2014: An interesting year in film. The best films I saw last year.
Well, I hate lists, because they are always about the list maker and project the kind of misplaced authority grading always implies. I spend a great deal of time trying to work out why I like or don’t like a film, examining my initial responses against my always evolving barometer for integrity, and searching for the most precise words of clarification. I write criticisms (at the moment anyway) because I think we should be examining our culture as if it were a mirror to ourselves, and variety of perspective amplifies what we must always remember – that art (culture if you prefer that word for contemporary film) is for us and about us, to teach us, inform us and inspire us to become more deeply examined lives. These gifts aren’t always immediately obvious, and it can take a third someone, a friend, to relate what they see that opens up understanding or excites our own concern that perspectives are swaying off track. I’m not one of these who subscribes to the “entertainment” method of gradation of culture for the simple reason the term is far too broad and used to obfuscate when we should be trying to get clarification around why we like a film or don’t like it.
So, below I’ve grouped the films that I think gave 2014 some sort of shape in cinematic history, films I think defined the year, said the most about us culturally, gripped me, or gave me that lovely feeling in the cinematic dark of recognition of our time and place. If you find you tend to agree with my criticisms, you might find something you have yet to see that you might seek out. If you find you usually disagree with me on film criticism, you might find a few films to avoid in the future. If you are a list slut, then shame on you, but enjoy your symptom as Slavoj Zizek would say, just as I am enjoying mine.
And please feel free to give me heaps of shit in the comments – after all, part of the great pleasure of something as internet-banal as list making, is to e-vomit all over the list maker. Which they deserve!
So, in no particular order, the films I saw in 2014 that I will be seeing again are:
Blue is the warmest Colour
This is really a 2013 film that took a long time to make it to Australia, but I loved it very much and was thrilled with, not only its win at Cannes that included the female lead cast, but the very interesting discussion that ensued around Abdellatif Kechiche’s right to make a film about lesbian females, and also about his abuse of his cast in his drive to make such an emotionally detailed film. I love the film, so I lean to toward a position of gratitude that it was made, which places me in a political position on both those counts, but I did read a lot at the time, and was willing to be informed if the film was guilty of the criticisms charged against it. Whatever went on in the making of this film, one thing is for sure, the discussion was a fascinating one, which generated a great deal of intelligent commentary that I was very grateful for.
I have related the story of Charlie’s catching the Barramundi and baking it over his modest open fire, eating it with cooked yams so many times after seeing this film, and never has it failed to touch the people I talk to. Charlie, who gives away his money and his food vouchers (only good at the local store which is akin to a seven eleven) preferring to hunt his own catch on the mother land he knows so well, eats better than the 1%, and knows it. The Rolf De Heer film depicting the way white Australian culture constantly thwarts Charlie’s efforts to enact his own survival, to live his life the way he wants and to live with pride and dignity is chilling and depicted with startling clarity. I loved this film, wept more than I did at any other film (expect for Mommy) and am still talking about it with my friends months later. It also features yet another astounding performance by David Gulpilil.
(This film was rejected for competition for the American Academy Awards – all the best films were)
Abuse of Weakness
There is little on the face of this earth as chilling as the retribution dished out by children who believe their mother has failed them in her duties (however arbitrary and obscure they may be defined) toward them. I will never forget the closing scenes of Abuse of Weakness when the children damn their mother for allowing a confidence trickster into her life when she was at her weakest and when they had each abandoned her. Their cold justification is never explained, but considering the film is an autobiographical account of Catherine Breillat’s experience, one can only assume her children resent her film making career for some reasons of their own making. If we think our parents have no right to dictate how we live, or who we are, then the reverse is also true. This is only one of the deeply impressionable messages Breillat reveals in this uncomfortable film about how deeply we can hurt each other, how easily the sick can be abused, and how vulnerable women always are in a society that hates them for stepping out of prescribed roles.
There have been a lot of critiques of Capitalism this year, probably the most famous is Foxcatcher, but certainly the most complex, detailed and philosophically powerful is Winter’s Sleep. Wordy, slow, and bathed in the heavenly beauty of Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film about the wealthy ex actor, his falling apart marriage and his relationship to the village he practically owns is one of the most stunning portrayals of the misconceptions and embarrassing naiveté of the wealthy. I was shocked for days by the scene when Ismail burns the substantial financial donation given to him out of guilt inspired charity, but it was an action I also deeply admired.
Without any even vaguely close challenge, Mommy is the best film I saw in 2014. (I haven’t seen Farewell to Language) It was my introduction to Xavier Dolan, and the only film where I was completely swept away for the entire 134 minutes. The permissive fresh and frank observation of the oedipal relationship between mother and son, the directorial enthusiasm of Dolan, the incredible performance by Anne Dorval that makes me want to fall on the ground and kiss her feet, the kitschy music and the famous cropped 1:1 ratio developed between Dolan and Andre Turpin all go together to create an intense and emotional cinematic experience. Turpin who reportedly wanted to work with the 1:1 for years, hated it as soon as the project started, and complained to Dolan who insisted they keep it. It is the same ratios as CD covers, and looks like a collection of instagram images. It undoubtedly contributes to the intense emotional reaction everyone has to the film. I adored this film, and know it will cement its place as one of my all time favourite movies – not just of 2014.
