The Best and Worst of 2014

The Best and Worst of 2014

By Danny Minton

I have heard from a lot of people that 2014 was a great year for movies. While I usually agree with that statement on any given year, I will admit that 2014 was a bit of a disappointment for me. Typically, my top 10 is full of films I really loved and there would be many in my honorable mention category that I had to toil over to not include in the big list. This year I liked a lot of movies, but I can’t say I’m completely head over heals with any but a few. That being said, I think that should you check out any of the films in this list, you will be glad you did. They are an entertaining bunch indeed. For my list, I tend to include the films I enjoyed the most, and not necessarily the intellectual best from the year.


1) Whiplash (in theaters). Music has always been a passion of mine and as a former jazz musician myself, I have an understanding of what separates the good from the great and the great from the legendary. In Whiplash, J.K. Simmons (who will win the Best Supporting Oscar for his role) is a jazz instructor who sees potential in a young drummer played by Miles Teller. In an attempt to try to create a legendary drummer, he proceeds to break the kid down bit by bit, driving him to the point of insanity. By doing this he breaks the audience down as well as we become the young prodigy, hoping desperately to overcome and satisfy the teacher. This is masterful filmmaking with performances that will be talked about for years.


2) Guardians of the Galaxy (available on DVD and Blu-ray). This relatively little-known Marvel title surprised the world this summer, becoming the top-grossing film of 2014 and creating a new franchise for us to fall in love with. The newest addition to the A-List actor community, Chris Pratt, leads a team of unlikely galactic heroes, including a talking raccoon and a walking tree, to fight a power that could threaten the entire universe. The film is so well-written it is scary and is as funny as it is exciting. To top it off, it is fairly kid-friendly to boot.


3) The Grand Budapest Hotel (available on DVD and Blu-ray). Wes Anderson has always been one of my favorite filmmakers. His light and airy yet richly complex style sparks a creativity in me like no other filmmaker does today. In his newest creation, his typical all-star cast is led by Ralph Fiennes who plays an Eastern European hotel concierge from days long past who is wanted for murder and on the run from the cops. While darker than his usual fare, the journey is pure bliss from start to finish. While Rushmore is and probably always will be my favorite Wes Anderson film, this one is a close second.


4) Boyhood (Available on DVD and Blu-ray January 6, on iTunes now). If I had to guess who will be the big Oscar winner this year, I would place my bet on Richard Linklater and Boyhood. For 12 years Linklater filmed a story about the life of a young boy, played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane, for a couple of weeks at a time. When he finished, he had a sprawling epic narrative where you literally get to watch a young man grow up before your very eyes. Helping to put our own lives in perspective, Boyhood is more of an experience than a movie.


5) Gone Girl (available on DVD and Blu-ray January 13). I love it when I think I know exactly the direction a film is going to take, to the point where I’m even internally cocky about it, and then I discover that I am incredibly wrong. This movie, based on the book by Gillian Flynn and directed by David Fincher (Fight Club) humbled me in that way. Telling the story about a beautiful and intelligent wife (Rosamund Pike) who goes missing and the husband (Ben Affleck) who is accused of her murder, Gone Girl throws you for one loop after another until you are exhausted and eerily satisfied.


6) Nightcrawler (in theaters). Handsome leading man Jake Gyllenhaal turns creepy in this film about an ambitious young man who attempts to capture violent footage as a freelance reporter for a local Los Angeles televisions station. This is a gritty and dark tale with a twisted sense of humor and a relentless breach of moral and ethical standards. It’s like a modern day 1970’s film.

How to Train

7) How to Train Your Dragon 2 (available on DVD and Blu-ray). I really loved the first Dragon and was excited to see where writer/director Dean DeBlois and his talented team of animators would take Hiccup and Toothless. In this newest journey, Hiccup and his childhood friends are young adults faced with a malicious dragon master who wants to steal their dragon cohabitants and destroy their village. While the first film was big, this one pulls out all of the stops and throws in a mind-boggling amount of action and plot. And the animation is a real step forward, providing some of the most amazing cinematography we’ve seen in theaters this year.

blue ruin

8) Blue Ruin (available on DVD and Blu-ray). Since the rise of independent filmmaking we’ve trained ourselves to expect less of micro-budgeted films. We expect, with good cause many times, that a film with an ultra-low budget won’t look good, sound good, or have reasonably good acting. But every once in while you get a film like Blue Ruin which tells the story of a man who is desperate to seek revenge on the man who killed his mom and dad, but lacks the skill or mental capacity to carry out that revenge and the subsequent consequences. The beauty of the film is that the hero is so easy to empathize with that we become quickly hooked and glued to his plight.


