Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Film Tally 2014

God, my film watching has been shit this past year. Sure, I managed to see more films in theaters (thanks to finally getting my driver's license back in February) but overall I saw less films than the year before. Anyway, here's what I saw:
  1. Pennies from Heaven
  2. Amour
  3. Inside Llewyn Davis
  4. Her
  5. I'll Cry Tomorrow
  6. A Matter of Life and Death
  7. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
  8. The Omen
  9. Sexy Beast
  10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  11. I Killed My Mother
  12. Stranger Than Fiction
  13. The Matador
  14. The Limey
  15. Big Night
  16. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  17. The Broken Circle Breakdown
  18. Oculus
  19. The Lunchbox
  20. Le Week-End
  21. Joe
  22. Fading Gigolo
  23. Locke
  24. Ida
  25. Snowpiercer
  26. Chef
  27. Belle
  28. Guardians of the Galaxy
  29. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
  30. What If
  31. Calvary
  32. Hard Candy
  33. The Hunt
  34. Nine Lives
  35. The Trip
  36. A Most Wanted Man
  37. Headhunters
  38. The Drop
  39. A Walk Among the Tombstones
  40. Boyhood
  41. The Skeleton Twins
  42. Love Is Strange
  43. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
  44. The Trip to Italy
  45. Gone Girl
  46. Bad Education
  47. The Imitation Game
  48. Pride
  49. Nightcrawler
  50. Key Largo
  51. A Woman's Face
  52. St. Vincent
  53. Laggies
  54. Birdman
  55. Whiplash
  56. Rosewater
  57. Enemy
  58. Obvious Child
  59. Frank
  60. Welcome to Sarajevo
  61. The Double
  62. Beyond the Lights
  63. Heartbeats
  64. Tyrannosaur
  65. Stranger by the Lake
  66. Beautiful Boy
  67. Gloria
  68. A Field in England
  69. Joyeux Noel
  70. The Theory of Everything
  71. Force Majeure
  72. Foxcatcher
  73. Top Five
  74. Starred Up
  75. We Are the Best!
  76. La Vie en Rose
  77. Laurence Anyways
  78. Wild
Man, I really need to pick up the pace for next year. Throw in the fact I plan to find a job and read more...shit, 2015 just got busy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


It's a rarity nowadays to find a good film with a female lead. It's even more hard to find one that doesn't revolve around a romantic plot. Fortunately every year, there are such films released.

Jean-Marc Vallee's Wild is one such film. Admittedly, the whole "woman discovering who she is" storyline isn't exactly original but Vallee does his best with the all-too-familiar storyline. (Is it too much to ask for a female-led film that doesn't involve self-discovery?)

Even though the film was directed and written by men, Wild is surprisingly sympathetic. Flashbacks show Cheryl as very sexually active (she gets pregnant at one point though we don't see the outcome of it) and a drug user. Her actions aren't condemned by wither Vallee or Nick Hornby though they are condoned a bit. (Not by a lot but they are.)

At the center of Wild is Reese Witherspoon, an actress who doesn't always get the credit she deserves. (Election and Walk the Line are two obvious but prime examples.) Here, she's in a role that's stripped of glamour, one of rawness and vulnerability. It's something not commonly seen amongst most female performances but Witherspoon does a great job with the role.

Wild is very well done thanks to the work from Vallee, Hornby and Witherspoon. Though the film could have used a feminine touch, it still maintains a solid disposition. Quite frankly, we could do with more films like this. You know, with a good female lead.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan's first two films I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats focused on the relationships we lead and how stormy they become. With his third film Laurence Anyways, Dolan continues the familiar theme but on a larger scale.

The film focuses on Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Fred (Suzanne Clement), a young couple. Their relationship starts to come apart when Laurence reveals his inner desire: to become a woman. From that point on, they slowly start to unravel as both a couple and as people.

Dolan certainly has a knack when it comes to writing the various characters of his films. For Laurence Anyways, he has a larger scale to explore them and what makes them tick. After all, no one has the ideal life.

Mich like how Heartbeats was influenced by the films of Wong Kar-Wai, Laurence Anyways was influenced by the likes of Stanley Kubrick's later career. Indeed, certain moments do appear to be inspired by Eyes Wide Shut whether it's imagery or character interactions.

