Another Year: A Film Snob's Favorites of 2014
"I may not have seen any of the best films of 2014. I can’t afford to travel to film festivals. But these are my favorites of those I did see...."
This is a taut, technically masterful thriller – not one with crime or cops, but a thriller nevertheless.It's also a case study in the tangled pathology of master and apprentice – in this instance, a study of two men who challenge and betray each other, perhaps hate each other, and are still bound to each other....
Chris Rock till now has had a less than stellar record as a writer-director-star of feature films -- with his third and current effort, the self-reflective Top Five, Rock seeks to become a real contender.Top Five works hard to be both hilarious and an intense comment on fame and celebrity. Certainly it is a step forward, more exciting and thoughtful and its main character more present and in-your-face....
Red Riding (Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker, 2009) - A three-part miniseries that was later released theatrically, Red Riding is the story of a series of horrific murders in west Yorkshire, and the deep-rooted corruption in the police department that these killings expose. It’s based on novels by David Peace, inspired in turn by a few notorious real life cases, including that of the “Yorkshire Ripper” in the 1970s.... Read More
Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940) - A chronic shoplifter (Barbara Stanwyck) faces jail time for her third offense. When the trial in New York is postponed because it’s Christmas Eve, the prosecutor (Fred MacMurray) takes pity on her for having to spend the holiday behind bars. Learning that she’s also from Indiana, he gives her a ride there, and she ends up spending Christmas with his family.... Read More
Commisar (Aleksandr Askoldov, 1967) - During the Russian Civil War, Klavdia (Nonna Mordyukova), a female officer in the Red Army, whom we first see sentencing a deserter to death, is herself disgraced when it’s discovered that she’s pregnant. Kicked out of her regiment, she stays with a Jewish family in the Ukraine. From her vantage point, as she tries to learn how to be a mother, we witness the plight of Jews in Soviet Russia, still treated as outsiders in their own country.... Read More
El Norte (Gregory Nava, 1983) - Two teenage Guatemalan peasants, brother and sister, flee government persecution and head north, hoping to find a new life in the United States. El Norte was one of the first, and certainly the first widely seen film to treat the subject of illegal immigration from the point of view of the immigrants themselves. Nava purposely avoided trying to get studio funding for the film, because he thought (correctly I think) that commercial considerations would compromise the work. The picture was financed partly by PBS, and through pre-sales, and it became one of those rare examples of a completely independent film gaining wide distribution through word of mouth... Read More
Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater, 2008) - Linklater seems to move comfortably between his independent roots and the commercial mainstream, which makes him something of an anomaly in American film. Holly & Vincent Palmo adapted a Robert Kaplow novel about Orson Welles’ 1937 production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Thus far, we are in the indy realm, yet the story concerns an aspiring teenage actor (Zac Efron) who manages to get a bit part in the play, and falls hard for Welles’ sexy assistant, played by Clare Danes—and in this respect it resembles a Hollywood coming-of-age “romcom.”.... Read More
Vancouver International Film Festival 2014 (part 2)
Charlie's Country - Recipient of the award for Best Actor at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, David Gulpilil is a dominating presence in Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country, the third film in their collaboration (The Tracker, Ten Canoes). ... Read More
In Search of Chopin - Philip Grabsky, who previously documented the life and work of Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn, returns with an illuminating study of the great 19th century Polish composer and pianist, Frederic (Fryderyk) Chopin. This documentary follows the same format as the other films, sampling sequential compositions of the artist interspersed with the comments of music historians and soloists who specialize in Chopin’s music..... Read More
The Kindergarten Teacher - Brilliantly shot in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by Shai Goldman, The Kindergarten Teacher, Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s (Policeman, 2011) second feature,can be seen as a representation of an Israeli society where poetic sensibility has become lost in a culture that glorifies materialism, and where even the idealistic have lost their moral compass. A strangely affecting and disturbing film, The Kindergarten Teacher is at times perverse but also has moments of haunting beauty. .... Read More
Phoenix - Based on a novel by Hubert Monteilhet from a screenplay co-written by the director and the late Harun Farocki, Christian Petzold’s Phoenix explores the reality of German guilt and the trauma of those who survived, focusing on two people, one who desperately wants to forget the past and the other who is unable to let go of it. .... Read More
Two Days, One Night - Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s latest working-class odyssey, Two Days, One Night, takes place over the course of a weekend, and keeps us riveted until the final result, as tense as any tightly contested political election. Like the rest of the Dardenne’s body of work, it is powered by a resolute faith in humanity..... Read More
Vancouver International Film Festival 2014 (part 1)
Wild - Unlike John Curran’s Tracks which documented naturalist Robyn Davidson’s grueling nine-month journey through the Australian outback, Wild is more of an inward-looking psychological drama than a physical adventure, but it has enough of both to keep us focused. ... Read More
Force Majeure - Winner of the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard competition in Cannes in 2014 and Sweden’s official entry into the Oscar sweepstakes for Best Foreign Film, Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure (original title Turist), his fourth feature and his first since Play (2011), is a biting satire that has sharp teeth.... Read More
Dos Disparos (Two Gun Shots) - Rejtman's absurdist comedy, a cross between Antonioni and Kaurismaki, deconstructs urban life to the point that relationships cease to exist as an expression of human emotion..... Read More
Winner of the Alfred P. Sloan prize at Sundance, Mike Cahill’s lovely and touching I Origins is a follow-up to his first feature, the sci-fi’er, Another Earth, which won the same prize at Sundance in 2011. Backed by the songs of Radiohead, I Origins is a thought-provoking look at questions of faith, destiny, and what might lie beyond death....
