2014’s Top Ten Films

I wrote my first review and posted it on Love at the movies January 18, 2014. Since then I have reviewed 78 films (you will also find some by André St-Jacques). It was my first try at writing a blog. What a year! 2014 will be known as the year that reinvented the way films are made or the way we view them. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Xavier Dolan’s Mommy are good examples of that. I should mention that all the films I reviewed were seen at the ByTowne Cinema a repertory cinema in Ottawa, and none from the commercial circuit like Cineplexes, for instance. I have enjoyed this new adventure and will continue to write in 2015. Happy new year!

 

1. Boyhood directed by Richard Linklater

An amazing experience. The film that took 12 years to make. Ellar Coltrane grows up on film, and Patricia Arquette breaks our heart as his loving mom. The best film of the year and the decade.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/07/31/boyhood/

 

2. Mommy directed by Xavier Dolan

The troubled relationship between a mentally challenged teenager and his mother. Another great film by Quebec director Xavier Dolan. With Anne Dorval, Antoine Olivier Pilon and Suzanne Clément. With one gutsy choice, Dolan redefine the way we view films.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/mommy/

 

3. Under the skin directed by Jonathan Glazer

Unlike anything I have ever seen. Scarlett Johansson plays an alien who drives around Glasgow, Scotland, seducing men and luring them into a beautifully strange, dark and cruel trap. Johansson is fearless. A beautiful and scary masterpiece.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/under-the-skin/

 

4. The face of love directed by Arie Posin

An homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo? A widow sees her husband’s double and obsessively start to follow him. This is the closest thing you can get me from a romantic novel. But it is full of nostalgia, and is directed with an assured hand. Annette Bening is perfection.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/the-face-of-love/

 

5. Night moves directed by Kelly Reichardt

Minimalist director Kelly Reichardt’s story of what happened when three eco-terrorists’ plan to blow up a dam goes wrong. It’s about the slow ravage of guilt and paranoia. With a brilliant turn by Jesse Eisenberg.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/09/12/night-moves/

 

6. Finding Vivian Maier directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

Street photographer Vivian Maier was unknown until Maloof discovered her negatives at an auction. Maier worked as a nanny and walked the streets of Chicago with her Rolleiflex camera, compulsively snapping pictures. Unforgettable! The best documentary of 2014.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/finding-vivian-maier/

 

7. Begin again directed by John Carney

When singer Greta and producer Dan meet they start making music on the streets and rooftops of New York. A great cast headed by Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo and singer Adam Levine. And hat beautiful music they create. Totally and unabashedly positive. I myself see nothing wrong with that.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/begin-again/

 

8. Rosewater directed by Jon Stewart

Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari gets arrested, interrogated and tortured for covering the 2009 Iranian presidential election and it’s aftermath. With Gael García Bernal and Kim Bodnia. Stewart’s epic screenplay is spiced with a sence of the ridiculous and we surprise ourselves with sudden bursts of laughter.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/rosewater/

 

9. A most wanted man directed by Anton Corbijn

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last great film. adapted from a John le Carré 2008 book. The head of a German secret anti-terrorism agency, Günther Bachmann, is trying to be strategically effective, while it is more important for others to score political points. Corbijn slowly and effectively builds the tensions and suspense.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/a-most-wanted-man/

 

10. Love is strange directed by Ira Sachs

After having been together 39 years, just married same-sex couple, George and Ben, are forced to sell their apartment and go stay separately with friends and family. Heartbreaking. With touching performances from John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei and Charlie Tahan.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/love-is-strange/

