2014 Films: A Year End Review

The time has come for “Top ___” lists and I’m trying to get at least one of them up before 2014 is over. My good buddy, Jordan, will not let me forget all the years that my lists have come late and I’ve promised him to get these up sooner than later.

I have not seen all of the films I wanted to see in 2014, but based on what I have seen, these were my favorites (though maybe not the “best” quality). So, in semi-particular-order here we go:

11. Horrible Bosses 2 – This is really more “honorable mention” territory. I saw this movie for my birthday and it was just good, clean dirty fun. It helped to see it with some of my favorite people from back home and just have a hearty laugh. I found it better and funnier than the first. Had I been in a different mood at the time, maybe it wouldn’t have made the list, but I’m glad I saw it when I did. Jennifer Aniston just knocks my socks off in the role. Everyone says she’s not “diverse” enough, but come on. This is great stuff!

10. The Lego Movie – Oh, Chris Pratt. You make everything better, especially my beloved Legos.

9. Maleficent – I feel like this was Angelina Jolie’s year. She infused Maleficent with such humor and devious charm adding heart and emotion to the caricature of Maleficent that we see in (my favorite Disney animated film) Sleeping Beauty. I genuinely adore this film and its ability to surpass Maleficent’s long historical misunderstanding to show us the lighter side of the woman, the terror, the legend.

8. Wish I Was Here – A welcome addition to the Braff filmography. I have always loved his films and this is no exception. I was sorry to see that it didn’t do better in the theaters, but am so thankful to have seen and enjoyed it. I only wish I’d known sooner of the Kickstarter campaign for it and could have been a part of that. I love getting on board those types of projects.

7. This is Where I Leave You / Begin Again – I’m lumping these two together because they are essentially about growing up and finding oneself despite their very different settings (suburbs vs. city, family dynamics vs. navigating the perils of love and career). I could not have appreciated more the complex emotions portrayed in each production. I just so genuinely enjoyed both casts in their entirety. If I had to, I might give the edge to “Begin Again” because I can’t get enough Mark Ruffalo. Ever.

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Marvel Cinematic Universe films make me happy. They just do. DC films make me introspective and gloomy (though I do love them), but MCU is just different. They have a different vibe. MCU gets it. They get me. The Winter Soldier’s tie into into Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD definitely helped pique my interest in seeing it AND elevated my love for the story. The wonderful thing about this movie, and most of the MCU films, is the heart behind and weaved throughout the story. This one was really an ode to the love we find in genuine friendships like that between Steve Rogers and Bucky.

5. Magic in the Moonlight – Woody Allen. Colin Firth. Emma Stone. Hamish Linklater. Enough said.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy – There has not been a superhero film this good since “The Avengers.” It was so good, in fact, that my husband even liked it. That, in itself, speaks very highly of its appeal and ability to bend genre and reach across the superhero/non-superhero fan divide. James Gunn’s script was flawless, as was every single performance in the entire movie. And, honestly, how are you not a Pratt-fangirl/boy by now?

3. Veronica Mars – This is really a no-brainer. I was a contributor to this film on the first day of the Kickstarter campaign. For us “Marshmallows,” it was really the perfect closure for Veronica’s story with just enough open-endedness to leave the hope for a follow-up film. The movie even appealed to my grandmother, who has never seen the show and is decidedly outside of the target demographic. Well done, all.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel – A year in which a Wes Anderson film doesn’t make my list of favorites would be a sad year, indeed. This was, perhaps, my absolute favorite of all of his films. Ingeniously told and brilliantly performed. The wisdom in the addition of Ralph Fiennes to the Anderson cast line-up cannot be overstated.

1. Interstellar / Unbroken – In the final analysis, each of these films is about ultimately about hope with emphases on other prescient and vital life virtues. As I sat down to write this list, I really could not decide which to put at the top. Interstellar was such an imaginative and far-reaching endeavor with each cast member putting forth among the greatest performances of their respective careers. I have never seen a Nolan film I didn’t genuinely love. I tell you truly: this is my favorite of his epics. Matthew McConaughey just keeps taking his craft to new levels of brilliance. As for Unbroken, as I said, I think this was Jolie’s year. Her eye for detail and ability to bring the truth of Louie Zamperini’s story to the screen is unsurpassed in its flawless emotional honesty. Jack O’Connell is my breakout star of the year. I’m so glad that Louie, himself, was able to see his larger-than-life story brought to screen before he passed. This one serves to bring us all hope and to display the transformative power of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

There were a great many films I did not get to see this year, but I saw enough fantastic ones that I felt comfortable making my list this year without having seen everything. Among those I missed this year but hope to see before the Oscars: Boyhood, Selma, Into the Woods, Big Eyes, Cake, Nightcrawler, Fury. Had I seen all of those, I can imagine my above list would have been MUCH longer than it was.

