Greatest Films of the 2010s
Greatest Films of the 2010s

Greatest Films of the 2010s
2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019


Academy Awards for 2014 Films
Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

American Sniper (2014), 134 minutes, D: Clint Eastwood
Director Clint Eastwood's violent war drama was essentially a biopic of the life of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). During four tours in the Iraq War (after the tragedy of the terrorist attacks on 9/11), he became noted for being the most lethal marksman in the US military, with 255 kills. The account was based on Kyle's own 2012 memoir "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History." During his many tours of duty, Kyle's personal demons and PTSD surfaced, and his marriage to brunette Taya Studebaker (Sienna Miller) (resulting in two children) suffered from multiple stresses and strains. The film opened in Texas where Kyle grew up, trained to become an expert with a rifle, and worked as a ranch-hand and cowboy. The patriotric young man was inspired to enlist in the Navy after the August, 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings (in Tanzania and Kenya), and he trained to become a US Navy SEAL sniper. His tours in the Iraq War involved his pursuit of Al-Qaeda's sadistic second-in-command "The Butcher" (Mido Hamada), and his dogged tracking of a deadly Iraqi sniper known as Mustafa (Sammy Sheik). When he finally returned home to civilian life, he continued to be haunted by memories of his war years, and began to slowly heal by working with severely disabled and wounded veterans in the local VA hospital. However, he lost his life when shot at a firing range by disturbed vet Eddie Ray Routh (Vincent Selhorst-Jones).

Big Eyes (2014), 105 minutes, D: Tim Burton
Director Tim Burton, known for quirky and original films, helmed this biopic ("Based on True Events") of American portrait painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). It was narrated by newspaper reporter Dick Nolan (Danny Huston) who admitted: "It's the strangest goddamn story that I ever covered." The story began in 1958 in N. California, where Margaret Ulbrich (with her young daughter Jane) split from her husband and moved to North Beach - a famous area filled with art galleries in San Francisco. To help earn a living, the shy, insecure and introverted Margaret created and sold her own portraits of waifs with large and expressive wide-open eyes. Margaret's people portraits were distinctively original as it was noted - "Eyes are windows to the soul!" She soon met and married Walter (Christoph Waltz), who was posing as an artist of Parisian landscapes, but was in fact a part-time real-estate agent. Before long, Walter had convinced Margaret that he could sell her paintings, while she was secluded back at home in her painting room. She then discovered that he was a major fraudster and abusive con-artist for a number of reasons: (1) he had no talent at all - Walter had originally been selling Parisian paintings as his own after covering up the real painter's name - S. CENIC, (2) he was promiscuous and had kept it a secret that he had a 10 year-old daughter named Lily, and (3) he was profiting by selling Margaret's increasingly-popular paintings, and deceitfully taking credit for her works of art. When she came to her senses, Margaret broke up with Walter and moved to Hawaii with Jane to start a new life in Honolulu, while demanding an official divorce. Desperate to keep their secret, the manic Walter blackmailed Margaret to produce more paintings and sign over her rights to her paintings in exchange for a divorce. Eventually she found the courage to legally confront Walter with a lawsuit - proving in a painting contest that she was the creator of the 'big-eyes' paintings..

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), 119 minutes, D: Alejandro González Iñárritu
In this complex, Best Picture-winning black comedy-drama, the director made it appear as if the film was one long continuous shot. Faded and washed-up Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) had become famous for his superhero "Birdman" character in a trilogy of big-budget films in the 1990s, but now was mostly forgotten. He became determined to pursue a comeback. He was also struggling with frequent derisive and taunting visitations by the caustic voice of 'Birdman' during internal conversations with himself. In his one last attempt to gain visibility and recognition, redeem himself, and rebuild his career, Riggan took it upon himself to write, direct, and star in a live Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." However, his 'Birdman' alter-ego disagreed, promoted Riggan's return to blockbuster cinema, and urged Riggan to abandon the troubled, doomed-to-fail theatrical play. [Note: The entire plot mimicked actor Keaton's identification with his earlier 'Batman' superhero character and its aftermath in his own career.] As Riggan's first Broadway play was about to open, many personal and professional issues arose: (1) Riggan's co-star Ralph (Jeremy Shamos) was injured on the set, (2) Ralph had to be replaced by self-absorbed, intense, egotistical, method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who was known to be difficult, volatile and uncontrollable, (3) Riggan was in a difficult relationship with his drug-addicted, recently-in-rehab daughter and personal assistant Sam Thomson (Emma Stone), (4) another of Riggan's co-stars - neurotic Broadway debutante Lesley Truman (Naomi Watts) was sleeping with Mike, (5) a third co-star Laura Album (Andrea Riseborough), Riggan's most recent and unstable lover/girlfriend, told him she was possibly pregnant, (6) Riggan's producer, best and loyal friend, and lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) announced that the play's finances were over-budget, and that the initial previews were disastrous, and (7) NY Times theater critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) was preparing to 'kill' the play with a scathing review. During the opening night's final scene when Riggan was to commit suicide with a prop gun on stage, he used a real gun and unexpectedly shot himself in the head. Afterwards, he awoke in a hospital after the play had been rated an astounding success (for its ultra-realism). Tabitha's review became the film's subtitle: "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance." The film ended ambiguously in Riggan's empty hospital room with an open window.

