Best of 2014: Movies

What a diverse year at the movies 2014 was, and what a thrilling adventure every trip to the theatre has been. I’ve been tinkering with my Top-10 list for days and have come up with this group of 10. Enjoy.

10. 22 Jump Street

22 Jump Street surprised me. I thought 21 was OK, but was looking forward to 22 because of what Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum had been up to since the first film’s release. The duo’s chemistry and the film’s fun silliness make it one of the best buddy-cop films of the decade. Among my favourite moments of 22: a Golden Girls reference about Blanche doing heroin, Jonah Hill trying to convince himself he is Beyoncé post-Destiny’s Child, and an end-credits sequence for the ages. Sometimes a movie’s just fun. (112 minutes, dirs. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)

9. Whiplash

Who knew a movie about a drummer and his teacher could be this nerve-wracking? J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller star. Look for Simmons to clean up on the awards trail. (107 minutes, dir. Damien Chazelle)

8. Mommy

With five films to his name in his short career (and life – he’s 25), Xavier Dolan’s specialty has become the lush, over-emotional melodrama. With Mommy, he hits all the right notes. And bless Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clément, who turn in incredible performances. (139 minutes, dir. Xavier Dolan)

7. Force majeure

I prematurely tweeted out my thoughts on Force majeure after I left a screening of the Swedish film during the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in the fall, suggesting the film was a force moyenne. Almost three months later, I still think about the film. Daily. It’s funny, tragic and poignant, often in the same frame. A vacationing family has a close encounter with an avalanche at the amazing ski resort they’re staying in (seriously, I don’t ski and would start if it meant staying where these guys stay in the film!), which puts more pressure on what we find out is a very strained marriage. (118 minutes, Ruben Ostlund)

6. Locke

Two words for why and how Locke, a movie that takes place entirely inside a car in which you ever only see one man, works: Tom Hardy. The British actor made a splash in Christopher Nolan’s Inception in 2010 (though he has been active since 2001, with a small role in HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers) and he’s been busy ever since. In 2015, he’s slated for five movies, including the Mad Max reboot and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s The Revenant, which will also star Leonardo DiCaprio. Locke shouldn’t work at all, but it very much does. (85 minutes, dir. Steven Knight)

5. Enemy

After Incendies and Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve changes gears without toning down the intensity with Enemy. It’s just a wallop of a film with a knockout ending. Can’t wait to see this one again. I quite liked this analysis of Enemy, via Slate. (90 minutes, dir. Denis Villeneuve)

4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is what summer blockbusters should be like. Smart and epic in scope, the franchise continues on the right path since its impressive 2011 reboot. Andy Serkis is back as as ape Caesar, with a new human cast (Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke) and director Matt Reeves, who’s signed on to the next Apes instalment due in 2016. (130 minutes, dir. Matt Reeves)

3. Nightcrawler

I was expecting Jake Gyllenhaal to be getting the kind of attention and recognition for Nightcrawler that Matthew McConaughey got for Dallas Buyers Club last year. Then I remembered that unlike McConaughey, Gyllenhaal wasn’t in terrible movies for almost a decade before turning his career around. People love a redemption story, and Gyllenhall has become astonishing after being good for a long time. Nightcrawler made me nervous. Mostly, it felt like it could teeter out of control at any moment; mostly, it was because of Gyllenhall’s unhinged portrayal of a sociopathic, psychopathic, greedy Louis Bloom. Nightcrawler is the Wolf of Wall Street of broadcast journalism. (117 minutes, dir. Dan Gilroy)

2. Gone Girl

To make this as spoiler-free as possible, here’s what I’ll say about one of the best thrillers (and most fun/frustrating literary and cinematic experiences I have had in a while) of the year: David Fincher directs this adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel for which Flynn also wrote the screenplay. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star as a couple with problems (“Marriage is hard work,” after all), as do Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Missi Pyle, Casey Wilson and Kim Dickens. Pike’s character, Amy Dunne, goes missing on her and Nick’s (Affleck) fifth anniversary. A search is launched, of course. And the shit hits the fan. Again. And again. And again. Even though I knew what was coming, it felt just as exciting and new as it would have had I been totally unfamiliar with the story. I think. (149 minutes, dir. David Fincher)

