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The Top 20 Movies of 2014 — Part One!

2014 was a fantastic year for movies.  I had so many films that I wanted to make mention of in my end-of-the-year best-of list, that I’ve decided to expand my usual Top 15 list into a Top 20.  Cheating?  Perhaps!  But it’s all in the service of spreading love for a great group of terrific films, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

Even with a Top Twenty list, there are still plenty of great films that I saw in 2014 that didn’t make this list: They Came Together, Gone Girl, Interstellar, Noah, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, Harmontown, Neighbors, Snowpiercer, Chef, A Million Ways to Die in the West, The Fault in Our Stars, The One I Love, Obvious Child, and lots more.

There were also plenty of 2014 movies that interested me but that I just didn’t have a chance to see.  These include, but are by no means limited to: Selma and Inherent Vice (neither of which had yet opened near me when I wrote this list), Whiplash, Foxcatcher, Rosewater, Fury, St. Vincent, Nightcrawler, Laggies, Big Hero 6, The Homesman, Force Majeure, Only Lovers Left Alive, Men Women & Children, and plenty of others.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s begin!

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Honorable Mention: Her This was technically a 2013 film but, like Selma and Inherent Vice this year, it did not open near me until well into 2014, so it wasn’t until late January 2014 that I saw it.  Had I been able to see it before writing my Best of 2013 list, it certainly would have been high on that list.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I should include it on this year’s list, so I’ve settled for giving it an “Honorable Mention”.  This gorgeous, gentle, heartbreaking story from writer/director Spike Jonze is mesmerizing, a fascinating piece of speculative fiction in which we see a vision of a society not very far removed from our own.  Joaquin Phoenix is wonderfully affecting as Theodore, a lonely man who has just been divorced from the woman he thought was the love of his life.  He purchases a new OS (Operating System), and gradually finds himself falling in love with this A.I. (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) who is with him everywhere he goes.  Is Theodore retreating dangerously from real life into fantasy?  Or is this a beautiful story of a man and a woman falling in love with the essence of each other’s character, entirely separate from any physical attraction?  That’s up to the viewer to decide.  Me, I was touched and intrigued by this a beautiful, unique film.  (Click here for my original review.)… [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood) returns to our cinema screens with a wonderful, perplexing yet phenomenally engaging new film: The Master. It’s a film that I’m not quite sure what to make of, but one that I’ve really been thinking about ever since seeing it.  It’s a hard movie to shake, one that I found to be weirdly captivating despite it’s often stately, leisurely pacing.  Without question it’s the work of a true master of cinema.

Joaquin Phoenix (appearing in his first film since 2008, not counting his weird sort-of-not-really documentary I’m Still Here) plays Freddie Quell.  A navy-man during World War II, in the film’s opening section we watch Freddie repeatedly trying and failing to make a go of any sort of regular life in the years after the war.  He seems to be suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress, though the film lets us draw our own conclusions.  He’s clearly unstable, an angry, intense, young man with a serious habit of heavy-drinking.  Out of work, he stows away on a boat that it turns out is hosting a lengthy excursion to sea by a man named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a self-described “writer, doctor, nuclear-physicist, and theoretical philosopher.”  Despite their being complete opposites in nearly every way, Freddie and Mr. Dodd have an immediate connection.  They bond over their love of the potent alcohol that Freddie likes to whip up, and while Dodd feels he can help Freddie and straighten him out, Freddie seems to find in Dodd a friend and father figure absent in his life.

As soon as one of Dodd’s followers refers to him as “master,” we know there might be another side to this charismatic writer and speaker.  Indeed, as Freddie (and the audience) spends more time with Dodd and his close-knit family and followers who seem to be constantly with him, we begin to see how many in his group are following his writings and his philosophies as a complete way of life.  Much has been made over whether the film is or isn’t based on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.  I did not read the film as an attack on scientology in specific, nor did I feel the point of the film was in critiquing any religion or cult.  (And please note that I am not equating the two!!)  There are definitely moments when one might raise one’s eyebrows at certain things we see Dodd’s followers saying or doing.  The film shows the positive power of the community of close-knit followers who surround the man they call “master,” and also the dangers of creeping, unquestioning group-think.

But it seems to me that … [continued]