Laurence Anyways is a beautifully shot film though it's not without its few problems. Still, Dolan continues to provide an intimate portrait of everyday lives, both unflinching and insightful. It's something most directors aren't willing to depict.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, December 22, 2014

La Vie en Rose

Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose is a film that focuses on a life that was tumultuous, chaotic and (above all else) wildly successful. This life is that of French singer Edith Piaf.

In a way, Piaf was the French equivalent of Judy Garland. Both of their careers started at a young age, both led lives of spectacular highs and lows, and both died as a result of their excessive lifestyles. (Both also died at the age of 47.) Was this intentional on Dahan's part?

Also, how could Dahan depict a life as stormy as Piaf's? Simple: cast an actress who's capable of the role. And Marion Cotillard is such an actress. Many actors can play a real-life person; only a select few are actually that person. Cotillard easily fits into the latter category.

La Vie en Rose isn't shot in the usual linear format for biopics. Rather than starting with the beginning of Piaf's career and ending with her death in 1963, it's displayed as to what made Piaf into the woman she became. A woman who lived a life of exuberant highs and devastating lows, there's something oddly fitting that the last song performed in the film is "Non, je ne regrette rien".

La Vie en Rose isn't perfect but though Cotillard's performance certainly is. It's the kind of performance you only get once in a blue moon when it comes to biopics. As for the film itself? Flawed but still worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 21, 2014

We Are the Best!

There are many films revolving around adolescence. Most of the time these films focus more on late adolescence and the dramas of relationships. (Probably because it's easier to pass off twentysomethings as teenagers.) Very rarely are these films about young teenagers.

That's why Lukas Moodysson's We Are the Best! is a welcoming entry. It's not your average teenage drama a la John Hughes. No, this is a film about, quite simply, growing up.

In stark contrast to other entries of Swedish cinema (and even some of Moodysson's earlier films), We Are the Best! is very lighthearted in regards with its story. It's not interested in anything too heavy. It just wants to show young friendship.

Which brings to the other point of the film. We Are the Best! is one of the very few films from this year that has friendship as a main focus. (Obvious Child being another one.) It's something that should be focuses on more than cheap romance.

We Are the Best! certainly lives up to its title, that's for sure. It's sweet and charming, which are two words not commonly associated with Swedish cinema. It's honestly a film you have to see.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Starred Up

The opening moments of David Mackenzie's Starred Up show Eric Love (Jack O'Connell) as he's led into prison. On first impression, he doesn't seem too bothered by his current situation. It doesn't take long to see why he's in jail. (Of course there's a reason behind that.)

Like other British prison dramas such as Bronson and Hunger, Starred Up focuses on the dehumanizing nature of life behind bars. The main similarity between these three films is they don't sugarcoat things. They want it to be brutal and unflinching.

What's also worth mentioning is how O'Connell shows what Eric's thinking without saying anything. His eyes are almost always looking at the floor. (The few times he does look up it's always with a glare.) It's a small detail but it's something that adds to the performance.

But it's not just O'Connell's show. Also standing their own in Starred Up are Ben Mendelsohn and Rupert Friend. Both of their roles have them trying to help Eric while he's behind bars. But their efforts may be proven fruitless.

Starred Up has some flaws but the work from O'Connell manages to make up for them. It's clear that O'Connell will become a prominent name thanks to this film. Here's hoping that will actually happen.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, December 15, 2014

Top Five

There's a certain amount of danger present if you're often in the spotlight as the media tends to depict (and/or embellish). Substance abuse, nasty tabloid gossip, harsh critics...hey, there's no business like show business.

Chris Rock tackles Hollywood with his directorial debut Top Five. He depicts the entertainment industry not as a bloodsucking conglomerate (as it's usually depicted) but rather as one whose participants have only a short time in the spotlight before they're cast aside.

Top Five isn't too far off from other films like The King of Comedy in the sense that it revolves around a "sad clown" so to speak. The comedian who hides their personal problems behind a funny facade, fearing what others will think of them should their true colors surface.

That doesn't make Top Five less funny, mind you. It's thanks to Rock that keeps the film afloat. That said, however, there are flaws within the script. These elements work in some scenes but fail in others. Still, it's a mostly solid result.

