The Top 25 Must See Movies of 2014

We count down the 25 movies from 2014 that you absolutely need to see, from Guardians of the Galaxy to Boyhood.

The year of 2014 is full of hope and promise from blockbusters to indies that are more than worth your time. With a 12-month movie calendar that includes Marvel properties like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, as well as Oscar hopefuls akin to Richard Linklater’s 12-year opus, Boyhood, and the Clint Eastwood Iraq War film that is American Sniper, it can be almost overwhelming to figure out what you absoutely need to see.

Thus, we at Den of Geek thought it was overdue that we countdown 2014’s most anticipated titles and figure out what cinema has to offer this year, not to mention what is most worth your time.

THE LEGO MOVIE (FEBRUARY 7, 2014)

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we needed a “Lego Movie,” but I’m happy we have one from comedy’s most recent mad scientists, Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Simply not contented with resurrecting mediocre ‘80s television into movies that made Channing Tatum cool, Lord and Miller switch to animation to address the entire girth of fanboy culture in this massive love letter/backhanded compliment to Lego enthusiasts.

Stuffing this animated film with more cameos than all of the Muppet films combined, there is an unbridled glee to this sugar rush that’s akin to a child is playing on his bedroom floor with his Batman, Star Wars, Ninja Turtles, and even Shaquille O’Neal toys all at once. Throw in some winsome voice work by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, and Will Arnett, and then one shockingly sincere turn from Will Ferrell, and you have the surprise hit of early 2014. Everything really is awesome about this sly consumerist deconstruction/toy ad. Den of Geek Review

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THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (MARCH 7, 2014)

For his latest film, Wes Anderson conjured up a cinematic confection as sumptuously decadent as the titular hotel, and equally as haunted. Relying on his primary repertory of talent, and a new master class performance by first-time collaborator Ralph Fiennes, the ostentatious Grand Budapest Hotel would pretend to have all the hallmark beguilements of its director’s trademark humor.

However, this seeming Euro-romp reaches for something more ambitious and nobler with its surprisingly downbeat plot and overarching shadow, a dark menace from fascism in 1920s Europe. In some ways, this is a rip-roaring Hitchcockian adventure, complete with gruesome murders and exhilarating chases, but it still ends with a denouement worthy of Hemingway, and is framed within the context of several combined unreliable narrators (a feat complemented with its sliding aspect ratio for every individual perspective and time period). The effect is a pervasive sense of loss from the first frame. It appears that for even Anderson, the frivolity of a visual carousel must come to an end. After all, the brutal ugliness of reality is only one horse figurine behind you. Den of Geek Review

UNDER THE SKIN (MARCH 14, 2014)

One to look forward to, just based off all the film festival buzz this year, is the upcoming “Scarlett Johansson is a Pod Person” movie. That’s right, this is a psychosexual horror piece that appears to owe more than a little David Lynch from previously semi-retired director Jonathan Glazer (Birth, Sexy Beast). In this surrealist sci-fi, Johansson is Laura, an alien honeypot sent to Earth to gather information on our spiecies as she feeds on the men that she seduces. However, she eventually may grow to appreciate us, even as more of her kind come to invade our world. It may be a little bit Body Snatchers and a little bit Species, but this looks to also be a disturbing and hypnotic piece of arthouse terror most of all. Den of Geek Review

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (MARCH 21, 2014)

If someone told you three years ago that The Muppets would once more be one of the best family franchises in Hollywood, you’d laugh them all the way back to the swamp. But as it turns out, it is very easy being green at the box office when you have such enduring icons as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and the rest of the gang. Nothing beats a classic and Muppets Most Wanted promises more of that joy to come. With James Bobin of the 2011 picture, as well as Flight of the Concords, returning to the director’s chair, there is no reason that this should not deliver the goods again. Especially with new celebrity cameos/team-ups like Tina Fey, Tom Hiddleston, Salma Hayek, Christoph Waltz, Ricky Gervais, Ray Liotta and Danny Trejo. Click the link to see if all the star power added up! Den of Geek Review

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE (MARCH 21, 2014)

Nearly every great or challenging work of cinema ever made has received a fawning documentary that looked back on how it came to be. But rarely has an unproduced film received such glowing treatment. Yet, that is exactly what happens in Frank Pavich’s brisk and wholly engrossing trip into the intergalactic madness that would have been Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune adaptation—a metaphysical wildness that still lives in the wry Chilean-French filmmaker to this day.

