2014: A Year in Film


by Joanna Orland

It’s that time of year again when I make a last ditch effort to ensure that all of my movie viewing has not been in vain.  I present to you – 2014: A Year in Film.  As per usual, I shall also be ranking them in order of enjoyment rather than calibre.  Some of the key 2014 films I managed to see in 2013 and include them in last year’s list.  These include films such as Fruitvale Station, Under the Skin, Locke, The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, Dallas Buyers Club, and Her to name the best.  Again, this is not an Oscar prediction list or anything of the sort, but a list of the films that I personally felt were the best of the year, in my humble opinion.

[To start with a disclaimer, my top 3 are merely that – a top 3 in no particular order.  These 3 films are in a league of their own and stand miles apart from the rest.]

Boyhood – More than a film, Boyhood is an experience.  This film is like no other in its affectivity.  It is an emotional journey to see Ellar Coltrane grow from boy to man over the course of twelve years. Kudos to director Richard Linklater for creating this game-changing cinematic experience.

Birdman – The most inspired film-making I’ve ever witnessed.  So unique and innovative, this film works on so many levels.  The long camera shots without edits, the improvisational jazz drum score, Michael Keaton, the layers of meta – this is a genuine inspiration.

WhiplashWhiplash exudes passion and physicality like no other film.  The story follows music student Andrew as he strives to be a great jazz drummer in the vain of Buddy Rich or Charlie Parker.  He’s got the talent to be one of the greats, but does he have the drive?  Never has a jazz movie been so emotionally evocative. Blood, sweat & a single tear must have gone into making this film one of the greats.

[Not to add disclaimers every few paragraphs, but the following 5 films, while ordered, are all so excellent that I hate that they all can’t be in my top 3.]

Mommy – The story, soundtrack, visuals and performances are all stunning, but it is French-Canadian prodigy Xavier Dolan’s directing that defines this film as the masterpiece that it is.  With five films in as many years, Dolan has proven that his genius exceeds his hype.  My full review of Mommy.

Nightcrawler – Jake Gyllenhaal acts his ass off (literally – he lost about 30lb to play Lou Bloom) in dark thriller and instant classic Nightcrawler.  Lou Bloom is either an anti-hero or outright villain depending on your perspective, but either way he is one sick guy in this bleakly grim satire of American news media.

The One I Love – Reminiscent of Being John Malkovich, The One I Love by first time director Charlie McDowell is confident, bold, quirky, interesting, and showcases outstanding performances by Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.  I almost can’t believe they’re not a couple in real life!  Much of the joy of watching this story unravel comes from not knowing the central plot before it unfolds, but what I will say is that The One I Love is 2014’s best film you’ve probably never heard of.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – This was in my top 3 for most of the year and to be honest, it probably does deserve a higher ranking and would have gotten one if it had been released later in the year rather than at the start of March.  This is Wes Anderson’s finest, and he has done a LOT of fine work over the years.  The Grand Budapest Hotel has all of the best Anderson archetypes in one movie – his unique visual style, his use of stop-motion animation, his loyal cast of endearing celebrities, caricatures of characters, awkward yet endearing performances, hilarious dialogue and extreme situations are all on hand in this film.  The one thing that is new to this Anderson film is the lead actor – Ralph Fiennes makes his Wes Anderson debut as protagonist M. Gustave in what can only be described as a match made in heaven.

The Lego Movie – Everything is Awesome!  This film works on SO many levels.

Gone Girl – A dark and deeply disturbing thriller, Gone Girl is a he-said, she-said story about a seemingly perfect married woman gone missing.  At the heart of every good David Fincher movie is a psychopath (or sociopath in the case of The Social Network).  With a crime so heinous, Gone Girl delivers easily on this front, but as any Fincher fan knows, it is also the case that nothing is what it seems.  It is however safe to believe that Fincher is a master of his craft as he has created one of the most disturbing thrillers of modern cinema.