Boyhood (2014), 165 minutes, D: Richard Linklater
Director Richard Linklater's amazing, lengthy coming-of-age drama was shot over a 12 year period (2002-2013) (in a total of 39 days) to closely follow the childhood and adolescence of Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), as he aged from 6 years old to age 18 when he left home to begin college. He grew up in Texas, where he lived with his divorced parents: Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Evans Sr. (Ethan Hawke), and his bratty older sister Samantha or "Sam" (Lorelei Linklater). In 2005, Olivia was remarried to her University of Houston Professor Bill Welbrock (Marco Perella), another divorcee, and his family of two children: Mindy (Jamie Howard) and Randy (Andrew Villarreal) were blended with Olivia's two children. The film portrayed various vignettes or experiences in Mason's life as he grew up - life with divorced parents, an abusive, strict and alcoholic stepfather, squabbles with his sister, Mason Sr.'s interactions with his kids (bowling, a ballgame, camping), Mason Jr.'s growing interest in girls, a second divorce for Olivia and the family's readjustment in San Marcos, TX in 2007, instances of Mason Jr.'s bullying, his first girlfriend Sheena (Zoe Graham) with whom he had sex - and their breakup, his early experimentation with drugs and alcohol, his interest and talent in becoming a photographer, his graduation from HS in 2013, and the meeting of new friends in the fall at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, TX.

The Fault in Our Stars (2014), 126 minutes, D: Josh Boone
This tear-jerking, non-exploitative, emotionally-fraught teen-aged romantic drama was based upon John Green's bestselling young-adult novel of the same name, regarding a teen couple who both faced a serious life-threatening illness. The two cancer patients in Indianapolis, IN were introduced separately: 16 year-old, stoic, smart and book-loving Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) was diagnosed with stage-four metastatic thyroid cancer. The malignancy had spread to her lungs - forcing her to wear a cannula (oxygen tube) and always have an oxygen tank. She was supported by her loving parents: Frannie (Laura Dern) and Michael (Sam Trammell), who encouraged her to find therapeutic support at a teen cancer group meeting at a church. There, she met verbose, optimistic-minded Augustus "Gus" Waters (Ansel Elgort), who had lost a leg to bone cancer (replaced by a prosthetic limb), but was currently in remission. The two shared their favorite book choices and quickly fell in love, even though they faced uncertain futures. Gus overwhelmed Hazel when he offered her tickets (funded by the Make-A-Wish Foundation) to take a romantic, life-affirming "cancer journey" to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe). He had written the book "An Imperial Affliction" about a girl named Anna (later revealed to be his own 8 year-old daughter) who died of leukemia. Once in Amsterdam, they discovered that Van Houten was an obnoxious, bitter, vindictive, and mean scotch-drinking alcoholic. Also during their fateful visit, Gus revealed that his cancer had returned and was now terminal. Back at home, soon after Gus prepared for his funeral, he succumbed to his disease. The film concluded with Hazel reading Gus' written eulogy for her - providing her with courage and strength to accept her own imminent death.

Foxcatcher (2014), 134 minutes, D: Bennett Miller
Inspired by real-life events, this sports-related crime docu-drama told about tragic and dysfunctional relations regarding brothers who were wrestlers-in-training with a rich benefactor. The film was mostly set in Newtown Square (Delaware County), PA at a new state-of-the-art, 14,000 sq. foot athletic training facility (Foxcatcher National Training Center). It was located at the 800 acre "Foxcatcher Farm" estate of 50 year-old, beak-nosed, eccentric, egotistical, peculiar and arrogant millionaire heir John E. DuPont (Steve Carell). In 1986, wrestling enthusiast and philanthropist DuPont recruited Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), the impressionable younger brother of similarly-lauded wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Both brothers had been medal-recipients at the Soviet-bloc boycotted 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, after which Dave was mentoring his brother as a full-time sparring and training partner. The plan was for Mark to prepare for the 1988 Seoul Olympics as part of Team Foxcatcher. After a period of training at Foxcatcher, Mark won a Gold Medal at the 1987 World Wrestling Championships. Dave finally moved to PA and joined his brother at the facility, where he became increasingly disturbed by Mark's cocaine use and deteriorating physical condition, and DuPont's menacing, domineering attitude and unhinged instability. DuPont's psychosexual motivation all along was possibly homoerotic, plus he sought respect for his coaching of world-class team members - especially from his disapproving and distant mother Jean DuPont (Vanessa Redgrave). After the death of the mother, and growing hostility between Dave and DuPont, an inevitable dark and tragic ending was bound to occur - he approached Dave and shot him to death in his driveway in early 1996. It was a cold-blooded, point-blank murder not entirely unpredictable.

