Kam’s Annual Assessment of the Cream of the Cinematic Crop
2014 has produced a cornucopia of great films, at least a dozen of which have an excellent shot at taking home the Academy Award for Best Picture. The best of the best include Boyhood, Birdman, The Imitation Game and Whiplash, to name a few.
As good as all these films are, all the stars seemed to be aligned for my personal favorite, Selma, the searing civil rights saga, set in March of 1965, about the historic march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, Selma arrives in theaters at a moment when race is once again an urgent issue threatening to rip asunder the fabric of our country. So, it might serve as a timely reminder about the effectiveness of adopting a philosophy of non-violence.
Furthermore, this is the first feature-length biopic about Dr. King, which is hard to believe, since the revered national icon was assassinated way back in 1968. Thirdly, the picture’s wide release practically coincides with his birthday, which has been celebrated as a federal holiday since 1986.
With Black History Month following close on its heels in February, it’s easy to envision Selma building up a head of steam over the course of awards season, when momentum dictates the favorites and often determines the winners in the Oscar sweepstakes.
10 Best Big Budget Films
David Oyelowo portraying Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the highly-anticipated, civil rights drama Selma. It was Directed by Ava DuVernay and produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt’s Plan B. The theme is the black fight for the right to register to vote culminating in the march from Selma to Montgomery and in President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Selma is the story of a movement, a chronicle of a three-month period in 1965, when Dr. King led the dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights for all, in the face of violent opposition. Selma Film Review
Whistleblowing when it comes to media malice, even if fictionalized in movies like Nightcrawler, can’t be a bad thing. Even if it’s a little like say, treating pneumonia with an aspirin. Or, the police investigating themselves for wrongdoing. Let me explain… Nightcrawler: Hollywood Hidden Agendas, Hype And Crushing The Competition
Michael Keaton plays a former box-office star, Riggan Thomson, who wants to be back in the limelight again. The former Birdman star is having a tormenting midlife crisis, because since then, his career has been in sharp decline. With his career fading fast and no roles on the horizon, Riggan orchestrates his own comeback. Birdman Film Review See also: NY Film Festival 2014: Michael Keaton Talks Birdman
4. The Equalizer
An affable widower, employed as a sales associate at a hardware superstore, jokes with co-workers who call him “Pops.”
5. The Imitation Game
Historical biopic about Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the British cryptologist who helped the Allies defeat the Nazis by cracking the Enigma Code, only to be prosecuted and chemically castrated following World War II for being gay. With Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Mark Strong.
Watch The Imitation Game trailer:
6. X-Men: Days of Future Past
8. Kill the Messenger
In August 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published an eye-opening expose that many people did not believe. The story detailed exactly how the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated the importation of crack cocaine from Nicaragua as well as its distribution in the black community of South Central Los Angeles.
The story was written by investigative journalist Gary Webb, played by Jeremy Renner. It was a 20,000-word series called “Dark Alliance.” The information was incendiary, and Webb risked his life to acquire and release it.
Kill The Messenger Film Review also Jeremy Renner The ‘Kill the Messenger’ Interview
9. 22 Jump Street
When we last saw LAPD Officers Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum), the partners were handed new identities and sent back to high school in order to crack a teen drug ring. However, that proved easier said than done, especially since the unathletic nerd and the academically-challenged hunk were both a little long in the tooth to pass for seniors.
Now, hard-boiled Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) has ordered the pair of polar-opposites undercover again, this time to masquerade as college students at Metro City State. Their assignment is to find the dealer on campus selling a lethal blend of Adderall and Ecstasy with the street name WHYPHY (as in “Wi-Fi”).
22 Jump Street Film Review
10. This Is Where I Leave You
When Mort Altman (Will Swenson) passes away, his children return home reasonably expecting to remain in town briefly. After all, despite being raised Jewish, they have no reason to expect to sit shiva, since their dad was an avowed atheist and their psychologist mom (Jane Fonda) is a gentile.
