I have divided the films into three sections; Masterpieces are those films that I consider them as my favorite films of this year, they are lined up by most favorite to least (Yes, a Richard Linklater film is yet again my favorite film of this year) . Must See are those films that are an essential viewing, and Skip It are those films that I consider unworthy to waste your time on, unless you have much time to waste.
It was a year of living in three different countries for me: Finished my Master degree in UK, made my first documentary feature film on the Kurdish refugees from Western Kurdistan escaping from ISIS Islamist terrorist to take refuge in South Kurdistan, and moving back again in US at the end of the year. The traveling, changing places and working on my documentary kept me away from watching films for a while, but I managed to watch at least one film a day, I left most of my film diary in Kurdistan, a reason that I only posted review of just over 70 films from this year, and I only chose the films of 2014.
If you look at the dates; a few of the film’s release date are that of “2012” and “2013”, but I had a chance to see them on 2014, because that is when they were released in UK, Kurdistan and US and I consider them to be the films of this year.
For more film recommendations checkout:
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014) I have to make a confession; Richard Linklater is my favorite American filmmakers working today. Last year, Before Midnight was my favorite film, and this year, it is Boyhood. Many years from now Linklater might as well be remembered for his Before/After Trilogy, but so far; Boyhood is his masterpiece, it is as if everything that Linklater has done in the past decade has accumulated into this film, and it took him more than 12 years to complete the film, it is nothing short of a miracle put on the screen, much memory drenched in nostalgia and melancholy, it will have a special place in the pages of cinematic history, and might as well be considered as a landmark of an achievement in the coming years. The scale of the film is remarkable, in the scale of a Tolstoy novel, much time, much memory, much characters come and go, and no two are alike, 12 years of life just under three hours in length, and as in life; it flash by quickly, from childhood, to boyhood to adulthood, from first day in elementary school to first day in college, we are with Mason, his sister Samantha, the divorced Father and Mother, as they take an odyssey through life from a small town to Huston, during that time they encounter and pass others, and as times goes by, only traces of memories left, as they age, we become one with them, their memory become that of us, and because it was shot in the span of the time, everything look authentic, the dialogues are real, there is a documentary truth to the film with its honesty of representation and acting of the characters, much of it seem to be improvised, it is hard to capture the essence and truthfulness in a characters’ emotions, let alone doing it over decades with the same characters and capturing such subtle change in them , with such subtle touch of beauty and nostalgia.
Jauja (Lisandro Alonso, 2014) Jauja is not only the best film of 2014, in my opinion; it is one of the best film of the decade so far, it is not just magic realism, but magic itself, every frame is pure gold, another masterpiece from Alonso. The first film that I saw from Alonso was Liverpool in 2008, it was a meditative watch, and within a few month I saw his other previous films; Fantasma (2006), Los Muertos (2004), and La Libertad (2001), so I had to wait for 6 years to watch his next film, and Jauja surpassed all my expectation. Shot in a 4:3 frame, with dark corners on the frame like a Polaroid postcards, the images alone, their memory can hunt you for days recalling them. In the opening prologue of the film, Jauja is described as a “Mythological land of Abundance and Happiness” and many who tried to find this earthly paradise got “lost on the way”. This search for something, be it an object, a person or an emotion is the core of Alonso’s cinema, in all his films, a character is searching for something, in Jauja; the Colonel is searching for his lost daughter, but instead of find his daughter, he not only loses his horse, his sword, his gun, but he loses his way, and in the end; he loses himself. Viggo Mortensen gives a brilliant performance between the subtle father and the furious Colonel, as Alonso’s camera give him priority, with its steady shots, slow pan or the beautiful tracking movement that showcase the vastness of the landscape as the surrounding devour the characters. One cannot write enough about the beautiful cinematography; the vivid colors, the limitless depth of field, the sky never looked more bluer, the grass greener, and the sun’s ray never been captured in such natural beauty in recent films. With its slow pace, Jauja has not only the pace but the look of a classic Western, the narrative is rather ironically similar to John Ford’s The Searcher, but the two film couldn’t have been more different in theme and style, yet, Jauja got the postcard look of a classic Hollywood film of the golden age, with its magical imagery.
Goodbye To Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014) When I first moved to US, I wanted to become a Doctor, I studied for one year, only to drop out after watching much films and deciding to become a filmmaker, and one of the biggest influence on my decision was discovering Godard’s film form 60s, four films from Godard always stood above the rest; Breathless, Alphaville, My Life to Live and Pierrot le Fou, so it is no surprise that Jean-Luc Godard is my favorite filmmaker, as Tolstoy is my favorite write, and I loved all of Godard’s film; from his fresh early 60s films, to his radical and political films of 70s, personal films of 80s, and his 90s and later philosophical films, he never looked backed into his career, never made the same films twice, always invented and become more radicalized in it approach to filmmaking and storytelling, and he was always a breath of fresh air, with Goodbye To Language, he has become a philosopher more than a filmmaker, he no longer wishes to tell stories, but reflect, for what is Goodbye To Language? A 3D film about a talking Dog? About broken language? An experimental film on color, sound, line and words? From the music of Giya Kancheli, Tchaikovsky, to Beethoven to Schoenberg, to literature of Conrad and Faulkner, philosophy of Derrida, quotes from Freud, Cocteau, Artaud, Victor Hugo, Proust, etc, it has everything, it is rich with color and sound, chaotically harmonic, it is a Godard film in 3D, unlike any other 3D films.
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, 2014) Isao Takahata is a perfectionist, a genius of a perfectionist, and like all perfectionist, he takes his time in order to create, decades has passes since his last film, and in all probability, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya will be his last work. If you think watching Graves of the Fireflies was a tearful one, then try taking on The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, rarely has an animation went as far to reach for spirituality and transcendentalism with its purity. Based on a Japanese folktale of The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the story of a poor bamboo cutter his finding a divine princess and raising her to become a Princess at the hand of Takahata become an animation in lyricism, longing for nature and the innocent of childhood, such richness of details, from taking her first step, growing fast like a bamboo branch, make friends with the country children, creating a bond of friendship and living carefree in the wood that she long too for the rest of her life, to becoming a princess, wearing rainbow clothes, living in a mansion with servants, becoming civilized, by abandoning her wild way, no more nature as she become a lady with manners, but even in her castle of a prison; she takes to drawing to depict nature, masters Koto playing in one lesson, take everything as game and master them only to be bored with it, because her heart belong to nature and her friends, there is always a place she miss, she long for something, she takes to gardening, only to find it fake compared to nature, for she only find her happiness with nature and not just a merer representation of it. She become the most beautiful princess, she is the talk of the land, suitors from nobles birth come chasing her, but she let all of them down, because she is unattainable treasure as she sent out his suitors to find such each unattainable treasure in order to have her, but none can do it, even his majesty, the law of the land ask for her, but she refuses. She become melancholic, her times comes to be taken back to nature, as the moon comes to take her away to the land of magic, she wear the robes of purity and happiness, leaving the grief and sadness of the earth. Every single frame of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is like a haiku poem in style of Japanese Woodblock Prints of 15th and 16th century, three layers of colors, always with background, middle and foreground, with the warm colors standing out, Joe Hisaishi’s nostalgic music make it a magic creation. Years to come, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya will become cinema’s greatest treasure in animation to cherished by generations to come.
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2014) In today’s Russia’s cinematic scenes, three directors stand above the rest; Alexander Sokurov, Sergei Loznitsa. and Andrey Zvyagintsev, of all three; Zvyagintsev is the one that speak best for the Russian society as of today, his films are search into the depth of finding the modern identity of the Russian soul; in The Return (2003), the generational gap between fathers and sons, in The Banishment (2007) the rural landscape become the mirror of a family torn apart by rage of jealously, in Elena (2011) Zvyagintsev first dived into the Russian political scene with it metaphorical Dostoevskian representation of social injustice, class gap and the social issues of contemporary Russia, but it is with Leviathan that he dig deep into the political and institutional corruption experienced by ordinary people that destroy a family into oblivion. The themes of Leviathan is the essence of Zvyagintsev’s cinema that has all the elements of his previous films; the generational gap between the father and the son, the suffering wife who become a victim of circumstances, the corruption, crime, injustice, power, money and social inequality with the supervision of the Church and the State and approval of the institutions. The final hypocritical sermon from the high priest could have been made by any religious or political figure not only in today’s Russia, but anywhere where corruption and bureaucratic institutions are the dominate law of the land, and there are many places like that on the world map.
