The 20 best movies of 2014



(Follow the links for full-length or capsule reviews.)

1. Whiplash

J.K. Simmons plays a teacher at a prestigious music academy determined to find the greatness in a student by any means necessary. Miles Teller plays a drummer who wants to be great. Whiplash is a ferocious piece of work, a rattling wooden roller-coaster of a movie. Never mind the particulars, never mind the mistakes, just hang on tight and savor what happens when two exceptional actors sink their teeth into a script and never let go. Whether the spectacle we witness is bullying or academic S&M, Whiplash is riveting.
In theaters now.


2. Boyhood
Filmmaker Richard Linklater and his cast got together for a few days of shooting every year for 12 years to create this transcendent look at one boy's journey to the brink of adulthood. The specifics of life for the kid and his family trigger memories of your life and it all swirls together. Remarkable. The film is nearly 3 hours long, but the time flies by, as time is wont to do. Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke star.
On video Jan. 6.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Trouble is afoot in a remote resort-spa in 1932. Wes Anderson's latest artfully framed diorama/pop-up book/puppet show does all of the good things you'd expect, but there's more this time. Aided immeasurably by Ralph Fiennes exceptional lead performance, the fanciful trappings and shifting spotlights somehow seem more genuine than the real world. Anderson doesn't just take viewers through the looking glass, he shows us the depth within it. Costarring every cool actor on Earth.
On video now.

4. Life Itself
Filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) worked with Roger and Chaz Ebert to incorporate the realities of the “third act” of the famed writer's life into this documentary based on Ebert's book. The result is fascinating, funny, heartbreaking and honest. We see Ebert being noble, brave and clever. We also see him behaving like a spoiled schoolboy. We see him prepare for his own death. Unforgettable.
On video Feb. 17.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy
Chris Pratt sets the tone of the highly entertaining space epic. He's spot-on as a Han Solo type, swaggering about and cracking wise, while radiating a sunniness that warms those in his sphere of influence. By example, he helps his teammates be better souls.
On video now.

6. St. Vincent
The story is routine: Grumpy old coot babysits his new neighbor's kid because he needs the money. Antics and bonding occur. But the stars are Bill Murray (in peak form), Melissa McCarthy (underplaying, bless her heart!) and young Jaeden Lieberher (holding his own with Murray). Sweet, sad and funny.
In theaters now.

7. Locke
He's supposed to be headed home to his family. He needs to be at work for a big event in the morning. Instead he's driving to a hospital where a coworker he had sex with is about to give birth. We stay with him in the car for the entire movie. Sure, the concept is gimmicky, but it works because lead actor Tom Hardy is extraordinarily talented.
On video now.

8. Foxcatcher
Remember the news story about John du Pont, the wealthy eccentric whose involvement with wrestling took a tragic turn? This is the fictionalized version of that bizarre reality. Steve Carell plays du Pont, with Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo costarring as wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz. The acting is top notch. Trying to figure out what was going on in du Pont's head will drive you crazy.
Opens locally in January.

9. The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the British logician and cryptologist called in by his government to crack the Germans' Enigma Code. Another situation complicates matters further. The WWII thriller/drama is fascinating. Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley lead a powerhouse cast.
In theaters now.

10. Force Majeure
When it looked like disaster was about to strike, Mom threw her arms around the kids, while dad grabbed his cell phone and ran. And with that the tone of the family vacation changed. Are instinctive reactions a measure of a person's character? That's just one of the questions this pitch black comedy gives you to chew on.
On video Feb. 10.


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