Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Movies of 2014, Volume II

Let’s continue looking back at 2014 with #11-20 on my personal list of faves. There’s still plenty of good stuff here to load up your Netflix queue. We won’t start getting to the real duds for awhile yet.

You don’t need a lot of money to make a smart, gripping science fiction movie. Shane Carruth proved that with Primer and Upstream Color. This year, James Ward Byrkit followed in his footsteps with this twisty thriller about a dinner party gone seriously haywire. I wasn’t sure where this was headed for quite awhile. Even after I started to figure out what was going to happen, I had a great time seeing if I’d be proven correct or not.

The Lunchbox
Maybe last year’s most pleasant surprise, this is a gentle, extremely winning romance. Nimrat Kaur stars as a lonely wife trying to capture her emotionally distant husband’s attention by making him a special lunch. But the lunchbox is delivered to the wrong address, ending up in the hands of widowed Irrfan Khan. Soon, a friendship blossoms between the two via handwritten notes. Ritesh Batra directs this lovely little sleeper.

Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making intimate epic is absolutely a remarkable accomplishment. I didn’t exactly fall in love with it like everybody else seemed to. It gets better as it goes along but the first hour definitely feels like Linklater is trying to figure out what story he’s telling. I’m sure in this case he really was but most of his movies feel like that to me. But at its best, Boyhood provides some of the year’s most powerful and emotional moments.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was one of the best franchise reboots I’d ever seen. Despite this, I didn’t dare get my hopes too high that lightning could strike twice. But Matt Reeves pulled it off capably with eye-popping visual effects, thrilling action and a bracingly grim tone. The bar for the next installment has been set very high.

Witching And Bitching
Alex de la Iglesia, Spain’s maddest filmmaker, returns with a movie that couldn’t possibly be the work of anybody else. A jewel heist performed by Jesus Christ, a plastic soldier (or men disguised as them, anyway) and a young boy goes awry and the crooks take it on the lam, ending up in a house owned by three generations of witches. This movie starts off over the top but somehow manages to keep turning corners and find new levels of crazy to climb.

A complex and compelling Israeli drama that does a remarkable job of illuminating the friction between the Palestinians and the Israelis through the story of an Israeli Secret Service officer and his young Palestinian informant. It’s both a tension-filled spy thriller and a gripping drama and well-worth seeking out.

The Trip To Italy
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back, eating sumptuous meals, staying in beautiful hotels and engaging in frequently hilarious conversation. Not quite as good as the first Trip but so much fun that it almost doesn’t matter.

The Immigrant
James Gray’s period drama went mostly unnoticed for some reason, which is a shame because it’s actually quite good. Marion Cotillard is excellent as a Polish immigrant who reluctantly becomes a prostitute under the thumb of Joaquin Phoenix to provide for her sister, quarantined on Ellis Island. Back in the 70s, this kind of well-mounted, intelligent production was commonplace. It deserved a wider audience.

Night Moves
Kelly Reichardt’s films are very deliberately paced but if you stick with them, they’re extremely rewarding. Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard and a virtually unrecognizable Dakota Fanning are eco-terrorists whose sabotage of a dam leads to unexpected consequences. Not Reichardt’s best work but never less than engaging.

Godfrey Reggio’s latest and most challenging work is probably not best experienced at home. The movie’s ultra-long takes and Philip Glass score may well put you to sleep if you’re watching it on your sofa. But on the big screen in a theater without outside distractions, the movie’s effect is actually rather hypnotic. I don’t imagine this will develop the same following as the Qatsi trilogy but on its own terms, it’s a unique and often extraordinarily beautiful film.

I’ll be back tomorrow with ten more. Hey, maybe your favorite movie of 2014 will be one of them! Unless your favorite movie of 2014 was Veronica Mars, in which case you shouldn’t get your hopes up.

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