Whiplash: The story of a young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) pushed to the brink by his abusive teacher (J.K. Simmons) is the type of intimate, relevant film that doesn’t come around often enough. The continually-heightening tension between Teller and Simmons creates the type of suspense that isn’t typically seen outside of the thriller genre. Based on subject matter alone, Damien Chazelle’s music-based masterpiece feels particular prescient four years later.
Gone Girl: A good deal of the credit for Gone Girl’s success belongs to screenwriter (and author of the original novel) Gillian Flynn, but David Fincher’s unmistakable style lends itself to Flynn’s pen like no other. Career performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike make Gone Girl a must-see movie for fans of murder mysteries and psychological thrillers alike.
Under the Skin: Jonathan Glazer’s sci-fi instant-classic is the most Kubrickian movie released since, well, Stanley Kubrick. Scarlett Johansson stars as a nameless alien, imitating human life and preying on the men who lust after her in a remote area of Scotland. The film’s themes about rape culture and the nature of humanity will stick with you for life.
Snowpiercer: Bong Joon-ho’s action movie on a train is an allegory for classism and the socioeconomic barriers that divide us all. The movie is polarizing, but take it on good authority: those who don’t like it are wrong. Snowpierecer belongs in a conversation with The Dark Knight, Minority Report, Casino Royale, and Kill Bill as the best action movie since The Matrix.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Royal Tenenbaums are wonderful, but make no mistake, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the director’s best work to date.
The Babadook: The Australian horror movie about the monsters in your head has an argument for being the scariest movie of the 21st century. Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is terrifying.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): Maybe Alejandro Iñárritu’s much maligned Best Picture winner shouldn’t have taken the top prize at the Oscars, but the surreal black comedy is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s also a fair critique of superhero movies (prepare for a heavy dose of irony as you read the remainder of this list) before superheroes completely conquered the box office.
Nightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal (who else, really) stars as an idiosyncratic, sociopathic freelance news photojournalist who gleefully profits off of the “If it bleeds, it leads” newsroom mentality. Part character study, part critique of the profit-driven news industry, Nightcrawler offered lessons that could have proven extremely valuable, say, two years later. Unfortunately, those lessons fell on deaf ears.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Marvel followed its weakest effort, Thor: The Dark World, with the movie that, as of posting this, may still be its strongest. Winter Soldier harkens back to the paranoid spy-thrillers of yore.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Simply put, James Gunn and co. changed the game with this one. Many of the biggest comic fans had not heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy before the movie’s release. Marvel found success with the property anyway.
Published by Matt Stephen
Matt Stephen is a communications professional and proud University of Central Florida alumnus located in Washington, DC. A fan of film, television, and science fiction, he spends much of his free time enjoying (and writing about) those things.
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