Shot in thirty nine days over a period of twelve years, the fictional film Boyhood has little dramatic arc but captures the physical and emotional growth of Mason, his single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and his older sister Samantha (Linklater's daughter Lorelei) with striking reality. It is a great achievement and one of the best films of the year.....
Get On Up
Whatever the shortcomings Bozeman and the music are the reasons for watching this movie. Get on Up founders as a biopic even as it strives to avoid its clichés. Its scrambled chronology short-circuits emotional resonance and adds to confusion about whether this is meant to be serious or a shimmering joke......
Me and You
Based on a novel by Niccolò Ammaniti, Bertolucci’s first film since 2003's The Dreamers (and his first made in Italy in thirty years) is the story of Lorenzo, an isolated fourteen year old boy (Jacopo Olmo Antinori), and Olivia (Tea Falco), his older half-sister, a heroin addict, who inadvertently discover they need each other more than they ever thought possible.....
Based on a novel by Larry Brown and shot in an unspecified location in the U.S. South, David Gordon Green’s Joe has a lot going for it but Southern hospitality is not one of them. Gritty, dark, hard-edged, and sometimes downright ugly, Joe is a moody character study about a good-hearted and complex man with a checkered past trying to do the right thing, but caught in a good ol’ boys’ culture that makes it hard to change.....
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Following the sprightly and more economical 2011 Rise of introduction directed by Rupert Wyatt, Dawn of Planet of the Apes, directed by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves takes us firmly back to Apes franchise land. Murky but magnificent in its way, Dawn of delivers in terms of epic action and complicated CGI, featuring the decaying grandeur of some of San Francisco's major municipal sites, including city hall, and some ape-bashing-ape sequences that literally tear up the scenery.....
Nothing Bad Can Happen
The 30-year-old Katrin Gebbe is a German director whose first film is grueling, disturbing, punishing, and misguided, but also undeniably promising. There may be echoes of Bresson and of Haneke, perhaps of Lars von Trier, but emulation of those masters has not led to magic here, only a spectacularly controversial piece of work that is bound to awaken extreme reactions....
Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida offers no easy answers but looks at each character’s complexities, leaving only a trail of ambiguity. Shot in black and white by cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal, the film is set in Poland in the early 1960s and masterfully captures the bleak look of Communist-controlled Eastern Europe where the physical and emotional scars of World War II are impossible to hide.....
The Fault in Our Stars
The Fault in Our Stars, Josh Boone’s drama of cancer-stricken teenagers can be overtly manipulative and traverses a thin line between honest sentiment and maudlin sentimentality, yet it succeeds where others have failed because of the authentic emotion generated by its lead actors, Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) and newcomer Ansel Elgort, who display a rare chemistry together....
Words and Pictures
Fred Schepisi's Words and Pictures, set at a posh Maine prep school, is a celebration of language, and to some extent art. Gerald Di Pego's script is so self-consciously clever with words and busy showing them off it continually calls attention to itself, making it hard to get lost in the action, or feel your way through to the emotion.....
Under the Skin
There is a thin line between the hunter and the hunted, the ordinary and the odd, and maybe even between otherworldies and humans, though that hypothesis has yet to be tested. Scarlett Johansson, however, as Laura, the unholy other in Jonathan Glazer’s mesmerizing Under the Skin, takes it for a spin. Based on the novel by Michael Faber and set in the Scottish Highlands, Laura reflects the alien stereotypes we see in pop culture – superior, lacking in emotion, evil, strange, impossible to communicate with or understand, yet still looking kind of like us, in many ways a projection of our society’s fear of the outsider...
Klapisch's third in a series about Xavier Rousseau (Romain Duris), an economics student turned ghost writer turned successful novelist, is a farcical jumble of ruses and the women in his life that would make little sense if it were not for the director's genial enthusiasm for his hero's adventures and his ability to recycle characters and weave in new ones....
Two Documentaries about Vivian Maier
Vivian Maier took photographs tirelessly for over forty years, but without printing them, and rarely showing them to anybody. Nor did she talk about them, though of course the children she minded and families she worked for knew she was always taking them and always had a camera around her neck. She didn't promote herself as a photographer. It's only by accident that she has now become famous. Two recent documentaries, The Vivian Maier Mystery and Finding Vivian Maier, take a look at her life (and death) in light of that newfound fame.....
Heaven is for Real
Most parents as well as many psychologists, educators, and religious leaders assume that children are not able to be “spiritual,” and their experiences are dismissed as fantasy, hallucination, or pathology. Randall Wallace’s Heaven is for Real, however, asks us to keep an open mind and listen to our children......
Winner of the FIPRESCI award at Cannes last year, Blue Ruin is an intense character study that, in essence, is a cautionary tale. While it doesn’t glamorize violence, it has enough of it to make us take notice.....
Based on Dostoevsky's novella, coadapted with Harmony Korine's brother Avi, Ayaode's The Double, which stars Jesse Eisenberg, is, by its maker's admission, much indebted for its mood and style to Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Orson Welles' version of Kafka's The Trial. The director would have badly failed in his aim if this film could be described as remotely charming, but there are moments when one would like to take up the protagonist, Simon James, as played by Eisenberg, and soothe and pet him.....