Jan 3, 2015

Favourite Films Of 2014

I love film. I love the possibilities. A great film can make you cry, laugh and think. I think of all the mediums it is the strongest. A great film will stay with you forever. In 2014 I saw some great ones. But the one that I think was the strongest was the film that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It was a traditional, classic, heroic film. But this one was so much more than that. In the hands of Steve McQueen 12 Years a Slave rose to be something quite extraordinary. I loved it so much. Not far behind was the sublime Her and then later in the year the remarkable Boyhood. We might see the Richard Linklater film figure prominently in 2015 Oscar discussions. There were a multitude of other films I liked outside my top ten. Interstellar and Gone Girl were smart Hollywood fare from Christopher Nolan and David Fincher. The Rover was probably my favourite Australian film of 2014. Frank, Locke and The Skeleton Twins were all wonderful independent fare. So yes, 2014 was a pretty great year for film.

1. 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen.
From the opening shot this film seeks perfection and in the end it achieves it. Powerful would be a huge understatement. The true story of Solomon Northup is a cinematic masterpiece. His epic story packs an emotional wallop thanks to an insightful script and the superb performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor. Add to this a mesmeric Michael Fassbender and a string of A Grade performers and you have a film of the very highest quality. Some scenes will be hard to watch and will leave you reeling, but this film is unflinching in its depiction of slavery. Throw in a subtle yet strong score and excellent cinematographt and you have something truly special. Steve McQueen can do no wrong as a director and in amongst all the suffering he manages poetry and beauty as well.

2. Her, directed by Spike Jonze.
Her is a modern miracle. Spike Jonze has written and directed a film of unique quality and sublime emotion. Joaquin Phoenix is superb as Theodore in a futuristic Los Angeles where he is struggling with a marriage breakup and trying to find a new relationship.He starts one with an Operating System and it is as real a relationship as any real life one. This intelligent film is a meditation on technology and its boundaries and the foibles of relationships. Everything is beautifully realised. From the production design to the score. Truly a sparkling original.

3. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater.
Boyhood is a remarkable film and a cinematic achievement like no other. It's impressive purely on a logistical level, but it is just as impressive in witnessing the growth of a boy to a young man. Richard Linklater crafted this film over 12 years, telling us of the story of Mason, growing up in Texas and seeing his family travails and teenage dramatics. It's a beautifully told story full of searing honesty and stark truth. It almost feels like a documentary in its feel and natural touch. Performances are all great and the score is nuanced and perfectly suited. It never felt long either as I settled into this family story full of heart and truth.

4. Winter Sleep, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
Winter Sleep is an engrossing, complex masterpiece. It's masterful film making from the great Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Set in rural Anatolia in an approaching winter it is a patiently sublime film full of long scenes of dialogue. It is concerned with a rich man who is disconnected from his world and soon we find out also his wife. It is also concerned with our place in life and how we view our time here. It is fiercely intelligent, subtly directed and magnificently shot. It will demand your concentration but the payoff is immense.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson.
Wes Anderson has done it again. His style is unmistakeable and his craft is expert. He makes films that are uniquely his and this exquisite film is no exception. A stellar cast is led by Ralph Fiennes, who is superb as the concierge of the hotel in question in between the wars. This stylish and strangely funny film is a dark romp through the ages as we encounter many weird and wonderful characters and situations. Each shot by Anderson is framed to perfection and the production design is breathtakingly beautiful. A triumph whichever way you wish to look at it.

6. Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by The Coen Brothers.
The Coens are expert at crafting films of supreme originality and meticulous attention to detail. This film, although not perhaps their best, is excellent nonetheless and displays a fierce intelligence and a beating heart. Davis is a disillusioned folk singer in 1961 New York. We follow him for a week, lurching from couch to couch, with a cat in hand and basically pissing off every one he meets. Oscar Isaac is superb in the lead role. An unlikeable character, but I was still drawn into his world. Which is thanks to a great script and superb acting. Especially John Goodman who nearly steals the movie. This film is considered, slow paced, dark and eternally mysterious.

7. Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne.
Alexander Payne is a master at documenting the connections in human relationships. Especially families. In this beautifully realised film he has perhaps created his finest and most complete film yet. Nebraska is the story of Woody, a deluded old man who believes he has won a million dollars. His journey from Montana to Nebraska is beautifully captured, as is the sometimes fractured relationship he has with his wife and two sons and the extended family. This exquisite film is full of tenderness, pathos and charming humour. It is also magnificently shot in pristine black and white.

8. Calvary, directed by John Michael McDonagh.
Calvary is an exceptional film that succeeds on every level. It is dark, funny, moving and extremely thoughtful and smart. Brendan Gleeson is superb as the Irish priest forced to tackle his own mortality and his own life. Set over a week he encounters an array of intriguing and fascinating characters. The film manages to tackle many subjects. Faith chiefly, but it is an exquisite probe into humanity. All performances are superb and the writing is super smart and delving. A truly great film.

9. Dallas Buyers Club, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.
The core of this fine film is a searing and remarkable performance by Matthew McConaughey. Quite simply he dominates the screen in the true story of Ron Woodroof, a Texan man who contracts AIDS in 1985. McConaughey is superb in a humane and emotionally powerful performance. This subtly directed film reeks with humanity, honesty and authenticity as we track the life of a man trying to buy time and in turn helping so many more in acquiring drugs not available in the USA. This film also shines a lot on the policies of health and drug enforcement that make it a film not to be missed on many levels.

10. Two Days, One Night, directed by The Dardenne Brothers.
Marion Cotillard is a radiant screen presence. In this beautifully handled drama she is yet again. She plays Sandra who over one weekend has to plead to have her job back with her fellow workers. Basically she retains employment or they lose their bonus. It is a stark play on a moral dilemma that is never black and white. There is no good or evil, just dilemmas based on want, decency and trust. The Dardenne brothers make films suffused with real drama and dripping with compassion. This is no frills cinema that rings completely true.

Films to see in 2015-
Mr Turner
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
American Sniper
A Most Violent Year
Still Alice



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