Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Year at the Movies

This was a good year for me, movie-wise. I used to see a lot of movies over a year, but the last 5 or 6 years I worked, I was lucky to see 3 or 4 in the theater, and even the first couple of years of my retirement were slow for movie viewing.

The list, in order seen:
  1. "Inside Llewyn Davis" -- So enjoyable, I saw it twice. A wonderful look at New York City's folk music scene back in its heyday, just before rock 'n' roll. Oscar Isaac is marvelous as the singer/musician who won't grow up.
  2. "12 Years a Slave" -- Deserving of every accolade it received. A powerfully acted movie based on the true story of a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings quiet dignity to the role.
  3. "The Dallas Buyers Club" -- Based on a true story from the early years of the AIDS epidemic, that focused on a homophobe drug addict who falls ill with full blown AIDs and what he does to get the experimental drugs that could extend his life. Another powerful, brilliantly acted movie. One of Matthew McConaughey's best performances.
  4. "Her" -- A man falls in love with his phone's AI. A sweet and unusual love story. Joaquin Phoenix is great, and Scarlett Johansson is better as the disembodied voice of the AI.
  5. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" -- Wes Anderson's movies aren't for everyone, but I love them and this is a charming, funny movie about an elegant hotel, with a murder and Nazis, a prissy concierge (perfectly underplayed by Ralph Fiennes), and his lobby boy.
  6. "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" -- One of the best movies from Marvel Studios, a sequel to "Captain America: First Avenger" and even better than that one.
  7. "Belle" -- Another fact-base movie, this time about a mixed race woman in England of whom little is known, other than she was raised in luxury and influenced her uncle, the chief magistrate whose decisions helped end slavery there. A well-done period movie, beautifully acted, especially Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle.
  8. "X-Men: Days of Future Past" -- A mind-blowing time travel piece featuring Wolverine. Loads of fun.
  9. "Maleficent" -- An utterly charming origin story of the so-called evil fairy from the Sleeping Beauty tale, with a layer of edginess that feels just right. Angelina Jolie brings depth to the title role.
  10. "Edge of Tomorrow" -- A surprisingly good science fiction movie that uses the plot device of "Groundhog Day," where the hero keeps reliving one day until he gets it right, and what he needs to get right will save humanity from an alien invasion. I might not like Tom Cruise, but he's still a damn good actor.
  11. "Snowpiercer" -- A thought-provoking, gritty story about a new Ice Age and the remains of humanity living out their lives on a never-stopping train that circumnavigates the world. Chris Evans, as the main character, reminds us he's more than Captain America.
  12. "Boyhood" -- A tour de Force piece of filmmaking about a boy coming of age, filmed over a 12-year-span. An amazing movie that makes the mundane important, and finds emotion in everyday life.
  13. "Guardians of the Galaxy" -- My favorite movie of the year, if not the best movie. How can I not love a movie with a talking tree and a foul-mouthed raccoon? That's a rhetorical question.
  14. "Get On Up" -- This has been my year for biopics and based-on-true-stories. This is an excellent movie about James Brown, and you can't beat the music. Chadwick Boseman transforms himself into Brown.
  15. "Love is Strange" -- A bittersweet tale of an aging gay couple, beautifully acted.
  16. "Pride" -- Based on the true story of a group of gay activists in England who came to the aid of striking coal miners during the Margaret Thatcher era and the bond that formed between the two very different groups of people. Endearing.
  17. "The Judge" -- Not as good as it could have been, but worth it for the acting, with Robert Duvall as the Judge and father, and Robert Downey, Jr. as the lawyer and son.
  18. "Gone Girl" -- Well-acted, but not as plot-twisty as I expected because I'd figured it out about a third of the way through. But a good movie. Since I didn't read the book, I can't comment on how good an adaptation it is.
  19. "Whiplash" -- Stunning. An acting gem, with aspiring drummer Miles Teller pitted against cruel music professor J.K. Simmons. The jazz will get into your soul, and the acting will keep it there.
  20. "The Book of Life" -- A charming animated movie based on Mexican folktales. Gorgeous graphics.
  21. "Birdman" -- Another acting gem, as Michael Keaton proves he's still one of the best around, playing an actor, who once played a superhero, slowly losing his mind while trying to resurrect his career via a Broadway play. The movie was filmed to look like it was done in one long take and it works brilliantly.
  22. "Big Hero 6" -- An animated movie based on an old Marvel comic. This origin story is about a boy genius who avenges his brother's murder with the aid of his brother's friends and his brother's invention: a medical AI named Baymax. There's also a post-credits scene a lot of people missed.
  23. "Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1" -- A good adaptation of the first half of the book, but bittersweet due to Philip Seymour Hoffman's final performance (I believe he'll be seen somewhat in the second half, due out next year).
  24. "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" -- Disclaimer: I never read Tolkien. I loved the "Lord of the Rings" movies. I didn't enjoy the three Hobbit movies as much. They seemed somewhat lifeless to me, emotionless. I enjoyed seeing them, but they didn't linger with me, as good movies usually do.
  25. "Nightcrawler" -- Jake Gyllenhaal lost weight for this role as a sleazy guy with a violent streak who discovers he he's perfectly suited to cruise the nights of Los Angeles to film graphic footage for local news broadcasts. He's scary, creepy good in what is at its core a morality play about the media and how far the newscasters will go to feed an audience that craves violence.
  26. "Into the Woods" -- I didn't see the stage musical, but I loved the movie. Sondheim has long been one of my favorite composers and lyricists, so I, of course, loved his score. All the actors were topnotch and this dark fairy tale mash-up made for the perfect "last seen movie of the year."
I always have trouble picking favorites, especially one favorite, but I'm going to force myself to choose this time.

My favorite of all the movies I saw this year is "Guardians of the Galaxy." It was pure fun, had a lot of heart, and included sufficient heart-in-throat, edge-of-seat moments, making it the perfect superhero movie.

Best movie, though, that I saw was "Boyhood," with "Birdman" a very close second. Both attempted something different. "Boyhood" was filmed a bit at a time, over 12 years, and "Birdman" was filmed to look like one long shot, and both succeeded beyond expectations, showing that experimenting with form still exists and can still be more than a gimmick.