Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best of 2014: The Best New Movies I Saw

I watched 144 movies in 2014.

47 of them are what I consider new releases.

For Academy Award purposes, a few films I've included in--or considered eligible for--my rankings below are officially 2013 releases, but did not play at Chicago area theaters until 2014.

So I am essentially counting any movies I watched over the past 12 months that I didn't have a reasonable chance to see previously.

Of the 47 such films, 25 were viewed over the past 20 days, whether in theaters or at home.

Given my erosive memory, there is certainly a possibility that more acute recollect can benefit films seen more recently. But it's also true that several good films might suffer for immediate comparison with ones I found even better.

And, of course, there are several undoubtedly substantive, even stellar or outstanding 2014 films I did not see, whether because they have yet to hit local screens--as in the case of Selma, Inherent Vice, A Most Violent Year, Still Alice and others--or just because I didn't get to them or even know about them. Besides my picks, I indicate below what else I saw, and some notable films I didn't.

So, take my rankings with a proverbial grain of salt--or, if you happen to presently be in Chicago, millions of them.

To augment my rankings, I also provide the Top 10 choices of my friends Dave and Brad, both--like me--members of the Chicago Film Discussion Meetup Group. Some may also enjoy this list of 10 superb under-the-radar films of 2014 that another friend, film professor and historian, Susan Doll, wrote for the Movie Morlocks blog.

And though it is hard to be online for more than 6 seconds without seeing somebody's similar list, I particularly enjoyed Paste Magazine's list of The 50 Best New Movies of 2014.

With 20 main choices and some Honorable Mentions, here are:

The Best New Movies I Saw in 2014
(F = Foreign Film; D = Documentary; 13 = Officially a 2013 release)

1. Ida (F)

2. Boyhood

3. The Past (F, 13)

4. The Imitation Game 

5. Life Itself (D)

6. Finding Vivian Maier (D)

7. Nightcrawler

8. The Immigrant

9. The Theory of Everything

10. Enemy

11. Into the Woods

12. The Babadook (F) 

13. A Most Wanted Man

14. Joe

15. Birdman

16. Interstellar

17. Belle

18. Gone Girl

19. Mr. Turner

20. The LEGO Movie

Honorable Mention (in preference order)

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lone Survivor
Only Lovers Left Alive
Get On Up
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The Great Beauty (F, 13)
Guardians of the Galaxy
Night Moves
Big Eyes
Starred Up
The One I Love
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Invisible Woman
Top Five
Edge of Tomorrow 
The Monuments Men

Other Films Seen (in preference order)

On My Way (F) 
Begin Again

Veronica Mars 

Notable Films Not Seen
Inherent Vice, Selma, A Most Violent Year, Love is Strange, American Sniper, Citizenfour (D), Two Days One Night (F), Still Alice, Jodorowsky's Dune (D), Lucy, Locke, National Gallery (D), Force Majeure (F), The Drop, Cheap Thrills

Dave's Top 10

1. Boyhood
2. Ida (F) 
3. Birdman
4. Grand Budapest Hotel
5. Gone Girl
6. Force Majeure (F)
7. Nightcrawler
8. Night Moves
9. Love is Strange
10. Cheap Thrills

Honorable Mention: The Drop, The Imitation Game, The Immigrant

Brad's Top 10

1. Boyhood
2. The Babadook (F)
3. Locke 
4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
5. Gone Girl 
6. Inherent Vice 
7. National Gallery (D)
8. Snowpiercer 
9. Only Lovers Left Alive 
10. Mr. Turner

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Best of 2014: The Best Photos I Took (or at least a few of them)

OK, truth be told, I have no idea if these are really the 25 best photos I took in 2014--plus 2 taken of me.

According to the files saved to my computer, taking up 195GB in storage, I took 117,504 photos in 2014.

I know that's a crazy number, though it's considerably amplified by pretty much always employing the continuous shooting mode on my cameras, so I now take about 20 pictures in the time it used to take to shoot one.

Still, as self-indulgent as I might be in looking back at what I did and saw over the past 12 months, perusing 117,504 photos is a bit much, even for me.

So I kind of randomly looked through some file folders, remembered some cool moments, gleaned pictures I previously put into blog posts or travel galleries, etc.