Anyway, Top Five is a very funny film (certainly funnier than most other comedies from this year) though it's not without its problems. The many cameos are hilarious and everyone gets their moment in the spotlight. In short, be sure to check out Top Five.

My Rating: ****1/2


Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher that focuses on three men, all of whom are driven by different goals. And like what Miller did with his last two films Capote and Moneyball, he enlisted choice actors for the roles. Those actors are Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo.

In a stunning departure from his comedic roles, Carell delves into a dark role that's truly chilling. It's clear in some scenes that something isn't right with him, but what? Here's hoping Carell gets more roles like this.

Much like what Carell does, Tatum proves he can be a bonafide actor. It's a role that requires physical and emotional endurance, and Tatum is more than capable of it. Again, here's hoping that Tatum gets more roles like this.

In contrast to his co-star's performances, Ruffalo gives a quieter turn. He gives a performance that has him witnessing all of the silent chaos unfolding. It's only a matter of time before the unthinkable happens.

Foxcatcher is very good though its slow burn might be too slow for some. Still, as is the case with Miller's films, the performances are great. Sometimes you don't know what a person is capable of, whether they're a sinner or a saint.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Force Majeure

Marriage is a fickle thing, isn't it? (Then again, most relationships could qualify.) You feel as if you're with the perfect mate but as time wears on, you realize they're not as perfect as you first thought.

This is certainly a theme that runs throughout Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure. Throughout the film, there's an aura of doubt amid the characters. What will happen to them by film's end?

What's shown in Force Majeure is how one would behave in the face of danger. But what if your decision has unforeseen consequences? This is a question that lingers throughout the film.

By many means, this is a film not usually expected from the country responsible for Ingmar Bergman. Frequently, Swedish films are of an existential nature. (Though there's a touch of that in Force Majeure as well.) If anything, there's a faint touch of absurdism to the film.

Force Majeure is by no means a brilliant film though it will leave you thinking about it afterwards. Still, it's the kind of film that that some people will have discussions about. (Sort of like any foreign film of this nature.)

My Rating: ****

The Theory of Everything

James Marsh's The Theory of Everything is by no means a perfect film. Its many elements don't always mesh. But when they do, they make for an at least decent film.

Starring in The Theory of Everything is Eddie Redmayne. The amount of physicality required for the role is something reserved only for those capable of it. And Redmayne proves just that. He's been on the rise these last few years, and it's clear that his work here will have him in demand as a result.

Alongside Redmayne is Felicity Jones. Her performance is more subdued than her co-star's but that doesn't make her work any less impressive. It's a quiet role on her part yet what she does with it is fantastic. Jones (who was also great in the underseen The Invisible Woman) will easily become more in demand thanks to this film.

But it's not just Redmayne and Jones' performances that's worth mentioning about The Theory of Everything. There's Johann Johannsson's score, which is simple yet gorgeous. There's also Benoit Delhomme's cinematography, also simple yet gorgeous. Combine them and you got a beautiful combination.

The Theory of Everything is flawed but it's not without its moments. Thanks primarily to the performances from Redmayne and Jones, the film highlights the hardships two people went through throughout the years.

My Rating: ****

Friday, December 12, 2014

Joyeux Noel

World War One. The war to (supposedly) end all wars. So much brutality in four long years. But even amid all of the unspeakable horrors from the fighting, there were times of humanity.

Such was the case of the 1914 Christmas truce as dramatized in Christian Carion's Joyeux Noel. This is a film that highlights kindness beneath the violence, something not often seen in war films. (The Pianist is another good example.)

Even though it's a French production, the film focuses on three different regiments of various armies: Scottish, French and German. It's this detail that adds to the film's nature. Even if they don't share a common language, they do maintain a certain level of civility when they interact.

As with other war films like The Thin Red Line, Joyeux Noel focuses more on the soldiers than the battles. To some, it might take away from the blood and carnage they'd usually expect from a war film. But with Carion's hand, it's something beautiful.

Joyeux Noel is a very lovely film. It's a quiet film certainly, but it's also a film that embraces the kindness of human nature. It's something most war films tend to eschew but Joyeux Noel does it beautifully.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Field in England

Surrealism in film is something not frequently attempted. If it is, it's only done by those who know how to depict it. (David Lynch being the prime example.)