(This film hasn’t been included in the 2015 American Academy Award contention for best foreign film, which again renders the American awards contribution highly provincial and virtually irrelevant to cinema.)
Nymphomaniac 1 and 2
I might be very naive, but I expected to see at least one of these films (if not both as a pair) on more year end best lists, making me think critics/reviewers have a short memories. Certainly the film was poorly reviewed, which reminds me I have yet to write my own commentary, which is obviously as badly needed as everyone elses. What these films have to say about fetish, pornography and desire is too important to be ignored. I agree they are difficult films but they are worth the effort of concentration, and Von Trier is too good a film maker to be passed off as irrelevant.
Two Days, One Night
Another one of these capitalist films – noticing a trend here? The demystification of wealth is one of the most interesting things happening culturally in the time we live, and this film is a brilliant examination of the consequences of capital and profit. When Sandra spends the weekend talking to her co-workers about the virtues of solidarity over self interest the reality at the heart of our collective anger at the 1% comes to the fore. Unless we are willing to accept less ourselves, then we have no business demanding it of others, no matter how much they have. It’s a brilliant film, ahead of all the others in its focus on the real perpetrators of wealth and status – ourselves.
(As I said in the footnote to Mommy, this films inability to make the short list, as well as Goodbye to Language, and others on this list, makes the American Academy Awards looks provincial.)
I can’t speak with any authority or eloquence about horror movies as it is a genre I have little interest in. However, when a horror film is so good it finds its way across my path, I tend to watch it. So I’ve seen Saw, and I’ve seen Blair Witch and Wolf Creek etc, as well as the classics of horror. However, The Babdook stands head and shoulders above almost all other horror movies in its incredible examination of the horror and abandonment we feel in tragic grief. I don’t encourage nationalism in myself as rule, but I confess to being very proud this is an Australian film and even more excited for Jennifer Kent.
Under the Skin
Another film I loved because of the conversation it generated as much as anything else. I happen to already be a Jonathan Glazer fan, Sexy Beast being a chronically underrated film and one of the best gangster films around, I think. Birth was equally unappreciated, Glazer making special use of Camereon Bright’s unusual creepy looks as a child star. Under The Skin is more of the same from him for me, though he is getting better. The images in the film are striking, particularly those naked erections pointed directly at Scarlett Johansson that look so weak and vulnerable. A wonderfully interesting film.
My regular readers will know why I love this film, but of all the action/cartoon/comic and whatever type films that seem to so dominate our screens these days, this film by Robert Stromberg and Linda Woolverton is by far the best. Maleficent isn’t my usual style of film, but it was so beautiful and Angeline Jolie was so good, and it was so intimately connected with the female psyche that I have gone back to it and loved it up over and over many times.
Ugh! This film speaks for itself. A truly incredible and important documentary on violence in African Nations, and where it really stems from. This is a very educational, well made documentary that would open many eyes if it were seen by more people.
Kumiko The treasure Hunter
Ten times the brilliant commentary on the American Dream than Foxcatcher, David Zellner’s lovely little film is a mutually haunting tribute to the Cohen Brothers films (that he obviously loves) and the death by suicide of Takako Konishi, a woman found dead in a field in Minnesota who had purportedly been trying to search for the buried fortune from the film Fargo. The film’s narrative successfully straddles the disparity between tragedy and farce, two uncomfortable, yet intimate bedfellows. It’s a haunting, beautiful film, highlighted by an insightful performance by Rinko Kikuchi who brings a searing complexity to her character, so that we can’t tell, all the way through if Kumiko is slightly insane or slightly saner than the rest of us.
Only Lovers Left Alive
Absolutely one of my top faves of 2014, I truly loved this film for primarily indefensible reasons which revolve mostly around it representing my personal epitome of uber cool combined with a peculiar desire I have to ‘be’ Tilda Swinton in this film. Personally, I can’t think of much better than extending my life so I can fit more books, films wonderful music and passionate love for my mate with whom I share an intense monogamous relationship that transcends distance and time. I have watched this film many times since it was first released and will have to confess to many more future watches I am sure. Oh, and I LOVE the music in this film.
Another film I expected to garner more end of year support, particularly the incredible performance by Luminita Gheorghiu, though it is strictly a 2013 release. An enormously intelligent film with a great deal to say about middle class wealth (there’s that theme again) and entitlement, Călin Peter Netzer’s film about the burden of an oppressive adoring mother is a complex ride that winds up being surprisingly suspenseful. Released here in 2014, it rounds out my list of favourites for the year.