Obvious Child – I saw this film twice in the cinema, which is a rarity for me, but I loved it that much.  Obvious Child is an alternative rom-com that isn’t afraid to tackle real issues facing real American women in their 20’s.  Based on director Gillian Robespierre’s short film of the same name, this feature length debut not only makes a socio-political statement, but it showcases star Jenny Slate’s talent for both comedic and dramatic performances.  A star is born!

Frank –  The film itself is as eccentric as its title character Frank, a former mental patient who finds musical inspiration in everything, and also never removes his mask.  Never.  Not even in the shower.  Acclaimed actor and bonafied movie star Michael Fassbender is the man behind the mask in his best performance to date.  He is hilarious, endearing, empathetic and charming as Frank, without even a facial expression to aid his performance – except for the ones he describes.  On one level, Frank is a social commentary on how we view mental illness and how our self-worth has become so dependent on social media.  These deeper layers are buried beneath a charming and often hilarious oddball film which will of course be labelled as “quirky” or “indie” in the mainstream.  The opening sequence alone was one of the funniest and most original pieces of cinema I have seen in a long while.  It’s refreshing, meaningful, powerful and enjoyable.  What more do you need?  Well, besides a copy of the soundtrack which I would imagine to be entitled Michael Fassbender Sings About Threads & Things.

The Gambler – Style, substance, drama, comedy and the best soundtrack of the year are merely a sliver of what makes The Gambler a fantastic film.  It’s refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is as much fun for the audience to watch as it clearly was for the director to make.  I’m all in.

Rosewater – America’s number one satirist Jon Stewart goes from talk show host to filmmaker with his debut feature Rosewater.  Still focused on political material, Stewart tells the story of Maziar Bahari, the Iranian-born Newsweek reporter who was captured by the Iranian government and tried as a spy during the social unrest of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections.  Stewart’s adaptation uses humour amongst the drama to humanize both Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his captor, never emanating preachiness in a film whose partial intention is to raise awareness of those who unjustly remain in captivity.

Listen Up Philip – If you’re not a fan of Jason Schwartzman, you’re going to struggle with this film.  Jason Schwartzman is typecast but perfectly so in Listen Up Philip – arrogant and self-indulgent in all of the right ways.  Philip is a man who doesn’t compromise whether it be for what’s good for his career or his relationships.  He is barely likable as a protagonist but Schwartzman’s portrayal is practically perfection as he plays Philip with a subtle sense of irony, immediately winning over the audience onto Philip’s conceited, irrational and selfish side.  While Listen Up Philip may deter audiences looking for likeable protagonists, it will satiate the appetite of Philip Roth fans and sardonic indie film lovers worldwide.

Only Lovers Left Alive – Hipster vampires played perfectly by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, directed by Jim Jarmusch.  Nothing more need be said.

Kingsman: The Secret Service – From the director of Kick-Ass comes the British equivalent.  This time it’s Colin Firth kicking some ass in the form of a super spy rather than superhero. So awesomely over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek.  The most fun live action film I’ve seen this year (even though it’s officially out next year)!

St. Vincent – Overall, St. Vincent is an endearing and likeable comedy drama.  It has true heart and excellent performances. Classic Bill Murray!

The Theory of Everything – I honestly did not expect to like this film, least of all as much as I did.  I am not a fan of Eddie Redmayne whose singing gave me a panic attack midway through Les Misérables.  Also, I did not want to watch a love story angle on a character as important and intelligent as Stephen Hawking.  But in spite of my hesitant attitude, I was completely engrossed in the story of a marriage between Stephen and Jane Hawking, strongly driven by the excellent performances at the forefront.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – The weakest of all of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films…  I loved every minute of it.  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies does what it says on the tin and is essentially a two hour battle scene.  While thin on plot, it is a fitting finale to The Hobbit trilogy with a battle that is exhilarating, fun, spectacular, epic, orcy, and nostalgic of the excitement that LOTR brought to our screens in the first place.

Fury – The cruelty of war is still an issue we face today, and Fury is a needed reminder, lest we forget.  The film tells the story of how in spite of this brutality, the human spirit can prevail.  Excellent performances by Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman and Shia LaBeouf.

