And so we watched a lot of movies this year, but while a few them left a huge impression on us, some stuck with us more than others. Here are some of our picks in no particular order and in the format according to each sister’s tastes.
Jacqueline Valencia‘s Picks.
(Keep in mind that I haven’t seen Selma, Interstellar, Inherent Vice (so anticipated by me), or Gone Girl, movies that I had planned to see, but either they haven’t been released yet in Canada, or I haven’t been assigned them, thus I just haven’t found enough time in my schedule to check them out. If I do, and feel like reviewing/analyzing them then, yes, I will do so.)
Duke of Burgundy: (director: Peter Strickland) Strickland brought us giallo horror tribute in Berberian Sound Studio last year. This year he delves into the world of the 70s Italian blue erotic film. It’s gorgeous and surprisingly, digitally rendered through a yellow nostalgic frame denoting an organic aesthetic from which the film never wavers. Sounds are acute and intrinsic to the tone of the scenes, as it is as important to the study of insects to its characters. The film focuses on a submissive maid and the mistress she serves. They play act their bondage fantasies beyond the physical and down to the psychological thrill of their playground. Yet the master and slave roles are actually reversed: the submissive leaves noted instructions throughout the house while her mistress doles out her punishments and rewards in recipe like fashion. At times surreal and tragic, the film is best appreciated for its subtleties and the nuanced portrayals of the two main actresses, Chiara D’Anna and Sidse Babette Knudsen).
2. Under The Skin: (director Jonathan Glazer) (my analysis can be found here: http://thesegirlsonfilm.com/2014/08/06/on-jonathan-glazers-under-the-skin-2013-analysis-spoilers/) I will rarely analyze a film and when I do it’s because it’s provoked something in me. Under The Skin motivated me to think beyond the idea of the male gaze and into the realm of alienation and isolation as portrayed in film by mostly males. It is a unique twist of the brain to find a film, portray a female as feminine and also as genderless as The Alien in this film. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who takes on the form of a woman to seduce men. When she brings them back to her rundown home, she undresses and her victims follow her unaware they are being swallowed whole by a black lake. As time passes, The Alien rethinks her existence and struggles with her duty to her employer/master. The soundtrack is a combination of synths, orchestral, and the organic which follows the main characters evolution from beautiful monster to the universally lost creature looking for a place and skin of her own. I still think about this film because it is such a different beast to the book it’s based from. Both works are one of the ultimate testaments to how a book is basically just an interpretive idea when translated to film. Lonely woman film? Yes.
3. Nightcrawler: (director: Dan Gilroy) (my review found here: http://nextprojection.com/2014/10/29/tiff-nightcrawler-review-np-approved/) That poster, man. I was hooked on the poster before I even saw the movie and didn’t even see trailers because of that damn poster. It evoked Los Angeles nostalgia and an 80s appeal that I’m very obsessed with at the moment. I’m incredibly glad I took a chance on it. Seeing at the Toronto Film Festival was the first time in a long time that I’ve come out of the theatre observing critics visibly blown away. It’s no Taxi Driver, of which it reminds me a lot of (hello, another Lonely Man film), but its different in its portrayal of a deranged misanthropic character. Louis Bloom (jake Gyllenhaal) is a con-artist and a thief, out to make a name for himself. After stumbling upon a freelance cameraman (a slimy and shining best Bill Paxton), covering a gruesome crime scene, Louis decides he can achieve and big bucks this way too. All too soon he gets bolder and more aggressive with his technique and things go a little more than hay wire. They go nuclear. It’s awesome and it’s not just Gyllenhaal’s scary performance as Bloom you have to look out for, but Rene Russo’s stellar work as a fading corporate boss with nothing to lose. It’s dark, it’s strange comedy, and it’s riveting.
4. Wild: (director Jean-Marc Vallee) The story of Cheryl Strayed’s 1,100 mile solo trek across the Pacific Crest Trail to recover from addiction and the loss of her mother. Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed in a story fraught with fears and personal little triumphs. I say little because for many, while Strayed’s eventual recovery is huge and heartfelt, it’s the little steps that she makes that really are the focus in the film. As Strayed goes on through barren territories she’s alone, but when she encounters men, the situation becomes less about her steps and more about her survival. There’s a moment where one’s focus is taken away from the setting and more on Witherspoon’s character as the very real threat of rape or violence hangs in the air of before her vulnerability. I dare anyone watching this film to imagine their daughter or a close female they know in that situation and not think of that threat. The landscape is meditative as Witherspoon traverses low bush desert to snow covered peaks until she finds herself in her strength of spirit. Five star performance by Witherspoon and Laura Dern as her mother.
