The 20 Best Classic Films of 2014
You might recall my Best and Worst of 2013 list coming out in January, but I wanted to close 2014 completely this year and thus you get to argue with me on the best and worst a few days earlier. My apologies if my thoughts on certain movies seem sparse. With all my studying for my Masters and other writing opportunities this year, I stretched myself thin and half-assed watching films this year (something I’ll have fixed in 2015). The films here were all given between 4 and 5 Ronnies throughout the year with an extra half Ronnie boost if I felt my appreciation for them increased. Also, all movies selected had to be first time views for me. They’re generally categorized by Ronnie rating with my personal preferences being secondary. If you missed my original review just click the title and you’ll be able to go back to when it originally ran. Check back tomorrow for my worst classic films of 2014. Any films I should have given more love to?
Honorable Mentions: Chase a Crooked Shadow, Bright Eyes, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, Sunday in New York, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
20. Badlands – 4 Ronnies
I forgot I reviewed Badlands this year and it remains the Malick film I remember best. “Badlands gives you an intense, prosaic coming-of-age film where, by the end, the movie neither condemns nor glorifies the characters actions and neither do you.”
19. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – 4 Ronnies
Mr. Deeds was close to making it into the twenty and leapt over several other films to make it into the honorable mentions, so no one’s more surprised than me that this made it in. Remember the days when I didn’t like Jimmy Stewart? He’s not my ultimate, but he’s proven how multifaceted he is to me, with this being the apotheosis of his work.
18. In the Heat of the Night – 4 Ronnies
It’s definitely been a contentious time with race in America and it’s ironic that it’s just this year I saw In the Heat of the Night, the movie that marked a sharp change in the depiction of race on film…and that took until 1968 to happen! “In the Heat of the Night is a compelling crime drama, but it’s even more effective as a commentary on race relations in the late 1960s; it’s power isn’t diminished in 2014.”
17. Romancing the Stone – 4 Ronnies
So this isn’t classic in the traditional sense, but my entry for the 1984-a-thon Blogathon was a gripping romantic adventure that certainly hearkened back to movies like The Adventures of Robin Hood. Michael Douglas played a modern-day Errol Flynn while Kathleen Turner is hilarious as the straitlaced writer who ends up letting her hair down in Colombia. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I do and I’ve watched it several time since.
16. The Court Jester – 4 Ronnies
Danny Kaye makes his only appearance on this list, although that’s not to say you won’t see him on another list tomorrow. The Court Jester remains a sidesplitting romp and, like Romancing the Stone, a throwback and commentary on medieval epics. There’s some hilarious comedic sequences, not just limited to Kaye’s verbal linguistics, and a great role for leading lady Glynis Johns as Lady Jean.
15. Caged – 4 Ronnies
The women in prison film that’s anything but! Caged is a great examination of the penal system and all that that implies; a harsh critique and demand for prison reform, as well as a cry from the trapped birds of the hearth yearning for something more than wife and motherhood. All the actresses are wonderful, but especially Eleanor Parker playing “a dewy-faced lamb amongst wolves.”
14. Private Screenings: Robert Osborne – 4 Ronnies
You can accuse me of including this because I attended the TCM Film Festival this year and want to grease the wheels with them (can’t hurt!), but this remains one of the best episodes of Private Screenings I’ve seen in awhile. The network that caters to fans like us didn’t do a whole lot to honor their 20th anniversary – the TCM clip show I also reviewed didn’t make the cut – but they did a great job honoring the man whose become synonymous with classic film; the grandfather/father/friend we all wish we could have a cup of coffee with and talk about movies. If you haven’t watched this yet keep an eye out for future screenings.
13. The Americanization of Emily – 4 Ronnies
James Garner was one of the faces we lost this year, but this movie remains one of my favorite films he worked in and my second favorite pairing of him and Julie Andrews (did I mention I got Victor/Victoria this year for Christmas?). This starts out like a randy war comedy, but takes a dark turn with critiques of the American military complex and media interpretation of the war. Oh, and someone really hates Hershey bars. Thanks a bunch to Warner Archive for giving this underseen gem a Blu-ray release this year, as well.
12. Stagecoach – 4 Ronnies
A big personal surprise of 2014 was my newfound appreciation for John Wayne. After reading Scott Eyeman’s beautiful biography on the Duke I ended up watching Stagecoach as part of a film class and enjoyed it immensely. John Ford packs so much allegory into a small tale about a group of people meeting their Lord…or at least going to a town named Lordsburg. Everyone is great in this, but Wayne and Claire Trevor stick out for me.
11. Roman Holiday – 4 Ronnies
Oh, Audrey! This was another blogathon entry – part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Fabulous Fifties Blogathon – and what a delight it is. Audrey stars as a modern-day princess fed up with waving and cuts out on her own. As if she isn’t already perfect, she meets the charming Gregory Peck and has the eponymous “Roman holiday” we’ll never have in reality. I know I can be overly critical of films for women, but this lays on the fairy tale charm without compromising the ideals of its heroine.