Gone Girl (2014), 149 minutes, D: David Fincher
Gillian Flynn's screenplay for this dark, plot-twisting psychological thriller was based on her own best-selling 2012 novel of the same title, about infidelity, deceit, murder, and betrayal. The catalyst for the grim plot (told partially in flashback via diary entries) was the sudden disappearance of the "Gone Girl" of the title - on the occasion of a 5th wedding anniversary, pointing to the husband as the prime suspect during a frenzied media circus. In his childhood small-town of North Carthage, MO, former NYC journalist/magazine writer Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) - now a co-owner of a bar and writing teacher, lived with his intelligent wife Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), the inspiration for a popular series of "Amazing Amy" children's books written by her mother Marybeth Elliott (Lisa Banes). Nick reported that Amy had suddenly and unusually gone missing after a suspected home invasion. He was immediately questioned as a possible murder suspect by suspicious Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Jim Gilpinand (Patrick Fugit), who regarded him as cold, impassive, apathetic and unconcerned. The only individuals who supported Nick's version of events was his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and his defense lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), while others thought he was a sociopath. The couple's supposedly perfect marital union was actually very troubled, marred in part by Nick's sexual cheating with pretty Andie Fitzgerald (Emily Ratajkowski), one of his students. The two often fought with each other, faced financial difficulties, and were forced to live off Amy's trust fund. The film's plot twist soon revealed that the highly-manipulative, mentally-unstable Amy, who enjoyed 'treasure'-scavenger hunts with cryptic clues, hadn't been abducted at all, but was alive and in hiding at an Ozarks campground. She had faked her own murder, set up and framed Nick as the guilty killer, and falsified a urine sample to make it appear that she was pregnant. She even considered committing suicide after Nick's expected conviction. A rapid change of heart and major reversal about Nick occurred after she learned that he had been arrested for murder, and had expressed true remorse for his affair with Andie. With faked surveillance camera footage at the lake house of her wealthy ex-boyfriend Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris), Amy set Desi up as her kidnapper and brutal rapist before murdering him with a box-cutter during sex. She then returned home (covered in Desi's blood), and told authorities how she had escaped her kidnapper, and had come back to vindicate Nick of any wrongdoing. Without evidence of her guilt or responsibility for Desi's death, seven weeks later, she extorted Nick into reuniting with her in their marriage by revealing that she had inseminated herself with Nick's sperm stored at a fertility clinic.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, US/Germ./UK), 100 minutes, D: Wes Anderson
The title of writer/director Wes Anderson's whimsical and quirky farce about friendship, theft and murder - a Euro-chic period film with an ensemble cast - referenced the name of a legendary and famous mountainside, between-the-wars 1930s resort hotel located in the Alps in the fictional country of the Republic of Zubrowka. The film was told with four timelines (the present, the 1980s, the 1960s, and the 1930s), and cleverly used color as a story-telling device. In the year 1968, the aging owner of the now aging hotel was immigrant Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who recalled to an Author-writer (Jude Law as character in 1968, and Tom Wilkinson as older adult) how he had served as a novice bellhop/lobby boy in the hotel during its golden glory days and was mentored by notorious but devoted and accommodating concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave had a reputation as a ladies' man, providing sexual services to older ladies in addition to his regular duties. The flashbacked story set in 1932 (during a time of fascism in Europe) involved a valuable, priceless Renaissance painting known as "Boy with Apple." A wealthy blonde hotel guest, 84 year-old dowager Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Tilda Swinton) (aka Madame D.) (the secret owner of the hotel) had bequeathed the painting to Gustave in her amended will, around the time of her mysterious murder in her own estate's bathroom. Her death was blamed on Gustave, due mostly to Madame D's opportunistic and greedy son Dmitri (Adrian Brody) who contested his mother's will and sought to recover the painting (and his mother's fortune) for himself, using his henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe). Those who sought to clear Gustave's guilt after he was falsely accused of the crime, arrested, and imprisoned included Gustave's mentored and trusted friend Zero (Tony Revolori as young boy) and Zero's lover-girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) who worked as an apprentice at Mendl's, Gustave's favorite pastry shop. They arranged to steal the painting, break Gustave out of prison, and to prove that Dmitri was the real killer. The Madame's second amended codicil was located in an envelope stuffed into the back of the painting. It specifically stipulated that Gustave was the sole beneficiary of her entire fortune, including the hotel itself. After Gustave was shot dead by military soldiers, Zero (as Gustave's sole heir) succeeded him as the owner of the hotel.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014, NZ/US), 144 minutes, D: Peter Jackson
See The Lord of the Rings - The Hobbit series - it was the third and final installment in Peter Jackson's three-part film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's novel The Hobbit. The entire Hobbit trilogy served as a prequel to Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Jackson's action-oriented epic fantasy, with classic battle sequences, concluded the tale of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). In the film's pre-titles opening sequence, the destructive and vengeful fire-spewing dragon Smaug (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) set peaceful Laketown on fire. Fortunately, Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) confronted Smaug and killed the creature with a black arrow to save young son Bain (John Bell) and become the town's new leader. He led the townsfolk to find refuge in the ruins of the town of Dale near Lonely Mountain. Elf King Lord Thranduil (Lee Pace) arrived with his Elven gold-armored army forces, to bring aid and supplies to the displaced Lake-towners. Bilbo, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and other dwarves had watched the far-away flames of Laketown from Lonely Mountain in Erebor. Overcome by greed, dwarf prince Thorin - the future Mountain King and heir to Erebor's throne, became increasingly obsessed (with "dragon-fever") to find and acquire all for himself the treasured Arkenstone inside the Mountain. [Note: All along, Bilbo had the precious stone hidden in his possession.] Meanwhile, Elrond, Lord of Rivendell (Hugo Weaving) arrived at the castle fortress of Dol Guldur to free Gandalf (Ian McKellen) (aka Mithrandir) from imprisonment by the Dark Lord (Witch King) - Necromancer / Sauron (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch). He received unexpected help from others, including grey wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) who chanted a telepathic incantation or spell to help aid in the release and rescue of Gandalf. Additional allies in the rescue included Elf-Queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Lord Saruman (Christopher Lee). Once Gandalf was brought to safety, he declared that he was off to Erebor to warn the Dwarves of a vision he had of the future - a major battle against the Orcs. At the same time, Leader Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) with his vast army of Orcs (and support from his son Bolg (John Tui)) were marching toward the Lonely Mountain at Erebor and threatened war to acquire the treasured riches originally held by Smaug. The large build-up in the film at the base of the Lonely Mountain set the stage for a climactic battle as the five armies of Dwarves, Elves, two contingents of Orcs, and Laketown's Men converged there, to fight for the future of Middle Earth.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014), 123 minutes, D: Francis Lawrence
This was the third film in the franchise-series of installments based upon American author Suzanne Collins' best-selling sci-fi dystopian trilogy. It was specifically based upon her third novel in the series, 2010 novel Mockingjay. The story continued to follow the exploits of courageous Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who had survived two previous Hunger Games competitions (74th and 75th). This sequel followed what had occurred earlier in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013). The film again opened in the fictional nation of Panem. The heroine Katniss, a brave symbol of rebellion and uprising, had survived the destruction of her home (District 12) by the Capitol forces led by President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). She awoke below the ground in District 13 - headquarters of a new secret rebellion. She learned that Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) had been kidnapped by the evil President and was being psychologically tortured and brainwashed to change his views and to erase his memories of Katniss. Rebel leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), with her adviser Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), urged a reluctant Katniss to become a "Mockingjay" symbol as part of a "hearts and minds" strategy against the Capitol. With her trusted friends, tributes Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss vowed to save the nation from the Capitol. The Capitol's bombing of a refugee hospital in District 8 led to counter-retaliation - a suicidal human wave by District 5 protestors to destroy the Capitol's hydroelectric dam (its source of electricity), in addition to efforts by President Coin's elite special-forces team to rescue Peeta and other prisoners. Once he had been saved (almost too easily), Peeta attempted to strangle Katniss - a sign that he had been brainwashed ('hijacked') to kill her. The film concluded with preparations for an assault on the Capitol's principal military stronghold in District 2 - the only district remaining loyal to the Capitol.

