2014: the year in movie superlatives

The year has finally drawn to a close. They're celebrating 2015 already in some parts of the globe (I guess our troops in Afghanistan are popping champagne right about now). But before really send 2014 off into the the sunset, a last look at the best of what silver screens had to offer this year…in one guy's opinion, anyway.

Following up on yesterday's “If I Had an Oscar Ballot” post, I've run down my top picks in each standard Oscar category below. On the second page, you'll find a list of supplementary awards, stuff that the Academy doesn't recognize (but in a few cases, perhaps should).

Feel free to offer up your own favorites in the comments section. And allow me to wish you a Happy New Year as the clock turns.


Best Visual Effects: “Under the Skin” (Runner-up: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”)
It's a shame this branch can't see past internal politics, as the best example of effects on the year couldn't even make the bake-off stage.

Best Sound Mixing: “Godzilla” (Runner-up: “Fury”)
The bulk of the “Godzilla” experience really is its sound design, as director Gareth Edwards shrouds the creature in visual mystery for much of the film's runtime.

Best Sound Editing: “Godzilla” (Runner-up: “Fury”)
Ditto. It's just immaculate work, particularly in the editorial, actually. And “Fury” deserves commendation for enveloping with a riveting, anxiety-inducing sound environment.

Best Costume Design: “The Boxtrolls” (Runner-up: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”)
Stop motion design work is grossly under-appreciated and the more I think about the meticulous, character-specific craftsmanship of “The Boxtrolls,” the more it stands out as the year's best example in the category.

Best Production Design: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Runner-up: TIE – “Birdman” and “Snowpiercer)
The “Grand Budapest” work is like another character in the film, while the back-up choices were too amazing to choose just one. “Birdman's” reconstruction efforts are gargantuan, just as “Snowpiercer's” multiple unique train cars continue to tell the film's wild story throughout.

Best Original Song: “America For Me” from “A Most Violent Year” (Runner-up: “Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”)
Not a wonderful year for the category, really, with poppy ironic ditties standing out for most. Alex Ebert's closing credits track for “A Most Violent Year” most encompassed its film's thematic ideas.

Best Original Score: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross “Gone Girl” (Runner-up: Alexandre Desplat, “Godzilla”)
A tough choice between these two, honestly. Another great year for Desplat boiled down to the energy of his monster movements (for me), but Reznor and Ross' unsettling aural accompaniment for “Gone Girl” was sort of on another level.

Best Makeup: “Foxcatcher” (Runner-up: “Snowpiercer”)
Subtlety in makeup is a virtue. Look beyond Carell's nose. The work done on “Foxcatcher” is both faithful to reality and an extension of character.

Best Film Editing: Tom Cross, “Whiplash” (Runner-up: John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa, “Wild”)
The experience of “Whiplash” is very much its frantic assemblage. Ditto “Wild” its dreamlike tapestry.

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman” (Runner-up: Robert Elswit, “Inherent Vice”)
I mean, duh. But re: Elswit, He captured “Vice” in gorgeous celluloid hues and deserves an extra mention for “Nightcrawler” as well.

Best Documentary: “The Overnighters” (Runner-up: “Tales of the Grim Sleeper”)
“The Overnighters” is like Steinbeck writ on a modern canvas, compelling human drama getting at the very soul of the country.

Best Documentary (Short Subject): “Joanna” (Runner-up: “Our Curse”)
This is a downer category this year, to be sure, but both of these films deal with the realities of illness in strikingly natural and simplistic ways. “Joanna” may be the most artful of the overall lot.

Best Short Film (Animated): “Footprints” (Runner-up: “The Bigger Picture”)
The practical ingenuity of “The Bigger Picture” is pretty amazing to behold, but Bill Plympton conjures such a fascinating statement in his latest brief that it just stands out.

Best Short Film (Live Action): “Aya” (Runner-up: “Summer Vacation”)
These are sort of interchangeable, really, but the edge goes to “Aya” for being such a rich character study about life's temptations.

Best Original Screenplay: “Birdman” (Runner-up: “Foxcatcher”)
You're about to read a lot about “Birdman” as we close out the list. Let's just say I liked it. I really liked it. But a big high five to Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye's work finding the potent center of their John du Pont drama.

