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.

The Theory Of Everything

 

In a star-making role, Eddie Redmayne brings a brilliant performance to the screen as nerdy genius Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. His portrayal is the reason to see this film.

The film has three plot elements: Hawking’s romance with Jane (Felicity Jones), his challenge due to physical issues and his work as a cosmologist. Because the brainy stuff is way over the heads of most of us, it gets less play. Because Hawking’s deteriorating condition is so heartbreaking and sad, even in brief scenes, it’s the love story that provides the real essence of the movie.

Hawking’s dogged pursuit of Jane starts the movie. It climaxes with an evening at a spring dance that provides one of the more truly romantic sequences seen in movies this year.

Following marriage, Hawking outlives initial prognosis that gave him just two more years of life. He and Jane try to maintain what normalcy they can. They have kids. His work leads him to teaching along with assembling his thoughts on the physical nature of being.

Jane’s fatigue leads her to join a church choir to relieve the stress of caring for her husband. (She is a religious woman; he cannot accept the possibility of God.) When she meets the choir director, Jonathon (Charlie Cox) it is obvious that they are going to hook up. But that comes after several years of a platonic friendship that includes Stephen.

When Hawking’s condition becomes more than Jane can handle, she brings in Elaine (Maxine Peake). Hawking’s affection grows for the new caretaker and he invites her to take care of him on his trip to America to promote his book A Brief History of Time.

Regarding Time and History, the film begins in summer 1963 (with Martha and the Vandellas’ Heat Wave playing), but director James Marsh does not provide good indicators of time passage along the way. I had to consult Wikipedia to find out that it was 1988 when the book was published.

Marsh makes up for it with a end sequence that recaps the story of Stephen and Jane, reminding the audience that despite his debilitating condition, he lived life to the fullest and managed to accomplish more that most of us able bodied folks. (At age 72, the real-life Hawking is still alive.) It’s an upbeat end that adds a good vibe to that established by Redmayne’s acting.