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Frank J. Avella Film Column
BEST OF 2014



Talk about your superheroes and real life heroes! 2014 has been a most bizarre year where the best films cannot necessarily be assembled in any one box. Diversity is what 2014 was all about—in themes, tones, genres, and budgets. Nothing links my favorite films together except that they were the best in a year where movies were good but, not often, great.

Satirical films (“Birdman,” “Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Wild Tales,” Nightcrawler”) hold a strong place in my top 13 but so do powerful true stories with real life heroes (“Selma,” “The Imitation Game,” “CitizenFour”). And audacity is always rewarded (“Birdman,” “Whiplash,” “Mommy,” “Wild Tales,” “Nightcrawler”)

I cheated and gave special mention to two of the most ambitious films of the year. Both could have made the Top 13 (yes, I always choose my lucky number 13).

The strength of films like “The Gambler” surprised me. I loved every bleak and bitter moment of it. I even loved the capitulatory ending. Ditto the dark world of “A Most Violent Year,” and the twisted black comedy of “Maps to the Stars.”

Controversy aside, I found “The Interview” to be absolutely hilarious and worthwhile.

I love my Top 13. I could watch each one over and over (and I have, for the most part) and get something new out of them every time.

Edward Norton and Emma Stone in "Birdman"

The Top 13

1. “Birdman”

2. “Selma”

3. “Boyhood”

4. “Whiplash”

5. “The Imitation Game”

6. “Gone Girl”

7. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

8. “Mommy”

9. “CitizenFour”

10. “Love is Strange”

11. “Wild Tales”

12. “Nightcrawler”

13. “Snowpiercer”

Special Mentions to two of the most ambitious (and longest) films of 2014

“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, Her/Him” (5 hours, 10 mins.)

“Nymphomaniac: The Extended Cut, Volume One & Two” (5 ½ hours)

Lars von Trier pissed even more people off with his pornocopic character study of a woman who thinks her sexual proclivities makes her evil. “Nymphomaniac” can be a laborious sit but the rewards are many. Like all of his work, you either appreciate his style and the fact that he is doing things no one else dares, or you write him off. Personally, I think he’s one of the few true filmic geniuses working today.

And speaking of daring, a new and exciting voice was introduced this year: Ned Benson, writer-director of “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” His debut ture, was broken into three parts telling three POV versions of the same story. And while there was too much repetition, the films are fascinating with “Them” the standout.

Funniest Film Not Being Released…Wait!... Released by Sony:

“The Interview”

Runners-up—the next 13 (alphabetically):

Mark Wahlberg and Jessica Chastain in "The Gambler"


“The Case Against 8”

“The Gambler”


“The Immigrant”

“Last Days in Vietnam”

“Maps to the Stars”

“A Most Violent Year”

“The Skeleton Twins”

“Stranger by the Lake”



“Two Days, One Night”

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

“American Sniper”

“The Babadook”

“Begin Again”

“Dance of Reality”

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

“Force Majeure”



“Guardians of the Galaxy”

“Listen Up Phillip”

“Obvious Child”



“St. Vincent”

“The Theory of Everything”

“Venus in Fur”

“The Way He Looks”

Favorite Directorial Achievements:

This is difficult because my top three are all so deserving in so many ways they can be easily switched out for one of the others. It’s a crapshoot year because while Linklater managed an epic feat, Iñárritu provided stupendous technical dazzle and DuVernay, finding her own brilliant style, spoke to one of the most important issues still facing our nation. Here’s the way my dice landed:

Ava DuVernay directing David Oyelowo in "Selma"

1. Ava DuVernay for “Selma”

2. Alejandro González Iñárritu for “Birdman”

3. Richard Linklater for “Boyhood”

4. David Fincher for “Gone Girl”

5. Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash”


Xavier Dolan for “Mommy’

Wes Anderson for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Morten Tyldum for “The Imitation Game”

Ira Sachs for “Love is Strange”

Laura Poitras for “CitizenFour”

Lars von Trier for “Nymphomaniac: Extended Cut”

Favorite Lead Actress:

To argue that it was a lousy year for female lead performances is to disregard wonderful work being done in foreign-language and indie films. Do yourself a favor and go see “Mommy” and “Two Days, One Night” or VOD “Fort Bliss” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” before you hop on the “sucky year for actresses” bandwagon. Sure, Hollywood needs to work harder at producing more (any) strong female driven films where women aren’t just an extension of the male lead and his issues. In the meanwhile, treat yourself to “Venus in Fur” or “The Skeleton Twins” or “Belle” or “Obvious Child” or “The One I Love” or “Le Week-end” or “The Congress” or “The Immigrant” or “Kelly and Cal” or “Ida” or even “Cake” to see some ladies kick ass. And if you’re not too squeamish you can watch the most fearless performance of the year: Charlotte Gainsbourg in Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.” (Go for the extended cut so you can experience her entire wrenching, but fascinating journey)

1. Anne Dorval in “Mommy”

2. Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night” & “The Immigrant”

3. Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”

4. Julianne Moore in “Maps to the Stars” & “Still Alice”

5. Michelle Monaghan in “Fort Bliss”


Jessica Chastain in “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”

Jessica Chastain in “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” & “Miss Julie”

Jennifer Aniston in “Cake’

Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

Emily Blunt in “Into the Woods”

Kristen Wiig in “The Skeleton Twins”

Emmanuelle Seigner in “Venus in Fur”

Charlotte Gainsbourg in “Nymphomaniac”

Favorite Lead Actor:

Benedict Cumberbatch in "The Imitation Game"

What can I say? I’m now an official Cumberbitch. This year, like last, the male lead performances are an embarrassment of riches.

1. Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”

2. Michael Keaton in “Birdman”

3. David Oyelowo in “Selma”

4. Ralph Fiennes in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

5. Oscar Isaac in “A Most Violent Year”


Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler”

Miles Teller in “Whiplash”

Mark Wahlberg in “The Gambler”

Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”

Channing Tatum in “Foxcatcher”

Bill Murray in “St. Vincent”

Favorite Supporting Actress:

1. Emma Stone in “Birdman”

2. Jessica Chastain in “A Most Violent Year” & “Interstellar”

3. Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

4. Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”

5. Carmen Ejogo in “Selma”


Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”

Agata Trzebuchowska in “Ida”

Tilda Swinton in “Snowpiercer”

Marisa Tomei in “Love is Strange” & “Loitering with Intent”

Rene Russo in “Nightcrawler”

Naomi Watts in “St. Vincent”

Jane Fonda in “This is Where I Leave You”

Jessica Lange in “The Gambler"

Favorite Supporting Actor:

1. Edward Norton in “Birdman”

2. J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

3. Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”

4. Josh Brolin in “Inherent Vice”

5. Tom Wilkinson in “Selma”


Logan Lerman in “Fury”

Chris Pine in “Into the Woods”

Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”

Evan Bird in “Maps to the Stars”

Vincent Piazza in “Jersey Boys”

Michael Fassbender in “Frank”

Jeremy Renner in “The Immigrant”

Favorite Original Screenplay:

1. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo for “Birdman”

2. Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash”

3. Paul Webb for “Selma”

4. Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

5. Richard Linklater “Boyhood”


Ira Sachs & Mauricio Zacharias for “Love is Strange”

Xavier Dolan for “Mommy”

JC Chandor for “A Most Violent Year”

Dan Gilroy for “Nightcrawler”

Damián Szifrón for “Wild Tales”

John Michael McDonagh for “Calvary”

Ned Benson for “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”

Favorite Adapted Screenplay:

Rosamunde Pike in "Gone Girl"

1. Gillian Flynn for “Gone Girl”

2. Graham Moore for “The Imitation Game”

3. Paul Thomas Anderson for “Inherent Vice”

4. Anthony McCarten for “The Theory of Everything”

5. David Ives & Roman Polanski for “Venus in Fur”


Jon Stewart for “Rosewater”

Joon-ho Bong & Kelly Masterson for “Snowpiercer”

Ebru Ceylan & Nuri Bilge Ceylan for “Winter Sleep”

Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver for “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

James Lapine for “Into the Woods”

Favorite Foreign-Language Films

1. “Mommy” -- Canada

2. “Wild Tales” – Argentina

3. “Tangerines” -- Estonia

4. “Two Days, One Night” -- Belgium

5. “Ida” -- Poland


“The Way He Looks” -- Brazil

“Force Majeure” – Sweden

“Dance of Reality” – Chile & France

“Timbuktu” – Mauritania

“Human Capital” – Italy

“Winter Sleep” -- Turkey

Favorite Documentaries

1. “CitizenFour”

2. “The Case Against 8”

3. “The Last Days of Vietnam”

4. “Jodorowsky’s Dune”

5. “The Kill Team”


“Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia”

“Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles”

10 Most Promising New Actors—Male & Female

1. Jack O’Connell in “Starred Up” and “Unbroken”

2. Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood”

3. Antoine-Olivier Pilon in “Mommy”

4. Evan Bird in “Maps to the Stars”

5. Ben Schnetzer in “Pride”

6. Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Belle”

7. Charlie Tahan in “Love is Strange”

8. Agata Trzebuchowska in “Ida”

9. Jenny Slate in “Obvious Child”

10. Jaeden Lieberher in “St. Vincent’

10 Most Promising New Filmmakers: (first or second feature only)

1. Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash” (second feature)

2. Ned Benson for “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” (first feature)

3. Damián Szifron for “Wild Tales” (first feature)

4. Dan Gilroy for “Nightcrawler” (first feature)

5. Jon Stewart for “Rosewater” (first feature)

6. John Michael McDonagh for “Calvary” (second feature)

7. Craig Johnson for “The Skeleton Twins” (second feature)

8. Jennifer Kent for “The Babadook” (first feature)

9. Matthew Warchus for “Pride” (second feature)

10. Theodore Melfi for “St. Vincent” (first feature)

Four Favorite Unreleased Films--all (hopefully) coming out in 2015

1. “Clouds of Sils Maria” –would have easily been in my Top 13 this year.

