Sunday, February 22, 2015

Quick Critique: Selma (2014)

In this new section, I will attempt to review a more recent film in 500 words or less. Think I can do it? That’s good, ‘cause I sure don't! Let’s go:

When making a period piece biopic on one of the most revered people in history, it’s hard to avoid pratfalls like lionising them to the point where they no longer feel human and not making it culturally relevant to modern day audiences. These are two problems that Selma passes over with grace and professionalism.

Set during the heights of Civil Rights Movement, Selma tells the tale of Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) and his historic march into Selma Alabama after a tragedy in the town ignites in the people the importance of being able to vote, a right stolen from African Americans at the time by unfair legal loopholes and scare tactics.

The movie plays out like an argument. It lays the groundwork, sets off the spark of discussions, returns the central points in retaliation, builds on these points to gain support, gains opposition and counter-measures, grows in strength, and eventually blows up until there is one victor. It’s a slow, epic crawl to the climax, which makes the first act a bit of a slog, but all the more worth is once the finale comes about.

The comparison between this and the recent race-related disputes that are currently playing out in America is pretty apparent. There are people playing down the damages, there are those excusing or even condoning the violence done, and there is no punitive measures brought up for these attacks. It paints a depressing reality that, despite King’s historic efforts, race and privilege are still a major, dangerous issue.

Having said that, it doesn’t paint it in a hopeless light either. Led by the perfect helm of Ava DuVernay, it tells a story parallel to the struggles of the time, but is used as a rallying call to stand up and fight for a brighter future. Just because it looks hopeless, violent or disparaging doesn’t mean you should give up.

Leading the charge is Oyelowo, who gives easily one of the best performances of the year so far. Oyelowo is both joyously inspiring, but also crafty and very human. Every pore of his body bleeds MLK, and he does the impossible by making him a very flawed, media-savvy and extreme man, ready to do what needs to be done to get the results needed. This all works to make him all the more inspirational, and he is the textbook example of how to do a historic figure in a biopic.

All in all, Selma is a powerful, beautifully told story that’s both a piece of historic text and relevant to this very day. Absolutely worth watching.

Rating: 9/10

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Her (2013)

(this review concludes by worst/best of 2014 list. If you want to see what other movies made either cut, click here and here for the worst, and here and here for the best up until my number 1 pick ,which is:)

“You know sometimes, I think I’ve felt everything I’m ever gonna feel, and I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser bursts of what I’ve already felt.”

SPOILER WARNING: I spoil pretty much the entire damn movie. Proceed with caution.

Her is my favourite movie of 2014. And one of my favourite movies of all time

(yes, I know it technically came out in 2013, but I’m counting it as an ’14 release as that’s when it came out here. We don’t get all the Oscar movies in one like you Yanks)

Considering it is one of my favourite movies, I thought it’d be a good experiment to really examine what makes me like a movie. Just a general thought process to explain why I love this film so much and why it works so well for me.

Now, liking something is truly subjective. You can get an emotional attachment to something as gripping, intelligent and powerful as Casablanca, and Howard the Duck. There is no magical formula to this, I’m not trying to spell out why this movie is such a masterpiece that you’re an idiot if you don’t like it. it’s just my own personal way of breaking down a film in its parts and figuring out why something works for me and why something doesn’t. With that said, let’s see if it reaches any of these criteria:

Do I enjoy the movie?

May seem obvious. I mean, if I don’t enjoy a movie, why would I like it? No matter how much philosophical pondering you can do for a flick, if you’re not entertained by it, why are you watching it?

So, suffice to say, Her is extremely entertaining on top of all its other traits. With its thoughts on our relationship with technology, relationship with ourselves, relationship with relationships, and how we analyse love and happiness in every facet, it’s simply a love story. A love story between a man and his artificial intelligenced (yes, that’s a verb now, shut up) computer. It’s such a simple, yet brilliant, concept and it brings out a lot in both our characters and the relationship.

It’s well paced, the leads are extremely likeable and relatable, their inevitable fights and break ups feel naturally developed, the dialogue is both natural and memorable (very deserving of its Best Original Screenplay Oscar), it looks nice, the technology is very well incorporated, and it has a sense of fun. It really does feel like the trials and tribulations of a relationship, the only odd thing is that one of the halves wasn’t naturally created.

