The Best Films of 2014 – Honorable Mentions (16-20)

Edge of Tomorrow 2

Oscars season is back, and that means it is time to break down the best movies from the past year. Over the next few weeks, I will be revealing each of the movies on my “Top 15 Films of 2014” list, but today I am announcing my five “Honorable Mention” films. Now, I present you with the five films that just missed cracking my Top 15 list:

No. 16 – Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow 1Edge of Tomorrow is a science-fiction film directed by Doug Limon with a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth. The film takes place in the not-so-distant future and follows Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a public relations officer in the military, who is forced into battle against a deadly alien race. His mission is essentially suicide, but Cage is thrown into a time-loop and is sent back to the day before the battle each time he dies. With help from Special Forces Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Cage is able to improve his warrior skills to take down the enemy in the repeated days. After Cruise’s science-fiction failure last year (Oblivion), I was not expecting much from this movie, and truthfully, I had no interest in seeing it. But when I finally did sit down and watch it, I was more than impressed. The storyline is somewhat similar to that of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day (1993), but it blows its “predecessor” away with its incredible action-packed plot. The visual effects are as top-notch as you will see, and the acting is spot-on. The on-screen relationship between Cruise and Blunt is vitally important for this story to work, and their chemistry was vastly evident—these two take an incredibly unique storyline and knock it out of the park. If you are looking for a solid Redbox movie on a Friday night, this one is well worth a watch.

No. 17 – Into the Woods 

Into2Into the Woods is a film directed by Rob Marshall, an adaptation of the critically acclaimed Broadway musical of the same name. I am a huge fan of musicals, but for some reason, I not once had any interest in seeing this movie. However, when the Oscar nominations were released, I was forced into seeing it because Meryl Streep was nominated for her role as The Witch (which was well-deserved)—I am sure glad I saw it. The storyline is such a unique conglomeration of a number of classic fairytales, and the music is as catchy as you can imagine—I literally kept singing some of the songs long after I watched it. I was also impressed with the acting and singing from the film’s starring cast. Even though the film was full of superstar talent (Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, Anna Kendrick, and Tracey Ullman), I was most impressed by James Corden (the Baker) and Emily Blunt (the Baker’s wife)—they did not look like your typical on-screen couple, but the chemistry was apparent and the singing/acting performances by this duo were enchanting. If you are a fan of musicals, this is one of the best I have seen in quite some time.

No. 18 – A Most Violent Year

AMVY3A Most Violent Year is a film written and directed by J.C. Chandor. This movie follows Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), the owner of an oil company in 1981 whose business is being tainted by a severe outbreak of violent corruption during the most crime-ridden year in New York City’s history. This is only Chandor’s third film, but he has built up an expertise in multiple storytelling techniques. He can build a film that centers on plot and dialogue (Margin Call), and he can also create a tried-and-true character study (All Is Lost)—with A Most Violent Year, Chandor does an amazing job of combining these two methods. The film is shot spectacularly, and it includes a foot-chase scene for the ages. Although Oscar Isaac does a solid job in the starring role, the best performance in the movie is from his co-star, Jessica Chastain. Chastain plays Abel’s wife Anna, and the critically acclaimed actress (the most talented in Hollywood, in my opinion) stole every single scene she was in. The film is tense, dark, and thrilling, and it is definitely one of the standout movies from a great year in cinema.

No. 19 – Two Days, One Night 

Two days, one nightTwo Days, One Night is a Belgian-French-Italian drama written and directed by acclaimed Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. The movie is about Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a laborer at a solar-panel manufacturer in Liege. After taking some time off from work due to a nervous breakdown, Sandra returns to find out that management has offered her sixteen co-workers a €1,000 bonus if they vote to let Sandra go from her position. After Sandra pleas with management, her boss agrees to take a new vote on Monday about her fate; thus, Sandra has only one weekend to visit each of her sixteen co-workers to plead her case. There is not much I like more than a well-written, well-acted, well-shot foreign-language film, and Two Days, One Night definitely meets that criteria. The story is a dilemma that any one of us could imagine being in, and Cotillard’s incredible dramatic performance evokes a heightened level of empathy with this tough situation. This film is as simplistic as it gets, but at the same time, it is a tremendously depicted human-nature drama.

