2014 was a big year. Huge. So huge, in fact, that there are still dozens of films that I haven’t been able to catch up with, some of which may have made this list. The problem with trying to jam those remaining movies down my ocular cavities is that nothing gets the chance to stick. There are movies on my list from March and part of the reason they’re here is because I’ve had enough time to consider the impact they’ve had on me. But hey, I may look at this list next year and be totally embarrassed by it. Film criticism isn’t a footrace to see who can get it right the soonest. It may take a decade to really evaluate the place some of these films occupy in our lives. Is Boyhood a heartbreaking work of staggering genius or a novelty? I think I know the answer, but as that film showed us, time carves into us like a river carves a canyon.

On another note, I’m really happy that the site is still alive and kicking. I’m just a contributor, so I have no concept of the back end of things (i.e. what our numbers look like), but I know that Nick considered pulling the plug more than once in the last 12 months. Putting aside the fact that I just came on last November, I’m happy things didn’t go that way. This site has been a part of my life for over a decade and it’s literally been bookmarked in my favorite sites ever since. There’s always been a unique mix of high and low art appreciation here, from championing small, brilliant films to rightly recognizing what Hollywood was able to get right in any given year. It means more to me than you’ll ever know that I get to write for this site and I think 2015 is going to be a great year for us. So thanks to Nick for letting me into this exceptional club, allowing me the editorial freedom to write whatever I wanted and putting me in rooms with famous people for interviews that no one reads. I love it all.

One more thing: I’m not a list person. I’d say my top 5 is ranked pretty specifically but the rest are just great movies in no particular order.

Honorable Mentions: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Godzilla, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Guest, Enemy, Foxcatcher, The Immigrant, The Lego Movie, Interstellar, Locke, We Are The Best!, A Most Wanted Man, Obvious Child, Neighbors, 22 Jump Street, Blue Ruin, As Above So Below, Ida, Housebound, Why Don’t You Play In Hell? Chef

Films I Missed: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Starry Eyes, Calvary, A Field In England, Whiplash, The Drop, Selma, Birdman, Only Lovers Left Alive, Life Itself, Bird People, The Missing Picture, Listen Up Phillip, Winter Sleep, Coherence, God Help The Girl, Mr. Turner, National Gallery, Goodbye To Language 3D, John Wick, The One I Love, Top Five, etc.


Miles on Nightcrawler:

Did you ever have a kid in your class that you knew was weird, but you couldn’t place why? And then years later, when you’re an adult and have learned a little more about mental health, you’re like, “ooooohhh, that’s what that was.” In that same way, I think it may take us a while to figure out exactly who or what Lou Bloom is. He’s a sociopath for sure, but his self-involvement doesn’t extend to taking care of himself in the traditional sense. Everything he acquires goes back into his business. Every interpersonal relationship he has is tied to the work he does. He’s a collection of bad advice from anonymous self-help books, using only the information that suits him in the moment to achieve his goals. Lou Bloom sees the world from a disconnected distance of a camera viewfinder, something that confuses the issue of the film and makes the overall story feel like more of an overt media critique. That the media is fucked up is of no real concern here. Lou knows that people want to blood and brains on TV. But why then is he so happy to run through the streets scooping them up? Dan Gilroy’s first film as a director was weirdly assured, specific and gave Bill Paxton one of two excellent supporting turns in 2014. Ultimately though, it was Jake Gyllenhaal who took this lopsided football of a character and ran with it.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Gyllenhaal having a hell of a year. Riz Ahmed as the only person pitiful enough to spend any amount of time with Lou. Robert Elswit shooting the hell out of everything. Business/sex transaction at a Mexican restaurant. Rene Russo. The car chases.

Performance to savor: Gyllenhaal.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “A throwback to New Hollywood’s fascination with broken people in curious times.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Two Days, One Night#14

Miles on Two Days, One Night:

This is one of two films on my list that really nailed the experience of depression in ways that are hard to describe to people who’ve never suffered from it. That might sound like a slog, but the truth is, this movie is full of nervous energy that makes the 95-minute running time sing. Sandra (Cotillard) goes door-to-door, begging her fellow employees to give up a bonus in order to save her job. Along the way she encounters some compelling, reasonable explanations as to why certain people can’t, as well as some totally hostile, frightening behavior. It’s a magnifying glass on how difficult any task seems when your brain is actively revolting against you, but it’s also a deeply humanistic film about solidarity in the face of difficult decisions. Like a Krzysztof Kieślowski film, the premise is simple, but the moral examination isn’t.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The moment on the soccer field when one character bursts into tears. The end.