1. Under the Skin

Under the Skin

My biggest cinematic regret of 2014 is missing Under the Skin in theatres. I ended up watching one summer night (it’s available on Netflix Canada) on my modest 40-inch TV with the sound turned way, way up – I’d heard how great the score by Mica Levi was. Under the Skin was the most astounding, hypnotizing, immersive movie experience I had in 2014. Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien on a mission in Scotland. Director Jonathan Glazer has the ability to craft an intriguing and satisfying mystery around this character, an opportunity Johansson truly relishes, giving a gentle humanity to a creature who’s up to some terrible deeds. (108 minutes, dir. Jonathan Glazer)

Honourable mentions: Boyhood; Chef; Dear White People; Edge of Tomorrow; Guardians of the GalaxyThe LEGO Movie; Life Itself (as a rule, I keep documentaries off my Top-10 lists because I think their goals are different and should not be judged against artistic works of fiction. Life Itself moved me. Like thousands, I am sure, Roger Ebert introduced me to film writing and dozens, if not hundreds, of films I would never have thought to watch.) The One I Love; Snowpiercer; Veronica Mars.

Best of the rest: Blue Ruin; Elaine Stritch: Just Shoot Me; Godzilla; Grand Budapest Hotel; Happy Christmas;Neighbours; Obvious ChildOnly Lovers Left AliveTop Five; Wild.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Here’s my Top 10 list for my favourite movies of 2013.

Best of 2014: Television

There literally aren’t enough hours in the day for any human to work, sleep, eat, bathe and watch all of the great television we are #blessed to have available pretty much 24/7, but damn it, I have to try. When I made this list last year, I opted for the Nussbaumiam honour roll, listing 17 series that captivated me in 2013. This year, I’m going Top 10. Here it is:

10. Veep (HBO)

Armando Ianucci and his team’s sharp scripts are the perfect fit for an ensemble cast – led by the incomparable Julia Louis-Dreyfus – whose takedowns are legendary.

My favourite 2014 episode of Veep: “Clovis”

9. BOB’S BURGERS (FOX)

Bob’s Burgers final two episodes of 2014 alone – the Christmas instalment “Father of the Bob” introduced us to the elder Belcher patriarch, and “Tina Tailor Soldier Spy” was the perfect vehicle for the eldest Belcher daughter – made it the best animated series on television for me. The show has the ability to put its characters through familiar stories while still making them seem fresh and funny.

My favourite 2014 episode of Bob’s Burgers: “Father of the Bob”

8. Vicious (PBS)

On paper, Vicious could sound like a quaint, sweet little series: it’s about an aging gay couple who live in a fabulous apartment and have friends over. In fact, Freddie and Stuart hurl insults at each other any chance they get. Created and written by Gary Janetti, who has a most funny, ferocious Twitter feed (he has also worked on Will and Grace and Family Guy). Vicious stars Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi.

My favourite 2014 episode of Vicious: “Episode 1.2” in which Freddie suspects Stuart of cheating, but he’s in fact got himself a job in a clothing store. The Christmas Special was top-notch, too.

7. Key & Peele (Comedy Central)

Key & Peele ditched its Chapelle-like live-to-tape format for a darker fourth season that saw Key and Peele pushing the envelope and creating new characters, on top of tackling racial and social issues the way they have always done – in a funny, snarky, important and often scathing way.

