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The Top 20 Movies of 2014 — Part Three!

My journey through the Best Movies of 2014 continues!  Click here for Part One of my Top 20 Movies of 2014 list, numbers 20-16.  Click here for Part Two, numbers 15-11.

And now we enter my top ten.  Here we go:

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10.  Top Five Chris Rock has finally found a movie that equals his comedic potential.  Guess what, he wrote and directed it himself!  Rock stars as movie star Andre Allen, famous for acting in the hugely successful “Hammy” comedies in which he wears a big bear suit.  But Allen is sick of that, and is attempting to redirect his career by starring in a serious movie about a Haitian slave rebellion.  On the eve of that movie’s opening, Allen agrees to be interviewed by a New York Times reporter, Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson.  The film follows the two through that one tumultuous day, and both go through life upheavals before the day is done.  Top Five is a wonderfully loose, funny, heartfelt story.  It’s hugely funny, and a number of famous comedians pop in for cameos, each more gut-busting than the next.  Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove, Tracy Morgan, Jay Pharaoh, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, and so many others fill out an extraordinarily rich ensemble.  Mr. Rock uses each performer to comedic perfection.  The film is led by Mr. Rock and Ms. Dawson, who have magnificent chemistry together.  They are both alive when on screen together, funny and compelling.  Top Five is a wonderful concoction, one I am eager to revisit.  I’ll have more to say about this film on the site soon.

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9. Bad Words Jason Bateman knocks it out of the park with his directorial debut.  He stars as Guy Trilby, a forty-year-old man who exploits a loophole in the rules of the National Quill Spelling Bee to enter the national children’s spelling bee.  If you don’t think you’re going to laugh at a grown man gleefully defeating little kids in a spelling bee, then this might not be the film for you.  For me, I found it to be absolutely hilarious and tremendous fun in its just-on-the-edge of bad taste transgressive comedy.  Most astonishingly, for all the fun to be had watching Guy torture innocent kids, Bad Words is surprisingly sweet in the end.  Jason Bateman is at the top of his game, Kathryn Hahn kills it, and Allison Janey & Philip Baker Hall are tremendous.  I love this movie.  (Click here for my original review.)

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8. The Drop This crime film, written by brilliant novelist Dennis Lehane, is a brutally intense slow burn.  It features James Gandolfini, who is phenomenal in his final role.  He plays Cousin … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Bad Words

August 15th, 2014
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I don’t believe that Jason Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words, got much of a theatrical release, and that is a shame because the film is absolutely dynamite, a crackling concoction of a dark, dark comedy.

Mr. Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a forty-year-old man who exploits a loophole in the rules of the National Quill Spelling Bee competition so that he can enter.  It seems that, because he never graduated the eighth grade, he can compete, and so Guy begins a quest to defeat child after child and be crowned champion of the National Bee.

If that premise, which involves a grown man competing against children and doing his darnedest to crush their dreams (and those of their usually-overbearing parents) sounds like an amusing premise, then this is a movie for you.  I found it to be absolutely hysterical.  The film has a transgressive edge to it, and it takes a certain demented glee in mining humor from Guy’s absolutely inappropriate interactions with all of these eighth-graders.  But this isn’t a mean-spirited movie, and the comedy stays on the right side of the boundary of good taste, at least in my opinion.

Most importantly: Bad Words is very, very funny.  The film has a biting, sharp script by Andrew Dodge.  I love that the story drops us right into the middle of Guy’s Spelling Bee quest, his plan already fully-formed.  The film opens with a very funny, attention-grabbing prologue in which we see Guy competing in a Bee.  After that opening, I expected the story to flash back by a few weeks or months to tell us just what this guy was up to and how he got to this crazy place.  But no, to my delight the film just keeps moving forward, and it’s only gradually, as we watch this crazy story unfold, that we learn more about Guy’s background and just what the heck he is up to.

Jason Bateman will probably never have a better role than that of Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, but boy this is up there.  On Arrested, Mr. Bateman usually played the straight man.  But here he gets to cut loose and bring Guy Trilby to life in all of his maladjusted glory.  Mr. Bateman taps into some sort of evil inner glee in all the scenes in which we see him torturing his fellow Spelling Bee participants (and their parents), and this gives the film a crazy, I-can’t-believe-I’m-watching-this energy.  (While, as I noted above, always managing to stay on what I felt was the right side of acceptability in terms of what an audience could find humor with and still somewhat sympathize with Guy as our main character.)

The great Kathryn … [continued]