Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 Buckle Awards

The 2014 Buckle Awards. Not much to say, other than this was hard to narrow down and on another day I might have gone with a different nominee, or even winner.
But, every film and person and achievement is more than worthy of recognition, even if they don't get it at the Oscars (for the most part, unlikely).

What is interesting is that Inside Llewyn Davis was considered for last years awards - in fact it was the first film I watched in 2014 - but it received no nominations at all. What was I thinking? I have enjoyed it even more over subsequent viewings but I have not included it here. So, you never know how are you going to feel 12 months, 5 years or 10 years down the track. This is 2014 in review. 

Best American/British Feature Film

Only Lovers Left Alive *WINNER*
Under the Skin *Runner Up*
The Grand Budapest Hotel
All is Lost
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Best International/Foreign Language Film

Why Don't You Play in Hell? *Runner Up*
Two Days, One Night
Mommy *WINNER*
Winter Sleep
The Great Beauty
Force Majeure
Tom at the Farm
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Best Australian/New Zealand Feature Film

These Final Hours
Son of a Gun
What We Do In the Shadows *WINNER*
The Dark Horse
The Babadook
The Infinite Man *Runner Up*

Best Director

Jim Jarmusch - Only Lovers Left Alive - *Runner Up*
Dan Gilroy - Nightcrawler
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Xavier Dolan - Mommy/Tom at the Farm - *WINNER*
Jonathan Glazer - Under the Skin
Sion Sono - Why Don't You Play in Hell?
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman

Best Lead Male Performance

Antoine-Olivier Pilon - Mommy
Jack O'Connell - Starred Up
Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler *WINNER* TIE
Channing Tatum - Foxcatcher
Robert Redford - All is Lost
Haluk Bilginer - Winter Sleep
Michael Keaton - Birdman *WINNER* TIE

Best Lead Female Performance

Tilda Swinton - Only Lovers Left Alive
Anne Dorval - Mommy *WINNER*
Scarlett Johansson - Under the Skin
Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night *Runner Up*
Essie Davis - The Babadook
Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Gugu Mbatha-Raw - Beyond the Lights

Best Supporting Female Performance

Suzanne Clement - Mommy *WINNER*
Rene Russo - Nightcrawler
Carrie Coon - Gone Girl
Imelada Staunton - Pride
Kristen Stewart - Clouds of Sils Maria *Runner Up*
Melisa Sozen - Winter Sleep

Best Supporting Male Performance

Edward Norton - Birdman *Runner Up*
Jemaine Clement - What We Do in the Shadows
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher *WINNER*

Pierre-Yves Cardinal - Tom at the Farm
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
Ciaran Hinds - The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him

Best Original Screenplay

Only Lovers Left Alive
Birdman *WINNER*
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Force Majeure *Runner Up*

Best Adapted Screenplay

Snowpiercer *WINNER*
Under the Skin *Runner Up*
Tom at the Farm
A Most Wanted Man
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Tokyo Tribe

Best Cinematography 

Birdman *WINNER*
Only Lovers Left Alive
Ida *Runner Up*
Winter Sleep
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Best Original Score/Soundtrack

Only Lovers Left Alive *WINNER* Score
Under the Skin
The Double
Fury *Runner Up* Score
Pride *WINNER* Soundtrack
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Tom at the Farm
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night *Runner Up* Soundtrack
It Follows

Best Documentary

20, 000 Days on Earth
Jodorowsky's Dune
Virunga *Runner Up*
The Possibilities Are Endless *WINNER*
Tales of the Grim Sleeper
Tim's Vermeer 

Best Scene  

'Diamonds' + hotel - Girlhood
The stakeout/pursuit - Nightcrawler *Runner Up*
The beach (of many) - Under the Skin
'Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now' - The Skeleton Twins
THAT montage - Mommy *WINNER*
Riggan locked out - Birdman
'The sandwich' - What We Do in the Shadows 
Weight loss - Foxcatcher
The reunion - Only Lovers Left Alive 

Top nominations: Mommy (9), Only Lovers Left Alive (7), Nightcrawler (7), Birdman (7), Under the Skin (6), Foxcatcher (5), The Grand Budapest Hotel (4)

20 Favourite New-to-Me Films in 2014

Here are 20 films (from any year) I became obsessed with this year for one reason or another.

