So, 2014 in film — a good year for movies, or a weak one?
Well, any calendar year that packs two must-see genre-benders starring Scarlett Johansson — you read that right — can’t be all bad. “Under the Skin” and “Lucy” were all that.
Any year that produces two stunning turns as different as “Locke” and “The Drop” by Tom Hardy demands recognition.
Any year that brings back Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Jon Favreau (“Chef”), makes Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Chris Pratt movie stars, and tosses dirt on the coffins of the careers of Adam Sandler and Tyler Perry must be remembered. Any year in which Vin Diesel (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) gives his best performance in animated form, with just three (OK, four) words of dialogue, has to be savored.
The best work by an actress was Julianne Moore’s subtle, human and affecting turn in “Still Alice.” Patricia Arquette makes a grand journey through single motherhood in “Boyhood.” Meryl Streep is in amazing voice and playful demeanor in “Into the Woods.” Hilary Swank was period perfect in “The Homesman.” And Reese Witherspoon’s unadorned performance in “Wild” is worthy of its “Oscar bait” label.
Hardy had the best year among actors, though Eddie Redmayne’s transformation into Stephen Hawking (“The Theory of Everything”) was stunning, Keaton and Edward Norton dazzled as nasty versions of their “real” personalities in “Birdman,” and J.K. Simmons was in a (probably supporting) actor class by himself in “Whiplash.”
And if you missed “Get on Up,” you missed Chadwick Boseman’s playful megalomaniac take on James Brown. Netflix it.
Best documentary? Critics and Hollywood may have already given this to one of their own: the Roger Ebert biography “Life Itself.” Lovely, long and thorough film. And there’s buzz for “Citizenfour,” an “important” but dull behind-the-scenes look at Edward Snowden as NSA-gate broke. But I was more taken with James Keach’s film of singer Glen Campbell’s battle with Alzheimer’s and his last hurrah tour, “Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me.” Moving, funny and very touching.
Best horror film? “The Babadook,” a demonic assault on a small “knowing” child and his widowed mother, or mom’s mania at the child whose birth caused the death of her husband.
We'll let the Academy pick a best foreign language film between the darkly funny Swedish dissection of marriage “Force Majeure,” and the austere Polish Holocaust mystery “Ida.” It'll be close.
Not the greatest year for animation, but “The Lego Movie,” “Boxtrolls,” “The Book of Life” and “Big Hero 6” should fill out the three-picture Best Animated Film Oscar field, with one decent film left out.
The best Hollywood features? You could make a good claim to how great this year was just using titles that begin with the letter “B”: “Belle,” “Boyhood,” “Birdman,” “Big Eyes.” Or build a list out of excellent film biographies. The year was packed with them. But I think these 10 will do, for starters.
And shoot, that’s 10, meaning I can’t get into “The Homesman, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Locke,” or the fine biopics “The Imitation Game” or “Mr. Turner.” But maybe they’re on your list.