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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Adventures In Movie Watching 2014


Well it's that time of the year again when I make lists that a few people look at, here's a long list of the films that I enjoyed that were around cinemas (and online) this year.....

50. They Came Together - dir. David Wain
David Wain (Role Models, Wet Hot American Summer) recruits Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd to skewer the rom-com genre. What's great about this film is it hits nearly every beat of saccharine Hollywood romantic comedies, but that's also what's can be frustrating about it.

49. Cheap Thrills - E.L. Katz
A couple meet two men who've hit hard times at a bar and talk them into a game of dares that gets more and more twisted as the stakes get raised. Fun to watch in the "what the hell have I just seen" kind of way.

48. The Possibilities are Endless - dir. Edward Lovelace & James Hall
A documentary that starts off trying to evoke the life threatening stroke that musician Edwyn Collins suffered before telling the story of how he recovered from losing his ability to speak and how he and his family managed to stick together and get through it. Some of the arty flourishes may overwhelm it slightly at times but, overall, a warm story well told.

47. American Hustle - dir. David O.Russell
Entertaining enough and everyone's doing their bit but it just ends up reminding you of better films from the con men/cat and mouse genre.

46. The Battered Bastards of Baseball - dir. Chapman Way, Maclain Way
Bing Russell, a hard working Hollywood actor, puts his money into an independent baseball team in response to a Major League team leaving Portland and captures the imagination of most baseball fans before the powers that be begin to show their disdain. Really efficient storytelling and entertaining archive footage and talking heads make it a very good watch.

45. Muppets Most Wanted - dir. James Bobin
Much preferred this to the last movie because it was actually more about the Muppets which put some people off, but I thought it was perfectly pitched, had some really good jokes and great musical numbers and cameos.

44. Elle l'Adore - dir. Jeanne Henry
A fine French thriller in which a famous singer experiences a tragic event and then turns to his number one fan for help and to keep it from going public but trust soon becomes an issue. Sandrine Kiberlain and Laurent Lafitte inhabit their characters brilliantly and vie for the audiences empathy as more and more gets revealed about each other.

43. The Double - dir. Richard Ayoade
Ayoade does his take on Dostoyevsky's novel of the same name. The plot centres around Simon, a put upon office worker, who feels unable to change his lot in life and is then slowly driven mad by the arrival of his double, who while physically similar to him is anything but. Eisenberg is fantastic in two roles and the film has a really strong style to it.

Based on a bestselling book this Swedish comedy is Forrest Gump-ish in structure but thankfully doesn't bother with any mawkish drama and just goes for the laughs. Allan Karlsson walks out of his retirement home and into trouble while his life story is shown via flashbacks throughout. There are plenty of lowbrow jokes but plenty of clever jokes and setups as well.

41. Mr. Turner - dir. Mike Leigh
Timothy Spall grunts a lot and acts his socks off as well to be fair to him in this absorbing, if slightly overlong, biopic. It shows both the man (not always in a good light) and the artist, but particularly the heartbreak an artist experiences as age begins to diminish their abilities. Great eye to detail and packed with plenty of interesting supporting characters and performances as you'd expect from a film by Leigh.

40. The Rover - dir. David Michôd
While nowhere near as good as Michôd's previous effort "Animal Kingdom", there's plenty to savour. Set after a complete global economic collapse, Guy Pearce plays a loner who goes after a gang of criminals who steal his car, when he finds one of their gang lying wounded he takes him along. Robert Pattinson is as good as he's ever been and the interplay between him and Pearce keeps you involved.

39. Frank - dir. Lenny Abrahamson
Not a Frank Sidebottom biopic sadly but enjoyable nonetheless. Abrahamson's film looks at the creative process of a certain set of eccentric musicians and their high and lows through the eyes of Jon (Domhnall Gleeson who does brilliantly in a difficult role) who joins the group and wants to make them more well known. Some moments dragged a bit for me but it does all lead up to a quite profound ending.

38. Edge of Tomorrow - dir. Doug Liman
Overlooked by some in the cinemas, this was a fine popcorn movie. Some cool special effects, decent story, acting, a good bit of humour as well and Emily Blunt. Worth a watch.