So yeah before you even start, it’s a very, very entertaining film with a strong cast and a sweet story. So what elevates this above other movies that entertain me?

Does it make me think?

Art has a way of making us look at life in an entirely unique and interesting way. Film is no different. So while not everybody will look into film this deeply (and there’s nothing wrong with that), that doesn’t mean there is another layer to it that makes us ponder and question aspects of life. So does Her do this?

For one, it makes you question our interaction with technology. Not just with the main relationship, but with characters in the background. They all seem to be in worlds of their own; creating lives and destinies from their gadgets and gizmos. This is best displayed in one of the earliest scenes when Theodore is coming home from work. He goes from checking one computer to another, surrounded on a train by people doing exactly the same thing (also, another pointed critique, avoiding real world events in order to look at sultry photos of a pregnant celebrity).

It’s not that technology has completely taken over people. There are plenty of scenes where we see them interact with other people, like the couple with the children and Theodore and Samantha analysing them. But it does show that they’re coming close to a world where they just leave in their ideal worlds given to them by the world of the internet. They’re beyond today’s standards of technological and pop culture obsession, but they’re not on the levels of The Canyons just yet. So how does this relate to Theodore and Samantha’s story?

This is where the movie gets most of its most interesting intellectual material. What is love?

Is it something that is created through our own attachment to something or is it a mutual response between two people? Is Samantha ever a person? Are Theodore’s feelings real? Who are we to judge them if he’s so happy? If they are real, does that mean that love is an insular phenomenon, or does Samantha really develop into a fully-fledged personality? It seems that way. Does that mean a ‘person’ is created by genetics and tissue or is it something far harder to grasp? Is Samantha just a new sentient lifeform entirely, considering she has far more access to knowledge and people and can arguably live forever?

Believe it or not, all of these questions come up in some way (probably not worded in this way), and the brilliance of the movie is that it doesn’t’ answer them. It’s not really its job to answer them. It just posits these ideas, framing them through this story, and it’s up to the audience to wonder what this all means, if it means anything at all. Some of my favourite movies brings up questions that you are supposed to decipher yourself, and Her really leaves it up to you whether Theodore and Samantha’s love is genuine or if he’s just crazy. Even if it does play the relationship as very touching and sincere.

So how does the relationship play out?

Does it get me emotionally?

I’m very, very attached to the couple in this movie. If I’m not emotionally connected to a movie, it will really not last in my mind as long as it could have. This one I’m very involved in.

Theodore is a romantic. We get that immediately when he’s very emotionally reading a love letter he himself wrote. At the same time, he’s very self-involved and kind of arrogant. When his ex-wife (a wonderfully played, and sadly brief, part by Rooney Mara) calls him out on being a control freak and accusing him of this being the reason he’s fallen ‘madly in love with his laptop’, she’s not entirely wrong (p.s. I love that line). I do think she’s off-base, but she clearly knows her husband and it allows the audience to see him in another light. My point is that he’s very human. He can be selfish, and pretentious, and self-aggrandising, but he’s also very emotionally intelligent, bashfully charming, and has a big heart. Which is why Samantha works so well for him.

Where Theodore is romantic, Samantha is realistic. Where he is certain, she is curious. If there’s any personality to the character, it’s that she is constantly looking for new things to explore and helping her to broaden her horizons. She asks questions that no person would really ask and, because we only get brief glimpses at other artificially intelligent OS’ (including that brilliant moment where they recreated Alan Watts’ personality, which could be a movie in of itself), we just have to presume this is her own uniqueness.

So, in a sense, Samantha’s reality pondering and want to question, not to mention her vastly superior intelligent, allows Theodore to be more humbling and accepting that his romantic notions may be too much. At the same time, Theodore’s romanticism and easygoing zest for life allows Samantha a safe space to grow her curiousity and understand this vast and complex world through a safe and reliable vessel. They are compelling as individuals and even better together, which is what makes them such a great romantic pairing. They’re easy to invest into and love, made even more impressive by how most of their interactions are Joaquin Phoenix talking to a voice (though, let’s be honest, even Scarlett Johannson’s voice is sexy as hell).

