There were some fantastically great action films released in 2014, but 2014 was not a great year for action films.

The horror genre had no such shortage (as evidenced by the greatness occupying our list of the year’s best) and you can probably name several comedies that had you busting a gut in 2014, but action films? There weren’t very many, and what there was rarely impressed. But sometimes you find great action in less than great movies, and with that understanding I was able to find 14 movies that fit the bill as the Best Action Films of 2014.

Well, almost.

IFC Films

IFC Films

No matter how influential you think you might be as a critic or pundit, you are often reminded that you’re just a cog in a much larger system, soon to be aggregated right alongside everyone else. Take for example this year’s Austin Film Critics Association Awards. As longtime readers will note, this is a group that counts me among their members. For me there’s a great deal of pride in being a member of such a critics group, especially one with such an eclectic membership. That said, sometimes I vote for things and they don’t win. Such is life in the big city, as I’ve been told. 


Paramount Pictures

“That’s why Rosa sat on the bus;
That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up.”

Those lyrics can be heard in John Legend and Common‘s “Glory,” a new song that plays during the end credits of Selma and makes the connection between the 50-year-old events depicted in the movie and the current events continuing to affect the nation. No, the movie isn’t about or related to Rosa Parks, but that line represents the beginnings of the African-American Civil Rights Movement that 10 years later was still unfinished, even after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and obviously remains unfinished to this day. Had there been more time for the completion of the movie and soundtrack, perhaps there’d also be another lyric in “Glory” referencing Eric Garner’s last words of “I Can’t Breathe,” which has been adopted as a statement of protest against race-related police brutality and lack of repercussions.

When the Ferguson Grand Jury decision was announced late last month, there was backlash against “insensitive” tweets and other public acknowledgment of the link between the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting and Selma, which was a month away from hitting theaters (we’ve still got a week until it opens in limited release on Christmas, while most of America won’t have the chance to see it until its January 9th expansion). The issue was mostly taken up with anyone remarking about the movie’s Oscar chances in the wake of the Grand Jury results. They immediately noted the accidental relevance of a movie about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches to the marches occurring in Ferguson (and now other cities around the US, first due to the Brown case and then also due to the Garner case in New York City). But sure, awards consideration is hardly important at a time like that, but what is awards buzz but just a little part of the zeitgeist, and there’s no denying that Selma is going to be a more significant part of this year’s cultural climate because of its compatibility with the news. It’s a period piece, but it’s still the movie for these times. Therefore it’s the movie of 2014.

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Far too often, people tend to associate “big movie” with “bad movie.” If I was to wrangle up half a billion dollars for a film about cats that can ice dance, there’s no doubt you’d question my motives in doing so. It doesn’t matter if teaching cats to arabesque really is a hundred-million-dollar expenditure or if doing so would guarantee Two Meows on the Rink as the herald of a new golden age in cinema – with the term “blockbuster” comes phantom thoughts of brainless toy commercial cash-ins.

It certainly doesn’t help that this year’ biggest movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction, was indeed a brainless toy commercial cash-in.

But in 2014, Transformers was the exception, not the rule. This was a year when we went to the movies not just to see things explode, but for movies that would challenge us, intellectually… with explosions. And I’m just talking about December, when everyone’s rushing to see a slew of potential Oscar winners, but during the summer — the portion of the year usually cordoned off for spandex, fireballs and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson challenging Sylvester Stallone to a sheet-metal eating contest.

What follows are the 20 biggest worldwide box office earners of the year.

Ava DuVernay

Paramount Pictures

The film Selma – or, more correctly, the film that would become Selma – has been in various states of creation and production for years. In 2008, screenwriter Paul Webb made Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch list, where his own story (screenwriting wasn’t just a second act career for the then-sixty-year-old, it was actually a third) helped market his Martin Luther King, Jr.-centric script, which was believed to be set for a snappy and soon production. In 2009, Lee Daniels signed on to direct the film, ultimately leaving the project to direct The Butler. It wasn’t until nearly three years after Daniels exited the project that a new director was announced for the feature.

Her name is Ava DuVernay, and she is our filmmaker of the year.



Welcome back to This Week In Discs!

If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon.

