Let it be noted that in a world where everything seems to be falling to crap, movies can be the thing that still delivers. And in my humble opinion, 2014 was indeed a good year for movies.

The films of the past year were a roulette wheel of emotions; there were movies to make you laugh, cry, lean forward in your seat, nearly fall asleep, tremble in excitement, get infinitely frustrated with, drop your jaw in shock and maybe come away feeling like you’ve learned a little something about life.

For me, the following list is comprised of movies from the last 12 months that delivered on so many fronts and stand out because of it.

As a rule of thumb, this list is pretty much the “subjectiviest” subjective thing a writer like me can make. You may agree wholeheartedly or scoff at certain picks. Coolio, since it’s all my preferences listed. No absolutes here, much as I would like them to be.

As a college student with limited time and resources, I can’t say I’ve seen every single thing to gain release this year, but honestly, who has? [Notable 2014 films like A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice and Selma won’t hit theaters outside New York and L.A. until the coming weeks. How unfair is that?!]

At the very least, it’s my secret wish that you, the reader, seeks out some of the movies here you haven’t yet seen and find that a pleasant surprise awaits ye.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the 10 best movies of 2014.

Just missed: The LEGO Movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, Birdman

10. The Babadook
Most of 2014’s horror movie offerings made me weep as opposed to scream, so maybe that’s why The Babadook stands head and shoulders above the rest. That, or it’s just a great little spook film. The monster may be terrifying but simply knowing he’s there is somehow even more bone-chilling. Atmosphere is such a huge part of The Babadook and the anxiety felt throughout is what helps separate it as a true champ. Even more impressive, there’s a real, thoughtful human story going on underneath the otherworldly happenings and lead actress Essie Davis brings it forward wonderfully.

9. The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game is a tried and true awards-bait, prestige pic. Here’s the thing: it’s far from a hollow one. Putting aside that it contains exactly what awards voters love, at its heart, this is an appropriately moving story of a brilliant, tortured man. Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely excels as Alan Turing, perfectly capturing the man’s brilliance and standoffishness that masked some deeper secrets. The story has consequences and urgency while Graham Moore’s script fills the characters with life and personality. It won’t reinvent the genre anytime soon but it will certainly deliver a highly satisfying look into someone who changed history.

8. Interstellar
Problems with the general roughness of the film aside, Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic is undeniably ambitious filmmaking. You want a big movie? This is it. You want a movie where scientific theories are presented in an attainable and practical way — and are arguably something of a hero in the story  — and there’s still room for an emotional core that works? This is it. Also, they threw in waves that are hundreds of feet tall just for good measure. Shepherded by what might be Hans Zimmer’s best score in recent memory, Interstellar pushes past its relative shortcomings on the virtue that it actually tried. How does that incredibly ironic saying about shooting for the moon and ending up among the stars go again?

7. Boyhood
“I think I might have witnessed something profound,” is what a movie like Boyhood leaves you saying. Funny since the film, excluding the unprecedented detail of filming a boy’s life over the span of 12 years, doesn’t really carry a self-important vibe to it. It’s a movie made up of the smaller moments in life; conversations that may end up shaping us without us realizing at the time. Because of that, the movie comes off as completely naturalistic. Again, this is all putting aside the fact that they filmed the same kid over the span of 12 years. I’m not a betting man but something tells me that you won’t see that become Hollywood’s new go-to production method. 

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier / Snowpiercer
Aka, the Chris Evans entry. Evans starred in two notable action adventure pics that, while on different ends of the spectrum, are both worthy of note. (Definitely not a coincidence they’re sharing the same spot, though).

Winter Soldier is the transcendent Marvel movie for me because it manages to be a) one of a small handful of the studio’s superhero offerings that feels like the events of the movie have lasting consequence, b) is socially aware and spun an engaging story from real-world concerns and c) found a perfect balance between their brand of humor and keeping the stakes high. Props to the film for having ScarJo be the least robot-y so far as well.

Snowpiercer, meanwhile, has just as relevant a message but is a little more tongue in cheek about its intentions. In a dark, messed up way. Keep in mind this is a film with a large section of ax murder and school children reciting the catchy tune “What happens when the engine stops? We all freeze and die.” It’s frequently silly and preposterous but doesn’t bat an eye as it barrels forward in its sci-fi action goodness. Satire, ladies and gentlemen.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’ll be the first to admit I have my problems with Wes Anderson. Maybe that’s what kept me hesitant towards this one. I’ll also be the first to admit I laughed my ass off at Grand Budapest. Anderson didn’t let his quirky obsession with symmetrical staging get in the way of delivering an interesting story (that’s actually about storytelling) and letting Ralph Fiennes truly shine in the limelight. The pastel pinks that engulf the movie are deceiving, as GBH is a dark comedy and nothing works for me quite like a dark comedy done right.

