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My top 20 films of 2014: Highlights from an iconic year

Most critics will say 2014 was a “meh” year for cinema. Well, those same people would probably say “Game of Thrones” is mainstream trash and that puppies and kittens are ugly nuisances. Don’t listen to those people. They aren’t fun at parties, they won’t get your funny jokes and most importantly, they are so jaded that they don’t know good movies when they see them.

Because 2014 was a great year for film. In fact, I would say it’s one of the best years, ever. Seriously. Admittedly, the first half of the year was rough, (cough …”The Monuments Men” … cough … “Transformers: Age of Extinction” … ), but after the summer, it seemed like there was a masterpiece or two coming out every week, and those were just the major American films. International film is flourishing, but doesn’t have a wide audience in America yet.


After much reflection, here they are — my 20 favorite films of the year.


The Babadook

Definitely the best horror film of the year. This critically acclaimed ghost/home invasion thriller is beautifully made, creative and intense. The premise is simple enough. A haunted, completely creepy book appears in the house of a single mother and her son, and strange occurrences unfold.


The Double

I love a good psychological thriller. I also love Jesse Eisenberg. This novel adaptation is a creepy story about a simple worker who comes face to face with a man who looks exactly like him, save for the fact that this double does everything better. Beautiful chaos ensues, with the twice the Jesse Eisenberg you’re used to. Also, it’s on Netflix.



Begin Again

One of the best music films of the year, “Begin Again” stars Keira Knightey, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine, who are musicians in New York City looking to begin again. It’s not your ordinary love story. It captures modern attitudes toward music perfectly, and with excellent music performed by Knightley and Levine. Levine’s original song, “Lost Stars,” is fantastic and up for an Oscar.


Inherent Vice

Another welcome addition to the L.A. crime genre, “Inherent Vice” is some of the best work of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. Doc Sportello’s (Joaquin Phoenix) ex-girlfriend is exposed to a scheme for her lover to be captured and sent to an asylum by her lover’s wife and the wife’s own lover, who hope to take the husband’s money made from a real estate and cocaine trade headed by an organization called the Golden Fang, that in turn have been using the corrupt LAPD for their industry, including the same officer (Josh Brolin) Doc has been working with the whole time. It’s black comedy gold, and up for screenwriting and costume design Oscars.


Guardians of the Galaxy

If you didn’t see this movie, you were probably living under a rock. “Guardians of the Galaxy” showed everyone that the weird side of Marvel can compete with the mainstream characters the world had already become comfortable with. It’s funny, pretty and has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s also my favorite Marvel movie, ever.



One of the best war films of the 21st century, to be sure. An A-list cast, a creative premise, stunning visuals and an intense story made me incredibly sorry and full of respect for anyone who ever drove in a tank in WWII.



Now, I may be a tad biased, considering the original “Gojira” was one of the first films I ever saw, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Still, it’s one of the best CGI-heavy films in recent year and brought respect back to the franchise. The sequel has me extremely pumped.


American Sniper

He doesn’t do any 360 no-scopes or jump shots, but Bradley Cooper gives one of his best performances as expert SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Clint Eastwood is in his prime for directing, and he did an incredible job. Tension, action and humor are perfectly intertwined in this sad and gripping story. It’s up for six Oscars, including Best Motion Picture.


The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson is one of my all-time favorites, and I believe he is the current master of comedy in cinema. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is his best work so far, and it is a beautiful and hilarious piece of art. It has the best and biggest cast of the year and is up for nine Oscars, including Best Motion Picture.


The Imitation Game

It’s an incredibly gripping film about one of the most important men in modern history, Alan Turing. It left me sad and angry for all the homosexual men who were prosecuted and bullied in such recent history. It’s up for eight Oscars, including Best Motion Picture.



One of the simplest films of the year, but probably the most unique. It is a highly stylized film about a revolt on the last train on Earth, and a meditation on society, class differences and human nature. A perfect psychological thriller/action mashup.


The Lego Movie

Why it got snubbed at the Oscars, we may never know, but the “Lego Movie” is now a classic. It has some of the best animated visuals I’ve ever seen and comedy that has me laughing even after the fifth watch. My Lego childhood was revitalized in an excellent form, with many sequels on the way. Also, “Everything is Awesome” is nominated for Best Original Song.


Still Alice

This film needs more attention. It’s the tearjerker of the year, starring Julianne Moore as a woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Moore gave an incredible performance and left me in awe of the struggle Alzheimer’s patients go through.



A totally creepy, stylized and captivating film, and by a first-time director. Jake Gyllenhaal transformed himself into a psychopath exposed to the business of selling crime footage to TV news stations. It is up for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.


Gone Girl

The psychological thriller of the year had me frightened even an hour and a half after I got out of the theater. Who knew Rosamund Pike could play such a character? She nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actress.



Just acknowledging the way this film was made is enough to make it worthy of Best Picture. But it is also a beautiful story about the life of a boy and his family who could be any one of us. I saw my childhood on screen through this film. Richard Linklater is a master, and his 12 year film is a shoo-in for Best Motion Picture at this point, and already has six Oscar nominations.


The Theory of Everything

Stephen Hawking has been one of my heroes for a long time, and this film does him incredible justice. It’s a beautiful love story, with spectacular music, cinematography and a jaw-dropping performance by Eddie Redmayne. It’s nominated for five Oscars, including Best Motion Picture.



I’ve already ranted enough about “Interstellar,” so I will just say that it is one of the best science fiction films ever made, and is up for four Oscars this year.



One of the best movies I’ve ever seen, period. Absolutely incredible. The rhythm, tension and humor of the film had me sweating and laughing for two straight hours. Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Motion Picture.


Birdman: Or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance


Collegian Film Beat Writer Morgan Smith can be reached at or on Twitter @MDSFilms.

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