How many did you guess? Duck Soup (1933), His Girl Friday (1940), My Darling Clementine (1946), Stray Dog (1949), Singin' in the Rain (1952), On the Waterfront (1954), Rio Bravo (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Seconds (1966), Thief (1981), The Man Who Planted Trees (1987), Old Joy (2006), Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Under the Skin (2013), Mommy (2014), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Birdman (2014), Nightcrawler (2014)

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Best Films of 2014

I have been more privileged than normal with the sheer number of films I have been able to see this year. I ventured across the world to attend the Toronto Film Festival, and made an effort to see at least one film at each of the festivals that run in Australia. It has been a terrific year, and I think what is notable is the incredible depth of excellent films.

There were a number of titles that had a theatrical release in early 2014, but I saw in 2013 and were considered for last year’s list. They include Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, 12 Years A Slave, The Great Beauty and Blue is the Warmest Colour. The first four films listed here would have made this short list, had I considered them.

So, with them exempt, the chosen films have been sourced from everything else I saw in 2014, whether they had a theatrical release in Australian cinemas in 2014 (or 2013 internationally), are set to have one in 2015, screened at a festival or went straight to VOD/DVD.

I didn’t get the chance to see some of the best-received films internationally, like Citizen Four, Goodbye to Language, Obvious Child and Listen Up Phillip, or some of the films receiving Oscar buzz like Inherent Vice, Selma, A Most Violent Year and The Theory of Everything.

But, before you say “Where’s ….” here are some honourable mentions (#35-26) that just missed the cut:  Jodorowsky’s Dune (Frank Pavich), Of Horses and Men (Benedikt Erlingsson), The Double (Richard Ayoade), Starred Up (David Mackenzie), Tokyo Tribe (Sion Sono), Boyhood (Richard Linklater), Calvary (John Michael McDonagh), Virunga (Orlando von Einsiedel), The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her (Ned Benson) and Beyond the Lights (Gina Prince-Bythewood).

Continue to the Top 25 at An Online Universe

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Keep the Change, You Filthy Animal!" Home Alone Turns 24

Guest article by Brandon Engel. 

The fact that the movie Home Alone is soon turning almost a quarter of a century old will certainly date some people. Arguably, though, the subsequent career of director Chris Columbus contributed to a variety of successful, entertaining movies as well. Either way you look at it, Home Alone remains one of the most memorable holiday films of all time.

Home Alone inserts viewers into the chaotic but loving McCallister family. The youngest of the lot, Kevin, played by MaCaulay Culkin, feels picked on and misunderstood by his boisterous family members. Like many families during the holiday season, the family scrambles to get everyone and everything in place for a trip to celebrate the season. But, in the frenzy of their preparations, little Kevin gets overlooked and ends up alone in a rather large house for an 8-year-old boy.

At first, this seems like a gift in disguise, as young Kevin has the chance to engage in all the misbehavior his parents scold him about. He gets to try on some adult activities, like using aftershave, as well as jumping on the bed with impunity. When a couple of burglars show up, though, Kevin has to delve deep into his bag of childhood mischief to protect his house and himself in this comedy of juvenile genius and adult criminal ineptitude. Separated by the Atlantic Ocean in a pre-Internet era, Kevin and his family have very few ways to contact each other at all, so he is left to his own devices.

John Hughes, who was already famous for his movies from the previous decade, wrote the script for this hit, giving director Chris Columbus rich material for a blockbuster comedy production. From an estimated budget of about 15 million dollars, the film brought in over 17 million during its first weekend and eventually accounted for well over 200 million in revenue in the US alone. Besides being a financial success, the movie also won over most reviewers to some degree, despite some critics who lamented the more unrealistic aspects of the plot line – even before the advent of automated home monitoring systems like ADT, forgetting a child at home and failing to contact any authorities isn’t exactly the easiest storyline to believe. The outlandish premise didn’t stop most moviegoers from going to see what damage this young protagonist could inflict on a couple of middle-aged miscreants.

It’s hard to believe that MaCaulay Culkin, the actor portraying the movie’s protagonist, has become a grown man with his own projects and interests, aside from wreaking havoc on inept burglars. The movie launched him into almost immediate stardom as a household name all over the world, but the sequels were met only with mixed reviews. In the real world, Culkin’s troubles with his parents (who were entangled in a custody war over MaCaulay and his fortune) made national and international news as he tried to gain more control over his financial future. Eventually, Culkin was able to parlay his skill, fame and resources into other projects, including stints in theater and music.

These days, the movie still rates above average on many review sites. The lack of appeal relative to its popularity when it was released can be partially explained by changes in the culture, which involves far more home security awareness, and sensibilities over the years. That being said, kids still seem to love this holiday classic that delivers a dose of adult-directed schadenfreude, as will adults who just want a trip down the path of their childhood reveries.