Performance to savor: Cotillard.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Solidarity is strength.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Inherent Vice


Miles on Inherent Vice:

I’m seeing this again tomorrow and that’s going to clinch whether this deserves a spot a little higher on the list or not at all. The fact is, Paul Thomas Anderson is incapable of making a bad film and every new piece of work out of him is an event that cinephiles rightly anticipate, regardless of the story being told. In this case, he puts Thomas Pynchon through his prism and comes out with a surprisingly sweet, slightly light-weight story heavily fogged in pot smoke and paranoia. Imagine if the big secret at the heart of Chinatown wasn’t diverting water, but quietly turning a blue state red through institutionalization and police suppression. And what if Jake Gittes was actually able to smuggle a few people out before they became collateral damage? It’s the equivalent of getting cross-faded at a party in that it’s both fun and difficult to remember the morning after. Like I said in my review, I know I like it, but I’m waiting on a second viewing to see if I love it.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Johnny Greenwood with another excellent score, complimenting some era-appropriate tracks like Can’s “Vitamin C.” Martin Short as an aging creep with a Rodney Bingenheimer haircut and an inexhaustible stash of cocaine. A seaside business that specializes in eating… something.

Performance to savor: Katherine Waterson.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “What just happened?”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.

Force Majeure#12

Miles on Force Majeure:

A vacation turns ugly when a man-made avalanche scares a father of two so badly he abandons his wife and kids. The avalanche ends up being totally benign, but that moment of panic festers, rupturing the picture-perfect image of this family. The premise gets as exhaustively explored as any argument that careens into the night, bulldozing whatever it was you thought you were doing before it started. Unlike Two Days, One Night it’s less an examination of every angle of a moral dilemma and more about what happens when both sides of the argument decide to hammer the same point repeatedly, neither giving an inch. If that sounds super heavy, again, it’s not. Everything I’m talking about in tinged with black humor and gorgeous photography, which makes even the most punishing exchanges go down like a glass of fine scotch in a ski lodge.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Stunning cinematography and location-filming. Kristopher Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane on Game of Thrones!) with a late-in-the-film appearance.

Performance to savor: Lisa Loven Kongsli.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “A vacation from familial bliss.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


The Raid 2 #11

Miles on The Raid 2:

Were the movie 30 minutes shorter, this would easily be higher on the list. Regardless, this is one of the most brutal, expertly-staged action films in years. It’s like Gareth Evans was told he’d never make another film after this and decided to put every idea he ever had on screen all at once. This film isn’t just brimming with insane fight choreography, it’s also playing in the realm of Infernal Affairs with the flamboyance of Park Chan-wook. The latter is better than expected, given the stripped-down nature of this film’s predecessor and suggests there may not be a ceiling on Evans’ talent (if, in fact, he didn’t blow his wad here). But make no mistake, this is not a calling card film. Evans is where he needs to be, working with people willing to put their bodies on the line for the gods of cinema. With The Raid 2, they all earned their place in heaven.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: When, in the middle of a car chase, the camera goes from one car to the next in a seamless, CGI-free bit of filmcraft that blurs the line between stunt and cinematography. The prison bathroom fight. The prison yard fight. Hammer girl. Bat boy. The kitchen fight. Everything.

Performance to savor: Iko Uwais.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “You will believe a man can fight.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.

They Came Together#10

Miles on They Came Together:

David Wain is singing my heart’s song. Romantic comedies are a low-hanging fruit (as we’ve seen with Date Movie), but Wain has the skilled hands of a surgeon and the inquisitive mind of a geeky kid who read Douglas Adams and listened to Monty Python records instead of going to the prom. So even though the film is full of simpler observations — like referring to New York city as a character in the story — it’s constantly making stranger, more specific choices in the margins. It has my favorite line of the year (“Ghosts I can handle, ghouls and goblins, not so much.”) and hands-down the best cameo/inside joke that fans of My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done never knew they wanted. This is beating out some stiff competition because the replay value on this movie is ridiculous and because it has Christopher Meloni pooping in his Halloween costume. That is all.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: “Tell me about it.” “Look out, he’s got a sword!” “I like fiction books.”

