Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Most (and Least) Favorite Movies of 2014

Dear George,
Katja, Donna, and I went to the movies most Friday nights in 2014 and saw a lot of the highly rated movies of the year, plus a few that weren’t widely acclaimed by the critics.  Below are my favorite ten, a quick listing of those in the middle, and my ten least favorites of the movies we saw.  Since movie ratings are necessarily subjective, I’ve also included an appendix which reports the top fifteen 2014 movies based on viewer ratings on the Internet Movie Data-base.

1. Frank.  Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson  A young wanna-be musician discovers he's bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious Frank.  I loved this movie, identified with the central character, was enamored of Frank and the band, and was intrigued to find it was inspired by real events.  Rotten Tomatoes: 91%; Blog: A.

2. Foxcatcher.  Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo.  Mark and Dave Schulz, the greatest Olympic wrestling champion brother team, joins John DuPont and Team Foxcatcher to train for the 1988 games in Seoul, a complicated union that leads to Dave’s murder.  Based on an amazingtrue story, the lead’s character portrayals are impeccable, and the movie generates psychological puzzles which stick with you for days.  Rotten Tomatoes: 86%; Blog: A.

3. Into the Woods.  Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt.  A witch tasks a childless baker and his wife with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse on their family tree.  Compelling music and performances, a script full of mysteries, and the magical scope of movie-making results in one of the year’s best.  Rotten Tomatoes: 72%; Blog: A-.  

4. The Imitation Game.  Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley.  English mathematician Alan Turing helps crack the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II.   A heroic and ultimately tragic story; look for Cumberland at Oscar time.  Rotten Tomatoes: 89%; Blog: A-.  

5. Gone Girl.  Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike.   With his wife's disappearance, a man sees the spotlight turned on him when it's suspected that he may be guilty.  Lots of Hitchcockian twists and turns, along with the most cold-blooded villainess of the year.  Rotten Tomatoes: 86%; Blog: A-. 

6. Nightcrawler.  Jake Gyllenhaal, Renee Russo.  Lou Bloom muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, becoming the star of his own story.  A powerhouse, unsettling  critique of the TV news world with Oscar worthy performances by the stars.  Rotten Tomathoes: 94%; Blog: A-. 

7. Birdman.  Michael Keaton, Edward Norton.  A washed-up actor who once played a superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play to reclaim his past glory.   Often surreal and puzzling, Birdman offers an insider’s visit to the theater and excellent portrayals by its stars.  Rotten Tomatoes: 93%; Blog: A-.

8. Ida.  Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska.  A young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland discovers a dark family secret dating back to the Nazi occupation.  Powerful, disturbing, engaging; the black-and-white cinematography is almost too good.  Rotten Tomatoes: 94%; Blog: A-.

9. The Immigrant.  Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner.   On the mean streets of NYC, Ewa falls prey to a charming but wicked man who forces her into prostitution.  Heavy and dream-like, you can’t help but identify with Ewa’s torment.  Rotten Tomatoes: 83%; Blog: A-. 

10. Pride.  Bill Nighy, Andrew Scott.  U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy national strike in 1984.  A powerful, heartwarming story that keeps the viewer teary-eyed from start to finish.  Rotten Tomatoes: 93%; Blog:  A-. 

Next Best:

11. Jersey Boys.  John Lloyd Young (A-); 12. Get On Up.  Chadwick Boseman (A-); 13. The German Doctor.  Natalia Oreiro (A-); 14. The November Man.   Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey (B+); 15. A Most Wanted Man.  Philip Seymour Hoffman (B+); 16. Obvious Child.  Jenny Slate (B+); 17. Magic in the Moonlight.  Colin Firth (B); 18. A Walk Among the Tombstones.  Liam Neeson (B+); 19. Boyhood.  Patricia Arquette (B+); 20. Lucy.  Scarlett Johansson (B+); 21. The Lunchbox.  Irrfan Khan (B+); 22. Only Lovers Left Alive.  Tom Hiddleston (B+); 23. Finding Vivian Maier.  Vivian Maier (B+); 24. Belle.  Gubu Mbatha-Raw (B+); 25. Begin Again.  Keira Knightley (B); 26: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.  Martin Freeman (B-);  27. Interstellar.  Matthew McConaughey (B-); 28. The Railway Man.  Nicole Kidman (B-); 29. Her.  Joaquin Phoenix (B-); 30. Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Chris Evans (B-); 31. Gloria.  Paulina Garcia (B-); 32. The Hundred-Foot Journey.  Helen Mirren (B-); 33. X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Hugh Jackman (B-); 34. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  Jason Clarke (B-); 35. Chef.  Jon Favreau (B-); 36. Wild.  Reese Witherspoon (B-); 37. Diplomacy (Diplomatie).  Andre Dussollier (B-); 38. The Trip to Italy.  Steve Coogan (B-); 39. Draft Day.  Kevin Costner (C+).

