Friday, 2 January 2015
My Favourite Films of 2014
A personal list of the films that excited me, moved me and stuck with me this past year...
1. Grand Budapest Hotel
I have loved every Wes Anderson film so far. It's not just his style (though I fell for every wonderfully designed, coloured and centered frame in this film), it's his whole approach to storytelling - and dammit if this wasn't a great story with some lovely human touches. And Ralph Fiennes should get recognized for a brilliant comedic turn - particularly since he made my son laugh harder than anyone else on screen this year.
2. Gone Girl
Another case of both substance and gorgeous style. Fincher's version of the novel manages to allow sympathy, empathy and detest for BOTH main characters. And like most great magicians, he pulls the trick off with a sense of effortlessness.
3. A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence
The beauty of Roy Andersson's films (in particular with his trilogy: Songs From The Second Floor, You The Living and this one) is that through absurdity, humour and the occasional stunning image, he brings you both the warmth and the horror of humanity and leaves it up to you what to take away. There's nothing else like it.
The drums drive the film forward with a distinct pulse through raucous periods, through tension filled moments and even through a few of the quieter sections. It feels like the perfect vehicle to represent the insistent drive for perfection that consumes these characters.
5. The Duke Of Burgundy
I absolutely feasted on the smorgasbord of images and sounds on display - like director Peter Strickand's previous film "Berberian Sound Studio" and one of 2013's faves "Upstream Color", my senses came away satiated to the gills.
Satirical, tense, blackly comic and even provoked a spontaneous round of applause after the best damn car chase I've seen since I don't know when. Can't wait to see it again.
7. Clouds Of Sils Maria
The film may have layers upon layers of meta, but it does so within the confines of the stories. The real joy, though, is in watching and listening to Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart interact and react to each other.
I tend to agree with just about any negative points made about the film - from the comments about thin characters to the rather pointless (but I think accurate) criticism of its science - but none of that stops me from just getting lost in the grandeur of the space sequences, the ideas and the unstoppable effect that time has on us. And I don't think I took a breath from that docking scene all the way to the black hole - almost like I was left dangling out in space...
My own Boy is somewhere in the middle of the arc travelled here by the character of Mason, so forgive me for attaching personal feelings to this film. But that's what it does so fantastically well - it finds those smaller moments in the life of its characters to really bring them out and feel like true people.
10. 20000 Days On Earth
Nick Cave has led a pretty remarkable life and through his storytelling (and what a great teller of stories he is), several surreal sequences, a variety of old clips and recent concert footage, we get a fascinating portrait painted.
11. Inherent Vice
A drug-fueled, paranoid, modern retro take on The Big Sleep. All the "messiness" of the film is (at least in my opinion) by design. The fun of experiencing it is being thrown into Doc's confused brain and the ever-growing list of characters and plot points.
I will likely always be a Jean-Marc Vallee fanboy (simply due the C.R.A.Z.Y. and Cafe De Flore), but I didn't go in with massive expectations for his latest. His skill (and his editing team's as well) at cutting to sound (not just music, but dialogue and ambient sound) is remarkable and helps to tell this solo trek with flashbacks in a fresh and emotional way. Reese Witherspoon is great and Laura Dern puts in one of the best supporting performances of the year.
I'm not sure this "one man in a car on the phone" movie would have worked with anyone but Tom Hardy. With his calm matter of fact demeanour and Welsh accent, he helps make it a terribly interesting journey up a British motorway. I never found it dull in the least as we slowly learn the details of the reasons for his sudden left turn.
14. The Town That Dreaded Sundown
A compelling, moody, surprising and absolutely gorgeous film that pleases aesthetically, but also encourages you to actively engage with its visuals, colours and foreground/background object placements. A wonderful surprise and a new take on "rebooting" an old story.
The device of making the entire film seem like a single take (even though the 2 hour run time is spread over several days) kept me completely engaged with Michael Keaton's struggling actor/celebrity and allowed me into his state of mind. The performances all around were entertaining and the film delivered many more laughs than expected.
16. The New Girlfriend
Francois Ozon has been an up and down director for me (even within individual films), but this is easily the best thing I've seen by him - particularly in the way he brought some well deserved emotion to the surface during several key points in this story of a man and a woman coming to terms with their true feelings about who they are.
17. The LEGO Movie
That astronaut had a crack in his helmet almost exactly like the LEGO figure I had when I was a kid. So there was no going back at that point...There was no need to turn around, though, as the energy, humour and creativity of the animation was more than enough to keep that smile locked on my face.
18. Force Majeure
Possibly the best looking film of the year. Every single damn shot was composed so very carefully and helped tell the tale of a relationship that was already precarious and whose slide might not be preventable once it begins to crumble. That avalanche metaphor is kinda perfect for this story.
19. They Have Escaped
Not your average teen runaway story, this Finnish road film marries great hallucinatory sights and sounds to show attempts to escape adulthood.
20. The Rover
Bleak, but riveting. You could feel every bit of desperation in each and every character.
15 Honourable Mentions:
Leviathan, The Babadook, Guardians Of The Galaxy, 1001 Grams, The World Of Kanako, What We Do In The Shadows, Kabukicho Love Hotel, Shrew's Nest, Happy Christmas, Coherence, Spring, The One I Love, Cold In July, American Interior, God's Pocket.