The Best Books in 2014 + Five Books I’ll Be Reading in 2015

Although we’re a solid three weeks into January, I am still wrapping up all of my lists for last year. I have a flurry of “Best of” posts waiting to be published, with my top ten list of movies post coming out sometime near the end of this month. I’m still holding out to see Selma and Foxcatcher, although I’m unsure if I’ll be able to make both before I need to publish my list. All of that said, let’s get back to the point of this post.

Here’s my ranking of the best five books I read in 2014:

5. Son (2012)
by Lois Lowry

I really enjoyed Lowry’s YA quartet of stories that all started with The Giver, a book that has inspired countless popular dystopian stories today. While I think all four books are well-written, I enjoyed Son the most out of the three sequels because it concluded the stories and tied together all of the primary characters we got to meet in The Giver (1993), Gathering Blue (2000), and Messenger (2004). Lowry intertwines the overall themes of sacrifice and love, with good overcoming evil in the end. I’m thankful that I didn’t discover the series until last year, because I’m not sure how much I would have wanted to wait 19 years for a conclusion.

4. The Giver (1993)
by Lois Lowry

No doubt The Giver is the strongest, and perhaps most thrilling book in Lois Lowry’s quartet of stories that start with a boy named Jonas. Bestowed upon him at the transitional age of twelve, the title and job of being the Receiver of Memories casts a burden on the shoulders of a boy who starts to question the world in which he lives. An unsuccessful and inferior film based on the book was released in 2014, starring Jeff Bridges and a misplaced Meryl Streep. I’d recommend The Giver because its simple plot keeps you thinking after you’ve read the book. After reading multiple popular dystopian YA books over the past few years, I realized that The Giver stands apart from the mass not only for being published in the early ’90s, but also for its unique position in having inspired so many other stories.

3. Ready Player One (2011)
by Ernest Cline

Given the premise, I originally thought Ernest Cline’s first book would appeal more to gamers than the average person. And I imagine that in some sense, it does. But it’s a fascinating story that takes place in a virtual world, yet asks a deeper question that proves relevant for any person today. If you appreciate the pop culture of the 1980s, then I suggest you read Ready Player One immediately. If the past gets you nostalgic, if you have a soft spot in your heart for the Back to the Future films, or if you have a deep love for RPG games, then Ready Player One is the book for you. If you like adventure stories, underdog tales, superheroes, and squeal when the smart guy gets the girl, then you should probably get your hands on a copy of Ready Player One. If none of those reasons apply to you, and you enjoy a good book, then download Ready Player One on your device and start reading it. Need I give you more reasons?

2. Gone Girl (2012)
by Gillian Flynn

“Thrilling” and “dark”: those are the best two words to describe Gillian Flynn’s novel. Most people are familiar with both the title and the story by now, after the novel was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film last year. Having read the book and then seen the movie, I would no doubt admit what most people would: the book was better. The film was good, yes, but there’s something much creepier when you are alone in discovering the mystery behind Amy Elliott Dunne’s death. While I would have preferred less language, and could easily chalk up Gone Girl to a whodunnit mystery thriller starring Mr. and Mrs. Sociopath, what makes Gone Girl so engaging is the order in which Flynn makes her reveals. Not only are we terrified to find out what happens next as we see what happens through Nick’s eyes, but we also have our belief suspended on Ms. Flynn’s impeccably-written order of events. Thanks to her brilliant timing, as readers we get to experience the rush of solving a mystery, only to nervously proceed to find out what’s happening next. Suffice it to say the movie experience did not compare.

1. Cuckoo’s Calling
by Robert Gailbrath

It is for books like Cuckoo’s Calling that we have a list of inspiring characters and stories to thank, and in this case, I would start with Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Multiple adaptations and inspiring and visionary TV shows, films, and characters have been crafted from Conan Doyle’s best known crime solver and detective. Cormoran Strike, the protagonist of Cuckoo’s Calling, is not much like Detective Holmes, but the similarities in both what they do is apparent in reading the first of J.K. Rowling’s crime fiction novel series. As Rowling peels back the layers of the man who is Cormoran Strike, I found myself sympathizing with his personal circumstances and curious about the case surrounding Lula’s death. Rowling has a way of drawing in readers and keeping them compelled the entire time. I haven’t read The Silkworm, the first of multiple sequels in the works, but I’m planning to in 2015. Truly, the credit has to go to the creative mind of the author, because it is with explicit detail that Cuckoo’s Calling is fashioned, and it unfolds much like a TV mini-series would, where you can’t help but watch the entire series in one sitting. Whether or not one is a fan of the Harry Potter series, which made Ms. Rowling a household name not only in her home country, but also across the globe, one who enjoys an intense and thrilling crime mystery would have a hard time putting down Cuckoo’s Calling. Of course, I speak from my own experience. I found Cuckoo’s Calling to be the best book I read in 2014. It stayed with me long after I finished reading it.