The Imitation Game – Garnering more hype than it can live up to, The Imitation Game does a pretty solid job of telling the story of Alan Turing, fronted by a great performance by Benedict Cumberbatch.  While a very good watch, the film feels pretty safe and fails to truly excite.

Maps to the Stars – This film is pretty sick, but what do you expect from the mind of David Cronenberg!? Julianne Moore and Mia Wasikowska give outstanding performances as always.

LeviathanLeviathan starts as a tale of one man taking on the government, it eventually evolves into something grander.  Things escalate, the bleakness heightens and the film becomes devastating.  Slowly and beautifully devastating.

22 Jump Street – As funny as the first – I love a good meta joke, and this delivers them aplenty!  Also, kudos for producing the best end credits sequence of all time.

Guardians of the Galaxy – I am Groot.

Big Hero 6 – Funny and heartfelt, this Disney animation really doesn’t miss a beat.  Physical comedy plays as much of a part as witty dialogue while the story covers serious issues such as life and death and does so with such a loveable character as robot Baymax at the forefront.  It’s just brilliant!

Bad Neighbours (Neighbors) – Zac Efron is hilarious!  WTF!  This is such a good comedy film – Seth Rogen has yet another hit on his hands.  Genuinely hilarious in a very classic comedic way.

Into the Woods – I sat through a musical and didn’t have a full on panic attack!  That’s because Chris Pine as Prince Charming graces the screen in ‘Agony’ and out Johnny-Depps even Johnny Depp who has a cameo as The Wolf.  Into the Woods is a fantastic family film, with enough hilarity and visual style to keep us adults entertained!  But mostly it has Chris Pine.

Still Alice –  The film sometimes strays into melodrama, but the performances keep the story grounded.  Still Alice is a powerful narrative carried by powerful acting.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – How is this movie as good and as poignant as it is?  Andy Serkis is how.  He’ll never get any award recognition for his excellent performance as ape leader Caesar, but he brings soul to a film that could have otherwise been a vacuous blockbuster.  But wow, this is so much more.  Better than Rise of the planet of the Apes!

Exodus: Gods and Kings –  I did not expect to like Ridley Scott’s Moses film, but I did!  Christian Bale basically makes anything gripping.  A truly glorious epic!

My Old Lady –  Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas star in My Old Lady which makes for some compelling viewing.  The likeability of the actors is truly what carries this film, although director Israel Horovitz builds a world populated with characters that feel real and painfully truthful.

Selma – A very important and currently relevant story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s battle to allow black people the full right to vote.  Rather dry as a film, the story and performances make this powerful, especially in light of recent events in Ferguson and NYC.

Big Eyes – A bit of an atypical Tim Burton film, Big Eyes is the true story of artist Margaret Keane and her husband Walter who took credit for her work for many years.  Amy Adams is fantastic as Margaret, but Christoph Waltz as Walter truly makes this film, especially towards the end as his character begins to unravel.

Unbroken – In what is a horrific yet life-affirming story, director Angelina Jolie beautifully captures the human spirit, notably through lingering shots of beautiful young men.  So many beautiful young men.  With the backdrop of a Hawaiian island, a group of young men sit tanned and topless in a jeep on a beach, grinning their bleached toothy smiles, eyes twinkling for the camera.  Imperial Japanese army sergeant “The Bird” with flawless ivory skin, defined cheekbones, well manicured nails and threaded eyebrows is way too beautiful to be on the battleground, nevermind in charge of a prisoner camp.  Jolie certainly has a type, and a bit of a fetish if these lingering shots tell us anything.  This erotic WWII drama about the human spirit is obviously flawed, but is still a great film, notably due to performances by Jack O’Connell who is captivating as Louis Zamperini and Domhnall Gleeson who gives a strong performance through emotion and physicality.

Interstellar – So nearly a masterpiece, Interstellar falls just short of this accolade due to its length, occasional ropey dialogue, some truly absurd ideas, and most of all its sound mix.  The more I digest this film, the less I like it.

