I thought I watched a lot of movies this year at 149, and then I did the count and realized I watched 24 less than I did last year, so I was a little disappointed in myself. I take comfort in the fact that I'm pretty sure I read more books this year than last year, though (but I haven't done that count yet). But I watched a lot of terrible stuff this year, a lot of mediocre movies this year, and some really good films. I want to write about the top 20 really good films I watched this year starting with number one.
1. Under the Skin - One of only a few movies that I saw twice in the theater this year. Jonathan Glazer's film was not for everyone. Most of the people I know who saw it hated it, but there were a select few of us who thought it was amazing. Certainly a strange movie, but something about it burrowed into my brain, and no other movie, besides my 16th pick, stuck with me more. Scarlett Johansson said about 20 words in the whole film, and was still amazing.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy - I could probably watch this every day for a few weeks and still not get tired of it. Drax is still my favorite character, but everyone holds their own. I've always loved James Gunn's movies, and I'm happy that he's getting even more exposure.
3. Birdman - Amazingly directed (one continuous shot!), wonderfully surreal, and massively layered storytelling. It's a shame that it's score isn't going to be at least nominated for an Oscar, because it's one of the few in recent memory that stands out (in a positive way).
4. Only Lovers Left Alive - Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in a Jim Jarmusch film about vampires. You go in hoping it's going to be good, and the fact that it's great makes me happy.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier - A really great action flick with hints of 70's paranoia that actually gets better with each viewing.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson's newest flick is sharp, funny, visually sumptuous, and did I say fun? It may not have the heart of some of his other movies, but it more than makes up for it in style.
7. Boyhood - How did Richard Linklater get this movie made? 12 years of filming and nobody quit? 12 years of filming and you've created a movie that feels authentic and real? 12 years of filming and nobody knew about it? I may not love all of his movies, but I can't deny that he is one of the most interesting directors that's making movies now. And I did love this one.
8. What If - One of those movies that I like because it hits all my own personal sensibilities. Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan update When Harry Met Sally and they don't mess it up. It also has a strong supporting cast, which a movie like this needs.
9. Locke - One man in a car as played by Tom Hardy. If you're going to be that experimental, you better be good, and writer/director Steven Knight is that good. Man, I forgot how much I liked this movie.
10. Tim's Vermeer - Teller (of Penn & Teller) directs this documentary about Tim Jenison, a very rich inventor who decides to see if Vermeer used a camera obscura to make his paintings look as good as they did by trying to do it himself. I love movies that make me look at art in different ways, let alone make me continue to re-evaluate what art is.
11. Edge of Tomorrow - Tom Cruise is slimy, Emily Blunt is awesome, and we, the viewers are all the better for it, in this riff on a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day. The last shot rivals that of Birdman for my favorite of the year.
12. Rise of the Planet of the Apes - What makes it better is the fact that it's a remake of the worst of the original movies, Battle For the Planet of the Apes, and it's a great remake. Apes with guns, on horseback, and talking? Yes, please.
13. The Fault in Our Stars - Nope. Haven't read the book. Maybe someday, but for now, I'll take this massively dramatic and unapologetically tear-jerker of a movie. Yes, I can be a sucker for a movie like this sometimes, as long as everyone commits and tells the story well. Sue me.
14. Interstellar - It evoked feelings of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet it was still its own creation. Not the home run I was hoping for, but still a solid triple. And those robots were awesome!
15. John Wick - Keanu Reeves is a retired killer who jumps back in the game when a punk steals his care, and even worse, kills his dog. A full-blown action movie with nothing more on its mind than killing all the bad guys dead. And doing so in a way that makes you both not question what you're seeing, as well as cheering on the main character.
16. Wetlands - The one movie on here that you've never heard of. A German film about a teenage girl who might be the most unhygienic person you've ever seen, and what happens when she's hospitalized after one of the worst shaving accidents you'll ever see. I wanted to see it because I knew it was an extreme movie (it really is!), and I wanted to know if my own personal barometer has changed that much from college. I think the movie would have been much worse for me if it weren't for a few things. Firstly, it's a good movie regardless of the content. It's funny, it's thoughtful, and it has heart. Also, it's a gorgeous looking film. That helped temper my reaction dramatically. Sure, there might be a scene or two that I thought might be a bit much, but I'm pleased that I continue to strive for interesting and good. I recommend this only to those who aren't offended by anything, because, sometimes, just "wow." But still good.
17. The Theory of Everything - Who knew Stephen Hawking was that funny? That was my first reaction. Actually, that was my second reaction. My first one was, "Eddie Redmayne pulled off the most amazing performance of the year for me." A touching love story that unfolds along with Hawking's decline as ALS attacks his body. And, yay, another movie that makes me feel smarter after watching it.
18. Veronica Mars - It makes me happy that this exists and was good. Not great, but definitely good enough.
19. Bad Words - Jason Bateman directed and starred in this raunchy, but quite frankly hilarious, comedy. This was the funniest movie I saw all year.
20. The Raid 2 - Not as good as The Raid: Redemption, but that was going to be a tremendous feat anyways. More non-stop action.
And, because I live in Cleveland, there's still a number of movies that'll probably be nominated for Oscars that haven't even opened here. I'm sure I'll get to them, but for now, this is my top 20.