The best way to sum up how strong their relationship is, to me, is that they have one of the most intimate, sensual, powerful, and moving sex scenes I have seen in any movie. And it’s literally a black screen!

This! This is sexy, people!

‘God I was somewhere else with you. I was just lost. It was just you and me.’

Is it technically well made?

While I do think Spike Jonze has a kind of ‘90s indie’ feel to the cinematography, it’s suitably light and romantic. It allows the drama beats to hit while also allowing scenes like the beach day out and the log cabin trip a sense of romantic tenderness. At the end of the day, with the crazy technology and esoteric ideas of thought and artificial intelligence, it is a romance story.

A lot of the songs are really cleverly incorporated into the film’s narrative, too. I love how they can be so diegetic; either through Theodore’s headpiece or even elevator music. It’s a small touch, but it’s showing of how technology is forever evolving and constantly in our lives, as this is stuff that is around today. I also love how advertisements are everywhere and can be involved in the movie either through exposition or symbolism. Again, not too dissimilar from nowadays, yet with that added touch that it feels as if the movie takes place in the not-too-distant future.

In fact, a lot of things are given their own little touches. Games are more interactive, and you have to socially interact with game characters to progress in the world (I love that the nasty alien child is voiced by Jonze). Outside of me going ‘IT’S SO CLOSE TO LIFE’ for about the billionth time, it gives us the sense that this isn’t just a world contained on the importance of Theodore and Samantha. Hell, the movie flat out states they’re not the only human/OS relationship in the film! There’s such great world building in this film from its design, you really do feel like this world has been lived in by people other than the main cast.

Is it multi-faceted?

I came up with an entire theory that the entire movie is about Theodore getting over his relationship with his ex-wife. And Samantha was there simply to help him to move on.

Think about it: she’s constantly trying to get him to face up to his divorce, encourages him to go on dates and move past her. Who’s to say she didn’t get into a relationship with him because that’s what he needed at the time? She’s doing what she can to solve the problem, like a computer. His final words of dialogue is him writing a letter to his wife letting her go. I mean, it doesn’t explain why the other OS’ left with Samantha, but maybe this is all just metaphor?

Hell, I’ve heard that it’s all about him moving on to his friend Amy (Amy Adams, who I don’t mention a lot as she’s essentially a supporting character with no real involvement to the plot, but I like her character). I don’t buy into it that much, but I can definitely see why someone else would see it.

Hell, the entire movie is a meditation on technology told through the eyes of a relationship. Hell, the surrogate is an interesting idea. It doesn’t even have to apply to OS’; human beings have become so jaded at this point that maybe using this woman to appease long-distance couples wouldn’t be completely out of left field. it could be an entire commentary about how we can use people’s feelings to appease our own selfish purposes, framed in what appears to be an almost festishised concept of a person living out the day-to-day routine of one half of a couple for them, even for the night. It’s an interesting thought.

Does it have a glorious mustache from one Joaquin Phoenix?

Yes. Yes, it does.

Seriously, I could go on forever about this movie, but you really just need to see it for yourself. Her is emotional. Her is complex. Her is sweet, funny, charming, light, while also contemplative, thought-provoking, a little strange and all kinds of wonderful. It’s exactly what I look for in a movie, and it’s something you should absolutely check out. It’s why I named it my favourite movie of 2014. And why I consider it one of the best movies I have ever seen.

Rating: 10/10


-Chris Pratt; the man is almost as attractive chubby as he is in shape. i kind of hate him.
Stupid, attractive, sick children charity donating bastard...
though admittedly this isn't a great shot of him

-The scene with the cat-choking roleplay is so goddamn hilarious. It can be shown as more of humanity’s openness to sexuality and another way technology has developed around human need, but mostly it makes me laugh so hard every time I see it. Also, Theodore’s username being ‘bigguy4by4’.

-Similarly is Samantha’s idea of an asshole being where your armpit is and her illustration of that. Again, thematically connected, but mostly cute and funny.

-Again, do I need to emphasise what a great talent Scarlet Johannson is? It’s only her voice, and yet she has such amazing chemistry with Phoenix (who is also fantastic) and creates such a fully realised character that doesn’t even have a body.

-It may seem trite that a guy who has such a specialised job like letter writing be in such a fancy apartment, but I can buy it. It seems to be a luxury to get handwritten letters in that time, and he has regular clients.