4. Nightcrawler
Character studies can be painful if you don’t give a crap about the character you’re watching. All the more impressive thatNightcrawler focuses on a man who is truly reprehensible, but very watchable due to his charisma, and keeps the film fascinating throughout. Add in the murky world of shock journalism in L.A. and the movie is a powder keg of salaciousness. Jake Gyllenhaal is in absolute top form as the slimy Lou Bloom and Rene Russo is great as well.Nightcrawler isn’t a movie you walk away from feeling joy or hope for humanity, but it is a film that is engrossing throughout.

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn is the next entry in the “sequels that are better than their already good predecessors” cannon. And what an entry it is. Not only did things go bigger this time around, they went more emotional and certainly more tense. Just from the title (and about 50 years of material) we know how things will end up, but Matt Reeves crafts a well plotted film that focuses on the similarities between ape and man that pushes the technical wizardry that Rise is known for even further. Simply,Dawn is 2014’s blockbuster that concerns itself primarily with being a great film. Mission accomplished.

2. Gone Girl
I can’t recall exactly what I was expecting from Gone Girl besides it probably being a pretty good movie. David Fincher directing and all. I certainly didn’t foresee it being an absolute gut punch. Without getting too spoilery, the first 45-50 minutes of the film contain a great mystery set-up premise where we’re given as much info on the matter as the characters. Then the twist hits and all bets are off. The film completely shifts gears into something amazingly wicked while remaining an impeccably written piece of work. [Venturing further into SPOILER territory, Gone Girl is, ironically, a great piece of work about the piece of work the title alludes to. Rosamund Pike so epically delivers in the role of the narcissistic and calculating Amy Elliot that it’s stunning. Stunning.] Fincher’s latest had my head spinning and heart pumping as I left the theater, which I didn’t think was possible anymore.

Then one other film did the same…

1. Whiplash
Whiplash is as much a war film and horror picture as it is a music film. Only in this case, the anxiety level is so much higher than in any film I’ve seen in those genres. Maybe any film ever. Director Damien Chazelle must have had quite an experience as a music student because he perfectly conveys the pressure of striving to improve and ramps it up to 11 where the film stays for the remainder. The big band sequences are beyond amazing in execution. J.K. Simmons is a boss in every sense of the word as the tyrannical jazz band leader and Miles Teller hits a new high here. Sometimes films with high emotions leave you drained. Whiplash is the opposite and leaves you feeling alive.


Jakob Nielsen’s studies point out how people read web stories and how best to organize info.

Less is more. This is the general view to keep in mind when writing for the average internet consumer. With the dwindling attention spans brought on by today’s multitasking generation, Jakob Nielsen has published his findings on how best to grab web readers’ attention.

“F” for faster

In reading a story on the internet, Nielsen has found that readers consume stories in an F-shaped pattern. That is, the more they read, the less attention they devote. The top line two is usually given complete attention while readers pay less close attention from left to right the further into the story the venture. This means that if you as a writer need to get important information across, best do it in the beginning.

Headlines = clicks

Similarly when writing headlines for online stories, short, sweet and to the point is the way to go. Nielsen reports that the most consumable headlines are usually five words, are predictable and very up-front in what the story is about. Moreso than print, readers online want to know exactly what they will be reading about and having a straightforward headline is how they know.


When using hyperlinks, Nielsen points out that good use of links is essential, as the eye is naturally drawn to links. Using the standard blue on white backdrop is the most noticeable color scheme for links. As opposed to shortening links to just one word, good links are used on descriptive phrases, usually with an action or phrase starting things off. Above all, links must be noticeable and understandable if you’re to truly reap the benefits.


The first point is not terribly surprising, since much of it falls in line with certain print journalism practices. Frontloading the important info of the the story is the exact same as the inverted pyramid style of newspaper writing, while keeping sentences and paragraphs brief is also something that is normally sought in standard AP newspaper style.

My experience with headlines has been a bit circular, as I started out in web where I learned to have headlines be as short and to the point as possible. I had no idea back then that a website’s search results would depend on how blunt the headline was. Then, as I worked more into print and design, I started to drift closer to the more creative, frilly headlines that work for print. I then had to train myself back into headlines that work for the web, sometimes changing the two for the shovelware on the website.

Lastly, my previous education on links has mostly been intuitive. Like reading or riding a bike, the more you observe how links are used and practice using them yourself, the more you realize how well they work or don’t. Honestly, your biggest asset is going to be picking the right color scheme to have your links jump out.

Some of this stuff may seem obvious to those who have worked with the concepts before but Nielsen has done something better and expressed what works and what doesn’t in fine detail — something not everyone who already knows about this stuff can do. Going forward, these studies can be excellent tools for upcoming web writers to fully understand how to be successful.


Since the golden radio days of old, sound has been of one of the most effective storytelling mediums. If used correctly, audio stories can be incredibly effective tools in further immersing audiences in a story and providing a more tactile experience. Just ask the listeners of Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938 how real it sounded.