Ten Least Favorite:

40. The Equalizer.  Denzel Washington.  An ultra-violent treatment of a mysterious man who helps a young prostitute under the control of Russian gangsters. Rotten Tomatoes: 61%; Blog: C+.   
41. The Monuments Men.  George Clooney.  A historically based but flat and action-free story about a World War II platoon rescue of art masterpieces from the Nazis.  Rotten Tomatoes: 41%; Blog: C+. 

42. Maleficent.  Angelina Jolie.  A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess an a puzzling story line. Rotten Tomatoes: 55%; Blog: C.
43. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  Chris Pine.   A covert CIA analyst uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack in a stock and uninvolving spy thriller. Rotten Tomatoes: 67%; Blog: C.

44. Big Eyes.  Amy Adams.  A quite amazing story about Walter Keane claiming credit for his wife’s art work, but I found a plot based on a wimpy artist and her sleazy husband uninspiring and mostly unpleasant.  Rotten Tomatoes: 71%; Blog: C.

45. Dear White People.  Kyle Gallner.  Though critics acclaimed this portrayal of black students at an Ivy League college, I found it pretty disappointing, with an annoying sound track (“white elevator music”?) and not much better of a production.  Rotten Tomatoes: 91%; Blog: C.

46. May in the Summer.  Cherien Dabis. A slow, meandering film about family dysfunction and personal strivings of a Jordanian woman who returns home for her wedding.  Rotten Tomatoes: 63%; Blog: C.

47. Noah.  Russell Crowe.  The flood annilhilates the world in a silly Biblical epic with lots of violence and destruction of the masses.  Rotten Tomatoes: 74%; Blog: C-.

48. The Invisible Woman.  Ralph Fiennes. A slow, boring, and dismal costume romance about Charles Dickens and his secret lover, better targeted for BBC TV where we would expect it to drag along.  Rotten Tomatoes: 76%; Blog: C-.

49. Non-Stop.  Liam Neeson.  A goofy, mindless story about a U.S. Air Marshal on a transatlantic flight who receives text messages demanding $150 million or a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes. Rotten Tomatoes: 59%; Blog: D.

APPENDIX:  IMDb List of Top Movies in 2014: 

Since my list is necessarily idiosyncratic, I've added here a list based on far more extensive audience ratings on the Internet Movie Data-base (IMDb) of English-language feature films released in 2014.   This list only includes films which received 5,000 or more votes on IMDb, and I've dropped two animated children's movies from the list.  The number in parentheses below is the IMDb score on a 10-point scale.  The list was compiled and posted on Dec. 17, 2014, by P. Sciretta at (""IMDb's Highest Rated Movies of 2014"): #15. Fury (7.9);  #14. Edge of Tomorrow (8.0); 13. The Fault in Our Stars (8.0); 12. Pride (8.1); 11. Nightcrawler (8.1); 10. The Grand Budapest Hotel (8.2); 9. X-Men: Days of Future Past (8.2); 8. Guardians of the Galaxy (8.3); 7.  The Hobbit: The Battle of the FiveArmies (8.2); 6. The Imitation Game (8.4); (5) Gone Girl (8.4); 4. Boyhood (8.4); 3. Whiplash (8.7); 2. Birdman (8.7); 1. Interstellar (8.9).

G-mail Comments
-David W (1-4-15):  once again your list is not my list-perhaps its your memory since  most of the  top ten you mention were released in the last few months- good lord you liked foxcatcher that much  even a good acting job and a fake nose could'nt pull that thing off-anyway i still love your blog which is a  hellof a lot more fun and interesting than most of your top choices or for that matter most things out there in the there...... 

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