-I like that Theodore isn’t exactly the most normal, down-to-earth character who is in no way responsible for his failings. He comes across as kind of anti-social and a little pathetic. Yet he’s never unlikeable. At least to me…

-Another character trait I picked up on; he’s very understanding of people, yet seems to have very little understanding of his ex-wife. People are so knowledgeable of everything that isn’t right in front of them.

-Olivia Wilde has an important, but sadly way too brief, role in this. I wish she was in it more, she’s a damn talented actress.
She works well off Phoenix, too

-‘The past is just a story we tell ourselves’

Next time: Bit of a break from my main reviews as I work on other writing projects. Though this isn't stalling my film reviews...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Best of 2014: 10-2

Click here if you haven't read the first half of this list yet. You can also read my worst of this year by clicking here and here

10. Joe

“I ain’t afraid”

Auteur director David Gordon Green returns to his roots after a break into comedy, and the result is one of the most cerebral and haunting movies of the year.

Almost a spiritual sequel to last year’s sublime Americana drama Mud, Tyler Sheridan ‘once again’ plays the boy (this time named Gary) who is taken in by a surrogate father figure named Joe, played by Nicolas Cage, going against type by playing a role people can take seriously. This time around, however, the boy is being dominated and controlled by his alcoholic,  selfish father Wade, a.k.a. G-Daawg, played by Gary Poulter.

Nicholas Cage reminds us why exactly he has an Oscar to his name in this raw, underplayed performance of a man trying to fight against his violent nature. Tyler Sheridan is also strong as a boy lost and beaten by his horrific and frustrating situation. It’s Gary Poulter, however, who steals the show as the horrifying, but ultimately pathetic, alcoholic father, who made his mark before tragically passing away. Poulter is spellbinding in the role and though he’s gone, he made his mark in this amazing performance.

Not to downplay the direction, as the movie has this wonderfully gritty, Americana atmosphere that truly shows off the roughness and survivalist nature of this Texan town. The scenes of violence are harsh and unpleasant, and the visual metaphors are subtle and really add weight to the story. This is a brilliantly sombre and highly emotional movie about what it means to survive and be a good person in a rotten and horrible situation, and what it means to give in and let it transform you into a monster.

9. Calvary

“There’s no point in killing a bad priest, but killing a good one? That’d be a shock, now.”

Religion in Ireland is not an easy discussion to be had giving the current scandals brought to light. It’s a good thing, then, that we have a men like John McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson to truly explore what is God’s place in our current society.

Father James is not only a great man, but more importantly a good one. He’s easily the noblest person in this year of film, and it’s not because he’s altruistic or always does the right thing. It’s because he acknowledges his flaws, humbly accepts he’s part of a faith that’s been rocked to its very core, struggles with the implications and doubts he has because of this, and yet does what he sees is the right thing. He makes the noble choice to face his fate.

Given a week to live, the story brings out the best and worst in not only James, but the supporting cast around him. We have an all-star cast of Irish actors and comedians, showing off their comedic prowess while also representing certain vices and failings in the Irish people. From the cynical doctor to the apathetic banker, they all have their significant roles to play. Particular praise must go to Kelly Reilly as James’ delicate but tough-spirited daughter Fiona, Dylan Moran as the aforementioned banker Michael and Chris O’Dowd in a powerhouse performance as Jack Brennan.

Gleeson is the focus, however, and Gleeson steals the show. We don’t get a 'priest', or a moralising figure, we get a person struggling to figure out what is right in the world anymore. Offset by a haunting score and the beautifully scenic, but thematically empty, rural isles of Wexford, all this combines to give us a reflection of what it is to be a good Catholic man in Ireland but, more importantly, how important forgiveness is for all of us.

8. Ida

“You should try. Otherwise, what sort of sacrifice are these vows of yours?”

Another religiously charged movie, but this one with an entirely different angle. If Calvary explores how we can be fateful, Ida explores why we are, what we ignore to be so, and what we give up to do it.

The movie explores the life of a nun in Poland after discovering her Jewish heritage and her long-lost aunt, Wanda. From there on, it’s a roadtrip between two very different personalities; the repressed, na├»ve young nun and her cynical, straight-talking aunt who forces her to face exactly who she is and who she wants to be.

