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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top, bottom films, etc. of 2014

Best, worst and ruminations on 2014 films

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

February 8, 2015 -- Here is my list of the best and worst films, best actors, etc. from the year of 2014, with the usual caveats. There are a few top films, such as “Mr. Turner,” “Ida,” and “Citizenfour” I have not seen for various reasons, and I have definitely missed (on purpose) most of the year's worst films. My picks for the best and worst films and many other categories, such as best actor, director, etc. are listed below.

There were a lot of good films this year, particularly in the field of documentary films. This list of top films is longer than usual this year. You may notice the absence of some films usually included in most top 10 lists, such as “Birdman,” “Foxcatcher,” “Selma” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” few others that I saw, but did not like as much as others did. You will some films that others think highly of in the Overrated movies section below.

Below the list of top films is a list of honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by lists of the worst films, overrated films, funniest, saddest, etc. I've added a couple of Dubious Distinction awards as a satirical comment on certain awards that seem to be based on factors that are literally skin deep. My top 10 lists include more comedy and films starring black actors, two varieties of movies absent from most top 10 lists. Drama is easy, but comedy is tough to get right.

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

Best 10 films of 2014

1. Interstellar[4 stars]

This is one of those big, ambitious, epic films about big ideas that are very rare. This would have been on more top 10 lists, but it is too upbeat and positive and not nearly depressing enough for that. Not a single one of those obligatory suicides in this movie. This has everything else in it, though, great acting, a compelling story and stunning visuals.

2. Boyhood[4 stars]

Everybody talks about how this was filmed over a 12 year period, but what impressed me most about this film is the writing. This is the most believable film I saw this year. There isn't a false note in it. Wonderful acting by the entire cast. It also has a wonderful ending.

3. Whiplash[4 stars]

I had to drive over 60 miles to see this one, in the snow and cold, but it was worth it. What an electrifying performance by J.K. Simmons, who will win an Oscar for his performance in this film if there is any justice at all. It also has the best ending of any film I've seen in a long time, but “Boyhood” is a close second.

4. The Overnighters[4 stars]

This is the year's best documentary film. It looks like it is based on a screenplay by a top writer, but that is just the way it happened, incredibly. This film is about the oil boom in North Dakota, but it is also about religion, sexual secrets, the national economy and a small city trying to cope with everything at once.

5. The Theory of Everything[4 stars]

Although this movie is based on the life of the world's most famous theoretical physicist, it is really an intimate portrait of a marriage of two people faced with enormous challenges. There isn't much science in the film. It is, instead, a very adult love story, very tastefully done. Wonderful acting by everyone in this film. Eddie Redmayne is favored to win a best acting Oscar for this.

6. Locke[4 stars]

If you haven't heard of Tom Hardy, watch him in this film and in “Bronson” (2008) to see his range as an actor. This entire film consists of Tom Hardy sitting behind the wheel of a car, talking on the phone. It is an amazing performance, and the screenplay is well-written too. There is also some imaginative camera work, pushing the limited spatial boundaries of this film.

7. Begin Again[4 stars]

Most critics liked this film, but probably very few agree with me that it is one of the top 10 films of 2014. This movie is very similar to the film “Once” (2006). It was written and directed by John Carney, who also wrote and directed “Once.” This time, the acting and the music are much better. I liked this film better than “Once,” mainly because the music is much better this time around. Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley are great together.

8. Frontera[4 stars]

This fictional drama does a better job of exploring the illegal immigration issue in than any other film I've seen this year, except for the documentary, “Underwater Dreams.” This features great performances by Ed Harris, Michael Peña and Eva Longoria. While it does show the dark side of the issue, it is more about the actions of honest, decent people working for justice along the border. You probably won't find this on anyone else's top 10 list.

