The 2014 movie year began with the pretty-good, refreshingly different “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” and ended with Tim Burton’s fine return to character drama, “Big Eyes.” In between, there were a handful of great movies and lots of clutter. Being a film buff is no different than loving great literature or music: the popular stuff is occasionally great but mostly bad, while the best movies are the ones you have to seek out and dig for. Here’s a quick rundown of the finest I saw, a few gems and lumps of coal that stood out and the bad ones worthy of mentioning one more time.
Ten Best of 2014
- The Better Angels– A hidden gem, little seen but gorgeous and emotionally resonant. The story of young Abraham Lincoln is a perfect blend of historical drama and cinema as poetic expression. It seems few have heard of this and many missed it in theaters. It’s out on DVD/blu-ray in March. Don’t miss out on this truly unique, affecting and spellbinding work, my favorite film discovery of 2014, Debut writer/director A.J. Edwards’ film inspired and moved me more than any other this year.
- Boyhood– I was sorry to see Richard Linklater’s one-of-a-kind drama end.
- American Sniper– Another masterpiece from Mr. Eastwood. Bradley Cooper’s acting milestone.
- Interstellar– Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic aims big, shoots for the moon and, yes, takes us to infinity… and beyond.
- Gone Girl– David Fincher’s wicked game of a thriller is the antidote to decades of dreadful rom-coms.
- Jodorowsky’s Dune– A dream come true of a documentary, and a must for sci-fi film lovers.
- Blue Ruin– This perfectly nasty, unpredictable neo-noir thriller that plays like early Coens or Tarantino.
- Ida– Deceptively quiet, this devastating drama from Poland overflows with shocking surprises.
- Maleficent– Few “event” movies take this many risks and have a richness of vision and character.
- The One I Love– A weird, eerie twist on modern love stories, it stings as much as “Gone Girl.”
Ten Worst of 2014
- God’s Not Dead – No, God isn’t dead but I wish I could bury this movie alive. Suspension of disbelief is a requirement for most filmgoers, but I couldn’t believe that an atheist college professor would halt his course schedule and give an earnest new student a days-long platform to prove God exists. I couldn’t believe that the filmmakers would cast Kevin Sorbo as the teacher, or the shamelessly emotional, entirely unconvincing stance the teen (and the movie) take in declaring God’s existence. I couldn’t believe that the Newsboys concert climax, arguably the film’s most shameless promo or how legalistic the film’s stance on salvation and faith is. Finally, I flat out can’t believe that a movie this wretched grossed $60 million at the box office. Audiences who want to see movies reflecting their faith deserve great filmmaking, storytelling and acting. “God’s Not Dead” has none of those things.
- Transformers: Age of Extinction – Movies based on toys shouldn’t be so punishing to sit through.
- The Fault in Our Stars – It’s bad enough a young girl’s suffering from cancer was turned into a sappy teen fantasy. What I can’t forgive is the scene where she struggles to climb a flight of stairs…at the Anne Frank Museum. Justin Bieber’s recent, infamous visit to the same location was far less shameless.
- No Good Deed – This ugly home invasion thriller put two gifted, attractive actors, Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson, in a vehicle that didn’t deserve them. The twist ending was a howler even M. Night Shyamalan would have tossed.
- I, Frankenstein – Every year, there are dozens of disposable, CGI-heavy “epics” that introduce piles of mythology, exposition and “rules” for the world it portrays and, above all, sets up a sequel-ready franchise. This dog wasn’t even as good as an “Underworld” sequel.
- Endless Love – The original was a turkey but at least it had guts and a truly bold story. The watered down remake wants to be “The Notebook” but isn’t even on par with “Nights in Rodanthe.”
- A Million Ways to Die in the West – The year’s biggest vanity project, in which star/director/writer Seth MacFarlane put himself front and center of every scene of his bizarre, unfunny comedy western.
- Left Behind – This Nicolas Cage-starring remake made me laugh so hard, I was tempted to leave it off the list. It stinks but it’s such a Hall of Fame Howler of an unintentional comedy, I’d happily watch it again tonight.
- Winter’s Tale – Colin Ferrell rode a flying horse, fell in love with a girl whose apartment he was robbing and battled the Devil, played by Will Smith. Those were the least strangest parts of this elaborate botch of a well regarded novel.
- Veronica Mars – Kristen Bell’s appeal and fond memories of the TV series aren’t enough to carry this smug, charmless spinoff, funded by Kickstarter money that was better spent elsewhere. What made the series special was nowhere to be found.
Get On Up
Muppets Most Wanted
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Flawed Films with Great Scenes
Scariest Movies I Saw:
Scariest Final Scene
(tie) Only Lovers Left Alive/ Enemy
Most Fun I had in a Movie Theater This Year
Opening night of Ouija at the Queen Ka’ahumanu theater with a bunch of lively, rowdy teens.
About Last Night
Remakes that didn’t work
Best Animated Film
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Best Hawaiian Film
Best Action Movies
The Maze Runner
Need For Speed
Dumb and Dumber To
The Expendables 3
Why Was This a Hit?
Heaven is For Real
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Thank You Moviegoers for Turning Your Backs On…
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
That Awkward Moment
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
22 Jump Street
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Sequels Nobody Asked For
Dolphin Tale 2
Horrible Bosses 2
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
Penguins of Madagascar
Planes: Fire and Rescue
The Purge: Anarchy
Sequels We Wanted Then Regretted Asking For
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
300: Rise of an Empire
Good Found Footage
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Bad Found Footage
Earth To Echo
Creepiest Jake Gyllenhaal Movie
MVP who elevated pretty-good movies:
Bill Murray, St. Vincent and The Monuments Men
Best Movie Poster
Happy New Year and See You at the Movies in 2015!