Louisa’s Best Movies of 2014

#1. The Skeleton Twins

This movie had me hooked from the opening scene (which is undoubtedly one of the strongest openers ever) and kept me engaged the entire way through. I have talked nonstop about this movie since I saw it at Sundance in January and again in the theaters a few months ago, and I stand behind my declaration that this is one of the best screenplays in the history of movies. Yes, it’s THAT well written! Any movie with a screenplay as excellent as this one deserves the #1 slot, and that’s how “The Skeleton Twins” earned its place at the top of my list this year.

The dialogue is real, the characters damaged and painful, and there’s this brilliant balance of mixed emotions for the viewer — you are simultaneously feeling pity towards the protagonists yet longing to hang out with them as best friends. If I had to describe this movie in just two words, I would sum it up as “painfully honest.”

I’ve never seen a movie that creates such a heartbreakingly uplifting tone as this. The performances from Bill Hader and Kirsten Wiig are among the best of the year and, dare I say it, totally career-changing. Even Luke Wilson in a supporting role as a loyal lap dog husband is at the top of his game. The performances in this are so amazing that I’m at a loss for words, you’ll just have to see it to believe it.

“The Skeleton Twins” is funny, it’s sad, it’s enchanting, it’s wise, and above all, it’s wonderful. I have a great fondness for this movie, so much so that I’m having a difficult time describing why it’s so great, so please just see it!

#2. Begin Again

“Begin Again” was SO CLOSE to filling the number 1 slot because I fell head over heels in love the first time I saw this film (and on subsequent viewings it just got better and better). The heartfelt story of a down-on-his-luck music producer and his unlikely partnership with a lonely songwriter is one of those magical movies that comes along once in a blue moon. Even if you aren’t big into music, you’ll adore this gem of a film. If you are a musician or a music lover, then it’s an absolute must-see and you’ll be rewarded with a deeper richness and meaning throughout.

The film was made by the same team behind the great music film “Once” and it’s evident that these people truly understand what it’s like to live, breathe and “think” in music.

Boosted by a fantastic original soundtrack and heartfelt performances from Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Catherine Keener, and Hailee Steinfeld, this film is a real beauty and shouldn’t be missed. I again plead with you to not write this film off because of one actress: I myself can’t believe Keira Knightley acts in two of my top 10 films of the year (and came close at making that three with her turn in “The Imitation Game). She’s obviously making some very smart career choices.

“Begin Again” made me burst into applause as soon as the credits rolled and left me longing for more. Simply delightful. It’s a great movie.

#3. The Lunchbox

2014 was the year of the food movie. Both “Chef” and “The Hundred Foot Journey” were the other notable foodie films of the year, but “The Lunchbox” stands out from the pack. It’s a truly delightful little story that connects a young housewife and a curmudgeonly older man when a mistaken lunchbox delivery begins a friendship that grows through a chain of handwritten notes, home-cooked spicy curry lunches, and escapist daydream fantasies.

It’s charming, witty, and is the cinematic equivalent of chef-driven comfort food: think a chicken pot pie made with gourmet ingredients. There’s nothing to dislike here, the actors are so inviting, the story is so sweet. Despite this, everything about this movie feels authentic. Being set in Mumbai gives it a whole other level of richness.

If I make this movie sound sweet and charming, it is — but not in a sickly, cloying or saccharine way. It’s a genuine story that comes from the heart. I think this will be the real crowd pleaser on this year’s Top 10 list.

#4. Fury

I didn’t expect to like this movie but I absolutely LOVED it. I’m not a big fan of war movies so when one can make me break out into applause as soon as it ends, you know it’s a great one. Reminiscent of “Das Boot” but in a tank, “Fury” walks the line of a typical war movie yet it manages to be unlike any war movie I’ve ever seen. Don’t go into this one thinking you are going to see lots of action and war violence — the brutality is there, but not where you’d expect it to be. The true twists and emotion lie in the quiet glances of the main characters. You learn so much about them not only by what they think and do but what they don’t.

