Yearly best lists are powerful things in the minds of movie bloggers. Not only are they the ultimate expression of film success or failure, but they totally dictate movie viewing habits from October to February of each year. People wonder why films from early in the year are so easily forgotten, and it all boils down to the fact that people want to talk about what they're watching with people who are watching the same things. Debates die out after a couple of months, which is unfortunate for early-year releases.
So, while I have had far from enough time to watch every film worthy of an Above Average Award, I tried my darndest to get to as many as possible, and the three lists, below, are the culmination of every 2014 movie that I have had the opportunity to see. Bask in the greatness, people...
#4 - Rosamund Pike
#3 - Laura Dern & Shailene Woodley
(The Fault in Our Stars)
While not nearly as populated as the best actor list, this year's best actress list features some amazing performances, beating the heck out of the 2013 female performances. As a guy, I must alert you to the fact that I tend to get more out of male performances. I'm not at all saying that actresses are lesser or lacking in talent. They just can't reach me on the same level.
That said, the ladies on this list were able to accomplish that difficult task of reaching my emotions, and, for that, they deserve all of the recognition in the world.
Honorable Mention: Jennifer Connelly (Noah), Anne Hathaway (Interstellar)
#5 - Kim Dickens
While watching the trailer for Gone Girl, Kim Dickens annoyed the crap out of me, which greatly lowered my expectations for her character. Maybe that was why I loved her so much, but, regardless, she was great! Kudos to Dickens for impressing me and the rest of the world that is encompassed with Gone Girl fandom.
#4 - Rosamund Pike
If you have seen Gone Girl, you know exactly how perfect Pike's portrayal of Amazing Amy turned out. There is no doubt in my mind that Pike was ideal for this role, and I am certainly hopeful that she can make a splash at The Oscars, however surprising that might be, at this point. On the other hand, if you have NOT seen Gone Girl, check it out! I'm going to keep my praise of Pike a bit short, in order to refrain from spoiling. So, just trust me and watch!
#3 - Laura Dern & Shailene Woodley
(The Fault in Our Stars)
If you read my review of The Fault in Our Stars, you know that I have a certain affinity for the novel and the resulting chick flick. Sure, the average audience member may have been 16, but this film got so very much right! Two of those right things are Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern. While neither of them would have been my selection for their respective roles, they were still great, and, honestly, the film was at its emotional best when the two were sharing the screen. While the novel may have revolved around a teenage love story, the film undoubtedly revolved around a relationship between mother and daughter, and it was brought to life by these two phenomenal actresses.
#2 - Felicity Jones
(The Theory of Everything)
Eddie Redmayne is one of my favorite up and coming actors, and, when I went to watch The Theory of Everything, I expected greatness on his part. But, while watching the film, I realized that the true star is not Redmayne, at all. Instead, Felicity Jones stole the show, and I was super impressed! The film is based on the memoir of Jones's character, which should have lead people on to the likelihood of her being the true star, but, nonetheless, it snuck up on me. Kudos to Jones and kudos to the filmmakers for allowing the best piece of The Theory of Everything to shine so bright.
#1 - Emma Stone
It only took one scene! I mean, just look at this picture and tell me she doesn't deserve the Oscar! Forget you, Patty Arquette! In 2011, Emma Stone sort of topped my best actress list, as a portion of "Every Female Cast Member on the Set of The Help," to which I recognized with that top prize, but this one is exclusive. Stone is not one of my favorite actresses (certainly not to the extent of many folks that adore her), but, in Birdman, she excels in so many ways! Of course, Stone has many, many great performances ahead of her, in her young career. However, I do not believe she will ever top her Birdman mini-rant that put her at the top of this list.
This category was the most difficult to wrap my head around, mostly due to the superior performance of the actor who tops this list. When thinking "who should be #2???" I kept drawing blanks! But, it is my duty to give you a complete list, and I shall do my duty. My 2014 Best Actor list is full of mediocrity-turned-great, which makes me totally excited for the future! So many careers were changed, for the better, in 2014, and that, my friends, pumps me up!
