Wednesday, December 31, 2014


It’s called the entertainment industry for a reason, right?  I don’t have the stats to back it up, but I’m pretty sure that’s what 80 percent of people want when they spend their hard-earned dough on a night at the movies or a quiet evening at home with an on-deck copy of the latest Hollywood release.  Move us emotionally in some type of entertaining direction – expose us to laughter, drama, romance…something.  Just make sure our time and money are both well spent.

I could plug this list with art-house films to gain favor from some of my fellow critics; I could point out movies that are completely inaccessible to the masses.  Or, keeping things simple, I could lay out (in descending order for appropriate tension) my favorite ten of the year – ten movies that grabbed my attention and did what they’re meant to do.  Ten movies that I’ve willingly watched a second, third or fourth time and would happily watch again.

So you get a full sense of what worked for me this year, here are my top twenty that didn’t make my top ten (aka 11-30):

30) John Wick, 29) A Most Violent Year, 28) Annie, 27) 22 Jump Street, 26) X-Men: Days of Future Past, 25) The Fault in Our Stars, 24) The Drop, 23) Wild, 22) Selma, 21) The Guest, 20) Snowpiercer, 19) Top Five, 18) The Theory of Everything, 17) American Sniper, 16) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, 15) How to Train Your Dragon 2, 14) Begin Again, 13) The Lego Movie, 12) Locke and 11) Guardians of the Galaxy

The following are my favorite movies of the year – an accessible list of films that you should print, cut out and hot glue gun (or tape maybe) to your refrigerator for easy reference.

10. Fury
Bombastically brutal and claustrophobic, this visceral, boot-to-the-ass World War II experience wholeheartedly embraces the horrors – both physically and psychologically – of war.  It’s a tale of wartime brotherhood that’s haunting, gritty and raw.  The bottom line bonding may fall short of the far superior Saving Private Ryan, but it’s a thunderous and tough-to-forget addition to the 2014 cinematic slate.

9. Chef
Honest, breezy and engagingly energetic, this father/son food truck movie is one of the most easily recommendable movies of the year.  Seriously, to not enjoy this is to have no soul.  Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Sofia Vergara and Robert Downey Jr. serve up laughs-a-plenty.  It’s a hilarious, heartfelt and hunger-inducing delight!

8. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Immersing viewers in yet another uniquely stylish world, director Wes Anderson (Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom) delivers an ornately screwball tale that’s accessible to the masses – and does so with a quirky wink and graceful smile.  Elaborately wacky and teeming with depth, you can never help but notice how much vibrant love Anderson has for each and every one of the characters he puts up on the screen.  Frenetic heartfelt fun.

7. Noah
Mad Max meets Middle Earth in this primordially non-preachy interpretation of the famed Biblical story.  Ambitiously gritty and spiritually warped, director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) intriguingly meshes creationism and evolution, and explores one man’s grapple with his beliefs, his duty, his doubt and his free will.  It’s a film that had the balls to be bonkers and that’s what worked most for me…

6. Gone Girl
This devilishly wicked tale of modern marriage and the meddling media is another David Fincher masterpiece (along with Fight Club, Se7en, Zodiac and The Social Network).  It’s a gut punch of a film that fiendishly swoons and squirms viewers through a nightmare scenario as if told through the generically dreamlike pages of US magazine. Superb acting and direction give this yarn a charbroiled charm and sinister sense of humor that makes it the most weirdly perverse must-see date night movie of the year!

5. Whiplash
Ask me tomorrow and this brutally poignant and motivationally resonant minor masterpiece just may have moved up my chart into the top four.  It’s tale of a jazz student striving for greatness can be applied to anything – never settle, never stop and ‘good job’ are the two most harmful words in the English language.  If you want to be the greatest then strive for greatness.  Sometimes, though, the person pushing you the most can also be the wall in your way.   Its breakneck jazz personified.  You don’t have to love the music for the movie to work, just appreciate the harsh but timeless message within.

4. Edge of Tomorrow (Live. Die. Repeat.)
An electrifying and exhilarating blockbuster experience, this Groundhog Day meets The Matrix meets Starship Troopers meets Source Code meets Independence Day mash-up somehow managed to beat with a gung-ho heart all its own…  It’s that rare popcorn action flick that effectively packs a bit of brain power in with the gun play. Workhorse efforts from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt keep the action fresh, fun, and in your face. 

3. Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the best performances in recent memory in this slick, seedy and meticulously noir-ish drama/action/comedy/thriller hybrid.  Suspensefully riveting, it’s a fiendishly fun and pulse-poundingly rich ride through the late night, morally bankrupt streets of Los Angeles.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Torn between freedom and fear, Marvel’s best superhero flick to date deftly balances adrenalized fight sequences and a We-the-People, go-go America mindset with a seemingly real world, protect-the-country-at-all-costs political climate.  Chris Evans adds a slew of depth to the Boy Scout in blue in this sharp and suspenseful Jason Bourne-like ride.  It’s explosively action-packed, morally charged, and grounded in all sorts of governmental goonery.

1. Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Moving at the speed and rhythm of jazz – this riff-like search for relevancy at the cost of celebrity is playfully bizarre, dazzlingly layered, hilariously energetic and elegantly schizophrenic.  A career defining performance from Michael Keaton (plus wildly brilliant turns from Edward Norton and Emma Stone) makes this whirligig examination of artistic integrity, self realization and the ongoing battle between high art and box office gold, one of the richest films in recent history.  For the right viewer, Birdman soars.

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