From two very sick teenage lovebirds to a psychotic jazz conductor, 2014’s best movies were all about strong characters and gripping story lines. Us Weekly’s resident film critic Mara Reinstein picks the top ten movies of the year — and it’s not too late to catch some of them in theaters!
An epic that took 12 years to film could have been a gimmick. Instead, director Richard Linklater — with big assists by stars Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, and his daughter Lorelei Linklater — unspooled a beautiful and unforgettable snapshot of American life. In the most moving way, he proved that time isn’t necessarily marked by triumphs and tragedies; just growing up is accomplishment enough.
Miles Teller was the jazz drummer aiming for greatness. J.K. Simmons was his sadistic instructor relentlessly pushing him to get there. Together, the two matched each other note for note in an evocative sizzler. Fun debate for the ride home: Was Simmons’ character a vicious bully — or just an amazingly effective and misunderstood mentor?
3. Gone Girl
Here’s the big twist: Ben Affleck and his chilling smile helped turn Gillian Flynn’s best-selling novel about a man’s search for his missing beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike) — but really about commonplace marital deception gone to extremes — into a mesmerizing potboiler. Now, about that ending...
The positively true and bizarre and harrowing crime story, featuring incredible turns from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo (as Olympic wrestlers) and Steve Carell (as their eccentric billionaire benefactor), shook to the core. Director Bennett Miller’s measured pacing only built up the nerve-racking tension.
5. The Theory of Everything
Not an eat-your-vegetables British period drama! In fact, the way this Stephen Hawking biopic delved into his loving, challenging marriage was, well, genius. See ya at the Oscars, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
A sleazy and dogged L.A. news paparazzo (a fantastic Jake Gyllenhaal) would do anything to get his money shot. The thrilling creepfest only got more salacious from there.
And now, a special nod to Reese Witherspoon, who co-produced film No. 3 and dug deep to play flawed but fabulous Cheryl Strayed in this strong adventure drama. The arduous journey was worth every step — and that sentiment expands beyond Strayed’s 1,100 mile trek across the Pacific Crest Trail.
8. American Sniper
With much respect to Michael Keaton (Birdman), why isn’t Bradley Cooper getting more Best Actor awards buzz? He gives his best performance to date in this searing portrait of a real-life war hero. With just one intense glare, Cooper expressed a world of conflicted emotions.
9. The Fault in Our Stars
Shailene Woodley (sob) and Ansel Elgort (sob) played it just right as cynical cancer-stricken teens (sob) in love in this moving and whip-smart adaptation of author John Green’s young adult opus. It’s a shame there won’t be a sequel.
10. Edge of Tomorrow
Psst . . . There was a shiny, futuristic caper out this summer even more entertaining than Guardians of the Galaxy. This one starred a guy named Tom Cruise.