REEL BRIEF’s ‘Best Films of 2014’

Here are the REEL BRIEF selections for ‘Best Films of 2014’:

1.  The Imitation Game

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Behind the mathematical statistics, complicated decipher computations, and spy games rests a compelling story of a young boy struggling to be accepted in life.  As fate would have it and after being spurned by so many growing up, Alan Turing found himself in the extraordinary position to help save and affect millions of lives. “The Imitation Game” splendidly illustrates how Turing met his appointment with destiny–a time and place requiring his extraordinary mind and talents. It’s that unlikely connection of Alan Turing to the outcome of World War II, which makes this film so remarkable, intriguing and a “must-see” winner.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

2.  Birdman

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Keaton’s enthralling performance completely dominates this film from start to finish. As the character Riggan Thomson, Keaton plays a once famous actor still revered by his fans for his superhero movie persona Birdman from years ago. Riggan, perhaps similar to Keaton following his Batman days, doesn’t want history to only remember him for wearing the crime-fighting costume. Unwilling to reprise the Birdman gig for a fourth movie installment, Keaton’s character leaves Hollywood for the world of Broadway plays. Now, struggling to gain acceptance from critics, fans and his family, Keaton’s Riggan becomes despondent. Keaton’s intensity shines throughout the movie like a laser in a dark theater.  But by no means does he carry this remarkable film solely. The film’s edgy behind-the-scenes look at a Broadway production reveals a combative storyline from its entire cast and crew.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

3.  Gone Girl

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Rosamund Pike provides an Oscar-worthy performance as the missing Amy Dunne and leads an ensemble cast that is brilliant from top to bottom. Every character’s competent portrayal spins this remarkable tale into a believable narrative yarn—particularly Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney and the high-profile, celebrity attorney Tanner Bolt (played effortlessly by Tyler Perry).  “Gone Girl” unravels enough surprises to moviegoers to make it an instant classic that will be talked about 40 years from now. Viewers in theaters will think they’ve got the mystery solved, only to have another sharp turn in the roller coaster ride throw them in another unexpected direction. This well cast thriller provides dark, edgy entertainment that has serious Oscar potential. Don’t miss this thrilling ride.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

4.  The Theory of Everything

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The Theory of Everything is based upon the memoir by Hawking’s spouse, Jane, titled Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) portrays the brainiac Hawking and gives the strongest lead acting performance I’ve seen in years. Diagnosed with a form of ALS in the early 1960s at the age of 21, Hawking struggled with his debilitating disease as he pursued his Ph.D. and future wife, Jane, at the University of Cambridge. Redmayne convincingly showcases Hawking’s physical limitations as the film ventures into theories on space-time continuums and relativity. Redmayne’s physical transformation and slowed speech easily dwarfs Dustin Hoffman’s autistic, Academy Award-winning gem in 1988’s Rain Man.  The Theory of Everything is an emotional story told by two exceptional and Oscar-worthy performances. Although it would be easy to sum up Stephen Hawking’s life as one of scientific gains or physical setbacks, it’s actually really about neither.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

5.  Guardians of the Galaxy

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This summer’s funniest movie and 2014’s #1 domestic box office hit! This charming space adventure left audiences laughing with its fun, but quirky, style and deadpan humor. The quintet’s banter will remind viewers of a long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away, with Han Solo, Princess Leia and other unusual, but funny characters. “Guardians of the Galaxy” now stands as the flagship of the Marvel franchise.   As starkly different as every character is in the movie, “Guardians of the Galaxy” also breaks the mold to feel very distinct from any other Marvel Studios film. While “Guardians of the Galaxy” may not have the look of a comic book superhero action flick, this movie is easily one of the best so far in the Marvel collection.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