This movie stuck with me for months and is still one that I can’t quite shake. The most disturbing aspect of the movie is the character of Norman, a young greenhorn who is thrust from his desk job into front line combat when he is assigned to the Fury tank crew. It could be any one of us and that’s what makes it all the more disturbing. Over the course of the movie, you’ll see the exact point when a boy becomes a soldier and how war can tear apart our own morals and humanity. I would go so far as to describe this as an anti-war film.

This film messes with your head in a way that’s similar to “Whiplash,” a way that’s indescribable until you’ve watched both movies (you have to experience it to see what I mean).

I can’t do a write-up of this movie and neglect to mention the powerful, quiet and staid performances from both Shia LeBeouf and Brad Pitt. That they will most likely be neglected come awards time is a real travesty.

This is a thoughtful film and is one that you need to see. It’s from one of my new all-time favorite writer / directors, David Ayer, (who also gave us my #4 top 10 film of 2012, “End of Watch”). This is the war movie that turns all other war movies on their heads.

#5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson is one of my all-time favorite movie directors because he is so skilled at showing us his own unique way of looking at a story. His style is so consistent and specific that you can look at a photograph and instantly know it’s a still from one of his movies.

This is his screwball comedy of sorts — the physical pratfalls are plenty and the plucky characters are appropriately quirky but not to the point of being annoying. I liken this film to being a kid in a candy store: the confection-colored visuals, madcap imagination, hyperactive musical score and quick-witted dialogue (and delivery) just make this movie work on multiple levels.

This isn’t “Wes Anderson 101,” there are layers upon layers of gems to be discovered here and repeated viewings yield unexpected surprises (I’ve seen it several times and each time I uncover something different delights). Instant classic characters are created in Monsieur Gustave and Zero, right up there with Margot, Scout Master Ward, Raleigh St. Clair, Sam & Suzy, Peter & Francis & Jack, Max Fischer, and Steve Zissou in my Anderson playbook.

I don’t give a crap if this proclamation makes me even more of a hipster, I will shout from the rooftops: “I love Wes Anderson and I loved this movie.”

#6. Nightcrawler

I’d describe myself as sort of a cynical artist so I love atmospheric movies like “Nightcrawler” that set a very bleak, disturbing tone. There aren’t many movies where every single element falls perfectly into place to create the ultimate menacing mood — “Drive” is one that comes to mind — but “Nightcrawler” is one of the best, where everything works (acting, script, cinematography, music, editing), resulting in one fine movie! It’s interesting to note that this movie was shot on both “real” film and digital, yielding two very different looks from scene to scene (again, this sort of attention to detail is what makes the movie SO GOOD).

It’s disturbing, funny, horrifying, edgy, and bitingly satirical. You can’t look away even when you know you should. This is an example of social commentary done right, not like the dreadful “Gone Girl.” It’s blazingly original and sets a very high bar for future dramatic thrillers. I found my heart racing multiple times during the screening, it’s the kind of slow burning excitement that makes you grab on to your armrest in anticipation. This isn’t an action movie, it’s psychological. And when a dramatic film can elicit that sort of response, you know that you’re watching something very special.

Jake Gyllenhaal is not one of my favorite actors but he is amazing here, like a starving, hungry coyote stalking the night to prey on unsuspecting victims. He’s not a serial killer, folks, he’s a cameraman who films crime scenes and sells them to the local L.A. news station for money. His performance is one of the best of the year, and the character he creates is one of the creepiest ever. It’s going to take a lot to top this one, as I think this was probably his greatest role.

#7: Whiplash

I see a LOT of movies and it takes a LOT to impress me but even MORE to surprise me, and “Whiplash” did just that. As soon as it was over I turned to Matt and said, “I have never seen a movie quite like that.”

The premise about a young drummer trying to make it in his school’s jazz band sounds downright boring, I know. I thought the same thing. But give this one a chance. It isn’t the perfect movie by any means, but it’s so strong in its unwillingness to compromise (much like the main characters) that it deserves the coveted #7 spot on this year’s list. A fresh, inventive way of portraying what a musician is willing to endure for his art.

