The Top 15 Movie Moments of 2014: Superheroes, Naked Birdmen, Avenged Puppies And More!
As much as we go the movies for the 90 minute escape, what we end up remembering from those movies is usually more along the lines of shorter, digestible moments. Be it an insane fight scene, a quote, a big twist, it's the little things that tend to stick. So instead of putting together another boring best of list, why not look for those moments in 2014's best movies? What stuck out the most this past year? What will you look back on next year, or in 5 or even 10 years and remember vividly?
Check out what we came up with below (and be forewarned of SPOILERS for many of 2014's best movies) and let us know what you remember from the year in cinema in the comments!
(Dis?)Honorable Mention: ‘The Interview’s’ Controversy
Review: "The Interview" Is Exactly What You'd Expect From Franco & Rogen
Even though the actual movie is effectively garbage, The Interview has found a way to become culturally relevant thanks to a month’s worth of endless news about North Korea (or someone) hacking Sony because they didn’t like how their leader was being portrayed. And it’s important for a number of reasons, from the unprecedented cyber attack on an American company, to the battle that raged on between Sony and theater owners over a confusing distribution plan, to the whopping $40 million the movie instead made online, and what that means for future VOD releases. All of this for a Seth Rogen/James Franco slacker comedy that wasn’t even either of the actors’ best film of the year. Yet, we’ll be talking about The Interview for a very long time.
HM. ’22 Jump Street’s’ End Credits
Review: "22 Jump Street" Is The Rare Sequel That Improves On Its Predecessor.
What made 22 Jump Street memorable is that it recognized that comedy sequels seldom live up to the original, especially when their predecessors are essentially known for their novelty. The movie uses this to their advantage by going full meta, poking fun at sequel tropes all throughout and all but breaking the 4th wall in almost a slapstick sort of way. That might become tiresome in many cases, but 22 Jump Street manages to remain funny while doing all of this. It all culminates in the movie’s final moments, when during the end credits we see what happens to Jenko and Schmidt following their most recent assignment, and the 20 assignments after that with fake setups to future sequels that run throughout the credits and show the duo in increasingly ridiculous settings, often with at least one of them replaced by another actor.
15. What Is Scarlett Johannson Doing With All Those Men In ‘Under The Skin’
You’ve probably seen Under The Skin on a lot of top 10 lists. Personally, I found it plodding and tedious, but the one thing Jonathan Glazer’s peculiar science fiction film did seem to get right was its lore; what Scarlett Johansson’s alien character was doing on earth with all the men we see her entrapping with false promises of sex and the shocking reveal of what happens to them in their odd underwater grave. Midway through the movie, there's a shocking scene in which that is revealed, the dark alien "lake", for lack of a better term, sapping all the juices, fluids and matter from inside them to feed the aliens, leaving only jarringly disgusting empty bag of skin behind. Which sounds about right when you think about spending a night with ScarJo. Anyway, this movie is weird.
14. ‘Frank’ And The Soronprfbs Perform ‘I Love You All’
Review: "Frank" Stands Out In An Emerging Brand Of Dark Comedy
Speaking of weird indie films, Frank might be the best of last year’s crop. It purposely pretends to be about a lot of things, like musical innovation and allowing yourself to break free of cultural standards and norms in order to tap your utmost potential. But what it really is is a movie about friendship, and the effects that mental illness can have on it. In the film, Michael Fassbender plays a musical genius who wears a giant plastic head. Domnhall Gleeson is the newest member of his band, and together they travel to a remote cabin in Scotland to record a new album. Gleeson’s character wants Frank to (almost literally) come out of his shell, so he convinces the band to travel to South by South West, where things quickly fall apart and Frank is exposed as being mentally ill. Gleeson winds up reuniting him with his band, where they perform their song “I Love You All”, which speaks greater volumes than any speech or dialog could. It’s a beautiful moment that ties all of the film’s themes together, and hey, the song's pretty catchy too.