37. Locke - dir. Steven Knight
Tom Hardy in a car for 80 odd minutes, it sounds exhausting but holds your attention for most of it, thanks obviously to Hardy's mesmeric performance but also Andrew Scott, who literally phones in his performance (BOOM!) but sticks in the mind the most afterward.

36. The Punk Singer - dir. Sini Anderson
Documentary about Kathleen Hanna who formed the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and was an important influence on the Riot Grrrl movement, a feminist collective in the mostly male dominated world of punk. Director Anderson skilfully outlines her importance in music and popular culture without being fawning or overstating it and also outlines the horrible health issues she's had to deal with along the way.

35. The Lego Movie - dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
You've been hired to do a multi-million pound advertisement for LEGO and you decide to make a fun movie attacking people and industries that stifle creativity and anything different that they don't get or understand and then you go one step further and make it great fun. Well done you.

34. The Guest - dir. Adam Wingard
That guy off of Downton Abbey plays a man who turns up at a family's home claiming to be a soldier friend of their son who died in combat. He's taken in but of course he's not all he initially seems. Nice homage to some violent 80's B-movies and horrors.

33. Lucy - dir. Luc Besson
The science behind this movie is obviously pure hokum but who cares. Visually it's stunning and has some great action set pieces going on in it. Morgan Freeman explaining everything for the dullards and Johansson's character becoming less interesting and empathetic as her arc plays out kind of drags it down a bit.

32. The Babadook - dir. Jennifer Kent
Not usually a horror fan but got really into this Australian tale of a widowed mother and troubled son who are plagued by a presence seemingly linked to a pop up book they found.

31. The Skeleton Twins - dir. Craig Johnson
Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader bounce off each other as well as you'd expect in this tale of siblings forced together again after years apart. Equal parts funny, equal parts moving drama but Luke Wilson nearly steals the whole thing playing Wiig's naive fiance.

30. Guardians of the Galaxy - dir. James Gunn
Finally a film set in space with a bit of colour about it, been a while. Chris Pratt does well and all but when you think about it nearly everyone's favourite character is a tree, remember how we scoffed when Peter Jackson put some walking trees in a moive.

29. Nightcrawler - dir. Dan Gilroy
Jake Gyllenhaal is pretty terrifying in this film about a man suddenly driven to get ahead in the dark side of the news business, it's a little bit overblown at times but brilliantly creepy and grabbing throughout.

28. Her - dir. Spike Jonze
A nice take on how technology can make us feel connected and also isolated at the same time, Phoenix plays a man who starts a relationship with his OS. Drags a bit, but ultimately a very good film and I look forward to the eventual reboot (it's a good joke, I'm going to keep making it).

27. The Trip to Italy - dir. Michael Winterbottom
Michael Winterbottom reunites Coogan and Brydon, a combination I will never tire of, to drive around Italy and converse over the best food on offer. It can be light and dark but works best really when they simply seem to be personally attacking one another or doing Michael Caine impressions.

26. American Interior - dir. Dylan Goch, Gruff Rhys
Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys sets off to trace the steps of a distant relative who, centuries ago, set off to find a fabled tribe of Welsh speakers in the United States. While fans of his music are more likely to enjoy it, others should find it fascinating in illustrating the tribes of people either lost to history or going that way.

25. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - dir. Matt Reeves
Again surpassed my expectations like the first film did and works really well, some nice political allegories and great CGI. Apes riding horses? Fine by me when it's this entertaining.

24. 20,000 Days on Earth - dir. Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
A look at Nick Cave's career, creative process and his life is given a glossy going over in a very stylish and intriguing manner, albeit ever so slightly pretentious.

23. Two Days, One Night (Deux Jeurs, Une Nuit) - Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
A woman gets laid off after taking a break from work for depression and has two days, one night (see the title works..) to convince her workmates to vote to let her return. While the believability of Belgian employment laws has caused some to scoff at the premise of this latest brilliant Cotillard performance, it's well worth a viewing. It also reminded me of the existence of Petula Clark's francophone version of Needles and Pins - La nuit n'en finit plus.