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2014) Two biggest influences on the cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylan are the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Russian Literature, so it is only befitting that at the end of Winter Sleep, the credit acknowledges that the film was “Inspired by Chekhov”. Over 3 hours in length, Winter Sleep is an epic dialectical, psychological and philosophical insight into what make us humane, the film takes on every issue; from Politic to Art, to our basic emotions, from pride, to guilt, compassion, love, etc, at times the film drag on into a teaching class on a dialectal argument on different subjects, be it a Tolstoyian argument on nature of evil, or a small issue in relationship between two people, as universal as the film might seen, it is also a personal one; some of the dialogues seem to out of conversation and argument between Ceylan and his wife (she is given co-credit for the script), but what lead to each incident is rather small changes into the daily behaviors of the characters, as if the circle of life is broken apart only to take its course again; like Tolstoy’s The Forget Coupon, one kid’s mischievous lead to series of incident and revelation, a broken window of a car become the center stage of the film when it comes to its narrative, but the film has no unified narrative or plot, the characters don’t change, nor anything happens to signify any change, rather; it is a multiple characters study with Aydin at the center of them, a former actor who takes life for a stage, think he can manipulate others by pretending, playing with people’s emotion, he the King sitting on the hill, talk about morality, religion and poverty (sound like Erdogan, sitting on his billion dollar palace and teaching about morality and religion) think of his writing as his small Kingdom, as he judge and condemn others, his is a rich man who own much of the nearby village, he own Hotel Othello, has Camus on the wall of his room, surrounded by books, he dislike older people for not having much of new ideas, but also despise the young for being too adventures, he has a young wife that is half his age, there is a generation gap, class gap that he refuses to acknowledge, the rocky landscape of the film best reflect his cold emotion, he is an arrogant man who pushes away everyone, selfish, for he command and others must obey, he is loot in the depth of his loneliness that he take for pride, humiliating others, he refuses to be kind, because he think his act of kindness is will be taken for weakness. As dramatic as the script seem to be, there are many giveaway moments that tell more about the characters than the narrative. As always; beautiful cinematography and a rich sound design are the highlight of a Ceylan film.
Hard to be a God (Aleksei German, 2013) Aleksei German, the last giant among the Soviet filmmakers died while making Hard to be a God, the film was finished and edited by his son and those who worked with him on the film, in a way; like Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, we will never really know what the final vision of Aleksei German for the film might have been, but at its current state, with three hours in length, Hard to be a God is one of the great masterpiece of this decade, and many years from now, it will be remembered as such just as his last masterpiece, Khrustalyov, My Car is now considered among the best of the 90s. Hard to be a God is epic film in a grandeur scale, it is a provocative film, in scale of Pasolini’s Salo, with German’s hyperrealism reaching its peak, he never went for color, all his films are black and white, well; not black and white, rather gray, a claustrophobic gray, his camera penetrate into objects, people, faces, texture, all fighting for space in the composition, characters talk to the camera, gesturing to the audience, whisper to them, his signature moving camera, long take, the strange characters, the endless cruelty, all lost in the rain, mud and fog, as Goran the mighty, the noble Don, the God, the unpredictable takes lives from right to left, like all of Aleksei German’s film, the world of Hard to be a God is a dark one, it is not your typical watch, but it is a memorable one, for it is a masterpiece.
The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, 2014) For over 40 years, Hayao Miyazaki has dominated the world of animation, among the very few animators who is film is eagerly awaited by both the public and critics alike, when the news came out that the The Wind Rises was to be the last film of Miyazaki, like many; I eagerly waited to watch the film, would it be going far to say that The Wind Rises is perhaps Miyazaki’s most personal film with a theme that is present throughout his animations dominate the film, that of flight. There is not a single Miyazaki film without a flying sequence in it, flying seem to be a personal obsession with Miyazaki; people, objects, animals, machines, witches, magicians, spirits, even a whole cities and town take into flight in a Miyazaki film, what a beautiful and nostalgic film.
Mood Indigo (Michel Gondry, 2013) Mood Indigo is one of the early Jazz song from the great Duke Ellington, and it is only a befitting title for a Gondry’s masterpiece of a jazzy adaptation from Boris Vian’s existentialist novel, Froth on the Daydream. Ignored by both the public and critic alike, it will take many years for Mood Indigo to be considered a classic, just as Godard’s Alphaville and Pierrot le Fou took decades to be recognize as 60s best films, the reason I mention those two Godard film, is because Mood Indigo is a rich, colorful and complex with its sudden mood and narrative change as any Godard film, there is a childish innocent about the film that is at the same time deep rooted in philosophy, literature, music, art, reference to other films (take the underwater scenes, out of Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante) in a word; it is a film about everything, it shift between the genres of noir, science fiction, musical, drama, etc, every frame is filled with references, rich in composition, beautiful in Mise en scene, and chaotic in narrative, in a word; it is one of cinema’s recent masterpiece, and Gondry’s best since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Jimmy P. Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian (Arnaud Desplechin, 2013) Arnaud Desplechin is a master in creating multiple characters that intertwine perfectly within the narrative of the film, he is almost a mashing of Cassavetes and Altman. In Jimmy P, a friendship between a Native American and a French Anthropologist is established, well; more of a Psychoanalysis than an Anthropologist, as the film take a Freudian route, from Oedipus Complex to a journey into the Interpretation of Dream. Benico del Toro give a Brando performance, one of the best I have seen this year so far. Our Native dreamer, most of the time dream in English, there is a thin line of humor and sadness in the film; the dialogues between the two; two thick English accent, slow paced, rather funny. Jimmy P. is close to Truffaute’s The Wild Child in its approach of decoding and therefore recreating a new man. Dream and Language, its origin and their mysteries are the lock to knowing human brain, in order to to cure a headache, one must understand its psychological reason; “You must breakaway from your past” in order to cure it, but first, he must find that past and remember it, for its deep hidden in the unconsciousness, he must search in order to know the reason; he let all the women down in his past, from childhood to youth to adulthood, women and tragedy has been linked in his brain, now his daughter is what he fear will be next, he must find redemption with her. “Sometime there are scars on our bodies we don’t know where they come from, there scars like that on the mind too”.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014) For a filmmaker to have an imagination is a brilliant, of all the active filmmakers, few have the imagination of Wes Anderson, most interesting aspect of his films are the visual style, everything in his framing is chosen selectively to utmost details, the bright colors, the use of miniatures, his framing glows magically, as for his narrative; he is like Truffaut and Fellini, he manages to create sentimentality and melancholic sentiment from comic situations, all his films are lighthearted comedies with a nostalgic touch, each character is different from others; rarely do two characters behave or talk alike, many filmmakers like to input their own personality into characters, but Anderson rarely does that, a reason that all his films are filled with stars, in The Grand Budapest Hotel, you have a heavy cast, some big names are on the screen for only a few minutes, but they are memorable, his leading character are simple people, but they are outcast, always find friendship with those outside their own circle, yet; they make the best match, and beat all the odds in adventures across places and time that are rich with characters, colors, and and imagined landscape, Anderson films are always an entertaining watch.
Our Sunhi (Hong Sang-soo, 2013) “Is that you talking, or the beer?”, ask one of the former lover of Sunhi, to the end of the film; we never really never know who was talking, “Sunhi or the beer?”. Each year, Hong Sang-soo bring out one masterpiece, if not two, and not since the days of Yazujiro Ozu and Alfred Hitchcock has there been a filmmaker that was so loyal to keeping up with his own style; watch any Hong Sang-soo film and you will be amazed by the subtle use of style throughout his films, among the most simplest filmmakers working today when it comes to staging muse-en-scenes; one shot for one take, the camera is either still throughout the scene, or a sudden zoom or a pan to adjust the framing, in a way, an editor working for Sang-soo will only have to put together in narrative order the scenes, because there is no conventional editing, the long takes allow the characters not only to deliver naturalistic performance, but also improvise, and one wonder; how many takes, or how many times were there rehearsal? The theme of character’s relationship, at times in a triangular love affair is present throughout the films of Sang-soo, in Our Sunhi; three men are trapped in a love affair with Sunhi, the mysteries and unpredictable film student who want to go aboard, she comes into each man’s life, left a mark, then leave, she is like the Greek siren, tying them to a rock, without giving them a reason.
Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2013) Hirokazu Koreeda is the only filmmaker working today that has the subtly and emotional power in his film to be compared to the great Yasujiro Ozu, and just as all of Ozu’s film were about family, the examination of relationship between people and different generations, so it is the theme of Koreeda’s film, and many of his films is seen through the eyes of children, that is why his films are so innocent and pure in presenting emotions, as tight as his narrative might be, at the end of watching a Koreeda film, we feel as if we have encountered a breath of life on the screen, the characters leave a mark, they seem real like in a Robert Bresson film, they are more than an actor, especially the children, Koreeda is a master in directing children, he make them give a sensitive yet an emotional performance. Like Father, Like Son is a film about parental love for children, it was Tolstoy who once said; “There are as many love as there are many hearts”, and of all the emotional love and attachment, the most purest, the most powerful is the love of a parent to their children, especially at the tender age of childhood, so when that love is shattered, when a parent find that the child does not feel the love, there comes moments of turmoil, in a self-examination of one’s life and behavior.
Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013) In recent years, there has been many films glorying the rise of, and sometime the fall of breakout star from New York City’s Greenwich Village, but rarely does a film captures what it feel like to be a complete failure, no rise or fall, just a flat drive in a circle of nothingness, Inside Llewyn Davis is a film about failure, and few can capture such satirical dark world with such honesty by combining the genre of drama and comedy as the Coen Brothers, they are masters at displaying nihilism on the screen, with their blank face characters and witty dialogues. Sometime you watch characters in a film, and you soon forget about them, it is especially true for secondary characters that have little time on the screen, but in a Coen Brother’s film, everyone has a memorable role to be play, take the two characters in which Llewyn take the ride with from New York to Chicago, Johnny Five and Roland Turner, a beat poet and a jazz musician, one silent, the other talks into the edge of boredom, in any other film, you would have a short transition scene between the two place, but in Inside Llewyn Davis; the ride become the most memorable scene in the film, such mastery of simple brushstroke in creating characters.
Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014) Marion Cotillard in the role of Sandra is a walking emotion in Two Days, One Night, about to lose her job, she has a short time to convince her co-workers to lose their bonus or hire her back, out of 16 people, how many can she convince that she is worth more than 1000 Euro? The first voting ballet has already been taking, majority has voted to get the bonus, now she must knock at every door to convince them to vote for her. We never know what made Sandra has a nervous breakdown on the first place to make her employer decide to let her go, one thing is for sure; she has low self-esteem and she is nervous around people, her vulnerability make some cry for her, while others wanting a chance to wash away the guilt of letting her down the first time decide to vote for her, but the material need for many is stronger than any emotional bond or friendship in a competitive business. Walking away, at the end of Two Days, One Night; Sandra seem to have found a little glimpse of redemption in others, but her last line, “We put up a good fight, I’m happy”, is not matched by her grim smile, she has a long road to take to recover.
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013) Since F.W. Murnau’s timeless masterpiece, Nosferatu (1922), endless Vampire films has been made, many are considered classic of world cinema, bur rarely were there a film as Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive with its subtle, slow paced examination of living in a world of void that is the dark world of Vampires, each night after the sundown, Adam, Eve and Christopher Marlowe must wake up to dreary nights, they have lived for centuries, traveled the world, played Chess with lord Byron, dated Mary Austin, met Billy Holiday, Newton, Nikolas Telsa, Bach, Buster Keaton, Fat Domino, Kafka, etc, Einstein told them of Quantum entanglement theory, they have read the world’s books, listened to its music. Now; two of them live in Tangier, one live in an abandoned Detroit house, they never see the sun, the world is darkness, as they roam the empty streets, they no longer can prey on human for blood for the fear of industrial contamination, so they must find the good stuff to survive, but as they run out of pure blood, the human are the only prey left to feed on, Christopher Marlowe is first to fade away before admitting he was the one who wrote Shakespeare. Slow, haunting, beautiful film like all other Jarmusch films.
Ida (Pawet Pawlikowski, 2013) Faith; one is born into it, not destined for it, but once indoctrinated, it is hard to escape it, that is the story of Ida. Shot in beautiful black and white, with unconventional framing, unconventional in placing the characters and objects, reminiscent of the Soviet and Polish film of the 60s. The story of three characters; Ida, the little saint, the aunt, whom life has made her tough to a point to living in a world of nihilism, calling herself “the whore”, then there is the Saxophone player, the little artist whom get exposed to Ida for a glimpse of time, then vanishes from her world. Within each boundaries of the character’s faith, there is a leap; the saint take the place of the whore for a short time, the whore has her minutes of faith, but when it does, it destroy her, only the Saxophone player stay loyal to his cause. At times; a person’s action has no logical explanation, so it does with Ida’s sudden sift of faith before taking her vow in a convent, but how can a Jewish girl become a Christian nun after witnessing the horrifying ordeal of her past? The final shot; her walking in a desolated road to the convent is rather ironically befitting to have Bach’s most spiritual music accompanying her, is she escaping into spirituality to washday others guilt? Her guilt? Or is she still, the loyal and faithful nun who still believe? The answer is many.
Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, 2013) In Night Moves, the suspense is in nothing happening but the illusion of something dangerous about to happen is always present on the screen, and the last frame of the film best fit that description; a mirror view shot of two casual people shopping become a mystery to a character that is torn apart with guilt of a crime, in his imagination, the two become an FBI agent, the punishment of living with a guilt has just began, even when a new life seem to on the horizon. What is significant about Night Moves is what is not shown on the screen; throughout the second part of the film, we never see the law or the police, but they seem to be present everywhere, the most significant event is blowing up of the damn, it is not even shown, we only hear the sound, Dostoevsky captures masterfully the guilt of a man that suffers in the aftermath of a crime as he searches for a redemption in Crime and Punishment, in Night Moves, we never know what the characters is searching for, he live with his guilt alone and suffers alone, and by escaping; he dig more holes for himself.
The Immigrant (James Gray, 2013) James Gray is a master in exploring guilt and redemption in a relationship, with a spiritual healing of scolding oneself in the end becoming the central theme of all his films, The Immigrant is rather an innocent tale that take one back to the early days of cinema, one can call it a Chaplin story but with a twist, the innocent girl is rescued, only to be exploited, the beautiful Eva play by Marion Cotillard in yet another masterful and sensitive performance; a Polish immigrant, whose Father and Mother were slaughtered by the Cossacks, with her sick sister, she dream the American dreams, rather simple, to settle down in the States, meet a nice man, marry and have children, but fare has other plan for her; her sister is taken away, she land in the pawn of Bruno, the manipulative but also the suffering guardian angel played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix, with a magician coming between the two, with his grandeur vision of the American Dream, as he whispers to others, “I Believe”, only for the vision to be just another illusion like his magic. For all three, it seem that money is the American Dream, for it takes money to have Eva rescue her sister, and it takes much pain, suffering, separation and finding oneself to achieve that little dream.
Camille Claudel 1915 (Bruno Dumont, 2013) As the title suggest; the year is 1915 and we are with Camille Claudel in an asylum, Juliette Binoche gives yet another sensitive and powerful performance in the role of Camille, she is locked among the insane, yet; showing full capability of a sane person. The tragic life of Camille Claudel has already been made into a film by Bruno Nuytten in Camille Claudel (1988), but in Dumont film, Binoche’s sensitive and passionate performance best captures the spirit of an Artist locked away with her imagination alone, unable to create what she desire most, although in the film and in what is written about the case of Camille Claudel, there are traces of Schizophrenia in her behavior, especially her conspiracy accusation to be poisoned and Rodin’s takeover of her studio, but the historical judgment of her character seem to be that she was a sane person locked in an asylum by a tyrannically brother obsessed with religion, Paul Claudel; much space is given to him, as he make his journey of spiritual awakening of God, his never ending love for him, yet, incapable of expressing any love toward his sister.
Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014) Without a doubt; the most talented Actress working in films today is Juliette Binoche, she enlightens the screen with her present, the range of her emotions and the subtlety of delivering it is perfect pitch to every role she plays, in Clouds of Sils Maria, she plays an aged actress preparing for the role in a play that she once played before as a younger actress, now she has to play the older character in the play who is on the edge of suicide, just as in the play, she is in turmoil relationship with her assistant, from a train ride to Switzerland, an award presentation and dinner, living and taking tripe on the Alps as she prepare for the role and becoming obsessed at checking the Google and Youtube for her younger co-star in the role, the old famed actress become envy of the younger one, for she consider her to lack talent and si puzzled by the public admiration and fascination with her. Her real life becomes a reflection of the play. Each part of the film is shot with a unique style, few scenes are tribute to the Mountains films of 20s and 30s (Arnold Fanck and Leni Riefenstahl), the epilogue is set in London; rehearsal of the play with a new assistant, in the day of the opening of the play seem to suggest the beginning of a conflict of domination of each other over the the pace and time and method of acting with her younger co-star, she give in, and her final gaze is a cold stare.
When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2013) Corneliu Porumboiu is the master of the Romanian New Wave cinema, take When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism, on the surface it seem like a simple film, rarely anything happens, but it is a memorable film, a film made by its script, with dialogues full of suspense, action and reaction as it move back and forth between the characters, and there is two main characters, a Director and his Actress, they talk and talk and nothing more, the dialogue shift almost into argument over simple things; is Chinese food more sophisticated than European because Chinese eat with chopsticks and therefore define the food but its content, opposite to the European in which knife and fork define the way the food is cooked? The style as always is simple; Porumboiu simple signature camera setup with long takes, a little tilt or pan to adjust the frame, or the camera is locked inside a car as it observe the moving outside world. There is a lengthy rehearsal scene for the supposed film that the director want to shoot in 20 to 30 minute takes, the rehearsal itself became the heart of the film; itself take 15 minute on the screen with a single camera setup. The use of the wide angle, 2.35 : 1 ratio of the frame, give him the space and depth to stage the scenes without making the viewer a distance or a near observer, he always keep it n the middle. Metabolism is a film about making of a film on a personal level of a director and an actress, yet we never see any film being made, only talked about. it is a film that could drag into eternity, it could have been about any characters; from a Gaffer to the Prop person.
Her (Spike Jonze, 2013) Arcade Fire’s musical score and Joaquin Phoenix solo performance are the highlight of Her. Phoenix not only has to act for his own character, but also has to perform and express the emotions for the voice of Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), few actors are capable of such task, for expressing others emotion through reaction shot is as if living the same thoughts and emotion of another character, in an ideal situation you would have the character facing you, but in Her, the characters is just a voice, she is an operating system that has all the capability of expressing human emotion but lack the physical present, Samantha might be a futuristic operating system, but her present is already here; just think of the social networking site, video games, and the web, the rapid exchange of information, of creating illusionary artificial intelligence, it is only matter of time with the advantage of technology that a Samantha become the latest fashion of a pastime in relationship and love, only; with attachment comes emotional entanglement, just as Theodore’s love letters are the creation of his own imagination, Samantha becomes the fulfillment of that imagination, the Greek knew it thousands of years ago, with Pygmalion falling in love with his own creation, a mere statue.
Heli (Amat Escalante, 2013) Amat Escalante with Carlos Reygadas, are perhaps the two leading and most provocative filmmaker of Nuevo Cine Mexicano; it was no surprise that Amat took the best director at Cannes a year after his friend Reyagadas took the same award. Many years to come, looking back to the year 2014, no film better speak about Mexico than Heli; the imagery, the narrative, the landscape, the amateur cast, the grim violent with no glamor, the raw emotion, and the inability of the innocent to take in and comprehend the the limitless of the violent they are exposed too is something that one sees every day on the news coming out of Mexico, yet; watching it with characters that has names, lives and hope, all being dashed away in a blink of an eye is thought provoking and an uncomfortable watch, a reason that that films of Escalante and Reygadas will always have limited audience, no matter how masterfully it is crafted. There is much to be written and analyzed after watching Heli, but I will note one thing that is so brilliant about the film and may escape the audience’s perception of the film; as much as the war on drug is in the center of the film, we never see any drug dealer, nor the drug cartel, rather; all the violent and calamity is deep rooted in the State institutions; from the army to police.
Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013) What if there is another you? Another being that is just like you, an exact copy? And for once; you two meet? The possibility of it happening might sound more in the science fiction territory, but the reality is; the latest and coolest scientific hypotheses is that of the Multiverse, the possibility of having endless universe and therefore endless existence of you. Now; take away the impossibility of believing in such occurrence, and bring in the psychology of your everyday existence, and you have an endless themes to twist and turn it into any shape of form, and Villeneuve rather take only a simple step in Enemy, more into the classic literature than into the futuristic science fiction; Enemy is more in the territory of Gogol, Dostoevsky and Kafka, and so far; it is the best work from Villeneuve.
Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014) Amazing Amy Dunne, she is a child star with a pushy parents who has high expectation of her, she is a drama queen in childhood, she becomes more when she goes missing as an adult, for she become the ideal for media’s obsession with murder, the missing person and the public fascination with her, it takes half the film for the narrative and the viewer to realize the real Amy; she is a psychopath who refuse to acknowledge her broken marriage, she refuse to acknowledge that like most marriage her expectation fade away with time, she live in a dream world, for she wanted to be a cool girl, a classic wife, but she reach her breaking point as realize that her marriage is nothing but causing each other pain, manipulating and controlling each other, a rage of jealousy trigger the calamity; she fake her own murder to have her husband punished, framing him, she already has all the plot written in the narrative. Amy Dunne has to be the most viscous femme fatal of recent films and Gone Girl is a modern noir thriller with Hitchockian twist, like Fincher’s The Game and Zodiac, the narrative and plot twisting become unpredictably genius puzzle game, on the surface, the film seem like another missing person drama, they come cheeps nowadays, but this time it is not the Daughter, but the Wife that goes missing, his “Soulmate”, or at least that is what we are told by Nick Dunne, his all loving husband, only; he is not what he is, he has a girlfriend, Amy is supposed to be six week pregnant, she keep a diary, is it a lie or truth?, or lies sold for the truth? It can be both, is the husband trapped or is he pretending? Is the women the victim or is she the villain pretending to be the victim? There is an Aesop’s Fables of a farmer rescuing a frozen snake, warming it his coat, only to be bitten to death, that is the story of Amazing Amy.
The Last of the Unjust (Claude Lanzmann, 2013) Lanzmann made one of the best, if not the best documentary of the last century; Shoah. The Last of the Unjust is not even near the scale of Shoah, but on its own, it stand tall. Over 3 hours in length, it is not your typical documentary watch, and it has its limit of audience, but for anyone who want to understand the complexity of the Holocaust tragedy, The Last of the Unjust is a must watch, for it shows to utmost detail the steps that were taken for Hitler’s “Final Solution” to become a reality, the unjust part of the film is the fact that we are told of a tragedy from a man whom some consider a victim himself, while many consider him an active participant in the Holocaust; Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein, the last Jewish elder to have survived the war, as an Elder in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, does the man feel guilt for being part of a system that annihilated millions? Or can it be justified, that simply by collaborating he survived and helped others survived even if for a short time? “the Banality of Evil”, Hannah Arendt, and Adolf Erichmann, he question them all, and hundreds of other arguments.
Venus in Fur (Roman Polanski, 2013) It is a rarity or rather an impossibility that two people can love each other equally, in every relationship, especially in love relationship, domination is a key factor and present. In David Ives’ play, Venus in Fur, now a Polanski film, there are only two characters on stage, with a phone line connecting to the third, but never heard or seen. Venus in Fur works in a many levels; it can be called a film about obsession and domination in relationship, an examination in domination between two collaborators, in this case; an actress and a director, or a look into the creating process of writing, staging and directing a play, for what is the core conflict between Vanda and Thomas on the stage and their interpretation of Wanda and Severin in the play, we are told that it is dominance, sadomasochism, obsession and love that drive the characters into a circle of miss behaviors, but it is more than that; they are both pushing, searching for the limit of the unattainable, and by doing that, they both are entangled in a a game of madness and domination.