Hungry HeartsHungry Hearts is a captivating film with excellent central performances from Adam Driver and Italian actress Alba Rohrwacher, who both won this year’s Copa Volpi at the Venice Film Festival.  The film is well paced and builds a strong sense of tension, but is somewhat let down by director Saverio Costanzo’s brutish methods of conveying genres from romance, to drama, to thriller as it often finds itself straying into comedic clichéd territory.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Him & Her – Director Ned Benson wanted to tell the story of a relationship, but to do the narrative justice, he wanted to tell it from the perspective of Him (Connor played by James McAvoy) and Her (Eleanor played by Jessica Chastain).  The result is the two films DOER Him and DOER Her, best watched as one 3 hour film in the form of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him & HerHim sets the scene and skims the surface of what is going on.  McAvoy is empathetic as Connor and it’s easy to get into his head to understand his perspective.  Her fills in the blanks to a lot of what is touched upon in Him.  With Chastain in the driver’s seat, it’s easy to get on board with her perspective and feel everything that she feels.  The same scenes often play out, but differently from one perspective to another.  Perhaps it was Connor who said something crucial, perhaps Eleanor did – it depends on whose perspective you want to believe.  Every story has two sides and Him & Her tell them both masterfully.

Far From Men (Loin des hommes) – Based on an Albert Camus short story, Loins des hommes is a beautifully told and deeply moving narrative.  With a western setting and evocative ambient score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, this film is very touching.

They Came Together – Paul Rudd is the Tom Hanks and Amy Poehler is the Meg Ryan in what is the ultimate RomCom film of all time.  Imagine if Mel Brooks wrote When Harry Met Sally, or if The Naked Gun hijacked any pre-McConaissance Matthew McConaughey film.  Now you can imagine They Came Together.  This film is for fans of silly American slapstick comedy and the country’s most prominent comedic actors.  Perhaps it is tailored for more of an American audience than a British one, but anyone with a silly sense of humour should be able to appreciate this film with its hilarious moments, even if in the end the film itself does at times meld into what it is parodying.

Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit) – Marion Cotillard gives an outstanding performance in the Dardenne Brothers’ latest film Two Days, One Night (Deux Jours, Une Nuit).  In the same vain as much of the Dardenne’s work, Two Days, One Night is a naturalistic drama set in their home country of Belgium, but with Hollywood star Marion Cotillard in the lead this is likely the most mainstream of their films.

X-Men: Days of Future Past – The X-Men on eXcellent form.  This film is one of the best of the franchise as it sees the new cast and old cast come together for what is essentially a ridiculous amount of fun on screen.

The Great Beauty – Oscar winning Italian film is just epic.  Hard to watch more than once in a lifetime, this film really is astounding as it explores the great beauty that is life.

Edge of Tomorrow – If Groundhog Day were a Sci Fi action thriller with Tom Cruise in the lead instead of Bill Murray, you’d get Edge of Tomorrow.  And it’s awesome!  High action, great plot, ridiculous Sci Fi, it really is a winner.

Blue RuinBlue Ruin is a classic and brutal story of revenge.  While the theme of revenge is at its core, director Jeremy Saulnier’s thriller is not an over-the-top action piece like such revenge films as Taken, The Raid, Death Wish or Kill Bill.  Rather than huge action sequences, Saulnier uses tension building as the main narrative hook in this gripping thriller.  There is very little dialogue, very little exposition, but very little of it needed.  The physicality of lead actor Macon Blair alongside the slowed detailed pace, sound design and score, tells the story more empathetically than words or action ever could.  As one of the most tense films I’ve seen in recent cinema, Blue Ruin is a film that needs to be added to all film buffs’ must-see lists.