22. Only Lovers Left Alive - dir. Jim Jarmusch
Two vampires in love across the centuries stave off boredom and weariness in modern day Detroit. The film's success rests solely on how much you like the two main character's banter and musings, there's plenty to enjoy though if you go with it.

21. The Imitation Game - dir. Morten Tyldum
While some have criticised this for being a bloated BBC drama and while certain elements are there (costume piece, toff accents and the action being mainly character driven) it is more than that. While the direction isn't as flashy as Tyldum was with "Headhunters" he keeps everything chugging along at the right pace. Cumberbatch, Knightley, Charles Dance and Mark Strong are on top form and the story is very much one worth telling.

20. Gone Girl - dir. David Fincher
Ridiculous but entertaining, it seems to really revel in being shocking and divisive and managed to hold my attention for nearly two and a half hours which is no mean feat. Affleck is great at being gormless and Rosamund Pike should get every award going.

19. '71 - dir. Yann Demange
Taut and lean drama about a British soldier who gets stranded in East Belfast in 1971. It's non- judgemental, both sides have dirt on their hands and expertly sets up the situation with as little exposition as possible allowing us to get involved with the soldier's plight quickly.

18. 22 Jump Street - dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
Hilarious piss-take of overblown Hollywood sequels while also being one, a joke which in lesser hands could have been horrible. Hill and Tatum really work well together for some reason and rarely look like they're trying that hard. Also has the greatest end credit sequence ever, probably.

17. Housebound - dir. Gerard Johnstone
A great little New Zealand comedy horror (must be in their water over there) with a nice conceit for a horror film in that the main character can't leave the house because they are under house arrest. It's a bit stodgy at the start when it's setting everything up but boy it comes together fantastically in the final third.

16. Dallas Buyers Club - dir. Jean-Marc Vallée
The tale of an electrician who contracts AIDs in 1985 and fights not only stigma but the American Health System. McConnaughey and Leto thoroughly deserved all the acting awards they got.

15. Under The Skin - dir. Jonathan Glazer
Memorable is the word I suppose that springs to mind most, at no stage are you ever really sure about what's going on but you're glued throughout. Fantastic score and scenes that just won't leave you.

14. Inside Llewyn Davis - dir. Joel & Ethan Coen
The Coen Brother's fictional take on the Greenwich folk scene of the 1960's is full of their trademark humour and centres on a put upon musician trying to make it, but nothing seems to go his way. Bit more melancholic and not as surreal as I was expecting it to be, the "Please Mr.Kennedy" bit was so so good.

13. Mistaken for Strangers - dir. Tom Berninger
Not so much a portrait of The National but one of sibling strife. Tom, brother of lead singer Matt, gets a job working for the National on tour and sets about filming everything he can, much to the annoyance of everyone and its not long before personal issues start to cause a problem. Echoes of American Movie, which is no bad thing obviously.

12. Tracks - dir. John Curran
Beautifully shot and moving drama about an Australian woman who undertakes a 1700 mile trek across the desert with four camels and her dog. Really memorable and was an absolute joy to get to see this on the big screen in the Savoy.

11. Mood Indigo (L'écume des jours) - dir. Michel Gondry
Be warned if you can't stand whimsy or quirk because this is Gondry turned up to 11. All of his visual motifs and tricks are on show in his adaptation of Boris Vian's book "Froth on the Daydream". It's a film of two halves really as it starts off following two young people in love, but things then get dark soon after. There is so much going on visually that with a running time of two hours it will test some people's patience but personally I was enthralled pretty much throughout and loved nearly every minute of it.

10. Ida - dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
This was a real surprise to me, shot in 4:3 and in black and a white and about a young orphaned woman becoming a nun who sets off to find out about her family history first. I avoided watching this for ages, more fool me. Really great performances, simple human tale well told.




9. Life Itself - dir. Steve James
A warts and all telling of the life of Roger Ebert, possibly the world's most famous film critic ever. You get a full sense of the man, at once incredibly stubborn and opinionated but also caring and open and interested in people, film and culture. Among the highlights is footage that illustrates just how odd a relationship he had with Gene Siskel, the critic he shared the TV screen with for nearly a quarter of a century.



