*In comparison to previous years, 2014 was a good year for black filmmakers. Not only were there more films, but the bulk of movies stood out.
The Film Strip Top Ten films of 2014 are:
“Selma,” directed by Ava DuVernay, chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement.
Cast: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alessandro Nivola, Giovanni Ribisi, Common, Carmen Ejogo, Lorraine Toussaint, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Stephan James, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
This film is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the daughter of an African slave in the West Indies and a stationed Royal Navy Admiral.
Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife, Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges. However, the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son John Divinier (Sam Reid) bent on change. With Belle’s help, John shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.
Directed by Amma Asante, from a screenplay by Misan Sagay, the cast includes Sarah Gadon, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Tom Felton, James Norton, Matthew Goode, and Emily Watson.
3. Dear White People
Winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, “Dear White People” is a provocative satire of race relations. It tackles race with wit, honesty and canniness. Writer/director Justin Simien follows a group of black students as they navigate campus life and racial politics at a predominantly white college.
Cast: Tyler James, Tessa Thompson, Dennis Haysbert, Kyle Gallner, Brandon Bell, Teyonah Parris.
4. Beyond the Lights
In a total turaround, the “Belle” star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, takes on a completely different role as Noni Jean, a hot new artist who has just won a Grammy and is primed for stardom in “Beyond the Lights,” directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. But the pressures of success compel her to nearly end her life until she is saved by a young police officer named Kaz (Nate Parker). They fall in love despite their parents’ objections. As far as Kaz’s father (Danny Glover) is concerned, his law-and-order work is only the first step towards a future career in politics. Kaz knows what it’s like to be groomed for greatness, and he has a way of looking right through Noni’s camera-ready facade that throws her off her game.
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Danny Glover,
Minnie Driver, Machine Gun Kelly, Aisha Hinds, Aml Ameen, Tyler Christopher, India Jean-Jacques.
5. Black or White
“Back or White” finds a grandfather, (Kevin Costner), suddenly left to care for his beloved granddaughter. When the little girl’s paternal grandmother (Octavia Spencer) seeks custody, a legal battle ensues that forces the families to confront their true feelings on race, forgiveness and understanding. Based on real events, the movie is a look at two seemingly different worlds, in which nothing is as simple as black or white.
Writer/Director Mike Binder helms the all-star cast of Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Anthony Mackie, Andre Holland, Mpho Koaho, Jennifer Ehle, Gillian Jacobs, and Bill Burr.
6. Kill the Messenger
One of the most important news stories of our times was mired in the potential home wrecker, Monica Lewisky, debacle. “Kill the Messenger,” directed by Michael Cuesta is based on the remarkable true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb. Webb stumbles onto a story which leads to the shady origins of the men who started the crack epidemic on the streets. It depicted the CIA’s knowldege of major dealers who were smuggling cocaine into the U.S. and using the profits to arm rebels fighting in Nicaragua.
Despite warnings from drug kingpins and CIA operatives to stop his investigation, Webb kept digging to uncover a conspiracy with explosive implications. His journey took him from the prisons of California to the villages of Nicaragua, to the highest corridors of power in Washington, D.C
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Michael K. Williams, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Oliver Platt, Andy Garcia, Barry Pepper, Tim Blake Nelson.
“Unbroken” is a story of faith, courage and perseverance. Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s renowned book, “Unbroken,” the epic drama tells the story of war hero—and Olympian—Louis “Louie” Zamperini. During the war Zamperini survived a plane crash, 47 days on a raft, being shot at by enemy planes, shark attacks, starvation and torture at the hands of his Japanese captors. An atheist brought up in a Christian family, Zamperini prayed to God that if he survived his horrendous ordeals, he would dedicate his life to serving Him—and he did just that. Director Angelina Jolie ignites the screen with Zamperini’s extraordinary tale.
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Downhall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, Miyavi, Jai Courtney.
Directed by Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash” is the riveting featured film that pits revered and featured jazz conservatory instructor Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) against drumming prodigy Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller). Vying for a core position in Fletcher’s elite ensemble, and aspiring to no less than greatness, Neyman will do anything to secure first chair.
Before long, reason is abandoned and civility deserted, and the blistered and bleeding Neyman succumbs to Fletcher’s abusive teaching techniques. But Neyman has a couple of surprises up his sleeve—both on and off the stage—and things get progressively worse before their scorching musical showdown. “Whiplash” is a cautionary tale about the pursuit of excellence.
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Max Kasch, Damon Gupton, Kofi Siriboe.
9. The Theory of Everything
Directed by James Marsh, “The Theory of Everything” tells the extraordinary story of one the world’s most renowned astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking. Once a healthy, active young man, Hawking received an earth-shattering diagnosis at age 21. With wife Jane fighting tirelessly by his side, Hawking embarks on his most ambitious scientific work, studying the very thing he now has precious little of—time. Together, they defy impossible odds, breaking new grounds in medicine and science, and achieving more than they could ever have dreamed.
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis.
10. Big Bad Wolves
An edge of your seat, nail biting, master thriller, “Big Bad Wolves,” directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, will tear at your heart. In “Big Bad Wolves,” a series of brutal murders puts the lives of three men on a collision course: The father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings—a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder.
This film and last year’s “Prisoners” with Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano and Maria Bello, both deal with the current issues of torture. The parents in “Big Bad Wolves” and “Prisoners” would certainly tip the scale in that debate. This hair raising, shocker with a twist, was released under the radar but is now a great DVD choice.
Cast: Lior Ashenazi, Menashe Nov, Dvir Benedek, Kais Nashif, Doval’e Glickman, Tzahi Grad, Guy Adler, Rotem Keinan, Ami Weinberg, Nati Kluger.
Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]