Review: Paddington (Paul King, 2014)

From the beloved novels by Michael Bond, Paddington tells the story of the misadventures of a young bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) who travels to London in search of a home after his idyllic Peruvian forest homestead is destroyed in an earthquake. Finding himself lost and alone, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined, until he meets the kindly Brown family who take heed of the label around his neck – “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” – and offer him a temporary haven.

This is a fun, clever film and it is exceptionally well made. But, I take a look at the impressive pedigree working on it and wonder why I am surprised. Writer/director Paul King is the man behind Bunny and the Bull and The Mighty Boosh, which explains why Paddington is so funny. King worked with editor Mark Everson on the aforementioned projects, and this is a sleek, polished cut. Master DP Erik Wilson (The Double, 20, 000 Days on Earth and The Imposter) shoots the film beautifully, while the delightfully rewarding intricacies of the film’s design (for example, the Brown house reduced to a dollhouse model and a sequence where Paddington appears to walk through a projected image into a memory) and CGI/animatronic effects are seamlessly woven into the film’s fabric.

Continue reading at An Online Universe. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Favourite Male and Female Performances of 2014

Male Performances

Male Performer of the Year:
Jake Gyllenhaal (for three brilliant performances in two films)
Honourable Mentions (In No Particular Order): Steve Coogan - The Trip To Italy, Jonah Hill - The Wolf of Wall Street, Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club, Jim Broadbent - Le Week-End, Russell Crowe - Noah, Jeff Goldblum - Le Week-End/The Grand Budapest Hotel, Tom Hiddleston - Only Lovers Left Alive, Jesse Eisenberg - The Double, Dominic West and Ben Schnetzer - Pride, Alfred Molina - Love is Strange, James McAvoy - The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him, Ciaran Hinds - The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him, Tom Hardy - The Drop/Locke, Bill Hader - The Skeleton Twins, Chris Evans - Snowpiercer, Ben Mendolsohn - Starred Up, Jemaine Clement - What We Do In The Shadows, Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbel - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Mathieu Amalric - Venus in Fur, David Gulpilil - Charlie's Country, Casey Affleck and Christian Bale - Out of the Furnace, Cliff Curtis - The Dark Horse, Al Pacino - The Humbling, Ben Stiller - While We're Young, Aleksei Serebryakov and Roman Madyanov - Leviathan, Bill Murray - St Vincent, Ben Affleck - Gone Girl, Robert Duvall - The Judge, Ewan McGregor - Son of A Gun, Miles Teller and J.K Simmons - Whiplash, Johannes Kuhnke - Force Majeure, Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman - Fury, Eddie Marsan - Still Life, Keanu Reeves - John Wick, Timothy Spall - Mr Turner, Riz Ahmed - Nightcrawler, Pierre-Yves Cardinal - Tom at the Farm, Zach Galifainakas - Birdman, Ethan Hawke - Boyhood and Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game

15. Edward Norton - Birdman

14. Haluk Bilginer - Winter Sleep

13. Toni Servillo - The Great Beauty

12. Ralph Fiennes - The Grand Budapest Hotel/The Invisible Woman

11. Brendan Gleeson - Calvary 

10. Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis

9. Jack O'Connell - Starred Up

8. Channing Tatum and Steve Carell - Foxcatcher

7. Robert Redford - All is Lost 

6. Antoine-Olivier Pilon - Mommy

5. Joaquin Phoenix - Her/The Immigrant

4. Leonard DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street

3. Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher/Begin Again/Infinitely Polar Bear

2. Jake Gyllenhaal - Nightcrawler/Enemy

1. Michael Keaton - Birdman

Female Performances

Female Performer of the Year:
Scarlett Johansson (she WAS everywhere, and nowhere)
Honourable Mentions (In No Particular Order): Judi Dench - Philomena, Lindsay Duncan - Le Week-End, Paulina Garcia - Gloria, Emmanuelle Devos - Domestic Life, Felicity Jones - The Invisible Woman, Rose Byrne - Neighbours/Adult Beginners, Mia Wasikowska - Only Lovers Left Alive, Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza - Ida, Patricia Arquette - Boyhood, Marissa Tomei - Love is Strange, Viola Davis - The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her, Sarah Snook - Predestination, Keira Knightley - Begin Again/Laggies, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D'Anna - The Duke of Burgundy, Naomi Watts - While We're Young/Birdman, Elena Lyadova - Leviathan, Brit Marling - The Keeping Room, Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens - Gone Girl, Reese Witherspoon - Wild, Lisa Loven Kongsli - Force Majeure, Emma Stone - Birdman, Alicia Vikander - Testament of Youth 

