2014 Movies for Grownups Awards
From space-age thrills to historic shame, we pick the year's best films and performances
Best Movie for Grownups
12 Years a Slave
En español | America had a century or so to make the definitive movie about slavery, but it took the British-born team of director Steve McQueen and star Chiwetel Ejiofor to finally do it. The true story of a free black man sold into slavery in the years before the Civil War manages to crystalize the diabolical combination of savage brutality and condescending paternalism that sustained America's Original Sin. Through sheer artistry, it remains a beautifully realized film.
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
We invested in Dern in the 1970s, when his brooding performances in such movies as Coming Home held Brando-class promise for his career. Now, with his turn as a cranky, determined fellow who is convinced he's won a million dollars, Dern, 77, finally pays that 40-year-old dividend.
Watch: 'Nebraska' movie trailer
We Also Loved: Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips | Brad Pitt, World War Z | Robert Redford, All Is Lost | Forest Whitaker, Lee Daniels' The Butler
Judi Dench, Philomena
She's never less than brilliant, but this time — as a woman seeking the son she was forced to give up — Dame Judi, 79, takes our breath away. Wronged by the world at every turn, her Philomena is fierce, innocent and, it turns out, a better person than we may ever hope to be.
Watch: 'Philomena' movie trailer
We Also Loved: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said | Paulina García, Gloria; | Meryl Streep, August: Osage County | Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
Best Supporting Actor
Chris Cooper, August: Osage County
As the good-natured but picked-upon husband of a domineering wife (Margo Martindale), Cooper, 62, brings a refreshing breeze of humanity to a cast of characters whose chief family value seems to be an enduring disdain for each other.
We Also Loved: Steve Carell, The Way Way Back | Tony Danza, Don Jon | John Goodman, Inside Llewyn Davis | Bill Nighy, About Time
Best Supporting Actress
Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels' The Butler
Easy to forget that the talk show queen, 59, has already been an Oscar-nominated actress (The Color Purple), but her searing performance as the conflicted wife of a career White House butler (Forest Whitaker) is all the reminder we need.
Watch: 'The Butler' movie trailer
We Also Loved: Allison Janney, The Way Way Back | Margo Martindale, August: Osage County | Julianne Moore, Don Jon | June Squibb, Nebraska
The Way Way Back
We meet 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) during the summer when he learns how to fit into a world that seems to be populated solely with girls and grownups. It's his movie but it's the grownups we love here: an all-star cast of well-meaning (if often clueless) folks including Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Steve Carell, Maya Rudolph and Sam Rockwell.
We Also Loved: Don Jon | Last Vegas | Mental | The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
In the exquisite opening scene, the Mexican-born director, 52, confirms every would-be astronaut's dreams of the tranquil romance of space. One mind-bending disaster scene later, he has those potential space cowboys asking, "What, was I crazy?"
Watch: 'Gravity' movie trailer
We Also Loved: J.C. Chandor, All Is Lost | Paul Greengrass, Captain Phillips | Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said | Stephen Frears, Philomena
Richard Linklater (with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke), Before Midnight
We’ve hung in there with this couple (Delpy and Hawke) for three movies spanning 20 years. Now in middle age with two daughters, they ask each other the inevitable deep questions about love, commitment, and the wax and wane of each. Their conversations are so heartfelt they seem improvised; so ingeniously constructed they should be required reading.
We Also Loved: Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis | Richard Curtis, About Time | Nicole Holofcener, Enough Said | David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle
Best Intergenerational Film
David (Will Forte) is willing to suffer his insufferable dad (Bruce Dern) in the hope of having one warm moment with him. When the moment finally comes it’s far from a sentimental gusher, but you’ll find yourself choking back a tear all the same.
We Also Loved: Bless Me, Ultima | The Book Thief | Philomena | The Way Way Back
Best Grownup Love Story
Middle-age love arrives at your door with a baggage cart, and that's what makes this rom-com starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late, great James Gandolfini so darned irresistible. Mismatched in every way, their characters yell, laugh, cry and throw emotional haymakers. It's all part of burrowing through the strata of their lives and finding there's gold there.
Watch: 'Enough Said' movie trailer
We Also Loved: Before Midnight | Lee Daniels' The Butler | Still Mine | Unfinished Song
20 Feet From Stardom
They sang backup for the greatest stars of the past half-century; this triumphant musical documentary finally gives the folks in the back their due.
We Also Loved: Herb & Dorothy: 50x50 | Muscle Shoals | Running from Crazy | Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde
Best Foreign Film
Writer/director Gilles Bourdos' lush telling of the last years of the impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir — and the early years of his son, the film director Jean — is as painterly as its elder protagonist.
We Also Loved: The Act of Killing (Denmark) | Child's Pose (Romania) | Gloria (Chile) | Hannah Arendt (Germany/Luxembourg/France)
Mary Steenburgen, Last Vegas
She's already won an Oscar and is one of TV's most welcome faces; now, for her role as an aspiring Vegas lounge singer, Steenburgen, 60, reveals herself to be a first-rate vocalist (and she even wrote her own song).
Best Buddy Picture
At first glance, writer Dan Fogelman's tale of four old pals meeting up in Vegas seems like superficial fun; by the end, it's a surprisingly thoughtful look at the profound importance of lifelong friendship.
Watch: 'Last Vegas' movie trailer
Best Time Capsule
Maybe it's the spot-on music choices; perhaps it's Jeremy Renner's Chris Isaak-style quiff hairdo. Director David O. Russell and production designer Judy Becker have infused their screen, end-to-end, with the go-go essence of late-'70s-early-'80s America.
Watch: 'American Hustle' movie trailer
We Also Loved: Lee Daniels' The Butler | Dallas Buyers Club | Inside Llewyn Davis | The Wolf of Wall Street
Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up
Saving Mr. Banks
Walt Disney's efforts to woo Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers into selling him the rights to her now so-well-known children's story makes for a fascinating film and conjures up memories of our own childhood movie experiences. In revealing Mary's roots in P.L.'s own early years, it also savvily reminds us that even when we've grown up, the child we were in the past is never far from the surface.
Watch: 'Saving Mr. Banks' movie trailer
We Also Loved: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 | Frozen | The Lone Ranger
Bill Newcott writes about Movies for Grownups and other entertainment stories for AARP Media.
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