6.  The Hundred-Foot Journey

photoA dazzling cast led by Academy Award winner Helen Mirren (“The Queen” 2006) transforms a movie about food into a big-screen delicacy—rich, informative and cooked exquisitely. The movie’s slower pace perfectly marinates this feel-good story so audiences will leave satisfied and full.  Although there are no huge plot twists in the film, a few curves appear here and there to keep viewers always entertained. As two cultures attempt to out-wit, out-shine each other in excellence and popularity in the restaurant biz, romance comes to a slow boil.  “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a great movie choice for any Date Night or viewers looking for a fine dining, culinary odyssey. Bon appetite!  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

7.  Begin Again

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This film provides the perfect mix of music and relationships, blending both with equal parts of raw emotion thrown in for good measure.  Director John Carney, who brought us the surprise 2006 hit “Once” using unknown film stars singing an Oscar-winning tune, attempts to capture much of that same success and winning formula in this adventure. Academy Award nominee Keira Knightley (for 2005’s “Pride & Prejudice”) is a familiar screen presence playing the role of a British songwriter for her boyfriend (portrayed by real-life singer Adam Levine). Admirably, Carney gets both Knightley and Levine to venture outside their normal day-to-day comfort zones—actress Knightley showing off her singing chops for the first time on the big-screen while Maroon 5 lead vocalist Levine uses “Begin Again” to launch a potential film career.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

8.  Unbroken

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Angelina Jolie with Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jan 26, 1917 – July 2, 2014)

To start the film, director Angelina Jolie wisely takes a page straight out of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” playbook, throwing moviegoers immediately into the opening scene of hostile fire from enemy forces in World War II. From here, we learn that this movie’s an impressive story about an uncommon man named Louis Zamperini. As a young boy who grew up in Southern California, we find Zamperini a bombardier aboard a U.S. Army Air Forces’ B-24 Liberator dropping bombs on Japanese targets in the Pacific. The strong-willed Zamperini falls back on his exceptional athleticism and mental fortitude—instilled during his old high school track days—throughout the movie as he fights for his life.  While impossible to capture every event in Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book on film, Jolie and her team of writers do a fantastic job of covering the influences in Zamperini’s life and the importance he placed in his faith and the human spirit when difficult times confronted him.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

9.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Watch out ‘Iron Man’ Tony Stark, the MARVEL comic book film collection has a refreshing, new look and feel to it! After several stale, or at best, struggling, efforts by The Avengers batch in recent years, this series returns to its old form. For the first time since the Stark Industries’ leader emerged from his Afghan cave in 2008, audiences can enjoy a suspenseful plot with many twists, turns and laughter. The strong bond and easy banter between Tony Stark and his then-personal secretary Pepper Potts, shares a likeness to the current rapport Captain America has with his partner in Winter Soldier. This latest MARVEL movie installment runs at a brisk enough pace to introduce superhero, Falcon, to viewers while “passing on the left”. To see where MARVEL, and perhaps Falcon, may go in the future, be sure to stay until the final credits roll.  FULL MOVIE REVIEW

10.  Tim’s Vermeer

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American illusionists and entertainers Penn & Teller bring us this fascinating and thoughtful story on how, perhaps, 17th Century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, was able to produce paintings with a nearly photographic quality.  This film offers a splendid, jaw-dropping look into art paintings through forensic clues; but it doesn’t stop there.  The film also incorporates some of the finest in Americanism, symbolized by our culture’s innovative spirit.  Tim Jenison’s continual tinkering with gadgets and light while refusing to quit until he solved the mystery of Vermeer’s work is richly entertaining. This spectacular documentary will leave you better off for seeing it and more appreciative of the genius behind the art–and the technology. FULL MOVIE REVIEW

HONORABLE MENTION

The LEGO Movie

The Fault in Our Stars

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Million Dollar Arm

Interstellar

St. Vincent

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DISCLAIMER:  The following movies were not reviewed in 2014 due to their limited release and non-availability until 2015:   “American Sniper”, “Selma”, “Foxcatcher” and “Still Alice”.

© 2015, Patrick. All rights reserved.



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