The 10 Best Films of 2014

Birdman red Again this year, the 3 things that make a film great—a fresh story, indelible characters and clever story telling—have come together beautifully in several movies. Beyond those on my “Best Of” list are a few that simply made me feel good (which signifies a different kind of greatness). The Best of 2014:

  1. Birdman. Creativity unleashed. A fantastic story with a memorable lead character who elicits a variety of responses from his incredibly strong cast as well as from audience members. And what an ending! Excellent use of the film medium.
  2. Boyhood. Richard Linklater’s idea of telling the story of a young man growing up, using the same actor from start to finish, was risky. So many things could have gone wrong, but, based on what is on the screen, they mostly went right. Ellar Coltrane was a perfect choice for the lead role.
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s masterpiece is zany, madcap, silly fun. Anderson’s attention to little details and inspired performances from a large cast of stars make this his best yet.
  4. Whiplash. The concept doesn’t sound that exciting: a music instructor who’s an abusive bully meets up with a cocky young drummer. But the story, the music and the over-the-top character that J.K. Simmons inhabits combine for a movie that sizzles.
  5. The Lego Movie. Filled with fun and surprises. This film doesn’t just use Lego pieces as characters, it captures the way kids use Legos. The live action postscript was a beautiful touch.
  6. Snowpiercer. Praise begins with love for the French guys who did the graphic novel. And to the publisher who chose to sell the book in Korea, where the director/co-writer discovered it. Strong multinational cast. Dystopian class warfare at its best.
  7. Gone Girl. Everything works here. Acting, directing, scriptwriting. The most meaningful soundtrack of the year. Gone Girl satisfies on so many levels. Thanks to (most) everybody who resisted spoiling.
  8. The Theory of Everything. A British genius tries to channel his immense brilliance into something useful, while dealing with a challenge that could torpedo his efforts. For Stephen Hawking, it’s ALS. Multiple Oscar noms on the way for this one.
  9. The Imitation Game. A British genius tries to channel his immense brilliance into something useful, while dealing with a challenge that could torpedo his efforts. For Alan Turing, it’s closeted homosexuality—a crime in the UK in the 40s. Cumberbatch shows again why he’s the “go to” guy for so many movie makers.
  10. Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal is, as they say, a revelation as a free-lance videographer who crawls throughout the underbelly of L.A. for sleazy TV news footage. His story is well-crafted and his performance is maybe his finest ever.

My “feel good” list for 2014:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy. Characters, soundtrack, story, effects—wow!
  2. Chef. Beautiful food, wonderful music. And it gets social media right. Thank you, Jon Favreau!
  3. Big Hero 6. Appealed to my inner 12-year-old boy. I loved lovable robot Baymax and the film’s cool blending of U.S. and Japanese culture.
  4. St. Vincent. Bill Murray is loathsome, pathetic, hilarious, generous and sweet all in one movie. Good supporting cast, especially the kid.
  5. Get On Up. The James Brown biopic may have been too raw to be a big hit but it made me feel good. (I knew that it would.)
  6. Life Itself. The talented Mr. Ebert had a wonderful life.
  7. Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. I met Glen Campbell and am a longtime fan. His good humor in dealing with Alzheimer’s plus the love shown by all his family was what made me feel good.
  8. Edge Of Tomorrow. The structure of this movie, similar to Groundhog Day, could’ve come off as dumb. Happily, it’s clever and fun.
  9. Draft Day. As an NFL fan, I enjoyed the football parts of the movie. The flyover shots of the stadiums were beautiful.
  10. Into The Woods. Sondheim songs and a mighty cast. A pure delight.

Big Hero 6

 

What a cool movie! If I were a 12-year-old kid, the new animated film Big Hero 6 could easily become an all-time favorite!

Big Hero 6 has robots, action, sadness and joy. And it sets the table for more adventures for this sextet (who don’t really refer to themselves Big Hero 6 until the end of the movie).

Big Hero 6 presents a clever blend of America and Japan. It’s set in San Fransokyo, a city with cable cars and steep hills and also has cherry blossom trees. The lead character is Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter), a teenager with a Japanese name but no discernable Japanese features. An African-American character has the nickname Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans, Jr.).

The movie shows influences from films of the anime genre, but it doesn’t have the look of typical Japanese anime. And, in this first year without an official Pixar release in 2 decades, Big Hero 6 fills the gap nicely. (Like 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6 is made under the Disney Animation nameplate, but has that Pixar look and feel.)

Hiro is a boy genius. Already done with high school, he spends his time building robots. Big Hero 6 opens with robots doing battle, a la Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Ems. When Hiro’s brother shows him around the “nerd school” he attends, Hiro applies. To gain admission, he builds microbots which, when performing together, can do amazing things.

When tragedy strikes his family and the “nerd school” and Hiro’s bots disappear, he engages 4 of his brother’s friends and an amazing inflatable robot named Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). Baymax provides many funny moments along with his heroics. Baymax is designed to diagnose medical issues in humans, but is quickly shown to have greater abilities.

An evil villain gains control of the microbots and, with his commands, is able to move them in ways that call to mind certain scenes in various Japanese animes. The pursuit of the villain and the resolution of the adventure are not quite as entertaining as the film’s beginning—especially that first visit to “nerd school.” But, overall, Big Hero 6 provides great fun and cool robots.

In case you’re unaware, Big Hero 6 is adapted from a Marvel comic book series, so stick around for a special coda after the credits.