A cat and mouse chess game of sorts ends with an unexpected bang (there’s that surprise I was talking about)! Movie conventions are turned on their heads. The emotions I felt after seeing this were the most bizarre ever — I felt elated and dejected (it’s like you were being yelled at for 2 hours, but in a GOOD way).

I am finding this movie to be indescribable so please see it and let me know what you think! This movie delivers the equivalent of a cinematic punch in the gut, but one you’ll quickly recover from while begging for more.

#8: Edge of Tomorrow (Live Die Repeat)

Science fiction done right! This fun concept (think a mash-up of ‘Starship Troopers’ and ‘Groundhog Day’) works on every level, from the kick-ass visual style to the engaging performances from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. It’s just SO MUCH FUN and has the right blend of action, drama, humor and, yes, even romance. It’s super smart, shrewd and very funny.

While there’s plenty of action (and aliens), “Edge of Tomorrow” succeeds the most in its captivating story and characters, elevating it far above your typical ‘shoot-em-up’ action science fiction thriller. I truly loved this movie, not only for all of the reasons mentioned above but because it was able to breathe life into the genre.

This movie has been remarketed and renamed “Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow,” so you might have to search for it under that title. Even if you aren’t a fan of sci-fi, I think you will enjoy this movie.

#9: Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead

THIS MOVIE IS SO…MUCH…FUN! I have declared that seeing this at a midnight premiere was the most fun I had at the movies all year long! Is this movie perfect? Heck no! It has some dud scenes (mostly everything with the Zombie Squad fails to elicit any genuine laughs) but the overall sarcastic tone of the movie had won me over from the start. This is not a movie for everyone but if you are open minded when it comes to campy horror, this needs to be at the top of your Netflix list. No need to have seen Dead Snow 1 to enjoy this sequel.

I just had a discussion in my head where I couldn’t decide if this film or “Nymphomaniac Volume 1” deserved the #9 spot on my list, and if that doesn’t show you that I am a true movie lover then I don’t know what will. I love all genres and when a movie excels at doing what it is meant to do, it gets mad respect from me. “Dead Snow 2” is bloody fun at its finest. It focuses more on the silliness of zombie horror movies and not so much on gross-out gore. The plot itself is hysterical: man is forced to cut off own arm with chainsaw. Man gets arm transplant. New transplanted arm is from a Nazi zombie. Arm wants to kill everybody. Are you laughing yet?

This is a foreign film from Norway, so all of you subtitle-haters beware (if you are one of the many people who refuse to watch subtitled movies, go ahead and line up so I an smack you: you should be ashamed and should learn how to read). Norwegians know how to make the most original, kick-ass movies, and this absurd farce continuously delivers in the most cheesy, over the top ways imaginable. Best of all? It is damn funny!

#10: Laggies

It’s the age old story that we all know and have seen a zillion times: growing up sucks, but we all have to do it. So why did “Laggies” make my Best list this year? Because it breathes new life by presenting the story from a female perspective. This is a very keen, emotionally honest romantic comedy about an aimless twentysomething woman who, after her boyfriend proposes, decides to take a break from her adult life and befriends a teenage girl for a week.

“Laggies” excels at that finding humor in the most unexpected places. It’s a simple movie with a simple idea, but one where its strength lies in the honest sincerity of its characters and the charming, charismatic performances from Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Mark Webber. Keira Knightley haters, please don’t let her presence in this movie dissuade you from seeing it. She is really very good in it and is perfectly cast.

Honorable Mentions:

11. Nymphomaniac: Volume 1
12. Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
13. The Fault in Our Stars
14. Only Lovers Left Alive
15. Interstellar
16. Palo Alto
17. The Hundred-Foot Journey
18. What If
19. X-Men: Days of Future Past
20. Mr. Peabody & Sherman
21. About Last Night
22. The Homesman
23. Blue Ruin
24. Pride
25. The Drop
26. Chef
27. St. Vincent
28. The Imitation Game
29. Life After Beth
30. Obvious Child

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