In Jodorowsky’s Dune, Pavich bemusedly tracks what happens when the filmmaker behind El Topo and The Holy Mountain attempted to birth a science fiction vision that might have rivaled Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and still seems breathtaking via storyboards by today’s standards. And with a production that would have included a score by Pink Floyd and Orson Wells as a space dictator, it is something we still long to watch. While both the director and his documentarian’s assertions that this failed 1975 venture paved the way for Star Wars and Alien seem simultaneously truthful and exaggerated, there is no denying that Jodorowsky’s Dune is influential to this day and would have been far more satisfying than David Lynch’s failed attempt at an adaptation in 1984. This documentary certainly is. Den of Geek Review

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (APRIL 4, 2014)

For those who cannot wait for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Studios is happy to kind of, maybe, quietly give you just a taste of it next April. They’re sneaky like that. Based on Captain America’s most popular comic book story, Winter Soldier promises the return of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in a supposed throwback to the 1970s spy thrillers the likes of which Robert Redford would star in. Speaking of which, it does have Robert Redford! But it also has the return of the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), fresh off being turned into a fan favorite under the tutelage of Joss Whedon, as well as Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), Agent 13 (Emily VanCamp), and NEW superhero The Falcon (Anthony Mackie)! Plus, who doesn’t want to see more of The Avengers’ cycloptic BMF super-leader, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)? Den of Geek Review 

OCULUS (APRIL 11, 2014)

The first must see horror film of 2014 is also one of the year’s most unique. Director Mike Flanagan unbelievably makes the every day activity of staring at a mirror into the most terrifying of prospects after a  sentient one enters a young family’s household. By juxtaposing the past via flashback with the present, Flanagan dizzyingly blurs the line between reality and fantasy, just like the possessed mirror, which has returned to claim the souls of the now adult children that got away. While Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan is out for revenge against the haunted glass, the damage already done by this evil entity can never be forgotten for the characters or their audience, especially as a familial tragedy reaches its operatic crescendo. Den of Geek Review

CHEF (MAY 9, 2014)

In 1996, Jon Favreau announced himself as a major talent in the Hollywood writing pool when he examined the Generation X quarter-life crisis through a devastatingly hilarious (and squeamish) phone call scene in Swingers. With Chef, writer and director Favreau returns to the humor of the uncomfortable in a story about midlife anguish, conflicted emotions inherent with artistic and commercial interests, and really, really good food.

Chef is a delight as a comedy that will play for any audience and any age-group in its story about a chef (Favreau) whose bad temper and worse sense of knowledge about Twitter and social media costs him his job—but wins him time with his son and an audience only too happy to see him hit the road in a food truck selling Cuban sandwiches. A big screen party with notable supporting work by John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, and a cameoing Robert Downey Jr., Chef is the perfect summertime meal. Den of Geek Review

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (MAY 23, 2014)

It is a rare thing when the SEVENTH film in a franchise feels like the freshest idea ever. Emboldened (or inspired) by Marvel Studios’ terrific success with The Avengers20th Century Fox appears to be pulling out all the stops to give fans the X-Men movie they have long craved. Not only is director Bryan Singer of the first two still-loved films back, but so too is most of the cast from those flicks. Also returning are Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence from the groovy 2011 prequel, X-Men: First Class.

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But best of all, everything in between those films, including two or three clunkers nobody can truly remember, are about to get erased from continuity with a time travel story based on the much-lauded Chris Claremont and John Byrne comic book that is still revered by fans to this day. If you’ve seen the viral marketing for the Sentinels, the alternate timeline and especially Peter Dinklage rocking a ‘70s ‘stache as the big bad, you know that we are in for a treat that could rival anything coming from the House of Mouse. Den of Geek Review

[related article: Beyond Days of Future Past – A Cinematic History of the X-Men]

BORGMAN (JUNE 6, 2014)

A mysterious vagrant disrupts an upper middle class Dutch family in this unsettling allegory that functions as horror movie, satire, and surreal political statement. Director Alex van Warmerdam’s supremely eerie feature leaves its many questions unanswered, which only adds to the film’s disturbing nature. The plot itself is relatively straightforward, as the title character (the remarkable Jan Bijvoet) insinuates himself into the lives of an upper middle class family and proceeds to utterly destroy them with the aid of several equally malevolent companions.