Performance to savor: Rudd and Poehler.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “You’ll come too.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes#9

Miles on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes:

The Apes series gave us the villain of the year in Koba, a completely sympathetic character who dooms what remains of human society because of his fear of the past. The “human work” scene is a testament to the power of great screenwriting, using minimal dialogue to say a tremendous amount. That scene is also indicative of everything I love about this series. Each film feels of a piece, yet limber enough to try something new, like taking us into the apes’ nest and spending a mostly-silent 20-minutes showing us how they live. And even as I call Koba a villain, that feels wrong. This is a film without bad guys (or apes), just bad decisions. While every other franchise smooths over its rough edges to accommodate a global film market, Apes trades glowing McGuffins for genuine moral dilemmas and resolutions. And my god, that tank scene…

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Matt Reeves direction is mostly invisible, but his money shots are worth the wait. Giacchino’s score put a big, silly grin on my face. Seeing the apes from the first film returning and learning where they fit in this new society. Hail Caesar.

Performance to savor: Toby Kebbell.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “A totally humane action-film franchise.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


The Battered Bastards of Baseball#8

Miles on The Battered Bastards of Baseball:

I haven’t seen this on any year-end lists, but who cares? This documentary was a total blast! A story about misfits breaking loose from a system that didn’t want them and thriving. More than any other movie this year, I wanted to live in the world I was seeing on screen. As a baseball hater, that’s huge. Like my other favorite baseball story, the bad guys won in the end, which also makes this a sadly appropriate film for 2014.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Todd Field. Archival footage of Bing Russell giving us a heavy dose of the charisma that brought the team together. Kurt Russell’s glasses.

Performance to savor: Bing Russell.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “I don’t like baseball and this movie charmed the hell out of me.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Edge of Tomorrow#7

Miles on Edge of Tomorrow:

A classically-written Hollywood blockbuster with two excellent lead performances and a mean streak that leaves a billion Tom Cruise-corpses in its wake. The film’s failure probably isn’t as mysterious as we’d like to believe (the title, for one) and will ultimately only spur an overrated/underrated debate that lasts for many years to come. For me, the film lives and dies (and lives and dies and…) by a totally game Tom Cruise, allowing his slimiest, most cowardly tendencies to shine in the early going. If you’re a hater, then it’s a pleasure to watch him die. But if Groundhog Day taught us anything, it’s that a resetting of the clock can be a vital piece of punctuation that moves the story forward, sideways or wherever else we want to go. One of the best moments in any film this year was the scene in the farmhouse, where both the audience and Emily Blunt’s Rita realize that she and Cage (Cruise) have already played out this scenario many times before, despite all appearances to the contrary. It’s a rare piece of sleight of hand that allows you to forget the well-worn conceit of the film for a moment to deliver that kind of surprise.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Bill Paxton. The many deaths of Tom Cruise. A great script.

Performance to savor: Emily Blunt.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Watch this on repeat.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.

Gone Girl#6

Miles on Gone Girl:

David Fincher applies his cool, A+ aesthetic to another story (like Dragon Tattoo) that may not be worthy of his talents, coming up with the best adult-thriller since Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas overachieved on Basic Instinct. Despite the examination of the current media landscape firmly anchoring this story in the present, there’s something throwbacky about Rosamund Pike’s Amy. She’s reaching for the same kind of arch villainy of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector and amazingly, she gets there. Ben Affleck is great too as the grinning schmuck who unwittingly bricks himself into his own prison cell with a mix of bad decisions and abysmal media IQ. Make what you will of the critique on marriage, this movie was at its best as a meat and potatoes thriller that wasn’t afraid to mix blood and cum.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Tyler Perry as the best audience surrogate of the year. Kim Dickens’ confrontation with Pike.

