With the abundance of great films this year, I found it very difficult to whittle my list down to 10 films. In fact, I often found myself trying to wedge two films – three in one instance – into slots 7 through 10.
So instead of going with an unwieldy Top 15 list, I've opted for a Top 5 list to keep things neat and tidy. Agree or disagree, here they are. See you at the movies in 2015.
5. "Gone Girl" – Director David Fincher is at the top of his game in Gillian Flynn's complex crime thriller, expertly adapted by the screenwriter from her own best-selling novel. Featuring one of the best ensemble casts of the year (including Ben Affleck, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Missi Pyle and Sela Ward), "Gone Girl" is taken to a whole new level by former Bond girl Rosamund Pike in what's easily the best female lead performance of the year.
4. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" – Director Matt Reeves pulls off the impossible by topping "Dawn's" predecessor, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" – a brilliant reboot of a classic film series. The apes continue to evolve in "Dawn," and so does the story and Andy Serkis' motion capture acting. Awards voters better soon get with the program and accept what Serkis does as a legitimate form of acting.
3. "Birdman" – Michael Keaton gives a career performance as a struggling big-screen superhero trying to reinvent himself on Broadway, in the most inventively staged film of the year. The only reason this film works is because of Keaton, who will no doubt enjoy a career renaissance with an Oscar nomination (if not a win) in his future. Of course, it helps to have Edward Norton in your cast, who is as brilliant as ever in a crucial supporting role.
2. "Whiplash" – J.K. Simmons gives the one of the best performances of the year as a conniving, vitriolic jazz conservatory instructor who uses mental abuse in an effort to try to bring out the best in his students – specifically an immensely talented but emotionally fragile drummer (Miles Teller). Simmons is so explosive in "Whiplash" that he makes Louis Gossett Jr. in "An Officer and a Gentleman" feel like a pre-school teacher.
1. "American Sniper" – Director Clint Eastwood places you in the thick of the battle in the Iraq war while Bradley Cooper puts you in Chris Kyle's conflicted mind in this brutally honest portrayal of the most lethal sniper in the American military. Sienna Miller is also heartbreaking at Kyle's wife, Taya, a woman suffering the residual effects war has on families. To say the film is riveting is an huge understatement, especially given the tragic fate that awaits Kyle as he finally finds his peace and tries to help other veterans adjust to life on the home front.
Most over-rated movie of the year:"Boyhood" – It's a clever idea no doubt, filming a child's life over a 12-year period and there's no denying the passion and planning director Richard Linklater put into the project. But ultimately, "Boyhood" feels like a gimmick because of a mostly uneventful story. Perhaps the reason this film is getting so much love is because critics were ultimately more fascinated with the idea of the making of movie over a 12-year period than the film itself.
Worst movie of the year:"Inherent Vice" – The film's top-shelf talent is completely wasted by Paul Thomas Anderson's pretentious direction, and a nonsensical script that's virtually impossible to grasp. Dreadful and disappointing, this movie should have been called "Incoherent Vice."
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for BringMeTheNews, “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Minnesota radio stations.