8. The Wolf of Wall Street - dir. Martin Scorsese
Di Caprio excels playing one of the worst human beings around who experiences a meteoric rise in the murky world of Wall Street and finance. Some shameful stuff goes on and you may as well just laugh at how low these people go, very funny and over the top.



7. Blue Ruin - dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Macon Blair plays a vagrant who returns home after hearing someone from his past is getting released from prison. What follows is a fantastically paced bloody revenge thriller that manages to mix hardcore violence and deadpan comedy about as well as you possibly can. There are some amazing gasp-inducing scenes that are so skillfully done for a low budget indie, especially the more violent moments.



6. 12 Years a Slave - dir. Steve McQueen
I probably won't watch this again for a few years to be honest, unflinching, harrowing all them buzzwords you hear about great drama but so beautifully filmed and performed.



5. Next Goal Wins - dir. Mike Brett, Steve Jamison
We all love an underdog story and American Samoa are the ultimate underdog, holding the World Record for the biggest defeat in international football by losing 31-0 to Australia. But there could there be light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of Thomas Rongen, a larger than life Dutch coach who puts himself forward to train them for the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign. The film is brilliant in investing you in the team by simply just letting you get to know everyone involved that when the campaign eventually starts it's ridiculous how wrapped up you get in it. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want to play heads and volleys.



4. What We Do In The Shadows - dir. Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Another New Zealand horror comedy (I know!) this time from some of the minds behind the Flight of the Conchords. It's a mockumentary, a genre I must admit I've grown to hate, so was delighted that this is as entertaining and as funny as it is. It deals with a group of vampires struggling with modern life, housesharing and doing the dishes and succeeds by finding humour in the minutiae and the details instead of trying to be too clever or broad. While it might be too laid back or droll for some, if you enjoyed the Flight of the Conchords at all you'll love it.



3. Obvious Child - dir. Gillian Robespierre
As good as an American indie comedy can get in my eyes. Jenny Slate stars as a stand-up whose whole life is channelled into her stand-up, much to the annoyance of her boyfriend. He promptly dumps her and she soon finds after that she’s losing her day job and only income. As she fumbles around trying to figure out what to do next, she ends up having a one night stand which leads to complications. There’s some heavy themes going on in the film but all of it is delivered with skill and most importantly great jokes and dialogue. The characters are well rounded and believable and it’s never cloying and also doesn’t dodge some of the questions it raises and at 80 odd minutes long it's the perfect duration for a comedy.



2. The Grand Budapest Hotel - dir. Wes Anderson
The story of the renowned concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) who romances the elder rich ladies who frequent the hotel. When one these women dies and leaves him a famous painting in her will, events begin to escalate. Even though the story is told from the point of view of Zero, his faithful lobby boy, Fiennes is pretty much the life and soul of the movie and he packs in more laughs and slapstick than you ever thought he was capable of. Among the stellar supporting cast, Willem Dafoe looks to be having the most fun. As with most Anderson films it looks and sounds as beautiful as you could possibly hope for.



1. We Are The Best! (Vi är bäst!) - dir. Lukas Moodysson
After loving Moodysson's "Together" and being shaken to the core by "Lilya 4-Ever" his last few films have unfortunately held very little interest for me, but thankfully "We Are The Best!" based on his wife's graphic novel is simply fantastic. A tale of three 12/13 year old girls who form a punk band in Stockholm in 1982 might not sound like the most fertile ground for a really charming, fun and heartwarming coming of age tale, but it is. The interaction between the girls as their friendships and their musical "abilities" develop is brilliantly played out and organic and allows for some really sweet funny moments, the naturalistic style of the camerawork, jerky and almost documentary like also helps. For God sake, watch it if you haven't already, it's on Netflix now by the way so you may as well.


...and before you ask I did watch Boyhood, while obviously a huge achievement for Linklater to do what he did but I didn't really feel it or connect with the characters apart from Ethan Hawke's so......I know... even Obama says it was the film of the year but I'm confident if he had seen We Are The Best! he would have changed his mind.

Feel free to peruse my Year In Film in diary format over on Spooool.ie and also my top ten list is among a load of other worthwhile lists over there also.

Also you can check out my year stats over at http://letterboxd.com/amawaster/year/2014/