And picked 27 that I liked.

I just as easily could have picked 27 others, or perhaps 2,014 others.

But it's almost 2015, so who has time for that?

If you really enjoy my photos, you might like perusing this online PDF version of Touristry, a collection of Photographic Memories--i.e. travel photos I took--from 2000-2014.

There's also an extensive gallery of photos I took in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires in 2014 that you can access, and if you click the "Photography" label/link atop this blog, you can see various galleries I put together throughout the year.

But saving us all precious time, here are a few of:

The Best Photos I Took in 2014 (not in ranked order)

 And a couple photos taken of me...
 (The first is by my friend Ken and the second by Paolo)

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Best of 2014: The Most Enjoyable & Enlightening Museums, Exhibitions and Attractions I Experienced

From a local historical museum I'd never visited to major exhibits in Chicago & beyond to multiple institutions celebrating manned flight to various Frank Lloyd Wright creations to the foot of Christ the Redeemer poised atop a mountain in Rio, I enjoyed a nice variety of enlightening, eye-opening visits to various museums and attraction in 2014. 

Yet even in separating this Best of 2014 post to cover Museum Visits and Non-Museum attractions, the delineations are inexact, parallels imperfect and rankings rather nebulous.

While my goal is as much to illuminate others about places they may wish to visit as it is to highlight some of those that I enjoyed, in the case of Special Exhibitions, almost all cited have come and gone.

So take my rankings below for what little they're worth in terms of comparison value, but hopefully they might inspire you to seek out something equally rewarding in the realm of museums and other attractions.

For those in Chicago, please note that two of my favorite Special Exhibits seen in 2014--David Bowie Is as the Museum of Contemporary Art and The 1968 Exhibit at the Chicago History Museum--run through January 4, so you still have a few days left to get to them. All other special exhibitions noted have now ended.

My Favorite Museum Visits of 2014
(All in the Chicago area unless noted)

1. Milwaukee Art Museum - Kandinsky Exhibition (my review)

2. Museum of Contemporary Art - David Bowie Is Exhibition (my review)  

3. The Art Institute of Chicago - Magritte Exhibition (my review) 

4. Chicago History Museum - The 1968 Exhibit (my review)

5. Museum of Science and Industry - Walt Disney Exhibition (my review)
6. Carillon Historical Park including Wright Flyer III - Dayton, OH (Columbus/Dayton recap & photos)

7. Field Museum - 1893 World's Fair Exhibit and General Collection (my review)

8. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes - Buenos Aires (BA & Rio photos)

9. Dayton Art Institute - Dayton, OH (see #6 above for link)

10. Illinois Holocaust Museum - Charlotte Salomon: Life? Or Theater? Exhibit (my review)

Honorable Mention (in preference order)

- Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes - Rio de Janeiro (BA & Rio photos)
- Picasso Restaurant - Las Vegas (part of this piece)
- Chicago Sports Museum (my review) 
- Columbus Museum of Art (part of this recap) 
- Niles Historical Museum - Niles, IL (recap/photo) 
- Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park (part of this recap)
- Chanute Air Museum - Rantoul, IL (photos here)


Best Non-Museum Attractions Visited

1. 9/11 Memorial - New York (photos)

2. Christ the Redeemer Statue - Rio de Janeiro (BA & Rio photos)

3. Teatro Colon - Buenos Aires (BA & Rio photos)

4. Unity Temple - Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) - Oak Park, IL (recap & photos)

5. Sugar Loaf Mountain - Rio de Janeiro (BA & Rio photos)

6. Metropolitan Cathedral - Buenos Aires (BA & Rio photos)

7. Metropolitan Cathedral - Rio de Janeiro (BA & Rio photos)

8. B. Harley Bradley House (FLW) - Kankakee (photos in this post)

9. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park - Dayton, OH (part of this recap)

10. Newark, Ohio including the Longerberger Basket Building & Downtown sites (part of this recap)

Honorable Mention (in preference order)

- Topiary Park with Sunday Afternoon on the Isle
of La Grande Jatte
in shrubbery - Columbus, OH
(part of this recap)
- Emil Bach House (FLW) - Chicago (photos & Frank Lloyd Wright local guide)
- Morton Arboretum - Lisle, IL (recap & photos)
- Flamingo Las Vegas Wildlife Habitat
- Willowbrook Wildlife Center (part of this recap)
- The Grove - Glenview, IL
- Lincoln Park Zoo
- Chicago Botanic Garden 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Best of 2014: Great Miscellaneous Live Entertainment and Some Sporting Events That Stood Out

Over the last few days, I've posted my Best of 2014 lists covering Rock Concerts (including Blues), Musicals and Plays.