2. “La Sapienza”

3. “A Street in Palermo” –Sicilians at their most Sicilian.

5. “Eden”

Least Favorite Films of 2014 (Hated them!)

Note to Hollywood: Stop making biblical films! The effects are cheesy CGI. You’re writers are making too much stuff up. The performances are SO SERIOUS, anachronistic and the accents are all over the place! You are making audiences long for the good old days of Edward G. Robinson sneering “Yeah, see, where’s your Moses now!” Lots of indie duds but why pick on them when these five studio films were so craptacular!


“Exodus: Gods and Kings”




Most Overrated Performance of 2014 (acting at its most obvious)

Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”

The Best—LGBT Films

As I do every year, I’d like to single out the Best in LGBT (mostly gay) films from this past year. Some of these are available on DVD/Blu-Ray or are in theatres/coming soon. Others are still traveling the Festival route but will soon, hopefully, be available. Last year “Stranger by the Lake” topped the list since I saw it at the New York Film Festival. It was released in January 2014 so I am not including it again. SEEK THESE OUT.

Note: After much internal debate (and external with a colleague), I am including “The Imitation Game,” even though it isn’t a gay story per se, it is about a closeted gay man and the horrors he was forced to endure because of his sexuality.

1. “The Imitation Game”

2. “Love is Strange”

3. “The Way He Looks”

4. “Pride”

5. “I Am Happiness on Earth”

6. “Life Partners”

7. “Lilting”

8. “Blackbird”

9. “Cupcakes”

10. “The Circle”


“Something Must Give”


“Age of Consent”

The Best of TV 2014

This year Aaron Sorkin gave us a paltry six final episodes of “The Newsroom,” and they represented television at its best. Regardless of Sorkin’s real reasons, it’s a damn shame this show will not be coming back. “Game of Thrones” continued to excel and get no Emmy love and “Mad Men” began the road to goodbye as well. New shows sucked--with few exceptions—most of them on cable. Lisa Kudrow and HBO brought Valerie Cherish back after a nine-year hiatus and proved “The Comeback” could be better and zeitgeisty the second time around. It’s a satiric delight. And HBO also brought us the TV event of the year with Ryan Murphy’s ballsy and faithful adaptation of Larry Kramer’s searing play, “The Normal Heart.” Come to think of it, HBO is responsible for most of the best and most daring productions. Perhaps Sony should offer “The Interview” to HBO.

Best of TV—Drama

1. "The Newsroom"

2. "Game of Thrones"

3. "Mad Men"

4. "Downton Abbey"

5. "Orphan Black"

6. "House of Cards"

7. "The Leftovers"

8. "The Affair"

9. "Boardwalk Empire"

10. "Ray Donovan"

11. "Homeland"

12. "How to Get Away with Murder"

13. "Masters of Sex"

Best of TV—Comedy

1. "The Comeback"

2. "Veep"

3. "Nurse Jackie"

4. "Girls"

5. "Orange is the New Black"

6. "Real Time with Bill Maher"

7. "Episodes"

8. "Jane the Virgin"

9. "The Graham Norton Show"

10. "Shameless"

Best of TV—Miniseries/TV Film

"The Normal Heart"

1. “The Normal Heart”

2. “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

3. “Olive Kitteridge”

4. ”Sherlock: His Last Vow”

5. “True Detective”

The Best TV Performances of 2014--Male

1. Matt Bomer in “The Normal Heart”

2. Benedict Cumberbatch in “Sherlock: His Last Vow”

3. Jon Hamm in “Mad Men”

4. Jeff Daniels in “The Newsroom”

5. Matthew McConaughey in “True Detective”

6. Mark Ruffalo in “The Normal Heart”

7. Finn Wittrock in “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

8. Peter Dinklage in “Game of Thrones”

9. Billy Bob Thornton in “Fargo”

10. Woody Harrelson in “True Detective”

11. Christopher Eccleston in “The Leftovers”

12. Jaime Camil in “Jane the Virgin”

13. Jordan Gavaris in “Orphan Black”

The Best TV Performances of 2014--Female

"Orphan Black"

1. Tatiana Maslany in “Orphan Black”

2. Jessica Lange in “American Horror Story: Freak Show”

3. Lisa Kudrow in “The Comeback”

4. Frances McDormand in “Olive Kitteridge”

5. Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Veep”

6. Jane Fonda in “The Newsroom”

7. Robin Wright in “House of Cards”

8. Julia Roberts in “The Normal Heart”

9. Edie Falco in “Nurse Jackie”

10. Michelle Dockery in “Downton Abbey”

11. Viola Davis in “How to Get Away with Murder”

12. Emmy Rossum in “Shameless”

13. Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey”




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