Performance to savor: Rosamund Pike.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Come for the murder mystery, stay for Tyler Perry.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Under The Skin#5

Miles on Under The Skin:

Gorgeous, spooky, silent. This is a distillation of some many things I love, all done remarkably well. The Kubrick comparisons are way overblown (this is Roeg, if anything), but there is a real alien distance to the storytelling, eschewing expository dialogue — or a subplot with a scientist chasing Johansson’s character — and instead dumping a box of puzzle pieces all over the floor, allowing the audience to put it all together. If it amounts to little more than a “more human than human” story, that’s fine, because this telling is full of incredible flourishes, like when The Female leaves a crying infant to die alone on the rocky shore of a beach or when she seduces a deformed young man by gently holding his hand. If Johansson keeps at this, she’s going to be too interesting for the awards circuit, but she’ll continue to be one of the best actors working today.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Mica Levi’s score, thumping in the background like an insect mating call.

Performance to savor: Scarlett Johansson.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The best alien roadtrip movie since Starman.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


The Babadook#4

Miles on The Babadook:

All year I had to hear about how great this movie was, and the hype still couldn’t kill the eventual experience. Not the scariest horror film by any means, but the best crafted, the most thought provoking and the best acted. Essie Davis plays up the manic exhaustion of her character brilliantly, radiating tension as her conditions worsens and things spiral out of control. Like I said in my review, the existing anxiety of the characters echo Brad Anderson’s Session 9, a film that overtly tips into the idea of mental illness being a byproduct of some supernatural force. Jennifer Kent balances it all perfectly, allowing room for a simple reading—with The Babadook  as a Freddy-type villain terrorizing this family—but leaving enough in the margins to chew over in the lobby with your friends. I’m going to say it: the best horror film since The Descent.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Two stellar lead performances. The scene when Amelia goes to the police and has a brief moment of clarity. The Babadook in the neighbor’s house.

Performance to savor: Essie Davis.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The best horror film since The Descent

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


The Grand Budapest Hotel#3

Miles on The Grand Budapest Hotel:

An eleven-layer cake with a cigarette plunged into the icing. Nothing tickles me more than Wes Anderson’s particular blending of messy, human(e) characters and immaculate set design. Every detail seems impossibly considered, from Gustave H.’s cologne of choice to the very real way the titular hotel appears to operate. But within that clockwork precision thumps an arrhythmic heart, equal parts self-involved and caring. This has been called the most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson movie of them all, and that’s fair. It’s the film that makes the best case for his particular fetishes and presents the grandest version of his world yet.

Current rating: 5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The best ensemble cast of the year. Severed fingers and heads. The coat closet.

Performance to savor: Ralph Fiennes.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “An elegy for a time and a style of filmmaking that we rarely see anymore.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.


Miles on Boyhood:

This was a film I couldn’t find the words to express. I meant to write a review, but couldn’t organize my thoughts. There’s a galaxy of things going on here, all spurred by the simple act of seeing these characters age the way they do. The snowball rolls into an avalanche, never stopping to add unneeded profundity to any individual moment or dwell on the past. For the first hour, everything played like a well-made gimmick. By the last hour, I was crying and couldn’t exactly place why. It’s like seeing the curvature of the Earth for the first time. It allows you to see time differently, but more importantly our place in it. The moment seizes you, indeed.

Current rating: 5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Patience.

Performance to savor: Ethan Hawke.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “An overwhelming experience unlike any we’ve seen before.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.



Miles on Snowpiercer:

Not a subtle bone in this film’s body, but that only raised the stakes to apocalyptic levels. A movie that reminds us that revolt is part of the same ecosystem that ensures wealth and education for a few and poverty for the masses. A kick-ass action film with trademark moments of humor (the Yekaterina Bridge) and humanity. The measuring and state-mandated kidnapping of children. A shoe as a hat. Extinct bullets. Protein blocks. Sushi. The education system. Eggs. Everyone’s preordained position. Bong Joon-ho made the most entertaining, exciting and unique film of the year.

Current rating: 5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Tilda Swinton, chomping every inch of the scenery with her dentures. Set design as storytelling. The realest stakes of any action movie this year. A completely gonzo sci-fi concept executed with the seriousness of a Terry Gilliam.

Performance to savor: Tilda.

CHUD.com Pull Quote:  “Your preordained place is in a theater, watching this movie.”

Vital Links: Buy it from CHUD and help us out.

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