This list is not my favorite new releases of the year. Instead, it is the best of the content I watched since this time last year. It also does not include films that I saw in the theater. In addition, this list is in alphabetical order because agonizing over a precise order would take out all the fun:
The ratings in Britain this spring were very strong — just shy of what “Downton Abbey” earned in its first season — and the reviews were rhapsodic. All of those positive vibes are in sharp contrast to the content and tone of the eight-episode series, a murder mystery set and filmed on the rugged coast of southern England. (NYTimes)
Two men whose bodies have been trashed by steroids, obesity and illness, document their rigorous healing path in a bid to regain their health.
She relatedly also highly recommends the film Forks Over Knives.
Kevin Bacon’s first starring TV role with a religious cult twist:
A former FBI agent returns to duty when an infamous serial killer escapes death row. He soon discovers that the killer has a dangerous following.
a conventional family dramedy about an insistently unconventional family: lesbian mothers (a white police officer and a black charter-school administrator), the officer’s biological son, adopted Hispanic twins and a foster daughter fresh out of juvie. This demographic engineering is so obvious that in the show’s premiere, to be presented on Monday on ABC Family, even the characters notice it…. To its credit, the show treats this not as a teachable moment but as a comic beat…. “The Fosters” is a multiple threat, wrapping up gay parenting, blended families, adoption and the foster care and juvenile justice systems in one happy-sad package. On the basis of the pilot, the show does a slightly better than average job of turning off-the-shelf ingredients into something diverting and occasionally moving. Beneath the 21st-century family structure, the elements of the story are familiar: loving, nervous parents; secretive but good-hearted teenagers; fitting in at school, demonstrating loyalty, learning which adults to trust. (NYTimes)
Determined to make it as a modern dancer in New York, a young woman pursues her unlikely goal with more enthusiasm than natural talent.
The central image in “Mud,” Jeff Nichols’s deft and absorbing third feature, is of a boat in a tree. It’s the kind of phenomenon — a caprice of nature that is absurd but also wondrous — designed to enchant adventurous children like Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), two Arkansas boys who discover the boat on an overgrown island in the Mississippi River. They also discover the fellow who claims to own, or at least inhabit, the vessel, a leathery loner whose name is Mud. Mud is played by Matthew McConaughey in the latest in a series of surprising, intense and often very funny performances. (NYTimes)
Last year, when the women’s-prison series “Orange Is the New Black” débuted, on Netflix, it felt like a blast of raw oxygen. Part of this was baldly algorithmic: here, at last, were all those missing brown faces, black faces, wrinkled faces, butch lesbians, a transgender character played by a transgender actor — an ensemble of electrifying strangers, all of them so good that it seemed as if some hidden valve had been tapped, releasing fresh stories and new talent. As bouncy as vaudeville, “Orange” veered away from the antihero solemnity of many cable shows, but it shared those series’ air of authority and, especially, their willingness to be rude…. By the finale, Season 2 is stronger than Season 1, largely because it’s more uncompromising about its characters, at once more nuanced and more damning. (New Yorker)
Only lasted one season:
A new lawyer tries to maintain an objective distance from her sometimes guilty clients, but building a good rep threatens to overwhelm her passion.
For Rick Hoffman, Philly turned out to be an unofficial prequel of sorts for his role on “Suits.”
To be fair, Suits’ dedication to giving pleasure might be a bigger factor in its critical neglect than the fact that it airs on USA. Critics and viewers alike tend to assume works that are mainly interested in laughs, excitement, and beauty are inherently less substantive than shows that rip the scabs off life and leave you feeling wrung out or disturbed. That assumption partly explains why so few comedies have won Academy Awards for Best Picture. It surely explains why Cary Grant, the most altogether enjoyable leading man in film history, never won an Oscar for his acting: He gave us pleasure no matter what the story and situation, and he made it look easy. Suits may never win a Best Drama Emmy, but it may one day be remembered as a great show that never got its due because it didn’t carry an “I’m Great” sign. It’s the Cary Grant of cable dramas.
for news and politics junkies, the show-to-end-all-shows is The West Wing, which aired from 1999 to 2006 on NBC. The presidential administration of Jed Bartlett inspires something in its fans – yearning for an idealized American government run by witty and brilliant people, as well as nostalgia for the time when Aaron Sorkin was at his best as a writer and showrunner. (The Guardian)
Also, if you find yourself regularly searching for quality streaming content, the podcast Filmspitting SVU will keep your streaming queue overflowing: “Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit is a bi-weekly podcast hosted by Alison Willmore and Matt Singer focusing on the world of online movies.” Highly recommended.
Other “Best of 2014″ Lists
The Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary, and the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).
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