Look Beyond Another’s “Cover”

One of many emotional scenes on The Walking Dead this season.

Recently, I read an article at CNN.com about “The Walking Dead,” in which Forbes was quotes as saying “‘The Walking Dead’ has officially made the zombie genre emotional.” This comment, while seemingly innocuous, got me thinking. For a long time, I have enjoyed shows, books, and movies that are judged (unfairly) as weird, wrong, or somehow lesser because they are a part of a genre that mainstream folks do not understand. From “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “The Walking Dead,” people always find it strange that I find such value and meaning in shows with such absurd premises and silly titles. The Walking Dead is, on the surface, a “zombie genre” show, sure. But it has always been emotional because, at its core, it is a show about people in community trying to survive unimaginable circumstances. Thus, it is and will always be inherently emotional because it is written with so much truth, heart, and soul. Sunday’s episode didn’t make it “official,” it has always been so.

I am not sure who first coined the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but it’s been around for so long that you’d think people would follow that advice. Yet, for all our quoting of this cliché, which is only cliché because it is good and true advice, we seldom follow it. From art (TV shows, movies, books) to people and communities, humankind is constantly making judgments based solely on looks. Maybe it’s just human nature. Maybe it is just an innocent response since “looks” are the first thing evident to us in the physical world. This tendency is so prevalent and, in the case of how it affects our interpersonal and community relationships, it is heartbreaking and even dangerous.

I don’t know what happened the day Michael Brown was killed, but I do know that his appearance had at least something to do with his death. Had he been an unarmed white woman, for example, Officer Wilson would have probably found another way to handle the situation that didn’t involve firing 12 rounds at an unarmed teenager. Police officers have to size up situations quickly and make literal life-or-death decisions, so it makes sense that Wilson would have to take all factors into consideration. Still, I cannot help but think that Michael Brown would be alive today if his skin color were lighter, his clothes a different style, or if the confrontation had taken place in a different town with fewer racial tensions.

Race isn’t the only arena where judging a book by its cover becomes problematic. Special needs people also face this conundrum. My son’s appearance as “normal” and his happy demeanor lead people to assume he is a typical child. They’ll say, “But he looks so normal,” or “I would never have known he had autism if you hadn’t told me.” This is not usually a bad thing except when Weston’s autism causes some sort of public meltdown. Then people assume Weston is just acting out, judging and condemning our parenting and his behavior rather than showing empathy and understanding. If he had a visible, physical disability, perceptions would be different, but our lives would be no easier. I can remember using my disabled parking permit when I was a teenager and being stopped by a mall cop telling me, “You cannot use that unless the handicapped person is in the vehicle.” I was disgusted with his assumption and hurt that I had to explain myself. It isn’t just the visibly disabled who need some help in this world.

All of these issues (and a great many others) are a problem in the tangible, physical world as interpersonal relationships can be complicated or prevented outright based on “covers.” Yet this isn’t a problem in the virtual world. People often lament the effect technology is having on our interpersonal relationships, remarking on how social media is destroying the very fabric of society by somehow breaking down our interactions and making them less personal. In some cases, that may be true, but I would argue that interaction via social media eliminates much of our tendency to “judge a book by its cover” thereby basing our relationships on something more than physical appearance. True, there are many “evils” in the internet world and when we hide behind our online presence or use virtual anonymity to hurt others, there are devastating results. I have, however, developed many great friendships based on common interests that are every bit as real to me as the friends I have stumbled upon as I go about my daily life. I have built lifelong friendships with people who for many reasons–including appearance-based judgements–I would never have met. Relationships not built on physical proximity are not automatically less real or more superficial. On the contrary. They can be much more genuine because they force us to look beyond the “cover” to the heart, mind, and soul of the person with whom we are engaging.

All of this to say: STOP THE INSANITY! But seriously. Whether we’re talking about people, relationships, books, TV shows–whatever–can we please stop diminishing or dismissing our respective “books” based solely on their “covers?” Can human beings finally acknowledge that the world–including the people in it–is more than its surface?