The Reunion (Anna Odell, 2013) For a first feature film from a director; The Reunion is a small masterpiece, and take note of the name of Anna Odell, she is the brightest name to come out of the recent Swedish cinema. Based on her own personal experience in school, and a reunion of her former friends in which she was never invited, Anna Odell recreate an imaginative fictional reunion with her former school friends, lash out at other for her oppressed grief over the years of being bulled at school, then invite them to a showing of the film; what a better way to respond to bullies and satisfy one’s ego, make others feel guilty and have your sweet revenge? Only; we never really know if her fictional recreation has any truth in it, for the second half of the film shed much light into the imaginative recreation of a past that few could remember. Similar in narrative to Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, the film is divided into two fine parts; one that is shot, edited and directed in pure fictional form; a staged reunion party in which each former student friend is played by an actor, and the second that is more in the field of documentary, with Anna playing the role of both the actress and the director as she confront and track down her former friend, especially those in the “class hierarchy”, as if Anna Odell is on a mission of revenge of a long forgotten past for others, but for her; a mark left by time.
The Double (Richard Ayoade, 2013) Pure and true love can become an obsession, and only one lover can feel it, such emotion lead to suffering on a long term, for one with a gentle heart and a gentle mind; the world is meant to be a place to suffer, because the world is cruel, Fyodor Dostoevsky knew it; he suffered much, he knew what suffering was, he was lonely man, lived in loneliness, knew what it was to to lose your loved one, to love and not be loved in return, he was the saddest man whom ever wrote, and his novel, The Double is a deep insight into the heart of a lonely man, Dostoevsky’s most Gogolian work. The claustrophobic scenery and the abstract use of sound and music best captures that world in The Double; it has a feeling of 60s cinema, some traces of Orson Welles’ The Trail, it captures the essence of the book, the duality of a lonely soul, taking on his ego, the suppressed emotions, or rather the desired emotions surface, the duality in man; as one is kind, but others take his goodness and kindness for weakness, while the other is cruel, and become an attraction to others, Bernardo Bertolucci’s Partner (1968) is another claustrophobic adaptation of Dostoevsky’s book; “I don’t want to be a boy held up by strings”.
Go for Sisters (John Sayles, 2013) For more than three decades, John Sayles has been making independent film quietly, his films always has a political theme to it that is relevant to it time. Sayles leading characters are among the minorities that is rarely seen in the lading role on the screen; women lead the way, then Hispanic and African American characters. In Go for Sisters; a parole officer and her client of a drug addicts, two former high school friends, take a journey to the southern borders into Mexico to search for a missing son, joined by Edward James Olmos, playing a an aged detective on the edge of bankruptcy and blindness, a former cop kicked out of the force for doing a favor to his friend, he still has a golden heart, as he uses his wit to outsmart the drug warlords and Chinese smugglers on the illegal immigration racket. Go for Sisters has a nostalgic feeling of 40s Noir films, only there is no femme fatal, and the bad guys are never seen, they three of them seem to be chasing shadows.
Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen, 2014) Woody the magician, the nihilist atheist of a skeptic seem to believe in love and the existence of the soul, or at least pretending to have one; many of his latest film is about a pessimistic character turned into optimist by the power of love, maybe a reason that Woody is now popular in the box office, or at least his films bring in more than put in, in Magic in the Moonlight; two illusionist of magicians are on the collision course, one dealing with the soul, the other with material, they are in French Riviera, everyone speak English, no French, it is a classical Hollywood romantic comedy film that Woody is a master at staging, charming, simple, narrative driving, with your typical Woody philosophical and intellectual dialectics feed to the characters.
Fading Gigolo (John Turturro, 2013) John Turturro does a Woody Allen, with him in the leading role as a former book clerk now turned into a Gigolo and Woody as his pimp, he goes as far as to fix a date for him with a the widow of a Hassidic rabbi. It is rarity that one sees Woody in a film not directed by himself, and he is brilliant in Fading Gigolo, his best performance in years in the role of Murray, a rare book shop owner turned into a pimp, as he goes from philosophical and dialectic argument to pitch a baseball, as for John Turturro; he gives a silent performance, a loner, we rarely know what he is thinking, he think more than he shows, and his charm and mysterious character is what attract the other women.
New World (Park Hoon-jung, 2013) One might call Park Hoon-jung’s New World as Korean The Godfather on steroid, there are many scenes and plot twisting in the film that is right out of Coppola’s The Godfather; the ending montage of the enemies being slaughtered, as Ja-sung take his seat in the top of the chain. The likes of Sam Peckinpah in the 60s and 70s paved way for realistic violence in Hollywood films, but nowadays; such realism can be found mostly in Asian cinema, especially films out of South Korea and Hong Kong, the most memorable scene in New World is the knife fight in the garage and inside the elevator, the sudden burst of violent and mood shift are the highlight of the film.
Ernest and Celestine (Stephane Aubier, Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar, 2012) In the world of the bears, the mouse are the enemies, and in the world of the mouses, the bears are the enemies, but as the two world collide, there comes a love friendship between the bear the mouse, between Ernest and Celestine, between the musician and the painter whom everyone look down upon, but this incidental friendship become a taboo for both, as they are hated and hunted down, they become renegades like Bonnie and Clyde, only they have not robbed any bank nor killed anyone, just that one has stolen lots of tooth and the other eaten much candies and cookies, with the recent release of the Ghibli films, Ernest and Celestine is among the best animation that I have seen recently; it is colorful, simple, elegant, in a word; beautiful, with a moral.
The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, 2014) There is a tragic cruelty in Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman; everyone loses something, because they can’t keep it, lose it and realize too late what they have lost. At every turn, cruelty rule the screen; dark humor, violent, women oppression are the the main themes of the cruel expansion to the West, where guns and money speak, the new Homesteaders conquering the land not only has to battle the Indian, but their worst enemies are themselves, their ego lost in a vast landscape, out of them, two people, two outcast of the society has the willpower and the compassion to take a journey across the snowy desert to deliver three insane women into a Church. The heroine is a religious fanatic who want to be loved, to get married, that is what she pray for, to get a husband, and her good deeds is for the sake of that, she is not your classic Western heroine; she play music on a an imaginary keyboard, only she seem to hear the sound. The imagery are that of a dreary winter landscape, frozen grass, snow and wind, as with the sudden twist in the plot, the landscape changes. A journey of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza with three crazy women, with surrealistic imagery at times; out of the desert, a 5 star hotel appear, and for the sake of piece of bread in absurd world, one must go medieval on them. Tommy Lee Jones give a powerful performance, he is a comically tragic figure, the film has memorable soundtrack.
The Missing Picture (Rithy Panh, 2013) The atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia is well documented, and many films and documentaries has been made about the Cambodian Genocide, but rarely does any of the film come close to The Missing Picture; because it gives faces to the name of the victims, in the case of the filmmaker, Rithy Panh, the film become his personal re-telling of the horror he experienced during his time in the labor camps, as he saw the death of his family, close relative and friends. When I was in Kurdistan, I worked on a few films on the Anfal Campaign and the Chemical attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja by Saddam Hussein, and everyone I met during making of those films had horrifying tales of their experience surviving and losing their loved one, but they only had a voice to tell their stories, in The Missing Picture; Panh uses brilliantly documentary footage, hand made clay and wooden figure in staging a colorful but tragic theatrical events from his memories, it can be a film about any genocide that took place anywhere in the past century, not just in Cambodia.
The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam, 2013) Just as the Universe was created out of nothing in a big bang, therefore; the Universe must go back into becoming nothingness, the total value of %100 must equal %0 in the zero theorem, and by proving such theory, man must lose faith in everything, for “All” mean “Nothing”, and we are born and fade into nothings. Sitting in his room for year, day after day on his computer, it is the job of Qohen Leth to prove such theory, yet; he wait for a phone call, for a voice to tell him what the meaning of life is, will he ever get such a call? From nihilism, to existentialism, to spirituality, to absurdity of life, in The Zero Theorem, Gilliam goes back to Brazil, this time, a computer programmer and mathematician is the leading character, he is lost in his room, take to fantasy and imagination for a meaning.
