When it comes to movies, Team Unwinnable can only definitively agree on one thing: we like ’em. Some of ’em. On this website you can find plenty of superhero fans, but we have plenty of superhero skeptics too. Some of us are both. Some of us prefer indie or artistic films. Some of us just like a good, creepy horror flick.
So making this Top Ten list wasn’t easy. To do it, members of Team Unwinnable each submitted a list of their personal top 10 films, in order of preference. No two lists looked remotely the same. In total, fifty-seven different movies were nominated. Thirty-one of those movies were only nominated by one person on the team (sorry, Mockingjay Part One! I voted for you!).
But, luckily, that’s where math comes in. We figured out which movies were both mentioned most and ranked highest on the submitted lists, and those became our overall top ten films for the list.
As it turns out, I think this list actually does a pretty good job of representing Team Unwinnable’s tastes. We’ve got the superheroes, we’ve got the art films, we’ve got the horror, and we’ve got a bunch of films that are two out of the three. So without further ado, I present Team Unwinnable’s Top Ten Films of 2014.
– Jill Scharr
10. Big Hero 6
I really didn’t expect the big poofy robot movie to make me cry. But here we are. Big Hero 6 isn’t just a colorful, funny, over-the-top superhero action film. It’s also a story about grief and loss, and how a group of friends working together can surmount almost any obstacle.
Big Hero 6 follows kid genius Hiro Hamada, a brilliant roboticist who needs a push from his older brother Tadashi to put his skills to good use. But when disaster strikes just as he’s starting to find himself, Hiro, his robot Baymax and an eclectic group of young inventors must make something out of nothing to save the day. Set in the near – future city of San Fransokyo and featuring a diverse group of sharp, funny and achingly heartfelt characters, Big Hero 6 defied my expectations from start to finish.
– Jill Scharr
9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Growing up, I watched the Planet of the Apes movies out of order on basic cable. There was always one Apes movie somewhere on dial. I enjoyed the hell out of them, but as they went on, they got silly. They were still fun films, but they didn’t have much in the way of gravitas by the time they got to Battle of the Planet of the Apes.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, however, is an Apes sequel that is just as reflective as its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Dawn is about innate selfishness and how it inevitably leads to doom. The film is about a group of intelligent apes led by Caesar and a group of humans who survived the super simian flu that spread at the end of Rise. Some of the apes want to live in peace with the humans and some of the humans want to live in peace with the apes. Their voices are drowned out by humans and apes who blame each other for the simian flu and torturous animal experimentation respectively. The film speaks to the consequences of not letting go and it does not have an easy conclusion. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a cynical summer blockbuster, the kind of big budget sci-fi flick we haven’t seen in some time. It’s not a fancy looking, yet cheap, knock off of a previous film (::COUGH:: Prometheus ::COUGH:: ) but rather a cautionary tale, like the best science fiction.
– Ian Gonzales
8. Only Lovers Left Alive
As a longtime fan of Only Lovers Left Alive writer/director Jim Jarmusch, I can honestly say something that I haven’t said in close to a decade: this is a Top 3 Jarmusch film. The quirky filmmaker often makes films that are loose and conversational. Sure, plot and action occurs, and sometimes there’s even structure or some kind of related genre trope to connect different groups of people in different places. In this case it’s vampires, and this is a wildly creative take on an otherwise exhausted idea.
Tom Hiddleston plays Adam, a reclusive musician and relatively young suicidal vampire who lives in the ruins of Detroit. Tilda Swinton plays Eve, a lover of life and jetsetting ancient vampire who has been an on and off lover to Adam for hundreds of years. She comes to his side after a phone call reveals how depressed he is. These two characters are played wonderfully by Swinton and Hiddleston, to the point that you believe they have been in love for hundreds of years, with the way that they play off each other and share their scenes together.