15. Imelda Staunton - Pride 

14. Rene Russo - Nightcrawler

13. Karidja Toure - Girlhood

12. Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart - Clouds of Sils Maria 

11. Emmanuelle Seigner - Venus in Fur 

10. Melisa Sözen and Demet Akbag - Winter Sleep

9. Jessica Chastain - The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her

8. Tilda Swinton - Only Lovers Left Alive/Snowpiercer

7. Margot Robbie - The Wolf of Wall Street

6. Essie Davis - The Babadook

5. Gugu Mbatha-Raw - Beyond the Lights/Belle

4. Julianne Moore - Still Alice

3. Scarlett Johansson - Under the Skin/Her/Lucy

2. Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night/The Immigrant

1. Anne Dorval and Suzanne Clement - Mommy

Note: There are a few films I won't get the chance to see this year - A Most Violent Year, Inherent Vice, Selma, The Theory of Everything, '71 and Unbroken - so those performers will be a part of next year's considerations.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New Releases 11/12/14

In cinemas this week: Paddington, Horrible Bosses 2, The One I Love and Folies Bergere

Paddington - From the beloved novels by Michael Bond and producer David Heyman (Harry Potter), Paddington tells the story of the comic misadventures of a young Peruvian bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) who travels to the city in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone, he begins to realize that city life is not all he had imagined - until he meets the kindly Brown family who read the label around his neck that says "Please look after this bear. Thank you," and offer him a temporary haven. It looks as though his luck has changed until this rarest of bears catches the eye of a museum taxidermist. 

Horrible Bosses 2 - The follow-up to the 2011 hit comedy reunites Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis as Nick, Dale and Kurt. Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey also reprise their Horrible Bosses starring roles, while Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz star as new adversaries standing between the guys and their dreams of success.

The One I Love - The highly anticipated debut feature from acclaimed author Charlie McDowell, The One I Love is an original tale that continues to showcase McDowell's keen observations of human relationships with a distinct and comedic voice. Written by Justin Lader, The One I Love was produced by Mel Eslyn and executive produced by Mark Duplass who stars opposite Elisabeth Moss. On the brink of separation, Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) escape to a beautiful vacation house for a weekend getaway in an attempt to save their marriage. What begins as a romantic and fun retreat soon becomes surreal, when an unexpected discovery forces the two to examine themselves, their relationship, and their future. ★★

Folies Bergere - Brigitte and Xavier are a couple of cattle farmers living and working together in Normandy. They have always got on well but now that their two children have left the household routine and weariness have set in. One night, Brigitte, who has been invited to a party by a group of Parisians in the house next to their farm, lets herself be wooed by Stan, a witty, cool attractive young man. Some time later, giving a visit to a dermatologist as an excuse, she goes to Paris to meet him. But things do not go according to plan. Stars Isabelle Huppert. 

Weekly Recommendation: I have been recommended Folies Bergere and anything with Isabelle Huppert is usually worth watching. I really liked The One I Love. What a clever and fun film that is odd enough to keep you guessing but not so twisted it starts to become indecipherable. Duplass is such a funny guy, but Elizabeth Moss is terrific in an unusual role. It is a very interesting look at a relationship in trouble, and how desiring your partner to change isn't the answer unless you're willing to change too. And then there's Paddington, which is getting very positive reviews. I am now very much looking forward to it. A surprisingly interesting week. December is usually a bit of a graveyard - though last year American Hustle swept in a blew open the box office - in the lead up to the Boxing Day and the new year.  

15 Favourite Albums of 2014

 Over the last few months I have spent many hours catching up with some of the best received albums of the year. More time than watching films, I would say. Some didn't take my fancy, but many I enjoyed immensely. My second listen of my #2 ranked album was one of the most rewarding 40 minutes of the year.

Even though I barely scratched the surface of all of the music out there, here my top picks of 2014 with a Pitchfork rating out of 10.0:

Just missed the cut: G I R L - Pharrell Williams, Are We There? - Sharon Van Etten, Too Bright - Perfume Genius, Rips - Ex Hes, Pinata - Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

15. Tough Love - Jessie Ware 8.2

14. St Vincent - St Vincent 8.2

13. Syro - Aphex Twin 8.3

12.  pom pom - Ariel Pink 8.4

11. Deep Fantasy - White Lung - 8.4

10. I Never Learn - Lykke Li 8.5

9. Sunbathing Animal - Parquet Courts 8.5

8. Ploughing into the Field of Love - Iceage 8.6

7. Atlas - Real Estate 8.6

6. Benji - Sun Kil Moon 8.8

5.  They Want My Soul - Spoon 8.8

4. It's Album Time - Todd Terje 8.9

3. Lost in the Dream - The War on Drugs 9.1

2. Run the Jewels 2 - Run the Jewels 9.4

1. To Be Kind - Swans 9.5

What are your favourite albums of the year? 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

New Releases (4/12/2014)

In cinemas this week: Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Captive, The Congress, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, Human Capital and The Green Prince.