Wild – Director Jean-Marc Vallée’s use of flashback and audio to tell Cheryl Strayed’s story gives the audience the feel of being inside Cheryl’s head. Flashbacks are often dreamlike, utilizing sound design to create an intimacy which would be unachievable otherwise. Layers of star Reese Witherspoon’s whispered and spoken dialogue are interwoven between flashbacks and present day reality to give the distinct impression that she is remembering these moments as she treks through the wild, and we the audience are privy to her thoughts. This abstract and detached technique is one of the most subtle yet innovative uses of sound I have seen in a modern film.  What lets this film down is Witherspoon – even in the grittiest of roles, the actress feels too sweet and light for a character who is going through the depths of hell, trying to climb her way out. With Witherspoon, the mood feels like more of a casual stroll than a life-changing trek through the Wild.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – The strongest of The Hunger Games films to date, Mockingjay Part 1 is a multi-layered exploration of a dystopian society fueled by propaganda in overt and subtler forms.  I can’t wait to see part 2!

The Duke of Burgundy – With a very 1970’s European feel, the film strays into psychedelic territory, Lynchian in nature, but sexualized through and through.  While erotic to the core, it is tastefully so and a masterful work of art.

Stranger by the Lake – Another erotic thriller, the dramatic tension, character development and mood of Stranger by the Lake are played to perfection.  Gripping from the first minute, this film keeps you on the edge of your seat until its end.

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: ThemDOER Them is a waste of time, and a hindrance to DOER Him & Her.  Anyone who watches Them before Him & Her will lose the powerful impact of the twofold story.  Them is merely a watered down afterthought with underdeveloped characters and a nonsensical edit that becomes crystal clear after watching Him & Her.  If after Him & Her you really can’t get enough, then perhaps Them will peak your curiosity, but it’s definitely not the film to start with in this anthology.

Enemy – This film would have ranked higher in my list if it wasn’t for the ending, which is the most shocking ending I have ever experienced in a film.  While it’s great to be reeled in and then completely thrown off guard by a film, after it concluded, I’d almost felt I’d wasted the previous two hours.  Having now had time to digest it properly, I’ve decided that my initial instinct was wrong and Enemy is not at all a time waster, but a surrealist exploration of existentialism, cloaked by mystery and mood.  It is distressing to watch, gripping until the end, and mind-blowing in its finale, for better or for worse. An amazing gripping film, but a total headfuck!

The Interview – The film at the root of the Sony cyber wars against North Korea, The Interview is a classic James Franco / Seth Rogen comedy – hilariously silly, but of little substance.  Their previous film collaborations Pineapple Express and This is the End are way funnier, but this film is still some very solid laughs!  They hate us, cause they ain’t us!

Kelly & CalKelly & Cal is a lovely film about coping with change & then some.  Juliette Lewis is brilliant as Kelly in a rare lead performance from the woman whose full time job is as frontwoman for band Juliette and the Licks.  Kelly befriends high school student Cal (Jonny Weston) who is struggling to cope with a life-changing accident that has left him wheelchair bound.  This friendship borders on inappropriate, sometimes uncomfortable, but also beautiful as they use each other to cope with their overwhelming new stances in life to give each other hope and the power to accept their fates.  A beautiful story filled with authenticity.

The Keeping Room – A tense thriller from the female perspective is exactly what the western genre needs to keep it from being stuck in the 1800’s.

Jackie & Ryan – It’s a modest story of day to day life and struggle, simply stated and subtly performed against a soundtrack of Americana that’s as central a character as the two leads.  Compelling and full of warmth.

Pioneer – Beautifully shot, thrillingly tense and wonderfully acted, Pioneer emanates a sense of claustrophobia, fully immersing the viewer in the deep sea world of the divers.  Whether the characters find themselves in pressure chambers for weeks on end or hundreds of metres into the depths of the sea, the audience is left holding their breath in anticipation.  Sadly, this anticipation is never fully satiated due to a few unbelievable and forced moments in the film, but if willing to ignore these few mistakes, we are looking at a Norwegian masterpiece.