Ben Wheatley dabbles in surrealism with his film A Field in England. It's certainly not your standard cinematic fare, that's for sure. So what is it? To put it in a word, bizarre. (And even that's an understatement.)

It's Amy Jump's script that makes A Field in England what it is. (Not to mention her editing with Wheatley as well.) Just the sheer strangeness of it all is worthy of a mention. (Again, David Lynch would be proud.)

Also worth mentioning is the cinematography by Laurie Rose. The black-and-white imagery adds to the film's strangeness. Similar to Freddie Francis' work for The Innocents and The Elephant Man, it adds a beauty to the surrealism. A small detail but one worth mentioning.

A Field in England is a truly odd film but Wheatley makes the most of it. It's very much a film for certain tastes only though it's likely anyone would enjoy it. So if you like bizarre films similar to David Lynch's, you'll probably enjoy A Field in England.

My Rating: ****

Monday, December 8, 2014


The opening shot of Sebastian Leilo's Gloria focuses on an older woman as she stands by the bar alone. This woman is our protagonist Gloria (Paulina Garcia). The story about to be told has been told before but rarely from the perspective of an older woman.

A lot of films of this nature are, as mentioned above, focused on women of a certain age. (Or, in other words, mid to late 30s.) The few films that do focus on older women and their romantic lives (Enough Said being a good recent example) are willing to focus on the other aspects of their lives as well.

What Gloria also features is something not frequently depicted is a woman with an active sex life. Usually such behavior is reserved for men because they're supposed to sleep around. But women? Don't even think about it. Thank Leilo for the contrary.

And it's thanks to Garcia's performance that makes Gloria work. She plays Gloria as a woman who doesn't let her age get the better of her, which again is a rarity amongst female roles. It's quiet by many means but it's a performance worth seeing.

Gloria is a really charming film, thanks mainly to Garcia's performance. It's a film that shines a light on a very underseen subject: life after mid-life.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, December 5, 2014

Beautiful Boy

The opening shots of Shawn Ku's Beautiful Boy show Bill (Michael Sheen) and Kate (Maria Bello) in happier times. The following scenes show them in unhappy domesticity. (They don't even sleep in the same room.) It's made clear that they're on their way to divorce.

But then, tragedy strikes. Their son becomes a victim in a school shooting. Not just a victim, the actual perpetrator. Amid their grief, will they find that they need each other during this difficult time? Or will their loss drive them further apart?

Grief is a complicated matter and fiction frequently depicts it. (Hey, it's a good source of drama.) People cope with grief in different ways and Beautiful Boy provides two of the more common examples seen in fiction: the one who wallows in grief and the one who steadfastly avoids what happened. It's not anything new but it's still done well.

Sheen and Bello, both fine (albeit underused) actors, make the most of an otherwise average script. They argue, they yell, they cry, they silently blame each other. In essence, what people through grief feel as they try to cope. And both Sheen and Bello provide some solid work.

Beautiful Boy is good but flaws in the script prevent it from being great. Still, the work from Sheen and Bello makes the film worthy of a look. It's not the best of films but it has its moments.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stranger by the Lake

We all deserve a good thriller every now and again. After all, who doesn't enjoy a bit of a scare once in a while? But what Hollywood has to offer sometimes isn't satisfying enough so what is one to do? Simple: see what the rest of the world has to offer.

Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake is a thriller that you certainly couldn't make easily by many means. (And not just because of its characters and setting.) It's a daring film to say the least.

But what is it about Stranger by the Lake that makes it so daring? Well, the rather...graphic nature of it. And it's not violence that's being referred to. Honestly, those scenes make In the Realm of the Senses look like In the Mood for Love. (Then again, this is a French film.)

That said, there's more to Stranger by the Lake than just explicit sex scenes. It's also one of the latest films to depict that there's more to people than meets the eye. After all, do you really know the people you meet?

Stranger by the Lake is very good but the sex scenes do take away from the film. That said, Guiraudie has made a film that would make Hitchcock proud. Alas, like Blue is the Warmest Color, sometimes explicit sex scenes don't always add to the story. (At least with Blue is the Warmest Color's first one it was relevant. The other ones, not so much.)

My Rating: ****1/2