If I were to compare the year in movies to a sickly animal, I would call 2014 a legless kitten. You’re sad that there’s not more to love, but what there is too love is so damn cute you can’t help but smile. Sure, it might be more fun to dissect the worst movies of 2014 (“Ride Along”, “I, Frankenstein”, “Robocop”, “Anchorman 2”, “Noah,” and “Divergent”, to name a handful), but I would like to provide a positive take on movies before the calendar turns over. I know, I’m as freaked out by this as anyone!
Anyway, here are my top ten films of 2014*:
1) GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – Wes Anderson has lost so much currency/credibility with me over the years. It’s become a problem. Ever since “The Royal Tenenbaums”, his has been a slow downward spiral into ho-hum land. With “Grand Budapest Hotel,” I forgive the director his mortal sins (“Life Aquatic” and “Darjeeling”). Fiennes is brilliant. Best performance of the year, hands down. The rest of the cast is quirky, if not a tad much at times. The dialogue is perfect, delivery even better. It’s a visual treat—half cartoon, half stop-motion, half real-time. Yes, the damn thing is 1½ movies rolled into one. If you didn’t like this film, there’s a good chance that you’re brain dead. That’s not meant as an insult, but rather a way of telling you that you’re both wrong and dead to me.
2) CHEF – It feels strange to give a small independent film about a chef and his food truck such praise. No matter how hard I try to take “Chef” down a notch or six, however, I find myself falling in love with the sappy, sweet and funny story all over again. Jon Favreau is his usual Jon Favreau self—believable and sturdy. The real surprise, however, is in the performances of the side players (Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert Downey, Jr.). Nobody steals the show from the story of a father and son, a man and his passion, a sandwich and my stomach. It has just enough humor to go with the sweetness. You can’t help but leave the theater feeling like you’re ready to chase your dreams. Then, some fucker honks his horn at you while you’re letting your car warm up in the theater parking lot and you forget all about that stuff and flick him off. Or something like that.
3) FILTH – James McAvoy, James McAvoy, James McAvoy. You’re too short to be a believable action star (“Wanted”). Your hair is too fluffy to believe it would ever fall out (“X-men”). Your voice is too silky smooth to ever believe you could be a garden gnome (“Gnomeo and Juliet”). All that aside, you turned in one of the best performances of the year as Bruce Robertson in “Filth.” Not a feel-good film in any way, shape or form, this is one of those films that requires a post-viewing shower. It’s crude, psychotic and has little redeeming value. Even so, McAvoy’s performance leaves an indelible, slightly moldy mark on your brain. I laughed, I wretched, I grimaced. Then, I remembered why I loved “Trainspotting” so damn much.
4) EDGE OF TOMORROW – Scientology is quite funny in its appearance, but ultimately disappointing in its delivery. It has all of the wackiness of a world-class cult, but none of the poisoned Kool-Aid. That said, Tom Cruise is welcome to worship at the altar of whatever alien-schtooping prophet he wants to if he keeps making fun movies. “Edge of Tomorrow” falls into that category. It’s fucking fun! In hindsight, the originality of the plot isn’t quite as off the charts as I first thought. Still, it treats a story about world-saving do-overs with equal parts originality, humor, and kick-ass action visuals. Emily Blunt balancing on one quasi-muscly arm continues to renew my faith in love and sex appeal, and if I don’t get one of those half-robot fighting suits for my birthday, I’m calling it quits. If you are able to let yourself forget Cruise is a weiner—difficult, I agree—you will have fun with this one.
5) BIRDMAN – The first time I watched soccer on TV, I remember wondering how anyone could watch that ballet of shit for more than an hour or two without wanting to cut their wrists. It makes no sense, it’s filled with actors, and nothing really happens. This is not all that different a feeling than what I felt after watching “Birdman.” I left the theater confused as to why I loved it. At the same time, I told myself that I never needed to see it again. I can’t explain it, but loved this film, whilst also kinda wishing it didn’t exist. It does have its easily grasped high points. The way this film was shot—as if all in one long rolling take—is brilliant, and you can’t help but get a taste of why actors have such a tortured love affair with Broadway. Keaton and Norton are stellar, and even Zach Galifianakis is good. I can’t lie, this is a mind-fuck of a film. It won’t leave you wanting more, and it’s every bit as grimy as the whitey tighties Keaton walks around in, but it is too damn strange not to love.
6) THE IMITATION GAME – A lesser-known chapter in WWII history for most, the complex code-breaking work at Bletchley Park makes for a far better film than I had imagined it could. Much of that interest, however, is in thanks to an incredible performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. Cumberbatch’s performance as the socially inept, purposefully secretive and utterly brilliant mathematician is Oscar worthy. The supporting cast—particularly Dance, Strong and Goode—is wonderful, and the story is well told. It is both inspiring and heartbreaking.
7) JOHN WICK – Praising Keanu Reeves never comes easy. His skill as an actor is similar to my skill as a lover – lots of monotone uttering, only one facial expression, and a better than average chance that you’ll be confused at the end. With “John Wick,” however, the more successful half of the Bill and Ted combo latched himself onto an extremely entertaining—if not obscenely violent—action flick. It’s a visual killer that never stops moving until the credits roll. No parlor tricks, just great camera work, snippets of wit, and loads of inventive ways to kill foolhardy Russian mob henchmen. I left the theater feeling that Keanu may have finally figured it out. Then I remembered “47 Ronin” and I promptly died inside a little.Read more…
8) FURY – Yeah, the climax of this film is about as easy to believe as me telling you that I invented Taylor Swift in a lab using nothing but egg whites and the bristles from a toilet brush. If you’re able to suspend disbelief for those final 20-30 minutes, you might just find a pretty amazing film underneath it all. For every bit of factual dalliance, there are two bits of faithfulness to detail. There are two heart-stopping tank battles that literally had me at the edge of my seat. Granted, there are a couple of hammy performances, but they are easily masked by a couple of wonderful performances. It’s a dank war picture, showing the ugliness of the war in its final months. Comparing it to “Saving Private Ryan,” while understandable, is not fair. It was never meant to be that film. Instead, it was meant to be ugly and brutal, providing blunt-force trauma to your preconceived notions of heroism and brotherhood in war.
9) ST. VINCENT – Bill Murray is “St. Vincent.” He’s funny, unhealthy, and crude with a soft center hidden under the dusty surface. He’s a one-liner guide to a life not quite realized, complete with cigarettes, booze and bad advice for adolescents. I wasn’t blown away by the supporting cast, but Murray carries this one on his own. You’ll sense there’s a sweetness to this film, but will soon give up hope that it will ever show, only to be whacked by it towards the end.
10) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – Eye candy. This damn thing is eye candy. Oh, and it just so happens to have some pretty funny performances to go along with all of the CGI and rock-em, sock-em action. Chris Pratt earns his pay, and even Bradley Cooper’s overdone voice work doesn’t ruin things. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the overall plot is all about—something about an orb than can destroy a planet—but the color splashed across the screen still resonates in my brain. It was worth seeing on the big screen for that reason alone. Think “Pacific Rim” with better performances. It feels like a one-off movie to me, which is why they will immediately contract the cast for 16 more sequels.
HONORABLE MENTION: “The Rover”, The Railway Man”, “The Equalizer”, “Lone Survivor” and “The Drop.”
*This list only includes films that were seen on the big screen. Documentaries, indies and other films viewed on DVD did not make the list.