I feel as if I need to start this post with a caveat: This is not a list of the best films of 2014. This isn’t a list of Oscar contenders. So what is it then? I’m glad you asked. This is a list of the movies I saw in 2014 that I liked the most. I wouldn’t recommend them for everyone. Also, they are not even all made in 2014; I just happened to see them this year.
The last time I saw a large-enough sample size of new releases to make a “Ten Best of the Current Calendar Year” list was before my lovely wife Jen and I had kids. In those halcyon days when we were young and gorgeous (well, one of us was) and had all the time in the world, Jen and I would breeze into theaters to gorge on double features, then stay up late with friends discussing the meaning and message behind the films we had just seen. I had a friend who would see as many new releases as he could on their opening weekends. I told Jen, “I want to be him.” She said, “Well, good luck with that.” Subsequently, she stopped going to the theater with me as much. Then we had a son. Then a daughter, and then another. Soon, the only new releases I was seeing had cartoon characters or talking animals or, just to mix things up, talking-animal cartoon characters.
I’m rambling. (Also, I think I just blamed my kids and wife for making my life less enjoyable.) Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I still managed to see 56 films this year. That’s about one every 6.5 days. Most of the movies I see are about a year after they were released, when I can see them on DVD or instant streaming. I’m only counting the first time I saw a film; if I counted subsequent viewings of “Frozen” alone this year, the list would be past 70. Here are my ten favorites, in no particular order. I keep my descriptions brief because about 800,000 other people could do a better job than me of analyzing these movies.
1. “The World’s End.” 2013 comedy directed by Edgar Wright, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Hilarious British film, part of the Cornetto Trilogy of tenuously tied-together movies (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) but not as gory as the others. I loved watching the “what the heck is going on here?!?” looks on my wife’s and kids’ faces when they first saw this.
2. “Before Midnight.” 2013 romantic drama directed by Richard Linklater, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The third film in another trilogy, this one including “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.” Revisiting these characters is like sitting in on conversations with old friends. Old friends who are more attractive and smarter than me.
3. “The Lego Movie.” 2014 animated comedy directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. I would have liked this movie even if I wasn’t forced to watch it several times with my kids. Funny in a way that works on many levels, and somehow corporate and subversive at the same time.
4. “Drinking Buddies.” 2013 comedy/drama directed by Joe Swanberg, starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston. I’m a sucker for Swanberg’s movies, low-low-budget films where very little happens to move the plot along.
5. “Enough Said.” 2013 romantic comedy directed by Nicole Holofcener, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini. I did not see this film coming. I’ve always liked Holofcener’s films (particularly “Walking and Talking” and “Friends With Money”), but I wasn’t sure about Tony Soprano in the male lead role. It would have been interesting to see where his career went after this one.
6. “In A World…” 2013 comedy directed by Lake Bell. What a bizarre little movie. Bell is a vocal coach competing with, among others, her father and her father’s protege for the coveted role of resurrecting the “in a world…” voice-over for a movie trailer. Awkward and funny.
7. “Robot & Frank.” 2012 drama directed by Jake Schreier, starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, and Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of a robot. Yes, a robot. What I like about this near-future science-fiction film is that it is just a few years or a decade beyond us now, which makes it seems all the more real. Langella is masterful as an ex-con who may be suffering from some form of dementia, and the unlikely friendship he strikes up with the robot helper forced upon him by his children centers the film.
8. “The Way, Way Back.” 2013 comedy/drama directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, starring Liam James, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, and Sam Rockwell, among others. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age films. (Or the adult version, what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life films; see No. 10 below.) Rockwell is at his suave but goofy, one-liner, early-Chevy-Chase best in this one. Carell plays a jerk.
9. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” 2013 romantic comedy/adventure/drama directed by Ben Stiller, starring Stiller and Kristen Wiig. I like this movie because I am Walter Mitty. I’ve always lived most of my life in my head. The first time I read James Thurber’s 1947 short story upon which this was based, it was as if Thurber had been reading my mind. Very loosely basing this on the story, Stiller retains the heart of it but goes off in a whole different direction.
10. “Wish I Was Here.” 2014 drama/comedy directed by Zach Braff, starring Braff, Kate Hudson, and Mandy Patinkin. I liked Braff’s first film, “Garden State,” and I liked this one even more. It deals with faith; death; a man’s relationship with his father and his children; and the notion of being present or living in the moment, a great concept that I struggle to put into practice. Plus, it stars the voice of Olaf from “Frozen” as a stoner.
Other movies that just missed the cut: “We Bought A Zoo,” “Stuck In Love,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” Liberal Arts,” Hamlet 2,” The Trip,” “Begin Again,” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.”