However, after the funeral, Hillary Altman informs her offspring of the dearly-departed’s dying wish that they mourn him for a week in accordance with religious tradition. And then, she announces that they’ve all just been grounded for seven days, as if they’re still children.
This Is Where I Leave You Film Review
Big Budgets Honorable Mention
11. American Sniper
Clint Eastwood directed this adaptation of the best-selling memoir by Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the most successful sniper in the history of the U.S. military. With Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes and Jake McDorman. (R for graphic violence, sexual references and pervasive profanity)
Watch the American Sniper trailer:
12. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Anderson’s latest offering, The Grand Budapest Hotel, not only stays true to his vibrant visuals and tongue-in-cheek narrative style but rates right up there with the best of the bunch, including Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Darjeeling Limited which was this critic’s pick as the #1 film of 2007. The Grand Budapest Hotel Film Review also Arts Express: Willem Dafoe Talks The Grand Budapest Hotel
13. Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow (PG-13 for profanity, intense violence and brief sensuality) Infinite loop sci-fi starring Tom Cruise as the recently-deceased soldier called upon to travel back in time repeatedly to defend the planet against a bloodthirsty race of aliens bent on world domination. With Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson.
14. The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything is a bittersweet biopic focused on the relationship of physicist Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne, and his wife Jane Wilde, played by Felicity Jones. Jane was a friend of Hawking’s sister, played by Charlotte Hope, who he met while they were students at Cambridge in the Sixties. With Emily Watson, Charlie Cox and Simon McBurney. The Theory of Everything is PG-13, due to suggestive material and mature themes. Eddie Redmayne was voted best actor by New York Film Critics Online for 2014
15. The Judge
Drama directed by David Dobkin. Stars Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepard, and Billy Bob Thornton. It received mixed reviews; critics praised the performances of Downey and Duvall and Thomas Newman’s score, but criticized the formulaic nature of its script and the lack of development for supporting characters.
16. A Most Violent Year
Jessica Chastain talks tough as a pistol-packing, taking none of it spouse in the urban noir moral thriller, J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year.
Chastain stopped by to share thoughts about mulling Dick Chaney as a vehicle for burrowing into her character in A Most Violent Year; what’s up with women in movies lately – or not; and the plus side of taking on a male role in a movie. Jessica Chastain Talks A Most Violent Year and Interstellar
Godzilla made its debut in 1954 when the mythical, man-eating monster, inadvertently created by an atomic blast, emerged from the Pacific Ocean to carve a path of death and destruction across Japan, much to the chagrin of the country’s overmatched military. A couple of years later, Raymond Burr narrated a documentary-style, English-language remake which was basically a dubbed version of the original with his lines spliced in. Godzilla Film Review
18. Top Five
Chris Rock probes his personal roots, and origins of his raucous personality. He is pursued by journalists, including a fetching but suspect reporter played by Rosario Dawson. Chris Rock Talks Top Five
Bill Marks’ (Liam Neeson) life went into a tailspin after his young daughter lost her battle with childhood leukemia. The inconsolable police officer has since sought solace in a bottle of alcohol, an addiction which cost him his marriage and career.
Today, the ex-cop is lucky to be employed as an air marshal, a job he decided to take despite a terrible fear of takeoffs. On this particular evening, he’s been assigned to protect a packed transatlantic flight from New York to London. Non-Stop Film Review See also: Arts Express: Liam Neeson Talks Non-Stop and Arts Express: Non-Stop, A Conversation With Julianne Moore
20. Earth to Echo
Earth to Echo (PG for action, peril and mild epithets) Kid-friendly sci-fi, reminiscent of E.T. (1982), about a trio of adolescents (Astro, Teo Halm and Reese Hartwig) who surreptitiously come to the aid of a homesick alien stranded on Earth. Supporting cast includes Ella Wahlestedt, Cassius Willis, Jason Gray-Stanford and Drake Kemper.
21. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
If the idea behind a sequel to a summer blockbuster is to up the ante in terms of bombast and intensity, then The Amazing Spider-Man 2 certainly fits the bill. This installment is bigger and better and louder and longer, featuring more villains, next generation special f/x, more captivating action sequences, and even a fully-blossomed romance between Spidey’s alter ego Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Film Review and Emma Stone “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” Interview
22. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
The Battle of the Five Armies is the third and closing chapter in The Hobbit series based on of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel. The film is the finale in the sextet of Tolkien adaptations directed by Peter Jackson also including The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Picking up from where the cliffhanger of the last episode left off, this action-oriented installment opens with Martin Freeman playing Bilbo Baggins, and his dwarf pals. They are fretting over unwittingly awakening Smaug, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. The ferocious, fire-breathing dragon has left his mountain lair and is venting his wrath – and flames – upon the helpless citizens of Lake-town. The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies Film Review
Anybody with even a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible is undoubtedly familiar with the story of Noah and the Ark. That scriptural passage, found in Genesis, revolves around a righteous patriarch recruited by God to build a big boat before the arrival of a flood being meted out as divine punishment for man’s many wicked ways.
Heeding the word of the Lord, he proceeded to construct the mammoth vessel before herding two of each species of animal into the hold. It subsequently rained for 40 days and 40 nights, with water covering the entire Earth’s surface, thereby drowning all of humanity except for his family. Noah Film Review
24. The Gambler
Mark Wahlberg stars in the title role of this remake of the 1974 thriller as a college professor whose gambling habit lands him in trouble with loan sharks (John Goodman and Michael Kenneth Williams) and the casino owner (Alvin Ing) who’d extended him a quarter-million dollar line of credit. With Brie Larson, George Kennedy and Jessica Lange. (R for sexuality, nudity and pervasive profanity)
Watch the Gambler trailer:
25. Beyond the Lights
Noni has it all, fame and money. After years of hard work, Noni, a pop singer is on the brink of superstardom, thanks to several hit singles and duets with her famous rapper boyfriend, Kid Culprit.
She is secretly miserable and suicidal, because every step of her assault on showbiz has been dictated by her abusive mother, the proverbial stage-mom from Hell. Beyond The Lights Film Review
10 Best Independent Films
Ambitious 19 year-old Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) was greeted with bitter surprise when he entered the hallowed halls of mythical Shaffer Conservatory. The young man did not expect the worst when he decided to join the best music school in the entire country. It did not turn out to be the ideal place to pursue his ambition of becoming a celebrated jazz drummer.
But, from the first day of class, he ends up in the hands of the strict music mentor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an impatient perfectionist with a twisted teaching method. The mentor’s approach involves not only belittling his students but pitting them against one another by making them compete for spots in the school’s elite performance band.
Watch the Whiplash trailer:
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood won three awards for Picture, Director and Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette. Patricia Arquette talksto Prairie Miller about her starring role in this dramatic feature, and the very differently conceived twelve year evolving indie, in contrast to the formulaic fluff of Hollywood. Also, why she was emotionally torn about giving this intense labor of love project to the world. Arts Express: Patricia Arquette Talks Boyhood
3. Wish I Was Here
For Zach Braff, Wish I Was Here is the culmination of personal filmmaking at its best. As the movie’s co-writer, director, star and producer, he was involved in nearly every aspect of the picture’s creative development. A decade ago, in Garden State, he perfectly portrayed the plight of a young man trying to find his place in a crazy world.
Vengeful Parishioner Threatens Priest in Irish Morality Play
While hearing confessions in church one day, Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) gets the shock of his life. First, a disturbed man recounts in lurid detail how, as a child, he’d been raped by a priest every other day for five years. Then, the anonymous confessor announces that since the pedophile who ruined his life is already deceased, he’s decided to even the score by murdering Father James, and in exactly one week.
The demented parishioner could care less that his intended victim is totally innocent and wasn’t even a priest when the transgressions transpired. In fact, Father James was married back then and only entered the priesthood relatively recently in the wake of his wife’s untimely death. Calvary Film Review
5. Dear White People
A satirical drama film written and directed by Justin Simien, focusing on African American students attending an Ivy League college in America. Stars Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Teyonah Parris, Brandon P Bell, Kyle Gallner, Brittany Curran, Marque Richardson and Dennis Haysbert. It is based on the director’s experience as a student attending a predominantly white, private university.