No. 20 – The Drop

The DropThe Drop is a mob drama directed by Michaël R. Roskam and written by Dennis Lehane. This movie was No. 6 on my “Fall Preview 2014” post, and although it did not make my list of the Top 15 films of the year, it still stands out as one of the year’s most noteworthy movies. I am a huge fan of several film adaptations of Dennis Lehane’s novels (Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River), and given that this was his first screenplay attempt, I was greatly anticipating the film’s release. As a mob-related drama, the film’s potential success hinged upon a dark, thrilling storyline and believable acting performances—The Drop certainly satisfies these requirements. This was the final appearance in a feature film by James Gandolfini, and given his experience as Tony Soprano on the HBO show The Sopranos, it was not difficult for the late actor to excel in his role as Cousin Marv—it was a spectacular swan song for a talented artist like Gandolfini. Naturally, though, the movie hit its highest points because of the star performance by Tom Hardy. Over the past couple of years, Hardy has become one of my favorite actors, and if you want the chance to see him excel in a role, make sure to check out The Drop.

Fall Preview 2014: No. 10 – No. 6

I hope everyone found the Honorable Mentions post yesterday enjoyable. It is always a fun post as it truly gets this vital film season rolling. Today’s post reveals films No. 10 through No. 6 on my list of Top 10 most anticipated movies coming out during the fall season.  This batch includes some potential heavy hitters, and if you are looking for a great movie to go see in theaters in the next few months, this post will give you some top-notch options among the films that look most poised for success.

No. 10 – Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice is a crime noir set in the psychedelic period of the 1970s, which follows Private Investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and, according to Entertainment Weekly, chronicles his search for answers in the “disappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s wealthy boyfriend.”

At first glance, this film does not appear to have much to offer in terms of high-levels of anticipation—and that is because the plot currently known to the public is entirely vague, and a trailer still does not exist. Notwithstanding this mystery, the movie is regarded as one of the most likely films to receive critical success because of numerous factors, namely its director: Paul Thomas Anderson. PTA is one of my favorite filmmakers around, and furthermore, I believe he is one of the best at what he does (most film nerds share this sentiment). His filmography is impeccable, and the fact that he is back behind the camera is enough of a reason for me to salivate with eagerness.

In addition to P.T. Anderson, the cast is as accomplished as it gets. The film features the likes of Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, and Benicio del Toro. It is sure to be a genius film, and the film’s spot at No. 10 on this list is ONLY because very few details have been released. Inherent Vice is set for a theatrical release on December 12, 2014.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, The Master)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Her), Josh Brolin (Guardians of the Galaxy, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), and Katherine Waterson (Manhattan Romance, Night Moves).

No. 9 – The Judge

In The Judge, big-shot attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) returns to his small hometown to attend his mother’s funeral. The trip is notably momentous for Palmer because for decades, he has been estranged from his father, a well-respected local judge. As if the awkward reuniting between father and son is not arduous enough, Palmer learns that his father is being accused of a fatal hit-and-run accident.

As a second-year law student and life-long aspiring attorney, it is not the least bit surprising that legal films like this have always tickled my fancy. However, I have always strayed away from the law movies that lack any heartfelt drama outside of the courtroom—The Judge does not appear to be one of those.

From the box-office success of the Iron Man franchise, I say this with full confidence that I am in the majority: I buy into Downey’s charisma on the screen. He has his own style and always impresses in his performances, and for this, I am definitely looking forward to this film. I am also excited to see him beside Robert Duvall, an elder statesman in Hollywood with a storied career. I am hopeful that these two silver-screen heavyweights will carry the film with esteem, and if the trailer is of any worth, it appears they have. The Judge is set for a theatrical release on October 10, 2014.

Director: David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, The Change-Up)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr. (The Avengers, Iron Man 3), Robert Duvall, (Jack Reacher, A Night in Old Mexico), Vera Farmiga (Safe House, The Conjuring), and Vincent D’Onofrio (The Break-Up, Charlie Countryman).

No. 8 – The Equalizer

The Equalizer (adapted from the 1980s TV show of the same name) follows Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), a man with a mysterious past and a wealth of combat skills who wishes now to lead a quiet life. However, when he befriends a young prostitute named Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is nearly killed by a mob of Russian gangsters, his thirst for justice reemerges in hopes of rescuing her.

