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The year in movies: the top acting, the best action, the sad goodbyes

One could argue the biggest movie star of 2014 was the guy previously best known for playing the semi-flabby and always funny Andy Dwyer on “Parks & Recreation.”

Not only did a toned-up Chris Pratt topline the No. 1 movie of the year, “Guardians of the Galaxy” (more than $332 million in domestic box office gross and more than $770 million worldwide), he voiced the lead in “The Lego Movie,” which brought in more than $257 million in the United States and some $468 million total.

That’s more than TEN MILLION DOLLARS, as Andy might calculate it. (More like, hold on, $1.2 billion and counting.)

Not bad for an actor whose previous movie work was relatively sparse — though he did choose wisely, with small roles in “Moneyball,” “Her” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Whatever Pratt’s asking price was a year ago, it now probably has an extra zero. Such is the unpredictability of the movies. You never know where the next movie star might come from, and you never know which highly anticipated feature will disappoint and which under-the-radar film might soar.

Time once again for my annual look back at some of the most memorable and some of the hope-to-forget moments at the movies.

Whipping the whippersnappers: The three most badass action stars of 2014 are all well past 50, and none of them was in that god-awful “The Expendables 3.”

Fifty-nine-year-old Kevin Costner in “3 Days to Kill,” 61-year-old Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer” and 62-year-old Liam Neeson in “Non-Stop” — they killed in more ways than one. I want to see a movie where all three of these guys are at separate tables in a lonely diner, passing the time before they go their anonymous jobs, living under assumed names, keeping to themselves and trying to forget the past — when all of a sudden trouble walks through the door.

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in “The Fault In Our Stars.” | 20th Century Fox
Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in “The Fault In Our Stars.” | 20th Century Fox

Best romance of the year: Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in “The Fault in Our Stars.” This was a smart, heartwarming, authentic teen love story. Both young stars were terrific.

Imagine the titles they DIDN’T use: Every year brings a slew of titles straight out of an old “Seinfeld” episode. In 2014 we got “Edge of Tomorrow,” “Let’s Be Cops,” “The Other Woman,” “Need for Speed,” “I, Frankenstein,” “Bang Bang” and “Code Black.” It’s only a matter of time before we get “Prognosis Negative,” “Rochelle Rochelle,” “Death Blow” and “Sack Lunch.”

Didn’t see that one coming: Happiest surprise of the year: “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I knew next to nothing about the Marvel Comics series, and the trailer and advertising were NOT that promising. But this is why we SEE the movies, people. “Guardians” turned out to be a whip-smart, hilarious, engrossing thrill ride, with Chris Pratt going from Pawnee to pumped-up, a great oldies soundtrack and superb special effects. We’re getting more “Guardians” in May 2017, woohoo!

Someday they’ll make a movie about this. In the most bizarre movie-related story I’ve ever seen, Sony Pictures decided not to release “The Interview” after the five biggest theater chains in the country said they wouldn’t show “The Interview” because of security concerns due to cyber-threats. Premieres were canceled, James Franco and Seth Rogen went Social Media Silent, major stars tweeted their disappointment and the president of the United States said he wished Sony had asked his opinion before pulling the plug. (POTUS also told us he was a fan of Seth Rogen and “James Flacco.”

But wait, there’s more! A few days after Sony execs told us there were no plans to release “The Interview” on any platform, they flipped their flop and allowed it to be seen in a few hundred theaters and online.

All over an R-rated “Three Stooges”-type comedy with more poop and sex jokes than you’d hear in a high school football locker room.

Even the people making Adam Sandler movies don’t like Adam Sandler movies: Hacks and leaks made big news this year. First there was “The Fappening,” with leaked nudes of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars appearing all over the Internet. It was a hideous invasion of privacy, and of course respectable media outlets didn’t publish links to rogue sites that carried the photos, nor did they go into graphic detail about the nature of the pictures and videos. A number of high-profile media personalities said they wouldn’t even look at the photos because that act itself would be a violation of privacy.

Interestingly, we didn’t seem to have similar ethical reservations about the massive hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment correspondence. Whether it was racist jokes about the president; executives ripping on Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler and Angelina Jolie, among others; the salaries of top Sony execs; or vicious bickering, the details were all over the place, and we lapped it up.

Final bows: There were some bittersweet moments this year, with actors who died too soon appearing onscreen in some of their final roles.

James Gandolfini gave one of his best performances in “The Drop.” Philip Seymour Hoffman shined in a small role in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1,” but the real reminders of Hoffman’s boundless talent were “God’s Pocket” and “A Most Wanted Man.” And Robin Williams was seen in “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn,” “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas” and “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.”

It takes you out of the movie for a moment when a recently deceased actor first appears on film — but his or her talent then brings us back inside the story, and we can appreciate the gifts they gave us.

Actress of the Year: My vote goes to Jessica Chastain, who lit it up in the “Eleanor Rigby” films, “Interstellar” and “A Most Violent Year.” For Chastain, an Oscar is a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Actor of the Year: Tom Hardy. He gave a Brando-esque performance as a bartender on a mission in “The Drop,” and in “Locke,” he was Oscar-worthy as a man who is driving and talking on the phone, just driving and talking on the phone, for the entire movie. Hardy is as good as any actor on the planet.

Not to mention … Elsewhere at the movies, “Top Five” was the funniest movie of the year and “Interstellar” was the most IMAX-y movie of the year and “”Dumb and Dumber To” was the most unnecessary sequel of the year and “Gone Girl” had the strangest sex scene of the year and “Chef” was the foodiest movie of the year and “Transcendence” was the everyone-hated-it-but-me movie of the year and “Robocop” was the most unnecessary remake of the year and “This Is Where I Leave You” and “The Judge” were the most “They wasted a great cast!” movies of the year.