5. Jodorowsky’s Dune: (director: Frank Pavich) As much as I have loved Jodorowsky’s films, the reason why I first saw this film is because I’m a huge Moebius fan and having heard that his artwork was used for this project, it made it a must see film. Boy, was I surprised. Well, I mean, the attention to detail that Jodorowsky had for the film and his keen love for his craft is a great example to how much art as film is also art full of obsessive passion. The film and footage is replete with original sketches, cameos, interviews, and while the meat of it is Jodorowsky, the true focus is on how much art is compromised in the name of the big buck. Jodorowsky’s eccentricity can only be bested by his dry sense of humour and love of life.
6. Only Lovers Left Alive: (director Jim Jarmusch) (my review here: http://nextprojection.com/2014/08/26/strange-paradise-cinema-jim-jarmusch-lovers-left-alive-review-np-approved/) Who really is going to pass up a chance to see Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, and John Hurt as vampires? I hope no one. The film is slow and to divulge plot takes nothing away from the film, but I feel that this film is such incredible dish to be devoured by the eyes and ears. These old vampires are elegant and angst ridden as they languish in the decay of modern Detroit. Much of the despair in the deterioration in the settings is beset with a warm beauty, a love for what was, and a longing for what can be. My inner goth squealed with glee at the subdued palette, the flourish of the filigree, and I felt like I needed a smoke afterwards, even though I haven’t touched a cigarette in years.
Also, Swinton and Hiddleston? nomnomnom
7. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (directors: Dave LaMattina, Chad N. Walker) Hot Docs allotted me the chance this year to meet Caroll Spinney and his wife Debra Spinney. This was at a particularly low point in the year for me, and speaking with them actually made a hugely positive impact for me. This is what this film will do for anyone viewing this film. This documentary is filled with archival footage thanks to the Spinney’s themselves. Handled with care and love for Spinney and his characters (Big Bird and Oscar The Grouch), LaMattina and Walker fashion a poignant portrait of an beloved creative introvert who stands out as more than just a Henson’s Muppet Factory character. Spinney is a multi-talented force dedicated to the love his work and the love of his life with Debra.
8. The Babadook: (director Jennifer Kent) This psychological thriller is layered and brainy, but spine tingly scary. Expanded from Kent’s short film The Monster, the tale is about a single mother still mourning the loss of her husband while raising her troubled son. Her son finds a mysterious pop-up book about a creature called The Babadook who comes into your house after being invited in at your peril. The film plays with our sense of reality, a play at the many references to film and film history shown in its filters. Almost monochromatic in its colours, but visually infused with dramatic tones and moods, the suspense in palpable and an intense fear is evoked in the viewer. The film is haunted by its image cues and artwork, although reminiscent of gothic fairytales, reminds us that we’re all looking for the monsters in closets and inside ourselves.
9. Force Majeure: (director Ruben Östlund) This movie is thought provoking in its treatment of gender roles, and its an uncomfortable watch in its stark humour. Set on the impeccably pristine sights of the French Alps, the film tells its tale in chapter days as a seemingly perfect family visits Les Arcs ski resort. Every one seems happy and totally well-off, but events unfold that reveal fractured bond between the husband and wife. What this film does well is expose a wider scape of emotion and focused visual language in the small pieces of the days involved. Subtle cues are given throughout the film of what will transpire, but they give away nothing until the audience is ready for the heart ache. Did I say it was uncomfortable? It’s worth it though.
10. Birdman: (director Alejandro González Iñárritu) New York is a city of vibrance, but it is also a city of fading past that many struggle not to forget. In Birdman, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an aging superstar who played a beloved cinema superhero. As his fame dims, he decides to reinvent himself by directing and starring in a play. His daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is a recovering addict and big star Mike (Edward Norton) both become part of the cast. Much to Riggan’s dismay, Mike outshines him. Riggan struggles with the production, relationships, being forgotten by his fans, and encroaching reveal of surreal superpowers. While the play and New York are the setting the performances are emboldened by the stifling & stressful atmosphere of live theatre and the familiar giant that is the theatre city of New York. Keaton’s acting is infused by the anxious gesticulations he is known for, but because of his character background as Batman, Beetlejuice, and yes, Mr. Mom, there’s a layered work here full of ironic intention and subtext. It’s refreshing to see an arthouse flick given this much attention and appreciation in a time that seems so preoccupied with blockbusters. A tour de force not to be missed.