August: Osage County – This film is an excellent character study, and while it has been adapted for the screen, it still reads like a play.   While playwright Letts has adapted two of his own previous plays into films before, with Killer Joe being an excellent adaptation, it would have been nice to see a more bespoke screenwriter adapt August: Osage County into a movie.  Outside of the movie star actors’ performances, there is little cinematic heightening.

Stray DogStray Dog flips the stereotype on its head and exposes the American Dream for the American Disillusion that it has become.  Humorous on the surface but deeply sad beneath, no other documentary so accurately captures the problems and day to day issues of modern America.

Keeping Rosy – Actress Maxine Peake’s silent portrayal of Charlotte speaks louder than any of the dialogue centric scenes in this film. The intense expression on her face is mesmerizing and telling of what this character is feeling at any given moment.  The evolution of Charlotte is a beauty to watch with Peake at the helm.

The Wonders – Fantastic directing and performances make The Wonders one of the most subtly affective gems of 2014.  Awarded the Grand Prix at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, director Alice Rohrwacher’s tale of a young girl coming of age as she struggles to maintain her relationship with her father while forging her own identity, is a beautiful ambient rural drama set in the Italian countryside.

En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron (A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) – The award for best film title of the year certainly goes to this Swedish oddity.  Only the fifth feature film from intriguing 71-year-old Swedish director Roy Andersson, Pigeon… is without doubt unique and clever stuff, and the critics loved it – it in fact won the Golden Lion accolades at Venice Film Festival.  But Andersson seems to go just slightly too far in his attempt at depicting all of human life by including some overtly political points.  Too complex to explain in a paragraph, best just buckle down and watch this one for yourself.

Camp X-Ray – Ignoring the political implications of this film, Camp X-Ray is a very powerful narrative. A film well made, a story well told, and acting that is gripping in every scene. Even Kristen Stewart gives an excellent performance!  A controversial but must watch.

Amira and Sam – This is what I would call an indie gem. Director Sean Mullin has told an excellent tale of a soldier returning home from war where the soldier is fine, but it’s the country that has lost its mind.  Packaged as an ‘intimate love story with universal implications’ this story is deeply enjoyable and will hopefully be the catalyst to comedic actor Martin Starr’s dramatic career.

The Beat Beneath My Feet – A formulaic concept at its core, The Beat Beneath My Feet impresses with its unique voice and endearingly catchy songs (it’s a musical!).  The film puts a new spin on the classic cinematic premise of young awkward boy meets grumpy older man who used to have a life full of promise but now has a haggard soul.  Star Nicholas Galitzine brings the songs to life in his performance, but director John Williams does something even more impressive with them as he turns them into music video segments within the film.  His use of live action and animation melded seamlessly is visually stunning and a delight to watch within this already joyous film.

She’s Funny That Way – Acclaimed writer/director Peter Bogdanovich has made first film in thirteen years!  Billed as a screwball comedy, this is a highly enjoyable tribute to comedic times past by a man who has every right to indulge himself and us in a hearty dose of cinematic nostalgia.

Inherent Vice – I’m labeling the new Paul Thomas Anderson / Joaquin Phoenix collaboration “Incoherent Vice” and I’m apparently not the only one to do so as like-minded Twitter account @IncoherentVice has already retweeted my commentary.  First of all, Joaquin Phoenix films should automatically be subtitled – does he not have a tongue or something!?  I do Not get the hype for this film!  There are funny moments, an excellent support cast, but it’s incoherent pretentious misogynistic nonsense for the most part.  And two & a half hours of it! Ugh!

Run & JumpWill Forte and Maxine Peake star in this endearing but very sad film.  Excellent dramatic performances by both.

Maleficent – A modernized live action tale with a blatant homage to Disney’s original film, Maleficent is played brilliantly by Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones in this Sleepy Beauty story told from the perspective of the “evil villain”.

Wish I Was Here – In 2004, Zach Braff’s Garden State captured the essence of a mid-twenties crisis to perfection, garnering cult status and capturing the zeitgeist of independent cinema.  Ten years later, Braff’s Wish I Was Here updates the crisis to the mid-thirties, but lacks a bit of the inexplicable charm that propelled Garden State into the cultish stratosphere of beloved indie films.  A bit lost like its main character, the film and Aiden both eventually find their way as the film unfolds to a soundtrack of Emo tunes, alongside the remnants of charm leftover from Braff’s Garden State.

