By Bill Dudley

I normally comprise this list of my favorite films in mid December, and it is normally a Top 10 list.

This year I have 16 on my list, as  2014 was an extraordinarily good year for film, especially smaller independent films, which I am partial to. I normally avoid the big budget/action films, but a couple of them did make my list this time around.

We will start with 3 very different films, that not many people saw.

16) “GET ON UP:” ( The James Brown biopic) After a brilliant performance playing baseball icon Jackie Robinson in “42” the year before, Chadwick Boseman steps it up even more to portray The King Of Soul, James Brown. I have no idea why this film was ignored by so many. Brown had a 50 year career, and was the very first male Soul/Funk superstar. Brown’s eclectic performance at the 1964 “T.A.M.I. Show” made him a household name, and is re-created letter perfect by Boseman in “Get On Up”. Brown’s controversial personal life is not ignored by the film. Dan Ackroyd, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer play important persons in Brown’s life, and Nelsan Ellis is excellent as Bobby Byrd, who basically “discovered” James, and nurtured his tremendous talent from the “Famous Flames” days in the mid 1950’s and 1960’s to superstardom and beyond. James Brown was probably the most versatile and imitated artist of his era. He paved the way for all who followed. See both “Get On Up”, and black and white film” T.A.M.I. Show,” for a great perspective on this dynamic entertainer.

15) “LIFE ITSELF:” The life of film critic Roger Ebert, is based on his personal memoir of the same name.Roger and tv partner Gene Siskel were the good cop/bad cops of film reviewers on television for four decades. You will find out much you did not know about the early life of Roger. He and Siskel appeared to be nerds, but were in reality both “swingers,” spending hang time with everyone from Hugh Hefner to Martin Scorsese. Roger’s life was spinning out of control, but changed dramatically when he met his future wife Chaz at an AA meeting. Their loving partnership kept Roger going to the very end. This documentary is hard to watch at times, as it was shot during the final months of Ebert’s long battle with cancer. Roger and director Steve James wanted the rough parts in there, Chaz not so much. However, Chaz bravely toured the world to promote “Life Itself”, and is one of the warmest people I have ever met. Vintage film clips and interviews document Ebert’s love/hate relationship with tv partner Gene Siskel (the brother he never had), and the bi-racial love story of Roger and Chaz. “Life Itself” has been airing on CNN recently, and is available on video.

14) “THE SKELETON TWINS:” This one is a real comedy/tragedy ride with SNL’s Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. These two have tremendous chemistry together as an estranged pair of twins who attempt to end their lives on the same day, 3,000 miles apart. There are so many funny, yet also sad parts of this film, it is rather hard to describe. One of the highlights are the two mimicking Grace Slick of Jefferson Starship, singing a song from their youth. This film is not for everyone, but is well crafted, thought provoking and very entertaining.

13)”HOW TO TAME YOUR DRAGON” & “BIG HERO 6:” Yes, we have a tie here. Both are excellent animated feature films. Both are nominated for “Best Picture” in the animation category. “Big Hero 6” is from Disney, “…Dragon 2″ is from Dreamworks. What is perplexing to me,”The Lego Movie” had a much bigger box office than both, (half a billion worldwide),but no nomination. What’s up with that ?

12) “CAKE:” This is by far the best dramatic performance I have ever seen by Jennifer Anniston. I guarantee you have never seen her look so bad, or feel so blue. Without tipping you the plot, Jennifer plays an extremely depressed woman who is so obnoxious, she is actually kicked out of her therapy group. She is scarred by physically and emotionally from a recent tragic event in her life, that is not disclosed until vary late in the film. She is guided thru her everyday turmoils by her very loyal (and tolerant)immigrant maid/caregiver/amateur shrink played beautifully by Adriana Barraza. supernatural events occur throughout the film, or do they?   Sam Worthington, Felicity Huffman, and William H. Macy round out the cast in limited roles. “Cake” is another one that is not easy to watch, but Jennifer Aniston’s performance is the best of her career.

11) “GONE GIRL:” This is a real thriller, with more twists and turns than a drive down Lombard Street in San Francisco. Based on the 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn,(who also adapted the screenplay), director David Fincher teases us for over 2 hours on this deeply psychological journey. On their 5th anniversary,Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck),discovers his wife Amy,is missing.Rosamund Pike is a standout as Affleck’s wife (aka: Gone Girl). What happened to Amy ? Who is good, who is evil ? Maybe all the characters are a bit of both ? I can’t tell you anymore, just see it. Tyler Perry (in a serious role), and Neil Patrick Harris round out the cast.



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