This year was a great one for films and there are several that will be ones I will see again. On the other hand, some films I will be happy if I never see even late night on cable. See if you agree with the lists I have made, and for the ones I have recommended that you haven’t seen, I hope you will!
Best Films of 2014
As a Cleveland Browns fan, this was a must-see and it lived up to my expectations both times I saw it! Kevin Costner might be the finest sports film actor of all time, able to combine the passion for sports with the personal emotional conflict that comes with unresolved relational turmoil. The story plot is certainly not the most original but for sports fans like me who have grown up watching the NFL draft religiously, seeing a little bit behind-the-scenes keeps you fully invested. Anything that shows the Cleveland Browns with hope is an automatic winner as far as I am concerned.
A Most Wanted Man
Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of my favorite actors so this became a must-see once I heard of his untimely death. Hoffman gives one of his usual incredible performances as he weighs the benefits of national loyalty with authentic justice. This qualifies as a suspense thriller, but not in the over-the-top-Hollywood way, but rather, as a steady and subtle emotional build-up where you are kept in the dark until the very end and then are left with thoughts and questions even as it is resolved. There just aren’t enough movies like this anymore and it is a shame. It is a shame as well that Hoffman has been taken from us; he will be missed greatly.
Guardians of the Galaxy
I find these films at best entertaining, mostly forgettable, and at times nauseating. The fact that a Marvel, superhero film makes one of my best-of-2014 is certainly an achievement. I admire good special effects, but I really do not need them when I see a film. Character development and story substance outdo special effects every time as far as I am concerned. I found myself actually liking and identifying with some aspects of the characters and while the story was not too original (seriously, how many times do we really need to save the world), it was enough. I might even go see the sequel, but my expectations will be lowered considerably.
I hedged on this one quite a bit. But the fact that this film deals with real ethical questions of what does justice really mean without being too preachy gets it for me. I am not super high on this film, but Denzel does intensity like no one else. Still, I think it is time for him to get away from the action/violence genre for a bit as he is actually getting to be typecast for this kind of role. I miss him in the straight dramas.
Kill the Messenger
An excellent film that has not gotten the notoriety it deserves. It tells the story of Gary Webb, a journalist who uncovers the truth of US complicity in the South American drug trade during the 1980s. Webb experiences the great acclaim as well as the tremendous despair that goes with truth-telling, especially when the truth you are speaking involves an enormous institution that will do anything to cover its culpability in injustice. I was so moved by this film and by Jeremy Renner’s performance that I wrote a blogpost about the costs of truth-telling. Truly an excellent film and one I highly encourage you to see.
I am not usually all that impressed or enthused by war films. US society could do without war films for a while. Hell, the US could do without war for a while! But this is by far the best war film since Saving Private Ryan, the last time when a war film was as much about the relationships between those who fought as it was about killing the enemy. I recommend this, but I wouldn’t mind if we dropped these films for a while.
A peculiar film, but an excellent one that showcases the talents of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone and especially the Director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Keaton plays an actor who seeks to rebuild his once-fabled career through producing a Broadway play while also trying to rebuild the relationships with his family. What was fascinating is that the film is shot much like a film, with long running takes that run through several scenes without many cuts. I found myself amazed but yet almost more distracted by how it was directed than at the story lines, which are multiple and complex. The film is shot as if you are watching a play and the skill involved is indeed fascinating to see. This is not really a feel-good movie, but it deserves the attention it has received and Inarritu should get an Oscar for his direction.
Dear White People
I love films where there seems to be good guys and bad guys, but the characters are much more complex and nuanced. This film deals with the complexity of race in a respectful and challenging way. I wish I could say that all white people should see this, just because I know white people will be extremely hesitant to see it. But advising only white people to see it as if they will be the ones to be ethically challenged and socially slammed sells this film way short. All people should see this and talk about it at length afterwards. I wish I had seen this in a group.
This is another peculiar film about a very peculiar guy played by Jake Gyllenhall who becomes somewhat of a Machiavellian free lance news cameraman for crime journalism in Los Angeles. He is willing to do anything to get ahead and as he does so he becomes more alive and real while those around him are diminished and objectified. This is a powerful film and Gyllenhall is masterful as a disturbed loner who makes you uncomfortable as you watch him. But you can’t help but watch him just the whole of society cannot help but watch the blood and violence he captures on film for the news channels.