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The imitation game

The imitation game is a biopic about Second world war British code-breaker (A.K.A cryptanalyst) Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). Like all biopic the film contain a number of inaccuracies, so this is what happens in the film : In 1952, a detective is called at Turing’s flat to investigate a break in and a burglary. The film then flashbacks to 1939 when Turing works for the Government communications headquarters at Bletchley Park. There he will design and build a machine to decode the German Enigma machine, a nearly impossible to decode machine that looks like a typewriter. He is having great problems with the head office, and writes a letter to Winston Churchill. Churchill has Turing upgraded supervisor of his unit (called Hut 8). His co-workers are reluctant to support him and don’t believe his machine will work. He meets Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a young woman he hires to work as a code-breaker. They become friends and when he learns that her parents are about to force her to stop working, Turing proposes to marry her. He later tells her they can’t marry because he’s a homosexual. There are flashbacks to high school where Turing has a crush on another boy who later died of tuberculosis. Turing successfully built his machine which enabled the allies to defeat the Nazis and shortened the war by as many as two to four years. The Turing machine is considered to be the grandfather of modern computers. But in 1952, the detective discover that the burglary was caused by one of Turing’s tryst. Homosexuality was illegal in England until 1967. Turing was prosecuted and, in order to avoid prison, agreed to be chemically castrated. What did not help him was the fact that the work he did at Bletchley Park had to remain a secret. The imitation game is being promoted as a “historical thriller”. It is certainly not a thriller, and those expecting one will be disappointed. For me the film does not stray very far away from a Masterpiece theatre episode, as it is made of a series of conversations, mostly inside Hut 8 quarters. And Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) safely does not stray from it either. What is important here is the actors and the spoken words. Style will be frowned upon. But trying to explain cryptanalysis and make it appealing to moviegoers is near impossible. The imitation game‘s qualities can’t be put aside. You have to mention Óscar Faura’s cinematography. But the treatment of Turing’s homosexuality is too tame. The producers have put too much importance on the Joan Clarke’s character. Knightley is good but not memorable, apart from being beautiful and smiling a lot. But why the reluctance to show Alan Turing in any sexual or romantic relationship with a man? Cumberbatch plays Turing with a considerable amount of restraint, keeping the best moment for the dramatic climax. There is a lot of talk about The imitation game‘s chances at the Oscars, but it is too average to win Best Picture. I think the praise it has been receiving is totally unwarranted.

 And the Oscar went to… It won only for its Adapted screenplayThe winner was American screenwriter Graham Moore. Accepting his Oscar he made an impassioned speech (among the many great speeches and moments that evening). When he wad 16, he told the Oscar audience, he attempted to commit suicide because “I felt weird and I felt different and I felt just did not belong. I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she is weird or she is different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird. Stay different and then when it is your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.” The touching speech came after Director Dana Penny, who won the Oscar for Best Short Documentary for Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, used her acceptance speech to talk about her son’s suicide. “I want to dedicate this to my son Even Perry, we lost him to suicide. We should talk about suicide out loud. This is for him,” she said. Graham Moore’s speech was met by a standing ovation from the audience

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The imitation game

Directed by:
Morten Tyldum
Screenplay by:
Graham Moore
Based on Alan Turing: The Enigma
by Andrew Hodges
Starring:
Benedict Cumberbatch
Keira Knightley
Matthew Goode
Rory Kinnear
Charles Dance
Mark Strong
Alan Leech
113 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

One chance

In 2007 Paul Potts, a car-phone salesman from Wales appeared on the first episode of a new talent reality television show called Britain’s got talent. His rendition Puccini’s Nessun Dorma wowed the judges (Simon Cowell had dollar signs in his eyes), and the clip went viral on You tube. This is his story. Very predictable story. He was bullied at school because he liked opera and he was obese. He meets Julie-Ann Cooper, a wonderful girl through the internet. He goes to Italy to attend a masterclass with Luciano Pavarotti. That does not go very well. Back at home he and Julie-Ann get married. He still dreams about singing even though Roland, his father (Colm Meaney), never supported him. But he could always count on the support from Yvonne, his mother (Julie Walters). Potts has countless trips to the hospital and bills piling up Then he sees an ad for Britain’s got talent, and the rest is (small) history. By the end of One chance, of course, his father has come around and the bully gets his comeuppance. These clichés are for the lovers of British films only. And those people will be in ecstasy to see Julie Walters make a fool of herself once again. The only saving grace (if any) come from James Corden (singing provided by Potts) and Alexandra Roach as Paul and Julie-Ann. Avoid.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

One chance

 

Directed by: 
David Frankel
 
Screenplay by: 
Justin Zackham
 
Starring: 
James Corden
Mackenzie Crook
Alexandra Roach
Julie Walters
Colm Meaney
Jemima Roper
 
103 min.
 