The Imitation Game (2014, UK/US), 114 minutes, D: Morten Tyldum
The film's title "the imitation game" referred to Alan Turing's name in 1950 for his own Turing Test - a test to see if a machine could think and exhibit intelligent, human-like behavior. In this biographical-historical war drama (often condensed and not entirely representative of the real historical facts), the main character was British crypt-analyst, computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), who was the main force in decrypting Nazi-German intelligence messages (using an Enigma code) for the Allied British government during WWII. His efforts undoubtedly shortened the war by two to four years. The film juggled three different time frames: Turing's early teenaged years in the late 1920s when he was bullied, the latest time period in 1951, and the most prominent time period in the middle - from 1939 through the war years. Part of the film touched on Turing's closeted homosexuality and how it profoundly affected his life. Cambridge-educated cryptologist Turing was recruited by the British government to break the Nazi's code for the Enigma - a machine that they used to send encrypted "unbreakable" instructions to their Axis-Powers military personnel. He was assisted by pioneering female Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), another Cambridge graduate, to work at Bletchley Park (an English country house-estate) with other code-breakers. They were able to devise and develop Colossus (unnamed in the film) - an automatic machine to help with the decryption.

Inherent Vice (2014), 148 minutes, D: Paul Thomas Anderson
This sex and drug filled post-noir crime drama was based upon Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel of the same name. It was set in the underworld crime scene of Los Angeles in 1970. The main character, PI/detective Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a pot-smoking stoner-hippie, became embroiled in complex plot during his investigation of various strands of kidnapping cases. In the film's opening in a beach house, "Doc" was visited by his sexy ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), who reported that powerful real-estate developer Michael Z. "Mickey" Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), her new wealthy boyfriend and sugar daddy - was about to be kidnapped by his wife and her boyfriend/lover and committed to an insane asylum (in order to acquire his insurance money). "Doc" was also commissioned to find Glenn Charlock (Christopher Allen Nelson), a white supremacist and Aryan Brotherhood member and one of Wolfmann's bodyguards. When found unconscious next to Charlock's dead body in a brothel, "Doc" was questioned by combative, brutish LAPD Lt. Detective Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), about Charlock's murder and the disappearance of Shasta and Mickey. He was aided in his release from the LAPD and helped in subsequent searches by attorney Sauncho Smilax, Esq. (Benicio Del Toro) and Deputy DA Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon). In a related third case, "Doc" also went searching for possibly-deceased, surf-music saxophone player Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) - the missing husband of ex-heroin addict Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone), who was later revealed to be an underground police informant in hiding. "Doc" also crossed paths with erotic massage parlor employee Jade (Hong Chau), hedonistically-perverted, drug-snorting dentist Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short) (who was found dead from fang bites in his neck), and loan-shark Adrian Prussia (Peter McRobbie), a baseball-bat killer. The many disappearances and deaths all led to clues suggesting that an international, underworld drug smuggling syndicate known as "The Golden Fang" (also the name of the boat used to smuggle heroin into the country) was involved in a conspiracy with the LAPD, that was directly tied to the murder Doc was trying to solve.