Jimmy’s Hall (Ken Loach, 2014) You know you are watching a Kean Loach film when the images chosen to show New York City of the 1920s, instead of the Jazz Age, you see skyscraper raised to the sky by workers, not your romantic notion of the 20s, instead of NY; you see the Jazz moves in a hall in a small village in Ireland in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the Irish Civil War, now is the battle of the Church vs Jimmy’s Hall, a personal war between an aged Priest against a fiery young Communist, the two at times seem to be the mirror of each other; the Priest know more about Marx than any in the town, and the Jimmy can recite lines after lines from the Bible. The ideological battle shatter the community, tearing families apart, it become ugly; threats, boycott, violence, as the Priest refuse to recognize the commune of the dance hall. Speeches after speech are made, one by Jimmy on the nature of Capitalism that is more about today than 1930s Ireland; Greed, exploitation and class struggle, politician, businessmen, and the police, a fiery speech from the few of last remaining leftist filmmaker. The film has its humor; a keystone cop chase toward the end, and a lost bitter sweet romantic love to sink in the message, Loach always delivers.
Capital (Costa-Gavras, 2012) Maybe today’s Gavras is no longer the Gavras of the 60s and 70s with his political thriller films, but he still got it, like Kean Loach, he still make relevant film to the date. In Le capital, the title also of Karl Marx’s best book, a 21st century examination of the lower and upper scale of capital within the banking cartel is the center stage, I write “Banking Cartel”, because all banks are run like a cartel, run like a Mafia; it is by exploitation, elimination and survival of the fittest that one make it to the top and stay there, each move must be calculated to do utmost damage but with the utmost kindness; insider trading, speculation, dictatorship of the market, speculation, etc, all the relevant quotes of today’s market is in the film, at times, Gavras make use of imaginative flash-forward in rage to score a point the ironic nature of the game. “I make the richer, richer, the poor, poor” says our anti-hero; for he is a modern Robin Hood “We’ll keeping robbing the poor to give it to the rich”.
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (Mami Sunada, 2013) It has been a good year for the Ghibli films; Isao Takahata’s The Tale of The Princess Kaguya and Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises were released, and to top it all; is this wonderful documentary into the working of Miyazaki and his close collaborators in Ghibli studio for two years, while working on The Wind Rises. It is a wonderful two hour documentary on the method used by Miyazaki in creating his animation, as he sit on his table, 10 hours a day drawing storyboards, much time is also spent with Toshio Suzuki, the producers behind many of the Ghibli films, there are many reference to Takahata and his film also, but we only get a few moment of him on the camera toward the end. Nowadays we look back at the Renaissance and the names of DaVinci and Michelangelo stand above the rest, so will many a years to come; Miyazaki and Takahata will be the two name remembered as the men who changed Animation into an art form, they stand tall above the rest, it is rather a nostalgic watch, we are seeing the last days and perhaps we already saw the last films of the two masters.
A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn, 2014) By nature; Political Islam is violent, its past is full of violent, and its future is worse, for more than a religion, political Islam is an ideology with aim of power, worse than Nazism and Fascism combined when it comes to making one lost its individual identity. I was in Kurdistan when ISIS ravaged through Iraq and Syria into the borders of Kurdistan, and I sa the atrocities that were committed by these Jihadist and terrorists, many coming from Europe, Chechenia, and Arab countries, many came from rich families, lived a prosperous life, but they came with a sword, chopping the head of Yazidis, Christian and Kurdish women and children in the name of “Allah”, so it is not that oppression or injustice, war or inequality that drive these men, they are driven by the Islamic ideology and many of the so called “Moderate Muslim” and “Moderate Islamic” countries support these savages, Turkey, Qatar, UAE, Jordan, Kuwait. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc, many rich Muslims in these countries and in the West working in so called “Muslim Charity Organizations” flooded ISIS with money, that is what the end of A Most Wanted Man is; the Jihadist foot soldiers are taking away, but the real dark forces behind them is hidden, the Kings and Monarchs of many Arab countries that the West consider as a allies, with friends like them, who need an enemy?.
We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodysson, 2013) For the Punk Music fans, We Are the Best! is a must watch, and for those who are not punk music fan, as I’m not, it is a recommended watch; Bobo and Clara are two girls who are mistaken for little boys with their punk hair style, they resist the notion that “Punk is Dead”, and decide to create a small band, out of boredom and passion, they recruit a shy girl from a conservative Christian family into the band. There is much cynicism and innocent about the two character in the film, their view of the world, politic, sport, art, relationship and establishment. It is an innocent and beautiful film.
Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, 2013) Among the resent post-apocalyptic film; Snowpiercer stand out, it is a beautifully chaotic grand design in action, narrative driven, with its sudden and rapid shift of mood, Bong Joon-ho gives little times to wonder at the beautify of some of the set designs, with its unpredictable and violent twist, at time absurd, at time a dark comedy, and most of the time; exuberance action sequences. The deception of the front and back passengers of the train is not only a futuristic hypothesis, it is rather more relevant to today’s societies than any future train.
Welcome to New York (Abel Ferrara, 2014) Welcome to New York has a Hitchcockian twist to it; the future president of France is in an American jail being striped naked, only the man is not innocent, and he knows it, what is more ironic is that he knows that he will getaway with it; telling the story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair has no suspense to it, its outcome is already known to anyone who watched the news, what make the film a captivating watch is the performance of Gérard Depardieu, what an actor, such simplicity yet perfection in acting, never fade away from giving it all, yet making it look so simple. Welcome to New York is a tale of two city, one man living both of it; from the top to the gutter, the sudden twist and the bureaucracy of the system dealing with the two is inanely tragically funny, there is no room for reason when in the gutter, when on top; the truth is in the form of a green piece of paper, as Jacqueline Bisset said it best, holding her checkbook; “This is the truth, and I’m gonna put it in my handbag”.
The Salvation (Kristian Levring, 2014) A Western with Eric Cantona? You know that sound bizarre, then expect a chaotic, but masterful crafted Western in the old tradition of the classic filmmaking with Spaghetti violent, the narrative is in line with a Budd Boetticher film; a Man loses his wife and children to a bandit, but instead of the whole film being about this Man in search of the Killer as in a Boetticher film, in The Salvation; it only takes a few minutes to track down the killer and get his revenge, what come next is the pure classic Western; the man has to take not only on the well established cruel old West, but the corrupt order of the town, take on the big guns, and he must stand alone facing them, those who help him, vanish, for the law of the land only knows the language of the gun. On the background, the theme of the Western expansion, the black gold of oil. Shot with grander vision, Levring is obsessed with the crane and tracking shots to show the landscape, at times becoming too repetitive, but the final showdown payoff; classic one man showdown against the gangs of the many.
Blind Detective (Johnnie To, 2013) Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai gave the Chinese cinema some of the most memorable and suspense films in the past decade, but they also made a few flops during that time (thinking of Running on Karma). Blind Detective has its brilliant and also its lets down; a former top detective, who once had an eye on the back of his head to calculate utmost detail in a case, now turned into a blind Detective, still he is the master of his domain; at times he can’t find his way to the bathroom, but he sure can crack the most complex case as his imagination become his eyes. Dark humor and violent, silly and childish humor at times, with some of the most bizarre scenes in recreating and staging the crime using unorthodox method; Blind Detective is a comedy in the form of a melodrama, and it is a Must Watch.
Tim’s Vermeer (Teller, 2013) Johannes Vermeer’s painting like that of Da Vinci, Rembrandt and other masters at times can become an obsession with those who challenge the technique and means they were created, of all the Dutch Masters, Vermeer’s use of light and calculation to details is the stuff of genius. I remember early this year at Louvre Museum in Paris I had a chance to see Vermeer’s The Lacemaker; it is amazing how small the scale the painting is, yet so rich with microscopic details. It is no wonder that a man like Tim Jenison is obsessed in finding out the mystery behind Vermeer’s painting as spent five years of his life in an attempt to recreate Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. I’m not a historical scholar of painting nor even have enough knowledge to make any judgment as to how Vermeer managed to capture light and microscopic details in his paintings, but if a camera obscura or mirrors were used in helping to capture the details, there is still a question of the lights; Vermeer’s use of light is nationalistically true to nature, even films and photography rarely captures such truthfulness in light, how did he do it? We will never know, and art’s content and forms comes before the technique, looking for all answers are futile at times.