9. The Babadook[4 stars]

I'm not a fan of horror films, but this is an exceptional horror film. It isn't a monster movie, and it isn't a slasher movie either. It is more along the lines of a psychological thriller. I'm not a fan of psychological thrillers, either, but again, this is truly and exceptional movie. It features two great performances by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman.

10. Finding Vivian Maier[4 stars]

This documentary showcases some first-rate journalism by filmmaker John Maloof, who stumbled across a mystery at an auction and eventually solved it. The mystery was that of an unknown, secretive photographer, Vivian Maier. Who was this woman? Why did she try to hide her past and why did she hide her remarkable talent as a street photographer?

Honorable Mention

Calvary[4 stars]

I saw a lot of movies this year containing suicides, but this is one of the few that made it into this list. Well, it isn't really an actual suicide, more of a murder. This is the story of a priest in Ireland who is made to pay for the sins of his church. It has a powerful performance by Brendan Gleeson, with great supporting performances.

Big Hero 6[4 stars]

This is the year's best animated film. It has a strong story, wonderful artwork and a lot of heart. Not far behind it are “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “The Wind Rises” and “The Lego Movie.”

American Sniper[4 stars]

This is another directing triumph from Clint Eastwood. This movie is spare and direct. It has a clear story and a clear message. It tells conservatives what they want to hear, and twists the truth a bit in that regard. Strong writing, acting and directing. First-rate production values.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night[4 stars]

This crowd-funded feminist vampire flick filmed in America in the Persian language of Iran is as off-beat as it is a low-budget film. There is very little dialog in this film. The story is told almost entirely through images, and it is brilliantly directed by Ana Lily Amirpour.

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger[4 stars]

One of the year's best documentaries focuses on corruption in the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice and some law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts as well. Watch this, along with “The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz,” and you'll see just how bad the corruption is in law enforcement.

The Imitation Game[3.5 stars]

This is one of the films nominated for a “Best Picture” academy award this year, and Benedict Cumberbatch is up for best actor, too. A well-written and well-acted film about World War II code breakers. This is another suicide film that made my list this year.

Chef[3.5 stars]

This great little indie film has a lot of big name actors in it, evidently because they are friends of the director, Jon Favreau (who directed this little movie called “Iron Man,” which revived the career of Robert Downey Jr.). Downey didn't forget that. He is in this film, along with Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman. The real stars of the film are Favreau, who plays a chef who needs to get back in touch with his son, played by Emjay Anthony, with the aid of his friend, played by John Leguizamo. This film will make you hungry while feeding your soul.

Metro Manila[3.5 stars]

This film about a desperate family trying to make ends meet in Manila after moving to the big city from a farm turns into a kind of high stakes caper movie in the end. This is another suicide film that made my list this year.

Nightcrawler[3.5 stars]

Jake Gyllenhaal has had a great year this year, and this is his best film. He stars as a psychopathic video journalist making money by shooting raw footage of traffic accidents, shooting victims and other bloody news events. This is a journalistic nightmare scenario. Great performance by Rene Russo in this, too.

Starred Up[3.5 stars]

This is a very tough prison drama set in England. It features another great performance by Jack O'Connell, who was also great in “Unbroken” this year. Ben Mendelsohn also gives a great performance as the imprisoned father of O'Connell's character.

The Kill Team[3.5 stars]

This is an excellent documentary about a “kill team” formed by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in 2010. The soldiers killed civilians, then planted weapons on the bodies to make it look like the civilians had been killed in self defense by the soldiers. A lot of this is documented by videos taken by the soldiers themselves.

Edge of Tomorrow[3.5 stars]

This is like a big budget science fiction action version of “Groundhog Day” where the same day repeats over and over for some soldiers in a very difficult battle against aliens. It features great performances by Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton. It has drama, suspense, and humor too. This is very well written and directed, with top notch production values.