Interstellar (2014), 169 minutes, D: Christopher Nolan
Director Christopher Nolan's lengthy, gripping, mysterious and dazzling sci-fi family drama was set in a future dystopic time period in the year 2067, when massive crop failures and incessant dust and sandstorms on the scorched Earth threatened humanity's existence with worldwide famines. Widowed engineer and former NASA pilot Joseph ("Cooper" or "Coop") Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), now a farmer/homesteader, lived with his two young children: teenaged son Tom (Timothee Chalamet), and his 10 year-old daughter Murphy or "Murph" (Mackenzie Foy as young girl). In "Murph's" bedroom, he was signaled by a supernatural 'ghost.' Communications were in the form of dust patterns on her bedroom floor that signified binary code coordinates. "Coop" (with his curious daughter) were summoned to the indicated location - a secret underground NASA facility-laboratory headed by NASA scientist - Professor John Brand (Michael Caine), Cooper's former supervisor/mentor. There under the guidance of Professor Brand, a group of astronauts and scientists were on a search for other planets that would sustain human life. "Coop" was informed that a group of 12 scientists were sent 10 years earlier through a wormhole (that mysteriously appeared 48 years earlier near the rings of Saturn) into another distant galaxy -- and that a new mission had to be launched to Saturn to find out whether three of the astronauts had discovered potentially-habitable planet-worlds. "Coop" agreed to the lengthy mission on the space-station Endurance, with seeds of human life (with 5,000 frozen embryos), that meant separation from his family for years. He set off with fellow crew members-astronauts, including Brand's strong-willed daughter biotechnologist Dr. Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), two researchers: co-pilot Dr. Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Dr. Nikolai "Rom" Romilly (David Gyasi), and the wise-cracking, decommissioned militarized security-robot TARS (voice of Bill Irwin). TARS was a talkative, witty, boxy, monolithic-shaped robot with a voice like HAL (with nods to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)) and a computer screen. A second robot named CASE ( (voice of Josh Stewart) was TARS' twin, although more quiet and reserved. As time passed during his absence, Murph (Jessica Chastain as adult) became a brilliant Planet-A NASA scientist who communicated with her lost-in-space father. After various catastrophes, deaths and challenges during his space adventure, "Coop" realized that he was the "ghost" in Murphy's room - due to their differing time periods. And through his wristwatch gift given to young Murphy before he left, "Coop" was able to send her a Morse Code message - enabling her to ensure the survival of humanity through a mass exodus. After various catastrophes, subterfuge, failures, double-crosses, deaths and challenges during his space adventure, "Coop" (with TARS) eventually landed on one of the new planets in a distant galaxy, and began the alternative Plan B to prepare the planet for repopulation and human settlement. In the film's conclusion, "Coop" reunited with his now-elderly daughter (Ellen Burstyn) on an orbiting space colony-settlement circling Saturn.

Into the Woods (2014), 124 minutes, D: Rob Marshall
Director Rob Marshall (with Walt Disney Studios) created this musical fantasy - a tale of adventure adapted from Stephen Sondheim's 1986 Broadway musical, and inspired by a mash-up of four Brothers Grimm fairy tales ("Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Jack and the Beanstalk," and "Rapunzel"). The film's plot was about a childless couple, a Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt), whose family tree was cursed by a vengeful and evil Witch (Meryl Streep). To remove, break or reverse the spell (and help the Witch create a potion to reverse her ugliness), they had to engage in a scavenger hunt to procure four magical items in three nights: a blood-red cape (Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford)), a strand of corn-yellow hair (Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy)), a pure-gold slipper (Cinderella (Anna Kendrick)), and a milk-white cow (Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and the Beanstalk). During their journey to gather the items, the couple came across the four fanciful characters from other fairy tales to help fulfill their requests. There were multiple 'happy endings': Cinderella's marriage to the Prince (Chris Pine), Jack's killing of the Giant on the beanstalk and newfound wealth with his mother after selling a golden egg, the rescue of Little Red Riding Hood (and her Grandmother (Annette Crosbie)) from the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp), the Witch's youthful transformation after feeding three of the items to Jack's Milky-White cow to produce the potion, and the pregnancy of the Baker's Wife. However, everything wasn't resolved in the film's dour second ending: the Prince cheated on Cinderella with the Baker's Wife, the Witch lost her magical powers but ran off with Rapunzel's Prince (Billy Magnussen) - the brother of the Prince, and the angry Giant's widowed wife (Frances de la Tour) stomped around causing earthquakes and destruction. After many tragedies, including the deaths of some of the major characters (i.e., the Baker's Wife, Red's mother and grandmother, and Jack's mother), the remaining group members worked together to eliminate the Giant's wife, and then resolved to help raise the Baker's newborn baby boy as a surrogate family. The Witch delivered a cautionary moral of the tale about carefully raising children: "Careful the tale you tale, that is the spell, children will listen."