Before I Go To Sleep – A very solid thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth.  No spoilers of course, but overall there are twists and turns aplenty and it makes some pretty good popcorn viewing.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – If this wasn’t a kid’s film, I would have rated it higher.  Pure enjoyment and an adorable kid to boot!  Great parental performances especially by Steve Carell.

Winter Sleep – A masterful and meaningful film, Winter Sleep is a difficult watch due to nothing else but its length.  In its current state, it will struggle to find a truly receptive audience as even I fought to stay awake for the very lengthy, conversationalist piece.  As a TV series this would have been perfection.  As a film, it is harsh and frustrating, but somehow still brilliant.

A Most Violent Year – Flawed with so many awkward scenes, edits and lines that evoke laughter rather than high tension drama, it’s amazing that there is any Oscar buzz surrounding this independent film at all.  Full of clichés, stereotypes and a weak narrative, this film fails to deliver the hard-hitting mobster story that it could and should.  There are moments of greatness, character depth and definite style via the fashion, but overall A Most Violent Year makes a most dull film.

Jersey Boys – Clint Eastwood directs the film adaptation of the Broadway Musical hit Jersey Boys.  Christopher Walken is the greatest thing about this film.  If anything, it really made me want to watch the stage production!

Third Person – This film fails to be as clever and original as it thinks it is.

Men, Women & Children – A portrait of modern day society and the effect that technology is having upon us.  While you’ll most likely moderately enjoy watching this film, it is pretty much meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Bypass – A well acted indie thriller with a few very questionable plot points.  Dark, gritty, but again, it’s mostly the performance (George MacKay) that keeps it in check.

ManglehornManglehorn suffers from a mangled script.  This film is certainly lacklustre, but it does have Al Pacino as its star which gives it quite a few brownie points.

Little Accidents – Sarah Colangelo has made a promising first feature with Little Accidents.  A bleak drama with classism at its heart, the film truly thrives due to the strong performances given by its vast cast, notably Boyd Holbrook as Amos, a miner who is the only survivor from a serious mining accident that has left ten miners dead.

The Trip to Italy – Italian landscapes, food and improvisational comedy – it’s basically the perfect recipe.   I can’t wait to see where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon holiday next.

Lucy – A fun and original sci-fi action film.  Too ludicrous to give it proper merit though.

A Second Chance (En chance til) – With its predictable baby-swapping storyline and moral debate on the right to raise a child, A Second Chance deserves at least a first.  Perhaps not more than that though.

This is Where I Leave You – Between the excellent cast and possible greatness as a serial dramedy, this film does nothing but disappoint by its unfulfilled potential.

Madame Bovary – Overall, this is a technically fine film with a strong lead performance by Mia Wasikowska. The mundane boredom that Madame Bovary feels in her life mirrors the feeling that the audience has from watching this film. A solid effort, but soulless in its failed execution.

The Drop – Unintentionally hilarious.  While not a terrible film, The Drop may do just that off of our film radar.

The Grandmaster – For fans of Wong Kar-wai or modern Martial Arts films, The Grandmaster will prove to be a disappointment.  While there are moments of fascination and awe, it seems that indulgence and nonsense has got the better of the otherwise highly regarded Chinese director.

Mystery Road – Imagine an Australian filmic version of True Detective with social and political commentary at its core rather than merely a study of characters.  Mystery Road is a gritty and harrowing modern-day Western that examines life on the fringe of society.  The story is not complex and the pace not fast, but there is something rather gripping about this dark and isolating drama.

