Another year is officially history, so I thought I'd pass along a few random thoughts about my personal favorite films of 2014. For those not familiar with my typical disclaimer, this list only contains films I actually managed to see in theaters or on home video, so if you don't see your favorite here, that's probably why.
1. Interstellar -- Yes, I'm an admitted fan of Christopher Nolan's films, so this shouldn't surprise too many people to see this one on top. And while this tribute to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey certainly isn't perfect, I give major props for being an actual science fiction story of exploration instead of pew-pew-pew-laserz-are-totes-cool. After his killer performance on HBO's True Detective earlier in the year, Matthew McConaughey keeps raising the bar with desperately-needed reminders of how America once reached for the stars instead of having a conspiracy agenda lie to the next generation about never landing on the Moon.
2. The Imitation Game -- Speaking of reminders, if you need one more reason to appreciate Benedict Cumberbatch still wanting to make more episodes of Sherlock, here's this practically certain lock of a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Set in England during World War II, this story of Professor Alan Turing shows his important role in bringing the war to an end as well as his impact on the world of computers to come.
3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies -- Peter Jackson's final J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation (at least until the inevtiable Silmarillion trilogy) proves to be the best of The Hobbit films, if only for having more action, better pacing, and a mercifully shorter finale than The Return of the King. Okay, we all know The Hobbit should've been kept to at least two films, but at least we get one more movie of Evangeline Lilly kicking all kinds of Orc ass as Tauriel.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier -- In a solid summer of comic book films, Anthony and Joe Russo's Captain America sequel beats them all. Chris Evans' Steve Rogers keeps trying to adjust to life in the 21st Century, picking up a new best friend and partner in Anthony Mackie's Falcon and teasing the idea of a relationship with Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. The added intrigue gives the film far more depth than you would expect from a Marvel movie, with a game changer powerful enough to help ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally realizes its potential.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy -- And on the other end of the Marvel spectrum, we have James Gunn's immensely fun throwback to '70s and '80s sci-fi movies. Armed with an unusual '70s classic rock and pop soundtrack, Guardians puts a ton of eye-candy on the screen and makes household names out of Chris Pratt, Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Now, let's see Marvel do the same for Ant-Man...
6. Snowpiercer -- Okay, technically, this is a 2013 film, but it wasn't released in the States until June 2014, so I'm counting it. Chris Evans (He's having a good year, isn't he?) heads up this South Korean science fiction action film based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige. This all-out class warfare aboard a massive, perpetually moving train could get Tilda Swinton a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nom and has some great performances by Sir John Hurt, Ed Harris and Octavia Spencer.
7. X-Men: Days of Future Past -- While the latest X-Men movie to come from director Bryan Singer is a good one, it's still another his convoluted adaptations with too many X-Men wearing dull black and grey Matrix uniforms. Thankfully, Singer embraces the different '70s setting due to the story's wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey nature, and uses it to correct some of his past mistakes, setting the X-franchise up for another fresh reboot.
8. How to Train Your Dragon 2 -- The second film in the series by Dean DeBlois is hands down the best animated movie of the year, even though it's slightly weaker than the original. With the addition of Cate Blanchett as Hiccup's long-long monster Valka and Game of Thrones' Kit Harington as Eret, this new tale set five years later is as emotionally moving as it is gorgeous to look at. Don't worry though, Toothless still manages to steal the entire movie.
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel -- Wes Anderson's latest comedic quirkfest is an absolute must to watch on cable, even if you're not quite sure what it's supposed to be about. Ralph Fiennes is absolutely brilliant as Monsieur Gustav H., which says a lot considering he's surrounded by Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson, and Tilda Swinton (Yep, her again). If nothing else, watch it so your hipster friends will respect you for about five minutes.
10. The LEGO Movie -- Better than any film called The LEGO Movie has any right in being, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's saga of an ordinary minifigure destined to save the universe from Lord Business exemplifies the joy of using your imagination to create fantastic things from little plastic blocks that hurt like hell when you step on them accidentally. Will Arnett steals the film as Batman, but Chris Pratt (Yep, him again), Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson (!), Alison Brie, and BIlly Dee Williams (!!!) bring the laughs as well.
All in all, a much more creative and interesting year at the movies. Bring on 2015!