The Oscar nominations will be announced in a few short hours, and once again, I believe the Academy will get it wrong. Critics get it wrong, the Guilds get it wrong. Prestige, “important” films, movies that have a bandwagon of other awards–these are what will get nominated. And they will most likely be wrong. Because the best pictures of 2014 are actually these:
10. Edge of Tomorrow
This sci-fi adventure starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt certainly deserved better at the box office. It had an original and unique storyline, two engaging leads (Cruise gave his best performance in years). The story of a man who relives the same day every day (yes, like Groundhog Day) so he can finally help Earth defeat an alien invasion, the movie was one of those rare blockbusters that didn’t feel cookie cutter.
9. The Lego Movie
I’m not a fan of many other studios’ animated movies being a former Disney cast member, but The Lego Movie was funny and extremely quotable. It did a great job of voice casting (lead Chris Pratt in his first of two blockbuster movies this last year, along with Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell), used the Lego concept to its advantage, and was the most engaging movie of the year–until its last 10 minutes, which attempted to add heart to a movie that really didn’t need it. Yes, this is the movie our family quoted the most in 2014.
8. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
This engaging family film took the classic picture book and expanded it without ruining a single thing. It was funny, heartwarming, and a live-action film that even my youngest watched without getting bored. For anyone with kids, Alexander was a fantastic reminder of the power of family, the craziness of being a parent. Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner play the parents, and the true wonder of the film is that the family it shows clearly and genuinely love each other and want the best for teacher other–a true rarity in films today.
7. Big Hero 6
The latest animated film from the House of Mouse was freely adapted from a little known Marvel comic and introduced the world to the most wonderful Disney sidekick since Jiminy Cricket. Baymax the Healthcare Provider Robot is warmhearted, caring, and very endearing. He just happens to be in a movie that is brilliantly designed, beautifully animated, and a fantastic origin story for a great team of superheroes. It’s the best animated film of last year: action-packed, moving, and a whole lot of fun.
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
I didn’t expect this movie to be THAT good. But it was. The latest film from Marvel Studios was a wonderfully written sci-fi space opera with talking trees and racoons, evil aliens threatening civilization, and a bunch of mumbo jumbo that really doesn’t make sense. But who cares if it makes sense when you’re having so much fun? Unlike its more familiar Marvel Universe relations, Guardians was a little out of left field. And it was the best sci-fi adventure since the original Star Wars. Chris Pratt anchored the film as the main character, a human in an alien world who really wants to be called “Star-Lord.” So much fun at the movies.
5. The Fault in Our Stars
Based on the best-selling novel, this was a very touching film about two teenagers with cancer. There you go. In spite of it, it was funny, sweet, and endearing. Anchored by a very wonderful lead performance by Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace, a girl who is dying a little every day of cancer, Stars takes its original source material and uses it well. It’s a literate teen film with characters who like to talk about things while they deal with very big events. It was a movie I only went to see because my teenage daughter wanted to see it, but I ended up loving it more than I probably should have. There’s a reason it became on of the biggest, most profitable films in the year–and its soundtrack was the best I’ve heard since the days of John Hughes.
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I loved the original Captain America film, with its WW2 storyline, great direction by Joe Johnston, and Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, the weakling who becomes a hero. I didn’t think they could make the next Cap film any better, and they did. Instead of WW2 adventure, Winter Soldier is a throwback spy thriller, full of politics, espionage, and a really cool bad guy who may or may not be Cap’s best friend, who died in WW2. Taking some of the big events of The Avengers and the original Captain America, this sequel was better than the first and one of the greatest superhero films of all time. It’s seriously just that good.
3. Into the Woods
It’s not a typical “Disney” film because the princes are kind of jerks, Cinderella doesn’t end up happily ever after, and the overall theme is to be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it. Well-directed by Rob Marshall, Woods is a great adaptation of the original stage musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Taking original Grimm fairy tales and mixing them into an original story about a childless baker and his wife, it’s a darker take on Disney’s classic stories, with a pretty high body count. But it features incredible songs (“No One is Alone,” “On the Steps of the Palace,” and “Giants in the Sky” are personal favorites) and a great set of leads in James Corden and Emily Blunt as the Baker and His Wife. They are the heart of the story, and it’s their love and loss that the audiences can best relate to. A couple mistakes (cutting the Baker’s song and a truly horrible costume decision for Johnny Depp as The Wolf) don’t keep this from being the best movie musical in years.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director Wes Anderson is a master at weaving intricately plotted stories, pulling great and quirky performances from a diverse cast. My favorite film by him is Fantastic Mr. Fox, but this comedy-drama is a close second. Shot in three different formats to match the three different time periods in which it is set, Hotel tells the story of a concierge at a hotel who inherits a fabulously expensive painting and goes to great lengths to restore his good name. Ralph Fiennes, so evil in movies like Schindler’s List and the Harry Potter films, is simply perfection here. He is funny, crazy, and holds the film together. It’s quirky, unusual, a little nuts, with awkward pauses, weird moments, and a fantastic soundtrack.
Director Angelina Jolie created a film that I wasn’t sure about when I finished watching. But then I couldn’t get it out of my head. The story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who enlists in WW2 and ends up surviving a horrific experience in a Japanese prison camp, as well as more than 40 days adrift in the Pacific Ocean, Unbroken is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and shows that Jolie is a top-notch director. Jack O’Connell delivers an understated performance as Louis, who endures hellish things yet never gives up, and Japanese singer Miyavi is creepily sympathetic as a disappointing younger son who creates the hellish life the soldiers must live through. It’s a film that is somewhat earnest, which can be a bad thing in this age when stories should be cutting edge and flashy. Yes, it’s an old-fashioned film. But it’s such a powerful story, so wonderfully told, that days later I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And it’s my favorite film of 2014.