At this point, I am in the waning part of the new year of 2015 and have not yet posted what I thought were my favorite films of the year. Ironic, considering that at around 300 films that were released in the US that I saw, this is maybe the first year I have ever made an effort to watch as many current movies as I possibly could (I used to particularly remain in the classics).
As such, I’m pretty much confident at this point with my attempt to at least talk about – from a year of surprisingly impressive films – the 10 that I appreciated most. The 10 that really stood out to me and spoke to me more than the rest of the noise and spectacle and drama and romance.
2014 was a year of cinematic expansion. People got to see visual limits pushed out with Birdman‘s solid literary translation as visual medium or Boyhood‘s method of production. Characters were sketched out to being fuller than some of the people in our lives in films or were sometimes used as emotional tour de forces like Whiplash or Selma or John Wick. And then sometimes we just got dazzled and wowed by how kick-fucking-ass they could get from The Raid 2: Berandal to The Lego Movie to Edge of Tomorrow.
But enough about the year. Let’s look at my special 10.
10. The Homesman (dir. Tommy Lee Jones, USA) – Any of you recalling my brief capsules I gave should recall that my initial reception to the film was extremely lukewarm. Not as ravaging as the rest of the Cannes filmgoers, but I was a bit off-put by how I interpreted it on face value as a feminist Western only to have that rug swept out from under my feet and then scrambling around trying to find a point of the film to meet at.
Well, I had recently re-visited it upon its U.S. release and I find a grave misfortunate towards myself for not realizing how Ford-ian Jones’ vision of the West turns out to be, as well as how the film’s further subject matter beyond its sudden perspective shift turns out to be encouraged and only strengthened by its basic nihilistic depiction of how life in the West can even tear down the strongest of people – indeed, it tears down all. And indeed, it still doesn’t undercut how magnificently Hillary Swank gives her best performance since Boys Don’t Cry.
I still think the ending is a fucking mess and maybe I’m also a bit too rubbed from how much it lifts from Ford, but I have pretty much no doubt in my mind that Tommy Lee Jones would be the perfect director for that adaptation of Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness on the West. Fuck off, James Franco.
9. Ida (dir. Paweł Pawlikowski, Poland) – Maybe I have just been watching enough Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky at this point that this is sort of judgment, tragedy, and dialogue on whether or not God exists or is at least present with our deeds. Maybe it’s that the movie does a fantastic job of providing a desolate landscape for our lead character to discover herself and where her soul lies between the convent she leaves and the world she discovers outside the convent.
And maybe especially the two lead actresses – Agata Trzebuchowska and especially Agata Kulesza – have done so well to carry the psychological torment of their lives and the secrets they have to uncover, being our greatest emotional anchor in the whole film.
Maybe it’s also that religious movies speak to me and how devoted my early life was to a similar religion.
8. Timbuktu (dir. Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania & France) – Which, speaking of that religion, happens to be Islam. I still hold some feelings towards that faith and one of those is how it is portrayed in culture, ideally realistically and unbiased.
Timbuktu does a beautiful job of telling two separate stories and having them converge at once: the story of Kidane and his family’s affairs from refusing to run from a very ill change and the story of Ansar Dine turning Timbuktu into hell just from assuming that they know how to keep their subjects from Hell.
It’s disturbing, it’s excruciating, and it shows how any religion can be used to make people feel they were made to suffer, rather than made to live. It will be hard for me to watch again, but I’m glad I caught it the once.
7. Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer, UK) – Sure, it’s definitely a film that only invites a particular sort of audience member that can deal with how challenging it is as a narrative. But I love that…
Under the Skin is a blank film where people read different things out of it (or refuse to read anything) and I found it to be extremely telling of alienation and how it is to try to be human – from Scarlett Johansson’s not-really-all-there performance to the vignettes of failed intimacy turned to horror story and failed assimilation into the world. That really really speaks to me.
Everything about this film is meant to work as best it can as a piece of a whole that doesn’t really fit – both the outstanding imagery and the unforgettable music by Mica Levi play this part, where something seems to be just a little bit missing from Glazer’s storytelling and it happens to be what themes we put into it. Please do.
6. Two Days, One Night (dir. the Dardenne brothers, Belgium) – Prior to 2014, I did not think much of Marion Cotillard as an actress. I thought La Mome was a fantastic performance, but I had to deal with her emptiness in both of Christopher Nolan’s films with her.
2014 has been as much her year as any other filmmaker (Lord/Miller) or actor (Chris Evans, Jack O’Connell) or other (Bradford Young, Alexandre Desplat) that I admired. Between The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night, Cotillard has been proving her necessity to bringing either a grounded or elevated humanity to a desperate situation.
As such, in Two Days, One Night, she and the Dardenne brothers end up making a world of hardship that doesn’t really have any bad people in it and painting a singular character in the middle of this movie whose struggle to keep her job only illustrates both a microcosm of her own emotional and psychological state and macrocosm of how current times have gotten tough in the world. And while it’s always some what heavy, it is remarkably hopeful all the way through.