A week and a half ago, I wrote a few New Year’s Resolutions posts for 2015, one of which is to read more books. I read only ten books in 2014, so I mentioned how I’d like to improve on that number by reading twenty-five this year. I picked twenty of them, and then I asked the rest of you for suggestions for my last five. Per your recommendations, these are the five I chose:

5. And Then There Were None
by Agatha Christie

4. The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

3. High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson

1. The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

To view my entire reading list for the year (twenty-five books total), or to see an update on where I am in my reading, check out my New Year’s Reading post here.

Stay tuned for the “best of” in music, TV, and movies this week and next. Thanks again to everyone who offered recommendations for my reading list this year! 🙂

What were the best (and worst) books you read in 2014? What are you planning to read this year?

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First Thoughts on the 87th Oscar Nominations

The 87th Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and I’m excited to finally post about an awards ceremony on All Eyes On Screen. This Washington Post article showed which movies received the most nominations this year:

Birdman/The Grand Budapest Hotel – 9
The Imitation Game – 8
Boyhood – 6
American Sniper – 6
Whiplash – 5
Interstellar – 5
Foxcatcher – 5

Continue reading below to see what got nominated, along with my first thoughts on the nominees.

Best Picture

American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

First Thoughts: None of the entries on this list surprise me. The only movies I haven’t seen on this list are American Sniper and Selma, both of which I’m planning to see in the next couple weeks. What has me super thrilled is Whiplash making its way onto the Best Picture nominee list. It’s a great films that hasn’t gotten the mainstream attention the majority of the films on this list has.

Actor in a Leading Role

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

First Thoughts: Pleasantly surprised to see Bradley Cooper nominated once again for Best Actor in a Leading Role. I think American Sniper really picked up steam following the Golden Globes. What is surprising is that David Oyelowo’s name missing, who I’ve heard turned in an award-worthy performance in Selma. And while I can’t say I’m surprised, I am disappointed that Jake Gyllenhaal didn’t make the list for his transformative role in Nightcrawler. Also, how crazy is it that from now on, before Steve Carell’s name is mentioned in movies, it will be preceded by the words “Academy Award Nominee”?!

Actress in a Leading Role

Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

First Thoughts: It seems like I completely missed out on Still Alice, because Julianne Moore won the Golden Globe as Best Actress, and now she’s nominated for an Oscar. So that one has just arrived on my radar. The other movie I’m excited to check out is Two Days, One Night. If Moore doesn’t score this, I think Rosamund Pike will take it.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

First Thoughts: I realize that now I have to check out The Judge. I don’t really want to. However, I’m happy for all the other nominations on this list. J.K. Simmons is probably the favorite to win, and I wouldn’t argue that after witnessing him in Whiplash. Although, Ethan Hawke’s performance in Boyhood makes me sentimental . . .

Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

First Thoughts: I think Patricia Arquette is the shoe-in for this award, but I’m happy Laura Dern is getting some credit for her work in Wild. It’s no surprise that Meryl Streep is nominated, although I think she’s far from winning this. I’m very excited to have two of my favorite young actresses get nominated, Emma Stone and Kiera Knightly, although neither will likely win.

Directing

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

First Thoughts: I actually expected Ava DuVernay for Selma to get nominated, not only because of how much Selma has been praised as a film, but also because she’s one of the few incredibly talented female directors working today. From what I’ve read, this is Wes Anderson’s first Oscar nomination, and I think it’s well-deserved. At the end of the day, I imagine the real race is between Inarritu and Linklater, the most notable directors on this list.

Animated Feature Film

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

First Thoughts: I’m legitimately shocked and disappointed that The LEGO Movie wasn’t nominated. Has anyone else heard of Song of the Sea?

Cinematography

Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Robert D. Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lynzewski, Ida
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins, Unbroken

First Thoughts: I’m now entering unchartered territory, where I have less I can say because of my limited knowledge. Considering that Interstellar does indeed get a few nominations this year, I’m a little surprised cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema doesn’t make this list. Emmanuel Lubezki has become the “household” name of cinematographers in recent years. Now I have a legitimate excuse to check out Mr. Turner . . .

Costume Design

Milena Canonero, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mark Bridges, Inherent Vice
Colleen Atwood, Into the Woods
Anna B. Sheppard, Maleficent
Jacqueline Durran, Mr. Turner

First Thoughts: I imagine this is the win for Into the Woods, if there is one. The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s costumes were memorable as well. I almost thought Guardians of the Galaxy would pop up in this category.

