According to Danielle Riendeau
10) The Babadook
The Babadook is something of an anomaly in the horror movie genre, which is so commonly obsessed with the utter destruction of its protagonist. Babadook puts its central characters, a beleaguered single mother and a disturbed little boy, through the wringer, no question. But the payoff for that journey is an oddly comforting, possibly even uplifting message about grief and the spaces we make for it in our lives. The expert blend of jump scares, unsettling imagery and the terrifying titular bogeyman make The Babadook worth watching. But it’s the heart underneath the horror that makes it worth returning to over and over again.
We are every one of us the stars of our own stories. One of the incredible qualities of Richard Linklater's Boyhood, in which a 6-year-old boy becomes an 18-year-old man before our eyes, is the way it derives suspense and drama from both ordinary events and life milestones: camping, divorce, photography class, graduation. We see it all happen to one person, one actor. And we are reminded that that's what a life is: a series of moments, each of which matters more to us than anyone else could know, all of which continuously shape us into who we are.
8) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Here's a thought I had as I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in the theater: This movie has no business being this good. Part silent film, part action flick, it was my biggest theatrical surprise of 2014 for a myriad of reasons. The story of humanity's fall evokes sympathy with both sides without being maudlin. It's filled with amazing effects, but it succeeds because of so many small, intimate moments. A man looking at his family in an iPad. A mother and father taking their first look at their newborn. Humans and apes reading together. As in a game, graphics can't make a bad movie good, but they can make a good one that much better, and Weta's work is outstanding. So is the direction, particularly the single most beautiful and staggering shot involving a tank ever conceived. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. There aren't many of those anymore, and this one's success makes it stand even taller. Upright, even.
7) Edge of Tomorrow/Live Die Repeat
Edge of Tomorrow is smart, action-oriented sci-fi with strong characters and a cool central twist. In it, Tom Cruise plays a smarmy Air Force major who is forced out of a comfy PR gig to join the front lines of a brutal alien invasion. Without spoiling anything, things don't go well for the major, and both time travel and Emily Blunt's Sergeant Rita Piotrowski — the most decorated and badass soldier in the service — are needed to save the world. It's a rare time travel narrative that has the conviction to go through with its less-than-pleasant implications, and a genuinely exciting action movie that uses violence for effect, not window dressing.
6) Under the Skin
Under the Skin is sci-fi/horror by way of mood and tone, the story of an alien that comes to Earth in the form of a gorgeous woman who seduces young men and harvests them. It's a dark exploration of what it means to be human, groping at the edges of empathy and what an alien intelligence might actually make of us. It's also a fascinating look at dating, sex and predatory behavior, with the gender politics deliberately switched. Under the Skin makes no apologies for being weird and possibly opaque, and it's a stronger film for never trying to explain itself. Its genuinely alien protagonist never would.
Snowpiercer was essentially a great BioShock narrative in film form, complete with a gorgeously rendered dystopia, moralizing central antagonist and totally boring protagonist. Set on a train where the remnants of the human race cling to life, organized as they are by strict class rules, it's a deliberately weird look at class struggle in a hermetically sealed environment. Snowpiercer works thematically, and it's bolstered by its collection of unforgettable images and scenes: the underclass rising up against brutal guards in a darkened car, a creepy classroom of singing children, a neon-hued rave in an upper-class party car.
4) Only Lovers Left Alive
Only Lovers Left Alive is a mood piece. It's light on plot, but heavy on character, atmosphere and fantastic music, so much so that I simply wanted to spend more time in this world, with its arty vampire protagonists and dreamy visions of Detroit and Tangier. In the film, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are a hundreds-years-strong vampire couple, very much in love with one another and with their personal flavor of artistic achievement — Adam is a musician, Eve is a literary fiend. It's spooky, but more "post-horror" than any kind of scarefest, maybe a little pretentious and really fun to watch
This entry is explicitly for one half of Interstellar. I'm not being cheeky. Interstellar is a good film with massive problems, such that about one half of the experience is a transcendent meditation on space exploration, human endeavor and the power of love, while the other is a well-intentioned mess with a lot of maudlin lines and serious overuse of Dylan Thomas' poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night." Interstellar is approximately three films squished uncomfortably into a single three-hour epic, but there are too many good ideas contained within for it to slip this list.
2) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
The Hunger Games films have always been better and stronger than most young adult material in the movie theater. Part of that is due to Jennifer Lawrence's performance as the tough-as-nails but utterly human Katniss Everdeen, the young hero of the piece. And part of it is because the Hunger Games movies are really about war and violent revolt, with smart things to say about the horrors and complexity of those things, underneath a teen-centered action movie wrapper. Mockingjay Part 1 finally removed all but the last vestiges of that wrapper, and morphed the franchise into an explicit meditation on the brutal, sticky politics of war. It's dark, it's smart and it represents a maturation for an already-bright property.
1) The Grand Budapest Hotel
What's great about The Grand Budapest Hotel is that it's a Wes Anderson film through and through, with a quirky tone, colorful visual style framed in dioramas and over-the-top characters. But there's also a pathos to The Grand Budapest Hotel, about the eponymous resort's 1930s heyday, as fascism crept in and ruined the party. It's a period romp, focused on new lobby boy Zero's adventures with the flamboyant head of concierge, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). It also features a grab bag of celebrity cameos, wacky music, and performances worthy of the "Grand" title.
According to Drew McWeeny
10. i Origins:
When people tell me that they don't like independent films (and you'd be surprised how many people strike this particular pose), "i Origins" is the movie they're thinking of. Writer/director Mike Cahill goes two-for-two with me, since I didn't care for "Another Earth," his first film, either. It's a shame. I love science-fiction, and I love the idea of someone working in the indie world who makes science-fiction films about ideas, about big themes, who believes in the genre as more than just window dressing for action movies. I want to walk out of a film like "i Origins" invigorated by the experience. Instead, this preposterous story of the way a young scientist's fascination with the human eye leads to a love story, a tragedy, and a possible rebirth is laughable and heavy-handed and reaches so hard for significance that it ends up being silly. By the time the last puzzle piece dropped into place, I was barely able to keep myself from running for the door.
9. The Captive:
Atom Egoyan is a strong, smart, distinctive filmmaker who has summoned up a near-total piece of junk with this story about a family, a kidnapping, and the world's least surprising reveal of a bad guy. There's something particularly off-putting about the film's mix of the salacious and sedate, and it starts to feel like a cheap excuse for a film about grief. There's enough focus on the investigators that it feels like Egoyan's trying to make a movie about what it does to someone who has to deal with the seedy world of online pedophilia, but that topic is so huge, so heavy, and so important that handling it the way Egoyan does here comes across as one extra level of gross. It is amazing that there are two Rosario Dawson films on this list, because I adore her and I think she is consistently good in even the weakest films, but this year may have tested even my commitment to that idea.
Couldn't tell you who made it. Couldn't tell you who stars in it. "Ouija" makes this list over less technically accomplished horror films which are probably worse overall because it exemplifies something I hate in modern horror films: no one in this movie behaves the way any actual human being would behave in the same circumstances. I don't ask for my films to all be documentaries, but the best horror films are the ones in which we recognize ourselves. If this thing happened to me, what would I do? If the answer is always 100% the opposite of what we see characters doing, we're going to have a hard time feeling any real sense of either jeopardy or empathy. "Ouija" is phony and dull and the single strangest product-placement film of all time. "We're Hasbro, and we want you buy this product because you and all of your friends may die a horrifying supernatural death!"
7. The Judge:
Robert Downey Jr. can do anything he wants these days… which raises the troubling question of why "The Judge" is what he wanted to do. This is a case of a script that wants to be all things to all audiences. It wants to be a light and often funny picture about a jerk lawyer having a moral awakening. It wants to be a tear-jerker about the reconciliation of a stubborn son and his even more stubborn father. It wants to be a courtroom thriller about a lawyer defending his own father's life. But it's not funny, it's too clumsy to jerk even a single tear, and as thrillers go, it's the opposite of thrilling. It feels like the studio dumped four scripts in a blender and then threw it all at the screen, and it simply can't hang on the Downey's charisma to somehow prop up what never worked on the page.