Discs Section: Pick of the Week

LORD OF ILLUSIONS bluLord of Illusions

Members of a cult rebel against their leader when he takes a young girl hostage, but thirteen years later the man they left for dead threatens to return from the underworld. Members still loyal to him begin slaughtering the innocent in preparation for his return, and a NYC detective (Scott Bakula) with a history of taking cases that lean towards the supernatural might be all that stands in the way of the murder of the world.

Clive Barker‘s third and final feature as director brings together all of his trademarks — nightmarish visions, a disdain for religion, a terrible sense of fashion — and mashes them into a tale that combines noir elements with the supernatural. He delivers some wonderfully creepy and icky visuals involving the cult members and like the story it’s based on it makes me look forward to the return of Harry D’Amour in Barker’s upcoming novel. As much as I love Barker’s fiction though he’s not always the best person to bring them to cinematic life — because his appetite for cheese is never satiated. Some of the digital effects are dated too, although the practical work is all still stellar.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Theatrical and director’s cuts, commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, interview, photo gallery]

Carrie Coon in Gone Girl

Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises

A few months ago, Pete Hammond of Deadline proposed that the Academy should increase the number of Oscar nominees in the lead actor category, because the “traffic jam is just too much.” That’s just the male leads, apparently, as he was focusing on the “just under 30″ possibilities for the actor race and acknowledge that once again the lead actress category is struggling to find worthy contenders (see our response to the claim that there aren’t enough to fill five slots). Obviously there are more male lead roles out there because there are more movies with male protagonists, but never mind the two lead categories, both of which should stay just as they are. The two supporting acting awards, however, should be allowed more names in the ring. There’s never any shortage of great performances in lesser parts, and as usual this year we’re seeing some deserving players go unrecognized.

Two actresses that have been mostly overlooked this season are Gone Girl‘s Carrie Coon and Nymphomaniac‘s Uma Thurman. I am among those disappointed that neither has won or at least been nominated for any major awards lately. I personally voted for the two women (alongside my third pick, Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer) with my Critics Choice Awards ballot, but they didn’t make the cut. Not that any of those actually nominated by the BFCA shouldn’t be there — well, okay, maybe Meryl Streep for Into the Woods, but I haven’t seen that movie yet and can’t judge. The issue is that for every movie, there is one or maybe two main characters and then a whole slew of minor, and so there’s always a good chance that in a great movie there is a handful of award-worth supporting performances next to the one or two leads contending for the Oscar. 



Television! The original moving picture-centric method of in-home entertainment. The boob tube has gone through significant changes over the past few years, earning some long-fought-for respect and gifting the world with the kind of bold and original programming that doesn’t always find its way to the big screen. Alternative networks, from Netflix to paid premium channels like HBO, continued to flex their creative muscles, and the result has so far been a new, if not golden, at least silver age of television.

Of note: this year’s list is a combination of returning shows that exhibited some extra achievement and newbie series that display significant promise. It’s not perfect — no list is, after all — but it serves to illuminate the shows that, for various reasons, were truly the best of the year. From series approaching the end of their runs to recent debuts that have already impressed us, it’s a massively mixed bag, but the quality is consistent. These are the shows you should be watching.

Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios

In the coming weeks, there will be a lot of data about what movie moments we loved. Heck, we’ll probably publish some of it. The Most Tweeted About Movie Moment. The Most Commented Upon Scene. The Most Mentioned, Hashtaged and @Replied. Plenty of data to tell us what we love. Yet while we love to see the data and see what we’ve been talking about all year, sometimes we movie lovers must look into our hearts and find those precious movie moments that we can’t get out of our heads. And to follow our hearts in 2014, at least for many of us, will inevitably lead back to one particular movie: James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Initial audiences were blown away, friends who otherwise don’t go to the movies dragged me back to see it again, memes and fan homages littered the Internet of things. It might not get a bunch of hardware during awards season, but Guardians is a movie that captured the geek heart this year. So as we sifted through our favorite scenes to determine our Scene of the Year, this is the movie that wouldn’t go away. Because of all the wonderful things we saw this year, none of them made us happier than Dancing Groot.

