The top ten movies of 2014

MUCH AS we'd like to report that everything was awesome in 2014, some movies were more awesome than others.

Here are the Top 10 movies of the year, in alphabetical order, with honorable mentions.


THE BABADOOK. Aussie horror movie about a mother slowly being driven crazy by her needy son, and the creepy bedtime storybook that becomes a manifestation of her condition. By a first-time (!) director, Jennifer Kent. Horror movie honorable mention: "The Guest."

BIRDMAN. Frenzied backstage moments as an obsolete Hollywood action star (Michael Keaton) mounts a highbrow Broadway play. Virtuoso acting from Ed Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and others, done in what's meant to appear as one hilarious take. Honorable mention: Similar reinvention story from Chris Rock, "Top Five." Second runner-up: "Whiplash."

BLUE RUIN. Riveting story about a man who sets out to kill the ex-con who murdered his parents. Featuring no one you ever heard of, it's a movie about the impulse for revenge and where it takes you - a place you don't want to go, and can't control when you get there.

BOYHOOD. What if family life isn't hysterical catharsis and weepy reconciliation? What if it's mostly patience, just showing up every day, waiting for stuff to blow over? Richard Linklater's one-of-a-kind innovation - periodically filming the same kid over 12 years to frame a coming-of-age story - pays off in profound ways.

FURY. Brad Pitt heads a tank crew on a suicide mission in the waning days of the war. Hollywood wildman David Ayer makes a Sam Fuller-ish WWII movie, one that tries to be brutally honest about killing and combat. Honorable mention: "American Sniper," Clint Eastwood's profile of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), due next month.

INHERENT VICE. Imagine if Philip Marlowe and Jeff Lebowski somehow had a child. Joaquin Phoenix is a pothead detective hired to find a missing millionaire in 1970s Los Angeles, wading through Black Panthers, white supremacists and a drug cartel run by either communist Chinese or dentists. Paul Thomas Anderson's crazy, funny adaptation of Thomas Pynchon, due next month.

KIDS FOR CASH. Hard to get this documentary out of your head. The story of Pennsylvania judges who took a secret financial interest in a for-profit juvenile facility, then made sure it was kept full of juveniles. Hair-raising, and a subtle but devastating critique of the perverse incentives put in place by for-profit incarceration.

THE LEGO MOVIE. Oddly enough, the 2014 movie certain to inspire the most doctoral dissertations. If you want to spend a fun hour web surfing, read the meta-analysis of this movie, which is either a critique of corporate fascism or an ode to a libertarian paradise. Hard to do with just Lego bricks. From directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("22 Jump Street").

NIGHTCRAWLER. A horror movie and an effective satire of our new 1099 economy, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal as a homicidal maniac with an idea for a disruptive start-up, complete with an unpaid intern (Riz Ahmed) doing the dirty work. Gyllenhaal's unnerving "let's talk about us" scene with Rene Russo is one of the year's best.

SELMA. Not a sweeping biopic about Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo), but a more intimate, atypical, look at strategy and process. Writer-director Ava DuVernay paints King as a hard-nosed realist implementing a pragmatic, some might say, manipulative strategy - gaming racist whites into aiding his agenda as he stages a legendary march on Alabama's state capital, forcing LBJ to advance civil-rights legislation. Due next month.

 


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