doppelgänger in hopes of making a connection, as well as injecting some excitement into his monotonous life. Once the two men meet, it’s abundantly clear they are physically identical, but polar opposites in the personality department. Insanity ensues.

Enemy is confusing and creepy and fascinating. Its pacing is methodical and the line between reality and psychosis blurs in extraordinary ways. It equates on several levels to a certain cult classic from the late ’90s, but revealing the name of said cult classic would be a major spoiler. Just do yourself a favor and watch Enemy. Oh, and beware of spiders.

3. The Babadook

2014 babadook 560x314As a genre, horror is one of the most profitable in today’s cinema. For a myriad of reasons, audiences love to be scared, shocked, and sickened by all things strange and supernatural. Problem is most modern horror movies fail miserably when it comes to conjuring legitimately frightening product. Tried-and-true retreads and over-the-top remakes are good for the bottom line, but bad for entertaining savvy moviegoers.

That’s where Australia’s The Babadook comes in. Rookie writer/director Jennifer Kent turns the bogey-man-in-the-closet tale on its ear and nails it to the floor with a railroad spike. A single mother and her young son become victims of a campaign of terror inside their home after mommy reads a mysterious bedtime story called “Mister Babadook.” Reading the book unleashes a terrifying creature that burrows inside those it torments, refusing to leave.

You can view this macabre masterpiece as straight horror and be more than satisfied. Or you can dig into the underlying symbolism to uncover an intelligent study of grief, guilt, and loneliness. Scary, smart, and original is in short supply when it comes to horror.

2. Under the Skin

2014 skin 560x315Writer/director Jonathan Glazer doesn’t make easily accessible films. His work on Sexy Beast and Birth relied heavily on setting and mood and the results were engaging, albeit uneven. His most recent foray into unconventional subject matter, Under the Skin, stars Scarlett Johansson as an exotic alien who lures men into a pool of black ooze that consumes their bodies, leaving only skin suits behind. If that sounds really weird it’s because it is.

There’s no explanation as to where she came from or what purpose she serves, besides the obvious. There’s a silent dude on a motorcycle carefully monitoring her behavior, but little else in the way of exposition. Things get complicated once the alien begins to develop actual feelings and emotions. Ditching the pickup artist routine, she flees to the Scottish countryside to learn about being human, which draws the ire of motorcycle dude.

There’s some subtle and not so subtle commentary about society’s obsession with external beauty, or lack thereof, that reinforces the frequent imagery of nude and partially clothed bodies. In a word, Under the Skin is eerie. But in a this is something refreshingly different kind of way.

1. Nightcrawler

2014 nightcrwlr 560x360Jake Gyllenhaal’s impressive year culminated with this smart and biting expose on unbridled ambition and the morally bankrupt media. Another newbie writer/director, Dan Gilroy, casts Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, an unctuous petty criminal bent on making a name for himself, no matter what it takes. After witnessing a couple of videographers eagerly tape a roadside accident, Lou tries his hand at freelance news gathering. Success comes quickly due to his strong work ethic, sharp negotiating skills, and the fact that he’s a grade A sociopath who won’t blink to manipulate a situation or person for personal gain.

Gyllenhaal is mesmerizing, slithering his snake-like frame around twisted metal car wrecks and across blood-soaked crime scenes. With his sinister grin and disturbing gaze, Lou Bloom embodies the film’s title — a slippery worm that dwells in darkness and feeds on suffering. Bloom is a modern day Travis Bickle with better hair and the gift of gab. Jake’s Oscar worthy performance aside, the movie as a whole is utterly captivating and not to be missed.

Honorable Mentions:

John Wick – This slambang homage to ’80s revenge flicks has a nightclub action scene that will blow your effing mind.

A Most Wanted ManIn one of his final roles, Philip Seymour Hoffman shines as a bitter and calculated German anti-terror operative desperate to get a mission right.

The Interview Forget the BS hacking controversy, James Franco’s Dave Skylark is a hilarious idiot with charisma to spare.

The Raid 2Filmed adrenaline. The subway scene and kitchen duel are marvels in fight choreography.

The One I LoveWouldn’t it great if you could access the early days of a relationship/marriage before both parties became nitpicking assholes?