13. Bill Hader And Kristen Wiig Are In (Lip) Sync In 'The Skeleton Twins
You probably didn't need a low key indie movie about two estranged fraternal twins who reconnect after synchronized botched suicide attempts to realize that Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig have been in sync for years. We have years of SNL for that. But for those who didn't know, 'The Skeleton Twins' used a pretty heavy-handed method to fill you in, in the form of a full, five minute scene in which the two close friends, actors and comedians use their chemistry and chops to lip sync Starship's 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now' perfectly. Not only is a display of how good they are together, but it also moves the plot forward pretty efficiently. Plus, how adorable is Luke Wilson here?
12. Louis Bloom’s True Nature Revealed In ‘Nightcrawler’
Review: 'Nightcrawler' Relishes In Its Ugliness
A lot of people have been comparing Nightcrawler to Taxi Driver and I have to say I totally see where they’re coming from. Both are exceptional representations of their settings in the bubble of a certain time period (New York in the mid-70s vs. paparazzi dominated L.A. in the 2010s), both are dominated by a single, possibly iconic performance (Gyllenhaal vs. De Niro) of a man likely mentally troubled and willing to go to great lengths to achieve his goals. While Nightcrawler doesn’t exactly have a “You talkin’ to me” kind of scene, what comes close is when Gyllenhaal’s character, Louis Bloom, comes across one of his biggest breaks, a home invasion that turns into a double homicide. He beats the police to the scene and in fact witnesses the murders himself, but instead of doing what any sane person would, he enters the home, shoots footage of dead and even dying bodies and escapes back to Renee Russo to collect his paycheck. It’s Bloom’s first major step from curious, warped onlooker to basically an active criminal participant, subject to his own aspirations and warped definitions of what it takes to succeed. What started as an odd, possibly tragic protagonist becomes basically Walter White in the span of two hours, and the first time it really hits you is during that scene.
11. 'Grand Budapest Hotel' Gathers The Society Of The Crossed Keys
It's almost insulting to minimize Grand Budapest Hotel to one memorable moment, because it's Wes Anderson's masterpiece and it's basically a perfect two hour look not only into several time periods, but Anderson's own psyche. Everything about it is meticulously chosen and placed. But I couldn't possibly exclude it from the list, and curiously, the moment we chose is one that sort of sticks out as a sore thumb, maybe as stunt casting or Anderson just trying to get some of his missing regulars into the movie. Still, it's a nice break from the rest of the action and a fun surprise, and what the fact that it sticks out the most from an otherwise pristine film is kind of what makes it great:
10. 'Boyhood' Predicts The Future Of 'Star Wars'
Review: 'Boyhood' Is An Incredible, Rich, Beautiful Tapestry
Of all these movies, it’s probably hardest to pick a single scene from Boyhood for the purposes of this list, mostly because you sort of have to take it in as a whole. There aren’t really many talking points or twists, things just happen. It's a movie about growing up and living in the present, after all. But there are certainly scenes that are representative of that and the film’s earnestness. Like for instance one that takes place (and was actually shot in) 2008, when Mason (Eller Coltrane) and his dad (Ethan Hawke) go on a camping trip and start discussing pop culture, as it might for real people. Their talk takes them to the future of Star Wars, fresh off a mediocre prequel trilogy, prophetically claiming that they’ll never be able to make another one, a kind of argument a lot of us were probably sincerely making after the most recent trilogy.
But, as Richard Linklater put it in an interview, it’s not like someone in Titanic claiming that a Van Gogh painting would never sell, it’s a real moment that the movie earns because it’s a period piece told in the present tense, a narrative technique that Linklater essentially invented. It’s the perfect example of how Boyhood is so engrossing, in that a silly moment like that meant maybe as bonding between stars Ethan Hawke and Eller Coltrane, winds up in the movie as this funny thing they falsely predicted, which escapes the barriers of a film production and makes it really relatable.
