By Simon Miraudo
June 25, 2014
The inexorable march of time continues ever forward, a crushing reminder our too brief, finite existence. Or, to be less of a ‘von Trier’ about it: Can you believe it’s almost July?
The first six months of 2014 are behind us, and what do we have to show for it? Well, the following twenty films, and that ain’t nothing. At this point last year, I shared my ‘Top 10 Films of 2013 (So Far)‘ and though only two of those movies made my end of year Top 10 (the rest pushed out by the hulking Oscar contenders and festival gems traditionally saved for release until the later months), each deserved their moment in the sun. And that’s what this list is for: paying tribute to the fine flicks that entertained us from January to June. I doff my hat to them below.
First, The Top 5 Films of 2013 (Not Released Until 2014)
Thanks to our nation’s screwy release schedule, a number of 2013’s choicest cuts didn’t arrive in Australian cinemas until 2014. There was just no way to see the following five before publishing my Top 10 Films of 2013 list, and yet, they won’t technically be valid for my Top 10 Films of 2014 list come December. Predicament! Instead, here is where I shall honour these forgotten inbetweeners (though three of them, Best Picture nominees, surely weren’t waiting for me to finally endorse them).
5. In a World…
Hollywood wouldn’t give the endearing Lake Bell a leading role, so she up and wrote one for herself. In a World… is a charming ensemble comedy about the competitive community of trailer voice-over-artists, full of rich characters, snappy dialogue, and voices so sonorous you could bathe in them. The biggest upshot of Bell being forced to make the movie herself? It simultaneously introduced a fine writer-director to the world, and not just a sparkling comedienne. In a World… will be available from Quickflix on July 17, 2014. Review.
An Oscar winner for Best Picture, Supporting Actress, & Adapted Screenplay, 12 Years tells the true, too-sad tale of Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped by charlatans in 1841 and sold into slavery. Steve McQueen’s cinematic retelling is an important document; less a polite request for equality, and more an audacious demand for attention. Stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson, to name less than half of the impressive ensemble, astound. 12 Years a Slave is now available on Quickflix. Review.
Inside Llewyn Davis builds to a final punchline, but the Coen brothers’ latest is no joke (nor does it relish in the cosmic torture of its protagonist as nearly every other feature of theirs does). Oscar Isaac’s failing, flailing folk singer is a bastard, and yet, the Coens love him. Over the course of their sweet, soulful, two hour song, we come to love him too. Inside Llewyn Davis is now available on Quickflix. Review.
I can’t believe I serendipitously received a call from my priest during the screening of The Wolf of Wall Street, as if he sensed I’d been revelling too giddily in the debauched antics of stockbroker Jordan Belfort. The morality police denigrated Martin Scorsese for doing the same, totally missing the point of his scathing satire. If one came to the end of this and found themselves sympathising with Belfort, a wife-hitting, sexually-abusive animal who endangers the life of his children … well, I don’t know if even a call from a priest could save them. The Wolf of Wall Street is now available on Quickflix. Review.
Last year, I christened Gravity the best film of 2013. It only got the spot because I hadn’t seen Her, the best film of the past year (and maybe the next few too). Joaquin Phoenix continues his flawless run as a lonely writer who falls for his artificially intelligent OS (voiced with smoky charm by Scarlett Johansson). Most sci-fi fables involving technology emulating and ultimately surpassing human capabilities are meant to inspire fear. And yet, Her is only scary on account of the uncanny insight it has into modern relationships. It’s a love story, as good and profound and painfully true as any I’ve ever seen. Her is now available on Quickflix. Review.
The Top 5 Films of 2014 (Not Yet Technically Released)
On the other side of the spectrum are the movies I caught at the Sydney Film Festival still awaiting a general release. Some may not hit local cinemas until 2015! Regardless, it felt wrong leaving them off, as they have had public screenings (in Sydney at least), and Calvary actually opens in cinemas July 3. That’s right… it was three days shy of making the cut-off for the top ten proper.
5. Life Itself
Roger Ebert was a great critic, a flawed human, and the perfect subject for a documentary encapsulating everything valuable, fleeting, and marvellous about life. Steve James’ doco opens with Ebert communicating to a crowd his belief that movies are machines for generating empathy. The evidence of that claim is Life Itself. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and that may have even proved true in the adjoining theatres showing Godzilla, so overwhelming it was. Life Itself does not yet have a release date. Review.