All of the Jarmusch talking points are here, from music to history to mushrooms, and Jarmusch going wild in Detroit is something that needed to happen. Add in a fully realized unique vampire world that we’re dropped into and you’ve got a film that is successful on many levels. Not since Herzog’s take on Nosferatu, and before that Murnau’s original, has the setting been so important to a vampire film – Detroit’s urban ruins are perfect. Who knew that vampires, comedy, horror and romance would create the perfect combination for a Jim Jarmusch film?
– Mike Edwards
7. The Babadook
You know that feeling of seeing something out of the corner of your eye, but when you look again it’s just a pile of clothes or a strange shadow? The Babadook, an Australian horror film by writer and director Jennifer Kent, is brilliant at capturing that feeling- but in this film, when you look again, the clothes or the shadow really do transform on screen, just like the monsters of your nightmares.
A woman’s darkest and most personal fears lie at the heart of The Babadook. At first look, the lives of single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) are bleakly quotidian. But soon we see that – well, that Amelia’s life is bleakly quotidian, but it’s from that relentless reality that the uncanny and the terrifying begin to appear. Though it draws from other classic horror films such as The Exorcist, The Babadook also stands alone as a powerful film that is as finely crafted as it is scary.
– Jill Scharr
6. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
No matter how abused the vampire is in trash like Twilight, it will never go away. No movie monster has captured the imagination of audiences the way Dracula and his kind have. Every time the vampire’s potential seems exhausted, it retreats to the shadows and changes. In recent years, that transformation has taken place in Only Lovers Left Alive, The Immortal Augustus Gladstone, Byzantium and more, but none are so gorgeous and intriguing as A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night by Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour.
Girl does everything right. The soundtrack, a jolting mix of Iranian pop and spaghetti western tunes, is dizzying but atmospheric. The fictional Bad City, populated as it is with drug dealers, junkies and prostitutes, provides a stylized noir backdrop. The girl’s role as both bottom-feeder and avenger is both intriguing and disquieting. And it is a movie about other movies – while it is certainly a cousin of Let the Right One In, it is also in the same family tree as Duck Soup, Eraserhead and Down By Law. And then there is the curious question of how a vampire ended up in Iran at all…
The visuals, though, truly arrest me. The way the girl’s hijab is as evocative of Iranian culture as it is of Bela Lugosi’s cape. The way she rolls down the street on her stake board. The way the camera moves slowly and confidently, capturing glinting chrome and flittering shadows, showing so much and telling so little. To watch A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is to feast with you eyes in a way that has become a rarity.
– Stu Horvath
Boyhood director Richard Linklater played the long game for the best movie of his storied career, filming his young leads (newcomer Coltrane and his own daughter, Lorelei) over the course of twelve years of real time. The result is more than a gimmick, it’s the best coming of age story ever put on film. Movie-goers actually got to watch Mason and his family grow before their eyes – from a wide-eyed dreamer whose mother (Patricia Arquette) moves from abusive relationships and whose wayward father (Ethan Hawke) finally finds his footing with another family.
There are no transforming robots; no CGI dragons; no car chases; no super-powered mutants. It lacks the cinematic bombast of Interstellar and the historical importance of Selma, Unbroken or The Imitation Game. It isn’t filled with flashy performances and camera trickery of Birdman. Heck, there’s not even much of a plot. But the presumed front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar didn’t need any of that to move you.
– Ethan Sacks
4. The LEGO Movie
Cynics might call The LEGO Movie a 100-minute-long Lego commercial. But even the cynics would have to agree that The LEGO Movie is one damn good commercial. The story follows Emmett (Chris Pratt), an average Joe whose world is shattered into tiny little Lego bricks when he’s told he’s the prophesied “Special.” Emmett joins an ensemble cast that seems like it sprang fully formed from the mind of a thirty-year-old who got locked in a contemporary toy store and ate way too many Pop Rocks: Will Arnett as Batman, Alison Brie as the Unikitty (think My Little Pony but weirder) and Charlie Day as Benny the excitable 1980s spaceship Lego guy.
