The 5 Films From 2014 I Urge You To See ASAP

Film Set - 'Love Is Strange'

If you clicked over to this page with fears of encountering yet another listicle compiling the best films from 2014 then you might as well stop now and visit another entertainment site. I get it. List burnout is a real problem in our modern society, but it’s also the ultimate first world problem. The fact that we get tired of compiling the best and worst things our planet has to offer is probably the truest sign of mankind’s decline that we have witnessed in our lifetime.

All that aside, I have put a lot of thought into the films I chose to compile for my limited list of memorable cinematic efforts from 2014. It began as a basic ‘best of’ but then I challenged myself to go beyond my current feelings about each film and ask whether or not I would be interested in watching the same features again in six months’ time. This cut my list in half in minutes, and from that point on it was obvious that giving you ten films was no longer an option. I mean, who has time for ten films? Even if you’ve seen two, three, or even four prior to reading my selections, suggesting up to six more titles to add to what I assume is an already existing mental queue of ‘films to watch’ would be something akin to assigning seven to twelve hours of homework. I don’t want that and neither do you. After all, who has the time?

What I have collected for you are my thoughts on the five films that genuinely made an impact on me in 2014. One is without question my favorite film of the year, but every title is worthy of your time and full attention. They may have flaws, but so do you and I. Stop expecting perfection. Making a movie, just like any other form of artistic expression, is about capturing and conveying a feeling that the English language simply cannot describe. It’s about connecting with an untold number of people by sharing the thoughts and feelings we’re often far too self-conscious to express in the most basic of terms. Art gives us a way to show our true colors without explaining away all the magic of the world, and in the last year these films were the works of art that moved me the most.



Whiplash



There was no better film in 2014 than Whiplash. From beginning to end, this fast-paced creation from writer/director Damien Chazelle had me enraptured by its ability to perfectly convey the mindset of someone in search of greatness. I do not believe myself to be anywhere near that point in any aspect of my life, but I would be lying if I said I did not dream of excelling beyond my peers in the world of music writing. It’s all I have wanted to do with my life for almost a decade at this point, and I have dedicated the vast majority of my time since that first moment of clarity to making that dream a reality.

As I watched Andrew (Miles Teller) pursue his dream of being the great jazz drummer I felt an instant connection to every up and down he experienced, as well as the often disheartening interactions he had with the world around him. No one understood what drove him to chase this dream, and they certainly couldn’t see why the arguably extreme methods of discipline taught by Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) was exactly what he needed to surpass even his greatest hopes. That’s exactly what the pursuit of anything great is like in the real world. The average person doesn’t understand that hunger. They don’t wake in the dead of the night worrying that they might never become the person their soul is screaming for them to be. They fear a life of unrealized goals and unexplored possibilities. They fear never being the best version of themselves they can be. Whiplash is about conquering that fear, and it’s the best twist on accomplishing that great task that I have ever seen presented on film.



Love Is Strange



I should not have to sell you on seeing a movie about fresh troubles in a longterm homosexual relationship starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, but considering the incredibly small box office earnings Love Is Strange made during its short release I’ve realized that is not the case. I cannot remember the last time I felt as emotionally involved in a film as I was while watching Ira Sachs’ Love Is Strange. For 93 wonderful minutes the entire world outside the cinema faded into the grey and I was left with a brand new universe in which to thrive. It’s a world filled with problems, but held ever so firmly together by love that you want to exist within it despite whatever shortcomings may be present.

There is so much attention given to the issue of gay rights today that it would have been completely understandable for Sachs to tackle them with this film, but while those problems are present they never dominate the story. That’s not the point, at least not entirely. I’m sure Sachs wants to make it clear that the love these men share is the same as the love shared by any two people who truly mean the world to each other, but he’s also trying to show us the power of love and that is what you walk away thinking about.

Let’s put it this way: Love Is Strange is a simple story about life, love, and the way the world can sometimes feel like it’s working against us told with universal appeal. You will laugh, cry, and long to find a partner to grow old with, even if you don’t know where the two of you will end up. It’s everything Hollywood needs more of these days, and only a fool would make the mistake of not experiencing its charm.



The Skeleton Twins



The joys and pains of growing up with siblings is something I never had the opportunity to experience. I was the only child of two parents who loved, and continue to love, one another to a great degree. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t live in a house that was almost unquestionably filled with love, but that doesn’t mean I never felt alone in this world. Quite the opposite, actually.

I’m telling you all this because what I take away from a film like The Skeleton Twins is not the enduring bond of siblings, but rather the importance of being able to truly be yourself with someone. There are a lot of issues and problems facing the two characters at the center of this film, which are portrayed wonderfully by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, but what this story really boils down to is suicide. I’m not going to begin to act like I can summarize all the motivating factors behind this and its role in the film without writing far too many words, but suffice to say, filmmaker Craig Johnson taps into something very universal that stays with you long after the credits run. There are a lot of laughs as well, including an unforgettable sequence involving a lip synced rendition of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” but the reasons this movie deserves your time extends far beyond the short-term chuckles it offers. There is real human emotion in this story, and that is, unfortunately, an increasingly rare thing to find in modern cinema.



Rich Hill



Perhaps choosing a documentary as one of the films that impacted me most in the last year is cheating, but not every documentary I saw in 2014 left me in heartbroken awe the way Rich Hill did. It’s the story of several families who live in an area of the country with widespread poverty and one the highest unemployment rates. To say some barely make it week to week would be an understatement, but as the film quickly reveals there is an innate sense of hopefulness in the hearts and minds of young people that is incredibly hard to destroy.

Over the course of about an hour and a half, Rich Hill follows the lives of young people who find themselves in challenging positions in life. Some come from broken homes, others move so often it’s hard to convince them they have a home at all. Each, however, believes they will one day rise above the limited opportunities of their region and do something worthwhile. I’m not talking about becoming movie stars and astronauts, I’m talking about becoming doctors, teachers, or anyone who is able to pay their bills, put food on the table, and care for their family without breaking the law. Of course, they must first learn doing so is a lot easier said than done, and that may be the hardest part of all to experience. You know dreams are all they have, and you know they want them more than anything, but also knowing how the world works you realize they may never be achieved. Still, the defiant spirit of youth lives on.



A Most Violent Year



The latest work from J.C. Chandor was an absolute must for this list. Not only did it leave a profound impact on me, but it’s evidence that any story can be entertaining if executed in the right way. I don’t think anyone would believe you if you told them one of the year’s best pictures is about a man trying to build a home heating empire in New York City during the early 1980s, but that is absolutely what has happened.

Make no mistake – this is not a violent film, at least not in the traditional sense. Chandor has crafted a tense and beautifully shot viewing experience that gives you the story of a man (Oscar Isaac) trying his best not to succumb to the many temptations of evil. He’s resisting pressure from competitors, employees, and even his wife (the gorgeous Jessica Chastain), but he refuses to let any of them change his moral compass. That decision comes with many costs, some of which weigh very heavily on the man’s mind. In the end, however, he knows he must remain true to himself or risk losing everything he’s worked his entire life to build.


Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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