David Zellner’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a real find; a curio about a collector and obsessive made for collectors and obsessives. Inspired by the urban legend of a Japanese woman (played by Rinko Kikuchi) who goes seeking Fargo’s fictional treasures, it’s an oddly amusing and often heartbreaking portrait of mental illness as well as exploration of both the freeing power and danger of cinephilia, the latter perhaps indicating why I responded to it so strongly. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter does not yet have a release date. Review.
Xavier Dolan’s Mommy has one of the year’s best movie moments. Two even. Maybe three. Look… it’s all great. The twenty-something director’s fifth effort in as many years concerns a mother’s burden; specifically, her reckless, over-sexual teenage son Steve. But is the son ruining the mother’s life, or is it the other way around? That’s the tragedy of Mommy, a quizzical examination of how someone made from your same material can be such a stranger and too familiar at once. Mommy does not yet have a release date. Review.
Marion Cotillard’s Sandra has a weekend to convince her co-workers to turn down their bonuses so she can keep her job in the Dardenne brothers’ affecting, compassionate latest. Cotillard, playing a woman for whom the fight to live is a struggle, let alone the fight to work, starts uneasy and finds poise and purpose as the picture rolls along. In many ways, Two Days, One Night is a lot like Gravity, except for all the space. Two Days, One Night does not yet have a release date. Review.
That devilish John Michael McDonagh, always zigging when you think he’ll zag, follows up his dirt-black buddy comedy The Guard with despairing anti-hymn Calvary. It plays out like a parable, or, maybe, some half-remembered joke, with Brendan Gleeson’s generous Father James learning of a mysterious parishioner’s desire to murder him. Gleeson is brilliant, as always, however, it’s McDonagh’s talents as a tightrope-walking filmmaker that leaves the largest impression. Calvary arrives in Australian cinemas July 3, 2014. Review.
With those out of the way: The Top 10 Films of 2014 (So Far)
Lars von Trier’s four-hour sexcapade was cleft in twain, released as two instalments. Each half has its, ahem, charms. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as a battered, sex-obsessed woman relaying her entire sordid history to a good Samaritan (Stellan Skarsgård), Nymphomaniac found no shortage of ways to push our buttons, confronting us with explicit, full-frontal f*** montages, disturbing violence, a concluding message regarding mankind’s persistent cruelty towards women (a favourite topic of von Trier’s), and, finally, Shia LaBeouf’s penis. It also delivered one of the biggest laugh lines of the year, courtesy of the above image, which should be totally inexplicable to those who’ve not yet subjected themselves to this saga. Your loss. Nymphomaniac is now available on Quickflix. Reviews of Vol. 1 and Vol 2.
9. The Raid 2
The world of cinema is full of many wonders, chief among them in 2014, writer-director Gareth Evans’ unending well of inventive ways to kill people on screen. His follow up to claustrophobic classic The Raid perhaps bites off more than it can chew (this sequel spans half a decade and sprawls out across Indonesia); it nonetheless delivers some of the finest, rawest fight sequences ever committed to celluloid. The Raid 2 will be available from Quickflix on August 6, 2014. Review.
In a world without 22 Jump Street, Bad Neighbours could have claimed the title of the year’s flat-out funniest comedy. It’ll have to settle for being the most revolutionary, simply thanks to it being about a man and woman who get to be best friends (a rare thing indeed in this ‘bro’ age of ours). Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play a married couple who truly enjoy one another’s company, but are confronted by their old-fogeyness when a frat house moves in next door. We know how amusing Rogen – and antagonists Zac Efron and Dave Franco – can be, so it’s nice to see an Aussie-accented Byrne steal the show. Bad Neighbours is one of the more emotionally satisfying entries of the modern-comedy canon, with one monster of a role for one very talented lady. Bad Neighbours will be available from Quickflix on August 28, 2014. Review.