While the dynamic is fantastic, and the story is driven by the chemistry between the two leads, what really makes this movie is how stunning it is to look at. The precise and intelligent direction from Pawel Pawlikowski gives us a stark and very real look at the barren, unpolished Poland of the 1960s. Through the lens of a Jewish woman that survived World War 2, it gives us a land still rippling from the effects of war, showing how this passes on so painfully through the generations.

Wanda is easily my favourite character of the year. No-nonsense, challenging and direct, she had to so awful things in order to ensure her survival and suffered the loss of her family, including Ida’s parents. Agata Kulesza shines in the role and should have been nominated for her performance. That isn’t to downplay the other Agata, Agata Trzebuchowska, who slowly and effectively portrays the transformation of a woman raised under strictly puritan laws her whole life discovering another world altogether.

It’s a story that  explores how history can truly shake a person and how easily our beliefs can be shaken or even completely dropped. It’s an important and harsh film, managing to show the humanity in even the greatest of atrocities and leaving the audience with one of the most wonderfully shot, effectively moving and intelligently handled ending scenes of any movie this year. Despite being set in the 60s, it is relevant to this very day.

7. Pride

“When you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, well, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well, that’s the best feeling in the world”

I will never go against any platform that discusses LGBTQ* rights. I never will because it’s 2015 and we live in a world where same sex marriage is a debate and not an internationally understood right. I just can’t remember the last movie I saw that discussed this topic that was this much fun.

Set in England during the Thatcher regime, the awareness group Lesbians and Gays Support the Minors end up protesting in a Welsh mining town due to an understanding. This inspiring true story doesn’t try to push on the melancholy or teach you a lesson in a ham-fisted way, it rather just lets the action play out naturally and have the characters come together.

As said before, what’s more important is that it’s fun. Stephen Beresford intelligent and hilarious script manages to find that middle-ground between having fun of the situation of a conservative mining town being forced to interact with a group of gay and lesbian people, while also never forgetting the seriousness or gravity of how they were treated in the time period. Most of the best laughs come from the endlessly quotable script, reminiscent of Richard Curtis, or just the characters slowly coming together by finding some middle ground to relate on, or even advice and shared moments.

The cast are great and play off each other beautifully. From pros like Bill Nighy, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, Paddy Consindine and Imelda Staunton to rising stars such as Joe Gilgun, Faye Marsay, George MacKay and Ben Schnetzer, every actor plays their part brilliantly and they work as a great ensemble.

The core of this movie, and the thing to take away from it the most, is that it’s about solidarity. It’s about putting your differences aside and seeing people as human beings being caught in some similar turmoil as you may be. It’s a touching, wonderful thing to see the residence of this small town come to accept and truly appreciate this community as individuals, and it’s such an important message that we see people as people first and leave our prejudices behind.

This is a movie that has self-acceptance, solidarity, fighting up against a common enemy united with friends, a lot of laughs, a lot of heart, and a dancing Dominic West. It rightfully deserved its 15-minute standing ovation at Cannes, and is a must-see.

Seriously, though. Dominic West is an amazing dancer. I wish I had his moves.

6. Mood Indigo

“If we screw up this moment, we try the next. And if we fail the next; we have our whole lives to get it right.”

Michel Gondry is slowly becoming one of my favourite directors, and he has a very fascinating understanding of dream language.  While I haven’t seen a lot of his work, this movie follows his thematic 'series' about examining dreams and their language. Of his previous movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind looks at subconscious desires, and The Science of Sleep looks at how dreams can affect our daily routine and guide us. This one looks at dream imagery, how it can guide our emotional journey into adulthood and how it can crash all around us very quickly and without warning. A blissful dream turned into a horrific nightmare.

Based on a novel by Boris Vian, it’s a rather simple a love story set in a surrealist world where technology seems more based on music and emotion than on actual materials. The Claymation-esque style he used in The Science of Sleep is reincorporated here, and it works wonders as this world really feels alive and distinctive. Despite how crazy the imagery can get, you never don’t believe the characters aren’t interacting with it.