A Story of Children and Film (Mark Cousins, 2013) The task of critics is to give meaning to subjects, for film critics; they give meaning to films, at times giving much significant to details that the filmmaker might never intended to be seen than way, I do that at times, but take Mark Cousins; I remember watching his 15 hour long documentary on the history of cinema, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, as he take a trip around the world cinema, from the silent era to today, but always with a philosophical, repetitive and on screen narration of signifying meaningless subjects, occurrence, and staging of the film, same can be said of A Story of Children and Film. I give you one example; he takes a shot of Yasujiro Ozu’s An Inn in Tokyo, and analyze the scene of a little boy standing in front of an industrial building as “The camera is at the ground level, the industrial building shot to look massive, dwarfing the boys”, but if you look at the shot, the boys are bigger than the building, if Ozu had the intention of what Cousins describe, then he would have placed his camera at a high angle, not a low angle, but Ozu rarely care about such staging, his style is to have his camera on the around level, that is Ozu style, is has nothing to do with making people look dwarf or buildings look giant, saying that; if you do want to discover some decent film about children, I would say, A Story of Children and Film is a must watch.
The Captive (Atom Egoyan , 2014) Another film where the daughter goes missing, the father figure must find her, the male hero to the rescue of the helpless woman, and this time; not only one woman, but two need saving. With The Captive, Egoyan take a trip back to the memory lane, back to back to The Sweet Hereafter; from the use of the narrative to the snowy landscape, the two are mirrors of each others. Kevin Durand in the role of the Mika, the ringleader of a pedophile group is perhaps the weakest point of the film; with his over the top acting, and then there is Egoyan obsession with Mozart, and the mysteries ring of the pedophiles that are all powerful, to a point; they could kidnap a detective in the middle of a charity party. Despite its flows, it is a Must See.
Devil’s Knot (Atom Egoyan, 2013) The critics bashed Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot upon its release due to the fact that almost many who went to see the film already knew the story of West Memphis Three, and with a plot already known, it leave no space for suspense, but that is a wrong way to look at Devil’s Knot; its more than a suspenseful film, rather a re-telling of a story of lose, grief, and miscarriage of justice. There are some brilliant moment in the film with its emotional power, the scenes with Reese Witherspoon as the grieving mother are the highlight of the film.
Lucy (Luc Besson, 2014) Humanity has prove that the with the advancement of knowledge and science, one of the benefactors of such gain is the destructive and chaotic force of human nature; from Bronze age to the Nuclear Age. Maybe Besson can be forgive for stretching the violent in Lucy, with the macho woman shooting right to left, and he can also be forgiven for the notion that we only use “%10 of our brain”, we use far more than that when it come to the physical ability of the brain, but the physiological ability is even less than “%10”, as Freud and Jung were so deterred to prove it, that our conscious mind is only a drop on the surface of an ocean of unconsciousness, here is what Freud wrote in The Unconscious (1891); “Our right to assume the existence of something mental that is unconscious and to employ that assumption for the purposes of scientific work is disputed in many quarters, To this we can reply that our assumption of the unconscious is necessary and legitimate, and that we possess numerous proofs of its existence. It is necessary because the data of consciousness have a very large number of gaps in them; both in healthy and in sick people psychical acts often occur which can be explained only by presupposing other acts, of which, nevertheless, consciousness affords no evidence.”
Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood, 2014) Going to 85, Eastwood still got it, he can still deliver an entertaining watch of a film. Throughout the years, Eastwood had a roller coaster of a relationship with the critics; some films were praised, while others damned, as an actor or director, I always found much creativity in his films, there is always a push to create new, something different from one film into another (interesting use of breaking the fourth walls, something out of Goodfellas), in away; he is a link to the last great directors of Hollywoods golden age era, the likes of Hawks and Fords. In Jersey Boys, an energetic film about a group of youngster’s dream to make it to the top is rather ironic to have been made by a man in his mid 80s, at times its both hilarious and nostalgic, in away; Eastwood’s melancholic look back into his own past through Franki Vali and the Four Seasons. Christopher Walken is great in the role of the Godfather to the bunch, and the ending, ah, it is rather pathetic; with the fake makeup, Eastwood did the same in Hoover with DeCaprio.
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013) Under the Skin is a a film that after seeing it; some call it as a junk and some call it as a masterpiece, rarely there is in-between of the two, take the opening scenes; there is no dialogue for the first 12 minute, and when the dialogues come in, they are insignificant or what it seem like improvised dialogues that is out of Kiarostami’s cinema than Glazer, the eery soundtrack and use of sound in abstract manners, surrealists imagery, a story of an alien seductress who prey on men, only to become a prey herself, the sudden shift of the mood and scenery, it is not the cup of tea of any average viewer, no wonder it was a big flop at the box office; the ending scene, as the alien extricates herself from the superficial skin is brilliant, a memorable horror imagery of recent cinema
Kill Your Darlings (John Krokidas, 2013) From Harry Potter to Allen Ginsberg, it is some giant leap for young Daniel Radcliffe. After Walter Salles’s On the Road, Kill Your Darlings is another recent film that is obsessed with re-creating the relationship between the leading figures of the Beat Generation, this time we have; Ginsberg, Car, Burroughs and Kerouac, the film narrative approach is balanced between a triangular love affair and the literal counter culture revolution banner, and like many fictional film based on real characters; the film suffers from historical inaccuracies, the real truth always become the victim of the plot driven narrative, never the less; Kill Your Darlings is a must see.
First Cousin Once Removed (Alan Berliner, 2012) Alan Berliner’s First Cousin Once Removed is a depressing watch, and it is not recommended to everyone. Old age, sickness, memory, death and the mystery of the brain, the last few years in the life of Edwin Honig, a poetic and a literal translator who live in an emptiness of the wilderness of his memories, for he cannot remember anyone or anything, when he does; it is only for a glimpse of time, then forget it. What does it feel to have no memory? In away, without it; one has no past nor a future, always living in the present moment, rather a peaceful existence, for many of our emotional problems arises from our memories, and the only times, sadness appear on his face is when his past is spoken about, his relationship with other, his fame, his poem, achievement in life, all feel like a distant dream that he remembers little of it.
Age of Uprising The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas (Heinrich von Kleist, 2013) Mads Mikkelsen gives another sensitive performance a year after The Hunt, this time in the role of Michael Kohlhaas; the German rebel that took on the lords of Saxon, only to have his head put on a stick. Slow paced at time, dialogue driven, the film has a memorable violent scene in which Kohlhass and his gang of desperado slaughter the lord’s men.
Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014) Turn the pages of the Old Testament, New Testament and Koran, they are all drenched in blood; stories of slaughters, annihilation and God’s wrath on mankind, perhaps none of the stories is as violent as that of the Noah; the merciful God wipe out humanity in order to show his love again by rescuing Noah and his family, perfect story of chaos in harmony, of contradiction, that almighty creator, that create and destroy in a never ending cycle of contradiction. Religion, God and Myth are three most imaginative creation of man, and in each; it reflect the nature of man itself, its chaotic and harmonic nature that is always in battle with each other, Aronofsky take from all three in Noah, it has its fault, and it has its brilliant.
