Now I look back on 2014, it was a relatively quiet year for me and movies. Or at least, new movies. By my count there were fewer than 40 films I saw for the first time, perhaps the lowest total for a while. And without further ado, here are those I enjoyed most…
This is terrific fun – one of the few found-footage genre films that actually works. A student film team hunting for a bear poacher whom no-one wants to talk about stumble upon a Government conspiracy that becomes all too real. They discover a fabulously grizzled, unpleasant, anti-social troll hunter, brilliant played from start to finish, and the mythology of the trolls is fabulous. There are bridges to cross, Christians in trouble, goats left as bait, and big trouble around sunrise.
An elderly couple face their last days together. Georges thinks of nothing and no-one but his ailing wife Anne as she succumbs to a series of shattering strokes. Michael Haneke makes films I hugely admire, even if I don’t often ‘enjoy’ them. Here he depicts (in often uncomfortable openness) the day-to-day behaviours and unconditional love that Georges continues to lavish upon Anne, in all her frailty. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva are simply astonishing in every scene, and her performance especially is heartbreaking as she recognises the savagery of her condition and the indignities it’s causing them both. This left me with a long-lasting and complex mixture of both sadness (the depressing end of life, suffering and private pain) and happiness (the memories of two lives shared completely).
The Lego Movie
It is awesome. Its omission from the Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film is as inexplicable as it is stupid.
Gravity / 12 Years a Slave
It makes almost no sense to group these two films together, except that I saw them in the same week, so wrote about them together. They’re both brilliant in their different ways, and they have a lot in common.
Singin’ in the Rain
I’m almost ashamed that it’s taken me this long to experience the wonderful 100 minutes of Singin’ in the Rain, which is such a joy throughout that I Reckon the famous title song is probably only the 4th best musical sequence in the film. Make ’em Laugh is a breathtaking triumph of physical comedy from Donald O’Connor, Good Morning is fabulous and the ‘Broadway Melody‘ is a riot of Technicolor, surely influenced by The Red Shoes just a few years before.
This film has influenced everything that followed it, from Family Guy to The Muppets to, well, everything. It revels in the joy and excitement of movement, song and dance to such an extent I felt glad to be alive afterwards. An all-time classic.
Stop at Nothing: the Lance Armstrong Story
When I first read “It’s not about the bike” I was struck by how partial Lance Armstrong’s storytelling was. He kept a near psychopathic control over his own narrative, and Alex Holmes’ excellent film brings this to life with compelling clarity. It makes no apology for showing us how great and how driven Armstrong was as a neo-pro young rider. He was not ‘made’ by his cancer: he was already there, mostly fully formed. But his cancer both fuelled and enabled his resurrection and ascension to an exalted position where he was able to look the world in the eye and lie without any self-doubt, again and again. This is a strongly told tale that is definitely worth your time, even if you’re not a sports fan. Like SENNA, it’s a brilliant piece of human drama.
I loved this. It’s just a bloody good time, in all sorts of ways. There’s gore and guts aplenty, two feisty female characters who give even better than they get, and two great co-leads in Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson.
I loved the Rules to survive a Zombie Apocalypse, and Harrelson’s quest for a Twinkie bar. Most of all, it features perhaps the best cameo performance ever seen on screen. I laughed out loud several times in just a few minutes…
Based on my last few months’ viewing alone, I should definitely watch True Detective. Matthew McConaughey is transformed here from his open-shirted romcom days into Joe Cooper, a very, very bad man. This film has more than a few troubles, not least some extraordinarily uncomfortable scenes where Joe Cooper does Very, Very Bad Things, and the family he’s working for (against?) are often so despicable and stupid that I found myself rooting for him, as though he’s the hero. That’s how twisted this gets…
Look! It’s Woody Harrelson again, also playing a very, very bad cop. His performance is fearless in an often impressionistic and sparse screenplay, interspersed with sequences of almost grotesque nastiness that are often very uncomfortable. The cinematography is great – as LA becomes a really strong character, oppressively hot and bright (despite the murkiness of what’s happening in the streets), and there are lots of extreme close-ups that leave the characters no hiding place. Perhaps there’s nothing too much that’s new here, but it’s done really well, and Harrelson is terrific at bringing a combination of natural, easy charm and a threatening menace and barely-concealed violence to almost every scene.
I absolutely loved this, from Joseph Gordon Levitt’s disarming makeup to Bruce Willis’ refusal to discuss the ‘rules’ of time travel. This is a hard-boiled, gritty thriller that’s chock-full of references and genre tropes, but also stunningly original: the ‘torture’ scene (in which we see no actual torture, only its results) is as shocking as anything I saw all year (including Killer Joe!). The performances are all great, and the introduction of the young boy who may have a dark, dark future adds another twist to the tale. Watch and listen carefully, there are plenty of details and throwaway comments in the opening scenes that come back later…
I finished the year on a lighter note, with this gem of a very British family film. I loved the stories and 1970s TV animated version, and was more than a little apprehensive about expanding it to a full-length, live-action film. But almost from the first moments it had won me over. It’s full of charm, wit and slapstick, with a menacing villain (Nicole Kidman in best Cruella deVille mode) and lovely themes about accepting outsiders. Perfect for a wintry weekend in…
Mud: more great McConaughey, with strong writing and direction from Jeff Nicholls, and two terrific kids
Flight: Denzel. Say no more…
The Impossible: blimey. This is a one-timer; brutal, upsetting.
The Imposter: a great documentary that you truly couldn’t make up. Only a slight shame that the real end of the story isn’t quite as satisfying as a movie script might be…
Bullhead: unlike anything I’ve seen, a taut, brooding, menacing Belgian thriller set in the gritty, dirty world of cattle breeding, steroids and low-level gangsters.