The Judge (2014), 141 minutes, D: David Dobkin
In this R-rated legal-courtroom and family drama/thriller, successful, cynical, unethical and slick Chicago urban defense lawyer Henry "Hank" Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) made plans to return to his rural home of Carlinville, IN, when news of his mother's death arrived. He was in the midst of a divorce from his unfaithful wife Lisa (Sarah Lancaster). His family back in rural Indiana included: his older brother Glenn (Vincent D'Onofrio) - a tire shop owner who still lived at home (after a car accident caused by drunk 17 year-old Hank), his developmentally-disabled, autistic younger brother Dale (Jeremy Strong) with a penchant for Super 8 video-recording everything, and his estranged, arrogant, patriarchal father Joseph (Robert Duvall) - the town's venerable, crusty old Judge and a recovering alcoholic with memory issues. In a diner, Hank also met his ex-girlfriend Samantha "Sam" Powell (Vera Farmiga) - with whom he may have conceived an illegitimate, college-aged daughter Carla Powell (Leighton Meester). At the same time, recently-paroled ex-criminal Mark Blackwell (Mark Kiely) that Joseph had sent to jail for 20 years was found dead by the side of the road after a hit-and-run crash. Joseph became a prime murder suspect, charged with second-degree murder. The local Attorney C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard) chosen by Joseph to defend him was inadequate for the job, when compared to the prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton). Hank was compelled to remain in town and become his father's lead attorney. During the trial, the Judge admitted he had a lapse in his memory (due to chemotherapy treatments for his terminal cancer) and could have killed Blackwell (there was forensic blood evidence on his car). He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to four years in Indiana State Prison. A few months into his term, the Judge was compassionately released to allow him to die at home, where Hank was able to reconcile with his antagonistic father before he passed away.

The LEGO Movie (2014), 100 minutes, D: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
This family-oriented, computer-animated comedy was based upon the LEGO brand of brick construction pieces or toys used for building structures. In the film's preface set in LEGO universe, a blind yet noble old wizard named Lord Vitruvius (voice of Morgan Freeman), one of the Master Builders, failed to protect a super-deadly weapon known as the "Kragle" from evil Lord Business (voice of Will Ferrell) - an evil, tyrannical businessman in Bricksburg. ("Business" was also known as "President Business" of the Octan Corporation.) After the failure, Vitruvius predicted that a yellow-faced individual known as "the Special" would stop the "Kragle" with a "Piece of Resistance" and save them all. Eight and a half years later, ordinary, lowly, anthropomorphic LEGO mini-figure Emmet Brickowski (voice of Chris Pratt), a cheerful, nice-guy construction worker was introduced living in Bricksburg. At his work site, he discovered the "Piece of Resistance" that President Business planned to use to destroy the LEGO universe. Emmet also met a tomboyish Wyldstyle (voice of Elizabeth Banks), who along with her boyfriend Batman (voice of Will Arnett), helped Emmet to escape from Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson) (with a two-sided head), Business' lieutenant. Emmet joined a resistance movement after realizing that he was "the Special" who would was called upon to combat Business's plan to freeze or glue everything together in the LEGO world with the "Kragle" - a tube of Krazy Glue with the label partially rubbed out. The glue in the tube was held back by the cap (the "Piece of Resistance"). Would Emmet fulfill the role of the "Special", conquer his nemesis, and be able to save his LEGO friends? [Note: The film's plot twist was that in the live-action 'real world,' a young imaginative boy named Finn (Jadon Sand) was playing with his LEGO toys in his basement (the fanciful story being enacted), and his threatening father was known as "The Man Upstairs" (also voice of Will Ferrell) - the embodiment of "Business."]

A Most Violent Year (2014), 125 minutes, D: J.C. Chandor
Writer/director J.C. Chandor's crime and marital drama-thriller was set in the year 1981 in the violent urban environment of New York City. The central character was Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), a successful, hard-working immigrant (Hispanic-American) owner of a small but growing heating-oil distribution company-business. He was married to WASP Anna (Robbins) Morales (Jessica Chastain), the daughter of a corrupt Mafia gangster. Morales had purchased the business from his father-in-law, to continue the supply and delivery of Standard heating-oil to consumers. Morales vowed to remain righteous, honest, above-board and law-abiding, but found himself being tempted into illegal activities, double-dealing, and foul play in the face of intense competition. During a period of harsh winter conditions and rampant crime, he had to contend with corrupt rivals who were randomly hijacking his trucks enroute, stealing oil, and violently attacking his drivers, to deliberately intimidate him and run him out of business. Some of the truckers were privately forced to arm themselves with handguns to protect themselves, without Morales' knowledge or permission. Meanwhile, his wife urged him to not be weak but to violently fight back against his enemies. Morales also faced ongoing investigations conducted by Assistant DA Mr. Lawrence (David Oyelowo) to uncover price fixing and tax evasion and other illegalities in the heating oil distribution industry - including the past when his father-in-law ran the business. Morales was in the midst of purchasing a $2.5 million, prime East River dockside harbor property (a terminal) for access to imported, overseas petroleum, but the likelihood of the deal being finalized was quickly falling apart. After making a huge 40% downpayment on the property, if he was unable to pay the remainder within 30 days, he would lose his deposit and the terminal deal. However, after consoliding all of his funds (including hidden funds from his wife who had been "skimming" company money) to complete the deal, Morales was confronted by one of his disgruntled, armed truckers named Julian (Elyes Gabel), who had been severely beaten earlier. To his surprise, Julian committed suicide in front of him. In the film's final moments, it appeared that Morales was able to strike a political and business deal with the now-cooperative Assistant DA.

