My Five Favorite Films of 2014
With Oscar season upon us, here are five fun flicks from the past year.
I see a lot of movies in the theater. Apart from the rare occasions when I find myself stuck in something with Adam Sandler’s name on the marquee, it remains the same magical experience it was when I was a little kid going to see Hook or Home Alone.
In recent years, I have been fortunate enough to receive compensation (in the form of U.S. currency) in exchange for my reflections on new-or-recently-released movies. But the fact that someone pays me to review these movies is only a happy coincidence that serves to feed my passion for the cinematic arts. No matter how big home television screens may get, I almost always prefer to see feature films in a darkened theater with other human beings (and, yes, soda-stained floors).
This was a strong year in film. I saw a number of interesting-to-outstanding stories on the silver screen. While The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences may dominate the cultural conversation when it comes to the movies you are supposed to remember, I offer to you, the reader, a list of five films that moved my needle more than any others in 2014.
(Note: These are in no particular order.)
1. Fury (Sony Pictures)
This World War II drama is, in my opinion, an instant classic of the genre. Set in the final months of the greatest conflict in human history, Fury follows the harrowing journey of a hardened, war-weary Sherman tank crew as they attempt to survive the madness while faithfully accomplishing the near-impossible battlefield assignments they continue to receive.
Brad Pitt (Wardaddy) is solid as the leader of this motley band of brothers, and Shia LaBeouf delivers a memorable performance as the group’s God-fearing moral compass. Fury is rated a strong R for violence and language. It is not for kids. And if war films are not your thing, do not waste your time. But for everyone else: enjoy!
2. Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney)
To say that comic book movies have worn our their welcome in my home is to put it mildly. But then along came Guardians of the Galaxy to save the genre from itself! Guardians is funny. Guardians is irreverent. Guardians is entertaining from start to finish. Guardians is confusing and has plot-holes the size of Vin Diesel’s pythons, but somehow the hodgepodge stew tastes delicious by the time you are ready to eat (and leaves you wanting more).
Chris Pratt is lovable, Bradley Cooper voices the CGI-ed talking raccoon, and 80s-era pop-music playlists are indulged in outer space. What more do you people want? It is PG-13 for violence and some language.
3. Edge of Tomorrow (Warner Bros)
I am not afraid to judge books by their covers if those books happen to be written by someone who has a recent track-record of starring in crummy movies. Tom Cruise has been the “comic book movie” go-to actor in recent years, but over-exposure and a saturated market have led to mailed-in performances that only make money because of a needlessly loyal fan-base.
I went out of my way to avoid Edge of Tomorrow the first few weeks of its release last summer, but after enough of my trusted cinematic resources assured me that it was safe to go swimming in the Waters of Cruise once more, I had to see for myself. And what I saw was one of the more interesting, well-crafted, exciting action movies in recent memory. Cruise plays a desk-jockey military public relations officer who is forced into front-line combat against alien invaders.
A set of very specific circumstances lead him to discover that, temporarily, his death on the battlefield merely re-boots him back to the beginning of that same D-Day. Before these circumstances change, he must discover a way to defeat the aliens and redeem his damnable moral flaws. This is that rare film that competently blends action with philosophical (even metaphysical) inquiry through the narrative and its complex characters. Tom Cruise delivers the goods in this one.
4. The LEGO Movie (Warner Bros)
I know that many “kids movies” are said to be “just as much for parents,” but The LEGO Movie truly is a film for children of all ages. You will laugh. You will cry. You will spontaneously begin to sing “Everything Is Awesome” when you (and your loved ones or co-workers) least expect it.
There are life lessons, smart social commentary and an endless flurry of notable voice cameos from some of Hollywood’s biggest (and funniest) stars. Chris Pratt and Will Ferrell head an all-star cast that does just about everything right in this visually stunning piece of art. The fact that this film was not nominated for a Best Picture award at the Oscars is a crime. Now watch these funny Batman (Will Arnett) clips from The LEGO Movie!
5. Chef (Open Road)
In recent years, Jon Favreau is best known as the director of the first two Iron Man installments and the Christmas classic Elf. But for many, he will always be the neurotic Mikey from the 90s cult comedy Swingers. With his latest effort, Chef, Favreau returns to the low-budget, full-of-heart romantic comedy that will leave you salivating at the delicious food being prepared and reaching for the Kleenex because of the sentimental (without being cheesy) father-and-son redemption tale that drives this thoroughly entertaining picture. One of my favorite things about Chef is the thoughtful way Favreau incorporates our culture’s obsession with social media, and the ways people can use it as a force for good in their lives and careers. Chef is rated R for language, but this isn’t a crude, raunchy flick. It makes for a great date night movie from Redbox!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few “Honorable Mention” films before signing off. There were a lot of good movies this year!
- Interstellar (Paramount) — Christopher Nolan’s marathon-of-a-film study of time, space, and the love between a father and his little girl. For you C.S. Lewis fans out there who saw this movie, how was that water planet not named Perelandra?!?!
- American Sniper (Warner Bros) — It was tough to keep this one out of the Top Five above. And maybe it should be included. All I know is that Sniper is NOT a film for kids or those who do not do well with intense military violence. But it is a powerful story and one that is well worth your time (and money). I don’t know if “enjoy” is the term I would use to describe the experience of seeing this movie, but you will be moved and you won’t forget what you saw anytime soon. Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood nailed this one.
- The Drop (Fox Searchlight) — Tom Hardy is scary-good in this movie. James Gandolfini shines in his final on-screen role. And the audience is treated to an intense crime drama that stars a Pitbull puppy named Rocco. Rated R for language and some violence, The Drop is an underrated gem from this past fall that will not disappoint.