Are Borgman and his friends demons? Psychic vampires? Symbols of Europe’s unease over its growing tide of immigrants? Their actions and motivations are never explained, making them that much more frightening. So many horror movies today depend on visual effects, heavy-handed back stories and conventional scares, which makes the quiet dread and stillness of Borgman that much more effective. Den of Geek Review

EDGE OF TOMORROW (JUNE 6, 2014)

Everyone loves the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray must repeat the same horrific date until he embraces it. Now turn that premise into a war of alien invasion in which an inexperienced soldier must relive his death in battle again and again until he stops the space-aged scum, and you may have yourself a summer blockbuster. Granted, this will not be the first sci-fi film to experiment with such a premise (*cough* Source Code), but to be fair this is based on a pre-existing Japanese light novel called All You Need is Kill. Also, with a cast like Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton, it appears that killing will have a bit of a surplus too. Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Go), this picture could be a wild ride in alien fighting and time paradoxes redux. Den of Geek Review

22 JUMP STREET (JUNE 13, 2014)

Comedy sequels are difficult, right Hangover? But if it there is one that is primed for a new adventure, it must surely be Jonah Hill’s comedic reimagining of 1980s teen show 21 Jump Street. In the 2012 film, Hill replaced Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise with himself and a perfectly cast Channing Tatum. Between Hill’s hyperbolic condescension and Tatum’s wonderfully delivered deadpan, the two made for a great buddy cop parody in the midst of a high school spoof where everything unhip in the 1980s (or even from the 20-something leads’ 2005 days) is now as Twitter-trending as the latest episode of Glee. Depp and DeLuise even made cameos as their old characters before being humorously killed off. And it left the perfect hook for a sequel: Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) is so impressed with their unconventional, but goddamn results-getting success, that he’s sending them to college.

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What college movie clichés can they spoof now? Smoking weed on the Quad? Getting into collegiate sports? Being hit on by a TA? The premise naturally lends itself to a sequel that can reuse the same set-up without feeling forced…at least this time. Den of Geek Review

 

SNOWPIERCER (JUNE 27, 2014)

To hell with mindless junk like Transformers: Age of Extinction. Snowpiercer is the real deal: a pulsating, wild-eyed rollercoaster ride through a post-apocalyptic landscape as only mad Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host) can envision it. But in addition to the relentless action and stylized, often shocking violence, Bong incorporates some actual ideas into his storyline, making Snowpiercer rich on an intellectual level as well.

The movie puts the last remnants of humanity on a super-train that endlessly circles the frozen earth with the haves living in luxury and decadence up front and the have-nots barely existing in the grimy, crowded rear. Chris Evans leads a rebellion and delivers perhaps the finest performance yet of his career — his Curtis, while noble, is a far cry from Captain America. You should also show up to see Tilda Swinton as a vile bureaucrat from the front of the train. 

Snowpiercer has inexplicably been given a very limited release by its distributor, the Weinstein Company, so you should do your best to seek it out. It’s worth it. Den of Geek Review

Continue with the second half of 2014’s most exciting entries on page 2!

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LIFE ITSELF (JULY 4, 2014)

If you have ever been a fan of film, film criticism, or especially film criticism by Roger Ebert, Life Itself is not to be missed. More an affectionate afterhours toast to Roger’s memory than a strictly distant biography, Roger—and his wife Chaz Ebert—cast a large presence in the collaboration of this film, which chronicles Ebert’s life and career as both a newspaper critic and an international syndicated television star. It also was made during the last four-plus months of Ebert’s life and offers an agonizing glimpse into his final days.

Still, the movie is primarily about the people in Roger’s life—including filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and less impressed, critical colleagues like Richard Corliss—considering the man that changed the face of film criticism forevermore. Den of Geek Review

BOYHOOD (July 11, 2014)

In a 12-year endeavor that spanned Ellar Coltrane’s entire adolescence, Richard Linklater went the long way round after popping in on Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy every 10 years with the Before Sunrise trilogy. The result is a movie that is nigh incomparable with its 2014 contemporaries in matters of ambition or temperament.

Coltrane’s Mason grows into an impressive young man who reflects his Austin director’s sensibilities. Yet, it is more the journey that the film goes in exploring this youth that defines Boyhood. The child of divorce with two youthful parents who are also learning to grow up alongside their children, Mason’s earliest years are cluttered with marital fights and an endless string of bad father figures. However, the movie never veers towards the violent, the melodramatic, or even the naturally cinematic. Instead, it notes where all the narrative tropes could intervene (such as when a couple of boozing middle schoolers start stupidly playing with buzz saws), but then promptly chooses to not go there.