What makes this story work are its two leads (though the supporting cast are also fantastic), Romain Duris and the wonderfully talented Audrey Tautou. You truly believe their quaint, charming little love story, which helps once the movie takes a suddenly darker turn. The beauty of it is that the world changes around the characters; everything gets darker, gloomier and more closed in as we are taken through the characters’ anguish and grief.

While it’s not for everyone, as with most of Gondry’s work, it’s a beautiful movie with very rich and astute understanding of human emotion. It’s full of bizarre and clever imagery, it’s not afraid to go to the darker places, and has a spoonerism of Jean-Paul Sartre. Funny, whimsical and truly emotional.

5. Class Enemy

“A man’s dying is more his survivor’s affair than his own.”
(kind of cheating as this is a Thomas Mann quote, but it’s used, and works in context with, the movie)

It’s so fascinating to see a movie that seriously questions what children can get away with in school nowadays. With stricter laws on teachers and more lenient punitive efforts, it’s hard not to get people who long for the ‘olden days’ of when teachers were allowed to be a little harsher and more authoritative, to a degree. What’s even better is that it puts both sides of the argument on trial.

This little-known Slovenian drama which just missed out at being an Oscar contender focuses on a classroom that goes to war with a new substitute teacher as they blame his harsh and no-holds-barred style of teaching for a tragic event.

What makes this movie so strong is that it’s not afraid to show both sides of this argument. The teacher is neither glorified nor condemned for his actions, he’s simply trying to teach in his style. Yet, the children aren’t wrong in their actions, either. While their efforts to try to get him fired border on insane, they all have different motives that are completely understandable, and they certainly have a point.

Far from that, the film manages to reign in a lot of shocking and clever imagery despite being set in one location. The use of light to symbolise the other world and a sense of clarity is subtly implemented, and the movie almost feels like a nightmare war where neither side looks good or bad.

While the movie seems to slightly be on the teacher’s side, at the same time it’s very fair in its handling of its cast and all of the principle characters get their proper development and motivations. It’s an uncompromising and daring film that looks at the effects of suicide and a perhaps too lenient school system with the effects of maturity and the different ethos of life. A coming of age movie with a difference.

Also, how rare is it to get a movie where, not only do the teenagers look like teenagers, but they can all actually act?! Props to that alone!

4. Fruitvale Station

“I told him to take the train. I told him to catch the BART. I didn’t know they were gonna hurt my baby.”

This movie made me cry. Hard. If you didn’t cry, I have to question your humanity.

Based on the last day of Oscar Grant’s life, this debut feature from writer/director Ryan Coogler knocked it out of the park with an emotional and fair script. Nobody is lionised or demonised in this picture; these are people first and subjects of a horrific crime second.

Michael B. Jordan is a revelation in the role. He carries the entire movie on his shoulders, finding that middle ground between making Grant both a screw-up and somebody very likeable and fun. You feel what a loss this man’s life was, and that nothing he did could remotely justify what happened to him. It’s a breakout role for the actor and here’s hoping his star shines all the brighter for it.

The rest of the cast are great too. Octavia Spencer (who forewent being paid to get this movie finished) is a powerhouse performer, playing Grant’s long-suffering but devoted mother. Melonie Diaz is fantastic as his girlfriend Sophina, while Ariana Neal is a wonderful young talent as his daughter Tatiana. Kevin Durand is also of note, as he provides the movie with one of its most unexpectedly human moments.

As much as I keep on repeating it, that’s what the movie is: human and real. While there is this dazed state around it as Oscar goes through his day and a potent sense of foreboding, it’s just a day unlike any other. He gets in trouble at work, he plays with his daughter, he has a moment with his family members, he meets his friends, etc. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about this day until the end, when the events happen. That’s the beauty of it; it could happen any day, at any time, for no reason.  It’s both an important and quite scary a lesson.

On top of all this, it’s a wonderful love letter to a fallen, ordinary guy who did not deserve what happened to him Emotional, honest, and respectful, while also tapping in to the unfairness of what occurred that day in Fruitvale Station.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

“I’m tired. I thought I just needed a night’s sleep but it’s more than that.”

The latest Coen Brothers affair borrows a lot from their repertoire to tell a very compelling story; an artist who just failed.

