In anticipation of Oscar season, Where Y'at film editor David Vicari lets you know what should rank and what was stank in 2014.
10. Big Eyes – Amy Adams delivers a strong, quiet performance in Tim Burton's based-on-fact story of Margaret Keane, who was convinced by her snake of a husband, Walter (Christoph Waltz), to let him take credit for her popular paintings. Good drama as well as great period atmosphere of the late '50s and early '60s contribute to Burton's best in years.
9. American Sniper – Truth or fiction, this war drama about the most lethal sniper in American history is masterfully directed by Clint Eastwood, and boast an excellent central performance by Bradley Cooper.
8. Wild – Based on the memoirs of Cheryl Strayed, this soul-searching tale of redemption is punctuated by a forceful performance by Reese Witherspoon. Laura Dern lends fine support as Strayed's mother.
7. Interstellar – A former NASA pilot (Matthew McConaughey in a supercharged performance) is recruited to save a dying Earth in this smart, sprawling science fiction epic by Christopher Nolan.
6. Hateship Loveship – In this New Orleans-shot drama, Kristen Wiig delivers an affecting low-key performance as a mousy, socially awkward caregiver who is maliciously tricked into thinking that the troubled father (Guy Pearce) of her teenage charge is in love with her. The movie does not go in the direction that you think and that is refreshing. This one is quietly powerful.
5. Chef – This wispy comedy about a master chef (Jon Favreau, who wrote and directed) in crisis who ends up on a Florida to California road trip with his son (Emjay Anthony), where they bond over food and culture, is an absolutely joyous experience.
4. Boyhood – Richard Linklater's character study was shot over a span of about 12 years and we see actor Ellar Coltrane grow up before our very eyes, aging from seven to 19. It's a bold experiment and it all comes together as a dramatic whole. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke ring true as the boy's divorced parents.
3. Begin Again – Writer/director John Carney's comedy-drama contains lots of music, so in essence, it's a musical, and an irresistible one at that. An alcoholic, down-on-his-luck music executive (Mark Ruffalo) spots a brokenhearted singer/songwriter (Keira Knightley) in a club and they decide to collaborate on a album to be recorded live at locations around New York City. Energetic performances and some good music make this a winner.
2. Life Itself – Funny, sad, insightful and ultimately wonderful documentary on the life (and final days) of film critic Roger Ebert.
1. Whiplash – A young drum student (Miles Teller) clashes with his sociopathic instructor (J. K. Simmons) in this drama of such intensity that I actually exhaled when the end credits began to roll. The moments of teacher and student combat are explosive – and look out for those drumming scenes! Writer/director Damien Chazelle's film is more alive and powerful than most movies of recent memory.
Honorable mentions: The Babadook, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Edge of Tomorrow, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Housebound, Joe, Locke, The Rover and Snowpiercer.
10. Dumb and Dumber To – Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels return as a couple of idiots in this belated sequel. Yes, it's gross and in bad taste...but the execution of the gags aren't funny. The most repugnant scenes involves a menstruating teenage girl and a wine cork.
9. Transcendence – Johnny Depp is a brilliant, dying scientist who imports his thoughts into a supercomputer, which begins transforming sick and dying people into an army of supermen. This utter silliness takes itself way too seriously and that's what kills it.
8. Maleficent – Oh boo hoo! Disney's villainous fairy godmother (Angelina Jolie) from Sleeping Beauty was apparently misunderstood and a tortured soul. Dumb idea isn't helped by smothering everything in digital effects.
7. A Million Ways to Die in the West – Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane's comedy-western wants badly to be the next Blazing Saddles, but it plays more like Rustler's Rhapsody. It's disheartening to see that a film containing explosive diarrhea gags was shot in Monument Valley, Utah, which is known as “John Ford Country” because the legendary Ford shot 10 of his movies there, including Stagecoach and The Searchers. Sacrilege!
6. Expendables 3 – Everybody's in it but nobody does much. Enough already!
5. Into The Storm – This occasional found footage disaster movie has both the character development and dialog of a Friday the 13th movie. The Bad News Bears of storm chasers finally have some good luck and get tossed around by massive twisters in a film that is big on (unintended) laughs but short on suspense.
4. The Nut Job – Deadening animated film concerns a squirrel attempting to break into a nut shop for some sweet bounty. The problem is that the shop is a front for a group of mobsters. Funny premise is poorly handled with zero laughs and flat animation. The 1953 Looney Tunes short Much Ado About Nutting is far, far superior.
3. The Possession of Michael King – After the sudden death of his wife, Michael King (Shane Johnson) decides to debunk the existence of the paranormal by wanting to get possessed by a demon. This sounds like a great idea for a Will Ferrell comedy, but, unfortunately, this wants to be a serious found footage thriller. It's lazy in it's found footage technique too, for there are scenes establishing that there is only one camera in use, yet there are cutaways to different angles. And whoever was the finder of this footage decided to add in a music score.
2. RoboCop – Here's an anemic rehash of the brilliant, ultra-violent original from 1987.
1. Tusk – A mad scientist (Michael Parks) transforms a rude podcaster (Justin Long) into a walrus in Kevin Smith's poorly written and constructed horror film that began as a podcast prank. This is likely inspired by the loathsome Human Centipede movies rather than 1973's Sssssss, but it really doesn't matter. Tonally, Tusk is all over the place – serious horror, then camp, then all out comedy (courtesy of a terrible Johnny Depp in heavy make-up), then finally an insincere sad ending. Don't even watch it out of curiosity because it is dull and stupid and doesn't even work on a “so bad it's good” level. This is a movie that has complete contempt for its audience, and that is why I have complete contempt for this movie.