This movie looks good. Really good. And if the Taken-like trailer does not do enough for you, I am sure this will: Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington. The last time the two collaborated was in 2001, when Washington played the Oscar-winning role of Detective Alonzo Harris in Fuqua’s masterful directorial effort Training Day. That film was one of my favorites of all time, and even though Fuqua has not had similar commercial or critical success since, I am highly optimistic about the potential for The Equalizer to lift the 48-year-old director back into Hollywood relevance.

I am also eager to see Moretz playing the supporting character in this movie. Ever since I saw her completely own her scenes in (500) Days of Summer as a 12-year-old, I knew she had a special career ahead of her. So far she has not disappointed, and now she has the chance to take command of a complex role in what is sure to be a fall blockbuster. The Equalizer is set for a theatrical release on September 26, 2014.

Director: Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen)

Starring: Denzel Washington (Flight, 2 Guns) and Chloë Grace Moretz (Carrie, If I Stay).

No. 7 – The Interview

In The Interview, two famous journalists are hired by the CIA to conduct an exclusive interview with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s tyrannous leader. But the trip is not about the interview at all—the two are specifically tasked with carrying out an assassination on the crazed despot.

With the rioting success of every single one of Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s past collaborations, it goes without saying that this movie will most unquestionably live up to the hype in terms of comedic quality. It is also reunites Rogen and James Franco, an on-screen duo that has been making the world laugh for the past few years in blockbuster comedies like Pineapple Express and This Is the End. There it is—the scene is set for another hilarious installment in the young, but storied comedic careers of these three gentlemen. So what else is there to get excited about?

The answer is this specific plot and the controversy that has followed. With the exception of masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park, Team America: World Police), no one else would dare insult such a trigger-happy autocrat on a worldwide scale—but Goldberg, Rogen, and Franco have done just that. But in this film, the funnymen take their gag one step further by attempting to assassinate the real-life dictator. Naturally, the North Korean leader and his posse (those left that have not been executed already, that is) are not happy about the film’s release, even though Kim Jong-un will reportedly watch it. I find the entire ploy an act of a group of men with some serious cojones. Moreover, I cannot wait to watch it myself! The Interview is set for a theatrical release on December 25, 2014.

Director: Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen (This Is the End).

Starring: James Franco (Pineapple Express, This Is the End), Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express, This Is the End), Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls, Masters of Sex), and Randall Park (The Five-Year Engagement, Sex Tape).

No. 6 – The Drop

The Drop tells the story of a Brooklyn bartender named Bob (Tom Hardy). The bar Bob works at serves as a location for mob-related “money drops”—a means of illegally funneling cash. According to Fox Searchlight, “under the heavy hand of his employer and cousin Marv (James Gandolfini),” Bob soon finds himself at the heart of a robbery-gone-wrong, and a subsequent investigation threatens to dig up the past secrets of his community.

Like most films on these Fall Preview lists, The Drop appears to be one of the better movies slated for a release this fall for multiple reasons. First, the fact that Tom Hardy is in the leading role feverishly adds to my interest in this film. Hardy is quickly becoming my favorite actor in modern cinema, and it is because with every single movie, he takes on his characters with a distinctive fervor and unparalleled commitment. From his inimitable performances in Bronson and Locke and everything in between, his passion for his art is admirable, and I grow to appreciate his talent even more with every new role he explores.

Also, I am highly anticipating this film because it is the late Sopranos-legend James Gandolfini’s last appearance on the silver screen. He has had an immense career filled with memorable performances and deserved acclaim, and this particular role seems to fit his style perfectly.

Lastly, author Dennis Lehane wrote the screenplay. A couple of my favorite movies of all time, Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, were films that were adapted from Lehane’s novels. It will be a pleasure to finally see a film that is written directly from the pen of the accomplished wordsmith. The Drop is set for a theatrical release on September 12, 2014.

Director: Michaël R. Roskam (Bullhead).

Starring: Tom Hardy (Lawless, Locke), James Gandolfini (Zero Dark Thirty, Enough Said), and Noomi Rapace (Prometheus, Dead Man Down).