Honourable mentions: Whiplash, Stranger By The Lake, In the Crosswind, Blue Ruin, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, 20,000 Days On Earth, Foxcatcher, The Congress, Song of the Sea, The Dance Of Reality, Ida, Frank
Jennifer Valencia‘s Picks
Here we are again. 2014 is coming to a rapid close. I, like everyone else, am reflecting on the past year. As I think of the ups, the downs, accomplishments, etc.. in my own life the cinephile in me naturally begins to look at some of my favorite films of 2014.So because this is what one does at this time of year I thought I would share my 2014 list of best films.
Why I Loved It:
Director Wes Anderson yet again immerses us into a colourful, funny, off-beat world that takes us back to an older style of comedy. With sweet candy coloured sets Anderson gives the viewer a delightful story of love, murder, and theft against the ever changing backdrop of our world between the two World Wars. For the first time, Anderson takes his extensive imagination and anchors it into history as we know it. With a nod to screwball comedies the viewer feels a sense of nostalgia and warmth all while knowing that a darker history is unfolding underneath.
This Is Where I Leave You (see past review here: http://thesegirlsonfilm.com/2014/09/24/on-shawn-levys-this-is-where-i-leave-you-2014-tiff/ )
A group of intergalactic misfits are forced to band together in order to stop a powerful villain who threatens to destroy the universe.
Why I Loved It:
Without knowing anything about this Marvel superhero team I had no idea what to expect. With the Avengers I knew what I wanted to see and was happy with the outcome. With Guardians not knowing what to expect was probably the best way to go into it. The film was cool, funny, explosive and everything a blockbuster should be. All the 80’s references made me feel like this film spoke to me in the kind of way only 80’s nostalgia can speak to a person over the age of the age of 30. The script was clever and the main characters we surprisingly endearing. Everything meshed in this film and I am glad I gave it a shot.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
It had lots of battle scenes with Orks. Need I say more.
Mathematician Alan Turing is hired by British intelligence to help break the Enigma Code and end WWII.
Why I Loved It:
Benedict Cumberbatch give possibly his best performance to date as Alan Turing. The actor who has made a career of playing difficult geniuses paints a very tangible and compassionate picture of Turing. The telling of Turing’s life is long overdue and this film is a fitting tribute to an influential man who changed the face of history. This film takes it upon itself to honor a dishonoured man. It is just sad that it took so long to do so.
Wild (see past review here: http://thesegirlsonfilm.com/2014/09/13/on-jean-marc-vallees-wild-2014-tiff/ )
Fury: A viceral film that is throwback to earlier combat films. David Ayer emphasizes comodary amongst the horros of war. This films ends up being more engaging then one would expect.
Best Animated Feature
This Disney film tells the story of a young robotics prodigy who forms of superhero team made up of other robotic geniuses to combat a masked villain.
Why I Loved It:
The creators of Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph apparently can do no wrong. Big Hero 6 proves that Disney is still a force to be wreckened with. It’s no Frozen but it doesn’t have to be in order to be good and that is what is so great about this film. Big Hero 6 is fun, heart warming, and Baymax, the robot, is too adorable/awesome for words. He is a comfort to those in pain and suffering teaching us all necessary lessons about loss and grieving. This is Disney’s film to all us “nerds” and “computer geeks”. It is a film for all of those with big imaginations, who have always wanted to make something cool and be superheroes.
Lego Movie: Because everything is truly awesome.
This is the story of cult film director Alejando Jordorwsky’s failed attempt to make a film adaptation of the science fiction novel Dune.
Why I Love It:
This film gives us a good sense of what might have been if Jodorowsky’s film had actually been made. It would have been truly awesome and too cool for words. Maybe it was because it was so awesome in theory that it could never be. This film is a testament that the imagination truly holds no bounds. It is a captivating look at the creative process. Jordorwsky’s passion for his craft is truly infectious. After watching this film I so wished the film had been made. No matter the outcome, weither good or bad, it would have been so amazing to see Jordowosy’s dream come to life.
Internet’s Own Boy: The fascinating and infuriating story of Aaron Swartz. It is the tragic story that will have you asking the hard questions about how our world is being shaped behind closed doors.
For those interested, here are our wordpress blog stats for this year: http://thesegirlsonfilm.com/2014/annual-report/