Or as I call it, the almost the best of the year, but not quite there. And remember, in some cases you could move these up by 5 or down by 5 and I'd be happy; there's a lot of good work in 2014 and sometimes my ranking of one movie over another is purely by momentary preference and could be different next year if you ask me again. So let's check out time loops, Swedish punk and superhero conspiracies after the jump.
#20: The Edge Of Tomorrow
Or whatever title you might want to call it by. A rollicking, exciting sci-fi war movie that shows off a great lead performance by Emily Blunt in full badass mode, ably supported by Tom Cruise in one of those interesting times he gets to use his inherent alien creepy charm to slimy effect. Another example of “yes, the science is ridiculous folks, just go with it” used properly, like Lucy, but his movie has some other things going for it in terms of people connecting and trying to make intelligent decisions, Also, Bill Paxton shouting at soldiers, which is much more fun than it sounds.
#19: The Guest
So, I’m not a Downton Abbey viewer at all, despite my love of good British television and having liked a lot of the people involved in other things. Therefore, the whole brouhaha over Dan Stevens leaving the show a couple of years ago simply passed me by and I had absolutely no knowledge of him before seeing this movie, But...wow. What an introduction to an actor. The cliche of the “he’s a nice boy new in town, let’s everyone trust him!” is done to death, but this movie takes that cliche in an interesting direction (including that there is not just one person mistrusting him) and a lot of that rests on Steven’s really charming and smart performance. A lot of people can play a chilling villain, but Stevens gets to play one who also is oddly empathetic and kind in a lot of dealings in a way that makes you think it’s more than just trying to ingratiate himself with the locals. The director of this, Adam Wingard, also directed one of the best movies of 2013, You’re Next, and I’ll be very happy to see what he comes up with next.
#18: We Are The Best! (Vi är bäst!)
I’m a bit of a sucker for kids in bands movies, like School of Rock or even old Brady Bunch episodes when they warble their way through things and this is a really fun example of the genre. What makes it really special is that this is a lovely little friendship movie of three middle school girls who end up forming a punk band in 1980’s Sweden; the three young actresses are really good and fit together perfectly in a great example of how to show real friendships at that age and all of the annoyances and joys of that. The music is a hell of a lot of fun (Swedish punk of the period is pretty damn good), they write their own song (“Hate The Sport!”) that will be stuck in your head for days and there is a concert scene at the end that is so punk you could have put it in a Sex Pistols movie. A really special little movie.
#17: The Lunchbox
The best romance that isn’t really a romance of the year, this Indian movie is a really special epistolary between a wife, who is sending lunches to her husband at work in Delhi, and a widowed office worker who starts accidentally getting those lunches instead of his usual lunch order. They begin exchanging notes and talking about their lives and it’s...quiet and heart-rending and kind of lovely. Folks who have seen Slumdog Millionaire and The Namesake might know Irrfan Khan (he’s the police interrogator in the former and the father in the latter), and this movie is a fantastic use of his quality of science where he can express so much with just a momentary facial expression. Nimrat Kaur is apparently fairly new in Indian cinema as the wife and she gets a really nice debut here, able to express doubt and anger and love in the same few seconds as she learns more about her husband and how he doesn’t even mention that he’s not been getting her homemade lunches. This is something special.
#16: Grand Budapest Hotel
I’m not feeling the huge praise this is getting from a lot of people (I think the previous Wes Anderson movie, Moonlight Kingdom, is a good deal better) but this is still an excellent piece of work in the way most Anderson movies are. It may be growing on me a bit, though; there's a great deal of feeling to it that I may need to reconsider as time goes to by (and it's certainly not the light frippery some people have portrayed it as).
#15: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
While the human characters might have been a bit thin, this is a near-masterpiece of imagination and action. After the very good Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this movie takes a step forward in trying to see what might have been with the apes forming a new society as humanity falls apart and whether there is any chance for peace between the two. Andy Serkis does his usual very, very good job but the MVP here is Toby Kebbell as Koba; his performance shines through the motion capture as you feel sympathetic to an ape who was tortured to no end and just why he hates humans so much.
#14: Inherent Vice
A movie for folks who found The Big Sleep, The Big Lebowski and The Big Goodbye too easy to follow, Joaquin Phoenix gives one of the best performances of the year as he shambles through a maze of people trying to screw each other over, cops being cops and shady land deals in 1970 Los Angeles. I’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia, so after the diminishing interest I had in There Will Be Blood and The Master it was so nice to see him back to form and giving me characters and situations I was interested in and cared for.
#13: The Lego Movie
For about three quarters of this movie, it’s a very good, if standard, action movie of The One as he fights to escape/defeat the Ultimate Evil, blah blah blah….but then this movie takes a turn that turns it into something much more interesting and special. Also deserves extra credit for Will Arnett having far too much fun playing Batman in all his vaingloriousness.
#12: Cheap Thrills
Whadda ya mean you’ve never heard of this movie? It’s only a great take on old tropes of paying people to do horrible things and turned up to 11; sure, it’s a cliche, but when it’s done this well and acted by people like Pat Healy, David Koechner, Ethan Embry and Sara Paxton, you should already be checking this out at the library. It’s disgusting, funny, horrifying and has the worst sex scene of the year.
#11: Captain America: The Winter SoldierMarvel is on a magnificent roll with it’s movies and this is a nice continuation of the mainstream of the Marvel movies. I’m a big fan of action movies that are actually about something, so finding a movie where Steve Rogers is still adjusting to the 21st Century as well as adjusting to what SHIELD is becoming, with all of it’s talk of getting ahead of potential threats and pointing a gun at the world, is surprisingly timely and handled very well. Then you get Scarlett Johannson yet again this year, practically taking the movie over as Natasha and Steve go on the run and we get a road movie as well as an action movie. This could have been a standard spy and action movie, albeit with excellent action sequences, but it’s the Steve and Natasha relationship that takes it to another level. A really excellent further entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that changes a lot of things and for the more interesting.
Tomorrow: The top 10 of the year!