10. The Searchers – 4 Ronnies
Another John Wayne film makes the list and ends up in the top 10! I must be dreaming. Actually, some would say this should be higher and time might tell if that’s true. As it stands, this is a heartwrenching tale of loss, grief, and eventual tolerance despite some racist moments here and there. “As you watch Ethan’s journey, and his confrontation with his prejudices, the audience confronts what is racism and what redemption looks like.”
9. The Mating Season – 4.5 Ronnies
I’m still surprised this isn’t available on DVD because it’s such a sweet comedy about family and the ties that bind. Thelma Ritter excels as a poor mother accidentally hired as a domestic by her new daughter-in-law; Gene Tierney, playing said daughter-in-law, plays a role that could have been mean with heart instead of resentment. Currently the only way to see this is TCM so keep an eye out.
8. Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte – 4.5 Ronnies
Bette Davis makes her yearly appearance on my Best Of list, albeit higher than Jezebel ranked last year. I devoted a whole week to Davis as part of this year’s July Five and I watched quite a few howlers. Hush…Hush is a howler in the sense it’s ludicrous and campy, but the amount of classic Hollywood talent casting everything to the winds is wonderful. “With each of them on their way out, in terms of iconic status, there’s an elegiac tone of farewell…or all them saying ‘Screw it.’” No one says “screw it” better than Olivia De Havilland who really gives a performance that altered everything I thought I knew about her.
7. The Clock – 4.5 Ronnies
I’m not a fan of fluffy romances but I take it all back when watching The Clock. Judy Garland and Robert Walker as displaced souls who spend a day together is beautiful and sentimental in the way only someone like director Vincente Minnelli could do it (and did!). From a review writing standpoint I think this was my best written of the year.
6. The Collector – 4.5 Ronnies
Everything about this film was a surprise to me: the fact that I flat-out loved it or that it was directed by costume drama legend, William Wyler! The tale of a lonely kidnapper (Terence Stamp) and the object of his affection (Samantha Eggar) opens up into a story of possession, misplaced love, and beauty that’s complex and sticks with you long after it’s over. “William Wyler’s daring vision of obsession and love is astounding, as I’ve implied, and a huge departure from the overarching romances he was known for.”
5. Oklahoma! – 4.5 Ronnies
“OK-LA-HO-MA. Oklahoma!” I didn’t see this till after the TCM Classic Film Fest, where I was fortunate to be on the red carpet for its debut as the opening night feature, but since then it’s proven its mettle as one of the best movie musicals out there! My review goes into all the nooks and crannies of why I enjoyed the film better than I can here so just go read the original review.
4. Bachelor Mother – 4.5 Ronnies
This was a last minute 2014 review but since then I’ve watched Bachelor Mother at least three more times and I’ve converted a few of my family members into fans. David Niven and Ginger Rogers juggle the comedy and romance admirably, and nothing feels like a compromise of character ideals or a cop-out.
3. Trouble in Paradise – 4.5 Ronnies
I’d have to say the genre of the year, for me, was comedy as I took in a lot of humorous films that ended up surprising me. Comedy is always a harsh genre to judge since what’s funny one decade becomes passe the next, so only the truly timeless can remain funny forever. Trouble in Paradise is just such a timeless comedy, where the laughs are evergreen and each character brings their own type of gag to the table, whether it’s Miriam Hopkins’ jealousy or Kay Francis’ flightiness. I’m proud to be a member of “Colet and Company!”
2. The Children’s Hour – 5 Ronnies
The top two are the hardest for me to sum up and I recommend reading my original reviews for a more in-depth analysis. The Children’s Hour was a landmark film in showcasing homosexuality in a, far more than movies pre-1960, overt sense. The cast of Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine, James Garner (his second appearance on this list) and Miriam Hopkins (also her second appearance) are all spellbinding.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird – 5 Ronnies
Everything about this film is legendary, engaging, and romantic in the way it hearkens back to a time that’s painfully realistic and suspended in timelessness. The relationship between Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as his daughter Scout is one that everyone wishes they had with their father, and Peck’s never been better.
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
2014 was the year I discovered John Wayne too – I read Eyman’s biography and then just went nuts buying Wayne’s films on DVD. Stagecoach and The Searchers were my favourite two of the bunch, but I also really liked Red River.
Bachelor Mother has some terrific one-liners HAHA!
Red River is on my list, but I’m still not big on Westerns so it’s gonna take me a while to watch it lol. Hope you have a great 2015 Vanessa!
Fantastic list. There are 2 here I need to see and only one that I would not see againn, which is not bad out of 20. 🙂
Haha, well stay tuned for tomorrow’s Worst list.
Nice! So happy you enjoyed The Americanization of Emily, one of my personal favorites!
The Mating Game is on Amazon Prime! Thanks for the reminder that I need to finally get around to watching it. Sounds like a sweet flick.
I can only agree with “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Stagecoach”. I like Jimmy Stewart but was not a big fan of Mr. Smith. The rest I wouldn’t watch again with a gun to my head. I’m glad someone enjoys them! And I’m really glad I won’t have to see them again.
Wow, Peggy. I think you’re a tougher critic than I am lol. I really hope you give a second chance to some of my top 10, they were worth it.
The Music Man is sooooo much better than Oklahoma. Oliver is also better.
I have Music Man and Oliver on the list. They’re better than Oklahoma? I’m gonna hold you to that!