Thursday, March 5, 2015

2014 Top Movies & TV

Top 15 Movies/Top 5 TV Shows

of 2014

Last year's list

Yes, I know I'm late. Since it was over 2014 that I became a real film geek, I managed to see tons of terrific movies - but only a few stuck out as solid, all-time favorites. I mention them first.

First on that list would be Ordet, a stark Danish film from 1955. Set in the barren wastes of Denmark, the story centers around a single dysfunctional family. The father is stern and controlling - a reality reflected in his harsh line on theology. His main disappointment in life was that his son, Johannes, did not grow to become a great spiritual reformer. Instead, he lost his mind completely, and spends his time uttering mad prophecies. Or are they so mad? My review.

I'm a sucker for movies that involve politics, religion, period drama and British stuff. A Man for All Seasons has all of these, which means I was a goner from ten minutes in. It's the story of Thomas More, who was a Christian humanist, politician, and adviser to Henry VIII. More comes to oppose his king over the matter of the king's divorce. Lacking an heir, Henry wants to divorce Catherine and marry his mistress, Ann Boleyn. Given the fact that the pope refuses to sanction the move, Henry ultimately sets in motion events which lead to the English Reformation. Only one man (and several others which the movie did not see fit to mention - dramatic purposes, y'know) stood in his way: Thomas More.

Babette's Feast is a movie which one really can't review without cheesy food metaphors. Thus, this movie is like comfort food. I've watched it twice, and each time left with a glow inside myself that I wanted to impart to others. It's a film about giving which makes the audience want to give of themselves. This is the Gospel, folks. Written review - podcast review.

12 Years a Slave is a movie I didn't expect to like. It's fairly obvious that the purpose of the movie is to reveal the grinding, horrific conditions of slavery. With the constant chatter about racism, I thought to myself: why do I need to hear this again? What can another film bring to this conversation? But here's something to think about, credit of Steven Greydanus: "What if I were to tell you that until now there has never been a major historical motion picture about the slave experience in America? Could that possibly be true?" It is true. But besides this, it's not only an Important movie, but a good movie. The direction, cinematography, acting - all are terrific. It's a movie about great despair, but there is also hope. My review.

Speaking of movies I didn't expect to like, here's A Room With a View. Featuring a very young Helena Bonham Carter, the story traces her journey as she escapes the stodgy mores of Edwardian society. Sound cliched? A bit, but it's saved by some wonderful performances from the likes of Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Denholm Elliot, a marvelous operatic soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography, and a good-natured humor which softens its satire. Watch it here.

Since no list is complete without an R-rated 80s buddy comedy, here's my contribution. Midnight Run was Robert De Niro's first foray into comedy, and he proved himself hilarious. Even funnier, however, is his co-star, the masterfully deadpan Charles Grodin. My review.

The Godfather parts I and II really feels like one seamless movie, so that's how I'll treat it. Everything you've heard is true. More than just a revenge flick, the film deeply explores the consequences of a violent life. Is it glamorized? Probably somewhat - but only in a Shakespearean kinda way. Livetweet review - podcast reviews.

Into Great Silence is set in a silent monastery - and for much of its nearly three hour length, it, too, is silent. But it is not a boring silence. The viewer begins to slip into the routine of the place, beginning to recognize faces and places. Above all things, once the world is silent, one can see love clearly. An amazing film.

Casablanca is another movie that is as good as its supposed to be. Perfectly self-contained, it creates a miniature world filled with fascinating minor characters - and drops into it a huge, dramatic romantic plot. With spies and Nazis.

I've already enjoyed both of the other Nolan Batman flicks, but I'd never managed to get all the way through their magnum opus, The Dark Knight. It's difficult to pin down. On a sheer visceral level, it definitely works - and it asks lots of interesting questions. Heath Ledger's Joker dominates the story, but is more than matched by the charismatic Harvey Dent. In the end, Christian Bale's Batman becomes overshadowed by the Joker and his nihilistic musings.

Ernest and Celestine is a sweet French animated feature. Its visual palette is simple but incredibly effective - and there were several moments near the end that took my breath away. Great kid's movie about the adventures of a mouse and a bear.