More lists below

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Links to reviews of all the films below are indexed in the following web pages:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1. Ana Lily Amirpour — A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
2. Richard Linklater — Boyhood
3. Christopher Nolan — Interstellar
4. Damien Chazelle — Whiplash
5. James Marsh — The Theory of Everything

Best actor

1. Tom Hardy — Locke
2. Brendan Gleason — Calvary
3. John Hawkes — Low Down
4. Eddie Redmayne — The Theory of Everything
5. David Oyelowo — Selma

Best actress

1. Rosamund Pike — Gone Girl
2. Essie Davis — The Babadook
3. Reese Witherspoon — The Wild
4. Felicity Jones — The Theory of Everything
5. Marion Cotillard — Two Days, One Night

Best supporting actor

1. J.K. Simmons — Whiplash
2. Tyler Perry — Gone Girl
3. Ben Mendelsohn — Starred Up
4. Andy Serkis — Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
5. Domhnall Gleeson — Unbroken

Best supporting actress

1. Keira Knightley — The Imitation Game
2. Laura Dern — Wild
3. Rene Russo — Nightcrawler
4. Naomi Watts — St. Vincent
5. Emma Stone — Birdman

Best adapted screenplay

1. Whiplash — Damien Chazelle
2. The Theory of Everything — Anthony McCarten
3. American Sniper — Jason Hall
4. The Imitation Game — Graham Moore
5. How to Train Your Dragon 2 — Dean DeBlois and Cressida Cowell

Best original screenplay

1. Boyhood — Richard Linklater
2. Interstellar — Christopher and Jonathan Nolan
3. Locke — Steven Knight
4. Begin Again — John Carney
5. The Babadook — Jennifer Kent

Best documentary feature

1. The Overnighters
2. Finding Vivian Maier
3. Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
4. The Kill Team
5. Jingle Bell Rocks!

Best animated feature

1. Big Hero 6
2. How to Train Your Dragon 2
3. The Lego Movie
4. The Book of Life
5. The Wind Rises

Note: The 2013 film The Wind Rises opened in 2014 in the U.S., so it is on this year's list instead of last year's.

Best foreign language film

1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
2. Metro Manila
3. The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho)
4. We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!)
5. Force Majeure (Turist)

Best cinematography

1. Interstellar
2. Birdman
3. The Theory of Everything
4. Locke
5. Nightcrawler

Best editing

1. Interstellar
2. The Theory of Everything
3. Birdman
4. Locke
5. Edge of Tomorrow

Best music

1. Begin Again
2. Whiplash
3. The Theory of Everything
4. Selma
5. Jingle Bell Rocks!

Best makeup effects

1. Into the Woods
2. The Theory of Everything
3. Guardians of the Galaxy
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
5. Interstellar

Links to reviews of all films on this site are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Funniest film of the year

Top Five[3 stars]

Saddest film of the year

Calvary[4 stars]

Scariest villain of the year

Michel (played by Christophe Paou) in Stranger by the Lake (L'inconnu du lac)[2 stars]

The year's most overrated films

All of these films have won awards or have been highly rated by some critics groups, or have won praise at some film festivals, or are just rated higher by critics than they ought to be. These are listed alphabetically. All these are links to my reviews, except for Under the Skin which is linked to Cole Smithey's review. I wasted $1.50 to rent it, but I did not bother to write a review for that boring, slow moving, depressing film. Stray Dogs and Norte: The End of History both have very slow-moving plots and lots of boring stationary camera shots (that's the in thing nowadays) where nothing much happens. I liked Guardians of the Galaxy, but many other people liked it way more than I did (or most other critics did for that matter), but it did get a surprising number of international awards and nominations, considering the competition in 2014.
Actress[2 stars]
Foxcatcher[2.5 stars]
Norte: The End of History[2 stars]
Snowpiercer[2 stars]
Stray Dogs[2 stars]
Guardians of the Galaxy[3 stars]
Under the Skin (Cole Smithey review)[1.5 stars]

The year's best films you've never heard of (listed alphabetically)