While not as prominent as it once was, using sound for a story is still an effective option for modern journalists. But first, one must determine which stories will actually benefit from the use of sound.

The first thing the Poynter course “Telling Stories with Sound” points out is that some stories are better fitted for sound than others. Sound stories have four general sources to use — voiceover, interviews, natural sound, ambient noise — and the best sound stories can utilize almost all of them. As an example, the course points out that stories about a dog park and a restaurant opening make for good material because you can get some color in them with clips of dogs parking and food sizzling, respectively. Stories about the city council and various government activities are tougher because, besides interviews, there are much fewer lively, ambient sounds to add color.

Another tough aspect of sound stories is that it requires much more preparation and time management. Certain locations ebb and flow with their sound levels. You don’t want to give an interview at a busy, noisy airplane hangar where you can’t hear the person talking but you also want to get some sort of ambient noise, which can’t be accomplished when a place like a restaurant is closed. Poynter suggests a good amount of preparation beforehand to know when good times to record are and to have a quiet place to record in mind, just in case.

Once you have all your necessary gear you can start concerning yourself with what makes a good audio recording. For interviews, there are some inherent differences from print that makes audio unique. First, always have your speaker answer your questions in full sentences. Having an abbreviated answer may work for print but sound incomplete as a recording. Like print, having them be as descriptive as possible can also make for a more interesting audio bit that helps flesh out the story.  Finally, putting successive interviews next to each other can fill in gaps and give an idea of the larger picture.

The main point in all this is to keep things interesting. Have a strong script for your voiceover to keep things focused. Keeps things fun and sound open while you’re talking. When dialogue goes on too long or things sound like they’re getting too monotonous, you can spice things up with ambient noises, natural sounds and snippets of music (20 seconds or under for fair use).

Sound is a useful, immersive tool for online media storytelling but it is also in need of a revitalization. In an age of constant viral web content, it has been noted on that very little of this viral content is sound-only. Our culture is a visual-oriented one and rewards videos and images as such with clicks and likes. The only real viral sound content to come out is usually noteworthy 911 calls. As of now, the biggest avenue for an online journalist to get their audio content to go viral is to share it on social media, for which has been the biggest outlet for audio sharing.

Some fault may also be on the somewhat more limited nature of using sound in a story. Video can be used in almost every occasion but sound can be restricted more to certain instances.

Stories that utilize sound have a place in the hierarchy of online storytelling. If the situation is right, they can grant a more immersive story than the routine image or print story. But to truly progress forward and become a present force on the web, there must be a new, easy way for them to ride the social media train to become more viral-prone. 


Dozens are injured, some killed during a number of motorcycle related accidents

With summer here and motorcycles out and about, a spike in accidents among riders was observed this past week. A recent report by the Star Tribune noted that since May 29, 28 riders have been injured in cycle-related accidents and five have died.

The deceased:

  • Latimothy Saxon, 49, of Minneapolis was struck by a car late Wednesday afternoon in Minneapolis and died shortly after. Authorities reporter Saxon was not wearing a helmet.
  • Patrick Rix, 42, of Duluth was riding in a group late Thursday when he lost control and crashed merging onto Interstate 94. Rix was not wearing a helmet.
  • Gregory Cox, 55, of Burnsville, was struck by a car after side swiping another vehicle early Thursday morning. Cox was wearing a helmet.
  • A van making a u-turn killed a husband and wife, Jason Ingvall, 44, and Melonie Ingvall, 42, both of St. Francis on May 29. Neither of the couple were wearing helmets.


The tragic events of the past week have prompted the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to remind the public to play it safe when it comes to motorcycles this summer. Some tips for cyclists to avoid crashes include:

  • Always wear the correct safety gear, such as eyewear and helmets. Although it is not required by law for drivers over 18 in the state, wearing a helmet has been shown to greatly lower the risk of a fatality in accidents.
  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • Don’t drive in between lanes of traffic.
  • Always drive defensively.

Additionally, automobile drivers are recommended to always keep an eye out for motorcycles. Efforts like the  “Start Seeing Motorcycles” campaign work to raise awareness of  drivers towards their fellow cycle drivers and stress to share the road.


The tap has run dry for some area restaurants, as a number of Grand Forks restaurants recently appeared on a state list of restaurants that have not paid their taxes. Until these businesses pay their taxes, they will not be able to sell alcohol.

The latest additions on the list added in May are:

  • Simon’s — Grand Falls
  • The Turkish Lounge — Grand Falls
  • The Coast Guard — Blue Lake
  • Jim’s Fine Steaks & More — New Caanan

Simon’s and the Turkish Lounge join three other Grand Falls restaurants that were added to the list in January:

  • The Oldtime Lanes
  • Spa’s Family Restaurant
  • Mama’s Grill

These businesses can still sell the alcohol they have, but any distributer selling new booze to them can be penalized.