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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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Catching Up on 2014: Josh Reviews Wish I Was Here

January 9th, 2015
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I enjoyed Garden State, the first film written and directed by Zach Braff, when it was released back in 2004.  I’m surprised it took Mr. Braff so long before making a second film.  Wish I Was Here caused something of a stir when Mr. Braff funded the project through kickstarter.  I can’t say I agree with the criticisms leveled at Mr. Braff.  I applaud him for trying to make this film the way he wanted to make it, without studio interference.  The public chose to support him by backing his kickstarter campaign, so what’s the problem?  If people hadn’t been interested, then the kickstarter wouldn’t have been successful.  I wanted to see the film but missed it during its limited theatrical release.  I was happy to catch up with it on streaming video a few weeks ago.

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Just as Garden State depicted the struggles of a lost, lonely twenty-something, Wish I Was Here depicts an equally lost thirty-something.  Zach Braff plays Aiden Bloom.  He has a beautiful wife (Kate Hudson) and two great kids, but Aiden is just as adrift in life as was Andrew Largeman (Mr. Braff’s character in Garden State).  He’s struggling to find work as an actor.  Though his kids are enrolled in an Orthodox Jewish day school, he doesn’t feel any connection to Judaism or to G-d.  He bickers with his brother (Josh Gad) and, at the start of the film, learns that his father (Mandy Patinkin) is dying of cancer.

When I first heard the film’s title, Wish I Was Here, I braced myself to expect a navel-gazing exercise in young white self-pity.  But I found the film to be surprisingly affecting.  There are some big emotions in the film, but it works.  The movie is gentle and playful and heart-felt without crossing over into saccharine self-obsession.  Mr. Braff has crafted a lovely ensemble piece, filled with compelling characters, each of whom is struggling in some way to find their place in the world and to connect with their fellow family-members.

The ensemble cast is impressive.  Mandy Patinkin in particular is a joy as Aiden’s father, Gabe.  Gabe is a willful patriarch who can be difficult, but Mr. Patinkin plays him with a quiet gentleness.  This character could have been a one-dimensional caricature, but Mr. Patinkin keeps his performance honest and reined in.  This is great work from a great actor.  Aiden’s two kids are played by Pierce Gagnon (who was great in Looper) and Joey King, and they’re both terrific.  I always give the director huge credit whenever I see a great child-actor performance on screen, so bravo to Mr. Braff for a great eye for casting and great work with these … [continued]