Rated Parental Guidance
 

Foxcatcher

Based on the 1996 murder of Olympic gold medalist wrestler Dave Schultz, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher has three of the most powerful male performances of 2014. The film’s main character is Mark Schulz (Channing Tatum), also an Olympic wrestler. Mark feels like a loser, living a miserable life in his miserable apartment, eating packaged noodles and in the shadow of older brother Dave. Coach Dave (Mark Ruffalo) is successful, happy and settled with a wife and young children. By contrast, Mark seems to be going through life walking like a zombie. When John Du Pont – an heir to the du Pont family fortune – offers Mark a chance to get away from his depressing life, he jumps at it. Du Pont (Steve Carell) wants Mark to come and train at the family’s estate, Foxcatcher Farm, as part of Du Pont’s Foxcatcher Team. Du Pont’s aim is to win Olympic gold for the U.S. Du Pont also offers Dave to be a coach for the team, and he looks hurt by the older brother’s refusal. John Du Pont buys guns and army tanks as if they are mere toys. The relationship between Mark and John is unhealthy, with nights of drinking, partying and cocaine consumption. The reason why Du Pont signed Mark, was to get Dave to come to the farm as a coach. That revelation and the arrival of Dave has a devastating effect on Mark. Channing Tatum’s performance is impressive in the juxtaposition of physical and emotional traumas. There is an economy of words in Foxcatcher, and that suits an actor like Ruffalo very well. With a few glances, a nod, a pat on the back or an encouraging smile, Ruffalo is perfect as the loving, caring big brother. Known for his comedic turns, Steve Carell is unrecognizable under what looks like tons of make up. But his acting here is more than that. Look inside Carell eyes and you see an obsessive, distraught and sick man. Scary. And there is also a (too) short performance by Vanessa Redgrave, as Du Pont’s mother. No matter how small the part, Redgrave always makes it compelling. Foxcatcher is an uncompromising look at sports and the American way of life. We have Bennett Miller to thank for that.

And the Oscar went to… Steve Carell’s first attempt at a dramatic film was rewarded by his first Oscar nomination for Actor in a leading role. Foxcatcher‘s four other nominations were: Mark Ruffalo for Actor in a supporting role, director Bennett Miller, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman in the Original screenplay category. Both Miller and Futterman were previously nominated in 2005 for Capote. The last nomination is Makeup and hairstyling for making Carell unrecognizable. But it lost in all the categories.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

  Foxcatcher

 

Directed by: 
Bennett Miller
 
Screenplay by: 
E. Max Frye
Dan Futterman
 
Starring: 
Steve Carell
Channing Tatum
Mark Ruffalo
Sienna Miller
Vanessa Redgrave
 
130 min.
 
Rated 14A

National Gallery

This is a documentary about the backstage of London’s National Gallery. National Gallery is American documentarian Frederick Wiseman’s 43rd film. 84 years old Wiseman likes to show the daily life of institutions. Like most of Wiseman’s films, it has no narrators and no interviews. It shows some of the different meetings taking place. Everything is discussed like accessibility, publicity and economic matters. We learn that the gallery’s recent sponsorship of a sporting event, was not as effective a strategy as they thought it would be. An early scenes has legally blind people study a painting aided by a braille copy and the help of a counselor. Restorative techniques are discussed among the staff and restorers are seen removing the old varnish from old paintings. Details such as the lighting on a painting, or one having too much shadow. But most of the film is spent with guides. Those dreadful, boring guides speak ad nauseam about every you never wanted to know on Rembrandt, Bruegel, Vermeer or Leonardo Da Vinci. The salvation comes when we see reactions from the public looking at those great masterpieces. (There is not a lot of modern art here, if any. All of the work we see are from the great masters, and are beautifully filmed.) But there are so few of those moments. We always come back to the guides. This three-hour film ends with two ballet dancers doing a pas de deux among the paintings. If Wiseman wants to say that London’s National Gallery is elitist, after three hours, we get the point.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

National Gallery

 

Directed by: 
Frederick Wiseman
 
180 min.
 
Rated General

Rome, open city (Roma città aperta)

Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist film Rome, open city was released in 1945, became an international success and made Anna Magnani a star. It has been newly restored. During the Nazi occupation of Rome, resistance leader Giorgio Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero), has to hide at Francesco and Pina’s apartment. Pina (Anna Magnani) is pregnant and about to marry Francesco (Francesco Grandjaquet). The couple works for the resistance. Everyone seems to be in the resistance including the parish priest, don Pietro Pellegrini, and Pina’s own son, Marcello, who plants bombs with other boys. There is Pina’s sister, Laura, who works in a cabaret. Giorgio’s ex-lover, Marina (Maria Michi) also works at the cabaret, and she tells the Gestapo commander where Giorgio is hiding in exchange for drugs. How new it must have seemed in 1945. In Rome, open city, Anna Magnani plays an unwed pregnant mother, there is drug addiction, mention of prostitution, some very revealing neckline, a hint of lesbianism and quite graphic (for the time) torture scenes. One has to ask if censorship was involved when it was shown in the United States or somewhere else. And there is Anna Magnani. Pina is a relatively small part in what turns out to be an ensemble cast. Another important character is don Pellegrini (very good Aldo Fabrizi). But Magnani is appealing and likable. The moment that made the most impact happens when Francesco is getting arrested and Pina runs after the truck. It is real, sudden, shocking and raw. The rest is history.