This film is one of my favorites of the year. Jon Stewart wrote and directed this film and you can tell. It is at once harrowing and sweet, frightening yet funny. Rosewater is a true story of a journalist – yes another film about a journalist! – who is detained after returning to his home in Iran in 2009 to interview the political opponent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Gael Garcia Bernal is incredible in his portrayal of Maziar Bahari, as Bahari deals with not only the emotional and physical torture and torment of indefinite detainment, but also dealing with the expectations of his family. A powerful film, with incredible writing and Oscar-caliber acting.
Not only my favorite film of the year, but one of my all-time favorites. Historically spot on and yet, a film rooted in history but not obsessed with every fact and date. This was a brilliant narrative of one of the pivotal times in the civil rights movement. The movie did focus on Martin Luther King – who was absolutely brilliantly played – but also included important and less historically known figures such as Diane Nash, James Bevel, John Lewis, James Foreman, Fred Gray, to name a few. The powerful narrative of the overall movement – that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things – was evident in this film and should be a lesson to all of us, especially those of us in the church. This is a must-see.
Films in 2014 I would NOT Recommend
The Monuments Men
This was disappointing, what with the build up and the star-studded cast assembled for this film. But a cast does not a good film make. The dialog seemed silly at times and I was bored and checking my watching after 45 minutes – not a good sign for any movie.
Yes, I love Will Farrell and yes I laughed out loud numerous times. But his character actually started grating on me as well, which is always the problem with sequels. Still, Will Farrell is the funniest person in movies today so I don’t recommend it unless you just want something entirely mindless, you don’t get too offended too easily and maybe if you shut it off after an hour and a half, which should actually be the limit for all comedies.
I was tempted to put this on the recommended list just because of the freak-out so many had in response to this film, but I had to keep it here. I personally do not go to movies to get Sunday school lessons though sometimes I am surprised! But in the end, this is just another action film. Crowe’s portrayal of Noah as an insane religious fanatic just didn’t come across and frankly, it didn’t fit the story.
Captain America: Winter Soldier
Entertaining, but zero substance. Basic formula are hot guy, hot girl, save the world from some overwhelming force, but does anyone know why or for what reason? I have no idea either.
The story of a local bar that serves as a front for laundering mob money gets robbed and the films examines the lives of those who work at the bar. The plot is intriguing and some of the characters, particularly James Gandolfini in his last film, as well as Noomi Rapace. But what did not work for me was Tom Hardy in the leading role, who seemed out of place and out of character. His slow, plodding portrayal made the “big switch” seem implausible and not much of a switch at all. This was a good film, but one that could and should have been much, much better.
An interesting story and well done in terms of surprises, but by the time this film ended I was tired of everyone and I frankly didn’t care what to anyone. I like Ben Affleck, but I did not like this film.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
This was Captain America: Winter Soldier part 2 as far as I am concerned. Another forgettable sequel with good special effects and little narrative or character development. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
A sweet film and Bill Murray is funny as usual, but didn’t we see this already in Gran Torino? The ending was nice but a little too predictable.
I love my dog, but I wouldn’t kill anyone over her, much less dozens of people in an endless orgy of violence that characterized practically every minute of this movie. I had a headache by the time this movie ended. Hopefully we will not have to see John Wick ever again.
Wish I had seen:
I wasn’t able to see every movie this year and here are the ones I wish I had: Boyhood, Million Dollar Arm, Cesar Chavez, Pride, The Theory of Everything, The Interview (not because I really liked this film, but just to piss off a dictator), The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, Wild, Exodus, The Gambler, Unbroken, Big Eyes, and Cake.
Glad I didn’t see:And then there are the movies I am exceedingly grateful I did not see. They definitely deserve a mention: Blended, Spider Man 2 (shouldn’t this be Spider Man 5?), Ninja Turtles, Left Behind (seriously Nicholas Cage?), Interstellar, Dumb & Dumber To (one was more than enough), The Hobbit (when will this series finally die?), American Sniper, and, of course, Saving Christmas (double UGH)