Alan Partridge[3 stars]
Art and Craft[3 stars]
The Babadook[4 stars]
Begin Again[4 stars]
Big Bad Wolves[3 stars]
Calvary[4 stars]
The Case Against 8[3 stars]
Dancing in Jaffa[3 stars]
Death Metal Angola[3 stars]
The Dog[3 stars]
The Double[3 stars]
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me[3 stars]
Finding Vivian Maier[4 stars]
Force Majeure (Turist)[3 stars]
Frontera[4 stars]
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night[4 stars]
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz[3 stars]
Ivory Tower[3 stars]
Jingle Bell Rocks![3 stars]
The Kill Team[3.5 stars]
Low Down[3 stars]
Metro Manila[3.5 stars]
The Missing Picture[3 stars]
A Most Wanted Man[3 stars]
The Overnighters[4 stars]
Remote Area Medical[3 stars]
The Sacrament[3 stars]
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors[3 stars]
Starred Up[3.5 stars]
Top Five[3 stars]
Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)[3 stars]
The Two Faces of January[3 stars]
Underwater Dreams[3 stars]
The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho)[3 stars]
We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!)[3 stars]
White Bird in a Blizzard[3 stars]
Whitewash[3 stars]
Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger[4 stars]

The Worst Films of 2014

While I saw most of the best films of the year, I purposefully missed nearly all of the reportedly bad films, including Let's Be Cops, The Legend of Hercules, Walk of Shame, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Blended, Hateship Loveship, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Men, Women and Children, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transcendence and Rage, among many others. Those are all wide release films which made it to most cities and towns in the U.S. I also missed most of the limited release bad films, among many others, so this is not in any way a list of the worst of the worst films, just the worst of the films I saw. After all, I don't get into the movies for free, and I don't like to waste my money. I did see I, Frankenstein. I actually liked I, Frankenstein. Careful as I am, I did get fooled into watching the following bad films anyway:

A Winter's Tale[1 star]

The trailer for this looked interesting, so I rented the DVD. It was so bad, I didn't write a review of it (the link above goes to reviews at the Movie Review Query Engine site, where there are over 100 reviews of this film to choose from). I found the plot of the film confusing and pointless.

The Expendables 3[2 stars]

The original film wasn't all that great, and as the sequels roll on and on and on, each one has gotten worse.

Transformers: Age of Extinction[2 stars]

Not as bad a sequel in this series as Revenge of the Fallen but bad enough.

Dubious Distinctions

The honorary Roman Polanski Juicy Jail Bait Award, also known as the “Breakthrough Actor” award or the “Best Young Actress” award, or the “Newcomer” award (insert Beavis and Butthead snickering here) is the first dubious distinction award. The second dubious distinction is the Marilyn Chambers Memorial Nudity Award.

The jail bait award is usually won by very attractive, very young women, or girls, some of whom are pre pubescent, or at who least look like they might be, and who get high praise from critics for reasons perhaps not entirely based on their performances. Why is this you ask? Because most film critics are men and most men (especially older men) have trouble remembering actors at the end of the year for awards purposes unless they are very young and pretty. O.K., so they are dirty old men.

Past winners are Saoirse Ronan for Atonement, Anna Paquin for The Piano, Ziyi Zhang for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, of course Polanski's old flame, Natasha Kinski for Tess, and the stars of Thirteen.

This year's Jail Bait Award goes to somebody who is actually an adult, but who plays a juvenile-type character, Helen Memel (played by the beautiful Carla Juri) in Wetlands (Feuchtgebiete). If unsanitary toilet scenes and extended discussions about hemorrhoids excite you, then you'll love this film. The nudity award goes to the very overexposed and abused Charlotte Gainsbourg for her role in Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2. If you like watching a woman severely beaten with a cat-o-nine tails and urinated upon (supposedly these abuses are indicators of her strength and independence) then Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2 are the movies for you.

Links to all my reviews are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

Page navigation: Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Worst movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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