Though November was a little up and down in terms of my writing output, for the same reason it was actually a very good month in terms of viewing numbers. Blowing out my back meant a lot of time lying on the lounge room floor watching flicks which I guess played a part. A few absolute cracking 2014 releases that are amongst my favourite of the whole year in this lot. Though there were a couple of beloved recent releases in here where I just did not see the hype at all.
- Two Days One Night (2014), The Dardenne Brothers – I found this to be a very tough, raw and brutal watch. Cotillard’s depiction of depression and anxiety is heart-wrenchingly accurate. Actually hit very close to the bone for me. She may well be the best actress in the world right now and I’m not even sure who is second. Initially I found the reactions of those she chatted with – essentially asking them to give up a 1000 euro bonus so she could keep her job – hard to believe. But really, the way depression is still perceived in our society and the way some people believe they must trample others to get what’s theirs, it rang very true.
- Burden of Dreams (1982), Les Blank – So great to see a young(er) Werner Herzog talk about his craft and the inspiration behind Fitzcarraldo (1982). In the end, this plays like an incredible historical document of borderline artistic madness, convoluted tribal politics and boundaries that probably shouldn’t be broken to make a film. This is the eccentric, persistent and treading that line between genius and insanity that we all love about Herzog writ large. Also amazing to see him breaking down the meaning of the film.
- Saboteur (1942), Alfred Hitchcock – Hitch has such an eye for a shot. Recalls the Lumiere Bros in that respect, a purity in some ways to his work. This is a pretty film, even for him. The script is a little clunky but there is plenty of nice, vintage intrigue in the set up. Also a fair bit of social commentary as the rich old dudes get away with stuff whilst the working class get screwed over. It wanes a little through the middle, but there is some incredible tension throughout. And it finishes with a couple of classic set-pieces in the final act, especially the one atop the Statue of Liberty.
- Joe (2013), David Gordon Green – This is all Southern, decrepit, gothic and gritty. It’s the South where everyone is a full-blown alcoholic and flashes of violence are just around the corner. It is in some ways a slight story which prioritises themes – manhood, the concept of work, violence in society – in a way that is actually satisfying and leaves you not really minding the lack of story. Even if it could have handled more focus on the central relationship, this dark film is worth watching for the thematic approach and tops central performances.
- The Sacrament (2013), Ti West– Knew very little about this going in and it totally blew me away. So grounded, the use of real life company Vice, the sharply shot faux-doco style that never feels forced and a well written script that never feels overwritten. Guess not a horror film in the usual sense of the world and never went where I was assuming it would. There was an extended stretch late in this where I actually had a physical reaction to what I was seeing, fists clenched and mouth wide open. Deeply creepy, foreboding and close to the most compelling film of the year.
- Nebraska (2013), Alexander Payne – Bruce Dern is really something and it is almost to the film’s detriment, because he puts everything else in the shade. But there is a fair bit else to enjoy here, from the refreshingly artful black and white shooting to the quirky script that nails what it is like to watch someone age as well as the pain of dealing with idiots, no matter the ages involved. I actually found it to be a lot more boisterous and ‘laugh out loud’ than I was expecting. A film that manages to be sweet without being sentimental.
- Willow Creek (2013), Bobcat Goldthwait – In a slight year for horror, this stands out as a cerebral little film. Setting up the equipment is a funky way to establish the found footage confines of the film. The central couple has a really good rapport that doesn’t feel forced. It is a fun, then tense examination of the bigfoot mythos. Well crafted and creepy, especially one extremely long scene of them in the tent that should be so boring but is totally freaky. The female lead Alexie Gilmore gives a really effective horror performance. Tops ending too, paying off the build without ruining the vibe of what had come earlier.
- Draft Day (2014), Ivan Reitman – I liked this a whole lot more than I think I should have. It is a slick, glossy film. But it manages to give an insightful, if very mainstream, look into the mechanics of building a sporting team. The cast are all really good at what they do, and it is no different here with Chadwick Boseman, Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Dennis O’Leary all being fun to watch do their thing. Costner especially fits the role of grizzled, under pressure sports boss like a glove. It’s utter fluff, but well made and easy to watch fluff (at least for sports fans).
- Under the Skin (2013), Jonathan Glazer – The focus early is on quiet, sterile sci-fi imagery in a distinctly Scottish setting. The interesting sound design drives proceedings along. To see people against the sheer black and white imagery and see how that evolves through the film is pretty wondrous. Though the exceptionally slow pace and not particularly coherent storyline does mean that the impact is at times lessened. But when it isn’t, the horrifying existential terror elicited is powerful. Be prepared for the ethereal, minimalist and hard to grasp narrative though. Didn’t all work for me, and much of the last act is too ponderous. But it will make you think.
