Who doesn’t love a good crime film? Whether we’re talking about someone taking revenge for perceived wrongs and paying the moral and emotional consequences, or assassins going rogue, or simply breaking the law for one’s own entertainment or financial gain, crime thrillers are always a good bet to find some edgy performances and opportunities for first time writers and directors to make their mark. And 2014 had an abundance of great dark films that put both their characters and their viewers through the wringer. Here are Psycho Drive-In’s Top Ten Favorite Crime Thrillers of 2014. Big Bad Wolves While Big Bad Wolves was made and released around the world in 2013, it didn’t get an official American release until early this year, so guess what? It makes the list! Written and directed by the duo of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, with a remarkable assist by cinematographer Giora Bejach, Big Bad Wolves is not only disturbing and funny, but is a beautifully shot tale of revenge, murder, and ultimately the uselessness of torture. The story focuses on three men in Israel, Dror, a school teacher accused of being a child murderer, Micki, a disgraced cop, and Gidi, the father of first a missing little girl — and then the father of a dead little girl. Because of Micki’s police misconduct, Dror is released after being accused of kidnapping Gidi’s daughter. After his release, her body shows up, sexually assaulted and beheaded, which leads to both Micki and Gidi plotting revenge. Through a bizarrely funny turn of events, Dror ends up chained to a chair in a basement, Gidi has plans to torture him until he reveals the location of his daughter’s head, and Micki doesn’t know what he wants, ending up coerced into helping Gidi, but not sure whether Dror is guilty or not. The use of humor is dry and absurdist, contrasted with elements of brutality and torture. At times the film is a little hard to watch because of this, but those conflicting narrative elements make it both more palatable and more disturbing at the same time. And when Gidi’s father Yoram busts in on the party, things take a particularly dark turn. Don’t expect any happy endings with this one, but expect to be fully satisfied. — Paul Brian McCoy Blue Ruin Blue Ruin is about as good as low-budget revenge films get. Hell, it’s about as good as big-budget revenge films get, too. In between his first feature film, Murder Party, and Blue Ruin, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier decided to put directing on hold and become a cinematographer instead. Which means that for six years or so, he learned the art of crafting a shot and telling a visual story in the service of other filmmakers. So it should come as no surprise that when he finally came back to writing and directing his own film, it looks amazing. No really. This is an amazingly beautiful film and there is not a single shot wasted in telling the story of Dwight Evans and his misguided plans of revenge on the man who murdered his parents. Or did he? Therein lies the rub, and after the nearly botched murder of the man who went to prison for the crime, it turns out he wasn’t guilty after all. And now his whole family — a family one wouldn’t normally want to mess with — are after Dwight. Macon Blair is perfect as Dwight, epitomizing the role of an everyman that we’ve never seen as a protagonist in a revenge film before. He’s not an action hero. He’s not any sort of hero. He’s a bit of a schlub and is immediately in over his head, having to deal with consequences that quickly spiral out of control. If there’s been a better revenge film in the last five years, I haven’t seen it. And I see pretty much all revenge films. It’s my curse. — PBM Cheap Thrills I often find out about movies through the beginning previews on a DVD. I’m definitely not the type of guy that will skip previews and get right to it and I’m definitely glad I didn’t the day I found out about Cheap Thrills. The premise is quite simple: What would you do for money? We’ve all heard it. “I’ll give you $20 to (insert absolutely asinine demand of your friend).” While we usually have a good laugh about it, whether the task is completed or not, it sometimes enters our mind. In Cheap Thrills, a demented couple played by David Koechner and Sara Paxton manipulate two old friends (Pat Healy and Ethan Embry) into completing twisted and bizarre dares for money over the course of a drug and alcohol fueled night. While the stakes start small, the dares — and the money — begin to increase, becoming more and more absurd and violent. This was one of the darker films I watched in 2014. It was a rollercoaster ride of thrills, laughs and at times, feelings of complete uneasiness as you watch the characters struggle to get through the night. As a theme with modern society, money is power, and it has the power to destroy even those who are the purest of souls. This was edgy, original, and thrilling from start to finish. — David Basile Cold in July I’ve been a big fan of the writing/directing team of Nick Damici and Jim Mickle since Stake Land through We Are What We Are and was thrilled to find out they were adapting one of my favorite authors, Joe R. Lansdale with the crime/revenge film, Cold in July. After killing an intruder in his home, Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) ends up targeted by the dead man’s father, Russel (Sam Shepard) until he realizes that they are both being lied to about the dead burglar’s identity. With Russel’s son still alive somewhere, he and Richard enlist the aid of Russel’s old friend Jim Bob (Don Johnson) to track him down. However, none of the men like what they discover. Cold in July is probably the strongest film Damici and Mickle have made so far, thanks in large part to Lansdale’s original story and extremely