And the Oscar went to… In 1947 Rome, open city got an Oscar nomination in the category Best writing, Screenplay. The writers were Sergio Amidei and Federico Fellini (His first nomination). The other nominees : Sally Benson and Talbot Jennings for Anna and the King of Siam; Anthony Havelock-Allan, David Lean and Ronald Neame for A brief encounter; Anthony Veiller for The killers. And the winner was Robert E. Sherwood for The best years of our lives.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Rome, open city (Roma città aperta)

 

Directed by: 
Roberto Rossellini
 
Screenplay by: 
Sergio Amidei
Federico Fellini
Based on a story by Sergio Amidei
 and Alberto Consigilio
 
Starring: 
Anna Magnani
Aldo Fabrizi
Marcello Pagliero
Vito Annichiarico
Francesco Grandjaquet
Giovanna Galletti
Harry Faust
Marcello Pagliero
 
105 min.
 

Rated 14A

In Italian and German with English subtitles

Heartbeat

Justine (Tanya Davis) loves to sing, but her stage fright is so severe that when she gets on a stage, she faints. Justine is not happy. She has a boring job with an annoying boss. Her best friend is having a baby and can she can’t relate to her anymore. She knows she has to stop sleeping with her ex-boyfriend Ben (Stewart Legere); but somehow they always wind up in bed. She would like them to have a baby, but he refuses and moves away. Things get better when she meets Ruby (Stephanie Clattenburg). Ruby is a drummer and she helps Justine get over her stage fright. Together they form a band, and Justine has a crush on Ruby. This film has a thin plot, too many clichés, and is, at times, a bit annoying. But there are some redeeming aspects. Singer, songwriter and poet Tanya Davis’s acting is not what I would call great, but she brings to the part a likeability in what is her first film. The songs she wrote are lovely and lively. Cinematographer Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron (Les amours imaginaires, ironically called Heartbeats in English) lights the film with bright the colors of fall in Halifax. There is also Andrea Dorfman’s colorful animation added to the particular tone of Heartbeat. Some people might like it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Heartbeat

 

Directed by: 
Andrea Dorfman
 
Screenplay by: 
Andrea Dorfman
 
Starring: 
Tanya Davis
Stephanie Clattenburg
Stewart Legere
Kristin Langille
Glen Matthews
Jackie Torrens
Cathy Jones
 
93 min.

Force majeure (Turist)

Force majeure is the Swedish entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. We meet Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), taking a vacation at a ski resort in the French Alps, along with their two kids, Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren). One day the family lunch at an outdoors veranda, as they witness a controlled avalanche. Explosives are used to reduce the risk of real avalanches. At first the people on the veranda watch, thinking there is no danger. But then it gets closer and closer and everyone start to panic. Ebba grabs her children to flee. But Tomas has already left with his gloves and his cell, leaving his family to fend for themselves. With a white-out from the powdery snow, the children and Ebba scream out for Tomas in panic. As things get clearer and Tomas returns, and they resume their meal as if nothing had happened. But later Ebba mentions the incident to another couple. She does it very casually, as if she was teasing Tomas. He says that he does not remember it that way. When they sit for a meal with their friends Mats (Kristofer Hivju) and Fanni (Fanni Metelius), Ebba mentions it again. But her tone is much more serious and accusatory. And again, Tomas denies it. But Ebba can prove it as Tomas filmed the avalanche with his cell. Mats tries to minimise the damage by saying that a person cannot predict how they will react to threats of eminent dangers. Back in their hotel room, Mats and Fanni are having an argument about how they would react if it happened to them. With his red hair and beard, Hivju looks like a viking, the nordic male sure of his masculinity. But Tomas is not so sure anymore, and then he cracks. His male ego has been hurt. There is good acting from everyone. Director Ruben Östlund uses an excerpt from the Summer movement from Vivaldi’s The four seasons several times during the film, as if to signal that a danger was forthcoming. And there might be. The film was shot at ski resort Les Arcs in Savoie, France, and it is beautiful. I think women and men are going have different reactions to Force majeure, and there will be a lot of discussions.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

 Force majeure (Turist)

 

Directed by: 
Ruben Östlund
 
Screenplay by: 
Ruben Östlund
 
Starring: 
Johannes Kuhnke
Lisa Loven Kongsli
Clara Wettergren
Vincent Wettergren
Brady Corbet
Kristofer Hivju
 
118 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
In Swedish and English
with English subtitles