By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was an okay year, as opposed to an exceptional one, at the movies.
But there were still plenty of impressive and/or exhilarating and/or satisfying theatrical movie experiences.
Which is our cue to take a look back.
So, in one critic’s opinion and in ascending order, according to the voting members of the Academy of Me, Myself, and I, here are the best of the best, the Top 10 Movies of 2014.
Two superlative performances highlight this deeply affecting romantic biography focused on the relationship between renowned physicist/philosopher Stephen Hawking, afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, played by Eddie Redmayne, and his first wife, Jane Wilde, played by Felicity Jones. The cosmological physics that’s acknowledged is worked into the narrative sensibly and gracefully, never pulling focus from the central relationship between what you might call two extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances. Redmayne is no less than astounding, and Jones, in the less showy role, matches him every step of the way in this sensitive and inspiring biodrama.
I know, I know: it’s a sequel, it’s a genre piece, it’s a franchise installment. But this entertaining explosion of escapism about ape-ism is the most technically dazzling, magnificently realized, and intensely absorbing Apes flick yet, a cautionary tale involving evolved apes of wrath in San Francisco that explores issues of gun control and power and trust, and features full-bodied characters, not just guys in ape suits. That’s not to shortchange the special effects, because the illusions are simultaneously astonishing and seamless in this scintillatingly simian science fiction saga.
Miners and gays are the strange bedfellows in the real-life unlikely alliance on display in this fictionalized account of a united-we-stand story set in England in the summer of 1984. A rousing and satisfying historical comedy-drama, it focuses on the strike by the National Union of Mineworkers against prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s government in South Wales and the support they get from a London-based group of gay-rights activists. We’re visiting two oppressed communities who would seem to have nothing in common. But their shared working-class humanity bleeds through in this stirring and moving ensemble dramedy.
Drum roll, please, for this intense drama about a drummer and his scary mentor. Miles Teller, who is terrific, plays a young drummer who has enrolled in the nation’s top music conservatory in Manhattan. JK Simmons, who is stone-cold brilliant, plays the fearsome, bullying conductor of the school’s competitive jazz band who recruits the 19-year-old and then, ostensibly to help him realize his potential, torments and mistreats him unmercifully. Their scenes together are electrifying in a riveting, small-scale drama that’s sudden and surprising, feverish and ferocious, unexpected and unforgettable.
The year is 2031, seventeen years after a failed global-warming experiment that backfired and lowered the global temperature, leaving the planet completely frozen. That’s the premise for this stimulatingly peculiar political allegory set on a luxury nonstop train in which the many oppressed have-nots at the back of the train are trying to get to the front, where the few pampered haves are. This imaginative, darkly engaging, and highly original epic adventure has so much going on that one viewing isn’t enough to take it all in and fully absorb its intriguing and compelling train of thought.
It’s a biodrama, a thriller, a character study, a puzzle, and a wrong righted. Yep, five movies in one, and all are engrossing and impressive. The ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as the brilliant Alan Turing, the real-life mathematician who essentially invented the computer as a means of cracking the Nazis’ “Enigma” code, thus saving millions of lives during World War II, an extraordinary achievement underappreciated until now. Keira Knightley contributes a fine supporting turn as a fellow codebreaker and love interest in a glowing tribute to the tragically persecuted father of artificial intelligence –- long overdue but well worth the wait.
David Oyelowo is outstanding as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in director Ava DuVernay’s superbly crafted epic drama about the U . civil rights movement during a crucial few months in Alabama in 1965. All aspects of the film are so smartly controlled -– the writing, the shooting, the acting, the editing -– that what feels like modesty gives the film an integrity that is ultimately that much more moving. Oyelowow captures King’s inspiring oratory –- no mean feat –- and he’s ably supported by Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Nigel Thatch as Malcolm X, Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson, and Tim Roth as George Wallace in this definitive history lesson.
Literally and figuratively stellar, this primal science fiction extravaganza from visionary director Christopher Nolan is a time-bending tale full of grandeur and suspense. It’s set in the near future, when the Earth is uninhabitable and the human race needs a new home planet. An optimistic speculation even though it’s about imperiled Earth, this is a high-tech movie with heart, as emotionally engaging as it is technically proficient. Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, and Anne Hathaway shine in a smart, smooth, smashing cosmic adventure.
A unique cinematic experiment from eclectic director Richard Linklater that began shooting in 2002 as a coming-of-age drama that was then continued for a few days every year for 12 years so that we could really see the characters age. This movie doesn’t resemble life; it is life, full of casual intimacy and privileged moments. Ethan Hawke and the career-best Patricia Arquette are the Texas parents of Ellar Coltrane, who ages from seven to 19. An unassuming, amusing, empathetic, and authentic portrait of ordinary family life, Linklater’s one-of-a-kind project quietly captures the intersection of reel life and real life in a way that comprises a deceptively simple snapshot of the human condition.
The year’s most audacious and exciting movie, an exhilarating dark comedy in the magical realism realm, stars ex-Batman Michael Keaton as ex-Birdman Riggan Thomson, an actor who walked away from a lucrative superhero-movie franchise and now finds himself financing and rehearsing a play on Broadway because it turns out he misses the limelight more than he thought he would. Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrito — shooting as if in one continuous take, which has the effect of pulling us in and adding to the intimacy and intensity –- explores our celebrity culture and the mystery of talent and creativity, aided by Keaton’s stupendous leading-man comeback and enhanced with great supporting turns from Edward Norton as a fellow actor and Emma Stone as Thomson’s daughter. Birdman soars and so does his indelible movie.
Now, bring on 2015!