What the hell is Godzilla doing in this Top 10? I had little hope for the latest American incarnation of this Japanese legend, images of Matthew Broderick flashing through my memory. Amazingly, as an actioner, it blew all other comers out of the water. The presence of Bryan Cranston, delivering a number of Earth-shattering monologues, certainly helped. I should have trusted director Gareth Edwards, fresh off the magnificent Monsters; Disney certainly have, giving him a Star Wars spin-off based on this excellent disaster flick. He’s earned it. Godzilla will be available from Quickflix later this year. Review.
I’d like to report a murder. The buddy-cop comedy is dead, drowned in a sea of d*** jokes by directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Hey, at least it died doing what it loved. In 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller, along with their convention-shredding stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, gleefully tear asunder every trope there is to be found in police movies, sequels, and cinematic bromances (coming as close as any buddy comedy has to finally admitting its leads are gay). Though it maybe means there’ll never be a need for another Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys, or perhaps a 23 Jump Street thanks to the state 22 leaves the genre, I tell you, what a way to go. 22 Jump Street is hilarious and subversive, but especially that first thing. 22 Jump Street will be available from Quickflix later this year. Review.
5. The Babadook
You may not believe in bogeymen, but you better believe The Babadook is the best Australian film in years. Jennifer Kent’s feature debut is wholly inventive and original, while still calling to mind Drag Me To Hell, The Entity, Repulsion, The Shining, and Carrie. I don’t list its (possible) influences to make it seem derivative. I do it to place the flick in the pantheon alongside them. Often funny, frequently terrifying, haunting, moving, and anchored by a masterful Essie Davis – as a mother whose grief, depression and animosity towards her son might be manifesting as an honest-to-goodness monster – The Babadook is the real deal. The Babadook will be available from Quickflix later this year. Review.
Edge of Tomorrow is an ingenious action-comedy about how frequently movie heroes would actually die if they attempted that much crazy s***. Featuring a rare, low-status performance from Tom Cruise (seeing him as a snivelling coward is good stuff) and certainly Doug Liman’s most impressive effort since The Bourne Identity (over a decade ago!), this wildly entertaining blockbuster surpasses Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro creatively, comedically, and emotionally. Of course, it cratered at the box office, and won’t even make half of their individual tallies. Right that wrong when Edge of Tomorrow arrives on Quickflix later this year. Review.
Jump Street geniuses Lord and Miller were also responsible for The Lego Movie, which had no right to be as entertaining as it ultimately was. It lies at the intersection of chaos and commerce, but don’t call it a cash-grab: heck, if cash-grabs were always this great, we’d all be broke. This is delightful, inspired, poignant, utterly side-splitting stuff, and certainly the first feature starring Batman to earn a couple of those compliments. Plus, anything that casts Chris Pratt in the lead is going to win some brownie points. (Hear that, Guardians of the Galaxy? Our love is yours to lose.) The Lego Movie will be available from Quickflix on July 3, 2014. Review.
Straddling the line between cutesy, quirky, and stunningly grim, Frank is a perceptive depiction of the frustrating, maddening creative process, and then, an incisive comment on outsider art, the way hipsters ironically embrace it, the way hacks try to take advantage of it, and how even the possible widespread acceptance of it fails to solve the ailments of those doing the creative suffering. Featuring Michael Fassbender as a playful, papier-mâché-headed musician (masking real dysfunction), this Jon Ronson-penned, Lenny Abrahamson-directed oddity hits all the right notes. I’ve seen it three times. I could go another. Frank will be available on Quickflix later this year. Review.
What a rare pleasure it is to watch a movie and slowly realise it will soon become one of your favourites. That’s precisely how I felt while viewing the latest from Wes Anderson. On second sitting, his cuckoo caper comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel had officially checked into my heart, with no check-out date noted. A melancholy remembrance of a lobby boy’s youthful years under the tutelage of legendary concierge M. Gustave (a towering Ralph Fiennes), it dreamily recalls a version of Europe just prior to the Nazi invasion. The army, country names, and notable dates are just slightly off here, similar to the way photos fade, dreams dissipate like fog, and recollections grow unreliable. In contrast, the forlorn, very witty, sometimes grisly and hopelessly romantic Grand Budapest will be impossible to forget. The Grand Budapest Hotel will be available from Quickflix on September 3, 2014. Review.