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.
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Edge of Tomorrow

You don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy the new Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow. And while the story features a man living the same day over and over, this film is very different from Groundhog Day.

Edge of Tomorrow, which opens on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, centers on a military invasion on a beach in France. The enemy this time (in the not too distant future) is a group of alien creatures who have invaded earth. They’re called “Mimics.” (They look like giant metallic spiders.)

William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an Army major who finds himself thrown into a combat unit stationed in London at Heathrow. The next day he hits the beach to attack the aliens. He’s fitted with cool automatic weapons strapped onto each arm. He is killed. And, so, we hit the reset button.

He goes back to the day before and his arrival at Heathrow. He keeps living the battle over and over again, gaining greater success with each replay, but ultimately dying each time.

With help from Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a buff special forces soldier who has enjoyed some success against the Mimics, Cage gains insight and physical skill. She introduces him to Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor), a mad scientist type, who concludes that to stop the alien menace the “Omega” must be defeated.

Turns out that the Omega is at the Louvre in Paris. And underwater to boot! The journey to Paris is a long and arduous one for Cage and Rita, but, after numerous delays and side trips, they get there for the climactic battle.

Edge of Tomorrow is a fun, futuristic sci-fi action adventure. This is my favorite non-Mission Impossible Cruise movie since 2002’s Minority Report. Like many films of this genre, there are some WTF moments, but the Live, Die, Repeat structure works better on film than it sounds on paper. Gamers who’ve had characters die, only to instantly regenerate, will appreciate the way this film works.

Surprisingly, while there’s smoldering sexual tension between Cage and Rita, they never get beyond a single passionate kiss. One might’ve imagined their waking up together at film’s end, but the film’s end goes another way.

Tom Cruise is a genuine movie star and he carries Edge of Tomorrow with his talent and his teeth. Well done, Tom.