Honorable Mention: Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Jesse Eisenberg (The Double), James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Evan Peters (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Vincent Piazza (Jersey Boys), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher)
#8 - Benedict Cumberbatch
(The Imitation Game)
Benedict Cumberbatch is his own enigma, in my opinion. I've never thought of him as a bad actor, but, considering the performances of his that I have witnessed, I never, ever thought he would give a performance as gripping as he did in The Imitation Game. You might be wondering how I could put such a great performance at number 8 on my list, which will be answered by my praise of the other AMAZING 7 performances that were just a little bit better...
#7 - Ethan Hawke
In the past, Ethan Hawke has been able to pleasantly surprise me, on multiple occasions. While he is not a great actor, there is something about him that is so honest and relatable, and, in Boyhood, that honesty was shining like never before. While I was not the biggest fan of the film, it was certainly well-made and emotional. Looking back at my own childhood and the maturation of both myself and my parents, I truly appreciate what Hawke brought to this film. Personally, I thought Patricia Arquette was borderline horrible in the film, but Hawke did not let that slow him down. In fact, it made him shine just a little bit more!
#6 - Edward Norton
While I don't particularly dislike Edward Norton, I have never, ever been impressed with him as an actor. Thankfully, Birdman swept in and changed that struggle! Norton was absolutely great in this role, as he truly encompassed the character. He was likeably unlikeable, and I wouldn't have changed a single thing about him (or much of the film, for that matter). Edward Norton was just a small part of what made Birdman great...
#5 - Michael Keaton
Michael Keaton is in the mix to win Best Actor at The Oscars, and he is certainly deserving. In fact, if I enjoyed Keaton, as an actor, a little bit more, there is a good chance that he would be much higher on this list. For some reason, he just doesn't really connect with me, as a performer. Instead, I just always feel like I'm watching Michael Keaton, rather than his character. Regardless, his performance and character in Birdman were certainly worthy of recognition.
#4 - Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal was on fire in 2014, and so many of the average viewers that I like to think I represent were deprived of said fire. Enemy has received ample critical praise, and Gyllenhaal is certainly responsible for much of that praise. The film itself was a bit too complex for me (but still good), but Gyllenhaal was spot on and deserving of my kudos! Check this one out! You will not be disappointed.
#3 - Chadwick Boseman
(Get On Up)
Anyone who is crazy enough to attempt to play James Brown deserves a certain amount of praise! But, anyone who is able to play James Brown as crazily as Chadwick Boseman deserves an abundance of praise. Because the film itself was lacking and poorly received, Boseman's performance went unseen by many and, throughout the awards season, unrecognized by most, and I am here to right that wrong! Boseman nearly made my list, last year, for his performance in 42, but Get On Up solidifies him as a rising star. I cannot wait to see what Boseman does in the future, but, for now, be sure you check out his performance in Get On Up.
#2 - Steve Carell
Creepy killed in 2014, and no one brought home the crazy like Steve Carell! So many people have been amazed at the performance, because of the fact that it is Steve Carell. However, I was just amazed at the performance because it was an amazing performance. Personally, as a fan of laughter, I hope that Carell sticks to his comedic roots, but, if these types of characters continue to fall into his lap, you can't blame him for taking the opportunity to blow us away. Kudos to Carell and whoever made this amazing, unusual match.
#1 - Jake Gyllenhaal
There may have been multiple grand performances in 2014, but the distance between Jake Gyllenhaal and the rest of the dramatic field is absolutely insane! Honestly, I had trouble coming up with comparable choices for the rest of the list, because he was just that good. In my four years of blogging, Gyllenhaal's performance in Nightcrawler is undoubtedly the best that I've reviewed, and I'm stoked to see what his still-young career has in store for him. Kudos to Gyllenhaal for his performance, and kudos to any of you who had the honor of enjoying that performance. Also, he is the first actor to ever make The Above Average Awards list twice in the same year! There is no doubt that 2014 is the year of Gyllenhaal!