Pop culture references and celebrity cameos abound, but what makes The LEGO Movie so special is that it tapped into the same reason Legos themselves are so special, and why this deceptively simple toy has been around for sixty-five years: there’s no one correct way to play with them. Some people like to follow the instructions in the box. Some people like to take bricks from everywhere and put them together their own way. Some people like to play with their finished models; other people are never done taking things apart and putting them back together a different way. And in The Lego Movie, no matter how you play, everything is awesome.
– Jill Scharr
3. Grand Budapest Hotel
The latest film from writer and director Wes Anderson, is a story within a story within a story about M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the unflappable concierge of the titular hotel in the 1930s. Accompanied by bell boy Zero Moustafa (Zoni Revolori), Gustave travels across Europe to attend the funeral of a hotel patron, only to be caught up in both a murder investigation and the tumultuous politics that preceded World War II. Zero is also one of our narrators; in 1968 he (F. Murray Abraham) recounts the tale to a young author vacationing in the now-dilapidated hotel.
Replete with Anderson’s signature quirks, the film also channels styles from throughout the 20th century. Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t just interested in what was fashionable at a given time, but also what was becoming unfashionable, or just starting to seem old. No matter what year it is, the slow march of time is inevitable in Grand Budapest Hotel, but that doesn’t stop the characters in this laughably silly yet intensely heartfelt film from doing their best to forestall or ignore its coming.
– Jill Scharr
2. Guardians of the Galaxy
As an advertised Disney defender, I had nothing but devout faith in the House of Mouse when they purchased Marvel comics and their in-house film division. Guardians of the Galaxy is the proof in the pudding. The result is that a rag tag group of comic book misfits that no one paid attention to back in the 90’s are now film superstars. James Gunn and Co. took these miscreants and, along with a brilliant cast, soundtrack and creative team, made what many will argue is the the best entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The titular Guardians (comprised of one human, two alien humanoids, a talking raccoon, and his talking tree-thing bodyguard) find themselves involuntarily tasked with saving the universe. The film looks stunning and achieves every intended moment of humor, fear, excitement and sadness throughout the telling of the story. In a world where comic book films mostly star characters ingrained in our culture, (see Superman, Batman, etc.) Marvel gambled and hit the jackpot by taking a fresh route, passing the baton to a group of unknowns set out to impress global audiences.
The most surprising factor in Guardians, even after MANY subsequent viewings, is Drax. Brilliantly portrayed by former WWE heavyweight star Dave Bautista, Drax the Destroyer’s deadpan comedic performance juxtaposed with his brute strength and intimidating demeanor was damn-near perfect. Five plus times through this film and his delivery still elicits chuckles. I also can’t neglect mentioning dancing Groot, so considered it noted. Ultimately, Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that has a little something for everyone and makes room for all viewers to get involved and have fun.
– Erik Weinbrecht
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
It’s no surprise that Unwinnable’s Best Movies list skews a bit to the so-called “geeky” side. But this year, Unwinnable’s top film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, didn’t just impress your typical “geeky” types. Though it picks up where 2012’s The Avengers left off, The Winter Soldier stands on its own with a mix of action, intrigue and surprising tenderness.
It’s been about a year since World War II veteran Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) woke up from a decades-long sleep into the twenty-first century, and though he’s approaching modern technology and pop culture with enthusiasm, he still feels isolated and lonely. Past and present soon collide when an old nemesis re-emerges, this time wielding an advanced predictive algorithm that it will use to eliminate threats before they even exist. That sounds like it could be the plot of any generic action film of the last few years, but The Winter Soldier stays grounded thanks to a strong ensemble cast including Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow and Anthony Mackie as the Air Force veteran and soon-to-be superhero Falcon, both of whom have their own stake in the plot. The result is a slick action film with a ton of ass-kicking, a timely allegory for government surveillance, and a touching story about friendships, choices and sacrifice.
– Jill Scharr