Top 20 Remaining Movies of 2014 | Part 4: #5 - #1

Unbroken Jack O'Connell Louis Louie Zamperini Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

#5: Unbroken

Angelina Jolie’s much-anticipated biopic of Olympic runner and World War II POW, Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) tells the incredible true story of his harrowing ordeal. Already facing a somewhat ambivalent awards reaction so far, “Unbroken” now faces the embrace of audiences. The subject matter is grim, and as was seen earlier this year with “The Railway Man,” viewers may not be up to see the horrors of war.

One curious thing to watch for is the casting of Jack O’Connell as Zamperini. Having mostly played a cache of villains, it is hard to imagine O’Connell playing a heroic role. He left an indelible impression with his terrifyingly evil portrayals of despicable youths in “Eden Lake” and “Harry Brown.” So much so that watching him as a hero, will require quite a disappearing act for O’Connell and a staggering range of characterization. 

On a related note, when it comes to measuring up “Unbroken,” it faces its toughest comparative competition from Werner Herzog’s underseen POW opus, “Rescue Dawn” starring Christian Bale and Steve Zhan. 

Release Date: Dec 25

Paramount Pictures

#4: The Gambler 

Mark Wahlberg stars in this remake of the 1974 film of the same name. The plot centers on Axel (Wahlberg), a literary professor from a wealthy family, whose secret life as an obsessive gambler has led him into owing a massive debt to a gangster. When he partakes in a risky romance with one of his students (Brie Larson), it only complicates matters further.

The highly regarded original was written by James Toback and James Caan won a Golden Globe for his performance in it. Paramount is hoping some of that award’s luck will rub off on this long-developing retread. What, if anything new, this version has to offer is unclear. 

James Caan is an impossible act to follow, and seeing how Wahlberg stacks up should be interesting. An immense talent to look for in this is Brie Larson. She’s been building a steady resume of impressive performances, most notably with her heart-rending turn in “Short Term 12.” She is a talent to watch and worth watching “The Gambler” for. 

Release Date: Dec 25

The Weinstein Company

#3: Big Eyes

Tim Burton takes a step back from his oft zany works to deliver a more restrained rendering for this biopic of renowned artist Margaret Keene (Amy Adams) -- the real artist of the popular Big Eyes paintings. Hence, the movie tells Keene's story as she struggles to come clean and claim the work that had gotten credited to her husband (Christoph Waltz). “Big Eyes” is in a prime position for major awards love, and Adams, a perennial nominee, should be a shoo-in for further recognition.

Whether this is the role that finally nabs her that much deserved Oscar remains to be seen. The film itself is a bit of a dark horse, and Adams will have to compete against some tough competition from Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon (“Wild") and the also long overdue, Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”). 

No matter the awards banter, “Big Eyes” is worth watching just to see how Tim Burton handles the material and to see Amy Adams take on a role that is hopefully far meatier than her part in last year's dreadful “American Hustle.” 

Release Date: Dec 25

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

#2: Into the Woods

An adaptation of the Broadway musical “Into the Woods” interweaves the stories of famous fairy tale characters with that of a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). Desperate in their desire for a child, the couple sets out to procure various items for a witch (Meryl Streep), so she will break the curse that’s made them unable to have children. The movie is packed to the gills with an all-star cast that includes the aforementioned, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, and more. 

While the ensemble is impressive, director Rob Marshall may just prove to be its most alluring draw. Marshall’s an eclectic director, having served up his share of musicals (“Chicago” and “Nine), gripping drama (the criminally underrated “Memoirs of a Geisha”) and swashbuckling adventure (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”). 

He knows how to balance high style production labyrinths with the essentials of character development, an ideal candidate to take on the enchanting world of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical. I watched it! Read the review here.

Release Date: Dec 25


#1: A Most Violent Year

Director J.C. Chandor’s first two feature films have been anything other than stagnating in what they have attempted to explore. Breaking out with his buzzy and loquacious debut, the Wall Street drama “Margin Call,” Chandor followed that up with last year’s critically championed sea drama “All Is Lost” starring Robert Redford in a dialogue-free, one-man show.

He returns a year later with “A Most Violent Year,” a gritty crime drama set during 1981, the most violent year in New York City's history. The story centers on a young family struggling to carve out their piece of the American dream.

Oscar Isaac stars as the family patriarch, an ambitious man struggling to keep a hold of his business and protect his family amidst the increasing scrutiny of a police investigation led by a determined detective (David Oyelowo). Jessica Chastain stars as Isaac’s cunning wife. While both Chastain and Isaac have been a part of the awards conversation, Chastain has been leading the charge, securing a critical Golden Globe nomination for her performance.