Presented for your consideration, our choice for Scene of the Year: the many happy dances of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

When Interstellar’s credits rolled, I felt satisfied and relieved – not only because I enjoyed the stunning but imperfect film, but because the very experience of seeing the film on film went smoothly. In a packed house at an Indianapolis IMAX theater late on a rainy midweek opening night, all sub-three hours (and an unfathomable number of feet) of 70mm film cycled through the light of the projector without incident. I had heard stories of disastrous projection experiences at advance screenings from London to San Francisco, and the theater’s manager didn’t assuage my concerns about the volatility of the epic undertaking when he announced, via microphone, how full the plate of 70mm film is, and how Nolan’s 168-minute work could not be a minute longer without the celluloid literally falling off.

Even though the 70mm projector and all its needs were invisible to us, Interstellar was not the only spectacle on display that evening – the existence of the apparatus that made the experience possible was a powerful reminder of the increasingly rare experience of filmgoing as an event. And what a strange experience it is to emote over the same massive images with a room full of strangers.

I had this experience twice in 2014 – once with Christopher Nolan‘s Hollywood epic, and the other with Goodbye to Language 3D, the most recent work of octogenarian cinematic provocateur Jean-Luc Godard. Though it’s hard to imagine two theatrically released 2014 films that are more different, each of these works fully inhabit and embrace the one-of-a-kind space of the movie theater – a space that is becoming ever more decentralized from filmgoing – and use it to explore cinema’s storied past and uncertain future.



Lost In Translation wasn’t Scarlett Johansson‘s screen debut — she had brushed up against leading lady status with a few films beforehand — but it was the first time people took real notice of her ability to hold their attention through her performance. (The underwear scene helped too, but let’s stay on point here people.) The next decade saw her star in twenty one films of varying quality — from the highs of Her to the subterranean lows of The Spirit — across all manner of genres from comedy to drama to action to kids movies.

2014 saw her continue that trend by appearing in four films — four fairly disparate films — that not only earned a collective $1.25 billion worldwide but that also saw her flex a wide variety of muscles, both acting and otherwise. The roles vary in what they demand of her and what she delivers, and they show a performer at the top of her creative, risk-taking game in a way that very few others (male or female) matched this year. (Sorry, but while we love Chris Pratt in The LEGO Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy they’re both basically just Andy Dwyer with different name badges.)

There were better performances in 2014, but none of those other actors found anything close to the critical and commercial success Johansson achieved while moving so effortlessly from blockbuster to art film to supporting role and back again.



Keeping things festive around these parts, Cargill & I continue to move across the calendar and celebrate our favorite holiday horror films. We leap ahead to June and pay a visit to The Stepfather. True to our nature as shady flimflamers, The Stepfather doesn’t actually take place on Father’s Day. I know, it’s a cheat, we’re scoundrels. However, if there is one film that will make you rethink sending that new necktie to dear old dad this June, it’s The Stepfather.

Terry O’Quinn (with hair no less) stars in a slow-burn, entirely unsettling family horror/drama that Mike Brady definitely does not want you to see. Give the episode a listen to find out whether father actually knows best, and why we tend to think The Stepfather is the best!

You should follow Brian (@Briguysalisbury), Cargill (@Massawyrm), and the show (@Junkfoodcinema).

Download Episode #35 Directly

Top Five

Paramount Pictures

If we were to list some of the most horrific cultural tragedies of the 20th and 21st century, the paucity of films that have effectively captured the comic genius that is Chris Rock would have to … not make that list. It wouldn’t even make the honorable mentions. But still, it’s astounding that after three decades of work in cinema, Rock’s sensibility has failed to be transplanted successfully from stage to screen. Alas, Top Five is probably as close as we’ll ever get to a proper Chris Rock joint. Vulgar, obscene and insightful, Rock’s third directorial effort proves to be his strongest and most similar to his rollicking standup routines.

At once autobiographical and satirical, the film picks up with Andre (Rock), a celebrated comedian no longer interested in being the funny man. After four years of sobriety, Andre believes he’s incapable of making people laugh without being intoxicated. So instead of comedy, he does drama – cast as the leader of a Haitian slave rebellion in a self-serious film entitled Uprize! And yes, the fictitious film looks as abhorrent as it sounds, and Andre knows it.

To dive into Andre’s past and present states of mind we have New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), who spends a day with him walking around the city for a profile she’s penning. This conceit allows for Andre’s past to be explored organically. She pushes as the resolute reporter and he pulls away as the guarded celebrity. Rock and Dawson create this dynamic that oozes humor and warmth, a sensation one similarly receives when watching any of Rock’s ingenious HBO specials.

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published: 12.18.2014
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