My Sweet Pepper Land (Huner Saleem, 2013) Maybe because I’m Kurdish, just returned from Kurdistan, and that is a reason that I found so many wrong and lack of accuracy in My Sweet Pepper Land, the reality that is shown in the film does not match not even the wildest fantasy of anything in the Kurdish culture, take the language spoken in the film; one characters talk Sorani the other Kermanji, the other a mix of the two, but the worst is between brothers and sisters, especially the beautiful Golshifteh Farahani who speak in Eastern Kurdistan Sorani dialect, but her brothers talks Kermanji, I’m yet to see any distance relative to speak two different Kurdish dialect, let alone see brothers and sisters in a family. The film is full of butchered scenes when it comes to language, you can tell by the reaction shot of the actors, they do not understand each other. Saleem’s obsessions with the extreme closeup at times become too repetitive. The characters are not only overacting, they are even over reacting in a simple reaction shot, and the over use of music, Elvis? I’m yet to meet anyone in Kurdistan to listen to Elvis every day, or country music, let alone a border guard with a fedora hat? My Sweet Pepper Land is a film that is sold for a Western; the law and the culture, the Sheriff and the Teacher or the newspaper man, the hero come to the town and leave his mark with a shootout at the end, the characters even talk in English at times; “F*ck off”, they are pretending to be in a Western, so no wonder they act like cowboys with guns. A remote town that one only reaches with horse, yet it is full of concrete houses and paved road, but no car, they only ride horses, I guess they build roads for cars in Kurdistan but only for horses ride them. The worst; the two lovers speaks two different accents, without one trying to understand the other, unintentional comedy at its best. Then there is the depiction of the Kurdish Female Fighters of the PKK, running away from a few smugglers is rather shameful, these Kurdish Female Fighters are now fighting ISIS terrorist in all fronts, take the town of Kobani, they run away from nothing. Then there is the thunder-lighting after the lovemaking scene, it has to be the cheesiest scene I have seen in a long time. Skip it.
Rhino Season (Bahman Ghobadi, 2012) I remember when Ghobadi’s first film; A Time for the Drunken Horses came out, I watched it in a broken down old theater in Kurdistan, sitting beside me there was an old man, and with each scene that showed the smugglers crossing the artificial border between Iraq and Iraq, he would mumble to himself “That is so true, that is how exactly it is”. The Ghobadi that once made such masterpiece in simplicity, touching the tragic corners of live in Kurdistan, using non-actors and down to earth stories, now has become one that imitate Hollywood and Art-house filmmaking, only; the two never matches, and one can see that in Rhino Season; Ghobadi pushes the limit of its use of poetic imagery with a Greek tragic narrative and a Hollywood plot twisting, everything become artificial at the end; the camera is staged on the frozen face of a character, not to convey the emotion, but to capture an image only, that is the fault of the film; it pushes everything to its limit, and it is an epic fail.
Borgman (Alex van Warmerdam, 2013) Black humor can only sustain itself for a short period of time, but to have a film that define its narrative on violent and black humor, pounding you on the head time after time with no clarification of the character’s behaviors, at times, the film feel like a cheap imitation of Haneke’s Funny Games, but as it drag on, it become more bizarre and unsettling by second in a negative way, and the viewer is lost to the twist and turn of the scenario. Skip it.
The Congress (Ari Folman, 2013) After watching The Congress, one thing is for sure, Ari is not the actor’s director nor good at writing dialogues; lengthy useless dialogue dominate most of the scenes in the film. When the film comes alive in the animated zone, it suddenly becomes the tale of two films, the sudden jumps takes a while for the audience to digest, with its hallucinatory imagery, as the narrative suddenly shift between scenes that has little continuity one after the other. On a side note; Stanislaw Lem’s novel with its notion of the futurist digital age in which actors are immortalized is not far from becoming a reality.
Joe (David Gordon Green, 2013) I always had a hard time taking Nicolas Cage seriously in any role, the harder he tries to put in a decent performance, the worse his over acting gets, and Joe suffers from having Cage in a leading a role of a character that ask for sympathy throughout the film. David Gordon Green’s cinema to me always seemed to be a walking on a thin line between the films of Terrence Malick and the literature of William Faulkner, maybe the depiction of the deep south, the wilderness connect him to Faulkner, and his use of documentary, improvisation, natural light, editing style, and the landscape is similar to the cinema of Malick, but I could never get along with his narrative, the sudden shift in characters behavior or the repetitive actions in the narrative that lead to a predictable ending, in Joe; the length kill the film halfway through, as it become an old record playing the same tone. Skip it.
The Golden Dream (Diego Quemada-Diez, 2013) Maybe it is me, but I have seen much film in the style of The Golden Dream; the struggling and suffering immigrant, crossing borders, amid hardship to search for a better dream in another country, only to end up a mere tool for others to exploit, and the golden dream he was looking for, is nothing but a mere unseen illusion.
Vic and Flo Saw a Bear (Denis Cote, 2013) It never ceases to amaze me how many junks are made into films and are called by critics “Art-house Film”, take Vic and Flo Saw a Bear; nobody sees a bear in the film, let lone Vic and Flo, even the title is misleading, shot in a washed color cinematography, with a few characters coming across one another in the wilderness, none of them a likable person, and none of them knowing what they want, or what they search for in others, it is as if these characters are twisted and turn by the director for the sake of the action in the narrative, just as the title of the film signify nothing to the content of the film, so is the characters and the narrative in the film, it comes and goes without a unifying formality in theme or content, worst film I have seen in a while. Skip it.
Starred Up (David Mackenzie, 2013) After watching the first 45 minutes of Starred Up, there was nothing new to look forward too other than counting the profanity in the film, and I could not catch up as to how many times the words “Fu*k” and “Cu*t” was used. A son goes to prison to catch up with his criminal father, only for the two to battle each other and the rest of the prion and the cops, cheap violent with cheap profanity are the highlight of the film. Skip it.
Cold in July (Jim Mickle, 2014) The first 45 minutes of Cold in July is pure suspense, rather masterfully directed; the fear of a father losing his son to a killer who want revenge for his son’s death, one father kill anther’s son after an attempted robbery, everything become fear in his eyes, nothing is what they seem before, but a sudden twist in the plot, make the two enemies friend, and with the arrival of a cowboy detective, the film become crime thriller with the three stooges going around braking into places and solving they mystery of the “missing son”, the coward father who could barely shot a gun, now become a sharp shooter as he join two former Korean war veteran tracking down a “Dixie Mafia Band” in Texas, with a cheap and bloody violent showdown at the end. Skip it.
Yves Saint Laurent (Jalil Lespert, 2014) Over 100 minutes in length, you can divide Yves Saint Laurent into three repetitive sections; Laurent’s relationship with others, lengthy fashion shows followed by lengthy congratulation and applaud, and Laurent’s breakdown and recovery, which lead to Laurent’s search for relationship with others followed by Laurent’s breakdown and recovery, and lengthy fashion shows followed by lengthy congratulation and applaud, the predictable narrative is matched by glamors in the background, from Paris night life, to Laurent’s fancy house and servant, his art collection, etc, just like the women in the fashion show; Yves Saint Laurent might just be a film about characters walking and talking in glamors surrounding, empty of anything new to offer to the audience, other than repetitive tales already been told.
Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier, 2013) There seem to be an obsession with violent, kidnapping, picking up the gun and slaughtering each other in the name of self defense in the recent American and Canadian indie films, this never ending obsession with violent and gun has become rather a sickening watch seen in repetitive recent films, Blue Ruin is another cheap example of that, nothing new here, pass on.
Long Live Freedom (Roberto Ando, 2013) Exchanging places, the wise man taking the place of the king and bringing property to the land, the tale is as old as humanity, in Long Live Freedom; Toni Servillo take the double role of the leftist politician running for election dragging his party down, but his secluded professor of a twin brother replace him, as the politician goes on a soul searching trip to France, the new man running for election take the public by surprise with his philosophical, poetic and truthful speeches, only in the eve of the election to have his brother return and take back his position, predictable narrative.
Locke (Steven Knight, 2013) There are limited way that one can stretch the style of a film without manipulating the audience into boredom, take Locke; a film that is set in its entirety inside a car, with a character driving and talking on the phone, in the span of the drive, he make radical changes to his life and all those who surround them, after the first ten minute of the film; it becomes repetitive and predictable.
Exhibition (Joanna Hogg, 2013) A bored wife, an architect of a husband, a big apartment, and more boring visitors, all coming crushing down on a frustrated middle aged woman, it was Howard Hawks who once said; “If your characters are not interesting, then your film isn’t interesting either”, everything about Exhibition is uninteresting and boring, even the long takes that drag on into becoming nothing but a style forced upon the film to drain it from any emotion.