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Staff Picks: 10 Favorite Movies of 2014

boyhood richard linklater

Boyhood
Andy Greene: There have been a lot of wonderful movies this year, but none inspired me more than Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. It was a bold and ambitious filmmaking experiment that transcends every demographic; it’s impossible not to connect with Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family in some way. It’s one of the truest representations of life ever captured on camera, a film that makes you want to call your Mom and Dad afterwards, unable to hold back tears.

as above so below

As Above, So Below
Chris Haigh: As Above, So Below – it’s not a popular choice, but it’s a scary, horrific, engaging film that provides one of the more inventive twists in the found footage-style horror, allowing a team of archaeologists and cavern-explorers to journey into the haunted catacombs beneath Paris. Held together with a charismatic lead in the form of Perdita Weeks’ Scarlett Marlowe, the film is a dark thrill ride through the past and the psyche, and one which allows for an understated emotional finale.

happy christmas

Happy Christmas
Hillary Waldstein: Maybe I was just in the mood for some mumblecore, but Happy Christmas tickled my fancy. When Jenny (Anna Kendrick) breaks up with her boyfriend, she moves in with her writer sister-in-law Kelly (Melanie Lynsky) and her filmmaker brother Jeff (Joe Swanberg, also the writer/director). Jenny comes up with the idea for Kelly to write a moneymaking erotic novel and together they brainstorm the story. Not much happens in the movie, but good acting and a good dose of realism make for an entertaining hour and a half. I like a movie where second base comes before sex, and a little anxiety follows a lit joint. Also, Jude Swanberg, Joe Swanberg’s two year-old son, both on and off screen, is so cute and full of joy (Lena Dunham’s character describes him as fucking funny and such a nice person), he makes the little moments of darkness and discomfort worth it.

the maze runner

The Maze Runner
Isabella Garcia: I’ll be honest, I feel like I haven’t watched as many movies this year as I could have, but the one that continues to stand out from the ones I did see was The Maze Runner. I’ve praised many aspects of it in my review when it first came out, from the raw talent in the actors to the incredible CGI experience evoked in the maze and when you see the Grievers come at you. All of this just falls under why this is one of the best book-to-film adaptations of this year. Yes, they might have changed things to create a better cinematic experience, but it held together the intense plot and characters of the best-selling novel by James Dashner. It never ceases to immerse the audience in the story of Thomas and the other Glades trying to find a way out of the maze. And when it ends with the setup for the sequel, you wish you could watch the next one immediately after.

tusk

Tusk
Kiesha: There was something alluringly grotesque about Tusk that causes me to wonder if it’s my favourite or just simply weaselled its way so far into my mind that I can’t forget it. But it’s probably the shockingly terrible and inaccurately hilarious Canadian jokes, the disgusting element of forcing a person into a walrus suit of flesh, and the surprisingly interesting use of camera angles to create an emotional connection that makes Tusk my favorite film of 2014.

begin again

Begin Again
Laura T.: It’s not nearly as ambitious as some 2014 film debuts (Boyhood, for example, which was another favorite of mine), but Begin Again is that rare thing: an original musical drama. While our new blockbusters mainly consist of franchise superhero films, many good romantic and dramatic films have been made on smaller budgets with smaller releases, Begin Again being one of these. It’s a film that, like director John Carney’s debut film Once, works its music around the plot as a natural form of release and also purpose for its main characters. Greta (Kiera Knightly) moves to New York when her boyfriend (Adam Levine, who does surprisingly well in his jerk-boyfriend role) gets a record deal, only for him to cheat on her, leaving her stranded in a new city with only her guitar and a broken heart — which is where Mark Ruffalo comes in.

His character Dan is a charming yet drunken record producer that has become disillusioned by his industry job that churns out more autotuned performers than it does quality musicians. He’s been fired when he hears Greta singing in a bar, and in the scene where he hears her, he perks up, imagining the background composition to her song, and imagining a new future for them both through her music.

Begin Again, formerly known as Can A Song Save Your Life, is a movie about passion, mostly because of how strongly these two characters — and the ones surrounding them — feel about music. It swells in ways that raises their characters up, and it elevates the film from a good drama film to a great one. I watched this film in June, and I still can’t get the soundtrack, which comes from Dan and Greta’s successful attempt to make her album in and around the boroughs of New York City, out of my head. Begin Again is a quality dramatic film, one that is so powerful because of its soundtrack and the passion that this music brings forth in its leads.