Exodus: Gods and Kings - From acclaimed director Ridley Scott comes the epic story of one man's daring courage to take on the might of an empire. Using state of the art visual effects and 3D immersion, Scott brings new life to the story of the defiant leader Moses (Christian Bale) as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), setting 600,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues. It's not a good film. I felt every one of those 150 minutes trickle by. It is very boring and unintentionally goofy. Impressive early scale and design swallowed up by a dull script with horrendous dialogue and character. There's nothing going on here. The key events in the story are all there - Moses' banishment, the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments - but the lulls in between are as vacant as Moses himself.

The Captive - Matthew steps briefly into a diner and comes out to find that his young daughter Cassandra has vanished without a trace from the back of his truck. Her unsolved abduction destroys Matthew's once-happy relationship with his wife, Tina, who, haunted by mementos of Cassandra that appear mysteriously at her work, suspects her husband of foul play. Years later, when detectives Nicole and Jeffrey discover recent images of Cassandra online, Matthew risks everything to ensure his daughter's safe return-and to save himself and Tina from the limbo of unrelenting despair.

The Congress - More than two decades after catapulting to stardom with The Princess Bride, an aging actress (Robin Wright, playing a version of herself) decides to take her final job: preserving her digital likeness for a future Hollywood. Through a deal brokered by her loyal, longtime agent (Harvey Keitel) and the head of Miramount Studios (Danny Huston), her alias will be controlled by the studio, and will star in any film they want with no restrictions. In return, she receives healthy compensation so she can care for her ailing son and her digitized character will stay forever young. Twenty years later, under the creative vision of the studio's head animator (Jon Hamm), Wright's digital double rises to immortal stardom. With her contract expiring, she is invited to take part in "The Congress" convention as she makes her comeback straight into the world of future fantasy cinema.

Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day - Follows the exploits of 11-year-old Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) as he experiences the most terrible and horrible day of his young life - a day that begins with gum stuck in his hair, followed by one calamity after another. But when Alexander tells his upbeat family about the misadventures of his disastrous day, he finds little sympathy and begins to wonder if bad things only happen to him. He soon learns that he's not alone when his mom (Jennifer Garner), dad (Steve Carell), brother (Dylan Minnette) and sister (Kerris Dorsey) all find themselves living through their own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Anyone who says there is no such thing as a bad day just hasn't had one.

Human Capital begins at the end, as a cyclist is run off the road by a careening SUV the night before Christmas Eve. As details emerge of the events leading up to the accident, the lives of the well-to-do Bernaschi family, privileged and detached, will intertwine with the Ossolas, struggling to keep their comfortable middle-class life, in ways neither could have expected. Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), in dire financial straits, anticipates the birth of twins with his second wife (Valeria Golino). Meanwhile, Dino's teenage daughter's relationship with hedge-fund manager Giovanni Bernaschi's playboy son complicates an already tricky social dance of status, money and ambition. Paolo Virzi's taut character study deconstructs the typical linear narrative, observing transformative events from each character's perspective. The result is a nuanced account of desire, greed and the value of human life in an age of rampant capitalism and financial manipulation. I caught this at the Sydney Film Festival, and though it has diminished considerably since the viewing, I got wrapped up in this quite clever screenplay. ★★

The Green Prince - Set against the chaotic backdrop of recent events in the Middle East, Nadav Schirman's The Green Prince retraces the details of a highly unprecedented partnership that developed between sworn enemies. In the style of a tense psychological thriller, this extraordinary documentary recounts the true story of the son of a Hamas leader who emerged as one of Israel's prized informants, and the Shin Bet agent who risked his career to protect him. I admired the way this was film put together - just the two testimonies, Mosab and his Israeli SS handler - and sat quietly in shock as the revelations were revealed. ★★★1/2

Weekly Recommendation: The Green Prince and Human Capital from what I have seen, but I am dying to see The Congress. Been on my radar for 18 months. Exodus is another misfire from Ridley Scott - don't say I didn't warn you.