I also offered up posts expounding on my favorite Albums and Songs, as well as a savory recollection of some Memorable Meals.

Coming up I'll share my picks for Best Movies and highlight some museum visits, and possibly cover things like Television and Books as best I can.

But within the realm of live entertainment, I saw enough great shows that don't fall into the categories cited at top that I wanted to highlight them in something of a potpourri post.

Some of the performances I saw were professional in every sense, including price, but several others were free shows I saw at libraries, colleges, park districts and other more pedestrian venues.

I will rank the Top 10 based on some mixture of artistic merit and personal enjoyment, but because of the personal and/or grass roots nature of many of these, even those given Honorable Mention stand as some of the favorite shows I saw all year.

As I also went to some exciting sporting events, I'll cite some memorable ones below as well.

My Favorite Live Performances not previously covered
(All in the Chicago area, unless noted otherwise)

1. Savion Glover's STepZ - Harris Theater - January 24 (my review)

2. Living the History: 125 Years of the Auditorium - Auditorium Theater - December 9 (my review)

3. Blue Man Group - Briar Street Theater - May 30 (my review)

4. Madama Butterfly - Lyric Opera - January 14 (my review)

5. El Viejo Almacen Tango Show - Buenos Aires - April 3

6. Opera in Focus Puppet Opera - Rolling Meadows Park District Theatre - July 26 (learn more in this 2013 piece I wrote)

7. Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra - Pick-Staiger Hall - March 8 (mentioned in this piece)

8. Lookingglass Alice - Lookingglass Theatre - December 4 (my review)

9. My Fair Audrey - by Hilary Ann Feldman - Glenview Public Library - February 16 (covered here) and The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Julie - by Laura Freedman - Glenview Public Library - August 12

10. As Time Goes By - Senior Variety Show - Park Ridge Park District Senior Center -  
September 27

Honorable Mention (in random order; not ranked)

Heartbeat of Home - Oriental Theater - March 4 (my review)

Northwestern University Jazz Orchestra - The Music of Charles Mingus - Pick-Staiger Hall - February 12 (my review)

The Beatles LOVE - Cirque du Soleil - The Mirage, Las Vegas - January 18

Plataforma Samba & Folklore Show - Rio de Janeiro - March 29

Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert Concert - Millennium Park - August 18 (recap & photo gallery)

Ben Morrison and additional comedians - LA Comedy Club, Bally's Las Vegas - January 17

Scribble Bibble: Are You Afraid of the Snark - Stage 773 - October 30

Patricia Barber Quartet (jazz pianist/vocalist) - Green Mill - February 3 (my review)
Northeastern Illinois University Jazz Combos - NEIU - March 6 (mentioned in this piece)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Ravel and Stravinsky - Orchestra Hall - February 27 (covered here)

Tuesday Night Jazz Session - Multi Kulti Community Center - April 8 (covered here)

Six Piano Ensemble - Oakton Community College - April 26

Patton Oswalt - Young Adult Q&A - Ebertfest, Champaign, IL - April 24

Noteworthy Sporting Events I Attended (not in ranked order)

Blackhawks vs. Penquins at Soldier Field - March 1 (photo gallery)

Fluminense vs. Vasco de Gama soccer match - Maracana, Rio de Janeiro - March 30

Bulls vs. Pacers - United Center - March 26 (photo gallery)

9 White Sox Games including 2 Walk-Off Wins; most notably on September 8 vs. A's (my salute to Paul Konerko) 

5 Cubs Games including vs. Yankees on May 20

Cubs vs. Padres and White Sox vs. Royals on the same day - July 23
Blackhawks vs. Flames - United Center - December 14 (photo gallery)