Documentary Feature

Citizenfour
Last Days in Vietnam
Virunga
The Salt of the Earth
Finding Vivian Maier

First Thoughts: Am I the only one who was hoping for Life Itself to make this list?

Documentary Short Subject

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Joanna
Our Curse
The Reaper
White Earth

First Thoughts: N/A

Film Editing

Joel Cox and Gary Roach, American Sniper
Sandra Adair, Boyhood
Barney Pilling, The Grand Budapest Hotel
William Goldenberg, The Imitation Game
Tom Cross, Whiplash

First ThoughtsBirdman seems to be the one missing from the nominations, but perhaps it will make it up by winning Best Cinematography? I will be rooting for Tom Cross for Whiplash given that Miles Teller appears to do all the drumming in this movie, thanks to Cross’s incredible editing. I could see Sandra Adair winning for piecing together twelve years of filming for Boyhood in a fluid and coherent way.

Foreign Language Film

Ida
Leviathan
Tangerines
Wild Tales
Timbuktu

First Thoughts: Although I haven’t seen any of these, I’m surprised to not see the popular Force Majeure I have read about. Oh, and hey, there’s Ida again!

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard, Foxcatcher
Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White, Guardians of the Galaxy

First Thoughts: Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose in Foxcatcher might be most memorable, but I’m rooting for Guardians of the Galaxy. Those characters really did look other-worldly.

Music – Original Score

Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat, The Imitation Game
Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
Gary Yershon, Mr. Turner
Johann Johannsson, The Theory of Everything

First Thoughts: Double nomination for Alexandre Desplat meeans he has a 40% chance of winning in this category. Hans Zimmer’s score for Interstellar was my favorite. Go, Mr. Zimmer! I wasn’t rooting for it, but I’m shocked to not see Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score for Gone Girl make this list.

Music – Original Song

“Everything Is Awesome” by Shawn Patterson, The LEGO Movie
“Glory” by Common and John Legend, Selma
“Grateful,” by Diana Warren, Beyond the Lights
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond, Glenn Campbell: I’ll Be Me
“Lost Stars” by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, Begin Again

First Thoughts: “Lost Stars” in Begin Again might be my favorite original song of the year, and it’s certainly the song I’ll be rooting for. Another pleasant surprise is seeing a song from Beyond the Lights make the list. I also love “Everything is Awesome,” and I feel like it would be a step in the right direction if The LEGO Movie won after being left out of the Best Animated Film category. My only disappointment is not seeing “The Last Goodbye” in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies make the list. Question: What is Glenn Campbell: I’ll Be Me?

Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Production design: Adam Stockhausen, Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
The Imitation Game, Production design: Maria Djurkovic, Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
Interstellar, Production design: Nathan Crowley, Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
Into the Woods, Production design: Dennis Gassner, Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
Mr. Turner, Production design: Suzie Davies, Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

First Thoughts: Both Into the Woods and The Grand Budapest Hotel had memorable sets and design, so I could see either of these movies taking the prize. But dude, apparently I need to see Mr. Turner, which keeps showing up in the nominations . . .

Short Film – Animated

The Bigger Picture, Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
The Dam Keeper, Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
Feast, Patrick Osbirne and Kristina Reed
Me and My Moulton, Torill Kove
A Single Life, Joris Oprins

First Thoughts: N/A

Short Film – Live Action

Aya, Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
Boogaloo and Graham, Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
Butterlamp, Hu Wei and Julien Feret
Parvenah, Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
The Phone Call, Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

First Thoughts: N/A

Sound Editing

American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Birdman, Martin Hermandez and Aaron Glascock
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
Interstellar, Richard King
Unbroken, Becky Sullivan and Andrew Decristofaro

First Thoughts: A lot of people complained about the soundtrack drowning out the actors in Interstellar, yet it’s still getting nominated in this department. I actually had a bigger issue with Trent Reznor’s and Atticus Ross’s score drowning out the actors in Gone Girl. And hey, look, The Hobbit and Unbroken decided to show up to the Oscars.

Sound Mixing

American Sniper, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
Birdman, Jon Taylor, Frank A Montano and Thomas Varga
Interstellar, Garry A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
Unbroken, Jon Taylor, Frank A Montano and David Lee
Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

First Thoughts: N/A

Visual Effects

Captain America: Winter Soldier, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
Guardians of the Galaxy, Stephanie Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
X-Men: Days of Future Past, Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

First Thoughts: Hello there, every superhero movie from 2014. Either Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for Andy Serkis’s work or X-Men: Days of Future Past  for that scene with Quicksilver should win this category.

