Another year of movies has come and gone—and, once again, it’s time to weigh in on the best and the worst of the year.
Usually, when we reach the end of the year, I’m left with a feeling of completion. Throughout the course of the year, I’ve seen a bunch of movies—some good ones, some bad ones, and a bunch that I could give or take. But, as a whole, the group feels like a complete year full of movies. This year, however, though I’ve watched movies upon movies upon movies, something feels...lacking. There have been good movies—there’s no denying that—but I never had that ah-ha moment that comes with seeing, hands-down, the best movie of the year. In other words, I handed out a bunch of A-minuses and B-pluses, but not one single straight A—and a surprising number of my favorites of the year were released well before award season. What a strange year it’s been...
Here, however, is my list of the year’s best.
Frozen: Admittedly, this year wasn’t the best of years for animated films—but Disney came through with a strikingly beautiful and surprisingly sophisticated princess tale. The icy animation is absolutely gorgeous and the story is anything but predictable, making it feel more like a Pixar movie than a Disney Princess movie.
Blue Jasmine (review to come): It’s been said that Woody Allen is on a kind of every-other-movie plan. So after his magical Midnight in Paris, he released the completely forgettable To Rome with Love, which he then followed with this smart, funny, and remarkably acted film. It hasn’t gotten the same buzz as Midnight—perhaps because the story is a little more challenging and the characters aren’t as charming—but it’s still a hit in my book.
Philomena: Award season is often filled with heavy dramas about real-life tragedies. Philomena was based on a true story—one that’s often absolutely heartbreaking—yet it was thoughtfully written and beautifully acted in a way that makes it sweet and spunky and altogether delightful. It seems to have gotten lost in the award season shuffle, which is a shame—because Judi Dench is phenomenal as the no-nonsense title character.
Saving Mr. Banks: Disney’s Mary Poppins has been a beloved family classic for nearly 50 years—and Disney’s making-of drama has the same charm and humor (just without the dancing penguins). It’s moving and funny, musical and magical—and the cast is top-notch.
The Way Way Back (review to come): This lovable coming-of-age dramedy came out at the tail end of Summer Blockbuster Season—a time when a lot of people are looking for superheroes and explosions instead of clever writing and a laid-back story. It’s just a simple slice-of-life story, but the noteworthy cast (especially Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney) and the thoughtful writing (it was, after all, written and directed by the Oscar-winning writers of The Descendants) make this overlooked little movie one of the year’s most charming.
Her: I’ll admit that I was skeptical about this one—both because of the bizarre (and, let’s face it...kinda creepy) story about a man falling in love with his operating system and because of my general dislike of Joaquin Phoenix. But I was pleasantly surprised by this strangely charming digital romance (and by the remarkable cast). And the more I think about it, the more I like it. So don’t be afraid to take a chance on it when it gets its wide release in January.
Much Ado About Nothing: In order to decompress after enduring the pressure of making a gigantic superhero blockbuster, director Joss Whedon decided to get his friends together at his house and make a quick, low-budget adaptation of my all-time favorite Shakespearean play. Perhaps it’s just because of my undying love of this play—or maybe it’s because Whedon’s stripped-down version made the Bard’s wit shine through. But, whatever the case, I fell head-over-heels in love with this simple rom-com.
American Hustle: Director David O. Russell has clearly decided to go with the old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Because, with his latest film, he reunites most of the casts of his last two highly-acclaimed films—with spectacular results. The ensemble cast is unforgettable, the story is attention-grabbing, and it’s all so irresistibly amusing that you can’t help but love it.
Short Term 12: This festival favorite about the residents and staff of a home for troubled teens quietly took art house theaters by storm. Again, it’s a simple little movie that you’ve probably never heard of, but it’s honest and heartfelt and surprisingly compelling—a low-budget indie that puts much of the year’s Oscar bait to shame.
Gravity: Alfonso Cuarón’s outer space thriller is about as close as I got to an ah-ha moment this year. It isn’t a flawless film, but it’s a breathtaking film—and, once you get into it, an absolutely engrossing film, too—one that’s well worth the extra investment to see it in IMAX 3D.
I’ll admit that I had a tough time putting together a complete Top 10 list. I did not, however, have a hard time coming up with 10 movies for my Bottom 10 list. In fact, I could have happily made it a Bottom 15 or maybe Bottom 20. But let’s just keep it at 10, shall we?
Here’s my list of 10 movies that made my head hurt this year.
Paradise: As a screenwriter, Diablo Cody has become well-known for her quick wit and snappy hipster dialogue. As a first-time director, she cranked out a tedious and heavy-handed film that’s surprisingly bland.
Baggage Claim: I don’t even know where to begin with this one. The laughably old-fashioned message that a woman needs to get married—by the time she’s 30, no less—to make her life worth living? The ridiculous clichés? The painfully awkward performances? Or maybe the fact that none of the story makes any sense? Well...you get the idea.
Free Birds: A Thanksgiving-themed animated adventure about turkeys—great idea, right? Um, wrong. Somewhere in here, there’s an interesting concept, the resulting film is random and rambling and not very funny.
Charlie Countryman: Ah, Shia LaBeouf. Once upon a time, he was just a cute Disney Channel kid. Then he made flashy Transformers movies. Now he’s plagiarizing comics and trying to get some indie hipster cred by playing some troubled guy who talks to ghosts and travels to Bucharest. Sadly, his performance proves that he’s about as deep and serious as a Michael Bay movie.
Snitch: Dwayne Johnson movies tend to be action-packed guilty pleasures. Snitch, on the other hand, is generally slow and melodramatic and heavy-handed. Instead of a guilty pleasure, this dull and preachy drama is just plain guilty.
Hell Baby: Though I’m a big fan of horror-comedies, I found it nearly impossible to sit through this low-brow spoof—most likely because it’s neither horrifying nor comical. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the makers of this movie were the only ones how found it the slightest bit amusing.
Identity Thief: This was another big year for Melissa McCarthy—with a couple of big roles in major releases and a small part in The Hangover Part III. Sadly, however, those big roles were in random, obnoxious comedies like Identity Thief and The Heat (see below). McCarthy’s co-star, Jason Bateman, is the film’s only real redeeming quality—and the only thing keeping the film from showing up even lower on this list.
Getaway: I’ll be honest here: I was highly amused by this lengthy high-speed chase flick—but for all the wrong reasons. It’s spastic and predictable and absolutely, positively perplexing—almost as perplexing, in fact, as the casting. All these months later, I’m still amazed by the sheer insanity of this film.
You’re Next: I’m not sure what’s more bewildering about this film: the unnatural dialogue and awkward performances or the film’s strange, almost cult-like following. I just don’t see anything particularly brilliant about this dull and monotonous (and sometimes unintentionally funny) attempt at a home invasion thriller.
The Heat: I like the idea of a buddy cop comedy for chicks. I really do. And had The Heat been a clever comedy with likable characters and a charming cast, I’d probably be singing its praises. Unfortunately, though, it’s loaded with overcooked clichés, bad stereotypes, and irritating characters—and while it tries to shock audiences with its constant profanity, it’s really just crude for the sake of being crude. Some claim that there’s some kind of feminist message to be had here: that women can be just as tough and gritty and funny as men. But instead of making me feel empowered, it made me feel just slightly embarrassed to be a woman.
So there you have it...another year of Hollywood’s hits and misses, as seen from my slightly worn seat at my friendly neighborhood theater. Now, as we kick off a new year, it’s time to look ahead to another year of laughter, tears, action, thrills, and other exciting new cinematic adventures. And, as always, I’ll be here to share every last moment—the good, the bad, and the ugly—with you! Happy 2014, everyone!