Instead selecting the more measured path that most actual lives venture through, there is a defiant normalcy to Mason’s journey, which seemingly passes the months and years after every 10 minutes. Watching Coltrane, as well as Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, age over the course of a few hours is the greatest special effect of the year. Den of Geek Review

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (JULY 11, 2014)

It is still hard to believe that after all this time, Fox was able to so successfully resuscitate the Planet of the Apes franchise. If one can recall Summer 2011, it was clear that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was on nobody’s radar. Yet, the film turned out to be the biggest surprise of the season with great action and even greater authenticity thanks to a heartwarming motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar. Fortune may favor the bold as Fox has again taken a step forward by doing the next film without the marquee name of James Franco. Indeed, superb character actors Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman are getting to lead an ensemble that still sports Serkis as Caesar in a world where the Apes truly rule. And with Matt Reeves at the helm, director of the vastly underrated Let Me In, Fox again has a mystery box of a franchise film that we cannot wait to unwrapDen of Geek Review

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GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (AUGUST 1, 2014)

August 2014 will kickoff with Marvel Studios’ riskiest and most intriguing gamble to date, Guardians of the Galaxy. With nary an official superhero in sight, Guardians is a funky cosmic adventure complete with a talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper. This movie could go sideways real fast, but under the watchful eye of cinematic deviant James Gunn (Slither, Super), this likely will be one of the more bizarre and entertaining comic book films made to date. However, will it find an audience? That level of box office curiosity leads us to our next anticipation… Den of Geek Review

GONE GIRL (OCTOBER 3, 2014)

Not happy with giving his personal touch to solely platonic friendships in The Social Network, David Fincher provides a sardonic reflection on married life with this Gillian Flynn adaptation. A comedy so dark that you don’t know that you’re supposed to laugh until halfway through, Gone Girl draws career best performances from both stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike while also unpacking two of the most reviled protagonists in recent memory.

At a press conference I attended, Ben Affleck noted that whenever male journalists interview him, they lament how awful Amy Dunne was to her affable husband Nick; female journalists, conversely, always begin with “So, what’s it like playing such a dick?” That dichotomy is perhaps the only fair critique about this white-kunckled experience. Otherwise, it really is perfect from any perspective, save perhaps for that of a first date. Den of Geek Review

WHIPLASH (OCTOBER 10, 2014)

This movie lit me up both times I saw it and has stayed with me ever since. Writer/director Damien Chazelle makes his film move to the rhythms of its great jazz soundtrack and captures all the chaos and beauty within the art form as he explores the mutually destructive relationship between an ambitious drumming student (Miles Teller) and his monstrous teacher (J.K. Simmons). Both are fantastic but Simmons is simply unbelievable in his ferocity. The movie asks whether the ends justified the means when it comes to art and talent – and if this movie is a result of that, then I’ve got my answer.  Den of Geek Review

BIRDMAN (OCTOBER 17, 2014)

After laboring for years in the dark, Alejandro González Iñárritu has “his dessert” by crafting what could be best described as cinematic hypnosis. Partnering with Children of Men cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman takes on the melodic rhythm of its jazz drum-only score, creating the illusion that the film is done all in one take. The effect is a visceral lucidity that’s as freewheeling as Michael Keaton’s schizophrenic onscreen alter ego, Riggan Thomson. For that role, Keaton embodies an actor best known for portraying a superhero 20 years ago and mixes narcissism with thwarted aspirations. Having once forsaken depth for commercialism’s fleeting attention, the film’s arc is about desperately regaining admiration.

While obviously paralleling Keaton’s own biography, the character feels like really a proxy for Iñárritu.

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Paradoxically loving and hating the unending war of commerce and art in filmmaking (or theater), Iñárritu casts several superhero movie actors (Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone) in some of their best roles in order to reject “apocalypse porn” despite spending millions to showcase it. Birdman is a flight of magical realism without rules, gleefully defying logic, structure, its own narrative, and even criticism. It says popularity is “prestige’s slutty little cousin” but it is basking in having all of the above. It is such a uniquely bizarre experience that to define it feels as if one is playing into Iñárritu’s lovingly contemptible caricatures. Instead, it’s best to just get lost in the madness of the year’s most fascinating film. Den of Geek Review

NIGHTCRAWLER (OCTOBER 31, 2014)