6. Life’s a Breeze
(R for profanity) Madcap road comedy, set in Ireland, about a family’s frantic search around the streets of Dublin for a missing fortune. Cast includes Fionnula Flanagan, Kelly Thornton, Pat Shortt and Eva Birthistle.
7. Two-Bit Waltz
Born in the West Indies in 1761, Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was the product of the taboo union of Mary Belle, an African slave, and John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), a British ship captain. Upon Mary’s death, the concerned father brought his 8 year-old daughter to England to see whether his well-heeled aunt and uncle might be willing to take her in.
9. The M Word
Menopause apparently affects women differently, even if they happen to share the same genes, as is the case with Carson (Frances Fisher), Rita (Mary Crosby) and Louise (Eliza Roberts). Each of these sisters is struggling to maintain her dignity while dealing with the fallout from the so-called “Change of Life.”
Frustrated Carson describes feeling for months on end “like I don’t have any control.” By contrast, Rita’s body chemistry is so confused by the assortment of medicines and creams she uses that she wants to murder her husband, one minute, and to make love to him, the next. Meanwhile, relatively-macabre Lulu relies on humor to cope with her constant obsession with death.
10. Begin Again
Greta (Keira Knightley) followed her college sweetheart (Adam Levine) to Manhattan when he was signed to a lucrative record deal with a major music label. However, the overnight fame went to Dave’s head and he soon started to stray. This development signaled not only the end of their romantic relationship but the demise of their promising partnership as songwriters, too.
Nevertheless, Greta is still very talented in her own right, which she readily proves when pushed by a pal to perform at a Greenwich Village dive on open mic night. The haunting strains of “A Step You Can’t Take Back” catch the ear of Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a legendary talent scout who happens to be sitting in the audience. Begin Again Film Review
Independent Films Honorable Mention
11. The Retrieval
12. Obvious Child
14. Half of a Yellow Sun
16. 1,000 Times Good Night
17. The Two Faces of January
19. St. Vincent
20. Happy Christmas
21. Believe Me
22. Alan Partridge
23. Hector and the Search for Happiness
24. The Machine
25. One Chance
10 Best Foreign Films
1. Web Junkie (China)
2. The Way He Looks (Brazil)
3. Ilo Ilo (Singapore)
4. Zero Motivation (Israel)
5. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Japan)
6. The Almost Man (Norway)
7. Metro Manila (The Philippines)
8. Abuse of Weakness (France)
9. Two Days, One Night (Belgium)
10. Wetlands (Germany)
Foreign Films Honorable Mention
11. Dancing in Jaffa (Israel)
12. Stranger by the Lake (France)
13. Pioneer (Norway)
14. The Circle (Switzerland)
15. The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
16. Demi-Soeur (France)
17. Fifi Howls from Happiness (Iran)
18. Grand Depart (France)
19. Jews of Egypt (Egypt)
20. Guilty of Romance (Japan)
21. Soul of a Banquet (China)
22. Big Bad Wolves (Israel)
23. Plot for Peace (South Africa)
24. Journey to the West (China)
25. We Are the Best (Sweden)
10 Best Documentaries
1. The Barefoot Artist
2. Life Itself
3. Ivory Tower
4. The Internet’s Own Boy
6. American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs
7. Vanishing Pearls
8. America the Beautiful 3
10. Second Opinion
Documentaries Honorable Mention
11. Citizen Four
12. Keep on Keepin’ On
13. Little Hope Was Arson
15. Tales of the Grim Sleeper
16. Kids for Ca$h
17. I’ll Be Me
18. Spanish Lake
20. The Great Invisible
21. I Am Eleven
22. Tanzania: A Journey Within
23. Advanced Style
24. 12 O’Clock Boys
25. Take Me to the River