strong performances by Hall, Shepard, and particularly Johnson. Don Johnson is becoming a treasure as he ages, bringing a natural rhythm and undeniable charisma to just about every project he finds himself attached to over the past decade or so. He pretty much steals the show from Hall and Shepard, after Shepard stole the show from Hall. The interactions of the three performers are why you should watch this film even if you don’t care for revenge stories or Texas crime films. But if you come for the actors, don’t be surprised when the writing, direction, and storytelling is so good you’ll want to track down the book Cold in July is based on. Hell, here’s a link to Cold in July, just to make it easy for you. — PBM Dom Hemingway Writer/director Richard Shepard‘s crime-comedy Dom Hemingway is everything that The Filth wishes it could have been. Jude Law plays Dom Hemingway, a safe cracker who spent 12 years in prison keeping his mouth shut and is now let loose upon the world and wants what’s owed him by his former boss, Ivan Fontaine (Demian Bichir). After meeting up with his best friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant), they arrive in the French countryside for a weekend with Mr. Fontaine. Things don’t go well. When you’re trying to create a lead character who is a cad with pretty much nothing redeemable, and you want viewers to actually care enough that when a heart is revealed in the third act, it’s satisfying and we’re all on-board for the character’s redemption — or at least the character’s self-realization — the character must at least be interesting. The Filth tried desperately to do this and failed. Dom Hemingway succeeds because of three things: the charisma of Jude Law and Richard E. Grant, a script that pushes towards transgressive absurdity without winking at the viewer, and character arcs for just about everyone involved that grow out of truly unexpected twists. Dom is a character that we should hate, but he’s just so damn full of life that it’s difficult. So instead, we go on the ride with him (and Dickie) and in the end, he becomes something more than his vices and attitudes. He becomes a real character that we care about and we want to see him win. — PBM The Guest When Chris Evans decides to step down from the role of Captain America, British actor Dan Stevens could bulk up a little and step right in, if his performance in The Guest is any indication. Sure the British thing could be problematic, but c’mon! Watch him kick ass in The Guest and you’ll agree. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s extremely easy on the eyes. Um. Or so Dr. Girlfriend told me. Ahem. The Guest is writer/director team Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard‘s latest collaboration and I’m starting to think that there’s nothing these guys can’t do. Granted, I haven’t seen everything they’ve made, but I’ve seen A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next, their segments in V/H/S, V/H/S 2, and The ABCs of Death, and while I’ve dug them all, I think The Guest is now my favorite of the lot. The story starts simply enough as “David” (Stevens) introduces himself to the family of a dead soldier named Caleb and claims to not only have been his friend but to have been with him when he was killed. And while it seems that may be partially true, there was more to the story, as “David” was part of a special mental conditioning unit — basically brainwashed super soldiers — and promised to look after Caleb’s family. Which involves beating the crap out of some people and killing others. But it’s all for the greater good. At least that’s how “David” sees it. There’s a lot of great suspense in this one, with a few smaller-scale action set-pieces leading up to the finale, where things get turned up to 11. I dare you to watch this and not think Stevens could be Captain America. — PBM John Wick After watching John Wick, I took to Facebook and posted a single sentence as my review: John Wick, I love you. What? You want more than that? Okay, how about this. What happens when you break into the home of a retired assassin sometimes referred to as the Boogeyman, beat him with pipes, kill the dog his dead wife left him to help him grieve, and then steal his prized muscle car? You run. You hide. You hire a shit ton of other assassins to help protect you. But you can’t run. You can’t hide. And nobody can protect you. Shit, son, even your crime boss dad will eventually give you up. Because that’s how bad-ass John Wick is. John Wick is played by Keanu Reeves and the film is directed by the top stunt team in Hollywood, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Which means it is non-stop action and stunts that will boggle your mind and cause you to question whether or not Keanu is really FIFTY YEARS OLD. While I wouldn’t say there are a lot of surprises in the script, for first-time directors, Stahelski and Leitch craft an amazing piece of pure cinema. And Jonathan Sela’s breathtaking cinematography doesn’t hurt either. This is a New York that exists on a heightened scale. Everything is enhanced and just a little larger than life. This film offers a glimpse into a romanticized society of assassins that is built on respect, style, money, and murder. Plus lots of grappling MMA-style fighting, gun-fu, and even car-fu. If you don’t know what gun-fu or car-fu means, then you need to see this movie. — PBM Nightcrawler I wasn’t initially that interested in Nightcrawler. It was the first time in the director’s chair for Dan Gilroy and while I’d enjoyed The Fall (which he wrote), I wasn’t all that enthralled by the rest of this writing resume. Add to that my general indifference to Jake Gyllenhaal in anything that isn’t Donny Darko. And then there was the ad campaign which made the film feel like a Drive wanna-be, if not in story, in style. So I skipped it in the theaters. That was dumb. Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom as either severely on the spectrum or a complete sociopath. At times it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on behind his eyes other than intense calculations. His flat affect approach keeps the character just a little off-kilter, and none of the other characters — rival Bill Paxton, partner Riz Ahmed, or boss/”love-interest” Rene Russo — know quite what to make of him until it’s too late. Practically on a whim, Bloom decides he’s going to be a Nightcrawler — an independent cameraman, patrolling the night with a police scanner, trying to get video footage of accidents and crimes to sell to the local news channels. It seems innocent enough, despite Bloom’s off-putting personality, but before long his story of small business ownership begins taking darker and darker turns until finally he’s either going to self-destruct or blossom into success. Gyllenhaal makes this film. If it wasn’t for him and the way he just totally inhabits Bloom — in a similar manner to the way De Niro became Travis Bickle — the film might not work as well. Or maybe not at all. Instead, Nightcrawler became a dark and twisted fable of entrepreneurism. Hell, it’s almost inspiring. — PBM The Purge: Anarchy Until we finally get the Punisher movie we all deserve (and don’t have to settle for a supercut of all three actual Punisher movies), The Purge: Anarchy will do the trick and Frank Grillo will fit the bill. Sure, he’s gonna be Crossbones in the next Captain America movie, but he makes a helluva Punisher, too. The Purge: Anarchy is the sequel to The Purge and takes this near-future world where America has cut crime and civil unrest dramatically by initiating a one-night-a-year free-for-all where there are no laws. You can do anything you want to anyone you want (except for high-ranking government officials, of course — let’s not get carried away!), and there are no legal repercussions. But where The Purge kept us in a single location, playing with the home invasion topos, Anarchy takes us out on the streets and into the shit. Frank Grillo plays a character known only as Sergeant, and he’s a man on a mission: A mission to murder the guy who killed his daughter in a drunk driving incident and got away with it. But Frank’s not a bad guy and finds himself caught up in trying to help a few other people survive the night. Written and directed by James DeMonaco, The Purge: Anarchy is the sort of film John Carpenter would be doing if he still directed movies. What’s that? He kind of does? Not in this dojo. Fans of Escape from New York, The Punisher: War Zone, The Warriors, and films of that ilk should really give this one a shot if you haven’t already. Plus it features a special appearance by Michael Kenneth Williams as would-be revolutionary leader Carmelo Johns. He’s ready to take down the powers that be and end the Purge nights forever. Just not this time. Maybe next time? The next Purge film is due out in 2016! — PBM The Raid 2 2014 was full of some excellent action flicks but there is none better, in my opinion, than The Raid 2. I waited and waited in anticipation of this film for months after learning that it was being made, hoping for a local theater release. I hoped and prayed it would come here, even setting up a preemptive man-date with Paul for the premiere. Didn’t happen. Why does this area suck so much for indie and foreign releases???? So DVD it was! If you haven’t seen martial arts movies in a long time, they’ve come a long way. No longer do you hear the same whip-crack with every punch and kick, with terrible overdubbed voices to lips that may or may not have said what you just heard. Recently, martial arts movies have become full-on fighting masterpieces that can leave your jaw on the floor. And that’s exactly what The Raid 2 has accomplished. I wholeheartedly believe it could quite possibly be the greatest martial arts movie ever. Yeah, I said it. Ever. Now, I haven’t watched a ton of martial arts movies. So I can’t really state that as a fact. I’m saying I think, and you’ll need to make your own opinion on that. The choreography of the fighting is above and beyond anything I have ever seen. Every hit is brutal. Every bone crack. Every high kick and chest punching thud. Unreal. Quite possibly the biggest difference in the film from the first installment would have to be the videography. The scenes are just beautiful. You see several long range landscape shots where something is happening in the corner of your screen but you’re just absolutely taken with the scenery. If you love action, but haven’t seen The Raid 2, put it on the top of your queue and make it a priority. You’ll hopefully thank me later. — DB But wait! There’s more! Check back Monday for our final retrospective Top Ten list of 2014 films that break all the boundaries, transcend all the genres, and will most likely be showing up on more Oscar prediction lists than any of the films we’ve talked about so far. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Dignan *Donny Darko Between this list and a couple of the others I’ve noticed several films to put on my want to watch list. Unfortunately some of the more interesting entries in the horror list don’t seem to be showing up on my Pay per view. 🙁 Paul Brian McCoy Oops. I’ll fix that typo. Glad you’re digging the lists! Pingback: Top Ten Favorite 2014 Best of the Rest Films - Psycho Drive-In() George Big Bad Wolves and Cheap Thrills new to me – great, thanks. Also nice to see Dom Hemingway getting some love. I thought it was good stuff, and J-Law did a fine job. Unfortunately it wasn’t all that well received; I would have liked to see more of the character. Reminded me of Get Carter-era gangster enjoyment.