Ikiru is a bit like It's a Wonderful Life set in 1950s Japan. Kanji Watanabe is a bureaucrat in a huge, immobile government institution. Nothing is ever done. He merely stamps things and pushes paperwork. But when he finds out he has stomach cancer, he is challenged to discover what his life really does mean - and what it could.

Ratatouille, for a children's film, manages to get into pretty deep waters - examining all sorts of questions about art, creation, criticism, and vocation. The central plot of an animal attempting to excel outside his usual field of expertise recalls another great animal movie, Babe. My review.

Raising Arizona was one of the Coen Brothers' early offerings, and possibly the only movie that stars Nicholas Cage as some character besides Nicholas Cage. In this case, he's H.I. McDunnough, a career convenience store robber who maintains his fine-tuned sense of morality by only using an unloaded gun. His situation is made more complex when he falls in love with the officer who always takes his mug-shot: Edwina. H.I. and Ed marry, but no children are forthcoming, which pushes them to resort to criminal measures.

There were several actors I discovered this year who inspired me to do a bit of movie stalking. Chief of these is the great Alec Guinness, whose career spanned everything from comedy to drama to, famously, space opera. My favorite of his funny movies was The Lavender Hill Mob, in which he plays a lisping bank clerk turned gangster. Part of a spate of dark, hilarious movies known as Ealing Comedies, I liked this one just a bit better than the other marvelous films starring Guinness: The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets. Note a cameo from a very young Audrey Hepburn.

I've gushed so much about Broadchurch this year that I really don't need to recommend it again. But here it is, anyway. A marvelous examination of grief, tabloid culture, hope, and forgiveness. Skip the second season. My review.

I've been a big Martin Shaw fan ever since I saw him as the splendid kinda-sympathetic villain in The Scarlet Pimpernel - and given my love for British detectives, I was bound to love this series which features the charming Shaw as the titular character: Inspector George Gently. Moving away from crime capitals to Britain's rugged north, Gently teams up with his smart-aleck sidekick, John Bacchus (a terrific Lee Ingleby), to catch ruthless criminals. More.

Michael Gambon is best known to the world as Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter's mild-mannered mentor, but in the nineties he was terrific as French detective Jules Maigret. Transporting a British cast to Paris, the series managed to nicely balance a marvelous local atmosphere with some terrific character acting. Maigret feels a bit like Columbo in France. More.

Life on Mars is one of the more original detective shows I've encountered in my (extensive) experience. D.I. Sam Tyler is in pursuit of a suspect when he's struck by a car. The impact not only knocks him over, but knocks him back 33 years in time, and back down to detective sergeant. His boss in 1973 is burly, crude Gene Hunt, a marvel of a character. The series has some missteps and unnecessary nudity, but is, overall, very enjoyable. More.

Agatha Christie's Poirot has been a staple of detective TV for a quarter of a century. It stands head and shoulders above all the others. I can say nothing more than Adieu, mon cher ami.

     Episode 1 - Elephants Can Remember
    Episode 2 - The Big Four 
    Episode 3 - Dead Man's Folly
    Episode 4 - Labours of Hercules 
    Episode 5 - Curtain: Poirot's Last Case 

Next year's list.
Hannah Long


  1. "Movie-stalking," thank you! Now I have a word for whatever I've been doing to Edward Norton for the past month. Unfortunately, there's a guy who's wasted his talents on a lot of overrated or forgettable projects, but I found several of note. I mentioned The Painted Veil on another thread. Then there's Leaves of Grass, which is just WEIRD but also hysterically funny if you're an academic type. It takes a Coen Brothers turn in the middle and starts killing people off, but I think you could get into it. Norton plays two identical twins---Billy and Brady---one of whom is a classics professor, the other a brilliant drug dealer. Brady fakes his own death to get Billy down to Tulsa for an alibi while he negotiates a tricky final deal before going straight. All hell breaks loose. For people with a strange sense of humor only. One of my main complaints is that the only Christian character who makes an appearance is portrayed as a complete idiot. That and the fact that the violence just seems pointless at a certain point. But as a comedy, it's pure gold.