9) The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (in theaters). Now that Peter Jackson has taken us all the way to the end of the tale of Bilbo Baggins and his quest to help the dwarves reclaim their mountain home, I for one am glad he took on us on this long but well crafted journey. I was one of the many questioning why we needed three films, but this exceptional third chapter shows that Jackson knew what he was doing all along and audiences will be the better for it. We have been there and back again and well-entertained in the process.


10) Big Hero 6 (in theaters). Frozen left some big shoes to fill but Disney Animation Studios put their best foot forward and created this fantastic super hero genesis story from another relatively little-known Marvel comic. While formulaic in story, there is an original twist on the genre that is exciting to watch. And Baymax has to be one of the most lovable characters to ever be introduced into the Disney universe. Ultimately, Disney once again knocks it out of the park with another family-friendly hit.

Honorable Mention: American Sniper, Belle, Big Eyes, Birdman, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Life Itself, Noah, Selma, St Vincent, Theory of Everything, The Trip to Italy

The Worst

1) Blended. Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore re-team in this awful excuse for a romantic comedy set in South Africa. Contrived and poorly conceived, this is proof that Sandler is trying to dare us to go see his movies.

2) Tammy. Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon star in this comedy that gets so depressing that it forgets to be funny. It’s just a sad road trip movie mislabeled and miserably produced.

3) Think Like a Man 2. Think Like a Man was bad enough, but this sequel, centered around a Sin City wedding, is something I wish had just stayed in Vegas.

4) Need for Speed. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul competes in a cross-country car race to avenge a friend’s death. Never has a racing movie been so tedious and unexciting.

5) Transformers: Age of Extinction. At first you’re like “oh cool, dinosaur transformers,” and then you realize that that’s just kind of stupid. Of course you have to wait two hours to see them before you can come to this realization. Had the film been an hour shorter it might have been considered a guilty pleasure. At its almost three hour running time, this is just one excessive mess and a monumental waste of time.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies



The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage
Directed by Peter Jackson
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

     I’ve read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, maybe not as many times as some, but enough to know that the story is about a group of dwarves, along with a wizard and a hobbit, who try to take back a mountain full of gold from the Dragon known as Smaug. But a huge battle? Well, in the book there is only a glimpse of it, so for me, after the removal of Smaug, this storyline didn’t seem like a necessary diversion and central focus for an entire film. And yet it fits.

     In this last chapter, after Smaug is defeated, King Thorin’s heart becomes possessed by the riches of the mountain. When the elves and men come to claim their rightful portion of the treasure, Thorin refuses to share and a large battle seems eminent when suddenly a vast orc army enters to complicate the situation. It’s a grand war full of unexpected outcomes.

     This is where a trust in Peter Jackson needs to be placed. He and his team felt that the story just wasn’t complete leaving it as is and so a huge embellishment was needed, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m glad he was in charge. This is not at all like The Hunger Games or Twilight where two films were made instead of one as a pure money grab. Here, this story felt like it needed to be told and like the overall film wouldn’t have been served correctly without it.

     Production-wise, this film is, as expected, first class. It appears that no expense was spared to make everything look and sound perfect. The special effects, while not as showy as in the second installment, were flawless and exhilarating. The acting was superb by the entire cast, making the entire world seem alive. And once again, Howard Shore created a new and innovative score that doesn’t just remind us of old themes, but rather livens up the movie with fresh and beautiful music.

     As an aside, while I was never bothered by the tremendous lengths of the Lord of the Rings and other Hobbit films, it will be comforting to some that this newest installment is the shortest Middle Earth film yet clocking in at only 144 well-paced minutes.