My favourite 2014 sketch from Key & Peele: “Georgina and Esther and Satan” and “Aerobics Meltdown”

6. The Leftovers (HBO)

Some found it unsatisfying, I found HBO’s The Leftovers completely engrossing. Two per cent of the world’s population disappears one day, and as long as you’re not expecting answers, or to find them in some other dimension, The Leftovers will not disappoint. Hooray for the great cast, especially Carrie Coon, who was also in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Great year for her.

My favourite 2014 episode of The Leftovers: “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” a great showcase for Rev. Jamison (Christopher Eccleston)

5. THE COMEBACK (HBO)

I knew I had to watch The Comeback before compiling this list. I’d been slowly making my way through Season One of the resuscitated HBO series starring Lisa Kudrow and was loving every cringe-worthy second. Almost 10 years later, Kudrow is back as Valerie Cherish, a faded sitcom and reality star. The Comeback is as biting and sharp as ever. See it! I watched all of Season Two in two sittings. And that finale … 

My favourite 2014 episode of The Comeback: “Valerie Gets What She Really Wants”

4. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

With just the second half of the show’s sixth season airing in 2014, Parks and Recreation is gearing up for its February finale. I’ll need more time to prepare, but I trust the best comedic ensemble on TV to stick the landing.

My favourite 2014 episode of Parks and Recreation: “Farmers Market” and “Ann and Chris,” ’cause awww …

3. Hannibal (NBC)

If Hannibal was on any of the cable networks, it might be even grittier and creepier than it already is on NBC. Whether it’d be more popular is up for debate (I think it wouldn’t be), but I do believe it would be more acclaimed and possibly even get some awards love. Mads Mikkelsen is pitch-perfect as the titular cannibalistic therapist, as are Hugh Dancy and Caroline Dhavernas. Rivals The Silence of the Lambs for most chillingly terrifying Hannibal adaptation.

My favourite 2014 episode of Hannibal: “Mizumono”

2. Jane the Virgin (CW)

The best new show of the season is also the happiest, sweetest, most fun I’ve had the pleasure of following in years. A remake of a telenovela (hold on) about a devout Latina (hang on!) who gets accidentally artificially inseminated (please, wait!) and decides to go through with the pregnancy is the most charming show on television. I grin every Monday, 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., because of CW’s perfect Jane the Virgin.

My favourite 2014 episode of Jane the Virgin: All of them, but let’s go with “Chapter One” – love at first watch.

1. The Good Wife (CBS)

What can I say about The Good Wife I haven’t already embarrassingly and gushingly tweeted? I was in the middle of catching up on the series on Netflix when that Season 5 episode happened in the spring. I was worried that the show had gotten desperate and killed off a major character in an attempt to shake things up creatively (I was, at the time, watching the tabloidy Season 4 of the series, and was worried The Good Wife was headed in the wrong direction). How wrong I was. Not only was the character’s death very important and well handled, it became the catalyst for important emotional development in Alicia Florrick, the great-as-ever Julianna Margulies.

My favourite 2014 episode of The Good Wife: “Dramatics, Your Honor”

Honourable mentions (in alphabetical order): Black-ish, for Tracee Ellis Ross; Fargo, because the fact that it was ever considered in the same league as that HBO series (you know the one) still boggles my mind; How to Get Away with Murder, for craziness and Viola Davis killing it week in and week out; Inside Amy Schumerfor this, but mostly this poignant, scathing indictment of the militaryMad Men, because it’s still gorgeous when it’s not going anywhere, and can Elisabeth Moss please win an Emmy already?; The Mindy Project, because Mindys Kaling and Lahiri are aces; Scandal, because it’s still appointment viewing even though it’s lost its way this season; You’re the Worst, because terrible people need love, too.

Blind spotsThe Knick, which is polarizing, but about which I have been told it’s sickeningly wicked; the second season of The Americans, which has been on my PVR since FX aired a marathon of it in May; the new season of Homeland, on which I’d given up because of its infuriating previous season but which Twitter tells me has got its groove back and then some; The Walking Dead, for the same reason as HomelandTransparent, because Canada.