gone girl ben affleck

Gone Girl
Michelle Hsu: Having never read the book (or, honestly, the premise), I left the film with the same sense of discomfort and unease that I did with last year’s movie Prisoners. This movie was horrifying, not only because of it’s graphically violent, no-holds-barred murder and sex scenes, but also because of its uncannily accurate introspective glance towards our modern day outlook on marriage and love. I had my doubts about Ben Affleck, which admittedly have since been altered thanks to both this film, and Argo (2012). Graced with Rosamund Pike’s terribly enigmatic portrayal of a Perfect Woman gone wrong, I was left gaping at the screen in shock and horror at the end. Coupled with David Fincher’s notoriously perfectionist attention to detail, this movie definitely stood out to me as the most intriguing film of 2014.

hunger games mockingjay part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Sara Linn: The most memorable movie-going experience the year is the dark, morbid story of Katniss Everdeen’s rise to revolutionary figurehead: Mockingjay – Part 1. The final novel is the most criticized of the trilogy for its relentlessly dark tone, its controversial resolution, and its weak political deliverance. Yet that’s where the magic of a good adaptation can make all the difference: because The Hunger Games films have set a precedent of taking the story beyond Katniss to the perspective of other characters (especially the vicious President Snow), this latest movie is able to take its time building the revolution of Panem. Most of the fighting happens in the background of the novel, but in Mockingjay – Part 1, political conflict is front and center.

In addition to giving audiences a moving look at the plight of the districts, the film develops existing characters and adds a few crucial new faces. Although not the full-tilt action spectacle of its two predecessors, Mockingjay creates satisfying tension with personal conflict. The traumatized Katniss is asked to be a hero again, is exploited for her image again, and positioned as a political chess piece between the Capitol and District 13. Jennifer Lawrence earns every dollar of her paycheck in a gripping performance. The film’s explosive ending is both haunting and horrific, sure to leave audiences desperate to watch the final chapter in 2015.

dear white people

Dear White People
Sarah Turner: My other contender for best movie was Boyhood, but I’m sure someone else is going to pick that one, so I’m going to pick the movie that had the most personal impact on me this year: Dear White People. I had to choose Dear White People because not only is it sleek, complex, enlightening and most importantly entertaining, perfectly capturing the Millennial ethos, but it also hopefully marks another wave of black auteur cinema that writer and director Justin Simien thinks has been stagnant since the ’90s when directors like Spike Lee and John Singleton put out films that tried to capture the Generation X black experience.

This film updates that narrative for the Millennial audience and I think marks a seminal work of multiracial cinema. Multiracial people are the fastest growing self-identifying category in America, which means in a few years they/we are going to demand some more representation in film. A lot of times movies like this one with big messages about political correctness and treatment of racial identity on college campuses forget that they have to also be interesting, but this story has such a rich range of characters that all of the action is sometimes hard to keep straight. I didn’t write this as a personal plug, but I explain a little more of what I mean here in my review.

gone girl

Gone Girl
Sirisha Varigonda: Never had I been more nervous walking into a movie than with Gone Girl. With the double perspective in the novel, the story was quite terrifying to read through at times. I’d hold my breath, audibly gasp and scare people around me, even flail around at times. I was honestly unsuspecting of every twist. With the movie however, I really had nothing to worry about. Rosamund Pike absolutely nails Amazing Amy in all of her colorful palate of personalities and facades. For those who didn’t know the fate of the novel, the deception behind Amy’s character was entirely surprising (several people gasped in the audience when she reappears driving down the freeway, flicking out a husband-wife pen out of the window). Ben Affleck was cast well as Nick — as a deadweight in comparison to Amy, entirely unsuspecting of Amy at the onset and unable to win at endgame, he plays the house-husband well.

Like all other readers of the book, I had super high expectations for everything: from the set-up of the faux-abduction scene, to the Amazing Amy books, and Amy Dunne herself, as the imagery and details are so well taken care of by Gillian Flynn. Aided with the screenplay provided by Flynn herself, and a beautiful soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Fincher crafts the movie so well into the lazy Missourian environment with a dreadful twist.

What’s most impacting about the movie, and perhaps why I love the story so much, is that it says a lot of unsaid things about marriages and portrayal of women in general. It reinforces the notion that you’ll never truly know a person, even in marriage, and shatters the notion that women in media are one-dimensional. While critics may try to nail down Amy as the villain in the story, she’s simply a human being. A sociopath, but a human being nonetheless. The “Cool Girl” archetype narrative (which is my favorite scene) goes over all of the instinctual feelings that girls growing up feel about themselves, and makes Amy and her liberty in discussing it freely someone to relate to. Her vindictiveness, intellect (that surpasses Nick), and total impassiveness and apathy is actually inspiring to me (apart from the whole killer-vibes she also has going on). I’m looking forward to seeing Rosamund and David sweep all the awards next year.

  • My second choice would’ve been Palo Alto. Such a beautiful book-to-film adaptation too.