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My Favorite Flicks From 2014
by Greg Ursic

It's the spur of the moment question every movie reviewer dreads: "What were the best movies you saw this year?" Sure it sounds simple, but when you’ve seen 200 films - five or six a day come festival time - it takes some serious thought (that's why I keep a detailed list, as my memory ain't what it used to be. Not only that, you need to know your audience; you're not going to recommend the amazing art house flick to someone who can't standing reading subtitles. So after a lot of reflection and a couple drinks here are my 2014 Faves.

Sequels that matched or exceeded their predecessors - think The Godfather Part II and Aliens - are cinematic anomalies, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier now joins that illustrious list. Instead of a simple fish-out-of-water-good-vs-bad story, Winter Soldier examines the concept of freedom in a world where shades of grey are the norm, yet carefully balances it with a whimsical sense of humour, quality special effects and kick ass action sequences. If only they'd trimmed the run time by about 20 minutes...

Dysfunctional twins (are there any other kind?) reunite after suicides gone wrong and work to rebuild their shattered relationship in The Skeleton Twins. In the wrong hands this could have easily degenerated into a maudlin movie-of-the-week, but buoyed by sharp writing, gallows humour and breakout performances by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig (who would have guessed that they could actually act?) it turned out to be a gem.

If someone mentioned a movie about a guy talking on a cellphone while driving, you might think it was public service announcement. In fact, Locke was one of the most innovative movies of the year relying on a single actor in a single venue. Surprisingly engaging, due in no small part to a multi-layered script that evokes a gamut of emotions without ever being melodramatic and steady pacing, however it soars thanks to Tom Hardy's remarkably engaging portrayal of a man on the edge. One of the best driving movies period (just don't try to watch it while driving).

Another solid sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2 revisits the notions of being an underdog and family and stakes out new ground (literally) with a pantheon of new and exciting new characters.
Gorgeously animated (the flight sequences are especially breathtaking), it is perfectly paced, boasts a talented voice cast. The wide-ranging comedic styling (from slapstick to potty humour) provides something for all ages, while maintaining an accessible emotional core that includes some pretty heavy subject matter. I'm already looking forward to the third one.

It is hard to watch Whiplash, the story of a drumming prodigy struggling for a spot in a senior jazz band lead a maniacal conductor, without wincing. From the rehearsals to the lead's solo practice sessions and awkward social interactions, every situation is fraught with emotion and intensity especially the sparring between Teller and J.K. Simmons (the monstrous maestro). Well written, unflinching and impeccably acted, it will keep you riveted and guessing until the final shot.

When Edward Snowden contacted a journalist to spill what he knew about the US government's domestic spy programs she filmed their interviews, from first contact to breaking story. The result is CitizenFour, a doc that literally goes behind the headlines and provides never before seen insights into a man who has been both hailed and vilified. Equal parts fascinating, shocking and terrifying the doc avoids being sensationalistic (a daunting task given the subject matter). Though there are some flat spots, the subject and subject matter are enthralling and will give you pause the next time you hit Send.

Shot to look like it was done in one take (and seamlessly so), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) , is an exercise in audacious filmmaking that rises above the conceit of being simply "different". The camera follows a former movie superhero as he tries to capture his glory in a crumbling theater while dealing with a distant daughter, feuding co-stars a venomous theater critic and a potential break with reality. Michael Keaton rises above an incandescent cast to deliver the best performance of his career.

When a trailer features a walking tree AND a talking raccoon, you know the movie is either going to be awesome, or a fantastic failure. I was braced for the latter and thrilled to sit through what is arguably Marvel Studios' best feature to date. Guardians of the Galaxy's end-of-the worlds story is brimming with action, tongue in cheek humour, emotion, a cast of motley outsized characters who are ridiculously enjoyable and a dance-worthy retro soundtrack. The most enjoyable time I had at the movies this year.

An eccentric genius who didn't play well with others, Alan Turing cracked the Nazi's Enigma code machine, effectively shortening the war by several years, but he's never been given his due. Hopefully The Imitation Game will change that. An intriguing historical drama/thriller, it has a great script, is informative, surprisingly exciting and showcases the abilities of its talented cast, especially Benedict Cumberbatch who captures Turing's conflicted virtuoso without rendering him as a caricature.

Now it's time to start scrolling through the plethora of online trailers and marking out my schedule for 2015.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3727
originally posted: 01/01/15 11:52:39
last updated: 01/01/15 11:58:45
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