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Monday, December 22, 2014

Best and Worst Movies Of The Year

I don't see every movie that comes out, and I usually stay away from big special effects movies or anything in the fantasy-fiction realm (e.g. "The Hobbit," "Guardians Of The Galaxy"), but here the best and worst movies I saw in 2014, in no particular order:

Best Movies Of The Year
"Gone Girl." A brilliant adaptation of the book by director David Fincher, with an amazing performance by Rosamund Pike and a reminder that Ben Affleck can give a very solid performance.

"Obvious Child." Gillian Robespierre's comedy about a woman who decides to get an abortion after finding herself pregnant following a one-night stand. Jenny Slate is terrific as the lead.

"Nightcrawler." Dan Gilroy directs Jake Gyllenhaal to his best performance as a sleazy guy who discovers the business of shooting gruesome crime footage late at night and selling it to a local TV news director (played by Gilroy's wife, Rene Russo).

"Top Five." Chris Rock wrote, directed, and stars in the funniest movie of the year, with a slew of comedians in supporting roles and the perfect co-star in Rosario Dawson. I hope he's found his screen voice, rather than his previous lightweight stuff like "I Think I Love My Wife" and "Head of State."

"Whiplash." J.K. Simmons will be nominated for his performance as the toughest music teacher you've ever seen, who mentally abuses a young drummer (Miles Teller) trying to improve his skills at the country's best music school. In Simmons' character, writer/director Damien Chazelle has proven that great villains aren't just the bad guys in superhero movies.

"Birdman." Alejandro Innaritu directed the story of an actor slowly going mad as if it were all one long take, and it's startling to watch. Moreover, he has the best ensemble cast of the year in Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Amy Ryan. The first intense face-to-face scene with Keaton and Norton should be the entry for both of them for an Oscar.

"The Trip To Italy." The second-funniest movie of the year is this sequel in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel around Italy, dining in fine restaurants while talking about life and everything else that occurs to them, which usually involves impressions of Michael Caine and others. I can't wait to see their next trip.

"Citizenfour." Laura Poitras' coverage of the early days of the Edward Snowden story, as he reveals the extent of the NSA's surveillance on Americans and the rest of the world to journalist Glenn Greenwald, is the most important documentary of the year.

"Tim's Vermeer." Inventor Tim Jenison becomes obsessed with figuring out how the Dutch painter Vermeer was able to recreate reality so well in his paintings. His friend Penn Jillette realized this would make a good movie, and Penn's partner Teller directs it to perfection.

"Grand Budapest Hotel." I've never liked anything else Wes Anderson has done, but this story of a concierge (Ralph Fiennes) in a big hotel, surrounded by odd patrons and co-workers, is a feast for the eyes and mind.

Honorable Mention:
"Boyhood." Richard Linklater deserves praise for shooting his movie over a 12-year period with the same cast (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane), but in the end, the plot isn't as clever as the device.

"The Theory of Everything." Eddie Redmayne's performance as Stephen Hawking, from his days as a healthy and brilliant young man through his debilitating fight with ALS is nothing short of remarkable, with nice supporting work by Felicity Jones as Jane, his wife.

"Life Itself." Steve James's documentary about the late Roger Ebert reveals that he was much more than just a movie reviewer.

Worst Movies Of The Year
"3 Days To Kill"
"A Million Ways To Die In The West"
"Foxcatcher"
"Interstellar"
"Labor Day"
"Lucy"
"The Monuments Men"
"Sex Tape"