     I guess what I’m most enthused about with this final Hobbit film is that beforehand I wasn’t excited to watch it but afterward I was extremely excited to talk about it. I love a good surprise and this film made me remember why I love Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth so dearly. It is a masterful creation and a terrific way to close out what I think will be considered to be one of the most underrated and under-appreciated sagas in cinematic history. A

New in Home Entertainment – December 16, 2014

The Skeleton Twins


New in Home Entertainment


December 16, 2014


The Skeleton Twins
Rated R for language, some sexuality and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Saturday Night Live alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader star in this dark comedy about estranged twins whose lives are brought back together after a suicide attempt. While the drama is well crafted and the actors are more than capable, the film unfortunately is so full of poison that it is not an entertaining watch. It’s hard to go for a movie like this when you just can’t like any of the characters, even if you love the actors who play them. C+

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
In an attempt to make a better-looking CG-driven Ninja Turtles movie, Battle Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebsman and producer Michael Bay deliver this pseudo-genesis story about the vigilante mutants and their fight against the evil Shredder. I can admit that the look of the film is a nice touch and at about 100 minutes, its a fast-paced mindless action flick that doesn’t have you constantly looking at your watch. For adults, the film is a bit of a letdown and honestly a waste of time. Children though will enjoy it and even though it is PG-13, it is still pretty kid-friendly. C+

This is Where I Leave You
Rated R for language, sexual content and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
This is Where I Leave You is yet another dark comedy starring a bunch of folks we love. In this case, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda and a largely talented ensemble head home after the passing of their father, only to be forced to live under one roof and suffer each others’ company for a few days. While there are some somewhat funny moments, most of the film is just a drag to watch. The script is well-acted, but not well-written and the attempt to recreate a familial Big Chill fizzles quickly. C

New in Home Entertainment – December 9, 2014



New in Home Entertainment


December 9, 2014


Guardians of the Galaxy
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
This summer was a bit of a disappointment until this unexpected gem of a sci-fi/superhero film popped out its head. Taken from the pages of a relatively little-known Marvel comic, Guardians tells the genesis story of how a rag-tag group of galactic misfits join together to, well, guard the galaxy. Chris Pratt plays the leader of the gang Peter Quill, who wishes to be known as Starlord, and together with a green princess named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), muscle-bound brute Drax (Dave Bautista), a talking raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and a walking tree (Vin Diesel), surprised the planet as it has become one of the biggest moneymakers in recent years. While it is most definitely an epic science fiction film, what wins audiences over is the playfulness it exudes. While it starts out a bit on the sad side, it lets on immediately that we are here to have fun and it is truly one of the best times I have had in a theater all year. A

Dolphin Tale 2
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In this second installment of the Dolphin Tale saga, Winter, the dolphin who lost her tail, has lost her tank partner due to old age and is now depressed and in need of a new pool mate. Compared to the first film, this one is far cheesier, but it still manages to throw in a decent amount of magic as well. Honestly, I’m glad they are making these films, even if the quality of the writing and acting isn’t always up to snuff. To have positive live-action family films again is a good thing to add to the mix, considering the large amount of family-unfriendly films we see too much of in theaters. This is a decent enough film to entertain adults while at the same time inspiring children. B

Rated R for language and some sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Let me tell you upfront – Frank is weird. Really weird. Frank tells the story of an eclectic alt band led by Frank (Michael Fassbender), a man who goes through life wearing a giant mask like you might see at a creepy amusement park. Told through the eyes of a new bandmate (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who quits his day job to play keyboards for the band, the story meanders through rehearsals to recordings to performances culminating in a crazy pinnacle at SXSW in Austin, TX. While it might seem like experimental filmmaking, and it kind of is, it also turns out to be a fascinating fantasy about mental illness, creativity and art. Let me reiterate, Frank is very weird, but it is definitely never boring and most thoroughly interesting. B+

The Jeffersons: The Complete Series
Available on DVD
Finally getting a nice DVD release is this classic television show that ran from 1975-1985 about a black couple who upon starting a successful business, move into a fancy white apartment in New York City. For much of white America, and I’m included in this group, this was a first exposure to modern black culture. Looking back it at now, it is relevant and still very funny. I’ll admit, I only made a small dent in the 74 hours of content on the 33 DVDs, but I am looking forward to enjoying more over the holidays. A-