Selma (2014, UK/US), 122 minutes, D: Ava DuVernay
Director Ava DuVernay's historical docu-drama about some of the events of the early days of the Civil Rights Movement that led to the March 1965 voting rights marches from Selma, AL, to the state capital of Montgomery attended by civil rights crusaders Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo), Rev. Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce), John Lewis (Stephan James), and others. The film opened in 1964 just after King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. A year earlier in September of 1963, four black girls were killed by the KKK's dynamite bombing of the Birmingham, Alabama 16th Street Baptist Church. After receiving the Nobel Prize, King (and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference) visited with President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) at the White House to pressure him to continue to confront various voting-rights and social problems in the South, and to promote legislation to protect African-American voting rights. Johnson had already passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was reluctant to push further. King joined several other leaders and campaigns, including John Lewis' Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), to plan a peaceful march in Alabama, to specifically confront Alabama Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) with their demands on the steps of the State Capitol. During the first televised march, violence broke out against the peaceful activist protesters, including beatings by the local gas-masked Alabama State Troopers as the group crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The march culminated in President Johnson's signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. A sub-plot of the film involved the FBI's (and director J. Edgar Hoover's) attempts to monitor King and investigate his alleged infidelities to his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo).

St. Vincent (2014), 102 minutes, D: Theodore Melfi
This compelling, coming-of-age buddy comedy-drama was about the friendly relationship that developed between two unlikely individuals in Sheepshead Bay (an area of Brooklyn, NY): retired, grouchy, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, cynical, gambling-inclined Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) and precocious 12 year-old Oliver Bronstein (Jaeden Lieberher) - the adopted son of his new neighbor Maggie Bronstein (Melissa McCarthy), a single-mom divorcee and radiology CAT-scan tech operator in the midst of a bitter custody battle. The irascible, misanthropic, mostly-broke and hedonistic Vincent was a Vietnam War vet, had a fluffy Persian cat named Felix, and was tasked with caring for his Alzheimer's-afflicted wife Sandy (Donna Mitchell), while also spending time with his love interest - pregnant Russian stripper/prostitute Daka Parimova (Naomi Watts). Oliver was attending a Catholic private school where he was regularly bullied. While often asked to 'babysit' for Oliver (for $12/hour) due to Maggie's late work hours, the mentoring Vincent (a questionable 'father figure') would take him to unexpected places, such as bars, strip clubs, and the racetrack, with lessons on horse-betting and how to punch a bully, among other things. Because of his debt to a loan-shark named Zucko (Terrence Howard), Vincent suffered a stroke and required hospitalization and therapy. And then, Maggie demanded that Vincent could no longer see her son - due to his unhealthy influence on Oliver. In the film's conclusion, Oliver chose Vincent for his "Saints Among Us" school project and publically nominated and declared him to be a Saint.

Still Alice (2014), 101 minutes, D: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Lisa Genova's bestselling 2007 novel of the same name was the basis for this intimate character study and tearjerking family drama regarding 50 year-old Columbia University linguistics professor Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Before the diagnosis, Alice lost her thoughts and words during a lecture, and became disoriented while jogging. The news was devastating to her loving, fellow professor husband John Howland (Alec Baldwin) and their three grown children: youngest daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) - an aspiring actress on the West Coast, Tom (Hunter Parrish), and eldest daughter Anna Howland-Jones (Kate Bosworth). Some of her children opted to take genetic testing to determine their own vulnerabilities. The film followed the up-and-down progression of Alice's disease, with some periods of clarity and others of regression. Distressingly - as she gradually became more and more vulnerable and her memory emptied and deteriorated, her vibrant personality and self-confidence disappeared. She lost her teaching job, and to help cope, she used various strategies to try to deal with her diminished capacities. One tactic - to record a video urging herself to suicidally overdose on sleeping pills, failed when she forgot midstream what she was doing. Her illness brought her closer to her daughter Lydia, who moved back to care for her mother during her declining days.

The Theory of Everything (2014, UK), 123 minutes, D: James Marsh
Director James Marsh's biographical romantic drama presented a detailed look at the life of acclaimed theoretical astro-physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne). The basis for the film came from Hawking's own ex-wife Jane (Wilde) Hawking (Felicity Jones) and her adapted memoir "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen" (2007). The story of Hawking's life began with his days in the early 1960s at the University of Cambridge as a gifted cosmology student with an interest in discovering "the theory of everything", and his romantic life with fellow medieval Spanish literature student Jane - his future wife. During the process of writing his thesis on 'black holes,' he realized that he was losing muscle control. Early symptoms of twitches and degenerative muscle weakness led to a diagnosis of at the age of 21 of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) (or Motor Neurone Disease (MND)), aka Lou Gehrig's disease. Even as Stephen's condition slowly worsened, Jane vowed her love for him, married him, and they had a son named Robert, a daughter named Lucy, and a third son named Timothy. As the incurable disease worsened, Stephen was forced to use a wheelchair, and lost his ability to speak after a tracheotomy, but then was able to communicate with a computerized, robotic voice synthesizer. On his new machine, he put together his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time. Eventually Stephen's marriage to Jane failed, and she remarried Jonathan Hellyer Jones (Charlie Cox), while he remarried his nurse Elaine Mason (Maxine Peake). The film's high-point was Hawking's inspiring speech with these words: "However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope."

Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit) (2014, Fr./Belg./It.), 95 minutes, D: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne
This French psychological urban social-awareness drama was set near Liege, Belgium, where at the small Sowal solar panel manufacturing plant, factory worker Sandra Bya (Oscar-winning Marion Cotillard), a young Belgian mother with two children, had been off work during medical-leave treatment for depression. In the factory, the plant's manager boss M. Dumont (Baptiste Sornin) followed through on a suggestion offered by Sandra's immediate shop-foreman supervisor Jean-Marc (Olivier Gourmet). The idea was to cut Sandra's job, and pay her sixteen workmates a 1,000 Euro bonus for their overtime work to fill in. Sandra learned that 14 of her 16 colleagues had opted for the bonus during a Friday evening's vote. Through an appeal, Sandra was given until Monday morning (the deadline for a second secret ballot vote) to appeal to her co-workers to give up their monetary bonuses. During the weekend, Sandra appealed to as many colleagues as she could (with mixed results and reactions), but then was devastated to learn that her bullying foreman Jean-Marc was politicking against her return to work. She took an overdose of Xanax, but was saved by her supportive husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione). On Monday when the second vote was taken, the votes were split 8-8, not enough to change the ultimate decision. In the twist conclusion, Sandra was summoned into Dumont's office and offered her job, but in exchange for his decision, a new African immigrant worker - a contracted welder named Alphonse (Serge Koto), wouldn't be rehired after September. Sandra responded by declining her job offer.

Unbroken (2014), 137 minutes, D: Angelina Jolie
Director Angelina Jolie's WWII biopic was adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 biographical, true-to-life account of Italian-American Louis "Louie" Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), titled: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Zamperini had gained fame during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin as a US athlete (nicknamed "The Torrance Tornado") when he ran a record-breaking pace (56 seconds) in the final lap of the 5,000 meter race. His future resilience and fortitude came during his training years when his brother Pete (Alex Russell) advised: "If you can take it, you can make it." During his service during WWII, his bomber-plane crashed and he drifted on an inflatable raft (with two other crew members) for 47 days on the Pacific before he was captured and became a POW in Japanese prison camps for two years. He suffered and endured continued beatings, abuse and torture from a particularly cruel and sadistic Japanese officer named Sgt. Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe (Japanese pop star Miyavi). At the end of the war, the Allies liberated the camps and Louie was freed. The epilogue of the film was a documentary-styled review of Louie's life after the war, including his marriage and family life, his religious faith and devotion, and his participation in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan.

Whiplash (2014), 107 minutes, D: Damien Chazelle
In this intensely-dramatic coming-of-age tale, talented 19 year-old young drummer/percussionist Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller) was a first-year student in an elite NYC musical conservatory (the fictional Shaffer Conservatory) under the tutelage of notorious studio jazz band conductor Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons). After being recruited as an alternate drummer in the band, Andrew soon learned that Fletcher had a reputation for abusiveness, cruelty (physical and emotional), harsh language, and ruthlessness in reaching perfection. Andrew's aspirations and dreams of greatness were challenged as he attempted to meet the demands of his taskmaster. As events transpired, including Andrew's expulsion from Shaffer for attacking Fletcher in an instance of extreme exasperation, it was revealed that Andrew was only one in a series of Fletcher's tutored and tortured victims - a previous student named Sean Casey had hanged himself in suicidal despair over Fletcher's abusive techniques. An ethics legal complaint filed against Fletcher, with Andrew serving as one of the anonymous witnesses, resulted in Fletcher's firing from Shaffer. Afterwards, Andrew and Fletcher met up and agreed to perform together at a jazz festival concert, culminating in a battle of talent and wits on-stage between the vengeful Fletcher (who knew that Andrew had testified against him) and the indomitable Andrew who was determined to succeed.

Wild (2014), 115 minutes, D: Jean-Marc Vallée
This biographical adventure drama was based upon the 2012 memoirs of Cheryl Strayed titled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - an account of her solo, life-affirming, three-and-a-half month, 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, from California to Portland, OR. After the 1991 death of her beloved mother Bobbi Grey (Laura Dern) when she was 22 years old, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) began a streak of self-destructive behavior. She knew that her mother had suffered badly from her mentally and physically abusive father Ronald Nylund (Jason Newell), and became so depressed and emotionally pained by the loss that she sank into drug use (and heroin addiction), and promiscuous sex (leading to an aborted pregnancy). Her domestic life went into a downward spiral that destroyed her marriage to Paul (Thomas Sadoski). Four years later and homeless, she became determined to take an arduous back-packing trek along part of the PCT. It would become a journey of self-discovery, redemption, transformation, and contemplation, as she looked back on both the good and bad aspects of her past during her difficult upbringing in Minneapolis, MN. Along the way, she encountered physical hardships and feelings of guilt and grief, but was supported by many mostly-helpful and interesting strangers (on and off the trail), and began to overcome the demons that had possessed her. She encountered a red fox during her trip that she interpreted as the spirit of her watchful mother.

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