Writing – Adapted Screenplay

Jason Hall, American Sniper
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

First Thoughts: There’s a big discussion behind why Damien Chazelle’s screenplay for Whiplash is making the Adapted list rather than the Original list, thanks to the oddball rules of the Academy. Regardless, I think it deserves to be nominated for its writing. Compared to the major change in characters and plot in The Imitation Game, I would rather root for Anthony McCarten’s writing for The Theory of Everything for honoring the people he portrayed. I’ve also heard Paul Thomas Anderson’s work in adapting the novel for Inherent Vice was quite good.

Writing – Original Screenplay

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

First Thoughts: Well, it’s about time to see Nightcrawler show up. I’m a big fan of Dan Gilroy’s script for the creepy thriller, but it’s likely to lose to literally any of the other nominees. I couldn’t argue with any of the nominations in this category: I like them all.

What are your first thoughts on this year’s Oscar nominations? Which ones are you most excited for? Which snubs are you most disappointed about?

Month in Review: November 2014

Popular Posts in November

Fairy Tale Blogathan: Sabrina (1995)

Matinee Podcast: Big Hero 6 (2014)

Shame List #25: The Shining (1980)

Not a Review: Interstellar (2014)

AEOS Review: Whiplash (2014)

New Movies I Saw in Theaters

Big Hero 6

Birdman
Review coming soon!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Review coming soon!

Interstellar

Theory of Everything
Review coming soon!

Whiplash

Best Movie [I saw in theaters] This Month

Whiplash

While Whiplash probably made me more uncomfortable in a movie theater than what I’m accustomed to, I cannot help but praise this film as one of the best of the year. It’s a film I’d like to add to my collection, even if I watch it only once every couple of years. The performances do not carry, but rather complement a film that gives us great music, an interesting perspective on performance arts, and a great story to tell.

Worst Movie [I saw in theaters] This Month

 Theory of Everything

Now technically I saw Theory of Everything early this month, but since the film was released in November, and I’m a bit behind in posting November’s month in review, I thought it was safe to add to this month. Theory of Everything isn’t so much a bad film as it’s more of a “been here, done that” misdemeanor in film. That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the film, or that I think it’s a bad film. I don’t. It just happens to come in last place for the new films I saw in theaters over the month of November.

Looking Forward to December

It is a little crazy to think we are nearing the end of 2014 this quickly. I, for one, have had an incredible 2014, having returned to blogging this July after a long year and a half hiatus. But I’ll save that talk for future posts. December boasts a LOT of big films, similarly to November. I doubt I’ll catch all, much less most of these films this month. But hey, that’s what January is for, right?

Because there are so many films I’m itching to see this month, I’m going to limit this list to my top five I’m most excited for.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (12/16)

I have so much love for the Lord of the Rings universe Peter Jackson created on-screen. While I have not been a fan of the first two The Hobbit offerings, I am still excited for this finale. We really haven’t gotten to see much of the actual material from the book unfold on screen, so I’m looking forward to what Mr. Jackson has in store for us.

Into the Woods (12/25)

I’ve been anticipating Into the Woods since a teaser first arrived online. Now while I haven’t seen the musical production of this, I think the premise is interesting, and I’m very excited to see so many of the actors and actresses I love grace the screen in a musical. My sister and I have established a tradition over the past several years to see a movie in theaters Christmas night. Since I met my hubby Matt in 2012, he has come along, making it that much more fun. Into the Woods is the movie I hope to see this Christmas.

Unbroken (12/25)

I know way less about Unbroken than I’d like, but I’ve read raving reviews for the book it is based on. I’ve also researched how Angelina Jolie came into contact with the man whose story is Unbroken, so I’m curious to see how Jolie’s latest return to the director’s chair will pan out. This movie promises inspiration for a story that looks devastating. It reminds me a little bit of 12 Years a Slave (2013) in the trailer.

Big Eyes (12/25)

I haven’t always been a huge fan of Amy Adams. Sometimes I love her, and other times I don’t care for her roles. But Big Eyes attracts me even more given that Tim Burton is the director. While Burton always dabbles in the unusual, Big Eyes doesn’t seem to be his usual fare. And with Christoph Waltz, I can’t help but be curious about this unusually appealing film.

Selma (12/25)

Selma will be a limited-release film that I probably won’t get to see until January. That said, this movie looks incredible from the trailer, and it’s full of huge actors. I’ve been seeing trailers for this only within the past month, so my guess is that the push will be around Christmas/New Years into January. I really think this movie is going to be nominated for a lot of awards.

Since December is such a huge month for films, here is a list of other films released in December I’m still excited to see, even if I don’t get to them until January/February next year:

Wild (12/3)

Inherent Vice (12/12)

Annie (12/19)

American Sniper (12/25)

The Gambler (12/25)

A Most Violent Year (12/31)

It’s your turn now. What were the best and worst movies you saw in November? What movies are you anticipating in December? Please join the conversation below, because I would love to know your thoughts.