2014 Year-End Movie Review: David Medsker

6. “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

Best Avengers movie by a country mile. On paper, Steve Rogers is the most vanilla of the A-list Avengers, but the script that they assembled for his second installment is a classic political potboiler – this is, without question, the most mature Marvel film to date – with a whole lotta kickass. As an added bonus, they slipped in a “Pulp Fiction” reference at the very end.

7. “THE IMITATION GAME

A deft hybrid of several genres (race against time, spy thriller, multiple forms of discrimination), anchored by outstanding performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. There is a lot happening here, yet it is remarkably well balanced. Also, Mark Strong is the UK version of Stanley Tucci, in that every movie he’s in is better because he’s in it. Fact.

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8. “EDGE OF TOMORROW

Tom Cruise’s best movie since “Mission: Impossible III,” and one of the most entertaining sci-fi shoot ‘em ups ever. We acknowledge that Cruise has damaged his brand of late, possibly beyond repair, but to paraphrase my colleague Jason Zingale, look at it this way: if you like Tom Cruise, you get to see him kick ass. If you don’t like him, you get to see him die over and over and over. Doesn’t that sound fantastic to both sides?

9. “BIG HERO 6

I love talking to people who haven’t yet seen “Big Hero 6” and telling them, “No one gets out of a bad situation by using their muscles; they have to think their way out of it,” and watching them light up. In an age where most movie heroes are the biggest guys on screen, it is great to see a group of brainiacs battle, and their only weapons are of the non-lethal variety. While Marvel’s animated Disney debut makes some radical changes from the source material (Baymax goes from monster guardian to inflatable robot health care provider. Just think about that for a second), their instincts were dead on.

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10. “A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

“The Godfather” meets “Macbeth,” only the business is heating oil, not olive oil. This is a throwback movie in several ways, in that it not only takes place in 1981, but it has the pacing (deliberate) and intensity (red hot) of films from that period. Oscar Isaac is probably tired of being compared to Al Pacino (though he really shouldn’t) because of the resemblance between the two, but it isn’t just that: Isaac has a similar internal fire, the quiet one who’s constantly battling the urge to explode. Also, I’ve largely found Jessica Chastain to be adequate but unexceptional, but she is dynamite as Isaac’s tough, morally gray wife.

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GONE GIRL

Ben Affleck is going to be overlooked for his work here, and that’s a shame. Yes, Rosamund Pike has the flashier role (and boy, does she make the most of it), but Affleck is the rock of this movie, using his professional reputation to his advantage much like Edward Norton did in “Birdman.” And we’re calling it now: it’s a stone-cold lock that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross win another Oscar for Best Original Score. Creepy, but so, so good.

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GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

While it was great to see Marvel make a more grown-up Avengers movie, it was equally nice to see them make a different kind of adult superhero movie. “Guardians” has more swagger than all of the Avengers movies combined, and that looseness is intoxicating. Also, the soundtrack is gold. Any movie that opens with 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” and closes with the Five Stairsteps’ “”O-o-h Child” is okay by me.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

This was really well done, but it’s also hard to fall in love with after watching that hilariously accurate Wes Anderson horror movie spoof that “Saturday Night Live” ran earlier this year. Indeed, watching this after seeing the “SNL” skit, the film looks like Anderson himself saw the skit and said, “Challenge accepted” (though “Budapest” actually came out before the “SNL” bit). Massive cast, beautiful, fun, bonkers, but one viewing is enough, thank you.

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STILL ALICE

Unofficial subtitle: Every Man’s Worst Nightmare. Julianne Moore plays a highly influential professor of linguistics who’s diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We watch as she forgets meeting people within seconds of meeting them, getting lost while jogging, and leaving detailed, harrowing instructions on video for her later self. It’s heartbreaking, and after decades as an industry darling who’s never taken home a statue, this seems like Moore’s year.

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