Llewyn Davis is not a very likeable person, but his plights are very understandable and easy to take pity in. He’s a folk artist who lost his writing partner and, like Fruitvale Station, it’s just follows him around. He’s spat on by everyone around him and utterly deserves it by how self-centred and insufferably full of himself he is.

More than anything, however, it’s about being rather mediocre. Llewyn Davis isn’t a misunderstood genius, he’s just not that good a musician. All of this weight falls on the talented shoulders of Oscar Isaacs, another breakout who’s really going places with his career.  Deservedly so, as he takes on the both the music and acting of this character, truly transforming him into his own.

And yet, despite Isaacs being the highlight of the film, it’s a very Coen-y affair. Stark humour, bizarrely unconventional scenarios, repeated motifs throughout, going against the grain, and of course beautifully shot to give it this dark meandering nature which totally works with the character. It’s also got an impeccable cast, which includes Carey Mulligan, John Goodman and the very underappreciated Justin Timberlake.

It’s a movie that manages to be a celebration of folk music while also being a condemnation of those who think they’ll succeed automatically. It never relents on the suffering it gives its lead, and there’s a real pathos to his depression and overly-lofty ambitions. I love a movie that can take a critical eye on its own subject matter, where lesser filmmakers would try to codify it or make it fluffy because they love it and therefore it has no flaws. Trust the Coen Brothers to do something out of left field and brilliant.

2. Nightcrawler

“I’d like to think if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life.”

Are the ideals of the American Dream something to live up to? What if somebody who really shouldn’t follow them takes them on?

It’s hard for me to point to a part of Nightcrawler that just doesn’t work. It looks amazing; visceral and yet grim and moody, which perfectly encapsulates the movie’s tone. It’s seeped in satire about that aforementioned Dream and about how the media works and how people feed off it. Lou Bloom doesn’t see the wrong in his actions because the public don’t see how wrong it is to get so close and personal to such horrific acts. Even without this, it’s a wonderfully suspenseful thriller, with endlessly quotable dialogue that’s both funny and snappy. It also has one of the best car chases of the year; I mean the climax is good.

Of course, this is nothing on who the real star of the show is; the incredible Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal’s had a good year. After starring in the cerebral Enemy (which just missed the cut of this list), he went up several thousand notches and gave a career best performance. Lou Bloom is the breakout character of the year and is easily the best performance. He’s a sociopath who uses the ‘rags to riches’ narrative to woo people into following him. When people eventually see through him, like the equally ignored in terms of awards Rene Russo as the opportunistic news producer Nina, he’s so trapped them in his web that they almost need him. He has the means and intelligence to use people, and that comes out of every pour of Gyllenhaal. He’s both engaging and utterly terrifying, everything about him just works.

While Gyllenhaal is getting a lot of the credit for this movie, and understandably so, it’s hard to forget that it’s just great. Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut just shines in how astute and professionally handled it is, knowing exactly how to incorporate Bloom’s rise to success through staging and visual cues. It’s a very down-to-earth movie, despite how extravagant and hyper-realistic it can get. The writing taps into ideas of people’s obsession with horrific news and the rat race to get this out there before other technology breaks it, which is also some of the best incorporation of tech I’ve seen from a modern day flick.

This movie manages to get great performances out of its stars, which also includes Riz Ahmed as Bloom’s desperate assistant Rick, who Bloom treats psychotically like an employee of a huge firm. Bill Paxton also has a really memorable, if brief, role as a rival nightcrawler. With everything you can praise the movie on, it’s just a really clever set up. It takes a relatable premise that everyone recognises and turns it on its head by having our focal character be a completely manipulative sociopath with no moral boundaries or care about the people around him.

Nightcrawler is destined to be a classic. It’s slick, well written and directed. It has a lot of probing social commentary for film fans to love and a lot of intrigue and tension for general audiences to get behind. It has a legendary performance from one of the greatest actors of his generation. It’s stylish, clever, shocking, hits on a very disturbing home truth and will keep you glued and talking about it long after the credits role. It’s as addictive and as watchable as the breaking news story that outrage you.


You know what? No. I love this movie so much, and I have so much to say about it, that rambling on about it in four or five paragraphs won’t do it justice. Click here to read about my favourite movie of 2014 and one of my favourite movies of all time.

Next time: read above