The Contenders (most of them)
Chef One of my favorite movies of the season, I cried through the 2nd half of it because of the sheer happiness the characters were experiencing. Watching it was my Kristen Bell-Sloth moment. MORE HERE Chef Cooks Up Faves
Foxcatcher The slow boil annoyed at times, and while the necessity served the theme, it didn’t always make for compelling watching. MORE HERE Foxcatcher’s Question Marks
Whiplash Despite my having problems seeing it because Arclight Hollywood refused to honor LA Times/LA Weekly ads saying that SAG Nominating Committee members could see the film, I enjoyed it. Often times, it was one-note. The attempts to use an abandoned romance to show the costs of attaining excellence was too chess-boardy. Compelling however.
How to Train your Dragon 2 I liked the message and the offbeat whimsy. It didn’t enthrall me as Big Hero 6, but I enjoyed it.
Get on Up I had a hard time finishing it and only did when I had nothing else to watch. The movie paid homage to portions of James Brown’s life rather than tell an actual story. One of the worst of the bunch. MORE HERE Get On Up Pretty Limp
Mr. Turner Another one I had a difficult time getting through. Didn’t understand it.
Love is Strange Heartfelt but ultimately too slow to provide a big enough emotional punch.
Kill the Messenger His peers deserted him and his government threatened his life, all because Gary Webb believed in telling the truth. A riveting indictment on society’s reluctance to rock the boat even though it sails on bloody water, it’s a hard commercial sell but people should see it.
The Homesman Who does a miscast actor blame if he’s also the director? Tommy Lee Jones is too eloquent and grand an actor; he’s no character actor. I didn’t get the story or the way it was told.
Archaeology of a Woman
Boyhood I like plot. If you do as well, you won’t like Boyhood. The gimmick wears thin when nothing life-changing happens except life itself.. Why would I want to spend 3.5 hours in a dark room watching life when I could live it instead? Often as interesting as time-lapsed photography. MORE HERE Could Boyhood Ruin Screenwriting Forever
Gone Girl Gripping, buzz-worthy, a must-see. Prolonged ending is a curiosity but the rest of it is masterful storytelling. MORE HERE The Anti-Feminist Attacks of Gone Girl
The Judge Drudged up a lot of familiar emotions but the way the movie brought the characters together was a little too mechanical. Great performances in a so-so movie.
American Sniper Very good but not a homerun. Clint Eastwood notoriously shoots scripts as written. At Deadline’s The Contenders writer Jason Hall said Eastwood did give some notes. The screenplay still could have been winnowed down a bit more.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Saying it is inferior to its predecessor is being generous. Top billed Andy Serkis being pitched in the supporting actor category is laughable. Meanders which is death for an action movie.
The Fault in Our Stars I was bored at the teenage-popcorn approach to this.
Fury Loved the action and the acting. Utilization of the outsider to the group was a bit too predictable, but ultimately didn’t detract from the overall impact.
Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhal’s character wavered but his creepiness was solid throughout. Rene Russo was very good as well. A provocative look at our thirst for other people’s misery.
Wild Reese Witherspoon is excellent, but the time jumps and the image flashes were irritating.
The Calling Kind of a bore.
The Theory of Everything Surprised me with how engaged I was in the story. Suffers from too much to tell in so little time, but I enjoyed it.
Snowpiercer I liked it up until the ending where the allegory got too heavy. Good movie though.
Black or White Too contrived. Costner’s never been better though that’s not saying much.
Still Alice Julianne Moore is excellent and probably will finally win an Oscar. Movie borders on Lifetime movie mode though.
Into the Woods Liked but not loved which makes it a big disappointment. Great performances especially Chris Pine. When’s it going to be remade? MORE HERE Into the Woods Review: Chopped Down Musical
Big Eyes Mesmerizing story, I was engaged throughout. Just enough whimsy, just enough emotion.
Birdman I had high hopes for it. The creative flourishes distracted from the story. Just “good.”
Grand Budapest Hotel Loved it. Dialogue and comedy are so fast I have to see it again. Birdman was quick but not as compelling and immersive as this.
Inherent Vice I abhorred this movie. They recycled the wigs from American Hustle but forgot the plot. All mood. I did housework while it was on.
St. Vincent Another surprise. Bill Murray is remarkable. So is the kid.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby When watching it, you feel like these great actors signed on only because Jessica Chastain was in it. Chastain saw an early Ned Benson movie that drew 4 people. She waited out in the lobby and told him she wanted to work with him. While she’s very good in it, she should have bailed on the promise. Another gimmick, there are three films, all from a different viewpoint. Strung together it’s five hours with not much to show for it. I suffered through 3.5 hours of both Her and Him and am thankful Harvey didn’t send Them which is each part side by side.
The Imitation Game Overall the best movie of the bunch. Socially important, compelling to watch, and entertaining, Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley are my top picks for awards. Contender for Best Cast award as well. MORE HERE Imitation Game Goes Beyond Labels
Cake Ehh. Some dude at Vulture said it was Jennifer Aniston’s ‘Monster.’ What an idiot. Adrianna Barraza is very good.
Interstellar Production design was incredible but I wasn’t immersed in the story as I wanted to be. The plot twists were predictable. While it’s a “Must See” it’s not the best of the year. MORE HERE Review: Interstellar Soars… and the Sores
Begin Again Yes, that is Knightley singing. An offbeat romantic comedy without the syrupy sentimentality, the music should sweep the Best Song category. MORE HERE Deadline’s Contenders: Begin Again’s Shock and Awww
Big Hero 6 A Disney take on a Marvel property, its fresh and zany with Disney heart. MORE HERE Big Hero 6 Blends Best of Both Worlds
Belle Doesn’t resort to theatricality or an obligation to fall into a costume drama homage, the social issues take a back seat to the romance. My interview last year with Misan Sagay reveals that was intended. But that’s at the expense of the climax which doesn’t pack a punch as it should have.
Calvary Successful on evoking thought on themes but urgency doesn’t drive the story. MORE HERE Review: Calvary, a Wider Perspective
Feast should win the Oscar. Anyone with a heart and a stomach will lap this up.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies Not as emotionally varied or impactful as Return of the King but pretty damn awesome. If you like battle scenes, your viewing pleasure won’t be encumbered by much else. Remember when 2.5 hours was too long. With several 3-hour movies this year, this seems short.
Two Days, One Night A woman fights for her job while the audiences fight to be engaged. The screener cover smells like skunk. Sundance Selects, owned by AMC Network, could have used an influx of The Walking Dead money to avoid using a cheap printer. I’ve heard of Elephant Dung paper but Skunk shit is going too far.
Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks If it feels like a play, it should stay a play. Outdated, the playwright didn’t bother to update his own work.
A Most Violent Year The matter-of-factness of the story ultimately leads to an overall unsatisfying experience. The inability of normal people to respond to violence is interesting but doesn’t make it gripping cinematically. A latecomer to the awards race, the controversy surrounding Jessica Chastain’s contractual obligations to Interstellar provides the best chance for her to walk away with a Supporting Actress win for A Most Violent Year.
Face of Love The SAG Awards page says a screener was sent out but I never received it.
Unbroken Universal just didn’t do enough to reach out to voters. Screener didn’t play, and RSVPs to screenings weren’t confirmed.
Selma Paramount concentrated on Interstellar. Just didn’t see it before nominations were due.
See here for other 2014 movies.