Melissa McCarthy is a talented and funny performer, and she is also an adept dramatic actress, and if she is not careful, she's going to find herself in the exact trap that Chris Farley did, and she's going to burn down whatever goodwill she's generated so far with an audience. This was a vanity project for McCarthy, who certainly earned the shot with the one-two punch of "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat," but McCarthy and her co-writer/husband/director Ben Falcone never really found a character for her to play or a story to tell. "Tammy" is basically just a loud boorish punchline taking a road trip with her loud boorish grandmother. It tries for sentiment at times, which is the only thing more cringeworthy than the "fatty fall down" humor that the film leans on way too much.
Somewhere, Brett Leonard is laughing his head off about the script for "Transcendence," thrilled that there is finally a filmmaker who has set the bar even lower for big dumb "computers are scary" movies. Wally Pfister is probably best known as Christopher Nolan's favorite cinematographer, but based on the evidence of his debut feature as a director, he is not going to become a jack-of-all-trades. Johnny Depp plays a scientist who believes that human consciousness can live on after the body dies thanks to computers. The general premise of the film is actually not a bad one, and there is research in this field being done. What sinks the movie is the way it turns Johnny Depp into a generic bad guy and then devolves into what can only be described as an inaction movie. It is almost breathtaking how bad almost every major choice made on this film really is, and when we tally up Johnny Depp's most painful moments, this will nab a very high spot on that list.
4. Exodus: Gods and Kings:
Only a great filmmaker could botch something as broad and archetypical as the Exodus story. Ridley Scott's obviously experienced at both epic storytelling and big imagery, but for some reason, this particular story seems to have stymied him completely. He brings no insight at all to the story he's telling, he ladles on spectacle for the sake of it, and he manages to fumble what should have been the single most awe-inspiring sight of the year, the parting of the Red Sea. Forget about the culturally-deaf casting or the weird portrayal of God as a surly ten-year-old. This is a dud on a simple dramatic level, and proof that just because you know how to craft a remarkable image doesn't mean that you have anything to say.
3. The Giver:
Any time Hollywood smells money in something, they overdo it. For every "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," there are fifty "King Solomon's Mine"s. For every "Star Wars," there are a hundred "Galaxina"s. And for every "Hunger Games," there are fifty "The Giver"s. This is another metaphor-as-world YA adaptation, but the twist is that "The Giver" was published decades ago, before everyone was chasing this particular audience. Maybe the book's great, but the film is labored and silly and so very, very straight-faced about how ridiculous it is. Either this is the most subtle spoof of an entire genre possible, or it's a lesson in just how wrong you can go when you're determined to tap into someone else's audience and you don't care how crass your attempt really is.
2. Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame To Kill For:
Watching someone slide into unaware self-parody can be painful, and this grimy, ugly, witless movie would be enough to convince me that Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have never seen an actual film noir. This is adolescent in the worst possible way, boob obsessed and without any insight into actual human behavior, and the stories are all built without punchlines or twists or anything clever. I'm not sure I've ever seen this many talented people harnessed to something so depressing, and it looks to me like all of them know just how far this particular train has hopped the tracks.
1. Winter's Tale:
Or, as I like to call it, "Hubris: The Movie."
Akiva Goldsman fell in love with Mark Helprin's acclaimed novel, as did several filmmakers before him. The difference is that they eventually realized that "Winter's Tale" did not work as a film, while Goldsman plunged full speed ahead into career suicide. If magical realism is a genre, then maybe Goldsman is a pioneer into a sub-genre of magical stupidity. Will Smith's turn as the Devil complete with a jimi Hendrix shirt in the 1800s is one of the most remarkable misfires of the year, and if I only had this one film to judge to determine whether or not Colin Farrell is a good actor, I would wonder how he ever made it in front of a camera. The reason this gets the top spot is because of the sheer size of this thing. There was no larger waste of resources than this in 2014.