Conflict... Simple conflict is such a powerful thing. You may notice that 4 of the 5 pictures that I chose for my 5 favorite dramatic films of the year show two people facing each other, with some sort of conflict (don't peek). It is quite strange how these things work themselves out, but I did not plan that to be the case, at all. Maybe these pictures are an indication of theme of interpretation, throughout my 2014 movie viewing, but who knows! Regardless, 2014 was a year that featured many amazingly impressive films and a number of mediocre films. But, what I will remember most about 2014 is the lack of disaster among the year's blockbusters. Not only were studios successful in launching non-sequels, but they rarely failed (at least with films that I had the opportunity to view). So, lets see which film will take home the ultimate prize and join The Place Beyond the Pines, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and 50/50, each of which have topped my lists for best drama, over the past three years...
Honorable Mention: Enemy
#5 - Nightcrawler
#4 - Gone Girl
At this point, I have seen Nightcrawler twice, and, both times, I was just thinking "what the heck!" throughout the entire film. Gyllenhaal's performance was obviously phenomenal, as I just notified you, but the entire thing is just so fascinating and draws you in! Of the films represented on my best list, Nightcrawler is probably the one that you, as an average viewer, have heard the least about. Don't let that discourage you! Check it out! Even the wife liked it!
#4 - Gone Girl
Even with the hype and heightened expectations, Gone Girl was undoubtedly one of the most universally loved, non-superhero films of 2014. Along with the next two films on this list, Gone Girl could have been an epic disaster. I mean, if it wasn't in the hands of David Fincher, that is! Fincher is one of the best in the biz, of course, which was the sole source of my excitement for the film, but I never expected it to be so intense and well-written. Gillian Flynn can certainly sell to more than just moms on the beach!
#3 - Guardians of the Galaxy
Many consider Guardians of the Galaxy the "little Marvel project that could," and they are certainly entitled to their opinion. Sure, the film was GREAT, but I've yet to understand why so many people (many of whom worship at the throne of Marvel) were surprised by the success of Guardians. Regardless, the entire film was spot-on, and, at #3 on my 2015 best-list, Guardians of the Galaxy is the highest rated Marvel film in the four-year history of The Above Average Awards, besting The Avengers by one spot! However, 2012 was a much stronger year for film (in my opinion), and Guardians is not quite Avengers-good.
#2 - X-Men: Days of Future Past
Days of Future Past could have been a disaster! And, when I say it could have been a disaster, I mean it could have singlehandedly murdered the X-Men franchise and other perspective superhero films. Yet, it turned out to be the most impressive blockbuster of 2015 (in my opinion). Because of the financial success of Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men will not be considered 2015's biggest superhero success story (which is such a shame), but, regardless, Bryan Singer and crew took two entirely different franchises and successfully merged them into one, in a way that made total sense. Now, I'm a pretty smart guy, but there is no way in heck that I could have accomplished or foreseen the success of what Singer did with this franchise. Each and every time that I see the film (and I am certainly racking up the views), I am in awe of the ease with which the film flows from past to future to present to the deletion of 40 years of humanity. It was just great! And, while I do watch pretty much every superhero film, I'm not easily impressed by action and superpowers. In fact, in the first three years of my blog (during which the superhero era took flight), The Avengers was the only superhero film to make any of my yearly best lists. Days of Future Past deserves so much more credit than it has garnered, and I'm here to give it!
#1 - Birdman
No 2014 film caught me off-guard as much as Birdman! The cast was brilliant. The direction was brilliant. The story was brilliant. And, the score was one of the most impactful that I have heard in many years, and the fact that it was not eligible for Oscar voting is an absolute shame. Seriously, those drums were fantastic! But, anyway... Birdman was the most perfect piece of artistic filmmaking in 2014. Until I went to see Birdman a second time, X-Men was going to top my list, but things just kept trending towards the Bird. If Birdman ends up winning best picture (which I hope it does), I will be so excited. However, I never really thought that my #1 would line up with Oscar's. So, I'm excited to see if that is the case! Regardless, Birdman is one of the most engaging, exciting, nerve-wracking mind blowers of all time. Please, for the love of all that exists, watch this movie! And soak it in! Because Birdman is the best dramatic film of 2014!
But it still doesn't top The LEGO Movie!
Well, there you have it, folks! That's a wrap on the year that was 2014.
As always, thank you to everyone for reading and be sure to let me know if there is anything that I can do to make 2015 an even better year for The Average Critic.
Be sure to check out the best in comedy from 2014 in The Above Average Award: 2014 Comedy, which was released last week.