My films of 2014

Much of my year has been spent in various darkened auditoria trying to stay awake. Here’s a countdown of some films I made it to the end of without drifting off. Seven of them are new films released in the UK this year; the other three are older but received a limited nationwide release in the brilliant Cinema of Childhood season curated by Mark Cousins to complement his documentary A Story of Children and Film (recommended). Most of them are in Foreign, unsurprisingly; half of them about childhood or featuring prominent roles for children, unsurprisingly; the top three all directed by Iranians. Coincidence? Yes; but also no. Iranian films rule.

10. August: Osage County (John Wells)

August Osage County

After reading a bunch of lukewarm reviews of this adaptation of the play by Tracy Letts, I expected a damage limitation exercise from the starry cast (Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Benedict Cumberbatch). I certainly didn’t expect to fall in love with it; but that is what happened. It’s a somewhat sensational family story with occasional overtones of the likes of O’Neill and Ibsen, and there is much blurring of the lines between tragedy and comedy. It’s stagey, sure, but that hardly matters given the calibre of the performances. Also, Chris Cooper’s in it. You probably have a list of people with whom you are proud to share your birthday; Chris Cooper is near the top of mine.
IMDb | Trailer

9. We Are the Best! [Vi Är Bäst!] (Lukas Moodysson)

We Are The Best

This film made me feel old, not because the cast is so young but because it made me realise that the last time I saw a Moodysson film at the Picturehouse was eleven years ago (Lilja 4-Ever). It was my first year as a student, and I was discovering the joys of living in a place that had a cinema that showed films I wanted to see. Where has the time gone? This one tells the story of two ‘games lessons refuseniks’ (to steal Francine Stock’s phrase) who team up with a Christian guitarist to form a punk band and meet with resistance from a bunch of guys who believe girls can’t do punk. What might have been a familiar rehash of the rites-of-passage drama is actually touching and funny. The three central performances are lovely, the characters sharply drawn — one girl pushy, another shy, the third a mediator. A shame its rating of 15 means it won’t be seen by more children in the UK, but I think it will have a long shelf life.
IMDb | Trailer

8. Two Days, One Night [Deux Jours, Une Nuit] (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)

Two Days One Night

The Dardennes’ greatest work to date, perhaps. Marion Cotillard, a factory worker who has been off work with depression, finds on her return that her boss has told the other workers either to vote for her sacking or lose their bonuses. She persuades him to give her a temporary reprieve and sets out to persuade each of them to reconsider. I thought her illness was conveyed with great subtlety, and there are many moments in the film where an unexpected act takes you aback, a small act of self-sacrifice with implications that may be much greater. A quiet film, full of wisdom and sadness and humanity.
IMDb | Trailer

7. Pride (Matthew Warchus)

Pride

The film about the alliance of the group Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners with a small Welsh mining village in the mid 1980s. It’s not flawless, and occasionally there are hints of a more serious and sombre film trying to break through. That film ought to be made, but this one, focusing on the solidarity that arises between two groups that might be imagined on the surface to have little in common, is wildly enjoyable. The performances of Bill Nighy, Dominic West and Andrew Scott are among many that stand out. It’s a film that captures the joy and the fear of being part of a group of people with something to fight for (and to fight against). What impressed me most, I think, was the balance it manages to maintain. It’s not a film about gay liberation or about the pit closures, it’s a film about the relationship between people who are involved in both, and neither issue overshadows the other.
IMDb | Trailer

6. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

Boyhood

The cinematic event of the year, Richard Linklater’s film made over the course of 12 years with his cast ageing in real time. A concept like that might have been gimmicky, but Linklater tells his story with a very delicate touch, building up a picture of a group of people’s lives not from the large watershed moments but from the fleeting ones, the bits that happen in between, when we actually live our lives, the episodes we might not remember when we think of our past. It’s a film full of humour and joie de vivre.
IMDb | Trailer

5. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)

Under the Skin

How could any film featuring Scarlett Johansson as an alien driving around the streets of Glasgow in a van, picking up men and seducing them to their doom possibly be a failure? I had to go and see it twice. The opening sequence is one of the most gripping I’ve ever seen, enhanced by Mica Levi’s remarkable score, and the film speaks strongly of our own isolation and alienation and our attempts at empathy and compassion. It gets under your skin, appropriately.
IMDb | Trailer

4. Palle Alone in the World [Palle Alene i Verden] (Astrid Henning-Jensen, 1949)

Palle Alone in the World

A short Danish film about a boy who wakes up one morning to find the world deserted. He takes advantage of the absence of adults to break the rules. He forgoes brushing his teeth (though is careful to wet the bristles to maintain the illusion) and ventures out, taking sweets from a sweetshop and money from a bank, and driving (and crashing) a tram. Later he decides to branch out into aviation. Little Lars Henning-Jensen has such a wide-eyed joy in all he does that it’s impossible not to be swept up in the film’s wonder. An unmitigated joy, with a delightful score by one Herman D. Koppel.
IMDb | Trailer

3. The White Balloon [Badkonake Sefid] (Jafar Panahi, 1995)

The White Balloon

A beguiling and magical film scripted by Abbas Kiarostami about a little girl, Razieh, who nags her mother to let her buy a goldfish to celebrate the impending New Year. The fish they have at home are pathetic compared to the one in the shop, which is chubby with many fins and ‘white as a bride’. The mother caves in and gives her some money, but the money gets lost. How can Razieh get it back? This film and the next are full of the small trials and joys of childhood, the tiny task that seems impossible, the disproportionate joy at its achievement.
IMDb | Trailer

2. Bag of Rice [Kiseye Berendj] (Mohammad-Ali Talebi, 1998)

Bag of Rice

Largely thanks to the efforts of Mark Cousins, I think, the films of Mohammad-Ali Talebi have come to the attention of English-speaking audiences this year. It was a privilege to see this one in the presence of the director, who answered questions afterwards. Bag of Rice is about a bored little girl in Tehran who enlists herself to help her elderly neighbour travel across the city to buy some rice before her coupon expires. It’s a fully fledged masterpiece, about how we care for each other, and about childhood, while having an undercurrent of the impending loss of innocence of Talebi’s child protagonist. The society she will grow into is not a hospitable one, and although there are any number of delightful sequences (such as the chase to restore a lost hat to a baby) he always seems aware of the wider picture. I’d urge you to watch it. UK-based viewers can catch it on the BFI Player.
IMDb | Trailer

1. The Past [Le Passé] (Asghar Farhadi)

The Past

Like Farhadi’s previous film, A Separation, this is a drama about human relationships that deconstructs a situation with forensic detail. It’s about an Iranian man, Ahmad, returning to France to finalise the divorce from his wife Marie. She has two daughters from a previous marriage, plus a soon-to-be stepson from her current relationship with Arab Samir. Samir is married, but his wife Céline is in a coma, having attempted suicide. The possible reason for this is one of the many things that become apparent as Farhadi peels the onion down to its root. It can never be anything other than a joy to watch a film as intelligent and understanding as this one, as indulgent of the irrationality of humans, as aware that the tiniest thing can make the greatest difference. The characters are all real and all lovable and, in their various ways, good, though the viewer’s loyalty shifts from one to another. The performances are flawless, with the central trio of Ali Mosaffa, Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim particularly noteworthy. It’s tremendous.
IMDb | Trailer

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One Response to “My films of 2014”

  1. 2014 foursomes | Somewhere Boy Says:

    […] « My films of 2014 […]

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