9. 'John Wick' Plays With A Puppy
John Wick (Keanu Reeves) kills upwards of 80 Russians in his movie. Any number of those kills could have made the list. But I can't get over this damned scene where Neo plays with a puppy. In the film, Wick is retired from hitmanning and taking care of his sick wife when she dies. Her dying gift to him is a beagle puppy to keep him company in her absence. He quickly grows attached to it, but those damned Russians have to kill it because he wouldn’t give them his car, so he murders literally everyone. A murdered loved one is often the driving force behind an action movie, but rarely is that an adorable beagle, and rarely is the action star a resurgent Keanu Reeves. It all combines to create movie magic and 2014's best action movie. One that lives up to the trailer:
8. Barney Stinson Miscalculates The Hot/Crazy Scale in 'Gone Girl'
Remember that scene in How I Met Your Mother where Barney explains how a girl is allowed to be crazy, so long as she's proportionately hot? Well, Rosamund Pike is pretty hot, but nothing measures up to her character's Amy Dunne's crazy, as his Gone Girl character finds out the hard way. And we do mean 'hard' way. His penis. we see Dookie Howser's bloody penis in Gone Girl, is what I'm saying.
7. Cooper Watches His Kids Grow Up In Minutes In ‘Interstellar’
Interstellar has a unique setup in terms of how it moves from delivering crisp, elaborate action setpieces to showing us the consequences of that action through raw, emotional moments. The best example of this is following the water planet. We know that time is slower on its surface, and what we witness as a couple of hours for Brand and Cooper on the planet is actually 23 years for everyone else. There’s an initial shock of seeing Romily a much older man once they return to the ship, but it’s even more shocking when Coop sits down in front of a screen and watches 23 years worth of videos from his son, and eventually his daughter, as they grow up right in front of his eyes in what takes him only minutes, as he realizes how much time he’s actually squandered, especially when videos of his son turn into videos of his adult daughter, our first introduction to Jessica Chastain’s version of adult Murph. Matthew McConaughey sells the shit out of it emotionally too, proving how he’s the perfect balance between the “alright alright alright” version of him that's well suited for a sci fi action film and the emotionally capable actor that got him an Oscar, a duality Christopher Nolan explores at length in the film.
6. Andrew and Fletcher Meet Eyes in 'Whiplash'
One of the most astounding things about Whiplash to me isn’t just J.K. Simmons’ award-winning performance as Fletcher, a ruthless music teacher and conductor, but how that performance ebbs and flows with that of Miles Teller, who plays Andrew, the young drummer under his tutelage. Without Teller altering his behavior and mimicking that of his conductor’s, Simmons wouldn’t be on his way to a guaranteed Oscar. When Fletcher’s abusive methods pays dividends for Andrew, he becomes more confident and cocky. When they don’t, he cowers into a shell. The beauty of the film is thus how the two adjust and tweak in order to finally meet up in the film's final scene, like a good musical performance coming together. At first, Fletcher is exacting revenge on Andrew for what he did to him earlier in the film, but Andrew finally breaks free of Fletcher’s grip to deliver the performance of his life on drums, simultaneously proving Fletcher right and wrong about his abilities and his tactics as a teacher. There’s one specific moment where rookie director Damien Chazelle closes in on their eyes in a moment of clarity for both characters just before the end of the film that especially stands out, telling the entire story of the film in a mere, gorgeous second.
5. 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Hails Hydra
While the way The Winter Soldier ended was somewhat predictable of a superhero movie, its first two acts were so unexpected, not only for how they were constructed as a spy thriller under the guise of a superhero film, but also for introducing us to a twist that would have a profound effect on the Marvel Cinematic Universe for years to come. Halfway through the movie, as Captain America deals with conspiracies and new enemies, we discover that SHIELD, the organization we’ve known as a protector has been infiltrated by Hydra, a remnant of Nazi Germany and World War II, since its inception.
That’s insane enough on its own, as characters erstwhile known as protagonists are suddenly thwarted into the chaos of being LITERAL NAZIS, but it’s a ballsy move that gives the MCU constant direction and a proper, albeit often headless antagonist when one of the main criticisms of Marvel’s 8-picture juggernaut was that, other than Loki, it always had trouble keeping bad guys around and relevant for longer than half a movie. With Hydra, Agents of SHIELD is important and no longer a drag to watch (even though, as we pointed out in our Top 10 TV Moments of 2014, it’s already moved on to something even more exciting), The Avengers: Age of Ultron has an easy peasy secondary villain, and the MCU in general has a sense of direction beyond its individual moments. All of this, mind you, introduced to us via Toby Jones as a computer program and Gary Shandling whispering sweet nothings into someone's ear (also the best movie quote of 2014.)