5. National Gallery (dir. Frederick Wiseman, USA) – Sometimes one likes to just sit back and let the pictures tell the story themselves. Wiseman would certainly refuse to claim that he doesn’t force a narrative in his editing style and sure we can definitely see the edges of what he is trying to portray in National Gallery: the process of what is art, where it begins, how it never ends. Restoration, interpretation and discussion, construction, exhibition, selection, patronage, documenting even (with a film crew making occasional appearances). It’s all there.
But no, the real treat and charm in National Gallery, the reason I really could stand to sit another three hours to watch it again, is because of how much all of this content just blends into an ambient observation that feels like just being a regular passerby in one of the most well-known art halls in the world. I get that Wiseman’s point was to show us all of these details, but his editing is perfect enough to make me just feel like everything I learned in this cinematic visit was just incidental to lounging about for a while or two.
4. Snowpiercer (dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) – As I’m certain everybody who has seen my review could tell, I thought Snowpiercer was the craziest fucking thing I’ve seen all year. That’s a year that includes Lucy and John Wick and two (count ’em) Lord and Miller flicks, and the insanity of Snowpiercer tops them all while carrying a bit of gravitas to itself.
It’s not too crazy enough to take itself seriously but crazy enough to let us meet it at a certain point – carrying with it a joyous amount of set design playing with each car the characters reach, some fantastically imaginative action setpieces, and especially Chris Evans’ best performance of his career.
Indeed, Snowpiercer is a freight train out of control with its momentum but able to keep on its tracks just enough to make it the whole journey for me.
3. Mr. Turner (dir. Mike Leigh, UK) – Alright, so if we’re given a film that should be a biopic, it should be a given that it should do well to capture its identity as a character study steadily throughout its whole runtime, right? And then if we have ourselves it being a historical drama, we should be able to recognize its place as a time capsule capturing all the splendid details of its era and maybe even has a touch of dated sociology to it, perhaps as the best? And finally, if that biopic happens to be one of a world-renowned painter, it ought to look damned spectacularly like art itself.
Well, the world is blessed enough to have Mike Leigh be the perfect filmmaker to do every single one of those kinds of things. Aided with such things as Dick Pope’s cinematography and Timothy Spall’s unbelievably rough yet sympathetic and communicative performance under his belt, Leigh has just about brought us back to a huge Victorian civilisation that seems almost lost just to return to a single small being who was considered larger-than-life but just closer to a flawed being like any individual you could name today.
It’s a beautiful simply humane portrait of the difference times plays out to the individual.
2. The Missing Picture (dir. Rithy Panh, Cambodia & France) – Experimental cinema is always going to hit me where it hurts and hit me even harder when its works and hit me hardest of all when it is obviously something that wears its heart on its sleeve.
Half memory, half art in motion, Rithy Panh graciously shares his pains in surviving the Khmer Rouge and finding absolutely emptiness where all records of the horrors of the regime should be. So, he takes it upon himself to recreate those moments from his own eyes, using shockingly personable clay figures to play the parts of the individuals, newsreel footage to give the art its zen atmosphere and fill in some contextual necessities, and music to give a span of time.
It sounds like it assumes its own gravitas due to the events it talks about and what it means to the filmmaker and sure, it does that absolutely. It just happens to have worked best for me to think about the capabilities of humanity to be a horror show (especially considering the previous year’s own creative document on war crimes, The Act of Killing) and put me in a movingly sober mood when I walked out the theater.
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (dir. Wes Anderson, Germany & UK) – But by the end of the day, movies are meant to be fun and that’s just what the hell The Grand Budapest Hotel turns out to be. Constantly watchable, riotously hilarious, glorious glorious fun.
Wes Anderson’s usually alienating style has this time around become a frolicking delicious playground for the viewers to look at each brightly colored object and take their sweet ass time feeling nostalgic about moments that, in the long run, matter more to the characters than the audience.
Aye, that’s the real sneaky shit that makes me love The Grand Budapest Hotel even more. It is essentially a tale of melancholy and a blue world that is disguised as a tale of adventure and a pink world. There’s murder, war, disease, crime, surrounding all this hollow pleasantry. And by the end of the film, The Grand Budapest Hotel has been caught up with it that it cannot hide its true nature anymore. It’s a sad goodbye, given how accommodating the cast – namely Ralph Fiennes’ divine comedic timing as the florid, shallow but humblingly good-hearted M. Gustave – was, how engaging the heist brought us, and how beautiful the palace of a hotel once felt to be…
But the only reason he it gets us to be as sad as the characters when they realize the party is over is by first making have no much damn fun in the cinema, that we want to give it just one more round now that we know how quickly this feeling of romance and triumph is lost.
And so, The Grand Budapest Hotel is able to get me to press play on my Blu-ray, just one more time…
Fuck it, I’m gonna go do it right now, I’m watching that movie again and I don’t give a fuck. Fuck off and here’s to a new year of fantastic movies. Later…