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Inherent Vice” (Runner-up: “How to Train Your Dragon 2”)
P.T.A. may have been uber faithful to Pynchon but it took a lot of swagger to make the material work as a movie. An absorbing experience.

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood” (Runner-up: Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”)
Arquette covered a lot of ground, literally and figuratively, with her 12-year performance as a single mother making her way. But worth mentioning is Russo's forthright but vulnerable ambitious news head.

Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton, “Birdman” (Runner-up: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”)
Norton's rowdy, rambunctious, self-absorbed theater actor might be the best thing he's done, or at the very least since his breakout work in “Primal Fear” and “American History X.”

Best Actress: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Beyond the Lights” (Runner-up: Anne Dorval, “Mommy”)
Mbatha-Raw broke out in a big way in 2014, and her performance as a young woman trying to find her artistic voice in the torrent of superstardom artifice was sobering and beautiful.

Best Actor: Michael Keaton, “Birdman” (Runner-up: Philip Seymour Hoffman, “A Most Wanted Man”)
Keaton found a role that harnessed all of his virtues and he knocked it out of the park. But a particular shout-out to Hoffman's final lead performance, a sterling reminder of what he was capable of.

Best Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman” (Runner-up: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”)
Iñárritu's finest film to date, a penetrating, dazzling high-wire act full of thematic virtue and filmmaking verve. It's hard not to give the runner-up spot to the exacting control of Bennett Miller, but Linklater's vision and commitment deserves a notice.

Best Animated Feature: “How to Train Your Dragon 2” (Runner-up: “The Tale of Princess Kaguya'”)
The scope and majesty of the DreamWorks series soars over other bubble gum/merchandise grabs in the category this year.

Best Foreign Film: “White God” (Runner-up: “Wild Tales”)
Kornél Mundruczó's captivating tale is like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” with dogs – real ones. And it's heart-stopping drama throughout.

Best Picture: “Birdman” (Runner-up: “Foxcatcher”)
What more can I say? A masterpiece about ego and the craving for acceptance and fulfillment. It hasn't been close since I first laid eyes on it in the mountains of Colorado. Who's ready for “The Revenant?”

(Click over to the next page for a list of supplementary kudos this year.)

Most Underrated Film of the Year: “Beyond the Lights”

Most Overrated Film of the Year: (TIE) “The LEGO Movie” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Breakthrough Performance (Male): Antoine-Olivier Pilon, “Mommy”

Breakthrough Performance (Female): Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Belle” and “Beyond the Lights”

Best Ensemble: “Inherent Vice”

Best Cameo Performance: DMX, “Top Five”

Best Hero: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Selma” (as played by David Oyelowo)

Best Villain: Fletcher, “Whiplash” (as played by J.K. Simmons)

Best Poster: “Enemy” (this one)

Best Trailer (for a trailer released in 2014, not necessarily a film released in 2014): “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Most Surprising Film of the Year: “Godzilla”

Most Disappointing Film of the Year: “Big Eyes”

Most Ambitious Film of the Year: “Boyhood”

Most Intriguing Failure: “The Signal”

Best Action Sequence: “Godzilla”
The HALO jump sequence from this summer blockbuster was masterfully shot and constructed with a György Ligeti soundtrack that leaves the moment feeling unlike anything else in the spectrum.

Entertainer of the Year: Emmanuel Lubezki
I thought and I thought and I thought of who was most fitting for this annual accolade and kept coming up blank. Typically I've settled on outside-the-box choices, such as financier Megan Ellison or superhero factory Marvel Studios, but often enough a movie star with multiple hits stands out, too. This year, I just had a deep thought on my favorite work on the year, and one name bubbled up to the top.

Five Worst Films I Saw This Year (in order): “Hercules,” “Transcendence,” “Winter's Tale,” “Need for Speed,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Top 10 Films of the Year (in order): “Birdman,” “Foxcatcher,” “Inherent Vice,” “Boyhood,” “The Overnighters,” “A Most Violent Year,” “Godzilla,” “Whiplash,” “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” “Beyond the Lights”