There were quite a few movies in 2014 that I found immensely enjoyable, great pieces of art. The films that made my top ten were impactful and thought-provoking, entertaining, and in many cases, highly re-watchable. Though some of the films on my list aren’t my highest rated of the year, when forced to choose by the almighty hand of Reel World Theology, these are my favorites from 2014. I think. Wait–can I look at this again…!?
Into the Woods: sing-along fun, imaginative, well cast
Boyhood: committed, unpolished but real, innovative
The Theory of Everything: moving, inspiring, heartbreaking, Eddie Redmayne
Captain America 2: Winter Soldier: thematically rich butt-kicking good time
Whiplash: visceral, stressful, honest, fantastic soundtrack
But now, on to the show!
10. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I love, love, love this franchise. This film does such justice to what has come before. I appreciate the innovative, thoughtful choices made to characterize the apes: they are relatable, sympathetic and wonderfully complex. Andy Serkis is fantastic as Caesar. Apes on horses, with guns? Yes. More, please.
9. Big Hero 6
Though in many ways reminiscent of hero and sci-fi films that’ve gone before, Big Hero 6 is somehow able to feel unique. Thematically, it strikes a beautiful balance between valuing science and technological advancement, and recognizing the responsibility of human beings and the importance of human connection. The world of this film is vibrant, fast-paced, and engaging. The characters are lovable and believable. The art is delightful. The story is simple, yet rich and satisfying.
8. The LEGO Movie
This movie was surprising the first time through. It hasn’t gotten even a tiny bit old over subsequent viewings—because everything in it is awesome! It is so carefully crafted that there is always something new to enjoy. The timing of both its humor and heartfelt moments is superb. It reaches an expansive audience with its nuanced writing and attention to detail. The heart of the film unites viewers with an experience that is not bound by age.
7. Gone Girl
The novel on which this film was based (by Gillian Flynn) was a dark, wild ride. The film more than delivers on the original concept. While there is great entertainment to be had from its unexpectedness, the precision and purpose of the storytelling–as well as top-shelf acting–makes it more than the sum of its parts. Rosamund Pike is astoundingly, eerily good. Ben Affleck is not far behind.
There are so many fantastic things to say about this film, but here are the top two reasons to see it: Michael Keaton and the script. Structured and filmed more like a play than a movie, the monologues are especially enthralling. For a film that is an almost constant sensory experience, its poignant, thoughtful moments transition in and out effortlessly. Its honest look at the connection between fame and self-worth is painful and important. This film is a head-spinning, worthwhile experience.
This film is beautiful: every piece crafted with great care, oozing the love of the filmmaker. It brings a rich, dimensional experience to a familiar story and characters that are not easy to observe. It is thoughtful without being pushy, hypothetical without being disrespectful. This trip to the past feels authentic and gives the audience space to engage intellectually and emotionally–provided they accept the challenge.
This is not a flawless, polished film. But despite being familiarly dystopian, it breathes fresh life into a tired genre: Its symbols and metaphors are not hidden, but in concept and visual presentation, the film is consistently interesting; Chris Evans does a fantastic job in the lead role: an immediately heroic stand-in for the audience, who leads us to uncomfortable, unexpected places; And though thematically obvious in many ways, it manages to set startling, unsettling moral quandaries in our lap. Then it sits back and watches us squirm.
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
This movie is endless fun, starting at minute one. With an intricately painted world–full of colorful characters–and surprisingly nuanced script, this film adds something new to the experience with every watch. The cast perfectly embodies their characters, making unlikeable people lovable. The world is a blast–new, exciting, captivating.
I could not stop thinking about this film when it was over. In fact, I have only seen it once but have recommended it more than any other film I’ve seen this year. It is not cryptic about its religious themes and parallels, and does not offer any easy answers. It does not exaggerate, but is brutally honest in its presentation of a world that cannot save itself. Phenomenally acted, Calvary was heavy, surprising, gut-wrenching, and redemptive.
1. The Imitation Game
A retelling of WWII-era events plus Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly was enough to excite me about this film. It did not disappoint. Cumberbatch is mesmerizing in his role as Turing. Incredible acting, great direction, and well-crafted tone culminated in an inexpressibly moving story—and not only because it recounted heartbreaking truths about our past. Even as it represented persecuted individuals, it reached into the common human experience. Its emphatic message about the beauty of individuality and the universal value of human life was resonant and unifying.
Laura Fissel (@laura_fissel) is a writer and cultivator of the arts and artists in Greensboro, NC. Her hope is that one day Benedict Cumberbatch will step out of the TARDIS.