The Face of an Angel – While based on the true crime story of the Amanda Knox trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher, The Face of an Angel is a much more high level take on the truth of the story.  Modeled on Dante’s Inferno, the film explores the media’s fascination with crime and how the story is presented to the world, in addition to the ideas of love and loss.  It as pretentious as it sounds, if not more so.  There are good things about this film and there are frustrating things about this film. Overall, it is a depressing, debate-sparking examination of the media’s obsession with crime and their irresponsible methods of reporting the news.

Yellowbird – Yellowbird is an endearing story told through beautiful animation.

Magic in the Moonlight – Woody Allen has taken a step backwards with his latest film Magic in the Moonlight. The plot is contrived and the couple mismatched, but the style of this film is its enjoyable aspect.  While the characters are reprehensible, they are lovely to look at with a beautiful late 1920’s French Riviera backdrop set to the soundtrack of the era.  This film is most definitely style over substance which is a great disappointment coming from a filmmaker known to be legendary for his substance.

Mr. Turner – While I can’t recommend this film as a character study or narrative, its visuals are something worth spectating.

A New York Winter’s Tale – Genuinely the worst film of the year, but SOOOOOooooo bad it’s good.  Flying horses, Will Smith as Lucifer (The Devil Wears Jimi Hendrix) – an instant cult classic.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter – In spite of the anti-feminist overtones and lack of backstory, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is a gripping watch, greatly thanks to a standout performance by Rinko Kikuchi.  And it is just so bizarre that this is based on an actual true story!!!

Don Jon – I’m sure Joseph Gordon-Levitt is capable of a lot more than this in the director’s chair, but Don Jon’s not without some entertaining moments.

20 Feet From Stardom – A great documentary about some excellent backup singers.

The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet – An inconsequential film with very 2D characters.

Cymbeline – A Shakespearean Gossip Girl that is so bad it’s good.  But it’s mostly so bad.

The Stag – Andrew Scott + Irish charm = a delightful film.

The Monuments Men – Never has a film provoked such apathy in me.  In fact, I didn’t even know apathy could be provoked until this film, which I inadvertently keep writing out as “The Monuments Meh”.

Tammy – Better than Melissa McCarthy’s previous dud Identity Thief, Tammy is watchable, but not overly engaging.  Nice to see all of those famous faces on the big screen, but it is too lacklustre to leave an impression as good as McCarthy’s actual potential as a lead actress.

Jamie Marks is Dead – The performances are monotonous and the film score consistently ambient, both to great effect as the audience can’t help but be almost hypnotized by the mood of this film.  Also, Jamie Marks looks exactly like Harry Potter.

Serena – I don’t know why this film was made and I don’t know why anyone should ever watch it.

French Riviera – Overall, the film is too rambling and unfocused to retain the audience’s attention or empathy.  If the director chose one angle to tell the story from and stuck to it, perhaps there would be something in there worth watching.  As it stands, this film is a mess and nevermind the audience, even the film itself doesn’t know what it’s about.

God’s Pocket –  Perhaps author Pete Dexter’s work is best left on the pages rather than brought to the screen.  It’s a huge tragedy that this is one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performances as neither the film nor his performance do the late great actor justice.

Wild Canaries – Plot holes and confusion aside, Wild Canaries is a light and fun screwball comedy with an excellent support cast. It will certainly keep you on your toes as there is no way to predict how it will unfold – even the characters seem confused by the outcome.

Lucky Stiff – Overall this is a fun film.  It’s not destined for mainstream success, but perhaps it will find its cult following as it did off-Broadway rather than on.

The Two Faces of January – Great eyewear aside, this film is much weaker than it should be given the talent on board.  You’ll be better off re-watching The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – Long indeed….

Hits – I wanted so much to love David Cross’ directorial debut, but it’s a sprawling mess.

The Humbling – A bitter and soulless film.  Al Pacino can’t even save it.

The Silent Storm – I gave it an hour, and then I walked out of the cinema.

The Ninth Cloud – Pretentious, vacuous trite.

Near Death Experience – This film does exactly what it says on the tin. Forty-five minutes in we were losing the will to live so much we followed the example of many others in the screening, took the plunge (since the protagonist wouldn’t) and exited the building.

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