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10 Best/10 Worst: A year at the movies

In the end, 2014 was one of the better movie years in recent memory… and, indeed, it seemed as if the best was saved for last. After roughly nine months of cinematic sufferance, audiences starved for quality entertainment got their fill – and then some – as the calendar wound down.

Overall box-office

might have been down, but if you don’t give the people what they want, they’ll stay home. Hype can still make a hit, but it can’t make a bad movie any better.

First the good, then the bad and the ugly …

10 BEST 1. Foxcatcher: Filmmaker Bennett Miller’s worthy successor to his masterful 2005 debut Capote is also a deep, dark contemplation on the suppressed impulses that drive men to murder. Steve Carell gives an unforgettable changeof-pace performance as John E. du Pont, with Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum also in top form.

2. American Sniper: The indefatigable Clint Eastwood, one of the great American filmmakers, dramatizes the life of the late military hero Chris Kyle, permitting Bradley Cooper another opportunity to prove himself one of the best actors working today.

3. Boyhood: A remarkable, once-in-alifetime achievement by filmmaker Richard Linklater, who spent 12 years filming the growth of youngster Ellar Coltrane.

4. Mr. Turner: Timothy Spall in a towering turn as painter JMW Turner under the assured, incisive direction of Mike Leigh, whose screenplay is a model of literate wit.

5. A Most Violent Year: Writer/director JC Chandor’s cool, controlled look at crime in New York, circa 1981, with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain in Macbeth mode.

6. A Most Wanted Man: Photographerturned-filmmaker Anton Corbijn’s third feature is his best to date, a relevant and timely adaptation of John le Carre’s best-seller, showcasing Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final starring role.

7. Gone Girl: David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-seller retained the suspense and human drama in sleek, absorbing, and always credible fashion.

8. The Homesman: There haven’t been many, but this ranks as among the very best big-screen Westerns of the 21 st century, a triumph for director/co-screenwriter/leading man Tommy Lee Jones and leading lady Hilary Swank.

9. The Imitation Game: The heroic and tragic saga of mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing, whose brilliance helped win World War II on Britain’s behalf, only to be broken by the discovery of his own hidden secrets. Benedict Cumberbatch solidifies his star status as Turing, with excellent support from Keira Knightley and Mark Strong.

10. Birdman: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s flashy, funky comedy/drama offers both Michael Keaton the role of a lifetime but and one of the sharpest show-biz satires in recent memory.

In a rare but welcome occurrence, this critic had more than enough worthy candidates for a 10-Best list. The Theory of Everything, St. Vincent, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Still Alice, The Zero Theorem, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The One I Love, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Land Ho! all made going to the movies a little bit better in 2014, and the year boasted a significant number of excellent documentary features: Jodorowsky’s Dune, Life Itself, Antarctica: A Year on Ice and Last Days in Vietnam.

10 WORST Of course, no year would be complete without its share of big-screen bombs, and 2014 was hardly an exception. Some hit, some flopped, all stunk.

1. Tusk: This grating combination of horror and comedy marks a career low for the Garden State’s favorite son, Kevin Smith.

2. That Awkward Moment: A botched, bawdy romantic comedy about three guys and three gals that deserves the deep-six.

3. Exodus: Gods and Kings: From director Scott Ridley’s folly. The book was better.

4. The Best of Me: For those who can’t get enough of Nicholas Sparks’ movies, this one tests that tolerance beyond limit.

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I: A bloated, uneventful stroke job designed entirely to prolong the boxoffice grosses (and agony) of a middling franchise.

6. Maleficent: The story of Cinderella is obliterated by special effects and charmless direction, but the Disney marketing machine made it a hit.

7. Hercules: Dwayne Johnson hits “Rock” bottom with this rumbling, crumbling,

jokey on Greek (or is that “geek”?) mythology.

8. Annabelle: A pallid prequel/spin-off of last year’s horror hit The Conjuring had the nerve (or the gall) to pay homage to Rosemary’s Baby, unarguably one of the genre’s landmarks. When a demonic doll does the best acting, you know you’re in trouble.

9. I, Frankenstein/Dracula Untold: A pathetic pair of “re-tellings” of classical

horror characters. Of the hundreds of Frankenstein and Dracula movies over the years, these rank near the bottom of both lists. (Lucky us, a Dracula Untold followup is in the works.)

10. Ride Along: Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, trotting out old-hat buddy/cop shtick, replete with shoot-outs and explosions. Audiences were taken for a ride, and with a sequel due next year, they will be again. !

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