    Did you see any new films this year? I really wanted to see The Imitation Game, but when I learned that a) They not only play up Turing's homosexuality but actually made up details of the story to make a bigger deal out of it, and b) The story is really inaccurate anyway and bears hardly any resemblance to what the team actually did and how they worked, I lost interest. I did really like The Theory of Everything though.

    1. Yeah, actually, I felt the need of a term, so I began googling till I found something appropriate. Besides the redoubtable Alec Guinness, I ended up following Paul Scofield, Tom Hanks, Peter O'Toole, and Robert De Niro (with Charles Grodin - I've just watched all his Letterman interviews - which are great.)

      The only new films I saw in 2014 were Fury, Noah, and Ragamuffin. I was rather meh about all three, though I really liked Noah after I first watched it.

    2. My favorite new film of the year was Interstellar. But if you missed it in theaters, you missed half the fun. I saw it twice in IMAX. LOUD, but awesome, and awesome-looking.

      I also streamed Birdman, which just won Best Picture, because the trailer looked just weird enough to align with my dark sense of humor. It was indeed really strange, but it's where I first fell in love with both Edward Norton and Michael Keaton. After seeing it once, I had a strange desire to see it again. I have no idea whether you would like it or hate it, but a review would be entertaining! I should warn you that there is one pointless lesbian kiss and one scene where an arrogant method actor decides it would be a great idea to force his girlfriend to make real love on stage with him during a torrid scene. (He doesn't quite succeed, but he does get... um... aroused.) But on the whole, I kind of... loved it? Mostly I think I loved the main character, and how human and vulnerable he was. It really covers some very poignant stuff about loneliness, self-worth, and the shared longing we have to be loved. Anyway, I didn't think it was the best picture, but it was very interesting.

      What other DeNiro flicks have you seen, besides Godfather II? I was going to stalk him too but put my plans on hold. I was recently watching some clips from Raging Bull and Taxi Driver and need to add both of those to The List. Although I was a little distracted in watching clips of Raging Bull because all I could think of when looking at Joe Pesci was, "Hey, that's Harry from Home Alone!"

    3. Michael Keaton's most...*most* performance may have been as Dogberry in Branagh's splendid Much Ado About Nothing. It's a thing that defies adjectives.

      I'm too cheap and lazy to do serious movie-stalking, so I really just saw De Niro in Godfather, Midnight Run, Stardust and (like you've never seen him before) The Mission. But I watched Midnight Run three times, so.

    4. Wait... that was Michael Keaton?? *double take* I have to admit, I think I preferred Nathan Fillion. Fillion was dry and droll where Keaton was just... yeah, running out of adjectives.

      A website I really like is called It doesn't use torrents, and you don't have to download and plugins or anything. Just create an account with a throwaway e-mail, and you can browse their library to stream all the videos you want. They don't have everything you could possibly be interested in, but they do have a large selection.

      If you haven't seen DeNiro in Awakenings yet, it is a MUST SEE.

      Also, I have a totally new recommendation for you. It's a historical miniseries about how the problem of finding longitude at sea was solved in the 18th century. It sounds mildly interesting when you put it like that, but it's actually a marvelous, epic story. A Scottish carpenter named John Harrison built perfect clocks that would keep the time at home port so that a few calculations would give near exact longitude. But nobody would believe that the problem could be solved by such "crude" mechanical means. Meanwhile, it was literally a life or death problem. Sailors frequently died at sea from either crashing on land they didn't know was there or from dehydration and disease when it turned out they were farther from land than they thought.

      The miniseries stars Michael Gambon as Harrison and Jeremy Irons as Rupert Gould, a man who found Harrison's clocks dirty and neglected two centuries later and dedicated years to restoring them. It intercuts their stories very powerfully. My only two caveats are 1. A bit of unnecessary violence when displaying the nastiness of the British navy, and 2. When Gould's wife leaves him over his obsession, he eventually meets and moves in with another woman. Other than that, highly recommend binge-watching the whole thing on Youtube in two parts. Let me repeat: Michael GAMBON and Jeremy IRONS.

    5. In general, I like Branagh's Much Ado better, but Fillion was a definite high point in Whedon's. I just started watching him in Firefly, as well.

      I've seen part of Longitude a long time ago (we have a VHS copy), but never finished it. I'll have to do that.


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