The end of the 2014 movie year is here and it won’t go down as one of the most memorable in movie history. It started with the forgettable “Paranormal Activity: The Marked One” and ended with a flood of films to draw moviegoers at the holidays, including “Unbroken.”
Box office totals were off despite efforts by the studios to lure audiences with big comic book movies such as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or the finale of “The Hobbit” trilogy.
For my best and worst list, the only criteria is that the film had to play on a local movie screen or been available via online or DVD during the year. That means movies such as “Selma,” “American Sniper” and “A Most Violent Year” weren’t among the productions in the running.
Here are my picks for the best and worst movies in 2104.
• 1. “Birdman”: This film about an aging action film actor who tries to revive his career with a Broadway play would be worthy of a spot on the best of 2014 list simply for Michael Keaton’s superb performance.
It earns the top spot because of the memorable supporting work by Edward Norton and Emma Stone plus the mind-blowing techniques used to film the production.
This modern day “Sunset Boulevard” has so much to offer multiple viewings still might not be enough.
• 2. “Theory of Everything”: Keaton’s main opponent for this year’s Best actor Oscar will be Eddie Redmayne for his sterling portrayal of super genius Stephen Hawking.
While the subject matter of the biopic suggests this will be a production mired deep in scientific chatter, the movie is really a beautiful love story. The chemistry between Redmayne and Felicity Jones is galactic.
• 3. “Grand Budapest Hotel”: Wes Anderson’s films are always filled with a sense of whimsy, but none has been as whimsical as this one. It’s as if Hans Christian Andersen had written a script for Quentin Tarantino as it blends the charm of a fairytale with the craziness of a fast-talking action film.
Give credit to Ralph Fiennes for making this all work as he plays a hotel employee on the run.
It’s as well acted as it is visually stunning.
• 4. “Guardians of the Galaxy”: Often, movies that are major box office hits get overlooked because they have more style than substance. But, there was no other movie this year that combined as much smart writing with pure action fun.
This adaptation of a Marvel comic book opens with a bang and never lets up, riding the charm and energy of star Chris Pratt. There’s not been an action film hero this good since Harrison Ford slipped into the Indiana Jones role for the first time.
• 5. “Wild”: Reese Witherspoon turns in the best performance of her career playing a woman who goes on a 1,000-mile hike to find herself. The film is a moving and compelling tale of an emotional trek played out against a stunning backdrop.
Witherspoon starts by being stripped to her physical and emotional core. From that humbling beginning she takes the character on a pathway of redemption.
Laura Dern turns in an amazing supporting performance as the catalyst for Witherspoon‘s character to make her emotional journey.
6. “Boyhood”: Richard Linklater’s tale of a boy’s life from age 5-18 starts out looking like it will survive on the gimmick that the film was shot over a dozen years. As each year passes in a seamless parade of small moments, the brilliance of the film is revealed.
Linklater has put together a reminder that while we may remember the big moments with the most clarity, we are all the product of what seem to be insignificant moments along our life’s path.
It’s equally amazing watching Ellar Coltrane’s acting journey from talented youngster to gifted young adult.
• 7. “The LEGO Movie”: Everything about this movie is awesome.
It’s easy to dismiss this as a kid’s movie because it’s built on a world of colorful plastic blocks. That’s just the foundation for a production loaded with such smart writing and visual gags that it builds and builds the fun and excitement.
Plus, no other movie offered as catchy a song.
• 8. “Big Hero 6”: Few people knew the comic book that was the basis for this story of young genius who uses a robot to solve a mystery. That changed once the dazzling animated film was released.
Never has East met West in such a visually stunning way from the blending of the architecture of Tokyo and San Francisco (to create San Fransokyo) to the collision of traditional animation with anime.
It is “manga-nificent.”
• 9. “Life Itself”: Few people working outside the film industry have had as much impact on movie making as Roger Ebert. It’s a wonderful tribute to the late critic that this bold and open documentary is so beautiful done.
Director Steve James has put together a full look at Ebert’s life and career from his battles with Gene Siskel to Ebert’s ill health.
• 10. “Nightcrawler”: Jake Gyllenhaal transforms himself to play a hustler who discovers there is money to be made from the late-night misery of others.
Director Dan Gilroy offers a dark and depressing tale that appears to be an examination of TV news but is in reality a look at the public who hungers for this type of reporting.
It’s a strong commentary delivered through the impressive acting efforts of Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo.
• 1.“Tammy”: Not only is the Melissa McCarthy comedy a major disappointment because it is so poorly written and acted but it is also a monumental waste of talent.
McCarthy, Susan Sarandon , Kathy Bates and Toni Collette do not have one funny line in this miserable film about a fast food worker who goes on a road trip to find herself. What we get is a movie that’s such a stinker the caustic fumes still linger in some theaters.
• 2. “Annabelle”: The main thing a scary movie should do is be scary. The scariest thing about this movie is that a film studio would release such a lazy attempt at making a horror movie without any sign of shame.
The tale of a killer doll is full of bad acting, writing and direction.
• 3. “Annie”: The sun will come out tomorrow and show how poorly the stage production has been updated.
A mix of bad casting, embarrassing acting (that means you Cameron Diaz) and the weak voice of star Quvenzhané Wallis leaves “Annie” one of the biggest duds since the Depression.
• 4. “Blended”: It wouldn’t be a list of bad movies without a contribution from Adam Sandler.
He gets some help making this supposed comedy a disaster from Drew Barrymore as they play a couple who go from a bad blind date to sharing an African vacation. A bad blind date is seeing this horrible excuse for a movie.
• 5. “Endless Love”: More like endless pain. Alex Pettyfer — who has the acting range of a mannequin — stars in the remake of the 1981 Brooke Shields film. To be fair, Pettyfer gets no acting help from his talentless co-star, Gabriella Wilde .
The new “Endless Love” is a sanitized version of the original movie, which was already a flop.
• 6. “The Other Woman”: Diaz was awful in “Annie,” but in this film she reveals a whole new level of acting incompetence. And yet, she still wasn’t as bad as Leslie Mann and Kate Upton .
The tale of three women looking to get revenge on the man who’s cheating on all three of them is all the fun of cleaning a horse stall. And, it is twice as stinky.
• 7. “Ouija”: The spirits should warn everyone that this movie is as scary as a game of “Chutes and Ladders.”
From the blonde who becomes the first fodder for the creature in a cursed house to all efforts to stop the spirit only being done in the dead of night, the makers of this flop wouldn’t recognize an original idea if it was spelled out on a Ouija board.
• 8. “A Walk Among the Tombstones”: Liam Neeson’s movie is DOA.
It has neither taut drama nor first-rate action to give it any life. It doesn’t help that the usually dependable Neeson has fallen into a rut of playing tough — but flawed — lawmen. Prints of this film should be taken.
• 9. “Transcendence”: Johnny Depp’s films are hit and miss. This one’s a major miss.
It’s sad that a movie about artificial intelligence isn’t smarter. With a plot that looks like a prequel to the apocalyptic world of the NBC series “Revolution” and a love story that gives new meaning to “computer dating,” this cautionary tale ends up being a few bytes short of a download.
• 10. “Dumb and Dumber To”: Any goofy charm that was in the original film is lost in a series of inane moments where Jim Carey mugs to the camera and Jeff Daniels shovels dirt on his career. And, they had 20 years to between films to work on it.
Not dumb enough to be campy fun. It’s just dumb.