4. 'Birdman' Takes A Stroll Through Times Square
Nothing about Birdman is easy. Alejandro Inarritu crafted one of 2014’s best movies using difficult long takes, a lot of dialog and even, at times, special effects and clever editing. Similarly, Michael Keaton’s Riggan has a difficult job of putting on his dramatic comeback play on Broadway and, more importantly, escaping his own psychosis. Nothing is more representative of that than when he gets locked out of his theater wearing nothing but his tighty whities, forced to run through Time Square and back into the theater, while a mass of humanity gawks at his shame.
It’s not only representative of the impressive level of difficulty in creating the film (as the scene must have certainly been challenging to film) but also ties in perfectly with Riggan’s challenges within the film in everything he’s going through. What’s more symbolic of the themes of the movie than running away from thousands of laughing and staring strangers in the middle of one of the world’s busiest intersections? And much like the film pulls it off without a hitch in the finished product, Riggan returns to the stage to perform his role perfectly. Birdman isn’t only meta in how both the main character and Michael Keaton played superheroes in movies, that winking, self-referential dark humor is much more deep rooted, and that’s a big part of what makes it so great.
3. 'The Lego Movie' Crosses Over To The Real World
One could argue that the success of an animated film is not only in how it can appeal to both adults and children, but also in the way it accomplishes it. If it’s through a few racier jokes or references kids might not understand, then that’s sort of esoteric. If instead, an animated movie can bring generations together through a message, then it’s mission accomplished. The Lego Movie did this in a way that’s fairly unique for such a high profile movie, by blurring the lines of the film’s universe and crossing between live action and animation in its third act to make its point.
On my first watch of The Lego Movie, it often popped into my head that the movie was being made the same way I would play with Legos. The way the characters build things, the way things are named, it was like a 10-year-old kid was making the movie. And in a way, that was the case, because the twist revealed all of this to be happening in the imagination of such a boy, whose father keeps many of these toys for himself and doesn’t want to share the experience with his son. Of course, Movie Magic blurs the lines even further, implying that Lego universe does indeed really exist, but the point still stands. And you can’t say that when Emmett first left the animated Lego World and entered the “real world”, that you didn’t feel something, and Phil Lord and Chris Miller delivered one of 2014’s most unique twists, all while selling the shit out of building blocks.
2.'Guardians Of The Galaxy' Straps Us In With A Song And Dance
Guardians of the Galaxy gave us plenty of memorable moments, which is a testament to how subversive of a superhero movie it was. So while we could have talked about dancing Groot, or the space freezing scene, or the Guardians coming together at the end to defeat Ronan, or the proper introduction to Thanos, or anything else, our moment comes from the very beginning of James Gunn's action-packed space opera.
None of these moments properly measure up, in my mind, to the film's opening title sequence. While many of these superhero movies with feature expensive, elaborately designed titles, GOTG's takes place during the action and serves a purpose in immediately showing us who Peter Quill is 15 years after he was abducted from earth. Simultaneously, it tells us exactly what kind of movie we're in for, in that it isn't in any way typical of a tentpole blockbuster. Featuring Quill dancing through an alian planet, using rodents as microphones and lip syncing to 'Come and Get Your love', those 2 minutes still give me chills every time I watch them, setting the bar really high for the rest of the movie.
Quicksilver Shines in 'X-men: Days Of Future past'
Review: 'X-Men: Days Of Future Past' Redeems a Long-Plagued Franchise
Remember when the first images of Eva Peters' Quicksilver were released out of X-Men: Days Of Future Past? He looked ridiculous, and everyone hated it. And then, it turned out to be the best of a movie that had so much going for it to begin with. And it's such a perfect moment to not only be at the top of our list, but to represent DOFP, since it's such a hodge-podge of weird, almost standalone moments meant to give any and every X-Men character their moment to shine. Oddly, Quicksilver comes in, does his slow-mo thing to help Wolverine and Professor X break Magneto out of the Pentagon for a few minutes, and leaves, and he could have honestly been cut out of the film entirely, but it still manages to work so well. It's honestly revolutionary. And it's beautiful. And it's just fun, and isn't that what movies are supposed to be about?