Simultaneously a horror film, a dark comedy, and the cinematic realization for Fox News’ entrepreneurial American ideal, Nightcrawler is the kind of movie that they’re not supposed to make anymore. Every word uttered in Dan Gilroy’s screenplay, and even the breaths between words, is overwhelmed with cynicism; it’s so bleak that Paddy Chayefsky’s mood about American media could even be brought down a few notches. And at the center of it all is a career best performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Playing Louis Bloom as the ultimate go-getter, Gyllenhaal looks like he hasn’t slept in three weeks before every scene, and has not blinked in double that length of time. An edgy, wired performance of overcaffeinated nerves, this is the kind of sociopath that rises to the top of only select industries—ones where cutthroat narcissism is a virtue. Ergo, this is a wild success story in the world of television news! Beginning as a lowly ringer who freelances his way into the local news circuit by filming every car crash, stabbing, and arson in the LA area, Bloom shows a special kind of initiative when he starts creating the stories too. The American dream made toxic or the fastest track to becoming a respected job creator? The choice is up to you… Den of Geek Review

INTERSTELLAR (NOVEMBER 7, 2014)

Intentionally, we have avoided numbering this list. But it is an easy guess what would be in the top spot if we did: Interstellar marks Christopher Nolan’s first original film after concluding The Dark Knight Trilogy. Set in the not-too-distant future, overpopulation and changing climates have turned Earth into an unsustainable hot mess with not enough crop or food to go around. In that context, a group of scientists and explorers set out through an inter-galactic wormhole to save humanity on a mysterious mission.

Based on the research of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan’s screenplay bends time and reality to explore the far reaches of the cosmos and the role of man’s survival in it. And with a cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Wes Bentley, and Michael Caine, this is THE movie to anticipate in 2014. Den of Geek Review

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 (NOVEMBER 21, 2014)

It all will be coming to an end…kind of. In actuality, it is very hard to end a franchise in our post Deathly Hallows world where even a single book can be dissected into two or three films. Still at the very least, the quality of 2012’s The Hunger Games and the hype for November 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ensures that we’ll all be there to witness the dawning of the revolution in 2014. After the 75th Hunger Games in the upcoming sequel come to an unexpected end, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself as the postergirl for a rebellion against the Capitol and evil Donald Sutherland and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s tyrannical regime. Katniss will find friends and love interests (Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth) swept into battle while she is the face of a new group of rebel fighters cast as the woman-powered trifecta of Julianne Moore, Natalie Dormer, and Lily Rabe. Viva la revolucionDen of Geek Review

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THE BABADOOK (NOVEMBER 28, 2014)

As a widowed mother (Essie Davis) tries to come to terms with her unending grief (her husband was killed the day her son was born) and her child’s emotionally unstable behavior, a malevolent force enters their lives via a hideous children’s book. Is the Babadook real or a manifestation of mother and son’s crumbling mental states? First time writer/director Jennifer Kent’s astonishing film keeps you off-balance the whole way through, making it one of the best horror films to emerge in recent years.  Den of Geek Review

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (DECEMBER 31, 2014)

Make no mistake, 1981 truly was one of the most violent years in New York City’s history. But unlike normal crime films, writer and director J.C. Chandor does not treat that statistic as a wonderful backdrop for his genre protagonists. Oscar Isaac’s Abel Morales is quite like how Michael Corleone would imagine himself at his most delusional: a self-made man that used mafia money to build a legitimate business which tethers his soul, if ever tenuously, into his continued possession. But if Isaac is channeling Pacino at his most reserved, he is seriously flirting with disaster the whole film as his heating and oil transportation business becomes the target for repeated broad daylight theft from his New York competitors. And he has his former mafia princess wife, played with a perfect Brooklyn accent by Jessica Chastain, whispering sweet vengeance in his ear.

This is a moody, atmospheric film that recalls the deliberate pacing of 1970s crime dramas while ostensibly being about non-criminals—at least not at first. Like jazz, this movie is riveting for the (story) beats it doesn’t play, engrossing viewers into a foreboding sense of doom while rarely pulling the trigger on anything but Isaac and Chastain’s inescapable charisma. Den of Geek Review

So there are the 25 films to anticipate and expect from next year’s schedule. Agree? Disagree? Wish we had included something with a little more transformation? Let us know in the comments section below!

 

The Top 10 Films of 2014

And begin the process of hype anticipation again with….

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