#15 The Lunchbox (July 20th, 2014 via Netflix – 4 stars)
Saajan, (Irrfan Kahn) an accountant in Mumbai receives the wrong lunchbox from the famous lunchbox delivery service. This one is from Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a young wife and mother, rather than the restaurant he expects. Through a series of notes, they become involved in each others' lives, culminating a deep friendship. Meanwhile, he trains his replacement, a poor young man. This touching film from India made me laugh and smile. The ending, which I won’t give away, resists simple closure, and seemed, to me, to fit perfectly. I hope to see more of this director and these actors make it across the pond to American cinemas and onto my radar.
#14 Life Itself (August 10, 2014 at the Cameo Theater – 4 stars)
The George Ebert biopic. A warm tribute made by people who loved him, this film is a tearjerker (it certainly made me cry), though it isn’t necessarily sad. Ebert died after a long struggle with cancer, but also after an amazing and exciting career in film journalism, and with a deeply loved wife and family. It would be impossible to underestimate the effect he had on the film industry, and the movie delves into his sometimes volatile relationship with Gene Siskel. I know my first introduction to film criticism was watching Siskel and Ebert with my parents when I was kid. This film reminded me why he made me, and so many other people, want to go to the movies.
#13 Begin Again (July 23, 2014 at the Cameo Theater – 4 stars)
In some ways, this is an old story. Gretta (Keira Knightly), a singer-songwriter, comes to New York with her just-about-to-make-it boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine). Fame breaks them up. On the night she moves in with Steve (James Corden), only a friend, she also meets Dan (Marc Ruffalo). Dan has been recently fired from his own music company, but when he hears Gretta play at an open mic night, the arrangement of her song blooms in his head (and for the studio audience). He convinces her to work with him, and they produce an album all recorded in various famous spots in New York City. One of the best things about this movie is that it is not a romance between the main characters. As Dan repairs his relationship with his estranged wife and fed-up daughter, Gretta gets ready to make it on her own. Sure, the film has the clichéd “will she take her ex back” and “will they use his old record label?” But both moments work well—and the music and acting are so good—that they show that originality isn’t always the key to great films; recurring myths done well are beautiful, too.
#12 Chef (July 7, 2014 at the Cameo Theater – 4.25 stars)
This movie made the list for no other reason than I loved it. It’s predictable, but like I said about Begin Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) loses his job as an executive chef after a particularly public Twitter fight with a critic (Oliver Platt). He ends up starting a food truck to get back to the food he likes to cook, and takes his son (Emjay Anthony) along for the ride. Of course it’s a success, and of course he repairs his marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara). Of course it leads to a fabulous new restaurant partially funded by aforementioned critic, who had loved his early cooking. What makes this movie great is the acting (plus a fun near-cameo by Robert Downey Jr.), and Favreau’s clear, genuine passion for the food he’s cooking. And he can cook. That passion transfers to his character and then to the audience. Another sweet family movie (yes, I’m sensing a theme in my choices), but one that tops the list.
#11: The Lego Movie (February 16, 2014 at Carmike Theater – 4.5 stars)
And so we get to the blockbuster part of the list. Oliver was unsure about The Lego Movie, but I had wanted to see it from trailer 1. With sufficient good reviews, we headed to see it. This movie is a blast—a blockbuster animation movie, a silly kids movie, a slapstick comedy for adults, and a hidden family film all in one. Chris Pratt is great as the voice of Emmett, an ordinary constructor worker who finds himself “the special.” It brings together Batman, Gandalf, Shakespeare, the DC characters, Shaquille O’Neil, and many more as “master builders” who create worlds with the legos in their world. Plus, the father / son stuff at the end is tear-jerker worthy. “Everything is AWESOME! Everything is cool when you’re part of a team. EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!” There. Now it’s stuck in your head, too.