- Winter’s Tale (2013), Akiva Goldsman – One of the most maligned films of recent times and I think pretty harshly so. This is a nice piece of magical realism I think. Perhaps that is a genre that just doesn’t work for a lot of people. There is a bunch of really cool imagery though and some nice sentimentality. The good type of sentimentality. The cast is good especially Russell Crowe, hamming it up no end. There is a lot of over-acting in this, but just like the sentimentality I think it actually works given the style of the material. The combo of the very real and the very fantastical is something I found a little refreshing.
- Calvary (2014), John Michael McDonagh – This was very different to what the trailer advertised. It is one of the blackest comedies I have seen in a long time. Refreshing the way it deals with religion. Brendan Gleeson’s priest, when confronted with a person who was raped by another priest, responds that he has no idea what to say to that. Gleeson is a powerhouse and this director/star team continues to excel. It’s not an easy watch, but this is a damn clever film. They’ve actually taken the time to write something complex about ‘the church’ and its role today. A dense script geared at painting an incredible portrait of a man of faith. Challenging and oh so dark.
- John Wick (2014), Chad Stahelski – Bloody hell what an action flick. One of the best of the past half decade I think. Reminds you of just how great a straight up action flick can be. Keanu and John Leguizmo lead an excellent cast. Reeves especially is refreshing, following some tepid efforts (including one below). Put simply, if you love action films, this is the must see action film of the year.
- Evangelion: 1.11 You Are Not Alone (2007), Hideaki Anno– Anything Evangelion seems to be pretty iconic on the anime scene. This was a like not love from me, perhaps due to the fact that I have not seen any of the series that precedes this film. But the art and visuals, especially the mech battles and cityscapes are impossible not to love, as are some of the age old ideas explored. A little flat in terms of stakes and the human animation is poor. Gets by on the visuals though.
- Interstellar (2014), Christopher Nolan – A flawed, unwieldy behemoth of a film that contains three or five of the most exhilarating cinema moments of the year. The science is mind-bending, but never dense for the sake of it. Visually it’s as pretty and assured as sci-fi comes. I was awe-inspired and just wish I could have seen it on Imax. Can see why it is so divisive as it is just so plot heavy. Cleverly written though and it challenges on a host of levels – narratively, existentially. One of my favourite scores of recent times too. Incredibly emotional for sci-fi this dense as well. They don’t really make them like this anymore. Perhaps they never did.
Not Worth Watching:
- Force Majeure (2014), Ruben Ostlund – This focuses on a very interesting concept, turning on a single moment – how a husband (and father) reacts in a genuine life and death scenario. Unfortunately I was not so enamoured with the rest of it. Too much of it slips into one of those couples arguing films that don’t really enlighten very much. That was the dominant outcome for me, over and above the strong female lead performance and some good sequences examining the main dude’s actions.
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), Brian Singer – I do feel that you can cram too many X-Men into one film, which is one issue here. They don’t all feel as unique and special as they should. There are some cool plot points but I just had a lot of niggling issues with this one. It’s a strangely ugly film and tonally felt off, at various times too silly or too serious or too sentimental. The best character is Quicksilver and he is strangely dispensed with after the film’s best sequence. A strangely flat experience, which is a shame because I like how it is trying to bring complex comic book continuity to the big screen.
- Oculus (2013), Mike Flanagan – Evil mirror… got it. This was such a nothing film for me. Flashback structure totally sucked the mystery out of the story. The performances from both leads are really poor, the plot is totally all over the shop and worst of all the film has zero atmosphere or good ideas. One of those horror films where the characters have to make the most illogical decisions imaginable for ‘terror’ to ensue. At times, laughably bad.
- Life After Beth (2014), Jeff Baena – As a big fan of Aubrey Plaza, this is a major let down. Overall it is just a bit weak, and the great cast which also features Dane DeHaan and John C. Reilly are just not given enough to work with. So flat and tellingly, it is a really unfunny comedy. No drive, pop, or sharpness to this pretty bland ‘zom-com.’
- 47 Ronin (2013), Carl Rinsch – Japanese infused samurai silliness from the get-go. Which is fun for about 15 minutes and then it is just a little all over the shop. Some of the CGI monsters look pretty rad, even though there is absolutely no reason for them to be there. They clearly spent way too much money on a film that was never going to be a hit. Terrible expositional dialogue abounds and the character development of our supposed heroes is so thin as to be non-existent. I have no idea what this film was trying to be, but I am pretty sure it failed.
- Gone Girl (2014), David Fincher – What an utterly silly film. I’m pretty bemused by how beloved it is. There is a whip smart script… for about ten minutes. Reznor’s score is phenomenal… for the first five minutes. This film just did not work on any level for me and I found the last really terrible. The big reveal in the centre fell flat for me whilst the gender politics are a little troubling. But I actually found the film so awful I barely even noticed that. It’s so overlong too. The trailer park section just meanders on and on and goes nowhere. The couple of good female characters, the cop and the sister, are totally wasted.
If you only have time to watch one Interstellar
Avoid at all costs Oculus